I have known a few of my closest friends almost all my life. We grew up together and have seen each other through some of the best and worst times of our lives. Some of my really good buddies come from work. I still find it amusing how much time we spend with colleagues relative to how much we spend with friends and family. As such, I never believed in the keeping work and friendship separate. What you spend most of your time on should be deeply personal. But the biggest chunk of those who I feel really know me comes from my days at University. From my days in the halls of Smuts and Fuller.
One of the paintings in the flames was of Sue Folb. She was the warden of Fuller when I was there. I had channelled my energy into the residences. One of the projects was an Orientation Week where we introduced new students to Cape Town and to each other. Students by their nature are figuring stuff out. Passionate. Active. I was one of those, and drove that energy and learning into O-Week. We used it as a way to bring together people from all sorts of different backgrounds. Mrs Folb helped channel my stubborn, noisy, ignorant energy. She was an ally. I can remember sitting on her couch as she listened to me, talked with me, mentored me about not trying to impose my ideas on other people. Even if I believed deeply in those ideas. Even if I was right. She taught me about building consensus.
Fuller was named after UCT's first female graduate. Megan Butler explains, 'She attended at a time when women were meant to "know their place" and later founded the residence for women to make it easier for others to attend university against the odds. She made campus a *more* inclusive place.' The painting of Mrs Fuller was in the flames too.
Megan was one of the people I met at university. I have written about how the Fuller Dining Hall is one of the models I think about for how we could build a happier world. Arriving in the hall, you could sit amongst any of the groups already there and chat. Outside the definition of yourself built over years at school, you could dive into new worlds. It is where I learnt from friends about the difficulties of coming into white dominated schools with a culture shock. It is where I met people who had come from difficult backgrounds to grasp at the opportunity education can offer.
As we get busier in life, friendships can get culled. A buddy and I joke that it is a little like the movie 'The Highlander'. Busyness steps in chopping heads off and you feel the quickening when a friendship circle shrinks as friends disappear. You worry that in the end 'there can be only one'. University was different. Smuts and Fuller were different. University was a time when you met lots of people. Your world view was challenged. The quickening came as you grew powerful through more connections. Broader understanding. A decolonised mind.
'There can be only one'
Most of the weddings I go to are mini-reunions for those wonderful days. Busyness means I don't get to see those friends as much as I would like. At one of those weddings, I met a friend of the groom who became a friend. In that way, we are all friends with a few degrees of separation. That friend was John McInroy. He is one of the people that builds my confidence that we are moving forward. The moving can feel tough, but we are moving.
John started the Unogwaja Challenge a few years back. They cycle from Cape Town to the start of the Comrades Marathon over 10 days. Last year, he got off his bike and walked the 1700kms over the course of a month to have more conversations. The Red Socks Friday movement he has started aims at building and remembering the connections we have to others. There is a Red Sock Friday run at the Langa Hockey Club every Friday at 5pm. If you are in Cape Town, get there. Build friendships. Move forward. Like Mrs Fuller. Like Mrs Folb.
Build friendships. Like those built in the Dining Hall of Fuller. Learn words. Get fit. Do something.