Blog by: Bhavina Patel
During my first weekend, I could not believe the breath-taking views of the coastal city of Durban, South Africa. The Indian Ocean flows into beautiful beaches that line the south eastern coast of the African continent. We (the Canadian interns) spent time riding bikes along the popular and astonishing Golden Mile beach boardwalk, which is filled with joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers whom all love taking in the golden rays accompanying fresh sand and sea.
I was anxious preparing myself for the first few days of work, first impressions and first meetings, so much to do and learn! But my first day at the eThekwini Economic Development Unit could not have been better. The staff welcomed me with such warmth and excitement to have an international intern join the unit. “Canada! Wow! That’s where Drake’s from right?” (Durbanites LOVE Drake- you cannot walk down a street without hearing some Drake blasting through taxi buses)
Ironically, my first day at work was the day of the monthly staff meeting where I listened to colleagues report back on the progress of their projects and programmes. But over the next few weeks, I would come to learn and understand what they were discussing that day. The meeting introduced all the members of the unit; from the team of Maritime Industry Development to the Fashion district (Economic Development Unit EDU has a very wide range of implementation areas). The unit looks at economic growth implemented through the Integrated Development Plan which integrates the Job Creation Strategy, which sets out a new growth path for the EMA (eThekwini municipality area), based on a long-term approach, but within an time-scale of 5 years.
I came back home to my apartment, tired but optimistic for all the learning ahead. The feeling of working in a place where our decisions directly help the development of the city was exciting!
Just as I had dinner that night, I was getting ready to call my parents back home to let them know I had settled in and how my first day of work went. Instead, my phone rang and it was my mom already calling; Great! My mom is the sweetest person I know, and being so, had the hardest time adjusting to the fact that I’d be away from home for the 6 months. I picked up the Skype call to my mom crying. My initial thought was that she was missing me too much. “Mom, its okay, don’t cry” She chokes back on tears and tells me to come home. I told her everything will be okay and that we will soon get use to the distance. “Dada (grandpa) is gone”. My heart sank. I said goodbye to my grandpa a few days prior, not knowing it would be the last.
I spent the next few days with my mind drifting off into thoughts about home back in Canada. Thinking back to that very day of saying farewell to my grandpa. He had hugged me for a long time. Going away for 6 months-you don’t imagine saying goodbye forever. I told him I’d see him when I get back. Without a word, he looked at me with his deep soulful eyes and embraced me in his frail arms one last long time: as if he knew it would be our last.
I continued to spend the next few days trying to orient myself at work. Kieran (my fellow SCIIP intern & roomie) and I went for a walk on the beach, we took off our shoes and let the soft fine sand sink between our toes. I look along the waves transcending along the city line. What a beautiful sight in a place so unfamiliar to me with its unknown waiting to be explored. How can anyone feel homesick in this moment? I think of my grandpa. He was the first to teach me about geography and help me with my homework. “Climate is atmosphere’s behaviour over a long period of time. Weather is what happens to the atmosphere in a short period of time”, was something he told me when I was in grade school. 15 years later, and here I am in South Africa with a geography degree thinking about my grandpa’s words. He would’ve wanted me to learn, broaden my horizons, and make a difference.
And now more than ever, I realize that is exactly what I’m here to do. The last two months, have been incredible and different, taking on South Africa and learning everything about it, from the culture, natural environment & biodiversity, to its vibrant people. I work for the Edamame Development Project which aims to provide formal market access to small scale and emerging farmers. I’ve learned about localised agro-processing, stakeholder evaluation, monitoring products, marketing, and improving nutrition and food security for vulnerable communities through informal small-grower initiatives. I’ve not only learned but first hand been able to witness the challenges South African farmers face; costly transportation, inadequate infrastructure, and the extremely high cost of storage.
Luckily, My mentor, Phakamile has been there to explain every single detail that I become curious about. I’ve been able to learn about the history of edamame agriculture (which isn’t that long) in South Africa. At the research farm, I continue to learn the benefits and future that edamame farming has in this part of the world. I’m continuing to learn about the importance of local community development in South Africa, of which includes creating jobs-where unemployment is at a staggering 30%. I’ve learned that sustainable development takes time, collaboration, and patience. All of which, requires the passion of those who want to see change. I even managed to take up my first surfing lesson and learned to cook my first Indian curry. My dada would be proud.