The Power of Perseverance

By John Kalula

I remember waking up early in the morning and feeling a sense of excitement mixed with nervousness. I had made the decision to register myself for the first time to school, even though I was already thirteen years old. I knew it was going to be a challenge.

I made my way to Umodzi Katubwa primary school, and as I approached the gate, I saw a long line of parents and children waiting to register. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I was making the right decision. I wondered about my parents. As I stood there alone, surrounded by parents and their children, I wished that my parents were there. I imagined what it would be like to have them by my side, cheering me on and telling me how proud they were of me. I knew that no matter how much I accomplished, there would always be a part of me that yearned for the love and acceptance of my parents. There existed a deep longing within me as a 13-year-old John. I yearned for my mother to pack me lunch, carefully selecting my crispy potato chips, couscous, yam, and the food I dreamed about most, a mouthwatering assortment of freshly baked cookies, a feast that existed only in my wildest fantasies. I yearned for a handwritten note to brighten my day. It was the small gesture that would have made me feel seen and cherished. I yearned for my father to proudly share stories about me with his friends, highlighting my accomplishments and dreams. Knowing that he believed in me would have instilled a sense of confidence and validation. These tangible acts of love and support were the specific manifestations that I craved.

I joined the back of the line, and as I waited, I took in my surroundings. It was a hot day, and the sun beat down on us mercilessly. I could feel the sweat starting to trickle down my back, and I wished I had brought some water with me. As I looked around, I noticed that some of the parents and children were wearing expensive clothes that my family could never afford. They were with original colors that fit them properly compared to mine, which were oversized with no good design and sometimes torn. I realized that I had a lot to learn about this new world I was entering in terms of dressing style, behavior and habits.

As I entered the classroom, the skeptical looks from the teachers and the snickers pushed me to thinking that my age or height could be factors to this feeling of being in the wrong class. I was indeed older and taller than my classmates, and it’s understandable that I felt like I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group. However, it’s important to remember that differences in age and physical attributes are just a small part of who we are as individuals, and there are likely many other aspects of our personalities, interests, and experiences that we could share with our classmates. It may be helpful to focus on finding common ground rather than fixating on the ways in which we are different. For example, after class I used to meet one kid who was my neighbor to talk about grammar and sometimes mathematics. It was hard not to feel self-conscious about my age and lack of experience. But I refused to let the doubts of others hold me back.

The turning point came when my efforts paid off. My grades began to improve, and my teachers started to take notice of my hard work and dedication. I remember the first time I received praise in front of the class. It was during my 4th grade spelling bee competition, and I had won first place. As a tall student, I was usually required to sit in the back, but on this occasion, the teacher allowed me to sit in the front row. I eagerly waited for my turn to spell the next word. When the teacher called my name, I felt a surge of excitement mixed with nervousness. However, I had studied hard and was confident in my abilities. I approached the front of the class with pride and determination. As I spelled each word correctly, the teacher and my classmates looked at me with admiration. I don’t remember any of the words I spelled, but I do remember feeling a sense of accomplishment after each one. My classmates were friendly and supportive, and I didn’t detect any jealousy or anger.

After I won, my teacher congratulated me in front of the entire class and praised my hard work and dedication to studying. As I stood there, my heart pounded in my chest, and a wide grin stretched across my face. The world around me seemed to fade into the background as an overwhelming surge of emotions engulfed me. It was a moment that transcended words; it was a moment that could only be understood through the experience. With each step I took, it felt as though I was walking on air, my feet barely touching the ground. Every fiber of my being radiated with an electrifying sense of pride and accomplishment as if I had conquered the world. In that instant, I felt invincible, as if all the barriers and obstacles that once stood in my way had crumbled to dust. It was a memory that would forever be eternally etched in the tapestry of my life. And as I reflect on it now, the magnitude of that moment continues to evoke an overwhelming rush of emotions, reminding me of the power of perseverance and the extraordinary heights we can reach when we dare to dream. My eyes were filled with tears of joy, my body was lighter and I felt the power of the superhero inside of me.

Despite my success at school, at home, my family constantly discouraged me. As a young refugee and stateless person, life was already challenging enough. But the constant discouragement and belittling from my own family made it even harder. After winning the spelling bee, I came home only to be met with my father’s voice, resonating through the walls, saying “There is the future president who likes school and thinks to be the smartest in the house, even smarter than his parents.”

My mother’s voice was laced with concern. She knew that I had always been curious and eager to learn, but she also understood the challenges that came with pursuing an education. “You think you’re better than us now, don’t you? Just because you go to school.”

Every day when I got home from school, my younger siblings, who were playing on the floor with their toys, looked up at me with confusion. These actions were copied from the way our parents treated and addressed me, and I could tell they didn’t understand why our parents were always so negative.

These conversations seemed to happen all too often, usually while we were eating our simple meals of rice and beans. The walls of our small, cramped apartment felt like they were closing in on me as I sat there feeling helpless and alone.

That night after the spelling bee, I sat down with my copybook to revise my notes. I could hear the clicking of plates and the chatter of my siblings coming from the kitchen. As I sat down to study, my focus was interrupted by the smell of my mother’s cooking wafting into the room. I couldn’t help but pause and take in the scene before me. The crackling fire in the stove illuminated the space with a soft, inviting glow, casting dancing shadows on the walls. The air was filled with the comforting scent of burning wood, and I could feel the warmth of the stove spreading throughout the house. It was a beautiful image that instantly evoked a sense of coziness and contentment. Despite the distractions, I remained focused on my studies, determined to succeed. As I flipped through the pages of my copybook, I could not help but feel a sense of pride in my resilience. With each passing moment, I was one step closer to achieving my dreams, and nothing could stop me.

7 June, 2023