This is a transcript of an interview with Ali Watersong conducted shortly after the 4 September 2010 earthquake.
I spent the night of the earthquake in my house in Brenchley Road in Lyttelton. It’s a little, very old, wooden cottage.
On the night, I hadn’t been sleeping very well the last few nights so I had actually gotten up at half past 3 and I was sitting quite peacefully, I had lit the wood burner and I was reading my book, and I was sitting there from half past 3 and then at 4.35 the earthquake happened and that was pretty scary as the lights went out and I ran down one end of the house… first I was thinking ‘you should get under a solid table’, but I haven’t got a table so I went to the other end of the house, which has a solid beam but then I realised that the beam is just balanced on a pillar and that could easily fall down so I ran back to the other end of the house and stood under my doorframe.
So there was a lot of running around and then once that had settled I could find my torch, I knew where my headlamp was and I got that and I knew my MP3 player would have charged up batteries so I turned it on almost immediately and the announcer on the radio said ‘There has been an earthquake, we think its centered in the Wairarapa.’ And then immediately a whole lot of texts came in saying ‘But it’s really big down here in Christchurch.’ I am sure she said that, it would have been 4.37 or 4.39 or so. So I felt really connected, hearing all the texts coming in on the radio and then both my neighbours texted me and then I had other texts from friends and from then on I got texts from people saying ‘Are you OK?’ and I talked to my neighbour across the road and they said ‘Do you want to come over?’ but I was actually quite happy there. I was warm and.. yeah.
So on that day I put the billy on the wood burner and I made a cheesetoast on my fork [?] And when it got light I went out into the road and walked around visiting people up my street, making sure that they were OK sort of and checking in with people really. On that day I was in practical mode, sort of available for other people if they needed to, but I did not want to leave my little locality, so I visited people all up my street. But I certainly did not want to get into a car and I kept on listening to the radio, kept in contact with what was happening. Because the power was off my phone wouldn’t work and my cell phone was going flat, so I remembered I had an analogue phone, so I plugged that in, that was a bit later.
But the next day – with all the adrenalin surging through my body, and I react quite strongly to adrenalin- I felt utterly exhausted. I walked down into the township and had a look at the Empire and the Harbour Light, sort of felt some sadness and when I came home I just felt exhausted. The next day I felt really exhausted again, and by then we were having aftershocks through the nights. The big aftershock on the Wednesday morning – I found that really scary. My energy had came back a bit by then, but what I really noticed – I was still in bed when it happened, 10 to 8, I had had a late night before – and I got out of bed and I was saying to myself ‘It’s OK, it’s an aftershock, it won’t last long’, but my legs just collapsed under me, and my stomach just went ‘clonck’, my whole body had a massive reaction to it.
Then I left on the Wednesday to go up to a workshop in Auckland, and came back on the Sunday, and leaving was interesting too cause I was really torn, I wanted to get away from all this, cause with aftershock after aftershock, I was feeling in this really hyperalert state. So I wanted to get away but I also did not want to leave home and friends in Christchurch and Lyttelton. But I went up there and on the first 24 hours on the workshop… I felt with every little noise… I was in this hypervigilant state. But after about a day away I started relaxing, and it was a really good thing to have that break away.
But then when I came back on the Sunday night, we had more aftershocks that week, again, having less and less sleep, and by last Friday I felt really strung out again.
I am a counsellor and I had clients on the Monday and I knew I just couldn’t sit and be present with them and I rang up and cancelled it. And one of them was quite surprised, obviously the earthquake hadn’t affected her that much. And the next day I did go and see clients.
I have more of a commitment now to get involved in the community. I wanted to come down and look at the community garden for ages but I always see clients on a Wednesday, but I have just recently changed my days around, so that is one thing. But also an awareness, cause on that Sunday, the day after, I thought ‘I should be out there, helping people.’ But my body wouldn’t let me, so it was sort of like an acceptance of I can do what I can do, but not to feel guilty about what I can’t. I have an appreciation of the small community I live in, on Brenchley road, of people really looking out for each other, and also the greater Lyttelton community.
It’s been amazing to walk around and see the devastation, and some people’s lives have really been devastated, but the spring is really beautiful, I am really noticing that. I think I always notice spring but I especially notice it this year and I read a couple of things that people have said, in broad terms ‘the earth, Gaia, is saying, I am sick of all people hurting me, so in some way I am quite excited about it, not wanting it to happen again, but it is a reminder. One of my clients said yesterday it reminded her that we can’t control everything, we think we can control these things but we actually can’t. And even though in my life I will still do things and try to control them, but in a broader way it is an acceptance of the mystery of life. It certainly hasn’t made me think of the earth as an enemy. This is the earth just doing what it does, what it has been doing for millions of years, and has a big shake up every so often. Strange that it should happen in Christchurch when there is other places where it is meant to happen.
It has also given me much more appreciation, we hear about Haiti, we hear about China, about floods in Pakistan, we hear about those things, and we think how terrible for those people, but it brings it more home, to experience it ourselves.
This transcript is from one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton. We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.