Weight of the World

November 23, 2014 — 3 Comments

Mtuseni Nov 19, 04It’s hard to pinpoint when I reached that state of parenthood where every picture of my kid fills me with love and emotion. It doesn’t matter whether Mtuseni looks happy or grouchy or sick or bored: when I see a new photo of him my heart melts. But the photo he posted on WhatsApp the other day hit me another way. He just looks sad, and it nicked my heart. I asked him later if everything was okay and he said “I’m well” as he almost always does. But I know that with my taciturn son the still waters run very deep. Mtuseni looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders — and in many ways he does.

He’s been out of college classes now for a year — and it’s been almost five months since he graduated. He’s shocked that he can’t find a radio job. Not even an interview. Hell, not even a Christmas job. What shocks me is that he somehow thought he’d be handed a job ten minutes after graduation. I’ve told him that college grads in the US don’t even find jobs that quickly, but somehow he thought the very-real accomplishment of finishing college would carve a golden path through the mess of South Africa’s 60 percent youth unemployment rate.

Young people want everything right now, if not yesterday. And when you’re living in a shack, in a settlement where people resent you for opportunities you lucked into, that desire for quick change becomes desperation. There’s no more money from mom — just food and a bed — so his expenses all fall on me, which gnaws at his pride. The nearby community center where he could go online and job hunt no longer has Internet, and there are no library computers or wifi spots around. There’s no secure mail, so that application option is out.He seems to be more cut off just as he needs to be reaching out and branching out.

He’s frustrated and said he feels like South Africa is becoming a joke of the world. I don’t see things there getting much better any time soon. Was I naive and misleading to put him through college, telling him he’d have better opportunities? Even if a great job is far off, the experience helped him grow in so many ways that it was clearly worthwhile. And he’s resourceful and driven. He’s been helping set up a new community radio station in Diepsloot township… for free, but it’s experience. And we’re waiting to hear on his upcoming interview with City Year-South Africa. We met with the VP and toured the headquarters this summer in Boston, and Mtuseni was impressed with the people and the organization’s philosophy.

I’m lobbying hard for him to join City Year because it will greatly expand his network, give him more maturity (and a monthly stipend), and will add an impressive credential to his resume. Mtuseni told me that kind of thinking is a middle-class American luxury, and that when you’re living on the edge you just need a job now.

Because it’s tough being young and carrying the weight of a hard world on your shoulders.


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3 responses to Weight of the World

  1. 

    Unemployment is the sad reality of so many young South Africans – it is heart breaking and extremely concerning. Going to college was definitely not a mistake though – it does improve one’s chances, even if the chances are relatively slim. My advice would be to take anything that comes his way, even it is so that he can add some kind of working experience to his CV so that potential employers can get a reference on responsibility and work ethic. It is also an opportunity to build up a network. A 40 year old lady who was a waitress at a coffee shop in our building completed her Matric last year and has just started in an admin position in our firm – all because she built up a great reputation as one of the friendliest and most efficient waitresses we knew. Tell Mtuseni to hang in there and not give up hope.

  2. 

    Thanks for the perspective Jacquie… (I think). It’s just a little hard to fully wrap my mind around the problem there when stores here are scrambling to find workers. There are “Help Wanted, Now Hiring” signs everywhere. I see them and think “If Mtuseni was here he’d be working in a heartbeat.” Hopefully he’ll be starting CityYear in February,,, which will greatly expand his network… and keep him busy and motivated. He gets cranky when he’s bored and not learning or doing much.

    Hope you are enjoying the Christmas/summer season. We’ve already had snow here. Snow for Christmas is fine; snow for Thanksgiving is ridiculous!

  3. 

    Yes, he does look sad but don’t second guess his going to college. I’m sure it can only help him even tough it take just as long. I will keep my fingers crossed for City Year; I do believe that will be another good step for him to network and keep his motivation up. I’m sure he’s going through withdrawal of having no school time away from home. Tell him to keep his chin up; eventually things will happen for him.

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