This morning Mtuseni and I were chatting on Mxit, our primary mode of dynamic, immediate conversation. We were discussing “the laptop situation” — which after taking six weeks to get a damn repair quote, the amount with VAT is so high the strategy is just to get him a new one. Then, as I told him, we can figure out how to set him up with a G3 attachment so he can go online — and hopefully finally we can video chat on Skype.
As Mtuseni said, “It feels like years since we’ve seen each other.” I agree. It’s only been a year since I was in South Africa, but often I miss him terribly. I told him how video chatting erases the sense of distance. And he replied, “It also minimizes the shouting.” When I asked what he meant, he said “You never shout at me during video conferences.”
This struck me funny… for a couple of reasons. First, all of the “shouting” he alludes to occurs via Mxit. It’s interesting how he reads my stern directions and criticisms as “shouting” — and I don’t even USE ALL CAPS, which is text vernacular for yelling. He can get very upset when I’m firm with him, sometimes responding with anger or frustration and sometimes with heartfelt contrition. Mtuseni’s very sensitive, and I always have to tread a fine line with him — blending unconditional dad love with the high demands and expectations of a coach before the Big Game.
But what really caught me this time is how he links our text chatting with shouting — and he remembers our long ago video chats with no shouting. Indeed, this is true — but the circumstances have changed markedly.
In our several months of weekly video chats three years ago, we were just getting to know each other. He was in high school, and I had little understanding of his plans or situation. (It took over a year before he opened up about the extent of his poverty.) So it was all just easy social bonding, which continued and strengthened over long Mxit chats when the video program shut down.
But fast-forward two-plus years, and there’s a lot on the line. Mtuseni is entering his last year of college, and I’ve been trying to prepare him for the world of job hunting and employment. Partly out of him just being a 20-year-old, know-it-all knucklehead — and partly out of South African culture issues — this hasn’t been going as well as it should. It’s frustrating and worrisome. American college kids have solid academics and face a competitive but not impossible job market. Yet they still push to network, craft solid resumes and practice interview skills to improve their chances after graduation.
By comparison, Mtuseni has a substandard high school education, marginal computer skills, extremely limited access to media and information, a less-than-stellar junior tech college program — and is facing a truly dire youth employment situation. The clock is ticking. He should be doing the additional prep work that his US peers do, and then some. He thinks going to college is enough. It isn’t in the US, and it sure isn’t in South Africa. Every country has college graduates who never manage to grab the brass ring.
I’ve got too much time, money, and heart invested in Mtuseni to watch him falter and become a disillusioned unemployment statistic. So for now I press and push and “shout.” And if he doesn’t step up, he’ll hear — and see — some shouting via webcam. Hopefully he’ll get on track before we get his G3 service up and running.
Do I long for those early, easy days of “shout-free” webcam chats? Of course. But for right now, Mtuseni and I have much bigger issues to address. And some day, when our hard work and focus have resulted in him having a good job, I can put away my Bad Cop uniform… and I can listen to him gripe about being shouted at by his boss!
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