A participant recounts his introduction to USAP, his assimilation into the program, experiences and growth, and finally the realization of the importance of the program.
Rainos Alma Mutamba
Trent University, Canada '05
University of Toronto, MSW '09
I recall the first day that I walked into the US Embassy Public Affairs Section in Harare and how ecstatic I was to be on this launch pad to glory. That bubbly feeling that grips hunters when they have their prey safely in their arms, the sigh of relief of the once-upon-a-time beggar who has finally hit the jackpot and knows with lucid certainty that the days of suffering now belong to the trash bins of history. I had a somewhat arrogant conviction that I would make the grade, get on a plane for my first time in my twenty years of existence and study in America. What will happen after that was very predictable? The male "Zimbabwean Dream" of course, go to university, get an Accounting/Business degree that will certainly guarantee one an enviable status (in Zimbabwe) and of course lots of money. Those were the days when graduates in Zimbabwe used to get jobs, those glory days before the third Chimurenga and Murambaratsvina. They would marry a beautiful virgin, show her off at a big fat white wedding, where one pretends he is celebrating a "sacred matrimony" when in fact he is raising money to buy a big house in one of the poschey Masabhabhas (the suburbs). And this dream, devoid of any grain of altruism as it is, is unfortunately the dream that many of us young Zimbabwean males labor to attain.
I also recall vividly, with the passage of time, that the route that I had chosen was going to be an arduous one. There were the demanding SAT exams, which I felt where not tailored to some of us rural folks who did not own a TV to know a little bit about American culture. The TOEFL, especially the hearing one, which I "guessed" throughout because I didn’t hear a single word that came out of that tape; just sounded like the person had a severe North American cold. Having been in North America for almost five years, I now know I was right about the accent part. What about writing essays, trying to convince someone that you have never met, that you will be a good addition to their scholar's list and doing this in a second/colonial language that one only practiced during formal schooling, mostly against one's will. What about using the computers, typing on a computer for the first time, when at the same time one was trying to beat an application deadline? It kind of reminds me of the Rabbit and Tortoise folklores. The marathon race in which predictably and fortunately Tortoise won against all odds emanating from nature. The hardest challenge came after acceptance, with a full scholarship and even pocket money, and you feel that you are certainly on the doorway to your destiny. And reality surges its ugly head, that you need to find American dollars to pay for the various fees and the air ticket when finding an American Dollar in Zimbabwe at that time was like trying to extinguish a volcano with a garden hose. So near yet so so so far.
In the same time and space, there were many more young women and men whom I believe felt the same way as me. Lost, not confident many a times, shy but with a nagging yearning to climb the economic and social ladder. It is with these people that I shared my fears, experiences, pains, hopes and eventually success. It is with the same people and others who came after us that a new family was formed. We supported each other, we ate together sometimes ("The Infamous Buns folks"), we shared ideas, through our deeds and accomplishments in the community we inspired each other. I did not need to go into the world of politics, publicized philosophy or advertised class struggle to find heroes, to find inspiration. The very seemingly simple people that were around me provided all I needed to grow. Especially the new sense of belonging, of brotherhood and sisterhood, that helps to reconfigure my male "Zimbabwean dream" into something less superfluous, but something with more substance. As much as we want to be ‘individuals’, to carve our own spaces and times, our own 'my' world, we cannot deny nor erase the binding power of shared experiences, of collective pain, the inspiring power of collective struggle and triumph.
The family did not die with our leaving the space and time of Harare. Being in Canada, I think I was the loneliest USAPer (USAP student). The rest of the family was in the United States of America. But I knew that if a mopane leaf is taken away from its mother tree and placed somewhere remote, it does not cease to be a mopane leaf. Someone smart started the listserv which was called USAP Kids (now called USAP Family) and the connectivity with rest of the USAPers was restored. And this is where, through the years, I have not only learnt a lot to change my views on many things, but also strengthened my other perspective on humanity, justice, equality and peace.
Since Mai Mano and others started the program, the number of people that USAP has brought together has ballooned exponentially. With more people, more ideas, more arguments and more activities started. The discussions on the listserv have taken another form. From just being an SOS center for how to adjust to a foreign culture and lifestyle; for example whether one should eat at MacDonalds or Wendys? How to deal with some weird housemates in residences? The best phone card to call home? The best exchange rate on the white market in Harare. In other words the discussions used to be more personal needs-based, but now they have become more outward looking, to include Zimbabwean/African/World political, social, economic etc issues. Subjects like the brain-drain/human resource imperialism facing Africa which are important especially in the context of USAP are dissected with enthusiasm.
Since those first days the activities that are going on within the USAP setup have also increased. There is the USAP conference held annually. My prison-like conditions in Canada here have made me an unwilling spectator every year. I can't say much, because I have never been there. Maybe one day, since it is always never too late for a USAPer.
One of the most practical and important development is the USAP Bank also known as the USAPTrust. I am sure a majority of USAPers have gone through the hassle of begging and searching for long lost relations in companies and government departments hoping to be loaned or given airfare and other fees that are required to go to University in the USA. While I am willing to confess openly that I am going to be an unpractising preacher (because its been a long time since I contributed financially), I still want to point out that this is an initiative that have made me believe even more strongly that we have a group of people that cares. We are not Bill Gates, nor are any of us earning above the average Zimbabwean people line, but a lot of USAPers still find something to put into the bank.
We used to be called USAPkids. And we matured I guess, into the USAP Family. My own growth could not have come from just a family. The Igbo people of present day Nigeria say, "ofu onye adiro azu nwa" – (one person does not raise a child). Or to put it in Hillary Clinton’s paraphrasing of the same proverb, "it take a village to raise a child" . We have grown so much in numbers and scope that we should be the USAP Village.