The 25th December 2013 was the first time I genuinely felt like I was in a ghost town. Yes, it was Christmas, precisely, but that’s beside the point. As children, we’re exposed to the joy and happiness of the day, as we anxiously tiptoe our way to the family’s extravagantly tinselled Christmas tree, excitedly awaiting for the clock to strike six — the time that’s synonymous with opening Santa’s gifts after a sleepless night.
While I have been subjected to various heartbreaks surrounding the Christmas season since I was a child — predominantly the death of both my Nana and Poppy — I have learnt to embrace the simplicities of the season by making it a time of celebration rather than misery.
2013 was different.
Contrary to the ‘extended family vibe’ of the Christmas season, we decided to embark on a 13-night cruise around New Zealand. Let me start off by saying that I had an absolutely spectacular time cruising, and cannot fault Princess Cruises’ homely hospitality and beautiful facilities.
Amidst the Christmas hype leading up to the day, many people had opted out of participating in tours with the hope of keeping the day ‘traditional’ … whatever that means. My family, however, decided to accept every offer and/or opportunity we were given.
As they say, you only live once, right?
While the 25th of December is likened to a day of contentment, it provided us with an eye-opening insight into the torment and troubles of natural disasters. I have personally experienced a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the summer of 2002 in Vanuatu, which was one of the scariest moments of my life. So, I can’t even imagine how people can pick themselves up after such a tragedy in their hometown.
As tourists, we move on. But, they don’t.
What does this have to do with Christmas, you may ask?
Well, I was lucky enough to explore the earthquake-stricken city of Christchurch.
First of all, let me take you back to February 2011. On this day, a earthquake struck Christchurch, severely damaging the city, killing 185 people. It was later dubbed as one of New Zealand’s deadliest peacetime disasters.
Almost three years on, nothing much has changed.
Prior to our arrival, the city had remained strictly military cordoned due to its terrible state. I get goosebumps thinking about it.
While certain streets remained partitioned off during my visit, it was terribly eery being in eyesight of reasonably-solid buildings on the brink of collapse. This particularly saddened me due to the absolute beauty that this city previously possessed. No longer is it adorned with historically-Roman architecture. Instead, the city has begun to rely on storage containers as substitutes for shops, due to the recurring aftershocks that have prevailed following the 6.1 magnitude earthquake. Can you imagine having to rely on such facilities? This shows you the strength of the human spirit.
Locals of Christchurch heavily reiterated the problems they’d had (and continue to have) with their insurance companies, which initially left them homeless and destitute. They also mentioned that the repetitious aftershocks following the primary quake has led many to relocate in search of consistency. No longer do they want to live on the edge.
This dampened my spirit, yet opened my eyes to the strength and resilience of the population of Christchurch. They are, by far, some of the most beautiful people I have ever come across.
Words really can’t describe the destruction I witnessed.
My heart goes out to them.