Archives For MXit

Today Mtuseni’s school had a memorial service for a student. He said she was stabbed in a random crime. She wasn’t a friend, but he’d seen her around campus.

In the three years I’ve known him, Mtuseni has had more experience with death than I’ve had in a decade. In addition to dealing with the murder of one of his college peers…

  • during senior year, he told me a high school classmate “just turned red” and died in a few days
  • last winter, he had to end a MXit chat to go to a service because “someone in the community died last night”
  • at the end of this past semester, the father of one of his friends in the settlement died
  • and this time last year, his older brother Moses was killed by a car

Five deaths in three years. And these are just the ones he’s told me about. I guess this is the reality of living in deep poverty in a country with high rates of violent crime. He seems to take things in stride. Is there any other option? But for a sensitive, thoughtful kid like Mtuseni, it has to create some tough calluses on his heart.

His world is a chess board of risks: Crime and disease. Sketchy taxi vans and epic traffic accidents. Minimal access to health care. No heat or air conditioning or plumbing at home. Smoky kerosene lamps and candle fires in the settlement shacks. I don’t dwell on it; there’s too much good happening with him and we still have a long road ahead. Still, worry has set down roots in the corners of my mind — like some gnarled tree, its bare branches constantly scratching in the dark. Sometimes I ride my bike to escape. Sometimes I inhale boxes of cookies.

Mtuseni said last week that his main goal is to get a good job and to take his little brother and sister away from the settlement. If I could, I would scoop just them all up to come live with me.

For both of us, graduation and a good job can’t come soon enough.

Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!


20 and Change

September 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

South-Africa-teen-pizza-restaurantMtuseni turns 20 today — I can’t believe it! That old Kodak jingle keeps running through my head, “Do you remember the times of your life?” How did he grow up so fast? What happened to the shy, slight teenager in the yellow school uniform that I met three years ago?

Talking to him on the phone this morning, Mtuseni said he felt different, “I am only getting older now,” he said. “I can’t be younger.”

Indeed, he has grown and changed in so many dimensions. He’s more confident and self-sufficient. He has a broader perspective on the world and is more open-minded to different people and ideas. He’s flourished being among peers where “people talk about life” — his phrase for those college conversations where young intellects begin flexing their muscles. Mtuseni’s taken on more responsibility at school, and is determined to lift his family out of settlement-life. He’s even grown physically — as evidenced by his desperate need this spring for all new pants… and an ever darkening smudge across his upper lip.

But a consistent theme of this experience has been the mutuality of change. To help Mtuseni navigate to this point, I have listened to him, encouraged him, supported and prodded, yelled and praised. And in the process, being a dad to Mtuseni has taught me about patience. And sacrifice. And commitment. I’ve learned about gratitude and letting things go and healthy interpersonal conflict. About resilience in the face of challenges. And about unconditional love.

So as I’ve helped guide Mtuseni on the road to manhood — he’s helped me become a better man.

I woke up this morning to his MXit message that said,

“u have kept me standing in my two feet and kept my mind off all the bad things of the world and given me a chance to be a brighter star among stars. thank you.”

No, buddy. Thank you. And Happy Birthday.

Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!

Saturdays for Success

August 25, 2012 — Leave a comment

Although his ship often requires steering adjustments, I never doubt that Mtuseni is pointed in the right direction. His Mxit status update before heading out to a Saturday morning computer class…

Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!


Lessons in Perspective 3

August 21, 2012 — 1 Comment

As a kid in the 60s, I remember watching soap operas with my mother and seeing commercials for products that promised to “take the drudgery” out of washday. That subliminal message must have been embedded deeply in my young psyche, because I’ve always hated doing laundry. Back in the laundromat days, I called it “90 minutes of misery.” Despite being a generally evolved guy in other areas, I’d stuff the big front loader with everything, set it on cold and hope for the best. One time I put in so many clothes that the items in the center never even got wet! So much for the “Load as full as you like” instruction on the machine.

Now that I have my own washer and dryer, I stretch the drudgery and misery out over a longer period. Often I need to rewash or redry clothes that have sat forgotten in the machine and either smell like a swamp or have deep wrinkles etched into them. I hate doing laundry.

A couple weeks ago, I started chatting with Mtuseni on MXit and told him I’d just started a load of laundry. He said “Oh, I can see you’re busy. We can chat later.”

I said, “No bud, I just dump it in the machine and push a button.”

And I remembered that “doing laundry” has a distinctly different connotation for Mtuseni. Because he washes everything by hand outside. And dries it on the chain link fence. Sometimes he dries it on another fence that’s more convenient, even though it upsets a woman who says it’s “her” fence. Johannesburg-South-Africa-settlementMore than once he’s come back to find his clothes gone because the old (w)itch takes them. He gets furious, but I tell him to just apologize to her and get the stuff back. Some of the clothes are quite nice; I bought them so he could compete sartorially with his campus peers. They mean a lot to him and his image. As he says, “I brag and charm in those clothes.” He certainly doesn’t want them to disappear.

When Mtuseni first told me last year about how he does laundry, I said, “Wow, I could never imagine washing my clothes by hand like that.” And he said, “Well, I could never imagine a machine washing my clothes.” This was when I began to fully understand the extent of his poverty. Before I had photos. Before I visited his settlement.

So now whenever I gripe about doing laundry — and it still happens — I remind myself that it could be much worse.

And when I get frustrated that Mtuseni doesn’t always do some of the personal development tasks I set for him, I need to remember that the reason may not be a late-teen, underdeveloped frontal cortex. He may just be doing laundry. The hard way.

Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!