Fare well to Kazi, who sees each person he encounters

Leave a comment

 

Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

Not long after I arrived in Meadville, I was feeling worlds away from my family and friends. At a table outside the Pampered Palate, I noticed two men talking. I heard the lilt of Africa in their words. My heart sang.

Steve Onyeiwu and Kazi Joshua were sharing a meal and conversation when I popped in front of them.

Hello. I’m Cheryl Hatch. I’m new here. I’ll be teaching journalism at Allegheny College.

I barely stopped to take a breath in my enthusiasm to make new friends.

Where are you from?

At the college, I have since been chastised for asking this question; however, as a military brat, a journalist and a relentlessly curious traveler, I love to hear people’s stories of their origins and journeys.

I explained that I had lived and worked in Africa. Allegheny professors, Steve said he was from Nigeria; Kazi, Malawi.

As students finished their finals this week, Kazi spent his final days at Allegheny. He accepted the “newly created position of associate dean for intercultural affairs and chief diversity officer” at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, according to a story in The Pioneer, the weekly student-run newspaper.

When I had lunch with Kazi recently, he told me he remembered well that day in the fall of 2012. He said I was having lunch with the editor of The Campus, our student newspaper. He already knew a bit about me from conversations at the college.

It turns out Kazi collects and cherishes stories, just as I do.

Kazi is easy to spot on campus with his high energy and bow tie. He calls me Professor Hatch and he addresses students with honorific titles and respect. Mr. Hailsham. Ms. Mauroni.

Students, faculty and staff call him Kazi.

His full given name is Kazipuralimba. I asked Kazi once what it meant.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Indeed.

When the going got tough, I went to Kazi.

As a new faculty member and the adviser to The Campus, I welcomed his advice. Kazi is a wise man—with the instincts of a journalist.

I would pass Kazi’s former office on the third floor of the Campus Center, usually on my way to or from The Campus newsroom.

I’d wave and say hello. Often, Kazi would invite me to sit and talk. He’d turn his chair and lean in to listen as I shared a challenge or hurt. Stories of students who were troubled, harassed or struggling. Stories of my own troubles.

Kazi always made time for me, as he did for countless students and colleagues in his five years at Allegheny. Our talks were not always about challenges and setbacks. We talked about life, current events, matters of the heart and spirit.

I would leave Kazi’s office and presence feeling uplifted. I always felt heard.

Kazi is a skilled listener.

In meetings, at speeches, in the classroom, Kazi’s quiet presence was felt. He would sit in silence and listen, profoundly.

At the end of a discussion or near the end of a meeting, Kazi would summarize what he’d heard and then ask a thoughtful and thought-provoking question.

Like the best journalists, Kazi is not afraid to ask the tough questions.

I remember when Sheryl Stolberg, a reporter for The New York Times, spoke at Ford Chapel as part of Allegheny’s Year of Civil Rights in the fall of 2013. After she had fielded numerous questions, Kazi stood. As was his practice, Kazi had let the students have the floor first. I will go from memory now since I don’t have my notes with me.

Kazi asked her about the media’s coverage of President Barack Obama. He asked if she felt racism played a part in the way journalists reported on America’s first black president.

I believe many in the audience had that question on their minds, maybe on the tip of their tongues. No one had dared to stand and ask it. Kazi did.

I felt a deep respect for Kazi in that moment. To me, he demonstrates the qualities that are imperative for a journalist—and human being. He listens carefully. He risks asking the tough questions that may yield unpopular and hard answers. Or may encourage resolution and results.

Kazi is a gentle man, a man of faith. He spoke with passion in the classroom—and on occasion from the pulpit in Ford Chapel. A colleague called him a brother and soldier for social justice.

I consider Kazi my brother, a fellow journalist and storyteller.

In South Africa, there’s a Zulu greeting, sawubona, which translates as “I see you.”

Kazi sees me. Just as he sees each person he encounters.

He took the time to sit with me and listen. He asked about my mother and father many times as they passed through their health crises these past two years. He sat with me as I weathered my hurts. He asked about my health—and my heart.

These past weeks, Allegheny students, staff and faculty offered Kazi fond remembrances, celebrations and farewells. Whitman waits to embrace him.

I am happy Kazi has found a place where he will be cherished and respected. And I am sad to see him go.

Fare well, my dear friend. I see you. Thank you for seeing me.

 

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

###

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/fare-well-to-kazi-who-sees-each-person-he-encounters/article_703177d4-866e-11e4-bf45-77df09ba2756.html

Advertisements

I see you

6 Comments

As a reporter–and a curious person in general, I’m usually the one asking questions. It’s rare that someone asks me anything personal–anything about me or my life.

So last night, when Sgt. Tirsa Cole talked to me, I felt like I’d found water after crossing the Sahara.

I walked into the room the female soldiers share and she was watching a TV show on her laptop. She looked at me and we started chatting. She asked: Do you have any children?

No. No children.

Married? No never married.

I was truly touched that she asked such personal questions. And those questions led to my answers about why I never married and the men in my life. The great love of my life. The life I have led. My career. The choices I made about my career.

It wasn’t a long conversation…though it was sweet and I’ll treasure it.

There’s a greeting among the Zulu in southern Africa. It translates as “I see you.” And the response is “I am here.”

I love this expression. When I ask questions…and especially when I listen to people’s answers, to their stories, it’s my way of saying “I see you.”

I know many people don’t like reporters. Soldiers don’t necessarily like reporters…they have a healthy skepticism of or a downright disdain for our motives and methods. Some are wary around me. Some keep their guard up. I understand.

However, those who choose to trust me, who choose to speak to me from their hearts…or from other places…who aren’t afraid or ashamed to share the stories of the girl back home or the wallpaper of photos of girls wearing next to nothing (that they’d never bring home)…I want those soldiers to know that “I see you.”

When I smile at you when you return from patrol, I see you.

When I listen to the story of the men–young men, boys–you’ve lost under your command, I see you.

When I walk behind you in a line and laugh at all your bawdy jokes, I see you.

When you talk about the pride you have in your soldiers, I see you.

When you talk about your lousy day, I see you.

When you talk about your wife and the dress she wants to buy for the ball, I see you.

When you sit in the MWR and try like hell to complete a phone conversation with the woman you love, I see you.

When you bow your head in prayer and say grace at the start of your day or before a meal, I see you.

I see you. All of you. Whether you see me or not.

Thank you, Sgt. Cole, for the gift of your questions and listening to my answers.

Thank you for seeing me.

I am here.