When I first met Tim Harper during a sojourn in the US in 2011 he vowed (like many Americans I met back then) to give me a tinkle the moment he landed in Johannesburg — "Because Africa is definitely on my bucket list, brother, you can take that to the bank." In the ensuing years I have hosted three families I met during that time. When these friends announced themselves on landing in Johannesburg, I was not surprised — the level of intimacy was deep, cultivated over a year in which we were all on the same academic programme at Harvard. With Tim it was different. I met him at a pub. Plastered out of his mind, he insisted on buying me two double-whisky sodas. Though I was grateful for the drinks (booze is expensive in the US) — I was not sure I wanted to be friends with him. A blue-collar fellow from the Irish part of Boston, he punctuates every sentence with a four-letter word. The scars on his face tell a thousand tales. We bumped into each other again a week later, at a jazz show. ...

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