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Why I just crossed into Paris last night

By November 17, 2015 No Comments

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Since Friday night, there hasn’t been a moment when I wasn’t worried about what was going on in Paris. Not only for my friends in the city, but also because of the role we all hope this city will play in shaping a global climate agreement.

Almost immediately after the news broke that President Hollande had responded by “closing the borders”; a combination of emotion, grief, and shock sent rumours buzzing among many closely engaged in the UN climate negotiation process.

I was among them.

My entire weekend was spent reading, reflecting and sharing information between friends in Paris and around the world. The line between hard and social media had dissolved, and stories came flying out with no time for reflection. In fact, even reflection became a currency to be expended on social media.

Stories that the French government would “suspend its participation in the Schengen agreement for a month” and that COP21 could be limited to only formal negotiations began fears that many engaged in the climate negotiations might not even be allowed in the country.

With uncertainty of what “border checks” really meant, even many embassies around the world had sent mixed signals friends and colleagues around the world.

Sitting in the bus last night as we approached the French border, I was still unsure of what might happen. If it sounds melodramatic, it is. In the end, there was nothing more than a routine inspection, and a delay of about 15 minutes more than the driver expected.

But as I approached the border, things were still a little nervy. Many in the bus didn’t know what might happen, and when I asked the woman sitting next to me, she shared this combination of nerves, with a nonchalant determination, characterised by her answer to the question of “do you think we will get through?”

We have to try. If we are unsure and let that uncertainty consume us, then they have won. We have to go on living, regardless of how unsure we are.

It was something I had not thought I would hear on the bus. Especially considering what proceeded was a very routine check, where a Schengen visa was quickly accepted.

But it wasn’t the first time I had heard it this weekend. Interestingly, while speculating across the border, it was friends in Sudan, in Lebanon, in Nigeria but also friends here in Paris who had all said similar things in response to the attacks.

For them, it was not an absence of grief, or fear. But a combination of faith, of patience, and most valuably, a calm resilience.

All of these were characterised by the smile on the face of my host this morning; a Parisian determined to get back to ‘living’ as quickly as possible.

Tonight, walking around the Gare du Nord, I could see that many Parisians have done just that. It’s only a Tuesday night, but the streets are nowhere near empty, and many cafe’s are buzzing with conversation. Tonight, many even came out to observe a moment of silence amidst their favourite bistros.

As the world’s leaders head to Paris to negotiate a global climate agreement, there will be no lack of fear or speculation, both inside and outside the negotiations.

There will be confusion over visas, accreditation, access, secret negotiations and safety. For most of these, ‘we’ won’t be able to control any of it. But we can control our reactions.

If last night’s over-hyped border crossing taught me anything, it is that patience and that a calm determination expressed by my bus partner may be our best hope of navigating what is going to be a stress-filled next few weeks.

These climate talks are about the world coming together to create a safer future, but before they do, ‘we’ will need to as well.

As Waleed Aly says, “we’re all feeling a million raging emotions right now…but you know what, I won’t be manipulated; we all need to come together”, and it’s well and truly time we do.

About Chris Wright

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