My wife Dunreith and I have vibed until 5:00 a.m., listened to South African friends offer many gleeful recountings of my cultural missteps during my Fulbright year and reconnected with an Uthongathi student I bumped into on Soweto’s Vilakazi Street, the world’s only street that was home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners. (In case you’re wondering, they are Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.)
Now, after a six-hour bus ride, we’re here in Bloemfontein, the Free State’s largest city.
Along with Dad, who’ll be joining us through audioconference, we’ll be presenting on Friday at the Engaging the Other conference about our family trip in May to return to his hometown of Duisburg, Germany.
It was the first time Dad had stepped foot in the community in 73 years. He had left in early 1939, just weeks after having had his appendix removed, as one of 10,000 children who were part of the Kindertransport.
Our week in Germany was an enormously powerful experience, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to share about it.
Dunreith will read a statement from Gabriele about her work on the project, and we’ll show about two dozen of Jon’s photos that will take people through the week.
From my perspective, the various ways of contributing to dialogue are an essential element of the conference’s purpose.
Pumla’s a remarkable person who wrote A Human Being Died That Night, a riveting look at a series of conversations she had with notorious apartheid killer Eugene “Prime Evil” de Kok. The work chronicles the relationship that evolves between the two-an interaction that de Kok initiated-and his quest for forgiveness from family members of some of the victims.
In the past decade, she’s also worked to expand the discussion around issues of healing and reconciliation from South Africa to the world.
This year’s Engaging the Other conference is the third in a series of triennial gatherings that brings together people discussing how these issues resonate and play out in countries like South Africa to Canada, Rwanda to Australia, Austria to Haiti.
I’ll also be part of the Sigrid Rausing Roundtable Dialogues that has people who are actively engaged in intergroup dialogue share that work. I’m looking forward to meeting members of PAKH, a second generation Jewish-German group of therapists and psychiatrists who have been discussing for more than a decade about the effects of the Holocaust on the personal and professional lives.
It had been more than 10 years since I had seen Pumla, and, after hugging, we jumped right into talking about the conference.
Like our dear friend Mhizhana Boltina, who prepared a delicious dinner for us and other friends on Monday night, Pumla hails from the former Transkei. Mhizhana had asked to be remembered to her. I did so, I broke into a song that people from Mhizhana’s husband Ntuthuko Bhengu’s party sang in March 1996 when they came to claim her at the Keepumakoti ceremony at her father’s home in the former Umtata.
The Afrikaans couple at the table next to us didn’t look too happy while I was singing, and I wasn’t sure if that was because of my volume and tone or the song’s contents.
We also sent Pumla regards from Mary Harvey, mother of one of Jon’s oldest friends and a distinguished psychologist who has done pioneering work in helping communities deal with violent incidents and, in some cases, transform them.
Mary told us about the conference this summer, and we spoke a couple of weeks ago about how to continue the work in the Boston area once we return.
We could have kept talking for much longer, and Pumla’s partner told us they needed to meet other people.
So they left after another round of hugs and plans.
But the excitement at weaving together many of my life’s strands and moving with my circle of intimates toward what Maya Angelou called our distant destiny lingered in the cool evening air and added an extra dash of flavor to our tasty meal and goblets of wine.
The conference opens this afternoon.