Torn apart by a typhoon

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 08:03 16/11/2013
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Martin van Beynen

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: The scale of the devastation and loss of life in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan stirs up all sorts of emotions.

It makes us feel, for a short time anyway, a little precious about our problems, grievances and disappointments.

The disaster should evoke tremendous sympathy and empathy for the plight of countless fellow human beings but of course we find that difficult.

Give us a story about a baby born in the rubble and we weep. Tell us about thousands of people swept to their deaths by the lethal combination of sea and typhoon and we feel only sadness at the bad luck of being born in the Philippines and being caught in one of the far away Third World's many catastrophes.

Scale is hard to relate to.

The utter destruction wrought by the typhoon is effectively conveyed in photographs but to know what it was really like you have to have lived through it.

We don't know what was there before the winds. We can't smell the decomposing bodies and we don't have to search in rubbish and the debris of smashed buildings to find the few meagre treasures we want to rescue.

We don't walk in the dirty puddles, we don't see the ruined gardens, we don't queue for food and water and don't stand by the pit being dug for the dead.

We, in Christchurch, should know a little about disasters, although, relatively speaking, we seem to have got off lightly as a city.

A death or injury is no less serious or rending if it is one of 185 or one of 20,000 but most of us went back home after jolts, safe with our families and carried on. We cannot expect people who did not share the experience to know what it is really like to have weathered the earthquakes and their aftermath and to have seen a city, suburbs and homes so mangled they have to be demolished or evacuated.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we forget so soon ourselves. That is why recording each step of the way back from the upheaval of the earthquakes is important.

Sometimes it is the more mundane things that stay in the mind.

During last weekend, as millions in the Philippines hunkered down to ride out the unforgiving and ferocious wind and sea, it now seems rather insensitive to note we were moving back into our house after it was repaired and repainted.

Many people will now have been through the same process.

The word from Fletcher and its contractors that things are ready to go. The search for a rental and the packing up of the house so the tradespeople can move in.

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Most people will have not been able to avoid going through their stacks of possessions and knick-knacks, much of them obsolete and broken, and wondered where all the stuff came from and why on earth it was accumulated and stored in the first place.

There will be objects damaged in the earthquake and never fixed. Items tucked away for so long ago that you didn't know you had them.

Children's toys, unfinished models, and homemade projects bring back the years of having young children and all the things they used to hold dear.

Packing up reveals the chest full of knitting wool that has never seen a needle, and moving the furniture reveals the unfinished DIY projects.

And once you have moved back in, the lounge suite that now looks threadbare against the new paint. Appliances that look shabby against the new lino. Chairs so rickety they should not be put back in the house.

Perhaps, in New Zealand's history, never have so many people had to move out of their houses for such a short time.

Never has there been such demand for rental accommodation or so many tradies, a word that seems to have caught on post- earthquake, on the road.

Never has shoddy work been in such evidence or good work so much appreciated. And yet what a great scheme it is for many and what a pain, even an anguish, the process is for others.

Forget about the gap between the rich and the poor. In Christchurch we should be thinking more about the gap between the earthquake winners and losers.

With Mrs VB away most evenings this week I was on cooking duty. And as I stood at our bench on the new lino, looking around at the new paintwork while I stirred the frying onions, it was nice to be home and cooking a meal for the family.

And I thought about those families in Tacloban who won't have a home to cook in any time soon.

And I wonder what they will be talking about in three years' time.

- The Press

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