Henry Trotter in front of Yale stained glass windows

Farewell Party with my Interviewees

Cape Town - 2001


In 2000-2001, I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Cape Town, South Africa. For my MA thesis research at Yale, I focused on post-apartheid memory and the impact of Group Areas forced removals on Capetonians. During that year, I interviewed over 100 people, tape-recording their life histories. Of course, I learned so much from that process, but many removees also told me how touched they were by the fact that someone cared enough to ask them about their lives. Though many have suffered immense grief as a result of the government's evictions during apartheid, they were glad to get recognition for the importance of their lives as South Africans. As a gesture of hospitality and gratitude, a number of the women I interviewed teamed up and threw me a surprise farewell party. Local newspapers even got in on the action!

The ringleader of the party was Eileen Nomdo, one of the dynamic ladies I interviewed. In fact, she was responsible for introducing me to many of the people I interviewed. So she called everyone together for a party at a hall in Manenberg and we had a great time celebrating each other. The farewell party, which took place just a week before I left the country, gave me the chance to share some of my research with them. I recounted to everyone some of the stories that they had shared with me. It ended up being quite emotional. Not a dry eye in the house!

After I spoke, everyone broke out in old-time songs, the ones that they were raised on as youngsters. We sang, ate great food, shared stories, and reconnected. Some people saw old friends who they hadn't seen in years. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. Moments like these make my work so rewarding. It is the reason why I choose to focus my studies on contemporary history, the realm of living memory. I thrive on the interaction it offers.