On a warm and breezy morning, as the fluffy clouds began to make way for the sun’s rays to shine their light over the Jukskei River, Ladybird Siba looked at the river below her in search of her friend, Hopps the frog. She looked left, she looked right, she looked up, she looked down, but Hopps was nowhere to be found. Could he be splish-splashing in the water with his frog-family friends?
The Jukskei River is so long, and home to other species of frogs and insects, he could be anywhere.
Hovering above the river, she struggled to see who was in the water because of all the waste that had gathered there. This used to be a beautiful river, where we would dip in and out of the water, but now a lot of our friends have moved away in search of a cleaner place to call home.
“Hopps…Hopps…where are you?” Siba called out his name, while landing on an empty plastic bottle.
Then she felt a gentle stroke across her dotted wings, and heard a familiar chirp. “Siba…”
And there was Hopps, in his leafy green shade, with round, stand-out eyes.
“Where were you?” she asked.
“I was stuck!” he said.
“Stuck between two rocks?” she asked.
“No. See this big plastic bottle with the orange strip around it, I thought it was breakfast, the colour popped out, so I wanted to taste it. But after I did, it made my little body feel sick. I lost my balance, and rolled underneath it, and couldn’t get up, because there were so many other empty bottles and plastic bags. it’s so sad that our beautiful playground is now full of waste,” said Hopps.
As they moved away from the mess, they remembered all the fun times they shared in the water.
What will happen to their home?
“You know, my friend, Tinks, the snail, has just moved to a new home nearby, and we should visit her,” said Siba.
A new home nearby?
“Imagine a place so big you can leap so high and have so much fun, it has a lot of big and small stores, and you can buy anything you want,” said Siba.
“Like, anything, anything? And play all my favourite games, like Catch Me If You Can and Jump Around, that kind of place?” asked Hopps.
Siba flapped her wings and said: “Yes! And it’s clean, and everyone is welcome!”
Even a hopping frog like me, Hopps wondered.
“Tinks says everyone is welcome: a hopping frog, a slow-moving snail and a dotted beetle like me. All we need to do is make our way south, and look for a really big place with the letters E. A. S. T. G. A. T. E. displayed across its walls,” said Siba.
“So, Siba, let’s hop over to Eastgate, it could be so much fun!”
With the Jukskei River to their right, Hopps and Siba leaped so high it felt like they could touch the sky. And before they could count to 10, they were there.
“Hopps… I can see the letters E. A. S. T. G. A. T. and E,” said Siba.
“Eastgate…is that a gate to the east?” Hopps asked.
“No, it’s a shopping centre, the biggest this side of Johannesburg, and it’s 41 years old. Tinks said her new home is a beautiful, big open space with a lot of restaurants, and kids play there. It has a cool jungle gym shaped like a snake, and that’s her friend, Snehlanhla, or Sne. It has a special name that sounds like pizza, but it’s called the Piazza. And in the middle are three really big trees that light up the space at night without using electricity, it’s magic, but she said we have to see it to believe it!”
So how do we find Tinks, jungle-gym Sne, and the magic trees?
“We need to follow the signs that say Piazza,” said Siba.
After a minute of looking around, Hopps heard a whistle.
“Hopps, I know the way to the Piazza…let’s go!” Siba said.
Ten leaps later, there was the Piazza: beautiful, bustling, and the laughter of so many children could be heard.
“Tinks, Tinks… I’m here with my friend Hopps, and wow, what a cool playground you’ve got! It’s so clean…” said Siba, as she spotted Tinks next to jungle-gym Sne.
“At Eastgate, everyone is welcome, and we really love the planet,” said Tinks. “If you fly or hop over the rooftop to the Office Tower, you will find really big waste bins. It’s called a recycling drop-off zone. Recycling means you take material like plastic, metal, paper or glass, and once you are done using it, you keep each one separate, and they are processed into another product. And you can also learn to reuse things instead of throwing them away. Empty boxes can be painted and used as a storage space for your favourite things, and old toys can be donated to little children. The best thing is all the people who come to Eastgate care about the environment, and they also say no to plastic bags when they shop,” said Tinks.
“How do they carry all their shopping?” asked Hopps.
“They use cloth bags instead. Cloth bags are stronger, they last longer, and can be used again and again. But if you really want to see magic happen, come with me,” said Tinks, as she made her way to the middle of the Piazza.
“Wow, what are these?” asked Hopps, leaping up and down with delight.
Tall and towering above the Piazza, at 11-metres high, stood three steel trees.
“Oh, how I wish I could see it for myself,” said Tinks.
“Hop on my back and let’s leap to the top,” said Hopps. And on the count of three, Hopps leaped so high, and Tinks was so surprised to see the top of the trees. “Wow, oh wow!” she said, and added, “these are no ordinary trees, they are solar-powered steel trees, and they make magic,” said Tinks.
“How?” asked Hopps.
“They absorb – or collect – the energy from the sun and make their own power,” said Tinks.
Did you know that energy that comes from nature is safe for the planet and it keeps the air that we breathe clean?
“Why do they need solar-powered trees at Eastgate?” asked Hopps.
“At Eastgate, we want to do everything we can to ensure our planet is safe and healthy for future generations. The magic happens at night, after the trees have collected the energy from the sun, they light the Piazza. Call it nature’s magic,” said Tinks.
“And who is that?” asked Hopps, looking at a jungle gym.
“Oh, that’s Snehlanhla or Sne, the jungle-gym snake. Let’s go over and say hi,” said Tinks.
“Hi friends, my name is Snehlanhla, which means ‘we are lucky’, but all my friends on the Piazza call me Sne. Please don’t be afraid of me, I’m here so we can play together,” said Sne.
“You don’t look like a normal jungle gym,” said Hopps.
“Yes, and I am shaped like a long wave, but that’s what makes me special. I always tell kids who come to the Piazza to eat their favourite meal, or even enjoy some ice cream or a soft drink, to please set some time aside to play with me,” explained Sne.
“What do the kids like to do with you?” asked Siba.
“They get to climb up, or even swing gently, and only if their parents say it’s okay, they sometimes get to jump back down, but it’s always important to do it safely. And on a sunny day, they must wear a hat,” said Sne.
“And when they get a little tired, do they hop on to the swing on that very beautiful tree?” asked Hopps, pointing at another tree.
“Oh, yes, they do. Do you want to hop on that swing?” asked Tinks.
“Yes, please,” Siba and Hopps said together.
Just a few hops away stood another metal tree, but it was like nothing Siba and Hopps had seen before.
Standing at three-and-a-half metres tall and made of metal, was the Tree of Eastgate.
“Hi friends, I am the Tree of Eastgate, and I am not as tall as the Solar Trees, but I am just as special. Come closer and look at my colourful leaves, do they remind you of something?” asked the Tree of Eastgate.
Looking at the leaves, Siba said: “Yes, they remind me of a box of sweets, so colourful and as pretty as the rainbow.”
“How did you get such beautiful leaves?” asked Hopps.
“It was a very special present. The 200 green leaves you see were painted by friends from 28 schools in the Eastgate area. I am so lucky to have such special friends. And all the kids also love my special swing. Some even ask their parents to snap a selfie with me,” said the Tree of Eastgate.
“Do you think this could be our home?” asked Hopps.
“Of course! We take care of each other, we clean up after ourselves, we don’t use plastic, we are quiet,” said Sne the jungle-gym snake.
“Well, sometimes we croak at night,” said Hopps, laughing.
“Yes, I want to make this my home, too” said Siba. “Everyone is so friendly, and everything is so clean. It looks like nature, it feels like nature, and we are just a few hops or wings away from our Jukskei, and when we miss our friends, we can just hop over and say hello…this is not the end, this is only the start of something so special and fun for us, the Piazza friends.”