The streets were quiet. Few were smiling. It felt as if everything had just slowed down with a heavy weight enveloping the city.
We walked around with no place to go, just trying to get a sense of this city, as a tourist, just happening to be in town so soon after a terrorist attacked hundreds of worshiping individuals during Friday prayer.
Walking along one small street, bordered by a river on one side and buildings on another, we looked up to see two police cars and 3 motorcycles along with many police lining up to seemingly block the road. They were not acting with extreme focus. They remained casual, but their they were – arriving at and blocking the road we walked upon. Why? We still do not know. They did seem to be looking past us. Should we be concerned? We walked by them and they paid us no mind; but looking up at the scene added to the overall unsettling feeling.
Sadly, living in the United States throughout the last decade, news of crazy individuals needlessly killing other human beings as they go about their daily lives, has become a regular occurrence. Visiting in New Zealand, not too far from their first mass shooting, didn’t feel much different. We were around other tourists and not very tuned into the daily atmosphere.
That all changed when we arrived in Christchurch just 3 days after an individual shot randomly into two mosques. We were flying out the next day but had an afternoon to burn and got a ride into the City Center. On our way, we drove by a long wall at the botanical gardens that was lined with layers and layers of flowers along with a long row of media vehicles and equipment. We were dropped off blocks away from that wall and began walking around town.
Christchurch was struck with an awful earthquake in 2011 that shook the city literally and figuratively. Amazing old buildings were destroyed, and they have not yet been repaired. Old brick buildings are covered in make-shift structures to hold what’s left together, but the rebuilding of many has not yet begun; or maybe they are not yet sure what will happen. Other large buildings around the city center remain vacant, boarded and covered in graffiti. Couple that with nearly vacant streets in a city of 400,000 people, and something doesn’t feel right.
Even though the U.S. has had similar attacks, and I have felt close, I realized that I have never been quite so close. I have never even been in the same State, and here I was just miles from the attack, albeit days later.
Before leaving the city center, we paid a visit to the memorial wall. It isn’t at one of the sites of crime but rather a central location where anyone could come and pay their respect. It appears that all flowers in the city are probably along this wall. While a tragic circumstance, the signs of support for the lives of all humans was touching. A few pictures are below. They do not do it justice – this same scene stretches on and on, far beyond what you can see from these photos.