You know how some people somehow seem to meet absolutely everyone, without even trying? These same people tend to have coincidence after coincidence occur to them, leaving you scratching your head, thinking, "How could that possibly have happened?" Well, you've never met Greg Forbes Siegman, and that seems to be this guys' ENTIRE life.
Last week, I got an email from a good friend of mine back home (Abby), saying "You're going to be hearing from a guy named Greg Forbes Seigman who is from Chicago, who I know kind of through work." She said that she only knows him in passing, but that he seemed like a nice enough guy, and that he was going to be in Cape Town doing some kind of speaking tour this week. Maybe I'd like to get together with him or something, 'cause he's interested in meeting new people. This is what we like to call foreshadowing, because it is effectively the understatement of the year.
Ok, so I end up meeting up with this guy for dinner on Thursday night, with the idea to invite some friends since he likes to meet nice people. In the end I didn't end up bringing anyone, slightly worried that this might be a problem - maybe Greg wanted this to be lots of people, and I was depriving the evening of physicists (crucial for any serious get-together). It was not a problem. I showed up on time, and there were about 5 people there, so I thought, "Oh, ok, that should be enough people, I'm glad Greg brought some friends." Introductions were made, they all seemed nice, and I assumed they were all somehow associated with Greg's tour here. I was wrong on all counts (except them being nice).
All of the people at dinner were completely random. There was one couple who were finance business people. There was a community organizer. There was a woman from Kingwilliamstown (a town in the eastern cape) who worked as the popcorn lady at the cinema to support her three kids back home. There was the waiter from the townships that happened to serve Greg breakfast. There were several complete strangers he just started talking to on the street. And notably, there was no racial bias - there were just about as many black/coloured people as whites. In the end, there were probably 25-30 people who showed up for dinner, and no one knew anyone else (including Greg - he'd met them all within the past 3 days).
Finally, we headed off to dinner, took up 5 tables at the local Spur (something like a South African version of Applebeys), and everyone got to talking. The only rule was that you weren't allowed to sit next to anyone you already knew (a few people had come with friends). It was a great deal of fun, everyone was really nice, everyone was very respectful and kind. The amazing thing was the unity and comfortableness that people felt. Some people would say that such a thing would never work here. That maybe he could get together such different people so easily in the States, but South Africa just wasn't ready for it (which, to me, just shows ignorance of the level of segregation in the US - it feels to me like it's MORE integrated here, but that could just be because the percentage of black people is so much higher). But, in fact, it worked perfectly well - black people, white people, coloured people sat together and talked; rich, poor, and middle class were at the same table without feeling particularly uncomfortable. It really was pretty neat.
Anyway, the dinner was very enjoyable and interesting. After a while it broke up, and people started off home. I ended up walking back towards my car with Greg, and we decided to go get a drink (or rather, I got a drink and he had a sprite or something) - and this is where the coincidence stuff really kicked in. So we drove off to Long Street (the hip street downtown with all the bars) to find somewhere interesting. The first place we stopped in was a trendy lounge-type place. Greg immediately made friends with the bartender, and it turned out that this kid had gone to the high school whose principal was a friend of Greg's, and at whose house Greg was supposed to go to dinner. That was a funny enough coincidence. But we quickly left the lounge, cause it was kind of a cheesy atmosphere. We then went to a seedier-looking bar called Stones, which was sort of a pool bar. We stepped out onto the balcony, immediately made friends with the group that was sitting out there, and struck up a conversation (in that order - by the time Greg is actually talking to people, they already seem to be his best friend. I've never seen anything like it). The greatest thing was that those people had just been to dinner at the exactly same restaurant where we'd had our big extravaganza. And of course they remembered the big section of crazy people laughing and shouting and taking pictures (which was us, in case you couldn't figure it out). These people were also really nice, and we chatted and played pool with them for a few hours, before it was time for me to head home and go to bed (considering I was working the next day).
The list goes on. Suffice to say, Greg was an extremely interesting guy, and very unique in his approach to social interactions. He's got a huge heart, and I think is doing some great things for bringing people together. However, it all seems so chaotic, I still haven't managed to figure out exactly what those things are...