How Many Fulbrighters Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Sandton. The town of sand. The desert trading post beyond the shimmering oasis.

OK, not really. Not really, at all.

Sandton is a posh suburb on the north side of Johannesburg that is, in fact, considered home to the “richest square mile in Africa.” The Sandton City mall and the retail stores in the adjacent Nelson Mandela Square constitute the largest (or second-largest) shopping center (or centre, if you prefer) in the southern hemisphere.

What better place to convene an indaba of Americans?

Not just any Americans, mind you, but smartypants Americans. As in, the entire delegation of Fulbright scholars and students in South Africa. Plus one from Swaziland. The purpose: to share progress of research and projects, to discuss the practicalities of life in South Africa (and Swaziland), and to EAT.

While I managed to avoid most of the sessions, the reports were glowing. Jenny’s fellow Fulbrighters are doing some absolutely amazing, impressive, important things. The projects range from farming to fisheries, journalism to gender, political history to public health, and all points in between. There’s even a herpetologist who seems to have discovered a new species of lizard. Apparently, though, scientific etiquette dictates that he not name the little critter after himself. Shame.

While the brainiacs were seated around their formal, U-shaped table in the “Diamond” conference room, chatting about new and exciting ways to save the world, I was holed up in room 255 reviewing a funding proposal for the Centre for Human Rights and destroying my iPhone. That’s right, I killed my iPhone.

Was it the energy of Steve Jobs' departing soul that zapped my iPhone? No, it was just me being a nerd.

My iPhone and Steve Jobs died on the same day.

(I later learned that a colleague at the Centre thought her MacBook died on the same day, only to see it miraculously revived the next morning.)

I simply got greedy. I thought I could throw a quick update onto my jailbroken iPhone. I screwed up. It turned into a brick.

Now, the Phone That Jobs Built is in the capable hands of folks nerdier than I, at a shoppe appropriately called iFix. My touchscreen-swiping fingers are crossed.

I felt naked without my iPhone in Sandton. For better or worse, it has become, as Jenny aptly observed, “an extension” of my hand. Still, I managed to recover from my iFunk to join the group for dinners and performances of two very unique plays at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg: Death of a Colonialist and The Girl in the Yellow Dress. Both were very…thought-provoking.

Perhaps as interesting as the plays was the Market Theatre itself. Founded in 1976, it became known as South Africa’s “Theatre of the Struggle” during the apartheid years. The posters, playbills and photographs on the painted brick walls tell the story of how the theatre and its performances used a cultural medium to challenge the status quo. The patrons on the two nights we attended were refreshingly diverse in age, race and gender.

Meanwhile, back in Pretoria, Indie had her very own girl for the week. Antoinette, a student in Jenny’s department, stayed with Indie while we were away, and even taught the old gal a new trick. I suppose I need to teach her to bark at me when I’m about to do something dumb, like brick my iPhone.

This is what a Fulbrighter's lightbulb looks like

More importantly, how many Fulbrighters does it take to change a lightbulb? I’m not sure I’m smart enough to truly comprehend the real answer, so I’ll say this: The group of Fulbright scholars and students we met with this week is capable of not only changing the lightbulb, but of providing a historical analysis of the lightbulb. Of describing the lightbulb’s significance to modern political struggles. Of mapping trends of the lightbulb’s future use. Of using the lightbulb to teach students a new concept. Of writing insightful newspaper articles about the pros and cons of the lightbulb. Of discovering new forms of the lightbulb. Of finding innovative ways to use the lightbulb that benefit communities.

Of not only changing the lightbulb, but changing the world.

Just give them a ladder.

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3 thoughts on “How Many Fulbrighters Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

  1. SA (and Africa) certainly needs change and you guys seems to be the only foreign contingent active in that area? You certainly have a reputation to uphold so thank you and good luck.

    • Thanks for the kind comment, Johann. The Fulbrighters are impressive, but there are certainly many other nations involved in good works in SA and on the continent. Several EU countries have active aid agencies and programs. We are all learning from each other.

  2. Pingback: The End of an Annum « AfricAnnum

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