Nine journalists in one truck learn to adapt8 comments
On 7th November radio journalist Audrey Wabwire, from Nairobi, Kenya, boarded a truck bound for Durban. Her aim: to see the effect of climate change in local communities and to share these stories with the world leaders gathering three weeks later at the UN-led climate change meeting.
She spent 21 days on the road, traveling through five countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana and Zambia – before arriving in Durban for the start of the conference on the 27th. For 21 days she slept in the truck, sharing the space with nine other journalists from other small African nations who had the passion to cover climate change, but lacked the resources to travel around to cover the issue extensively, or go to a UN climate summit. The convoy that Audrey joined was organised by the UN’s African Adaptation Programme.
It was a difficult journey for Audrey. In Nairobi, her friends and colleagues had come to know about the roadshow and were waiting to hear her stories. But all day, she was in the truck, travelling through barren land and villages where internet or mobile networks didn’t exist.
Sometimes the convoy did pass through cities and townships, but the trucks would be parked well outside the city center from where it would be impossible to reach a cyber cafe, write and file a story and be back in time.
But resilience had the upper hand. Against all odds, she filed two stories – one each week.
“I wrote my reports by hand during the short breaks when we stopped for a few minutes. Then I called my office in Nairobi and asked them to record my voice. I had also recorded the voices of locals on the trip, so I played those down the phone line for my colleagues to re-record back at the station,” recalls Audrey.
Contrary to how it sounds, it was a far from simple job. Sharing the space within the truck with others meant there was noise all around. So she had to wait till the dead of the night, when everyone would go to bed, to call her office. “I used to go to the toilet. It was dirty and smelly, as they did not have enough water. But it was the only quiet place. So that became my office and I filed the stories from there,” she says.
But there were more challenges to come. Because the truck travelled all day, they could only cook and eat a hot meal at night. For breakfast and lunch, they ate cold packed meals for three weeks. As the truck drove closer to Durban, washing became almost impossible. “In Botswana, where it is very close to the Kalahari desert, there was no water. We had only a few buckets of water for cooking. So, there was no question of taking a bath, though it was very hot,” says Audrey.
Moving from one climate (rainy, wet in Nairobi) to another (dry, hot in Zambia and Botswana) was a challenge and Audrey felt that she was now trying to adapt to a fast changing climate in her own life.
And then there were battles of a more personal kind. A single mother, she has had to leave her five year-old son with another woman for over a month. She misses her son deeply, but feels indebted to her neighbour for being kind enough to look after him. “It’s this woman who made it possible for me to come here. If she had not agreed to take care of my son, I couldn’t have made it at all,” she says with a smile.
Undoubtedly, the trip has made her more resilient but how has it helped to deepen her knowledge of the core issue – climate change?
“It was a great learning opportunity. I saw things that I could have never done otherwise. Along the border of Tanzania-Zambia alone, I counted 10 rivers that were completely dry. It was the most visible sign of climate change. Everyday, as we passed through villages, I also met locals – farmers, cowherds and women – and had a first account of what was happening around them, how they were personally affected by climate change. Most of them did not know what climate change is. But what they told me was that things around them have changed – this tree was greener, that vegetable doesn’t grow anymore and so on.”
Now that she is attending the COP17, she reflects that she has a much better comprehension of climate change reporting thanks to her three-week journey of discovery. She has learnt that journalists have a tough job translating climate change to their audience. The communities she met are all aware of the effects of climate change, but the gaps and changes that they note are small – yet significant to these people’s daily lives. However, she also feels that 192 governments attending the Durban conference should listen to these views from the ground, and take each small change seriously.