Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ooh look! Something dreadful!

Geologists and seismologists probably can't believe their luck. There they were, tucked away in their laboratories with their rocks, fingering their core samples and quietly growing beards, and now all of a sudden reporters trailing cameramen are fighting each other to get them on national - international! - TV. Very exciting for them, and they probably don't mind that they're being asked the same basic questions over and over, that any twelve year-old could answer if they'd paid attention in geography.

I relieved in a geography lesson yesterday at school, and the absent teacher - clearly desperate - had just scribbled down 'Ask the HOD for an earthquake DVD' on the cover form. The first one he supplied about Kobe (ha! old news) wouldn't play properly, so instead we watched one about Haiti. "It's a bit gruesome," I warned the class of 16 year-olds. "There are lots of bodies, apparently." They weren't fazed: "Bring it on, Miss!" they said. But when it came to it, the shots of bodies falling from digger scoops into trucks, being shovelled into mass graves, of amputated limbs and bloody bandages, were shocking for all of us.

Even more shocking, in its way, was that the Haiti earthquake was over a year ago now. It was such huge news at the time, but faded away so quickly that when the anniversary came round the reaction was "Oh yeah, Haiti. How's it going there?" And of course the answer is, "Pretty much unchanged". But in the meantime our attention has flitted elsewhere, to the Chilean earthquake, to that volcano in Iceland that inconvenienced so many Westerners, to the fires in Russia, the floods in Pakistan, Pike River, the first Christchurch earthquake...

And now it's Christchurch's turn to be the curtain-raiser, forgotten as soon as the main act begins, eclipsed by something so much bigger and more dramatic. It's a valuable reminder, actually: that the suffering and struggling go on well after the world's grasshopper attention has flicked off somewhere else.

Not everybody's like that, of course: the Japanese USAR team (Urban Search and Rescue - the latest acronym we've become depressingly familiar with; less chilling even so than DVI, disaster victim identification) were preparing to leave last night after spending several weeks here searching for, amongst others, the remains of the Japanese students in the CTV building; and now are on their way back to Japan - not going home, but to their next mission. I hope they get to rescue some people alive this time.

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