By Norhan El Sanjak and Ala Ghandour
A year since the attacks and the wound still feels fresh. The terrorist attacks took 51 lives, left dozens injured and scarred countless families, friends and communities. One of those people, Ala Ghandour recounts the tragedy from her perspective (as shown in italics).
A few distinct incidents stand out to me from the March 15 tragedy. Things that will probably never leave my memory and things which will forever shape my worldview.
I remember walking down the hospital corridor with my brother and having a lady stop him, so excited to see him, asking if he remembered her from a youth camp he’d gone on in Christchurch the preceding year. She said “I know you were closer to (redacted) but do you think you can talk to (redacted)? He has survivors’ guilt.” She said “he keeps saying “why did he not run? Why did I not make him run with me?” Things like that. “Maybe he’ll take it better from you than from me, that it’s not his fault, that there was nothing he could’ve done, that we’re glad he’s still here with us. He sees you as a role model.”
I remember my brother’s suffocated face as we walked into the room and I remember the kid’s exhausted face, too.
It takes a village to unleash a mass shooting, the ideology that the attacker has exists and is manifested within New Zealand. This is not an action of one bad guy who got a hold of a gun. These shootings have been fueled by hate speech, racism and white supremacism. It is our collective responsibility.
The three months following the terrorist attack, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) received 455 pieces of lead information about individuals who had expressed racist, Nazi, identarian or white supremacist views.
NZSIS provided a 24/7 incident response centre immediately after the attack, a Royal Commission Inquiry was established to look into the attack to provide answers to the public and insights to improve, the ‘Christchurch Call’ was initiated, and gun laws changed in New Zealand. Amazing work has been done by the Government, authorities and agencies. It’s a long road ahead, but as a society we have proven that love will prevail in Aotearoa.
I remember helping someone with an application. I asked him what his date of birth was. He said “March 15”. He laughed. “My birthday, the day my dad died.” We looked at each other in silence. There was nothing funny about this moment, we both knew.
I remember walking into the wrong room by accident, to be met with a set of eyes only just coming up from under the sheets. “Hi! We’re delivering food, would you like some?” He stares back at me. Nothing. A man I later found out had not slept in the several days since the tragedy at this point. I remember the tears and the prayers and the ‘I haven’t been able to locate my family member, have you heard anything about (redacted)?’. I remember the heavy sinking feeling in my chest that didn’t go away for months, and I remember the sleepless nights and foodless days.
But with tragedy comes triumph, proven by the outpouring of love that was shown to our Muslim communities. Florists were sold out all over New Zealand, candles lit up vigils, Air New Zealand provided free flights to families of those affected and hundreds of Kiwis donated all kinds of goods to the victims and their families, the love shown has slowly been healing the wound.
But above all, I remember the love. I remember the feeling that I was surrounded with it and that it wasn’t going anywhere. I remember the long, squishy hugs and I remember the look of thanks. I remember the ‘I appreciate what you are doing, but I hope you are okay’. I remember the calls, the texts, the messages, the flowers, the letters. I remember the posters on the streets and the conversations everywhere and the overwhelming kindness. I remember the donations, and I remember the ‘what specifically do people need, I will source it’. I remember the half-used groceries donated by people from their own homes because they couldn’t afford to buy a new one to donate. I remember the ‘Sonny Bill came to visit me’ and I remember the lit-up child’s eyes. I remember the brave, selfless and tireless people who worked morning and night, sleep and no sleep, to cater to everyone affected.
March 15 was a tragedy that will forever live in me. It was the day I learnt what true humanity, and the lack thereof, means. It was the day I learnt what small actions and words can mean to people, and it was the day that will forever be in my mind and in my heart.