No amount of appreciation that you’ve heard about Cape Town is over stated. It will surprise anyone by turning true on most of the expectations:
- Diverse Natural Beauty – With view of the mountains and the oceans from the same spot, there isn’t many places on earth that tells you the grand affair nature is.
- Very European city centre – The city feels like a European city on vacation. The city centre is set with beautiful well-built infrastructure for vehicles and pedestrians, and with many outdoor cafes on the street.
This piece will focus a bit on the general sentiments and cultural capture that I could make from the city. But most of this piece focuses about my experience with these friends long distanced, never met before but floating together on common aspirations and ambitions, threaded together with Green Economy Coalition.
What got us together?
The movement that I am a part of (from the Indian team) spans across 7 countries – India, South Africa, Mongolia, Uganda, Senegal, Caribbean and Peru – across civil society and small business. The movement is to strengthen voices from the grassroots that provide evidence of green and inclusive economies – alternative to the current economic paradigm. The movement brings together like-minded people- who believe that the way finance, goods and services are produced, distributed and consumed – is highly inequitable and is leading to an environment crisis. Changing the way we produce, we do business and a more informed and responsible consumer base is not just important but a pre-requisite for sustainability in development.
Now that is much of the theory I had to say. But this was perhaps the first time, all 7 country hubs were meeting, full of stories of what they’ve been doing, how country is reacting on issues around green economy.
A flavor of the stories shared by 7 country hubs…
Odnoo, My colleague from the coldest country, Mongolia shared of the problem of air pollution that their city is facing the poor population is part of the cause and effect of such high degrees of air pollution. It is interesting to note to see mobilization by people that lead the Monogolian government to take it up as a critical agenda in the country’s development. Migration of rural people to big cities, despite no surety of warm houses available shows the disparities that development in any part of the world is causing. Concentrate the capital, get people to live like they don’t matter, just money does. And further make them forget how life could be simple, slow, sedentary and still lovable.
Odnoo and I happened to make sometime and go the oceans, and this was first time for both of us! There was nothing close to this joy that I can point in my recent memories where I am excited, scared, helpless and joyful at the same time. I was close to tears looking at the mightiness that nature brings to us, and city dwellers like us live so far away from it, in our own unreal times. For Odnoo, it was also a trip for many other firsts, her first Uber ride, her first fox nuts…
- Racine from Senegal shared the long lived universally felt (in some form or the other) struggle of local fishing community fighting for conservation and fishing rights against the bigger companies and corporate exploitation of marine fishing in Senegal. Racine, has been one of the most poised and warm personalities who would steal your heart with his love and kind gestures of taking care.
- Our friends from Uganda shared with enthusiasm their milestone achievement in tabling Citizen engagement bill – as a part of development policy making. Much enthusiasm I was told is of them coming to India, next year. Arthur and friends shared their excitement with me, also saying that I am so lucky to be from India at the time when it is one of the most promising economies. I had never thought of my luck like that. I instantly reacted by saying that stronger economies also have a lot more weight against inclusion that my own fellow citizens have to bear. So it’s both a blessing and a curse in disguise.
- Our Peruvian team was brimming with energy. They shared how the real conversations happen over food tables and thus started an informal breakfast meetings for MSMEs in their country – that can help them in determining MSMEs interests and required shifts in the economy. Prada, over a dinner conversation shared his associations with long people driven struggle against the corruption in their country – haven’t heard a more dramatic story of revolution from the first hand experience of the person who lead it. Prada, with a studio of his own, had put down a government but showcasing a film that captured some important leaders while making a deal with corruption. The longish conversation that we had was also around how he is looking for something that is of the type that “religion” is and that he can use as a philosophy to tie the world together. With his experience in ad agency, he does has a way to go, in building such a campaign. All hail! And then we have Polo who would love to be called the roudy biker. What was quite funny was Peruvians natural way of hugging and sharing two kisses on the cheeks to greet their friends. While they would do it smoothly as soon as they meet anyone, they would often recall that oops, they are not in their own country and people may get offended. I believe the warmth amongst the group just overpowered traditions and nothing thus came in the way of fond memories.
- Nicole, our partner from Caribbean’s was a woman I was waiting to meet. I have been listening to her interjections in various calls from almost Day 1 of my job at DA. I would always love her slow, calm and firm accent on the call – with some very sharp points added to the discussion. All I had heard was not enough to the personality she carried – a woman in complete control and yet flows like a river. She knows how to connect at personal chords with people and live the life not seriously, but sincerely to the belief system. The interesting part of how Caribbean nations are attempting to mainstream green economy is to sensitize the leadership. Bringing in some most influential people, genuine to the concerns of development, and providing them with the space for conversation about the intensity of climate risks and the potential damage to the people of Caribbean Islands. It seemed quite plausible of Nicole taking over the conversation with senior officials and they going home convinced of the little that they may be able to do in their mundane routine of the government job. It might. The conversations I won’t forget about Nicole are her experiences after running an organization for more than 25 years, our bond with George; and how she and I had this conversation on what I want to pursue in life, and how can I best begin with. Basic but real entrepreneurship dreams.
- South Africans – Our hosts were some of the coolest and warm people I met. I have used the word “coolest” perhaps for the first time after college. But there isn’t really another word. Gaylor, with his dry and street-ish humor but oh-so-well sophisticated conversation can dive you deeper into the politics, history and culture of South Africa and at the same time, pull out some common chords from India and making it an intense cultural exchange. Mao has been welcoming and of course most stressed during the meeting, with all the responsibilities that he was shouldering with Gaylor. Mohammed Patel – a calm and poised; and Sanjana – quite the contrary and both Indian-origin – made me learn the diversity in which we thrive, beautifully.
- GEC Secretariat team, UK: This is a group from UK that ties all of us together, at times when we are flowing in our own fine direction, which is most of the time. Some of them, I talk almost on a monthly basis like Stuart (Programme Lead), Catriona (Project Manager) and Chris (Communications Manager). Some others, whom you talk to, perhaps once in six months, Oliver and Emily. And yet some others, that I was meeting for the first time, Laura. There were many floating conversations I had with all. Snippets of some that I shall keep with me for long are scribbled hereby. Stuart is one of the most enthusiastic and optimistic child trapped in the body of the adult. The strongest part about him is also that he has more logical arguments than a child to also get his way around people, around arguments. There hasn’t been a dull moment when Stuart is around. I shall never forget our conversations on truth, realities, religion, perspectives, the idea of conversation and many many things more. He of course is a conscientious man but also a conscious one, conscious about being a Brit. So as a part of the conversation, he will always tell you what a typically Brit man would do, and how he does it. It is funny and informative. Catriona, on the other end is that carefully poised and gentle soul. I was amazed at how she hasn’t aged at all, when she was around 12 years older than me, with a kid back home. To me she felt a young soul, physically as well as emotionally, as a person. Life goals, it gives to one self! And then we have Chris – who would love to be that amazing person, but always behind the cameras. Never met anyone who despises Camera as much as Chris, in a long time. Camera is not his thing, but conversations definitely are. I think the peak moment was when this man from SDC had joined us on one of the dinner nights and Chris had told me how important he is, as a donor group and we must make our case. I was tipsy enough to take this as a command and went on like water from an opened tap, making emotional and somewhat logical claims to fame for GEC. To the extent that as the night went by Chris had to signal me that the jar is full to brim and it is a good idea to close the tap instead of letting the water flow out. A bit embarrassing but more fun. Seagulls in their UK office were again an intriguing story that left me in a pleasant surprise. Of course it wasn’t pleasant I was told. But one thing was for sure, Catriona and Chris had their heart in the green and were learning of how inclusion in economy is compromised with and without green.
Oliver has been leading the GEC network. He had an aura like that of George, our President at DA till 2018. He would be precise with words, funny, strict and humble at the same time. On one of the occasions, when most of us from the GEC national hubs got disappointed with the PAGE proceedings, we decided to go and have a conversation with Oliver. It just so happened that we met him and sat to have a conversation, I was directed to appropriately articulate. I shared our disbeliefs and he heard them very carefully. As I stopped, he began with complete empathy and compassion that what we believed was completely true to its being. After we felt we were at parity, he began telling us how he has fought GEC’s way to be a partner at PAGE today. After another 10 minutes of his journey, we were convinced to ask him what he wants us to do, like the kids follow after the Pied Pipers song. Emily, I would say was a great listener. She was hearing all of us out, all the time. Letting us understand our thoughts and emotions from what she could decipher. Not a lot of chance that I got to speak with her, but she gave the vibes of being in the centre of global conversations on green economy for a long time, and looking or islands of hope that this will make a difference at scale, one day.
The enigmatic closure and thus highs and lows of UN-PAGE
The conference was typical UN based conference. A lot of people, a lot of countries and a lot of exhibit. Or may be I should say, I lot of lost people, a lot of lost country officials and lot of exhibit making some sense in this lost world. There isn’t much one can do about the UN conferences, unless we find a better way countries can interact in such short time. It’s like democracy, worst form of governance, but just better than any other practiced so far.
I won’t be wronged if I say that there were many Whites in all the room, a lot many from South Africa itself. It just felt odd, in many ways. Met a coal mine labour activist from South Africa and she was sharing her own apprehensions to a conference where there are so many white people, she herself was white by the way. The odd thing is perhaps, some white people are aware that they cannot talk on everyone’s behalf; some white people are humble and they are sort of aware of their historical and cultural context. The latter are rare, and the former are loud and are usually overshadowing the latter.
Follow the link here to check the video at 32.30 minutes to hear the question I could raise at the time of debate @CNBCAfrica on “What is Wealth?”
I should not forget to mention an amazing debate that happened on Day 0 of the UN PAGE. There is no one in recent past that I have loved more than Nozipho Mbanjwa @TheRealNozi for her skills of articulation, precision, at the top of her instincts and humor. I got the chance to not just listen to the live TV debate by CNBC Africa she moderated on “What is Wealth”.
A quick touristy dig at the city
Table Mountain is a natural delight in Cape Town. Its magnificence lies from earlier times, as I was reading its part when British and Dutch came to the unknown lands of South Africa in The Covenant by James A Michener. It is so giant and majestic in its being that had such a thing was in India, it would have surely been matched with some mythological incident of how some Gods and Demons fought and cut the Mountain top to a table, in some rage. I am sure. But here it lies, mostly as a natural delight, natural wonder, just as it is, for you to not decipher where and why but mostly live what it is.
The streets got deserted, as early 8-9 in the night. Even during the noon, there were some parts of the city that were completely on its own. I wasn’t feeling very unsafe, however, I was told by most of the locals that it is not a city to walk out alone. Nothing really happened to me that I could accept their claims but on one of the last days, Polo’s wallet and mobile got picked in a smooth hug by a stranger, leaving a shrill in everyone.
As I travelled back in Uber for the Airport, I happened to see this mountain that looked like an elephant. I was going to just share this observation with my driver but he began before I could saying that this mountain is called the Elephant Eye. I was amazed, it felt like an elephant was playing ice-pice when he was a child. Someone forgot to give him pice, so he has been standing like an ice since forever.
Riverfront was a beautiful joint to enjoy the breeze, some great food and wine and mostly feel an island-ish happiness in the city. The rest of the city may have patches of ugly, bad, good and better. This part was clean from all the bad and ugly. You can only see what can make your evening nice – food, massages, wine, handicrafts, etc.
The bridge on the right is a canopy, I am standing the height of a typical tall tree.
On one of the evenings, Zeenat asked if we should check a biodiversity park nearby that we heard others from the group went to. I agreed and planned. One thing we may want to know about Cape Town’s weather is that No one knows. No one knows when its going to be sunny, when its going to rain, when its going to be humid and then sunny again. And with our amazing luck, it started raining almost 10 minutes after Zeenat and I reached this park. To our pleasant surprise, none of us had second thoughts about still going forward and explore in the rain. It surely went as an amazing time in rain and sun and trees, some of them older than 1500 years.
Penguins were almost my last spot before I left Cape Town and surely a place to not miss. Not that animals and biodiversity give me a lot of excitement but Penguins felt so much like humans. There were lazy fat ones, there were energetic violent ones, soft and cozy ones. They were just so close to us, as humans, of course much less destructive. The view where the water meets the sky and the playful penguins doing their dance, is something that puts one milestone in your life – that of the little that we are in our playfulness and the vast and majestic he is, in his mightiness.