Wednesday, 16 November 2011

No Justice for Neo

Life in Africa has been busy. 

I've visited five of South Africa's nine provinces.  I've stood mere feet away from lions, rhinos and elephants.  I've run a 10K race in the Soweto Marathon.  I've competed in a provincial dancesport championship and will compete in the national dancesport championships in two short days.  I've visited Constitution Hill, the Constitutional Court and the Apartheid Museum.  I've done a bike tour of Soweto.  I've worked on dozens of human rights cases.  I've worked with a human rights legend.  I've tried great food.  I've moved.  I've grooved. 

And I promise to post about these events "just now" (African for when I get around to it). 

For now, I want to share with you a story about a girl named Neo.  The Legal Resources Centre assisted Neo with her case.  At the end of the case, I wrote an article that was published in The Pretoria News (Pretoria is the capital of South Africa).  Here it is for you to read:


By all accounts, Neo Sobuza was a woman.  She dressed like a woman and presented and identified herself as a woman. 

But Neo was biologically male and, according to Neo, her female presentation offended Metrorail security officers so much that on 18 April 2008 they violently attacked her while she was taking the Metrorail from her home in Boksburg to university in Johannesburg. 

After requesting to see her ticket, which she immediately produced, an officer said, “Uyini?” (What are you?). 

Neo did not answer. 

The officer quipped with a second officer, “How can it be a girl when it shaves?” 

The second officer’s response was, “These are the kinds of people who need to be beaten up.  There is no woman who shaves.  He has no breasts.”

They snatched Neo’s purse, dumped it and saw that she had make-up and women’s deodorant.  This infuriated the officers.  They hinted at buying Neo’s sexual services and said she had to take her clothes off.

As the train was pulling out of the station, one of the officers grabbed Neo by her clothing and pushed her out of the moving train.  She rolled over three times on the platform coming to a stop on her back. 

She sought help from Metrorail officials, but received none.  Instead, they threw her up against the wall, strangled her, handcuffed her and slapped her across the face. 

Despite there being many bystanders nearby, nobody intervened to help.  She could not call an ambulance because her phone had been broken in the attack.

She lodged a complaint with Metrorail officials.  Nothing came of it.  Metrorail denied the incident ever happened.

Neo suffered greatly following the attack.  In addition to the resulting physical pain, she had trouble sleeping and experienced headaches and difficulty concentrating.  The traumatic incident led to hair loss, increased stress, depression and panic attacks. 

It impacted her entire life.

With the assistance of the Legal Resources Centre (the LRC) in Johannesburg, a non profit legal services and human rights organisation, proceedings were instituted in the Equality Court on 25 March 2011 naming the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and Hlanganani Protection Services (Pty) Ltd as defendants. 

The particulars of complaint alleged, among other things, infringement of Neo’s equality rights, human dignity, freedom and security of the person, and state protection rights entrenched in the South African Bill of Rights as well as infringement of Neo’s freedom from hate speech in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

The LRC filed Particulars of Neo’s claim on 22 September 2011.  In addition to seeking monetary damages for medical expenses, the claim sought an order directing that the defendants refrain from discriminatory practices, engage in sensitivity training workshops for employees, and make a written apology to Neo. 

After a pre-trial meeting on 8 September 2011 with Judge Saldulker of the Equality Court, the case was well underway.  Then the unthinkable happened.

After repeated phone calls to Neo without any response, LRC staff began to worry. 

They travelled to Neo’s home in Soweto where they met a woman who had taken Neo in to live with her family.  She told them that Neo had died in June.  She was 32. 

According to the death certificate, the cause of death remains “under investigation”.

LRC staff travelled to Boksburg to meet Neo’s mother and to obtain the autopsy report.  Their visit to the Post Mortem Report Office in Braamfontein revealed that Neo’s death was still under investigation because her autopsy report had gone to Pathology Services’ Toxicology Department. 

It has been reported that a national backlog of about 20 000 toxicology samples has South African toxicology departments running behind by nearly 10 years on average.  The Johannesburg toxicology department’s 6 000 case backlog currently has it processing samples from 2004-2005.

According to the LRC, this was to be a major transgender case in South Africa.  Gender DynamiX, a non profit human rights organization based out of Cape Town, reports that transgendered individuals face significant obstacles in everyday society, including fear of public spaces, workplace discrimination, family rejection, HIV vulnerability and difficulty obtaining identity documents and accessing health care and public services. 

Being a Black transgendered person, like Neo, adds yet another layer of discrimination and stigma.      

LRC Attorney Naseema Fakir says, “Our hearts go out to Neo’s family and friends.  She was a brave woman and we are very sad to hear of her untimely passing.”

As for the status of Neo’s case, Attorney Fakir says, “This was effectively a case of he said/she said.  Hlanganani denied the incident ever took place.  Metrorail did not file any papers.  After consulting with counsel, it was reluctantly decided that, without Neo here to testify, we had no choice but to withdraw the claim.” 

A Notice of Withdrawal of Action dated 17 October 2011 has been filed with the Court. 

There will be no justice for Neo, but the LRC is hopeful that Neo’s story will put others on guard that such egregious human rights abuses will face swift legal action.

I offer an additional story that was not included in the article. 

Neo's family did not accept her and she was forced to live elsewhere.  When another LRC staff member and I went to the home in Soweto where Neo was living, we met the owner of the home, an elderly woman named Boniswa.  We asked Boniswa if she was related to Neo.  She said, "No, but she was a nice girl with nowhere to go and I liked her so I took her in."

I am always touched by the depths of human kindness, compassion and generosity, especially for those in our society who need it most.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Tell your girlfriend I said Thanks.

Working for a legal services NGO is in some ways different but in most ways similar to working in a law firm.  The LRC has clients and litigates cases on behalf of those clients just as a law firm does.  The only difference is that they don't charge for their services.  Here's a recap of my first week at work.

Suitcase in hand, I say Good-bye to Leonie and Willie at the B&B and jump into my pre-booked private taxi.  Private taxis in South Africa are much more expensive than in Canada and a 20km ride will set you back around $50. 

I arrive at the Legal Resources Centre and take the elevator to the 15th floor.  It's 8:30am and I think "Sweet.  I'm early."   I meet Caroline Msimango, the office administrator, who quickly exclaims, "Oh, you're here, I was starting to worry."  It turns out standard working hours at the LRC (and in Joburg generally) are 8-4. Waking up at 6:00am every day is a constant battle.

Caroline gives me a tour of the office.  There are 3 attorneys, 3 paralegals, 4 candidate attorneys, 2 administrative assistants, and a revolving door of foreign volunteer law students and lawyers like me.  It's much nicer than I expect and my office is quite large. 

I am sharing an office with Nicole, a candidate lawyer from Germany.  We go for lunch and she gives me a tour of the local area.  The LRC is located in the Joburg CBD or Central Business District, the most dense collection of skyscrapers anywhere in Africa.  Towards the end of apartheid, there was significant "white flight" (mass migration of whites from urban areas to the suburbs) from the Joburg CBD to the Sandton CBD.  In the last few years, though, there's been significant gentrification (where the wealthy move into a poor area) and the CBD is starting to grow again.  We go to Gandhi Square (named after Mahatma Gandhi who spent a lot of time in South Africa), which has a collection of shops, restaurants and the CBD's central bus terminal.  After a quick Indian curry lunch, we head back to the office.

I receive my first assignment.  I am to attend a Land Development Board hearing in Limpopo Province, about 4 hours from Joburg.  We leave around noon.  Zeenat (an attorney), Bethuel (a paralegal) and me.  We drive through Mpumalanga Province.  Mpumalanga means East or literally "place where the sun rises".  It is possibly the most beautiful landscape I have seen in my life.  To attempt to describe it with words will not do it I won't.  Of course, I forget my camera so I'm stuck taking BB photos. 

We arrive in Limpopo.  We are staying at a lodge on a "Game Reserve".  Game reserves are areas of natural land where wildlife is protected (sometimes hunted) and ecosystems are conserved.  It is breathtaking.  As we approach the lodge in early evening, we look up and see dozens of brightly lit wooden cottages cascading down a lush green mountain.  Our headlights frighten away springboks, guinea fowl, peacocks, wildabeests, monkeys and other animals that we are able to see better in pure daylight the following morning.  We enjoy an excellent dinner of traditional South African food and head to bed.

The following morning, we attend the Land Development Board hearing in the conference room of another local game reserve.  The matter involves a mixed commercial-residential development that may affect our client, a 71-year-old local farmer who does not speak English but attends the hearing with her two sons.  I am impressed with the level of order and process undertaken at the heairng.  After a few hours, the matter is adjourned until October.

Back in Joburg, I am asked if I will go on a road trip on Saturday to attend a Land Compensation Community Property Association meeting near Rustenberg in the Northwest Province.  After my wonderful experience from the previous day, I immediately agree.  The experience is ... well ... I was rendered literally speechless. 

We set off at 6:00am and arrive at our destination at 9:00am where our client is waiting for us.  We are 30 minutes ahead of schedule and he tells us that we are just waiting for the government representative at which point we will all drive to the 10:00am hearing together.  9:00am turns to 9:30am turns to 10:00am turns to 10:30am turns to 11:00am.  She finally shows up.  This is my first true experience with African Standard Time, which stipulates that you should be one hour late for everything. 

When we arrive, the people are annoyed (naturally) and the meeting starts.  The Chairperson introduces all of us and gives me, "the attorney from Canada", a particularly warm introduction.  The meeting then proceeds ... entirely in Tswana.  What's Tswana?  It's one of South Africa's 11 official languages.  Surprise of all surprises, I don't understand Tswana.  The meeting lasts for three hours.  Three hours of Tswana.  At various points, people look at me and smile.  I smile back and nod my head as if to say, "Yup.  Oh yeah.  Totally.  Got it."  I am Tswana-fied.  My ears perk up with the sound of an English word - "constitution" - and I am hopeful there will be a language shift.  But there isn't.  The word "constitution" doesn't exist in Tswana.  They say "constitution" 27 times during the three hours.  I keep smiling.

I've noticed a very strong spirit in this country.  They greet each other with 'Brother' and 'Sister'.  They spend their days with huge smiles on their faces.  They dance as they walk down the street.  They laugh often, spontaneously and whole-heartedly.  It's like everybody's in on some inside joke.  And I don't even mind that I'm not in on it.

Today, as I'm waiting to get on the bus to work, I see a guy walking by bopping his head and tapping his chest and leg (a common thing here) to the beat of the song on his iPod (Rihanna's "Who's That Chick").  Like most, he's got a big white toothy grin on his face.  I follow the tapping hand on his chest and see that written in big white block letters on his bright red t-shirt are the words:

"Tell your girlfriend I said Thanks."  

Of course they're always smiling here. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

No booty is left unshaken.

I am invited to go to a local soccer game in Johannesburg with a group of Constitutional Court clerks.  Not wanting to waste a minute of my 201 days here, I quickly accept.  The experience is unforgettable.
We meet at the Court and leave in a "mini-bus" that they rented to take us to the game.  Mini-buses are the most common form of public transportation in South Africa.  Here's how they work: Drivers have a set route where they pick up and drop off people anywhere on the side of the road on their route.  Mini-buses are supposed to be dangerous, but I've seen them around and they seem alright.  The only danger I can imagine is suffocation since these 15-20 seaters usually transport around 30 commuters.  Noone is turned away.  Ours is a private rental...but there are still a couple of pick-ups.  No big deal.  It's Africa!
We arrive at FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City, located near the Soweto area of Johannesburg.  With a capacity of 94,700, it's the largest stadium in Africa.  Its nickname is "The Calabash" (a type of African bowl), which it was designed and built to resemble.  It has hosted concerts (U2 - attendance: 94,232), the 2010 World Cup (84,000), rugby union matches (94,713), and regularly hosts local football matches between the Soweto based Premier Soccer League clubs, the Orlando Pirates (team colour: black) and Kaizer Chiefs (team colour: yellow).  This past weekend was the Pirates vs. Chiefs 2011 Final.
Outside the stadium, there is the usual sporting event grub - beer, hot dogs, popcorn - and some not-so-usual things - fried chicken and BBQd steak.  We walk a couple of kilometres to the stadium, grab a few beer, some food, and settle into our seats.  We're around 20 rows behind the Pirates bench.  The majority of the clerks are Pirates fans.  I decide that I am also a Pirates fan.  On the way in, there is a lot of team paraphernalia for sale as well as some free signs to support your team.  We grab Pirates signs.  From my seat, I look around me and see that we are the only people carrying black signs in a sea of yellow.  An African guy around my age sitting next to me says, "You are a Pirates fan?"  To which I respond "I think so?"  He says, "Well, it looks like tonight you are more Black than me!"  We mocked each other for the whole game after that.
The game is exciting, but not because of the players.  In fact, for the most part, the game is pretty uneventful with very few shots on goal and lots of faked injuries.  The excitement comes from the crowd.  Towards the end of the regulation 90 minutes, Bongani Ndulula heads what would have been a winning goal for the Pirates and then...Mayhem.  The Chiefs fans are furious.  Things are thrown.  Words are shouted.  Tears are shed.  I don't know what's going on (because all the shouting is in Zulu), but it seems that the goal is controversial.  It is.  The referee quickly disallows the goal on the basis that Ndulula pushed another player in the back when scoring.  Fewf!  Crisis averted.  Later, in extra time, Oupa Manyisa scores a long-range screamer to win the game.  I hold my breath waiting for the uproar.  But there isn't one.  The Chiefs fans clap politely and congratulate the Pirates fans on the goal.
The highlight of the entire evening (for me, at least) is the dancing.  As we enter the stadium, the first thing I notice is very loud African electronic music and lots and lots of booty-shaking.  Booty-shaking.  Booty-shaking.  Booty-shaking.  The enthusiasm with which the booties are shaken is unlike anything I've ever experienced.  Naturally, I got my booty going too.  No booty is left unshaken.  This one song starts and the whole crowd starts cheering and going into warp speed ultra booty shaking (I fear people are going to hurt themselves).  It's a good song, I guess, but I don't understand the full appeal until everybody sings along to the chorus: "I won't take your number. I'll find you on Facebook."  Seriously?  I love Africa.
After the game, the singing and dancing doesn't end.  Even the Chiefs fans are joyful.  Everybody dances inside and outside the stadium.  They notice we are Pirates fans and move in to shake our hands and even hug us.  It's only when we feel hands fishing in our pockets that we realize they're looking for some money in exchange for the hug.  Hugs for sale.  Fair enough.  It's Africa!  We learn to shake hands from a distance and just start dancing away from the hug vendors.  We make it back to the mini-bus and fall asleep during the two-hour traffic-jammed drive home.
Today, I leave you with the South African national anthem.  It's really beautiful and sung in South Africa's five most widely spoken eleven official languages: Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English.  My goal is to learn it before the end of September.
LanguageLyricsEnglish translation
XhosaNkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
God bless Africa
Raise high its glory
ZuluYizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.
Hear our prayers
God bless us, her children
SothoMorena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa, South Afrika — South Afrika.
God, we ask You to protect our nation
Intervene and end all conflicts
Protect us, protect our nation,
our nation, South Africa — South Africa.
AfrikaansUit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,
From the blue of our heaven,
From the depth of our sea,
Over our everlasting mountains,
Where the echoing cliffs resound,
EnglishSounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My Farha or So this is Africa, eh?

There's this Arabic word farha.  It means joy.  It's typically used when somebody is wishing you well.  Farihtak (Farihtik for girls).  Your joy.  It's short for Insha'Allah waqit farihtak.  God willing, the time of your joy.  There are many farhas in ones life - graduations, religious sacraments, birth of a child - but none more than marriage.  The Farha Kebira.  Big Joy.  At Lebanese weddings, single men and women of "marrying age" will hear Farihtak/tik at least 7,864 times ... an hour.  

I heard farihtak many times in the weeks leading up to my departure to Johannesburg.  There is a large Lebanese population in Africa, many of whom have been here since the late 19th century when they arrived in West Africa.  There are two stories behind how Lebanese ended up as the largest non-African migrant community in West Africa.

Number One: A ship-load of Lebanese immigrants was heading to Brazil, seeking opportunities in the new world, but got off at Senegal, believing they had arrived in South America.
Number Two: At a time of agricultural crisis in Lebanon, the French government recruited Lebanese farmers to work the West African groundnut farming industry.

Whatever the explanation (I'm pretty sure it's #2), since then, Lebanese have thrived in many business areas and their numbers have grown and spread to other regions of Africa, including South Africa. 

I have relatives here.  I met two for the first time this past weekend.  Mike (second cousin, once removed) and Jimmy (third cousin) live in towns a couple of hours from Johannesburg.  They drove into Johannesburg yesterday to see me and stayed the weekend to help me find an apartment and show me around.  They pick me up at the B&B and we go to Montecasino, a giant (seriously, it's massive) food and entertainment complex in Johannesburg built in 2000 at an estimated cost of 1.6 billion dollars.  It has a hotel, world-class theatre, cinema, dozens of restaurants, retail shops, night clubs, casino and a host of other attractions that brought in nearly 10 million visitors last year.  After exploring the complex, we sit down to Portuguese steaks and listen to the (I think pre-recorded) Latin groovings of a one-man show.  Did I mention there are live bands playing at about every 50m in the complex?  I am in complete awe.  So this is Africa, eh?

The boys pick me up on Saturday morning and off we go.  I'd scoped out a number of potentially suitable units ahead of time and made appointments to view them.  We see six and at the end of the day it's clear that it has to be the first place.  I have a home.  It's a 110 sq m (1200 sq ft) two-bedroom flat in a gated community with a swimming pool in the "up-market" area of Morningside, Sandton.  

The following day, we go to a restaurant - Sheikh Palace (a Lebanese place) - and watch South Africa vs. Wales in the Rugby World Cup.  Go Springboks!  If you've seen the movie "Invictus", it portrays the story of the Springboks at their Rugby World Cup debut in 1995 when South Africa (then newly democratic) hosted the tournament.  They previously didn't compete in the first two World Cups because of anti-apartheid sporting boycotts of South Africa.  They won that year and people still describe it as a pivotal moment in the post-apartheid nation-building process.   

We finished the weekend by visiting the Lebanese Maronite Church where Abouna (Father) Charbel gave us a very informative tour and then dropping by Sandton City, which is one of the most impressive shopping complexes I've ever seen.  Seriously, this is Africa?

I like reflecting on my own little farhas every once in a while.  It keeps me grateful.  This weekend, my farha was finding an apartment and doing so alongside family who I'd never met before and who really went out of their way to help me. 

Stay tuned for my next blog entry, which will describe the 91,547 person soccer game I went to last night.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The electric fences buzz.

I arrive in Johannesburg at 7:30am on September 8, 2011.  But let's rewind. 

I get to the South African Airways check-in in London Heathrow with plenty of time to spare only to receive a grand surprise: Sir, that will be 700 GBP (approx $1000 CDN) for your second piece of luggage.  Excuse me?  It turns out that the policy on their website (which I had looked up earlier in the day) is an "archived website" and many people have made the same "mistake".  I try charm ("Please, would it be possible to just make this one exception?).  I try getting all lawyer up in there ("Listen, this is a very clear case of negligent misrepresentation and if I took this to Court, I would win.")  I try crying... no, I didn't try crying... but maybe I should have... shoot, why didn't I try crying?!  In the end, I sent my bag with an independent baggage delivery service for 180 GBP (still expensive) and it will take 10 days for it to arrive.

At this point, I am severely irritated, but it's all good because the guy at check-in tells me I've got four seats on the plane all to myself, a much-needed luxury on an 11 hour flight.  I step onto the plane and am horrified by two things.  One: There are no personal televisions.  Two: An intruder has invaded one of my four seats.  His name is Tom.  He likes kangaroo meat, red wine and prostitutes.  Nice to meet you Tom.  My name is Joseph.  I like kibbe and taboule, mango smoothies and university degrees.  Now would you kindly remove yourself from the fourth seat in my four-seater?

After a mostly sleepless flight (snoring Tom stretched out on three seats), I touch down in Johannesburg and experience my first taste of local culture.  The customs officer gives me a "business" card and tells me that if there's anything I need (pinky finger to nostril motion) I should call him.  He has a gold tooth.  My driver is 50 minutes late (second taste of local culture), but he does arrive and off we go.

As we leave the city and enter the suburbs, I notice that there are very high walls topped with electric barbed wire everywhere.  I had been told to expect this, but it's still a bit surprising to see.  We arrive at the B&B and it's very charming.  Auberge le Fleur.  It's a 100-year-old home owned by a retired South African couple (they haven't been there for 100 years, I don't think).  My room is massive.  It's actually two rooms: a living/dining room and a kitchen/bedroom.  My front door leads out to a carefully manicured garden and the back door leads to an outdoor patio area and swimming pool.  The owners - Leonie and Willie - help me get settled and offer to drop me off around the corner where there's some shopping.  I find myself alone in Johannesburg.  When I first told people I was going to Johannesburg, the reactions were more or less the same:

- "But isn't that place dangerous?"
-- Well, it can be, but you just have to exercise certain preca...
- "That has the highest crime rate in the world, doesn't it?"
-- I'm not exactly sure, but as long as you stay...
- "Please don't get killed."
-- Thanks?

I am happy to report that I survived my first solo excursion in Joburg.  I got some food, walked in and around some shops and even ... are you ready? ... took out money from an ATM *gasp*.  All without incident.  Imagine.  So, feeling good about not being dead, I make my way back to the B&B (a 10 minute walk) and arrive at the front gate.  I hear some buzzing.  So I start ducking and swatting (for bees).  But the buzzing doesn't stop!  So I duck deeper and swat harder!!!  Eventually, I follow the buzzing sound to the electric barbed wire atop the giant concrete fence.  The electric fences buzz.

After learning a bit of Afrikaans and Zulu, watching some television that I didn't understand (hence me learning Afrikaans and Zulu), Skyping with mom and dad, and making a plan for apartment hunting over the next couple of days, I settle into bed, excited about tomorrow.  I've got a great feeling about this city.  I leave you with some basic information about fair Joburg.


JOHANNESBURG (a.k.a. Jozi or Jo'burg), Gauteng Province, South Africa

Population: 7 million (one of the 40 largest metropolitan areas on the world and the largest city not situated on a river/lake/coastline)
Claims to Fame: Lightning Capital of the World; Constitutional Court of South Africa; Gold and Diamond Trade; Busiest Airport in Africa (O.R. Tambo International Airport) 


500 - West Africans begin to settle in South Africa and establish tribes
1487 - Portuguese explorers arrive in South Africa but take little interest
1647 - Dutch vessel is wrecked near what is now Cape Town and the Dutch East India Company soon establishes a permanent settlement
1814 - Dutch relinquish sovereignty of the Cape to the British
1869 - Diamonds are discovered
1880 - First Anglo-Boer War begins (Anglo = British; Boer = Dutch)
1886 - Gold is discovered in the hills of the Witwatersrand (in Johannesburg). Thousands flock to the area quickly making Johannesburg the hub of sub-Saharan Africa. 
1902 - Second Anglo-Boer War ends
1902-1960s - Apartheid (segregation) between Blacks and Whites builds
1960s-1994 - Full-blown Apartheid sees decades of intense racism in South Africa
1994 - Apartheid ends and Nelson Mandela is elected President in South Africa's first democratic elections
2011 - Joseph arrives in Joburg

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Look, there are bras on the ceiling.

I touched down in Joburg today. But first I recap the past 5 days.

I arrived at London Heathrow on September 2 and went straight to Oxford where I dropped off my things and caught the Oxford Tube back to London for what ended up being a pub crawl.  There's a quote from a French movie that describes the night (it has a deep meaning in the movie - here, not so much):

"C'est l'histoire d'un mec qui tombe d'un immeuble de cinquante étages au fur et à mesure de sa chute il se répète sans cesse pour se rassurer: jusqu'ici tout va bien, jusqu'ici tout va bien, jusqu'ici tout va bien... mais l'important, c'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterrissage."

TRANSLATION: This is the story of a guy who falls from a 50 story building and throughout his fall keeps repeating to reassure himself: so far, so good, so far, so good, so far, so good... but what's important is not the fall, but the landing.

That night, we "landed" at Slim Jim's Pub in East London.  Most would describe it as a dive and that's because it is a dive.  With a 1950s juke box rocking American classics, a wide selection of cheap drinks, a mixed chic-to-freak crowd, and a 3am last call, this place is a diamond in the rough for sure ... or maybe a rough diamond.  Either way, this is where we landed and it was good.  Early on, somebody says, "Look, there are bras on the ceiling."  I'm not sure if "bra" means something else in Aussie or British slang... so I look up ... and it doesn't.  There are hundreds of bras hanging from the ceiling.  Slim Jim's has a no cover/free drink policy for girls that hand over their bras.  Clearly it's a popular policy.  Nobody said the place was classy.  Day 2 in London involved an informal St Catz MCR reunion at an excellent Aussie brunch place near Oxford Circus called Lantana, a walk through The Regent's Park, and a 120-person house party.

The next day, I head back to Oxford and start the three-day Joseph Catch-up with Friends over Food Tour.  I was a rock star.  Minus the money, leather, guitar, drugs, booze, celebrity and adoring fans... well, maybe some adoring fans.  The grand finale was an evening at the St. Giles Fair with greasy food, un-winnable games and intense rides, including The Storm.  I've been on many extreme amusement park rides, but nothing like this.  Buckled into your seat on the end of a pendulum, you're flung back and forth, up and down and around, flying around 100m above the spires of Oxford's old colleges.  Did I mention your seat also spins?  My only thought during, "I'm too old for this."

The next morning, I caught the Airliner to Heathrow to catch  my flight to Joburg.  It's always a bit sad when I leave Oxford.  It's really a special place.  I'm comforted by the fact that I always find a way back.

It's getting close to bedtime here.  I'll post the Joburg update soon.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Countdown is On ...

Just 10 more days and I'll be in Johannesburg, South Africa for a 7 month placement with the Canadian Bar Association's Young Lawyers International Program  (YLIP) funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).  I'm very pleased to have been placed with the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Johannesburg, a legal human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) which functions as an independent, client-based, non-profit public interest law clinic for the vulnerable and marginalised.

Here's what's led me here in a nutshell.  After graduating from law school in 2005, I clerked at the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa, was called to the Nova Scotia Bar, and practiced for two years with a large regional law firm in Halifax.  I then spent two incredible years as a graduate student and academic at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom following which I returned to practice with the same law firm for one year.  In April, I learned of this opportunity to do legal development work and put in an application.  After a very intense phone interview, I got the email: "Congratulations! You have been selected ..."  A few weeks later I was in Ottawa with the other 18 lawyers selected for this program where we met Ian Morrison, the Director of YLIP, and undertook a four day orientation program.  Several role-playing exercises, smelly markers and silent card games later, we were officially "interculturally effective" diplomats and (naturally) best friends.

I leave Halifax on September 1.  After a few days visiting friends in London and Oxford, I'll touch down in Johannesburg.  "Are you excited?"  Yes.  Definitely.  I also feel something more than excitement.  I feel like this is what I'm supposed to be doing.  For that, I'm grateful and I'm hopeful.