Preparing for Johannesburg

I’m writing from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, getting ready to board my connecting flight to  Johannesburg.  The past few weeks have been a blur.  I had two weeks of finals, then a week of joint journal competition, about two days of packing up my apartment, a couple days with my family in Maryland, and then my departure.  I’m a little stunned to be sitting here in Paris.

Throughout the commotion of the prior month, I’ve been preparing for my position in Johannesburg.  I’ve been working out travel arrangements, getting vaccinations, organizing my finances, and reading up on South African history whenever I could find a spare moment.  Throughout it all, South Africa was always on the horizon, something that would eventually become real once all the other parts of my life got sorted out.  That horizon is suddenly a mere ten and half hour flight away, and I find myself rather astonished to be so close to that which has for months felt so far away.  

In Johannesburg I’ll be working for an attorney named Howard Varney.  Howard, as he’s asked me to call him, works as barrister, taking on civil suits to “pay the rent”.  His real passion, however, is human rights law.  He consults for the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).  ICTJ works to rebuild societies torn apart by conflict, providing technical expertise to governments in the process of restoration.  They have offices around the world, especially in places that have recently seen conflict.  Iraq, Cambodia, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Former Yugoslavia, and Colombia are just small sampling of nations hosting ICTJ offices.  Howard is one of their top legal specialists.  International development is the field that I hope to ultimately work in after law school, so the opportunity to intern with Howard is very exciting.

Howard has given me some sense of what we’ll be doing over the next few months.  I’ll be helping him prepare for litigation involving Apartheid reparations.  In addition, ICTJ has suddenly become quite busy in the countries affected by the Arab Spring.  Howard will be doing some travel in the region, Tunisia in particular.  I will probably be doing research for Howard concerning the Arab Spring and efforts to build democratic societies in the Middle East. On top of all that, Howard serves as consultant for various ICTJ offices, and he tells me that he oftentimes acts as a legal sounding board for ICTJ staff, especially in the African region.  He may ask me to do research on a variety of topics depending on the other offices’ needs.  

I very much look forward to using the skills I’ve started to develop at William and Mary.  I will undoubtedly learn a lot about international development while assisting Howard and ICTJ.  While it has certainly been a whirlwind preparing for Johannesburg, I think I’m as ready as I’m going to be for my South African experience.