By Rhetta Power
My Tuesday began at the Na’ama Blue Hotel, a youth hostel in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. I’m here as part of Colorado College’s delegation to the 27th Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP27). As a designated “Week Two-er,” a delegate badged to access only the second week of the COP, my plan for the day was to attend The New York Times Climate Forward Sharm event, hosted at a hotel separate from the conference. NYT climate forward is a series of conversations centered around climate change featuring speakers with stakes in climate action. My fellow classmates and (partially) Week Two-ers, Layla Haji ’25, Naomi Henry ’24, Mika Alexander ’23, and Cecilia Timberg ’24, also registered for this unique opportunity.
To return to what I was saying, this day began at the Na’ama Blue Hotel, at breakfast. My hearty start to the day consisted of falafel, white beans, potato spears, and a plate of pastries heartily loaded by the pastry man with whom I have a fun winking game (this game consists of us winking at each and wiggling our eyebrows while he hands me pastries). After breakfast, our small group caught one of the COP shuttle busses that runs by our hotel. As we’re now three-day seasoned visitors of the city, we’ve developed some familiarity with the bus system. We demonstrated our confidence by standing in exactly the right unmarked spot the bus always stops in, shaking our heads at the newcomers standing twenty feet to the left.
As we sat on the bus, it quickly filled up. COP27 has over 40,000 registered attendants, and it’s clear that the registered attendants have arrived. As we reached the hotel stop where the NYT climate hub is hosted, we realized to our alarm, that the back doors were not opening. As these busses are meant to carry people to the COP, they function as a sardine-loading vessel, no sardines are meant to leave. We shouted out to the driver to open the back doors, some COP-goers near us half-heartedly tried to help convey our message.
As our stress escalated, we spotted our friends from the Grenada delegation (we had gotten ice cream with the father-daughter pair just two days before). They helped us forge a path in the middle of the bus, and we hustled our way out the front door. As we stepped into the hot day, we knew it was time to zoom. We made our way down the sidewalk, past our desired bus stop, and found the Park Regency Resort. As we made our way through the archway, we saw a stretching sidewalk that paralleled the yellow brick road leading to Oz.
As we walked alone in the heat, we realized that our fellow attendees had taken taxis or cars to avoid this sweaty journey. When we reached the hotel, security guards and event workers guided us through check-ins and security points to the beautiful event space. As we made our way to our seats, sweaty in our long sleeves and pants business-wear, Henry remarked that the space felt “like an apple store.” The all-black, simple design of the space did bring to mind a technology-forward space, which is ironic considering the tech issues which were to follow later that day.
Looking around, I saw most heads craned down to devices, hands cradling digital babies. In the first session, we were the youngest people I could spot (this changed throughout the day as more youth came). The introductory remarks were made by Stephen Dunbar Johnson, the president of NYT international, at 9 am. After this first speech, the events kept coming and did not stop coming until 5 pm. It is impossible to detail the full itinerary of the day in the space of a Catalyst article, so I’ll give it to you short and sweet. Speakers of the day included the First Minister of Scotland, the Director General of the WTO, and the Executive Director of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, among many other notable and inspirational speakers.
A standout speaker for our group was Vanessa Nakate, the founder of the RiseUp movement, speaking in a panel about the inclusion of loss and damage in this year’s COP agenda. She spoke on the importance of invoking moral responsibility in the loss and damage conversation and of holding the global North accountable for disproportionately contributing to carbon emissions while the global South is devastatingly impacted by climate change. This discussion was Haji’s favorite part of the day. For Henry, her top moments were being able to talk with people we met at events and interview them for her “Humans of the COP” project. She specifically enjoyed speaking with a chest doctor from Dehli who researchers the impact of air pollution on lung health. Alexander’s peak moment was meeting and speaking with some other attendees in the bathroom about the event, describing it as a “lovely little community of women of color.” Timberg cited the climate storytellers who sporadically guided us through mindfulness and nature-connection exercises as her favorite part. She loved listening to everyone speak about what plant is most important to them in one of these exercises.
The speaker and panelists slots were broken up by small coffee breaks and a lunch, at which there were incredibly decadent spreads that reminded me of feasts described in the capitol of The Hunger Games. I’m not exaggerating, there was literally a mini Ferris wheel of chia puddings. This splendor was oddly contrasted by the basic technical difficulties I mentioned earlier, Haji joked that her middle school graduation had a better AV setup.
The day concluded with a fascinating panel on political freedom and progress. The panelists spoke, bravely, about the implications of hosting a COP in Egypt, a country that arrests political and climate activists for any dissent against the government. They also touched on Greenwashing, the practice of deceiving consumers about an organization’s positive environmental impact, at this COP.
Our day, however, did not quite finish with the NYT Climate Hub. As we walked back down the yellow brick road, away from Oz, we marveled at the sunset. The pink and purple cloudy sky made the dark shapes of the palm trees and mountains stand out in stark contrast. We made our way back down to the highway-ish road that the shuttle busses travel along. As a group, we watched for breaks in the cars so we could sprint to the other side.
This was when our luck turned. We eagerly saw our bus line come, then time and time again, the bus would pass us by. Each time, the driver made a signal with their hands, a loose holding of each hand. After a half hour of walking along the road and jumping at busses, we came to realize that each bus returning from the COP was too full, we would never catch a ride. We resigned ourselves to a taxi bus, although we had been advised to avoid taxis on account of a connection with a human trafficking ring, we comforted ourselves in the presence of other people in the cab. However, we became less comforted after we got in and told the driver where we were going. Over the course of a few minutes, he began to hand each of the existing passengers money and they got out. The last men to get out spoke with the driver in Arabic, then spoke with us, kindly wanting to make sure we knew the ride was $5 for the group, not per person. We then began to drive quickly down the road before U-turning to go back the way we came. We were confused, but had trust in our drivers confident and continual repetition of “Na’ama Blue,” “Na’ama Blue.” As time went on and we passed further from the neighborhood of our hotel, we exchanged some uneasy glances, and Haji and I moved to the front of the bus to check in with the driver. He reassured us “Na’ama Blue.” We decided to stick it out.
When the taxi took a turn onto a dimly lit dirt road, through a few strewn-about police barricades, we began to panic. Just a few seconds after I quickly tapped the driver on the shoulder, my voice high while I asked “Na’ama Blue?!” we pulled in front of another Naama hotel. With relief, we realized the driver had simply come to the wrong place and that we were not about to be trafficked on this quiet dirt road.
I pulled up a google map to show him our actual hotel, now 12 minutes away. With exasperation, he pulled the taxi into a quick U-turn, stopping to ask another bus for directions on the way. Someone in the back of our car noted how there was no navigation system, directions were gleaned from conversations with other drivers. We were dropped off about ten minutes from our hotel, at another location with a similar-ish name, but we were eager to get out anyways. We once again sprinted across the highway road and made it back to our Na’ama Blue.
Tomorrow is another day in Egypt. Another day of the NYT climate hub, and I’m sure, another adventure of getting around. I plan on learning pastry man’s name tomorrow, I look forward to knowing him beyond winks and eyebrow wiggles.