The days after: fear and unity

Flowers and signs are seen at a memorial site for victims of the mosque shootings, at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch. Photo: Reuters
Flowers and signs are seen at a memorial site for victims of the mosque shootings, at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch. Photo: Reuters
New Zealanders will use the Christchurch terror attack to strengthen their connections with one another, writes Dunedin’s Kate Oktay.

My writing for this paper is supposed to be funny. Today it is not. Today it is angry.

Fifty people dead.

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay
I am with my little daughter in the mess of a Saturday morning bed and thinking of the Christchurch Imam's voice cracking as he talked of a 5-year-old child who was shot. My own 5-year-old and my husband are regulars at Friday prayers here in Dunedin. The madman had planned it here. Where we live.

Our small mosque, so incongruous in the middle of the student houses with its broken beer bottle-lined footpaths and hand-painted signs of drunken revelry where the faithful gather every week to pray among Dunedin's carefree youth, could have been the one. My heart clutches when I think of it and I hold my daughter tight to me.

Our friends have gone up to Christchurch to help bury the dead and offer what help they can. My husband is torn between rage and desolation. Everyone is scared.

Who is this man? These people who could do this? In New Zealand?

I returned home to Aotearoa's sleepy beaches and sun-dappled bush when I was pregnant. Taking my husband from his home and his family. But away too, from bombs and tear gas and protests that ended with people hurt. I felt safe. We all felt safe.

Now it feels like nowhere is safe.

I feel angry. And sad. And heartbroken. For the mothers, for our refugee community who left Syria's bloody war to run from bullets here, and for our community who are now fearful to worship their God.

I am thinking of my lovely friend who wears a hijab and catches the bus every day to take her child to school. Will this embolden these people? Will someone say something to her?

I am frightened for what this means for our life here.

But then the phone calls start. And the messages. And then my kind neighbours who are in their 80s turn up on our doorstep with a shrub in their hands and tears in their eyes. ''We wanted to give this to you'' she says. ''This plant is our community; we are the different branches, we are tangled, we are together, we need each other and we are all the same.''

I hear about the Dunedin Mothers page with woman after woman listing where they live, offering Muslim women here someone to go shopping with, someone to sit with, if they are scared.

People I hardly know and people I haven't spoken to in years reach out to show their support to my husband.

There are soon more dollars raised for the victims than people living in our small nation. And I realise that this will only make us stronger. My anger wanes and I am defiant.

These people, on the fringes of society, who shoot children and hate people because their egos are fragile and their minds are dull will not break us apart.

We will use this act of terror and atrocity to strengthen our connections with one another; to reach across our patchwork of cultures, religions and political ideologies to embrace the differences which make this beautiful land we all call home so rich.

We are New Zealand, and we will stand together.

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