OLD FRIENDS IN JOHANNESBURG
When I lived in Brighton in the late nineties, I got to be friends with a South African couple, Paul Kapelus and Nicci Kurz. Paul was studying at Sussex and Nicci was working with local government in Brighton. Our friendship developed around shared meals and stimulating conversation about the kind of ideas one thinks about in grad school.
Our time in Brighton drew to a close and we said goodbye in 1999. As a complete (and happy) fluke, I bumped into Paul in the Washington DC metro one night in 2002. We embraced, smoked cigars and wandered the streets of Capitol Hill late at night, talking and catching up. But aside from a quick Skype call in 2014, our contact over the last 16 years has been fleeting.
As Louise and I planned the final, Southern Africa, leg of our journey, we reached out to Paul and Nicci to see if we could visit them in Jozy. We spent the final two days of our trip together and I was reminded of why we had such a great friendship in the first place. Instantly, we were back to the delicious food and great conversations of before.
Nicci teaches art at a nearby boys prep school. Paul is a consultant working in mining communities. Their daughters Maya and Grace are 13 and 11 years old, respectively. Ida and Saga fell in with Grace and spent a lot of time playing marbles. We all took one of their dogs for a walk in a beautiful park in Emmarentia. The girls bounced on the trampoline in the front yard. The art in the house is incredible.
South Africa’s constitution is one of the most progressive anywhere. On Tuesday morning we visited the Constitutional Court; the highest court in the land whose job is to defend the constitution. Paul’s nephew Max is a clerk for one of the Justices. He took us on a fabulous tour.
The Inside of the building is like an art gallery showcasing South Africa’s greatest artists.
The iconic Mandela image in miniature format
At the entrance to the courtroom
The courtroom itself is full of symbolism. The walls are made of bricks reclaimed from the jails. The Justices sit at the same level as court visitors, a reminder that the judges serve the people. The windows at eye level look out at the feet of people walking outside the courtroom, promoting humility. Max gave an incredibly engaging guided visit as well as an overview of recent court cases (including the one that could bring down Jacob Zuma).
STORYTELLING AT THE END
Louise and I had frequently thought of how the final days of our trip would play out. It first came up in November when some friends were closing their own eight-month adventure through Asia. But whenever we thought about the end of our trip, the date seemed so far off and distant as to be unreal. And now all of a sudden it’s upon us (I’m writing this post from Jeddah Airport as we wait to board our final flight to Toronto).
On Tuesday night Nicci and Paul did the most thoughtful thing: they invited their gregarious and generous friends over to Nicci’s art studio for an evening of pizza and storytelling. There were about 25 people, parents and kids, and the four of us showed pictures and told stories of our travels. There were a ton of interest in our trip (all of the parents are about the same age) and questions about where we went, what we saw, whom we met and how we did it. Since we were in an art studio, Paul and Nicci had each of their friends draw a little picture to represent the evening’s conversation. At the end of the evening, we were given the collection of drawings as a little memento of the evening. The notes were so beautiful, so creative.
The evening gave us our first real opportunity to reflect on and talk in depth about our trip with others. The group was very receptive to learning about our experience. It’s a privilege to have 20 strangers interested in learning about our family trip. I felt a warm rush of happiness and thankfulness rise in my chest as I thought about how lucky we were to spend our final evening of the trip with this group.
We’re used to the metaphor of leading busy lives and juggling a lot of balls simultaneously. To continue the metaphor, some of those balls are glass and others are rubber. The glass balls are the ones that we can’t drop: our family, our happiness, our health. The other balls are everything else. They can drop and, since they’re rubber, they bounce back up.
Our trip was about keeping the glass balls in the air.