– Ilam, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

A Very Happy Story:
The September and February earthquakes have taught me some surprising things about myself. I’ve been surprised at how resilient I am. At the time of the September quake I was a solo parent of two, and a university student. On the Friday night we also had an international (home-stay) student with us, and a young girl having a sleep over with my children. Being the only adult in the house when the quake struck was probably a good thing. I acted calmly, although filled with adrenalin, getting the kids out of their beds to stand in the door-frames. I’m not sure how I would have coped had there been another adult (older or male) in the house. I may have been more scared, deferring the protective role to them rather than assuming it myself.

In any case, the kids weren’t afraid, they were excited – which probably also helped me cope as well as I did. After about 5.30am we all went back to bed. I was so tired that I treated the rocking bed as though I was being rocked back to sleep. I wasn’t afraid of the aftershocks, tiredness overrode any fear. Sleep never came however, as the cellphone kept buzzing with txts and the occasional call that made it through. We had damage to possessions, but no structural damage to the house, so we were very lucky. The power came back on sometime in the afternoon I think.

As the school and university were closed I decided to send the kids (including our international student) to my parents’ house in Central Otago. My children finished off the term at school there before returning to Christchurch. I stayed behind and offered to help clean up for neighbours and friends. During this time an old friend (and lover) got in touch with me to make sure I was OK. We kept in touch. As the weeks passed with continual aftershocks, I became quite emotional with anxiety and stress over the shakes.

Strangely, when the February quake occurred, I didn’t feel afraid for my children, even though we were separated with them being at school and myself at home. I had complete confidence in their school being a safe environment and the teachers acting professionally. In hindsight, I still don’t really understand why I didn’t panic, but I imagine it might be something of a coping mechanism.

I wasn’t aware of the tragic loss of life in the CBD until much later in the day when we listened to the radio. Even then, it didn’t seem real. I was fine, my house was fine, my kids were fine, therefore it was just so difficult to comprehend how others in the very same city could have had such a vastly different experience of the same event. Once the power came back on we were all glued to the television. We just couldn’t believe the devastation in the images on the screen.

After the February earthquake I decided that I would take the kids and go down south with them to avoid going through that awful series of aftershocks and the stress of being on edge all the time. Once again, the schools and university were closed, so we really didn’t know how long we would be away from home for with no real reason to come back. While our home was safe, I wasn’t keen to stay and endure the aftershocks. When university finally opened I was very anxious about returning. My children stayed on at school in Alexandra for the rest of the term. I returned to Christchurch to continue my studies. I had let another family stay in our house while we were away and it was strange to come back and feel like a guest in my own home. They eventually moved on however.

I think, the story above is probably quite typical for anyone living in the Western part of Christchurch. However, what happened next is extraordinary!

I was successful in gaining a place at the University of Oxford for a term as part of a ‘student transfer’ offer they had made to help the University of Canterbury! As the quakes had destroyed my ex-husband’s businesses, he was then in a position to care for our children full-time to allow me to go to Oxford. It was the most amazing series of circumstances that enabled me to have the opportunity of a lifetime! I absolutely loved the Oxford experience, it was unforgettable! One very odd thing about it was that for the first few weeks I experienced something like post-traumatic-stress syndrome and had panic attacks every time a bus or a train rumbled past and vibrated the ground. My reaction to those sensations seemed much worse than my reaction to the aftershocks back home! Thankfully that passed.

Now, as if going to Oxford University wasn’t life-changing enough – another wonderful thing has come into my life as a direct result of the earthquakes. My man-friend who got in touch after the September quake needed a place to stay after he returned from the USA. As my house was empty (with me in Oxford and my children with their father), I agreed to let him move in while I was away. Once I returned, however, he still hadn’t found anywhere else to stay so he became our boarder. A few months later our relationship became romantic once more. Long story short, I’m no longer a solo parent, and we are a very happy family of four. It’s been almost a year since I returned from Oxford and it’s incredible how different my life is now. I feel as though I’ve received everything I ever wanted. My life and the lives of my children are better in so many little ways now that I have a loving, supportive partner. If the September quake hadn’t occurred we probably wouldn’t have gotten back in touch. If the February quake hadn’t occurred, I wouldn’t have gone to Oxford, he wouldn’t have gone to the US and then needed somewhere to stay on his return, and it’s highly unlikely that we would be living happily together today.

So, for me, the terrible earthquakes have brought nothing but wonderful opportunities into my life.

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