The End of an Annum


Howzit? You’re still here?

I probably would have given up waiting for that one last blog post by now. It’s been, what, a month? More than a month! What gives?

Ag, man…eish! It’s been hectic. In the past 30 days, we’ve driven across the US in a rented car, purchased a new car, moved back into our house, installed new carpet in our house, moved our stuff back into our house (which involved hoisting a sofa bed up through a third-story bedroom window), painted nearly every wall in the house, ordered internet service, cancelled internet service, ordered different internet service and a whole bunch of other stuff that required the focus of a blinkered thoroughbred…all while learning how to live in America again.

Sure, we’ve taken time out to enjoy time with family and friends, but until now there just hasn’t been a quiet moment to reflect on the past year, on the experiences we had, on the life we lived in South Africa, on that which was there but now is gone.

Truthfully, several quiet moments have likely come and gone. Instead of filling them with contemplation or remembrance, I played Words With Friends or watched a very sensationalized and very tape-delayed Olympic event. Shame on me. Loathe to admit in writing what I already know to be true, I’ve been putting off this task, as if not summarizing the past year would somehow leave the door open to a swift return to life in South Africa, as if these very characters would fashion themselves into nails and forever seal shut our portal to Pretoria.

As if the 8,000-mile, 16-hour flight didn’t do just that. That is, once we actually took off.

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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.

The Mail is Here!

This was a strong, new box when we mailed it from Chicago.

By some small miracle, a box of books and other educational materials we shipped on June 25 finally arrived yesterday. It’s not a miracle that a parcel was successfully sent from a major American city to a world capital city…it’s a miracle that the box survived the journey.

As a Fulbright scholar, the U.S. Embassy afforded Jenny the opportunity to send 4 boxes through Diplomatic Pouch service, which meant that we could ship certain items all the way to Pretoria by simply sending them to Washington, DC. The State Department would then forward the items to the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria free of charge.

We were warned that it would be a “difficult trip” for any boxes we shipped, so we selected a strong, new book box, packed it carefully and taped it like a grandmother would a birthday present (does she really need to make it that hard to get to a savings bond?). Even after all of that, the box barely survived.

But, it did.

I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere...

Still, for those of who who have threatened offered to stuff yourselves in a box so that you can be shipped to South Africa for a visit, I would not recommend Diplomatic Pouch as a means of travel. You will actually get slightly more leg room and marginally better treatment on United Airlines. And much better treatment on South African Airways*.

In any case, now Jenny has all the books, files and supplies she needs to start her research, so you probably won’t hear from her again on the blog as she’ll be very busy. (I’ll try to make her take breaks…)

Oh, and if you’d like to send us anything by post (like baked goods, cheaper internet or a car that drives on the right side of the road), this is the best address:

Dr. Jenny Hoobler
Department of Human Resource Management
Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences
Private Bag X20
Hatfield 0028
Pretoria South Africa

No pressure. If you’d just like to send us email or ideas for blog posts or someecards, that’s cool, too.

Baie dankie.

*This marks the second time I’ve linked to SAA, by the way, so one of you needs to click and make a reservation.