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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Leaving the Zone

What one does not realize . . .

When I asked my friend if she would feel better if I went to Christchurch to personally check on her 85-year-old father (also my friend), she said there were continuous aftershocks. I was nonchalant. I arrived and everybody here was tired because the night after the damaging quake, the earth kept moving. Not gentle, rolling tremors, people told me, but violent, “what might this become” shocks.

It means nothing until you experience it.

Five days here and I am an old hand and the violence of Ruaumoko (unborn god of volcanoes and seasons in Maori lore) is like living at sea – one adapts to the conditions. Significant shakes are barely commented on, if at all, and life continues. But sleep can be difficult when you are continually being rudely awakened (ask my exes) and the total unpredictability wears on people. Especially when you remember that it has been like this for the past six months, and repairs/insurance payouts/lives have been put on hold until it stops. It has not stopped and shows no indication of doing so.

Technical note: Aotearoa/New Zealand is where the Atlantic and Pacific tectonic plates meet, interact and occasionally argue with each other. The Southern Alps are a result of these guys brushing up against each other. Christchurch residents keep telling me they were not on a fault line, but Aotearoa, by definition, IS a fault line.

Anyway, the plan Friday was to head back to Dunedin Saturday morning. P is fine, I’d done all at Civil Defence that they would allow me and, no longer being a help, became just another mouth to be fed, watered and toileted in a system where food, water and toilet facilities were at a premium. (Although the sewage system servicing Diamond Harbour was operational, just needed gray water to flush, and there’s a harbor at the foot of the hill with lots of that. There was also a Portaloo at the Medical Centre mere minutes away, flown in by an Air Force chopper in what was one of the most amusing scenes of my stay. It was so astonishing I didn’t think about my camera before it was too late. Wait for separate post for that story)

But plans change, especially in The Adventures of Tracie, and yesterday morning the wife of one of the ferry skippers e-mailed me that the ferry would be running to take people to Lyttelton, above the quake epicenter, for a street party that had been relocated to the school as the main street was totaled. I’m a sucker for parties so was on the first ferry across and didn’t bother taking the last one back. Knew I’d find somewhere to sleep.

I need to apologize to my many US friends if the “ugly American” image many other countries have of them is partly my fault. I definitely put some noses out of joint in Lyttelton (“You’re not from here, you don’t have any right offering help!”) but also made new friends and had a great conversation with a group of kids about how they felt, tectonic plates and Ruaumoko. (“Is this a lesson?” one asked.) Shared my cider, drank other people’s beer, invited a group of Indonesian sailors from the edge into the thick of things and set them up with good people and drinks (one of the things a local told me I had no right to do.)

“Whatever,” was my response. I found out the next morning when taking the ferry back home that those who didn't like me assumed I was American - sorry dudes. Those who I actually talked with knew I am tangata whenua.

Later in the evening, I was talking to a local Maori man who asked where I lived.

T: “Nowhere.”

Rewi: “Where are you sleeping tonight?”

T: “I don’t know yet.”

R: “I have a caravan beside my house, tho I don’t guarantee its safety.”

T: “Outstanding!”

Woke this morning to find sculptures everywhere and found he’s a carver, and met his daughter while we drank tea and she ate baked beans from the pot (less dishes to wash). Gorgeous young lady, a stunning mix of Maori wahine and Cree Indian from her Canadian mother and with a really interesting Canadian accent from living there half the year. I now have contacts in Rapaki! 

On the way to Lyttelton for the ferry back to DH, Rewi showed me his cousin’s and uncle’s homes, which were both hit by boulders he and a friend watched bound and barrel down the hill. Check out the photos above. The second house, to the left, had two rocks bounce off the road and through the roof in the kitchen and a bedroom.

Back to DH and P, who delivered me to the Main South Road to head back to Dunedin.

Ride 1: Christchurch to Timaru, with a guy from Christchurch who was taking one of his daughter’s friends through to stay with her. He lives in the Christchurch suburb of Shirley and had lots of liquefaction on his property and there was raw sewerage in the streets. No power or water but he had a sturdy home with no structural damage so wasn’t complaining. Had gas to cook and was going to pick up a generator to take home with him.

Ride 2: Timaru to Dunedin, with a lovely woman with whom I exchanged contact details and will keep in touch. She would have driven me out to the Peninsula but had clients to entertain at the Winery Tour concert, and I very nearly stayed in town to go along. Tickets were $65 tho and I would then have had to find my way back to the Peninsula so decided to keep moving.

Ride 3: Portobello Rd to Broad Bay, where the road heads up to Larnach Castle, with a lovely elderly woman with whom I discussed lifestyle choices, the difference between religiosity and spirituality, and an article she had read, “In Defence of Hypocrisy.” Was a shame to have to part ways.

Ride 4: Halfway up (steep) Castlewood Rd to castle turnoff – a Kiwi guy who now lives in Perth who was home to visit his mother and show his girlfriend around Aotearoa. Short ride, not much more info except a little on Christchurch.

Ride 5: Last bit of Camp Rd to church, wasn’t really worth getting in and out of the car for but they’d already stopped and rearranged themselves by the time I worked out they needed to turn there. Four young students just arriving to start university and familiarizing themselves with the area – I assured them they would love their time at Otago.

Ride 6: Remainder of Highcliff Rd to Sandymount Rd, with a chef at 1908 who was heading to work in a shiny red BMW.

Walked down Sandymount Rd to Ridge Rd, stopped at Gerald’s farm gate for chat with Ingrid and a hug, stopped at bottom of home driveway for chat with two women heading to Sandfly Bay, one of whom was a harpist with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (it said so on her car). We discussed Christchurch, how lucky I was to stay where I do and I told them they needed more clothing for Sandfly Bay.

Made it home, ate dinner with mountains of fresh vegetables, gulping down vitamin C for a cold I seem to have picked up, can’t soak in bath because of blister beetle blister that got infected while living in less than optimum hygienic conditions (wait for the Medical Centre visit tale), so deathly tired but don’t want to go to bed too early or I’ll be wide awake at 0300.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Handing Over

I came, I saw, I accepted
Those of you who know me well, or even not so well I expect, know that I tend to favor short-term contracts over long-term career paths. But I may have exceeded myself this time. I have managed to create then work myself out of a job in less than two days! Even the logistics job I didn’t take in Iraq involved more than two weeks of training in Houston, TX, before getting myself removed from the project.


Arrived at Civil Defence Sector Post at 0830 to yet another supervisor (they seem to take turns supervising each other, perhaps I’ve been missing the rock, paper, scissors game each shift change). Asked if they wanted me on computer or something else, was told computer and assigned a supervisor of my own. (I know Tharp, that does not surprise you!) Receptionist comes to me wanting more “Help Offered” sheets, which I created a template for yesterday, I explained there was a master copy I’d instructed people to not use, then saw the word “Master” printed on the back of the completed copy she was holding, in my writing. Said I would deal with it.

Today’s supervisor came to ask for changes to template that yesterday’s supervisor had helped design and approve, I needed to remove website permission section anyway after ivb decided yesterday that allowing people to freely access information on people who were willing to have it accessed freely was not proper. Said I would deal with it.

Tweaked yesterday’s template, saved to flash drive, went to Church Office to have a copy printed for photocopying. New vicar (two weeks, I think, he has been here, “a disaster is a great way to meet your parishioners,” I told him) and I developed an easy system yesterday including a way of sharing Net access (only available in office or hall, not both at once, so at least God’s man and I were communicating). Russell (God’s man) not yet in, lovely lady who gave me ride from Gebbies Pass on Wednesday and makes P’s nightshirts was online. She said printer was not working, I said it had been working fine previous day, she assured me that was no longer the case. (Diamond Harbour is full of elderly retirees, most of whom are perfectly lovely but all of whom make me look like an IT guru!) Arranged to e-mail it to my personal supervisor who would have someone print it at his home.

Obstacle! Needed net access to do so, lovely lady nightshirt maker (henceforth llnm) had e-mail open. Asked if it was being used, answer was no, but that it would be needed when the Reverend arrived. Tried to explain that Russ and I had that sorted and that I accepted God’s work took priority, but could I possibly do some of Tracie’s work until someone arrived to do God’s. (Note, again: Nothing against God, and in his defence, he did tell his people to build their house upon rock, not swampland as they did in central Christchurch, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind me borrowing his Net access when his man isn’t needing it.) Eventually got online, e-mailed template to immediate supervisor (is), went to find him and Russ had snuck in while I was elsewhere, overheard conversation with is and asked why I wasn’t using “stick” (NZese for a flash drive?). Told him llnm said printer wasn’t working, he said it was, we got back on track. He agreed I could have Net til God needed to e-mail anyone and he (Russ, not God) would give me notice before bumping me off. I have good feelings about the new vicar and hope he will put in a good word for me also. Had him save template to his computer also as I was hoping to leave as soon as possible.

Back to computer and is, and trying to give him access to and control of the website I’d set up. Asked who else should have access, needed their e-mail addresses to do so, each needed gmail accounts to accept invitation. None had gmail accounts, is’s wife worked (prior, I think) for Microsoft and would not allow him a gmail account. Asked for some time out to think this through.

Had a coffee, made a few very useful connections, asked a lady heading to the supermarket to pick me up a bottle of wine, please. Felt I might need it by end of day.

Pulled is from library for a talk, advised him optimum way for this to work, advised him optimum needed input from Civil Defence IT folk (if such a thing exists) and that they were probably busy on more pressing matters, gave him options for less-than-optimum achievable goals, all of which were designed to remove myself from the loop. Explained that this was always the goal, that Tracie’s lifeplan, such as it is, does not involve permanent contact with Diamond Harbour Civil Defence. Jointly decided on best option, tested it, decided to take a break and reconnect at 1500. Is gave me lift home to P’s.

Busy intermission, worked independently on improving communications in immediate neighbourhood. Succeeded, but the bar was very low for success.

Back to Sector Post at 1500. Receptionists chastised me for not signing out earlier, told me brownie points would be removed. Wanted me to sign out for earlier time and sign in again. 
 Trying to be humble (yes, seriously!), I looked up is’s signout time as we had left together and I had no idea of what time, to find he had not signed in to begin with. Asked for brownie points back.

is walked through back door as one of the sometime-supervisors spotted me from the office and pounced:

“There you are,” he said, “you’re the one I need! Can you come here now!”

Gave up humility. “So does he,” I said, “and we arranged a date. Perhaps you two want to arm-wrestle and let me know who wins.”

s-s was wearing the reflective vest so had obviously won the last rock, scissors, paper round, so I got to join him in the library (me quipping “In the library with a poker?”) for a written complaint. Not about me, but about a different website not having any of the information that WAS/IS on my/our site. I explained that different website did have a link to my/our site, which is named Diamond Harbour Civil Defence Helpline. Explained different website, despite being named Diamond Harbour, was privately owned and maintained, as was a second different website of same name, and both were being gracious providing links to CD site. Said that I, and is-now intern, would deal with it.

Went back to is-ni, who had brought wife along. Sorted him out while explaining to her, Net access patchy so sent them home to guests who use Google sites so could talk him through the basics as well as I. Gave him my contact details in case of trouble.

Signed out, did NOT leave after-hours number as requested, told all who thanked me that it had been an interesting experience. Went back to P’s and plotted overthrow with various community members.

Heading back to Dunedin tomorrow, or at least that’s tonight’s plan.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rescue by committee

God save me from ineffective bureaucrats, particularly the volunteer varietal! Today’s saga, which left me fighting not to either throttle said ivb or cry tears of frustration:

Phoned Lyttelton council member offering help, went to Diamond Harbour Civil Defence Sector Post to offer help.

Moi: “I can do many things - hammer nails, wash dishes, do computer work. My specialty is communications and I have my computer with me. Do you want or need a website for information or a database of what’s available.”

Them: “You’re a Godsend. Someone is setting up a website if you can put information on it. 

Until then, we do have some dishes …”

So, learn where water is located, write explanatory signs for tanker (water needs boiling before drinking for instance), water heater (“Do Not Use”), start dishes, with helper.

Supervisor comes with phone, person setting up website on other end, gives phone to me, “Please set it up between you.” Dish helper becomes dish intern, sorry Brian. Get site info, set up computer and web access (not easy), try to find site. Can’t, but host seems aggressively Christian (nothing against Christians other than a preference for those most resembling Christ in attitude), think neutral would be more approachable. Speak to setter-upper (yes, I know that is not a word but I am tired) who directs me to link, link needs blog name and password to even view. Explain to supervisors why this unnecessarily complicated procedure is counter-productive and get permission to set up on simpler site host.

Type relevant information for distribution, have it checked and approved, print flyers and post on site. Endure long butt-covering debates.
e.g. Water at a premium, initially asked to give bucket toilet and disposal advice. Simple, clear, have used similar methods myself often. vib then decided did not want to be responsible for giving wrong information so instructed me to remove any reference to toileting. Sorry, what? National Emergency declared and the local Civil Defence willfully refuses to address the issue of what to do with body waste when water is scarce – to me, that is close to criminally negligent. If you don’t have the cojones to do the job, step aside for someone who does.

Ask whether contact info for volunteers, resources, services can go on web site, with permission from those offering/asking so to cover privacy issues, get told yes, please. Delegate checking of facts/availability/willingness to be listed on website to additional interns, input data, answer phone (single line so become phone nazi – don’t let anyone tie it up too long), connect people with people they needed – all very time-consuming. Ask approval of all actions every step of the way (tho not necessarily of methods, just results)

Many, many hours later . . .

Shift change, ivb returns, shift change debrief. ivb comes to view site, notes that I’ve been busy, then tell me to undo most of what I’d spent the day doing (with CD approval for each step). ivb tells me that all connections between volunteers and those needing help MUST go through CD personnel. Remember, single phone line only. Start deleting last 8 hours work. Do not break down, do have group hug with interns, do offer to return tomorrow.

Same Bat-time (especially for Christy), same Bat-channel

By the way, thanks Mars for the karakia and for introducing me to Rauamoko, he slept well last night, as did we

Kia ora, kia kaha Christchurch

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch Quake

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1300-ish: Clearing tree trimmings with F and quad bike, himself sprints to house for phone, returns to tell us 6.9 quake in Christchurch, grandfer knocked down but uninjured, house damaged. Get updates through afternoon.

1440: head to Dunedin city with F for cellphone coverage, meet herself at 1700 to get ride home, concerned about  grandfer and community in Diamond Harbour (immediately across harbor from Lyttelton, epicenter of quake), talk about heading through to help where needed

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 0715-ish: Listen to National Radio while fixing breakfast, try calling grandfer and G (another friend in the village), no answer at either

0830: still no answer

0845-ish: still no answer, mention same to S, S says P taking G to airport for early flight. Unsure of best course of action.

0855: Decide. Ask herself to wait 2 minutes, throw few clothes in bag and grab computer (leave phone and camera chargers behind, d-oh), go back to city.

En Route: Speak to G, safely at airport, some damage to her house, grandfer on way back home.

0933: Arrive in city, herself late (my fault), still no answer. Do shopping for herself, head to Nova for coffee and Web connection while waiting for grandfer to get home and answer phone. Eavesdrop on all, every conversation about quake.

1100: Grandfer answers phone, says all is well, presence not necessary, I talk him into permission. Stop to top up T-stick then take bus to gardens and walk up Pine Hill (bus would have got me there, I see after I disembark). Have made wonderful “CHC THANKS” sign while at Nova, get to safe place for cars to stop, show sign and thumb to first passing car, car stops.

Interesting and bizarre conversation with Hong Kong Chinese gentleman who has lived in NZ for 30 years and returning to Christchurch after delivering eldest son to Otago Uni. Vastly different experiences of Aotearoa than my own. He drives me through to Lincoln turnoff.

1700/1730-ish (not good at time-keeping, obviously): Van of young workers stops, no idea of where I’m heading but are going to Lincoln. They're from Queenstown, here fixing damage from earlier quake, apologized for the mess while moving empty beer bottles and girlie mags from back seats. They let me off in Lincoln.

Unsure of which way from there (not the usual way I’d travel but expected it to have more traffic so took that route), stopped in a store and asked. Young Asian guy behind counter didn’t know area well, customer did so gave directions, asked if I knew about quakes (“Yes,” I said, “that’s why I’m going there.”), asked who I was visiting, knew him (“the old guy who looks like Col. Saunders?” he asked).

Got a ride out of Lincoln with Swiss tourist heading for Akaroa, gave her tips on what to do there, got dropped in middle of nowhere at Gebbies Pass turnoff.

Again, first car to pass thumb stopped (well done, thumb!), also going to Diamond Harbour. Asked where I was going, also knew grandfer, wife of couple had in fact made his nightshirts. Small, small world. Delivered me to door.

Grandfer is wonderful, I am relieved, house less damaged than I expected, dog very happy to see me. (Dog’s name is dog.) Papatuanuku (earth mother) still unhappy, not sure why. (Mars, can you PM me a karakia for soothing our troubled Papa?) Many shocks since arrival, apparently nobody slept last night as sharp shocks every 30-40 minutes. Not sure which are more frequent, the shocks or the calls to check on grandfer – good to know he’s so well-loved. Called in on neighbors who moved here from Lyttelton when their home there was damaged in the September quake, passed on water news (run out) and watched first Lyttelton footage on their TV. Got names of people I may be able to help and will contact them first thing tomorrow.

Stay tuned, same Bat time (tho probably not), same Bat channel . . .