The population of New Zealand is 67,6 % European,14,4 % Maori, 9,2 % Asian and 6,9 % Polynesian. Women got voting rights in the 1890s, the YMCA is almost as old as the cities where it works, in Auckland the YMCA was the first ever customer of the local bank! One third of the population of New Zealand does voluntary work. Almost one third of the population lives in Auckland and New Zealanders call themselves Kiwis after the national bird, which is unable to fly. In 2011 Lonely Planet called Wellington the “ coolest little capital in the world” and people in Auckland own 135 000 yachts and launches – more boats per capita than any other city in the world. Personally I saw enough people kayaking, biking, running and walking around the country to define the Kiwis as a very sporty and healthy people.
A smiling Kiwi meets us at the airport in Christchurch, it is Ed, the president of the local YMCA. He is extremely charmin g and obviously loves his city and he takes us on a long and impressive tour of the city and its surroundings.
I remember so well the earthquake in Christchurch in February 2011 as the reports came in from the local YMCA CEO, Josie. 180 people died, 80 % of the buildings are destroyed, landmark buildings, the old face of the city, have vanished.
Loads of containers are lined up along the roads to protect them from falling cliffs and stones. As we drive along through the eastern parts of the city, we see whole neighbourhoods of devastated homes.
Empty windows, dark windows, houses half sunk in the mud of the earthquake. A tall apartment house is about to come down, empty, black windows. The Police head quarter is a ten floors building and will be knocked down, the structure is destroyed and it is dangerous to use it. Another building is leaning forward in a surreal shape.
The earthquake moved with 2 Gs, which means that the movement were two times faster than gravity. This again means that the buildings had the ground disappearing underneath them in a speed which made the constructions collide with the ground coming back underneath them and thereby giving the structures devastating banging leading to destruction and often total collapse.
We drive past the huge stadium for 40 000 people, it is still standing, but will be knocked down, it is unstable and dangerous to use.
Ed tells us stories and explains how an endless series of after quakes, some of them real big and painful have haunted the city for two years almost.
At the same time Christchurch has been rated among the ten top cities in the world to visit by Lonely Planet, the containers are used as an arena for art in all shapes and colors, and the beautiful nature around Christchurch opens up for all kinds of sporty activities, and Kiwis are really sporty and quite healthy.
We see people biking and running and kayaking and walking and all of them are smiling to us! In Christchurch there is a strange normality amidst all the signs of tragedy.
Ed is one of the sporty people in Christchurch, and he has been biking up these steep hills many times. If he has used the impressive climbing walls of the local YMCA, that we did not discuss!
Thank you, Ed, for showing us around in beautiful, painful, sporty and recovering Christchurch, with a population of people who has grown together and become strong through shared suffering. We did fly from Melbourne together with a very nice man, who told us that his wife had been inside the city hall during the earth quake and been locked up in the middle of dark chaos and surrounded by the deep, rumbling sound of the huge quake. She never really recovered and had moved to Melbourne. Her husband therefore commuted between the two cities and the two neighboring countries. A small story from every day life after the devastating earthquake in Christchurch.