Saturday, 5 December 2009

My own journey

It hadn't really crossed my mind when I was screwing solar equipment to a still damp, freshly plastered wall, that I might now be sat in a café in Cologne, half-way through my journey to what are considered the most important talks of our times. But, when I think of it, that's exactly when my journey to Copenhagen really started. It's been a tough couple of years establishing myself as a photojournalist but an important part of this journey.

It was the first day that me and a team of village tradesmen had made a really good, positive step towards bringing clean electricity to a remote community centre in Bwelero village in northern Malawi - SolarAid's first large solar project. All the frustrations of the previous weeks - the frustrating negotiations with customs officials, the bargaining with hungry policemen on the way to plead with a minister to allow the solar panels into the country and the painful firing of a rogue electrician - dissipated as those first boxes went up on the wall. It was exhausting, sweaty work and there was still a lot to be done, but it felt like a milestone had been reached and it filled me with confidence that we really could complete the project.

The positioning, posturing, partially revealed emissions targets and the concealing of cards that seems to have marked the past few weeks remind me of those early weeks in Malawi. In the end, we just did it. We rolled up our sleeves, were direct and honest with all those officials and just got on with it. We knew that the work we put in would make life better for that community and that we could demonstrate that to anyone who would listen. We knew that the solar skills that would remain with the tradesmen and the training given to local youth groups would mean that the system would keep working for many years.

Sometimes you just have to be brave and push on and that's my message really for negotiators attending the talks in the next two weeks. Be positive and be brave.

Now, as I head out into the streets of Cologne again, dodging hen parties and tipsy shoppers, dragging my hard-to-control wheelie case of equipment and warm clothes behind me, the next part of the journey awaits - a 6 birth couchette cabin on the night train to Copenhagen. Roll on morning.

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