Archives For Boston Media House

Magic Year(s)

September 16, 2014 — 1 Comment

NewburyportLast week I was reading a blog I wrote for a university as an MBA student. The first two posts were written weeks before I met Mtuseni; it was a weird glimpse into my life just before everything changed. My focus then was finally getting a master’s degree — and I was also gonna do this mentoring thing with some kid in South Africa. That seemed like an interesting and noble diversion at the time.

The MBA adventure lasted one semester … not my cup of tea on many levels. And five years later, that “South African kid” is the center of my world.

And he was a kid… barely 17 when we first met. Mtuseni turns 22 today! I can’t believe it. When we talked about his birthday last weekend, Mtuseni said he was getting old. Much as I’d give anything to be 22 again (without today’s twerking, texting, and monotonous hip-hop), he’s right. He’s much older now. He was naive, sheltered, and insecure when we first met… and the guidance and opportunities I’ve provided have helped him to grow and mature in many ways. (Though like any male his age Mtuseni can qualify for a Mr. Knucklehead crown on most days!)

But he is different from five years ago. I’m different. And our relationship is changing. His visit to the US in June made that clear… and we’ve had a bumpy summer of adjustments. For me it’s about letting go, allowing him to sink or swim. For Mtuseni it’s about stepping up and stretching himself even farther, as he takes his college diploma into a dismal South African job market. Two months after graduation, he’s already surprised and frustrated at “how long it’s taking.” Welcome to the real world, son!

But as I told Mtuseni, double-digit birthdays only come around every eleven years — so being 22 is a magic year. I think good things are ahead — for him and for me (although my double-digit birthday comes next fall). Mtuseni’s next adventure may be with a South African chapter of City Year, the US community service program. We met the program’s vice-president at the headquarters here in Boston. Mtuseni was impressed, and he recently met with a program manager in Johannesburg. Applications are due next month. I think he’ll benefit from the leadership training, and will enjoy tutoring kids in the public schools — because he’s always wanted to inspire young people and help make a better future for his country. Could I ask for a better kid young man?

Looking back to that earnest, shy, squeaky-voiced shack boy I met on glitchy video chat way back when, I’d say these past five years have been pretty magic, too!


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Boston+Media+House+graduationThroughout this nearly five-year journey with Mtuseni, there have been many circumstances that are strangely uncanny, as if fate has been a major player in this relationship. One example is his wanting to attend a South African college called Boston Media House, when I live 8,000 miles away in Boston, a most American city. A more recent (and less fun) example is the laptop that I bought specifically for our webcam chats when we were first matched by a nonprofit — which died a few hours after I dropped him at the airport this week, apparently signaling the close of this chapter in our lives.

And the most surprising coincidence is that Mtuseni’s graduation from college — our primary mission all these years — fell on the Fourth of July. For this event truly signifies independence in many ways. Like any kid leaving the relatively cloistered environment of college, Mtuseni now enters the real world on his own. I was such a typically American, vocally demanding parent-advocate for him at school that they probably have a dart board with my face in the main office. But I don’t have the same power to move the South African job market in Mtuseni’s favor, and more importantly, I shouldn’t try. The school gave him knowledge and skills, and I gave him wings. Two years ago I watched him and many other kids sing R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” in a Cape Town karaoke bar. Now with his college diploma in hand, it’s up to Mtuseni to fly solo.

This milestone achievement also marks my own independence, which is bittersweet. In many ways I put my life on hold to make sure Mtuseni got over this finish line, a task that was much more difficult than I ever expected. While I’m excited to pivot back to my own personal journey, and will surely draw upon this experience, it feels a bit sad to relinquish something that required such intense focus and commitment. Indeed, I feel a profound sense of pride, satisfaction and fulfillment in being able to say “mission accomplished.” But the flip side is a slightly empty feeling of “Now what?”

Graduation doesn’t mean the end of Mtuseni and me, but things will change. Even during his visit here last month he seemed much more independent than last year’s visit — much to my occasional frustration and chagrin. But that only means I did my job. For his graduation is not only the culmination of fifteen years in school, it also marks his entry into adult life. And that is a cause for celebration!

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Mtuseni and his proud mom Nester

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Mtuseni with his best college buddy Poloko

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First in the family to graduate college!


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Fingers Crossed

March 18, 2014 — 5 Comments

So Mtuseni has his first interview for an internship tomorrow. It’s at Kasie FM — a community radio station south of Johannesburg. They do a lot of informational programming, so he’s excited about possibly doing research for topics and assisting a producer. Mtuseni loves music, but he also wants to make a difference in people’s lives through radio.

According to Google Maps, the station is a 53-kilometer trip from his house in Lanseria, north of Joburg. Knowing how difficult transportation is for him, I told Mtuseni to try and get a mid- to late-morning appointment, but the station manager told him 9 AM. This means Mtuseni will need to take four minibus taxis… and will leave his house at 5 AM. He’s never done this route before, so he needs to figure out which taxis to take where: there are no published schedules or routes. I’m hoping he gets there on time; Johannesburg rush-hour traffic is pretty bad.

Then there’s the challenge of making it there if he does get an internship. He only needs 100 hours to graduate, so if he could do a 10-to-2 or 10-to-3 shift five days a week, he’d be done in four or five weeks… and could avoid traffic. They’d still be hellish weeks (and he’ll be tired and crabby — at least with me) but it’s doable. He says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get an internship. And given that the YFM Academy he applied to last week announced their selections two days later, that’s another intern opportunity missed.

Boston+Media+House+radio+studioSo today he went back to school to polish up his demo in the studio for the interview. I think back to the end of 2012, when Mtuseni told me he was changing his major to journalism because he was intimidated by the radio software and thought he’d never learn it. I told him to reconsider — radio has been his dream since we first met — and to never make a life decision based on fear and avoidance, to always move toward something and not away from something. Luckily, he stuck with radio and is so damn happy (and confident!). Today he was “just chilling in the studio” working on the demo. Wow… how far we’ve come.

But this is only the beginning of a new phase. Hopefully he’ll get the gig tomorrow — but the South African economy is tight and super competitive. Send good vibes to Mtuseni today…. he’ll be interviewing at 3 AM east coast time tomorrow. He’s flashing a victory sign here, but I’ve got my fingers crossed…


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Flying Blind

March 5, 2014 — 1 Comment

In January I wrote that Mtuseni was applying for a radio internship with the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The SABC owns radio and TV outlets throughout South Africa, with many in Johannesburg. It’s a high profile gig, looks good on a resume, and would give Mtuseni the 100 intern hours he needs to graduate in June.

Talking to him the other day, we agreed he likely didn’t make the cut. Nor did any of his friends from school. Of course, we can only assume this because SABC doesn’t notify applicants who aren’t accepted. But given that interns were expected to sign a contract covering March 1 to November 1 — and it’s already March — it’s safe to say that ship has already sailed. But who really knows? The SABC site offered few details about the program or the application process. In this day and age, how hard is it to send a mass e-mail or text telling people their application wasn’t accepted and to try again next year? Especially when kids are desperate for experience in a country with 50 percent youth unemployment? But that would be too logical, too considerate, too professional.

Mtuseni is disappointed and starting to feel “desperate.” The graduation deadline is only months away, and he hasn’t made much headway on the intern front. He’s applying for the Y-Academy at YFM — the big youth market station in Joburg. It’s a six-month program and another high profile gig. The application process is complex — with online registration, tough questions, and sample voiceover recordings. Mtuseni got 90 percent of it done last fall, then choked and bailed at the last minute. (And got an earful from half a world away, believe me.) All he needs to do is record his scripts at the school studio and submit a new application.

So I looked at the application section on the YFM site … and in big letters it says “Registration ends soon!” What does that mean?! Tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Why on earth can the station not provide a specific date? “Registration ends March 15 … or April 1 … or April 30” is a lot more helpful than “soon.” And the site doesn’t state when the Academy begins, so you can’t even guess at an application deadline. It is absolutely, positively maddening.

But this is par for the course in South Africa. I’ve lived it for the last five years. Trying to get anything done for Mtuseni always takes me multiple attempts. Tracking a package I sent him last month, I got three completely different answers from three different reps at the SA post office. It took me six weeks to get a repair quote for his broken laptop (and when he brought it on his trip to the US last summer, it was clear they had botched the repair.)

Years ago, Mtuseni couldn’t fathom why I would get so frustrated trying to execute a simple task down there. But he was in school and isolated from having to deal with a broad swath of people and services in the country. But now he’s got more at stake — he wants to graduate on time and get a job — and he understands what I’ve been griping about. The terms he used the other day to describe the poor service and lack of communication in SA ranged from “pathetic” to “bullshit.” (He’s taking after his long-distance dad with that language! Maybe not a good thing…)

Mtuseni also can see the larger ramifications of these issues. He knows that if people in South Africa were more focused on details and responsiveness and communication — things would operate more efficiently and effectively overall, and the country might be in a better position economically. He knows it won’t magically eradicate the country’s poverty, but he understands that a lot of productive time is wasted by people going in endless circles of South African inefficiency and dysfunction.

But Mtuseni also has the fatalistic resignation of,”What are you gonna do?” So he seeks out and applies for internships without accurate information or clear communication, flying blind as he tries to rise above his poor circumstances and build a better life.

And until he gets that internship — and a job — I’ll keep eating Rolaids like Mentos.

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