12 January 2011

My 2009

Sitting in office on my last week in WWF listening once again to music in one ear and the Program Director, Sejal Worah's meetings and conversations in the other. Something about being able to hear her hiring tiger specialists for WWF-India excites me. At this point, this post is probably the last thing I should be doing. I should be finishing up the last project of my internship - research on Indian banks' guidelines for screening the projects that they finance, Equator Principles type of stuff, and work for Sejal herself :S But I really want to write this one right now for some reason, perhaps because with the new year, I'm in a reflective sort of mood. I guess this post's going to be a bit more personal than most...and long but I refuse to do it in more than one part because that's just an excuse for procrastination. I want to talk about 2009.

I was at the American International School of Johannesburg for three years. At the start of 2009, we were finally second semester seniors and it was possibly one of the best feelings in the world. The last part of high school goes by so quickly, especially in IB (international baccalaureate). The beginning of the year is crazy, it's all deadlines deadlines deadlines and do your oral exams. The best part was handing in my extended essay on 'whether South Africa's white shark cage diving industry is conditioning great white sharks'. Now that I look back on it and I'm learning more about South African conservation, it was a pretty basic topic, but in IB it was my pride and joy. I have to say, for the record, that I got an A for it. To be honest, I may as well have taken Ryan Johnson's paper (the link is at the bottom, have a look) and paraphrased it, but hey, at least I interviewed him too :P After school was over in May and I graduated, I was still unsure of where I was going to university. I had applied to 5 universities in the UK, of which  I would have loved to go to Edinburgh, and two in Canada, all for various environmental science/ecology courses. I got into maybe five of those but wasn't too keen on going to them. The plan was that I'd take a gap year and during that time I'd apply to the US too. I never was able to make a shortlist of US colleges and I hated the SATs so I'm glad that part of the plan never happened. I really had no idea what I wanted to do with myself or where, but having just graduated, I decided I was on holiday and refused to stress about it.

In June, I went off to Mabula for two weeks on a learning experience. I want to do this one justice, so it'll have to be a separate post. Needless to say it was one of the best experiences of my life :)

For all of August and September, I interned at the environmental division MSA, a consulting firm mostly for mines and mining prospecting rights and that kind of fun stuff. I've talked about this in another post and mentioned it as one of the most useful experiences. I learnt so much invaluable stuff at MSA, I got such a great insight into environmental law and the process of environmental impact assessments and clearance. I also got to meet and work with some great people. It was mostly office work and often admin, but like WWF, it was an amazing learning experience.

The months to follow were the most important I guess. After three years of being posted in Johannesburg, my dad was due to leave in late October 2009 and we were all moving back to Delhi. As a sort of goodbye to South Africa, we went on one last holiday to Cape Town. Two amazing things happened on that trip. One was that after two years of working on an extended essay on the topic, I finally got to go cage diving in Gansbaai. I'm not so sure yet about how I feel about the practice of chumming etc., but being in the water with a great white shark was one of the best moments of my life. You can watch them on TV and see footage of them breaching while hunting fur seals, you can watch Jaws, but nothing in the world gives you respect for the animal like seeing it in front of you can. Just seeing their silhouettes around the boat is thrilling enough but when you get in the cage and see this perfectly streamlined animal appear out of the murky water and swim past you so gracefully, nothing beats it. Not to mention having its tail whack the cage as it tries to get hold of the bait they use to lure it in. The great white shark is a truly impressive creature. Oh and I should also mention that we did the cage diving with Shark Diving Unlimited - Mike Rutzen's company. Mike Rutzen being the 'Sharkman' on TV who free dives with the great whites. He's such a cool guy and he's got a rock python :)

The other great thing that happened in Cape Town was that as a last minute, impromptu sort of plan, we decided to check out UCT just for the sake of it and meet a couple of people there. I really don't know how it happened, but the next thing I knew we decided it was the best option and we were sitting in Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay and I was looking out the window picturing a life in Cape Town. Everything somehow fell into place perfectly and I'm so glad it did :) As it is, I really wasn't ready to leave South Africa just then.

Later that month, we left for India. For the months that followed, I had a LOT of free time. Enough that I nearly tried to create my own NGO. That's another one I'll save for another post though :) For the time that I wasn't awake every day at 5am dabbling in big ambitious plans, I helped out Cara a bit at Friendicoes, did a week at WWF, holidayed in Sri Lanka and visited the Sundarbans (no tigers sadly).

chital deer
a huge mugger crocodile

Anyway. I've rambled more than enough. Nothing like a Cape Sugarbird in Kirstenbosch to end a post.

Finding a Balance between White Shark Conservation and Recreational Safety (Ryan Johnson and Alison Kock's paper on page 45)

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