Archives For karaoke

Cape+Town+South+AfricaOne night in beautiful Cape Town, Mtuseni and I were in a pizza place on Long Street — a funky strip of cafes and clubs with ornate balconies that has a New Orleans feel. We’d been getting on each other’s nerves that day, a product of being together 24/7 for nearly a week after just meeting in person for the first time. Surprisingly for this Boston-New York pizza snob — the thin-crust, brick-oven pie was really good, so I focused on that while Mtuseni ate his curry. And we both watched a guy in front fussing with a laptop and the widescreen TV.

After a while I realized he was setting up for karaoke. When I told Mtuseni, he had no idea what that meant. Even though I’d never done it, I explained to him how it worked. He seemed vaguely intrigued beneath the teenage ambivalent face he’d been wearing all day. I was grateful there would be a bit of entertainment to enjoy, rather than watching him stare at yet another soccer game on TV back in our hotel suite.

The place started to fill up, mainly with college-age kids and some middle-age folks. It was a pretty diverse crowd, more so than I had seen in Joburg. The first woman who sang was astounding, and we all whooped and hollered. Mtuseni was into it, and I was relieved and happy to see a wide grin on his face.

The night continued with a procession of “singers” of varying degrees of talent ranging from “wow, he’s good” to “damn, she’s brave” to “shit, he’s drunk.” A posse of college boys sang loud backup, cheering their buddies on. A black woman at the next table grooved with me to some classic old soul that Mtuseni never heard. And everybody sang along with folks and laughed and offered good-natured support.

We had a long session of sightseeing and a trip back to Joburg the next day, so I kept checking my watch. But Mtuseni, who usually can’t stay awake past ten, kept telling me to have another beer. I knew I’d regret it later, but why spoil the fun by playing Mr. Responsible Dad? When was Mtuseni gonna be at a bar in Cape Town again? When would I?

So the DJ announced there were only two slots left. No… this tale is not going to end with me and Mtuseni getting up and singing “You’ve Got a Friend.” Neither of us took the mic that night. But a boy got up and started singing the R. Kelly song “I Believe I Can Fly”

He was really good. And I read the lyrics on the screen, and realized that every kid in the place, including Mtuseni, was singing along at full volume. It felt like the last hour of an old church revival meeting.

“I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky.
If I can see it, then I can be it.
If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it.”

Victoria+Wharf+Cape+Town+South+Africa+ferris+wheelThe song is such an anthem of self-affirmation and inner strength, pride and empowerment. Watching, hearing, being among all these young South Africans — each carrying dreams of success and a better life in the face of crushing odds — singing, “I can fly!!” at the tops of their lungs… well, I had to keep my head turned from Mtuseni so he wouldn’t see the tears streaming down my face.

As I sang along through my sobs, in that moment I knew I was doing — and would do — all that I could to help Mtuseni fly. And once he’s off the ground, I’d like to do something bigger to help more of these vibrant kids who want, and deserve, to reach their highest potential.

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The closet science geek in me is always fascinated by the fact that, living in different hemispheres, Mtuseni and I experience opposite seasons. Right now South Africa is in the height of summer, while New Englanders anticipate Groundhog Day as the first milestone toward the end of winter’s wretchedness. No, I am not a fan of the cold … and neither is Mtuseni, who will complain about it come July.

Each summer that I’ve known Mtuseni has been a different experience for him… and for me. Three years ago, shortly after we were matched by the mentor group, he was on break before senior year and had no access to the webcam — so we had a long stretch without contact. The next year, before he started Boston Media House, was our first summer after the webcam program shut down, but with the freedom of 24/7 chatting on Mxit. We literally spent hours a day chatting, and with the East Coast being seven hours behind South Africa during our winter months, he’d sometimes catch me at midnight as he was waking up and we’d chat until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. That first Mxit summer solidified our relationship as we got him prepped for college.

Last summer, after his freshman year, was different. Once Mtuseni became accustomed to a more vibrant college life in wealthy Sandton, his breaks from school were marked by crabby boredom at home all day in the settlement. I dread school breaks — even the short ones — because he’s a bear to deal with. But last summer we had long chats every day. I filled his time with development tasks for his allowance and we got his Bhekani’s Views blog started. We even read a book together, which was great fun. And this time last year I was flying off to meet him and his family, and enjoy a great time bonding as Mtuseni discovered the ocean, air travel, and Cape Town karaoke.


Boston Media House 2013 Open Day Campus Team

Now it’s his last summer before finishing school. Mtuseni had a productive and successful second year, being named to the Student Committee where he managed a number of sport tournaments and was involved in other school activities. But he’s also having a very busy summer. He spent a few weeks with family in the coastal city of Durban for the Christmas festive season. And shortly after New Year’s he began his job as a campus assistant. He works all day five or six days a week. (I won’t get into the pitiful pay they give him; I don’t understand SA wage policies at all.)

When I visited his school last year, a campus assistant took me into the main building. I hoped back then that Mtuseni would get one of these positions, as it looks good on the CV. And sure enough, based on his work on the Student Committee, he’s now a campus rep. He just worked the BMH Open Day for prospective students last weekend. It seems just yesterday he attended both Open Days two years ago before he started at BMH — eager to begin college life. And now, in his words, he’s “big on campus and having a pretty fun time.”

I couldn’t be more happy to hear these words — or feel more proud of him. (He’s come a long way from the first semester of poor early grades, bitter loneliness, and wanting to quit.) But at the same time, as he enjoys a South African summer of work and fun, I feel a good dose of virtual empty nest syndrome. He’s so busy that we really haven’t chatted much the past couple months. I had hoped we could read another book together, but the weeks slipped away from us — and he’s exhausted by the time he gets home to his sweltering shack. I miss the long talks we had the past two summers, and know on some level they won’t happen again as his life gets fuller and busier. But again, this means I’m doing my job correctly.

My shy settlement boy has become Big Man on Campus. It’s what I hoped and worked for. I just wish I’d had a little more nest time.

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