Last week, I went to this climate change meeting in Durban they call the COP 17. There were at least 17,000 people there. Some drove but most flew in. The South African government did a fantastic job. This was one of the best organized international conferences on the continent. No offense Accra, I like you guys too but South Africa is on another level. Durban itself is like a small European town. It’s clean (at least the part where we are) with high-rise buildings and malls, well-paved roads, organized traffic and amazing gardens and greenery everywhere.
There was free transport that picked and dropped the participants anywhere and everywhere. The shuttles and buses were organized like an underground metro system with several stops before they returned to the hub at the International conference center (ICC). Access into the center required a badge with facial verification, which I thought was uber-cool. On the inside there were hundreds of meetings happening all through each day.
Then there were the South African volunteers, as polite and as helpful as they come; well-trained, eager to facilitate and actually quite helpful. I was incredibly impressed. The volunteers were mostly college students of black and Indian origin. I guess white South Africans don’t do this kind of thing.
The conference participants were a beautiful kaleidoscope of faces coming from everywhere and I mean everywhere. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the midst of something special; a unique movement of people valuing and revering the earth and its resources. I find it difficult to appreciate the complexity and wonder of the world we live in without being in awe of God, its creator. It’s truly awe-inspiring.
Anyway, there is way too much to say about the conference so I shall limit today’s post to a random commentary on the out-of-conference travel-related happenings. Mostly because I want to hear if any of you have ever experienced a body search like the one I describe in the final paragraph of this post.
From the moment I got into the airport in Dakar, this trip was full of anecdotal experiences. Like the hour-long delay caused by Namibia’s first lady’s checking-in of 42 pieces of luggage that included an Ironing board!!! Surely, wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper for her to just buy one in Dakar, or don’t Senegalese iron their clothes too? Nkt.
Hanging out with my ‘bestie’ was a personal highlight. She pointed out to me one of life’s ironies. When we met in Nairobi a couple of years ago, her laptop password was ‘Manatee’. (A manatee is an endangered sea-cow found along West Africa’s coast). I remember rolling my eyes at her as I said “Mana-what?” I could never remember the spelling leave alone its meaning; it could have been an alien for all I cared. Well, fast forward 3 years later and I am now working for an environmental organization in West Africa that works on….you guessed right…. ‘Manatees!’ Not only can I now name all the 4 Manatee species in my sleep, I am working with my colleagues on several manatee publications that include a children’s book!:-) Yap, life does come around:-).
One evening too impatient to wait for the official shuttles, my friend and I decided to join another white couple that was getting into a public taxi. South African public transport consists Nissan shuttles, just like in Kenya, that they call ‘taxis’. The one huge difference is that they don’t have a tout. I didn’t know that. So the white couple had to explain to us how it worked. You tap on the shoulder of the passenger seated in front of you and hand them the money and they do the same until the money gets to the driver who calculates the change and passes the money back in the same way it came. If you want to get off you just shout/yell-out your destination and the driver will stop. I found the whole process quite fascinating. And, so did the white couple. They turned to my friend and made a remark oh how strange it was to have to explain to a black woman how to use a taxi. NKT (that very African sound of annoyance) was my very loud reaction. Kwani because I am black I instantly know how to use public transport on all parts of the continent? NKTEST!!
The black-white assumptions did get to us. I suppose it’s impossible to be in South Africa and not experience some post-apartheid culture. White South Africans automatically spoke to my friend in Afrikaans and black South Africans spoke to me in Zulu. I don’t know why we took offense but we did, it annoyed us. I kept saying that in Kenya we are better are recognizing foreigners and not burdening them with long awkward requests in Zulu. Ok, I admit our annoyance was mostly feigned.
Well all those small inconveniences pale when compared to the trauma of the South African airways security search. In all my traveling, I have never been hand-searched so thoroughly. The security lady stuck her fingers into every nook and cranny of my chest and nether regions, and I was in a skirt!! When she was done, my tears flowed freely. I was not alone. I don’t know how one can survive such public humiliation/violation without some emotional reaction. I know we are post-911 but there must be another more dignified way to ascertain security. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what did you do? Sigh. As my father says, travel is penance for the joys of new and wonderful places.
The song of the week is an all-time favorite testimony-song.
Rich Mullins – Hold me Jesus