It was Sunday afternoon, Russian Orthodox Easter, so I took a bus from the airport to CBD (or what's left of it) and walked to the Russian Orthodox Church for the Easter Service.
I took a long walk around CBD-it was heart wrenching. Most buildings are laying in ruins, streets are blocked off and closed to traffic... Especially unsettling was the eerie silence that is now dominant in once bustling heart of the city. I didn't even recognise the layout anymore, as everything has changed.
I've written about Christchurch earthquake shortly after it happened http://courtesansdiary.blogspot.co.nz/2011/03/earthquake.html?zx=60b1f0fcf6261a94
and things are looking pretty grim.
After the service I was invited to join in the Easter Feast (razgovenie in Russian) by the Priest and his wife. Their entire parish was present. We had our meal in the dining hall just behind the small Russian Orthodox Church built decades ago by original Russian migrants.
I asked people how they coped. Not easily, they said. Nerves are shattered and everyone is on edge, despite calm outward appearances. Priest's wife (we address them as "Mother" in Russia) told me that it was bad enough to be without electricity, phone and running water (they used their garden as a toilet) for 6-9 weeks, but with all the aftershocks certain habits developed. For instance, without even thinking about it, totally on "autopilot" she checks that the path to the front door is unobstructed before she goes to bed.. She compulsively checks seismic reports online and considers the depth of the recent aftershocks... She makes sure there is enough dry food in the house at all times.. She makes different decisions regarding purchases (both small and large).. She purchased the map and carefully marked all the blocked off streets, and now spends about 5 min before each trip figuring the route..
Basically, their whole life has changed, they are in a state of constant awareness and "preparedness".
As a psychologist, I know that it's very taxing on one's mind and body. This "failure to switch off" causes extreme stress that builds up and affects all functions of a human body.
I asked them if they are considering moving someplace else. "Mother" told me that, firstly, it's not that easy to get a parish in a different city, but, most importantly, they put a lot of effort in building this one and wouldn't even contemplate leaving their people, their flock behind. She said "What, are we suffering the most? Of course not! There are people who are much worse off and we need to be here to lend our support to them. Besides, we love this city, we won't abandon it".
She told me one of their parishioners died in CCTV building and other families were badly affected.
I've said it before: Russians are very stoic. We endure and we don't complain. But there are plenty more of Kiwis and other nationalities who are staying put in Christchurch and going on with their everyday lives despite the challenging environment and all the stress.