Today Mtuseni’s school had a memorial service for a student. He said she was stabbed in a random crime. She wasn’t a friend, but he’d seen her around campus.
In the three years I’ve known him, Mtuseni has had more experience with death than I’ve had in a decade. In addition to dealing with the murder of one of his college peers…
- during senior year, he told me a high school classmate “just turned red” and died in a few days
- last winter, he had to end a MXit chat to go to a service because “someone in the community died last night”
- at the end of this past semester, the father of one of his friends in the settlement died
- and this time last year, his older brother Moses was killed by a car
Five deaths in three years. And these are just the ones he’s told me about. I guess this is the reality of living in deep poverty in a country with high rates of violent crime. He seems to take things in stride. Is there any other option? But for a sensitive, thoughtful kid like Mtuseni, it has to create some tough calluses on his heart.
His world is a chess board of risks: Crime and disease. Sketchy taxi vans and epic traffic accidents. Minimal access to health care. No heat or air conditioning or plumbing at home. Smoky kerosene lamps and candle fires in the settlement shacks. I don’t dwell on it; there’s too much good happening with him and we still have a long road ahead. Still, worry has set down roots in the corners of my mind — like some gnarled tree, its bare branches constantly scratching in the dark. Sometimes I ride my bike to escape. Sometimes I inhale boxes of cookies.
Mtuseni said last week that his main goal is to get a good job and to take his little brother and sister away from the settlement. If I could, I would scoop just them all up to come live with me.
For both of us, graduation and a good job can’t come soon enough.
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