Mtuseni has been back home in SA now for a few days. I’ve spent the time recovering from structural exhaustion. (Trying to be the world’s greatest host/tour guide and on-the-spot parent to a culture-shocked 20-year-old kid with the emotional capacity of a 15-year-old — in the midst of a five-day, 90+ heat wave with someone who avoids the beach because of a rural Zulu belief that going in the ocean makes you sick — well, that takes a lot out of you.)
I’ve also needed this time to step back and process the visit, to remember things we did and said and to make sense of an experience that was filled with fun, frustration, revelations and mutual learning. I’ll be writing posts the next couple weeks to share experiences and thoughts; there is too much for just one long post.
One interesting point is comparing this visit with my trip to meet Mtuseni in Johannesburg last year. I was so focused on trying to figure out the country and be safe and absorb the cultural differences that I had less head space to focus on him. Because I was in my home comfort zone for this visit, I was able to pick up on more subtle things. Plus, he continues to be more open with me as the years pass.
Sometimes he would explain something on this trip that put things into clearer perspective from our early days. It was like finding a long-lost puzzle piece that, when put in context, revealed the big picture. Many times I found myself thinking, “Aha. Now I see why that was a problem three years ago.” This relationship with Mtuseni is not just like peeling the layers of an onion; it’s like some ancient Chinese maze where you keep circling back to the beginning to reach the center, with many twists, turns and dead ends. Maybe I should get an Indiana Jones hat!
One issue that Mtuseni struggled with here was what he called his”celebrity” or “VIP status.” The people I introduced him to all knew his story and were excited to meet him. For a kid who said he had an “ignored life” before we met … who is considered inconsequential and nearly invisible by many in his country based on his skin color and extreme poverty … it was nearly unfathomable to Mtuseni that all these “older white people” would be interested in him and what he has to say, and are rooting for his success. He couldn’t comprehend it and he didn’t know how to react. But he told me today that the experience makes him feel more mature at home, and he’s ready to work hard and make some changes. He’s been processing too!
So that’s a good start for him, and for the trip recap. More to come…