November – December 2010 adventures!

25 01 2011

The UK was great. It felt like coming home after three years; the landscape of the English countryside brought back some amazing memories. Helen from the Commonwealth Youth Council  was kind enough to come and pick me  up from the airport. She seemed so excited about the project, and I was so excited to experience crisp sunshine of English winter.

I was joined by youth leaders from the Caribbean, Australia, Nigeria, Canada, the UK and Africa. We as representatives of the youth of the Commonwealth were to start working on a resource kit for emerging young leaders.

After a basic understanding of the task we started working on it, brainstorming, mapping, debating, and soon we came up with a broad outline of what we were going to do in the coming months.
Since work was so intense, we were taken to Oxford for a days break, where I was freezing; fortunately Ruchi (my ex-colleague from IYCN, who is now studying in Oxford) gave me her overcoat. I joined her in her environmental economics lecture at her college, which was good.

Mike Knowles came later on to meet me and we together went to meet Zaid. Zaid and Mike are probably not the best pair, but I was surprised at how patient Zaid was to Mikes expanded presentation of his world domination business plan.

After Ruchi it was Zaid’s turn to lend me his jacket. Mike was then kind enough to drop me in my commonwealth retreat house, back in the English countryside.

We shifted to London for the week ahead, to meet people who could be interested partners or donors for our project. Our big meeting was with senior officials with the commonwealth Secretariat, whose building was one of the most fancy buildings I have seen: the residence of the Queen, which had been donated to the Commonwealth.

The Secretariat seemed very positive about youth taking a leadership role in the area of climate change and they were ready to support in any way possible. Commonwealth can play a very effective role in strengthening the voice of the small island nations, as majority of the commonwealth is represented by the small island states. At the same time there was a heated debate on how much the Commonwealth needs to change to become more democratic, transparent and allow greater youth participation in the process.

The following day we had meetings in the Royal Commonwealth Society, which is the largest  and oldest of the Commonwealth societies. The meeting in a spaceship-style room had a posh and sharp air to it.

Later in the day, people wanted to go shopping and I went to see Mike at Greencoat Place (Initiatives of Change office in London). The buses were stranded as all the taxis were on strike, and I had to walk a long way to the tube. Since I am in a habit of not using maps, I got lost once again. After reaching Greencoat place, I got a bonus of meeting with Don De Silva and Mike Smith. It is such a huge space, but seems mostly deserted.  Mike was very pleased with his time in London and so he took me out for dinner in a fancy Italian restaurant.

Next day we went to Plan International. It was a great meeting with  the people from the unit of disaster risk reduction, it was the first time I understood the relationship between DRR and adaptation. What was most fascinating for me was how they involved children and youth on disaster risk mapping in the vulnerable areas of Bangladesh.

The day concluded with a  very exciting meeting at the 10:10 Hub, I stayed back to listen to a talk by Richard Wilkinson, who is passionate about equity and has written a book Spirit on the advantages of equal societies.

I was sharing my room with Taiwo, a Nigerian Youth Climate hero. Taiwo and I had a great time sharing the room, we made fun of the English shows on television and danced to Nigerian and Indian music.

Later that night, just as I was sailing into dreamland, I got a call from Zaid Hassan. He enquired me about my schedule for the next day, and requested if I could join him for a pitch at PwC office for a project with Climate and Development Knowledge Network. I had no idea of what I was  getting into, but the following morning I hurried to get to the PwC office.

Zaid, Geoff( Zaids Collegue) and I stood at the ground floor of the office, where Zaid elaborated on the background of the entire project. It made much more sense to me and I had just enough  in my head for this pitch. We went to one of the most fancy offices I had seen in recent times. We were greeted by a team of about six, juice, fruits, a projector and a screen.  We introduced ourselves and went straight into the pitch, it was mainly Zaid at his best. There was an amazing flow as he drew each stage and the real time feed back came from CDKN.

After this amazing morning I joined Geoff to the Modern museum, to connect with the web. Geoff had been working with Zaid for a year or so, but he also works waste-into-energy projects back in the U.S.
I connected with Alexander, Juan and Ronnie on  Inegral Economics. It was a great call, at the same time I was trying to book my tickets to Cancun. It was a rush, as I had to scan something and email to Juan, get my luggage from the hotel, print my ticket and then catch the train to Wigan (Mike’s place). I managed in the end, it was great fun !!

My suitcase is one of the biggest burden in my long travels. It almost seems that I am  travelling with my home. The worst  is when it needs assistance on a staircase, it is like I am walking with a leg of a blue elephant. It is  also quite a menace in the tiny UK trains.  My fellow passengers are most worried, when they see me trying to balance myself with it (or perhaps they look at me this way because I create a nuisance to them?).

Soon I was in cold Wigan, and  there stood Mike on the foot steps of the train station, he was quick to spot the leg of the blue elephant with me. He helped me with it to the car, then the story began about Wigan and its people. He made a  quick microwave dinner for me, not sure how healthy it was, but it certainly filled my stomach.

Early next morning I was introduced to Mike’s office, which was full of books on engineering, energy, turbines and management. It was a bit chaotic, but there was an order in this chaos. We soon agreed on an agenda for the day and got a road map to Morels house in York. Morel is the CEO of Gaiasoft and his mind is as big as the universe, but often parallel to Mikes universe.

Just before leaving I was introduced to Mike’s Joy of life, they fell in love when they were 16 and have been married for about three decades.  Mike and I started our journey soon after meeting Joy. We discusses everything from entropy, to turbines, to history of industry revolution and social cooperative  movements. The landscape reminded me of Scotland , green hillocks and farmland on the horizon.

Soon we were in York and turned into the countryside, the space reminded of  the landscape in Braveheart. It seemed like the Roman time in Britania. There were two houses side by side, we were even confused about which one to enter. The two angels at the entrance had a mystical aura.

It had huge beautiful garden with ancient trees, the energy of this place was special. Mike  called Morel on phone, and so he appeared to open the door for us. He was unusually calm with big smile and red cheeks. He led us in and down a quite a few levels in his bright and cosy kitchen. He was preparing butternut soup, a pate, and a salad. We ate for about two hours, it was one of the most delicious meals I had had.

After lunch we ‘meshworked’ our  brains off, trying to come up with joint universe between  Mike and Morel. It started slow, with a duet a monologue between Morel and Mike, and  then at some point, we realized that we needed to start mapping  the conversation, and started asking each other certain strategic questions. This was beautiful, its suddenly shifted something, and we went into an artistic creation.

Mike and Morel both seemed to have enjoyed the time. I got a bit worried about how late we got, and I was right and Joy did get angry. The next day I bid farewell to Mike and went to London. Soon I caught the train to Oxford, on the way I helped a drunk Sudanese activist to find his way to the train. Zaid had put me up in Milka’s guest house, at first it seemed to me a sikh name, but then I discovered she was Eastern European.  The next morning I got late for breakfast, but she still gave me something to eat, I will never forget her for that. It was a working morning at Zaid’s office, the house of Graham Greene. Just as we started working, I realized that my phone battery was very low and that I had forgotten my charger at Mikes house in Wigan.

That was quite a setback, it meant that my parents would be desperate, as they could  not contact their poor  child, who was miles away in a foreign land. Probably it was for the  good, they needed to learn to be patient and trust the Universe. )

It was cool to work with Zaid, although I did not get to see much of him. He cooked lunch for us, and  it was  a wonderful English meal. It was nice to meet Mia, Zaid’s wife, and Ash, his son. Their house was full of books, mostly about social change, political science, failed states, etc.

I mostly worked on my bio for the CDKN project and was trying to get hold of other peoples bios, it was more enjoyable than I had earlier perceived it to be. Later in the evening I went for a walk to the river, but was a bit surprised to see instead a small canal. I also a discovered an ancient church with exquisite architecture, it  was   spooky at that time of the evening, but I still went in and saw a lady appearing from the  graveyard in the  opposite side, a chill ran through my spine.    She just smiled and walked out of the gate. It was pitch dark, and this place did not seem very friendly, so I decided to walk out and enjoy the beautiful architecture some other time.

I still had some time before dinner, so I decided to stop by a traditional English pub, and finish my bio with a pint of local ale. The dinner that night was great, it was good vegetarian Indian food. We chatted about everything from Mexico, the shamans, CIA , 9/11, conspiracy,  it was  fun and I got more books to read from Zaid.

For the next day I managed to get a meeting with Mike Mason for the Gigatonne Lab. Mike is a maverick and seemed to have done almost everything, he had previously sold the his own company Climate Care to JP Morgan. He is currently the advisor to President Nasheed   in the Maldives, working on making it carbon neutral in the next 10 years.

He seemed very interested in the Gigatonne Lab, but could not put any of his own commitment to the project. That evening I was supposed to go to  London, to meet Geoff and  Jennifer, but I had not heard anything from Juan about my ticket to Cancun. The next few hours went into sorting out my ticket, I even tried to call a local travel agent, borrowed money from Zaid and Ruchi, but it still did not work.

Finally I had to request Jennifer for her card details to book my ticket for next morning.  I flew to Cancun, it was the longest air journey in my life, but the sight of the turquoise blue ocean made it all worth it.

There I was in Mayan land, after dreaming about it for so long. Everything seemed so similar to India, the food, the  people, it particularly reminded of Mumbai or Goa. The only difference was when people started speaking in Spanish.

Two weeks in Cancun have flown like crazy. My time there started by getting lost on the first night I landed here.   The night I landed, I tried to contact Juan without much success, the Internet in the airport did not work , nor did I have the address of the place where were staying. I somehow managed to get a shared taxi to the city, on the way to the city, I realized that one of them had iphone with Internet and that she could comprehend  English, she let access my email. The first email in my email was from Albane, telling me that I should wait at the airport, as they were coming to pick me.

The driver and rest of my fellow passengers were then immersed to communicate with Albane and coordinate my pick up arrangement, it  was hilarious and frustrating at the same time.

They finally dropped me at a Starbucks, where I was later on picked up up by Albane and Juan.

I was quite jetlagged, but I was filled with joy to see Juan and Albane. That night was quite crazy, as I had to figure out a place to stay, Juan needed to pick his stuff from the Klimaforum (in the forest in the middle of nowhere ), and then pick up Preeti at 1:00 am in the morning. We  somehow managed, thanks to Juan and his friend.

Preeti seemed quite pleased that we came to pick her up as she also had a major problem in communication with other people in the airport. Just as she unpacked, she also figured that some of  her stuff was missing and someone had  planted a medicine kit in her bag.

The next morning we had the task of fetching Katha from the airport, as we all shifted with the Meshwork team to the house in Puerto Morelos. It was quite a task to keep ourselves awake that day, as all of us were quite jetlagged. After some adventure we finally reached our house, and it was worth all the effort, as it was beautiful.

We met with Valentini from Brazil  and an Indian-looking woman from Mexico, whose name was Tony.  Valentini had been working in the youth movement in the past, and was currently living in the Netherlands. Tony on the other hand is a very passionate environmentalist from Mexico, and is working a lot on waste management in Mexico City.

The next day we got up early and left for the Conference of Youth, which was happening in the University Del Caribe. The public transport in Mexico is strange, there   are no railways and a very strange bus system. The organized bus system is a privatized bus carrier called the Adeo, which has supper chilled air conditioner, television, and is much more expensive than the other buses. The other bus system was terribly confusing, we were literally taken for a ride a couple of times.

Cancun as a city was like Las Vegas, a  complete holiday town designed in a American   suburban City. Not a Sustainable design at all, as to  survive there you need a car to commute. Most of the main city is covered by the hotel zone, which consists of these huge fancy hotels covering the entire shoreline of Cancun. Until one lives in one of the smaller towns like Puerto Morelos, it was very difficult to see local people and culture.

The Conference of Youth was much smaller than last year, but we had a diverse crowd, there were much more youth from China, New Zealand, Taiwan, which was great. We had much smaller numbers from South Asia this year. I had my opportunities  to connect with the crowd and introduce Katha and Preeti to the others.  We had a few South Asia meetings, loads of free lunches and a great warm-up to COP 16.

After a couple of nights at Puerto Morelos, we said bye to our Meshwork friends and moved into the IofC house in the City, Casa Bonita, it means a beautiful house in Espaniol and so it was.    The two higlights from COY 7 ( the 7th Conference of Youth), was meeting Mary and her colleageus from the Global Commons and facilitating the long term visioning group in YOUNGO. I look forward to work with them in the future.

It was great to meet up with Jose Carols, Aurelia, and the rest of the group from Climatico that night, we made  paneer and it turned out great. Jose Carlos, has been involved with IofC for quite some time, he was a Caux scholar and he also took part in Action for Life in India. At some point he was sharing a room with Altaf, who  is also a great friend of mine who I had met through IofC.  Jose and Aurelia are some of the most effective people working on waste management in Mexico, currently they are helping ragpickers to make beautiful clean houses in the slums of wuhaka with the help of Tetrapaks.

The next day we tried to leave early, but lost our way and then got stuck in traffic. We still reached in time for the opening ceremony. I felt an amazing energy and a warm spirit from all the welcome notes.

All the countries appreciated that hard work that Mexico had put in the preparation, we also went to the reception party, which was a grand celebration with loads of food and drinks on the house. Preeti and Katha were very excited  about their picture with Patricia and Christina, the COP 16 president and the current UNFCCC chair respectively. Jose, Aurelia  and Melennie also joined us later on.

The conference was divided into many places, due to security reasons, the main negotiations were taking place in the Hotel Moon Palace, the NGO and corporate booths and the side events were at the Cancun Messeh, and there were few other venues like the  Climate village,Klimaforum, etc

The government seemed very insecure, as most of the street were filled with heavy artillary and militia. A lot of the gun men were heavily armed and prepared for war. It seems like they were in war with their own country.

Even though there was high security on the outside, those of us who were inside had a much better access to the negotiators this year. They were much more relaxed and were  open to listen. Since expectations were much lower than last time, there seemed to be a  a benign atmosphere.

The Klimaforum had its issues with distance and they were not many who dropped in the venue, so Ann Marie and Juan decided to host the Meshwork in other places. I was invited to host a session in the Climate village. Much to our disappointment there were hardly any people there, and the session had to be cancelled. Although I had some quality time with Anne Marie, clarifying my concepts on Integral Leadership theory and also learning more about the evolution of the Meshwork as a practice over the years.

I also happened to attend an event on Mexico-India partnership on Climate change technology, and one of the speakers over there was our very own Dr.Pachauri. It was great to meet him and discuss the issue of access to critical knowledge for tackling climate change. Someone from the audience asked a great question on the role of spirituality, and that the culture of spirituality is our main bond between India and Mexico.

I also met with Kai, who is a colleague of our very own Jennifer at the Grantham research center, he is an amazingly hard working guy who is  trying to study the process of the climate negotiations. On the third day of the climate negotiations Juan wanted to come to the Messe and the Moon Palace and survey things inside.  I took him to the GCCA ( Global Climate Coalition ) meeting in the Messe, introduced him to Bill Mckibben  and soon went to the Moon Palace, we had to rush our visit as we had to go and meet William that afternoon.

William Galt or Bill was one of the random participants of the ‘solving complex problems’ work stream at TIGE in Caux, I had the fortune to coincidently share each others life story at the beginning of the work stream. We both felt like soul mates from that connection, he has been associated with IofC for about fifty years. He is also one of the founders of KFC and Good Earth,which are the famous organic chain of restraunts in the Americas.

He was very supportive of Juan and me to be involved with COP 16, and supported some of our work. Just as Juan and I were about to leave the Messe, we met   a few stranded  ladies from the Gender and climate change coalition outside the Messe. Juan came to the rescue and we got the Klimaforum bus to drop them and us.

We fianly met with William at a sea side restraunt in Puerto Morelos, I finally got to see the turquoise blue ocean, it was beautiful sunny day and a great lunch. We soon went to the Klimaforum, this was the first time I saw the space in the day. It was a studd farm in the middle of the forest, open skies, tall trees and tents. It was a definatly a generative space, but unfortunately very  few people actualy came there.

The Meshwork tent was being used by different organisations to host their workshops, conicidenlty the Gender and climate change network was using the space for their workshop. Anne Marie was sitting in the centre of the space with organisers of the Klimaforum, planning for next year. Some of the young people who did not have accreditation for the first week were also in the space.

After a few hours we all left, and William took me to the Messe, even though he did not have accreditation, we tried to get him in and we succeed. He seemed  to enjoy the space , we went around a few side events, I introduced him to Jose Carlos and the others in the IofC team. We even took William  to the IofC house later on.

It was great being in the Moon Palace the next day, Grenada, which was representing the AOSIS, association of small island states, was simply amazing. They showed leadership and  team play, as a result Tuvalu’s proposal which was put under the table last year, was finally given some attention.

Overall the negotiations seemed to have progressed well by the end of the first week,except that Japan was adamant on abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, which had been the fundamental basis  for majority of the climate negotiations in the last decade.

The  Indian Environmental minister arrived at the end of the first week. He had a press conference the same day we had invited Geoff Lean for dinner.  Fabiola arrived also arrived the night before that. I decided to stay for the press conference, and  trusted that  Jose and the rest would take care of the arrangement at home. It was great to listen to Jai Ram, I asked him a few questions,he seemed on top of his game. He seemed very positive about the process, and admitted that there was a higher level of trust among nations.