Sara and our Ethiopian friends
Jan with Ehete Welde Mariam and Selamavit from Ethiopia
Sara Abreu in Rio
I’ve been in Rio for two days now and it has been great so far. My hotel is in Copacabana, only three blocks from the beach. The neighborhoods itself resembles New York; loads of sky-high buildings, restaurants, hotels and stores. Reaching the beach is quite a challenge. The never-ending traffic races through the streets and the traffic light for pedestrians hardly ever turns green. So if you like to wash all the nonsense of you in the amazing waves after the conference, you first have to risk your life by crossing the street twice. Nevertheless, apart from that it is safe here. Groups of military police stand on every corner to watch over the numerous conference visitors.
The trip itself was terrific. Right at Schiphol Airport, we had a wonderful reunion of old friends. Selamavit, the ophthalmologist who runs the project in Addis Abeba where I filmed for NoFightNoVictory, was there together with Ehete Welde Mariam, the singer who sings in the film. They were waiting for the same flight to Rio. Sara –my co-author for No Fight- had arranged the last seat at the window, at a safe distance from my snoring that she was warned for by my wife and now feared. She sat down next to our two Ethiopian friends and was reunited with Africa for a while.
I sat comfortably next to the walking path, a bit further down the plane, with enough space for my calf injury and about 11 hours to prepare thoroughly for the conference. Marco Visscher analyzed the ambitious objectives of the conference in the Dutch newspaper Trouw: “To fight poverty on a increasingly intensely populated planet, improve social equality and guarantee a clean environment for our future generations”. Who doesn’t agree on that...
Marco quotes Kuznets, a famous parabola that was named after him: “The pollution of a country’s environment increases from economic growth, but decreases again at a certain level of welfare. At that point there is money, techniques and political will to stop the pollution.” This theory is not undisputed, but has proved to be quite correct when it comes to air- and water pollution. Marco’s conclusion therefore: first everyone has to become rich.
In Rio they are in the meantime working hard to change a view lines in an declaration they’ve been working in since January; a declaration that won’t be signed by the most relevant actors. But there’s also a more positive aspect of the conference: a colorful crowd and various interesting project and initiatives. Among some vary vague ones, I must admit. A stricter pre-selection would perhaps have been a good idea.
In the back of the plane, I meet some enthusiastic young men who designed an island on the sea that stops salt water and would rescue briny water loving birds, close to Haringvliet. They won a prize for it and were therefore invited to present their project in Rio in one of the many conference rooms. The Ethiopian women will also held a lecture and I will screen my films, Silent Snow and the short trailer film version of NoFightNoVictory in the hope to find more sponsors for a longer version. I’ve thus decided to make the best of this conference, despite the critical words of Marco and other specialists.
I see a lot of old friends here, like Vandhana Shiva from India, who supported Silent Snow and turns to be quite a celebrity here, and Sue Edwards, who helped me in Northern Ethiopia with No Fight, and my Swiss friends from Biovision, who provided me with a flight and hotel and organize a big ecological meal here on Thursday for both politicians and ‘ordinary’ visitors. Sara will help them do the groceries and a top chef from New York will fly in to cook for us. I hope to see many people there that I’ve been unable to meet with so far, due to the massive distances and the chaotic organization of the conference. It often takes about two hours, just to go from on location to another.
On one of the shuttle buses, I thought of the recommendation of the Dutch delegation, headed by Louise Fresco. They stated there should be more human powered transport. Then I thought of the story of one of the women in NoFightNoVictory, who tells us how she used to go collect timber in the forest at night: a dangerous journey with a high risk of accidents, rape and crime. She tells us how happy she is that she has a little field now where she can work on and doesn’t have to carry huge amounts of wood on her back through the city, in search for buyers. In Ethiopia they say that women are better than mules as they are more flexible to navigate through the traffic. Mariam explains to the forum that there was an increase of Aids, caused by rape, because of this form of human powered transport. The idealists and the people whose life they like to improve live in very different worlds. Yet, they all love each other here in Rio.
More news on the screenings of our films will follow soon. More info on my new project: www.nofightnovictory.org
Greetings from Rio,