The pretty South African woman sitting next to me said our flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth was taking longer than expected, although I hadn’t noticed. I arrived in South Africa only a few hours before. Jet lagged, I was wrestling with the cellophane wrapper guarding the plastic cutlery that came with my in-flight meal.
She told me she was flying to “PE” (what the locals call Port Elizabeth) to attend a luncheon with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who had flown there earlier that day. As she smoothed her cocktail dress and pushed a loose hair behind her ear, she asked if she could squeeze pass me for a quick exit once the plane touched down.
Having learned Clinton was in town, I wasn’t surprised when we landed and could see emergency vehicles, their lights flashing, parked near the terminal. Cynically, I thought of the money and resources spent in the spirit of good deeds, something I too was guilty of as I flew from the U.S. to South Africa for a conference on violence in the Congo. As if there wasn’t plenty of violence in America I could be addressing.
Of late, I had come to expect violence as commonplace. The last two years as a trauma-focused psychotherapist largely involved supporting people as they worked to create lives without violence or its lingering effects. That’s what being “trauma-informed” often means: being violence informed. It wasn’t easy work. I was suffering a bad case of vicarious traumatization from supporting too many people who had been senselessly hurt and were still hurting, often decades after being victimized. Some