Archives For courage

The title of this post makes me think of old Borscht Belt comics I used to watch on The Merv Griffin Show as a kid. “It’s always somethin’…” is a great setup to a comic bit — in large part because it reflects a real-life truth. You take your car in for brakes and once the mechanic gets a look down under, he says the exhaust system is shot. You join a swanky new gym but soon realize it’s where all the Neanderthals went to escape extinction. Your neighbor with the barking dog finally moves away — only to be replaced by a family with screaming triplets. It’s always something.

Except in Mtuseni’s world, that “something” is almost always big.

South-Africa-settlement-winterA few months ago, the community’s one source of electricity and water was shut off. He had to fetch water by wheelbarrow from some far-off place, and wait until he got to school to charge his phone. A new water tap was opened recently, but the electricity is still out.

Then last month, as he was finishing the semester, things accelerated. His little brother got pneumonia. Then his mom had a health crisis that looked like she might be incapacitated, which could have ended Mtuseni’s college journey as he’d need to work to support the family. But somehow mom recovered. Neither he nor I know what the problem was. Then the father of Mtuseni’s friend in the settlement died. He’s not sure why, because “nobody investigates” and they don’t trust hospitals. People just get sick and die.

Then this morning, Mtuseni told me that three shacks in the community have burned down in the last two weeks, because of candles. He uses candles to study in his room, and I’ve never been happy about it. The effect on his eyesight was my main concern, but now I’m scouring the Internet for Joburg stores that sell LED lamps.

The scope and frequency of these hits is staggering and unnerving, but they’re merely conceptual for me. Mtuseni has to live through them.

So I do what I can to reassure him, make sure we keep our eyes on the prize of school, and encourage him to tell me when he’s really down or upset. Despite my protests, he often holds stuff in because “sometimes it’s a lot to stress u,” but the latest developments have really thrown him. Still, he keeps going. The resilience of the human spirit is incredible. And you can’t not love that smile.

But this past week a couple really good things have happened. We found a free class to help him finally tackle Excel… got a (fingers-crossed) great opportunity for a laptop… and a treasure trove list of Joburg media contacts for internships and interviews. Here’s hoping that the “something” pendulum is swinging back into the positive side for a while. Big positive!

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April 8, 2012 — 2 Comments

angelMany years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I bought a couple of pocket angels at Green World Mercantile, one of my favorite and now long-gone stores. Since then I’ve always carried one in my pocket for a little extra strength, protection, and confidence in the face of whatever the world has in store that day.

When I had a first opportunity to send something to Mtuseni (South Africa’s mail service is a nightmare), I included one of the angels so he could always have a part of me with him. We showed each other our angels on a webcam chat, and it was very cool to see it on the other side of the world. He loved it, and carried it everywhere. Then one day he admitted with great guilt and despair that he had lost it at a youth camp. I was sad, but it’s smaller than a quarter and easy to lose. Mine has gone missing now and then, but it always shows up. I told him not to worry and I’d get him a replacement, and he asked to have it put on a chain.

Finding another wasn’t as easy as I thought. It took weeks of local and online shopping until I finally found the exact same design. Then a small, local jeweler drilled a hole in the tiny space above the angel’s head and added a metal link. I found a chain, wrapped it all in tissue, and slipped it into the pocket of a pair of pants I was sending to him. He was so happy!

Camps-Bay-overlook, South-Africa

Camps Bay, Capetown

When we met for the first time in January, I immediately saw the angel around his neck. I took mine out of my pocket, and it was a bit of a “moment” to introduce our angels. He wears it all the time, and has swapped the silver chain for a leather one.

The angel is an emblem of our shared bond and a point of strength. Whenever he’s feeling nervous or insecure about something, I tell him to hold on to the angel and know I’m right there with him. And before I boarded the plane for the endless flight to South Africa, he told me to have a safe flight and that my angel would protect me.

I wonder if that angel knew what incredible experiences would unfold when she caught my eye long ago in that little shop on Polk Street?

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