The conference continued today with three very interesting papers:
1. Savvas Kyriakides (postdoctor at UJ) analyzed The Letter of the Mamluk Sultan al Nasir to John VI Kantakouzenos and offered to those in the conference with a Nubiological interest an insight into the other end of the diplomatic contacts of the very important for the final period of the Makuritan kingdom Mamluk kingdom. I did not know myself of this correspondence and I believe that it would be a fruitful academic exchange if the foremost specialist on Mamluk historiography about Christian Nubia, namely Robin Seignobos, discussed the issues arising from this letter with Dr. Kyriakides.
2. Thekla Sansaridou-Hendrickx (professor at UJ) presented the story of Miqdad and Mayasa: a Swahili Epic Romance with reference to the East-Mediterranean Byzantine-Islamic common cultural pool? A very interesting exercise of literary and cultural borrowings that widens the horizon of the sources to Swahili literature. I wonder what Anne Bang from SMI/AHKR/UiB would have to say about this. Another possible cooperation?
3. Selamawit Mecca (Ass. Professor and Acting Head of Department of Amharic Language, Literature and Folklore at Addis Ababa University) discussed eloquently and thoroughly the Representations in Ge’ez Texts about Ethiopian Women focusing on what she called “politics of the body in regards to gender”.
Despite the interest of all three papers, the visit to Soweto that followed the morning session overshadowed any other impression today.
Driving out of Melville, the university area or downtown Joburg, one meets a different landscape.
Soweto is a renowned town all over the world from the uprising that took place there on 16 June 1976. Nelson Mandela’s house is there and is a major tourist attraction. But our visit targeted two other places, the Regina Mundi Church and the Jabavu East Primary School. While Regina Mundi is very famous, since many students fled to its interior after the shootings of 16 June 1976 in Orlando West, few people know the Jabavu East Primary School. Let me explain.
In South Africa schools can choose the second language, that the pupils will learn, from a list that includes Greek, obviously in recognition of the long and numerous presence of Greeks in the country. Well, at Jabavu East they have chosen Greek indeed! This is the doing of the Friends of Cultural Interactions Project, a movement founded by Mrs. Ava Papatheophilou, a qualified drama teacher and behaviour scientist, with years of working experience with children. She belongs to the staff of Jabavu East Primary School and she teaches Greek to all pupils for almost thirty years now! It was Mrs. Ava who invited the conference participants to Soweto today, where we were introduced to the staff, followed activities by the pupils, and saw the Greek classroom that the Greek Bishop Damaskinos blessed in a decent ceremony of multicultural colors. It is somehow difficult to discern in the intentions and views of each of those involved in this amazing cooperation between the School and Mrs. Ava whether what lies behind is of educational or humanitarian purpose, but it is certain that both Mrs. Ava and her husband Vassilis are people who have gained love and respect in areas where others almost dare not drive into. They have given a lesson of coexistence for all people of South Africa; a lesson that can be useful for other schools and communities here, back in Greece or in other countries too. I believe that they have set a paradigm for other diaspora communities to follow…
After this visit that filled us with awe, admiration, and sincere smiles, we visited the nearby church of Regina Mundi with one of the most famous black madonnas in the world, and with strong memories from the era of Nelson Mandela. He had visited the church twice and in one of these visits he was accompanied by George Bizos, as the guard and guide of the church showed us proudly.
There will be more to discuss about South Africa and its cultures tomorrow, since after the afternoon session dedicated to art, a couple of exhibitions will be visited.
Those who follow this blog or have read the entries from South Africa, perhaps have noticed that I posted photos again. No, I did not find my camera unfortunately… But a colleague at the conference, Ph.D. candidate of UJ, anthropologist Alexandra Fefopoulou was kind enough to provide me with pictures from the visit to Soweto. Thank you very much Alexandra!