Three Months in South Africa| August 31, 2011
I was sitting at my desk, buried in Bar review books and outlines, when suddenly I received an unexpected e-mail from the brilliant Prof. Christie Warren, my former graduate fellowship supervisor and head of the program in Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacekeeping. She wanted to know if I'd be interested in having a postgraduate fellowship to intern with the International Center for Transitional Justice in Cape Town, South Africa. When you've been staring at nothing but corporations and sales outlines for the previous 300 hours, the thought of travelling to Africa seemed a godsend.
So in a matter of weeks, I had taken two bar exams, packed up my lovely Williamsburg apartment, and was on the very long flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. It's still winter here, and quite windy with frequent rain, which does make me miss a hot Virginia summer. The organization that I'm working for has offices all over the world, and the Cape Town office is actually slated to be shut down by the end of the year, with most of their Africa activism being moved over to the Nairobi office because of its more central location within Africa. The office is quite quiet, as much of the staff has already moved on. But until it closes down for good in November, I'll be working for human rights lawyer Howard Varney on a variety of projects, including creating guides on holding commissions and investigations, follow up to the Sierra Leone Truth & Reconciliation Commission, for which Howard was the chief investigator, and court cases on post-apartheid reparations and pardons here in South Africa. Should be an interesting few months!
Cape Town is a stunningly situated city, way down at the southwest corner of Africa. There's a mountain right in the center of the city, with more low green mountains surrounding it. As you travel south from the city center further down the peninsula, there's rocky coasts spotted with small, clean, bright beaches both to the east and the west. You really couldn't get a more picturesque setting. Of course when you're in the city itself, it just feels like a city. Busy and noisy, with crowded minivan-taxis speeding up and down the main streets picking up passengers on their way to work. I'm living in the neighborhood of Obversatory, southeast of the city center. It's a middle-class neighborhood with a high concentration of students and artsy, liberal young folks. There are funky restaurants and scrappy bars, as well as a couple fast food places (including McDonald's!). The neighborhood is also home to the impressive Groote Schuur hospital, pictured below, which is where Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant in 1967.