The culmination of 2021, a year of two halves.

If I had to ask myself the question: “how did your year go?” I would say: “Brilliantly, one I will never forget”. The past year has been extremely tough for many people throughout the world, far removed from what we may consider easy.  I, however, feel that I have been very lucky.

2021, a tale of two halves. The first half was spent in South Africa, my country of residence, and where I had lived my whole life. Some highlights during this time spent in South Africa include being chosen as part of the 2021 SAYAS blogging team, presenting Google Earth Engine (GEE) at the UCL-Wits climate workshop, publishing my first academic paper in Water SA and publishing an article in Quest: Science for South Africa, a popular science magazine.  

Although I was not unhappy, a large part of me wanted to release and break away from the regularity of lockdown life and routine. My grandmother who had been stuck in a lockdown of her own in Portugal would call me and say how she missed spending time with family. As she could not travel, I wanted to visit her and keep her company.

I am a man consumed by wanderlust. My great aunt and uncle would always talk about their time in Portugal over Sunday lunches, they too wanted to visit Portugal to see their family. I have a large Portuguese family, the majority of whom moved to Portugal from South Africa during 2020 lockdown. The few of us left in South Africa would regularly meet on the weekends during the Covid period. During these small gatherings, the chat would often center around visiting family in Portugal and how amazing Portugal is during the summertime. I had been to Portugal before, but only when I was younger and for a short period of time.

Making a mental map of the timeline of 2021 is rather difficult, a year full of activity and newness. I decided to visit my grandmother and at the same time find out for myself what all the fuss was about. I left home in early June, by myself, with my brand-new laptop and planned to continue my desktop work on my PhD work overseas. Back at home I had been working on a desktop, but my work was easily transferred to the new device.

After what I had initially planned as an extended visit with family, on the days leading up to my flight back to South Africa in August, I felt that my time in Europe was not over. I saw that I could afford the opportunity to live on my own, and so I did exactly that. I have been renting an apartment for the last two months, well beyond what I had initially planned to do in Portugal.

Whilst here I have watched my heroes represent the Portuguese National football team no less than three times, three times more than I had ever done so in the previous decade of my life. Under the lights in Estadio do Algarve, I saw my hero Cristiano Ronaldo score six goals in three games, breaking the international goalscoring record. I watched the Moto GP, where two more of my heroes: Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder, rode their hearts out in Portimão. A dream come true, needless to say I have so many jealous friends back home.

I had the opportunity to visit and spend extended periods with my grandmother, cousins, aunts, and uncles. My Portuguese family that I never had the opportunity to spend quality time with. They introduced me to the art, food, culture, and night life Portugal had to offer. I feel blessed and content with my decision to stay longer.

Whilst in Portugal, my academic work has continued. I have submitted an additional paper to a top international journal. The paper which contains the first map of peatland coverage in the Angolan Highlands. I presented these findings at the SSAG-SAAG 2021 joint online conference.

My time to go back to South Africa has come, although my PhD work can be done remotely. Living in one place and constantly thinking about another place can be very taxing on the mind. We are not worlds away, but the distance between myself and my immediate family has not been easy to navigate. Before I do go back home, my immediate family is going to visit Portugal and we will hopefully enjoy an incredible Christmas with the whole family back together.

My eagerness to return home is fueled by the possibility of an extended field visit to my study site in Angola. I cannot wait to see the site with my own eyes, and not as a satellite image, behind a screen thousands of kilometers away. Cautious optimism has never let me down, let us wait and see what else 2022 might bring.

I would like to thank SAYAS and the editors Jennifer Fitchett and Roula Inglesi-Lots for the opportunity to write blogs during 2021, it has been a privilege and an unforgettable experience.

Presenting at the SSAG-SAAG 2021 Online Conference.

During my PhD, I have been conducting research to produce the first peatland map of the Angolan Highlands. As a young scientist, the opportunity to present this research at a conference was extremely exciting. Academic conferences provide a platform in which you can showcase your research to an expert audience, demonstrating your research techniques, results, and conclusions. Conferences are also an opportunity to network with fellow researchers and engage in scientific conversation.  

The Society of South African Geographers (SSAG) and Southern African Association of Geomorphologists (SAAG) are professional bodies who specialise in conducting research in both geography and geomorphology within the Southern African context. A joint online conference was held online from the 6th to the 8th of September 2021. My supervisor, Professor Jennifer Fitchett had encouraged me, along with many of her other students, to present my research at the conference.

It was my first time attending a conference, let alone presenting at one. I was scheduled to present results from the research I had conducted. I was due to present on Tuesday the 7th, the Monday was a completely brand-new experience for me. Through my inexperience of having attended conferences, I expected that the conference would simply be filled with many presentations just as my own.

To my delight, the conference was in fact a lot more than just presentation after presentation of research projects and publications. For example, a panel of academics and professionals spoke about their experiences during the pandemic, which gave me a sense of awe. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, ‘I am not alone. The troubles that I have endured, had been endured by many others as well’. Although sad to hear about people struggling during troubled times, their words provided immense comfort to me.

After learning an incredible amount from the first day, I took away some distinct lessons from those that had already presented. The most captivating presentations were by those who were able to convey the message of their research through a compelling story. These storytellers, to no surprise, were usually those with incredible research experience. I truly admired the way in which they simplified complex research into well rounded and comprehensive stories, creating genuine interest and intrigue in me. I also learned that keeping to time is of critical importance in the conference as facilitators place time caps on individual speakers. We had a total of ten minutes to present, with five minutes for questions.

Tuesday came as quick as a flash, and before I knew it, I was called to start my presentation. I was well prepared; I had my presentation ready to go and I wanted to start off on a good note. First impressions last forever, even online ones. My presentation was entitled: Towards a peatland inventory for the Angolan Highlands using Google Earth Engine where I presented the very first peatland map for the region.

The online audience who attended had prominent researchers who have research interests in peatlands, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS). These were the main scientific disciplines and tools that I had used for this research. During my presentation, I felt that I presented well. I kept to my time limit, and I felt that the message of the research was conveyed effectively. I received positive feedback, and I was able to answer all questions adequately. It was a great success; all the hard work and practice had paid off.

The remainder of the conference was an absolute blast for me, I could finally relax and enjoy the presentations even more so now that I had finished my own. It was a breath of fresh air for us geographers who have been away from our research sites. Seeing new research, faces and ideas was much needed.

All good things must come to an end, after three academically stimulating days, the conference had ended. I am so thankful that I could participate alongside my colleagues, supervisor, and fellow researchers, some of which I had only read their work and never met. In the end, I truly felt as though I was made to feel part of the SSAG and SAAG family. I cannot wait for the next Biennial SSAG Conference at the University of Pretoria in 2022.