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  • John Njende Junior, Open Dreams Scholar

Food, Family and Friends -The YYAS 2019 Zimbabwe experience

"Congratulations, John!" Those two words shot my adrenaline so high, that I found myself running at the speed of light. Never before had I felt this way. What was merely a dream was, in a few weeks, going to become reality.

It was a Sunday morning, August 18th 2019 when I landed in Zimbabwe. The beauty of the evergreen surrounding, the native tongue that the airline personnel spoke and the hot, humid weather made me realize that I was in a different Africa in miniature.

My adventure officially began. I got to meet a few YYAS participants right from the Mugabe International Airport. We made introducing ourselves a small game. We guessed each other’s nationality with a few geographical hints. I’m very poor in Geography, but my African instinct helped me make them out easily. We were then shuffled to Arundel School Zimbabwe, where the next seven days were going to change us forever. It was amazing to be in the company of like minded people with different backgrounds.

The evening of day one started with us receiving our program material and moving into our various dorms. Next, we were privileged to have a guest speaker from the HigherLife Foundation give a keynote address. I would never forget his words, “You are not here for yourself, you are here for Africa”.

The next part of the eve was amazing. We had an icebreaker and played introductory games. I got pretty good at singing the song, “Hi, I’m John from Cameroon, happy to meet you. What’s your name?”. It even got more interesting as we exchanged more information, like our best colors, movies, and more.

The night caught up with us so quickly. I was excited as it was going to be my first night sleeping all alone, far away from home. My roommates: Fortune,Namibian and Farai, Zimbabwean, were great companions through the experience. Being with them made me sleep as late as 1:00 am and always arrive a few minutes late for breakfast.

Day two was the only day which reminded me of school. We had an SAT practice test earlier that morning for three hours. This was for the sake of knowing our strengths and weaknesses. We then continued with more enriching activities like lunch.

Breakfast, Lunch, Snack and Dinner marked one of the best times of my stay. We didn’t only get to partake of the delicious Zimbabwean cuisine, but also with the beautiful diversity of people that surrounded us. The dinner hall had 12 tables with a seating of ten each, and I decided to sit on a different table each time we had a meal. So I visited all 12 tables and sang my song with pride for Cameroon.

This made me meet a lot of people and exposed me to the uniqueness of all the participants.

Friends were great, and we slowly evolved into a family. With Yale students as our instructors, we couldn’t have had a better time. They were very friendly and open to us, in fact, I ended up calling my workshop leader Mum. They were the ones who made the experience one of a kind.

Our seminars were lit up with information and lots of fun. I was in the Making radio, Transnational identity in the 21st century and Social media and Youth Advocacy seminars. Each was unique in its own way. We got to make an actual podcast, discuss critically with master brains on what it means to be African and we got to debate on how social media could be used as a tool for change.

Yale Professor, Zimbabwean theatre actress and Zimbabwean lawyer. Just a few examples of the people who came to speak to us on various topics. Each lecture ended in smaller groups called discussion sessions where we had adequate critique on what we had learned.

Sports with different nationalities was also one of the aspects which made the experience. I went in for football and other games with others from different countries and we found out how enjoyable sports could be when we cared less about competing.

Just a few more days for YYAS to end and we already started praying to freeze time, but apparently, we were the only ones who got frozen. Movie night in particular was freezing cold as we watched, “The boy who harnessed the wind.”

Our last two days were some of my favourites, we had admissions fair and talent and cultural shows.

We were privileged to have Rice, Minerva and Ashesi Universities visit us. I visited their stands and got to speak with them one on one at Lunch time.

Our talent and cultural shows were the most beautiful. Not only because of the people, but what they did. I was awed at dances, poems, video makers and even singers who could raise the dead. I rapped at the show and played the piano for three performances.

Cultural night was same and I got to make people jealous of the my Cameroonian regalia.

With all this amazement, came the eve of our departure. After taking our last supper, nobody wanted to leave. We had a night filled with dancing to Zim songs, laughter, conversing and getting crazy. We lost track of time and finally got to our dorms at midnight.

Our departure proper was the most emotional. The girls cried and the boys frowned and some eventually cried. We didn’t get to say goodbye to some people whose flights were as early as 5:30 am, but we still kept in touch with each other after the program.

I was privileged to travel back with a number of participants and actually stay in a penthouse in Ethiopia with them, before going our separate ways the following Sunday.

In one sentence, within one week at YYAS, I got to interact with great minds of Africa, and learn so many things that the four walls of my classroom could never give me. What a great time it was!

John Njende Junior,

Open Dreams Scholar,

Yale Young African Scholar,

Zimbabwe 2019

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