|On arrival at Syracuse Airport with fellows from South Africa|
I have lived a life of poverty, a life full of problems, a village life of being a kachema wangombe (cattle herder) and now i can dine with Kings, Presidents and comrades from all around the world.
Am Paul Shalala, the boy who in the 1990s used to wake up at 04:00hrs and help his father tie cows, go to the field and plough.
Am the same Paul who used to walk to Kasalu Primary School, learn and later go home to look after our cows two of whom i fondly remember being named Kingdom and Manyando.
Am still the same Paul who later went to Mumbwa High School, Evelyn Hone College and worked for New Vision newspaper, MUVI Television and now the Zambia National Broadcasting corporation (ZNBC).
Oh by the way am still the Paul who solely runs this blog you are reading The Zambian Analyst.
Am still the same village boy who has at least traveled to a few countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to cover events and later receive phone calls from my fellow villagers to confirm that they heard my voice on TV1.
What am i trying to say with all this confusion am creating in your precious mind?
Am Paul Shalala, a villager who never ever dreamt of ever stepping a foot in an American University.
|With fellows Chipo, Kelly and Namaku on transit in Johannesburg|
By the way this is not just a simple university, its the institution which educated Joe Biden, the current Vice President of the United States.
This is no Matero University (where fake PhDs can be produced in 30 seconds).
I never paid anything to find myself here.
Actually, children of the rich are the ones who were supposed to be here, not ine Mumbwa-Mumbwa.
But who am i to find myself at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University?
What did i do for me to deserve this chance to be among the 1,000 Mandela Washington fellows who are currently studying at various universities for the next six weeks?
Here is a bit of background in case some of my villagers are reading this.
In August 2006, when Barack Obama visited Kenya as a first term Senator, it was the first time i ever heard of this son of a Kenyan man who was destined to be the world's most powerful politician for an eight year period..
In the run up to his 2008 historic election as the 44th President of the United States, Obama had a lot of sympathy from many of us in Africa for obvious reasons.
|At our village in Mumbwa with my kid bro Mukena in the 1990s|
At the time i was a cab reporter in Lusaka and i remember interviewing some people to get their reactions to his election and what it meant for Africa.
In a major policy speech in Accra, Ghana in July 2009, President Obama said the future of Africa was in the hands of its young population and there was need for Africans to seize the opportunity.
In the subsequent years, Mr Obama established the Mandela Washington Fellowship which has over the past four years sent thousands of African youths to American universities to study business and enterprenueurship, civic engagement, energy and public management.
The selection of fellows for this program is so intense that in the past two years i had been applying and failing but on the third attempt, the US State Department selected me.
This fellowship is an opportunity for poor, little educated and unexposed young Africans like me to mingle with America's highly educated Professors, visit historic places around the country and at the end of the fellowship see Obama in your own eyes and take a selfie with him.
Obama went to the White House as the first Black (not vama African-American) President though of course Africa argues that the first black American President was Bill Clinton due to his many beneficial contributions on the continent.
I know by now some of you may be wondering why am taking you around in this article.
In short, this article is meant to show that it is possible for a village boy like me to one day walk the streets of Yale, Havard, Rutgers, Wagner, Virginia Tech, Columbia and many other prestigious American universities if they believe in themselves and push themselves to the limit.
As i sit down in my small hostel room at Syracuse University, i remember the words my father Namasiku Kamuti Shalala told me while we were hearding cattle together in 1996 in my native Lozi language: "Mwanake bupilo kikutiya. Aubata kubonahala inge yabutali, kikuitiisa kwasikolo nikubala," (when you want to look intelligent among people, you must work hard at school and read alot),
Dad's words inspire me a lot and since he uttered them, i have seen his wisdom having an impact in everything i do.
|With Dad and my two grandmothers at our village in 2014|
This coming week i will start my studies in Public Management and i will be in the same class with other African fellows who have Masters Degrees, Bachelors Degrees and several other academic qualifications.
I will share the same seats with an elected Councillor, Government officials, Media personalities and several other high ranking people from across Africa.
But ndemuchangu (poor me), the small kachema (Cattle herder) from Mumbwa will sit quietly, listen attentively and learn from these highly acclaimed lecturers and get the best that the American education system can offer to poor me.
By the way, am still the same Paul from Lubanze Village in Nangoma area of Mumbwa, am just privileged to be in New York today.
Am still that same Lozi villager who comes from that Tonga village in Mumbwa.
And when am done with the fellowship in August, i will go back to my beloved Zambia to continue doing my news job at ZNBC.
I will reclaim my villager tag upon landing at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka.
But for now ladies and gentlemen, allow me to forget about my villager status and sample the American foods and explore this great nation since my status here is that of a fellow: shhhh they don't know that am a villager.