Monday, December 25, 2023

From COP Town to Cape Town

M literally groaned out loud when I told him the title of this blog post. What can I say? I love my puns. The last few months of the year, the U.S. Mission to the UAE was laser-focused on COP28, the 28th edition of an annual United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC more commonly known as simply "COP". This year, Dubai hosted the event and tens of thousands of delegates from around the world descended on the UAE for weeks of engagements and negotiations (and even a few protests).

I served as a control officer for one of the many U.S. government delegations. Working visits like this is always intense: I calculated in just three days over one weekend I worked 48 hours' worth of overtime. I finished around midnight or 1am every day my visitors were on the ground and started early again the next day. (As a tenured Foreign Service Officer, I'm not actually eligible for overtime paid out for extra hours worked but I did get what's called "special compensatory time off", which is additional leave I can use later.)

Thankfully, once my portion of the massive support effort was complete, I was able to jet off with M and S to South Africa for a dear friend's wedding. I went to middle school, high school, and college with this friend, so we go way back. Plus, we've always wanted to visit Cape Town where the wedding was held. Long flights with a restless toddler are never easy, but we made it in one piece.

We spent a week in Cape Town doing a mix of wedding-related activities and tourist attractions on our own. We took a walking tour of Cape Town covering the history of apartheid, hiked Lion's Head, saw wild penguins at Boulders Beach, went strawberry picking at a local farm, took the cable car up Table Mountain, and drove through the colorful streets of Bo Kaap. I especially loved the hike, S especially loved the penguins and strawberry picking, and M especially loved the Palestinian art in Bo Kaap.

The hardest part of our trip was the intense load shedding. Load shedding is a decrease or blackout of electricity to prevent an excessive load on the electricity plant when demand outpaces supply, and load shedding in South Africa has been an issue for a long time. While we were in Cape Town, we experienced it multiple times a day for hours at a time. It affected everything, from what restaurants could cook and serve to whether our babycam would work at the hotel. It even prevented us from visiting a museum I wanted to see, which was closed for load shedding when we went there. People there seemed used to it, but it was a big adjustment for us.

Our friend's wedding was stunning. They had the ceremony and reception at a gorgeous venue in Stellenbosch, world famous for its vineyards. The wedding was adults only, so we teamed up with some other families with young kids to hire a nanny near the grounds of the venue. S had so much fun playing with the other kids, he kept asking to hang out with them by name for the rest of the trip. M and I really enjoyed our time at the wedding, having adult conversations and taking a break from chasing our little guy around every waking moment.

We decided to tack on a weekend at a resort in Mozambique on our way back from South Africa. After doing a million things in Cape Town, we chose to just relax at our resort near Maputo the entire time. We had an incredible oceanfront view and appreciated the chance to unwind and recharge.

Too soon, it was time to wrap up our trip and return home. Only later did I realize that two family friends we loved spending time with in Nairobi had moved to Cape Town, and we completely missed hanging out with them! I was so bummed about it. At least now we have an excuse to visit again in the future.