Dinner Table Conversations
2023, Junior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Sophia Kianni, Climate Cardinals
At 12 years old, Sophia Kianni gazed at the sky in Iran. She yearned to unveil the constellations that hid behind its celestial tapestry. However, its allure was blanketed with a thick layer of smog, a seemingly eternal smoke that choked the stars’ glow. She would ask with innocent eyes what her family thinks of the obvious climate disaster surrounding them. Temperatures in the Middle East were rising at twice the global average. They would stare back, unsure of what she was talking about. It was here that she first realized: no one understood.
A girl stands near the shores of Kawasaki in Japan, yearning to wiggle her toes into the soft sand. As she admires the waves’ rhythmic lapping from the railing, her mother hurriedly pulls her away, citing the recent flood warnings.
“Come, isn’t Udon and ginger tea comforting in this weather?” Her mother always said she could smell the start of Tsuyu, the rainy season.
Tsuyu had been moving forward every year, and the line between could and could not go on the beach was shrinking. But even so, it wasn’t as bad as in the prefectures next to them, where sea had swallowed land. Her mom said, “Maybe I’m getting old, but maybe the storms are getting worse.” But then she would say that’s just how it is. She didn’t understand. Just seven years ago, 40% of adults in the world had never heard of climate change.
A boy and his brothers count down on their hands the days of Madagascar’s dry season. The number seems to increase every year. By a day. By two. By a week. The dry season meant the water supplies would run out. It meant their feet would become more calloused, the crops would die, and the closest thing to clear water was the sweat they shed on the journey to the river. With swollen shoulders, they brought back filled containers before dinner time, when they were greeted with mashed cassava. They told their dad about their day, and the youngest laughed that the river was like chocolate milk. He did not understand. Their school did not teach what caused waste in the river, what caused the air to be hotter. No research papers were produced in the language of Malagasy. Even if they were, the pursuit for water cut off their path to education.
The sunset livened the playing in front of my kakek’s house in Surabaya, Indonesia. Kids yelled down the street, their clothes muddied with dust as they kicked around the littered bottles they labeled “bola,” or “ball.” These bottles would eventually find their place in the towering mountain of trash at the town’s entrance, awaiting the flames of morning. The wisps of smoke would wake me up early, mixing with the fragrance of a salty egg and rice breakfast.
When the boys get too tired to score another goal, my grandma yells that it’s time for dinner, and everyone gathers their plastic bowls and fills them up with fresh soto. As we sit cross-legged on the rug, I ask, “The trash, there’s so much. The smoke, too. Aren’t you guys scared of climate change?”
My cousin tilts her head and says, “Climate change? The weather changing? The weather changes every day.”
She is met with a chorus of giggles. I laugh nervously, trying to explain. But my tongue was raised in America, and I only sputter out broken sentences. They do not understand.
* * *
While some sit in blissful ignorance, clinking their forks as they sweep these uncomfortable conversations under the table, Kianni will seek to bridge this gap of information. How is it fair that 80% of climate change articles in the largest peer-reviewed database are in English, while 75% of the world does not speak it? She takes it into her own hands to translate these documents, fueled by a sense of purpose. Witnessing her relatives’ face contorting into fear as they read through statistics brings her unparalleled joy. The first twinkle of realization in their eyes is brighter than any star she seeks. It ignites an unwavering spark. Gathering a diverse cadre of passionate teenagers online, hailing from far-flung corners of the globe – Japan, Madagascar, Indonesia, and beyond – she is no longer alone in this pursuit. Armed with conviction, she works to spark a wave of change that ripples across borders. In a world where some have the privilege of concern, she vows to give everyone the right to simply understand.
I believe knowledge is the greatest weapon we have against the great beast of climate change. When I first heard of Sophia Kianni and her work, it resonated deeply within me since I could relate to her struggles on a personal level. Thinking about my own anecdotal experiences with my relatives made me want to observe the effects of climate change in other countries. As I learned more about these global issues, I felt like I was also diving deeper into these foreign cultures. I wanted to celebrate this diversity through a shared love for something universal: food! I hope my writing can influence others to open up their minds and start thinking about global warming on a global scale. I feel like, as an American, I've been so unaware of my privilege, such as being able to learn these things in school, having resources at my fingertips, and having a recycling bin at every corner. This Contest has not only enriched me in knowledge but instilled a renewed hope for the future. I've researched so many young activists, and it truly inspired me to not only take action, but bring back some of that optimism to restore this planet. I believe that all it takes is a conversation to trigger something big. For me, that was pressing the Skype button to let my relatives know my findings, with my improved Indonesian.