Bongani Ndlovu '14

Superman, Batman, Red Ranger, Bongani - enough said, right?! Yeah, probably not. My name is Sabelo Ndlovu, but I go by my middle name - Bongani. I hail from Durban, South Africa. I'm a senior. I study Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought and Biology. I love singing, dancing, playing [read: watching] rugby, climbing, kayaking and cooking. One of my greatest passion is the study of languages.My mother languages are Zulu and English. In addition to these, I speak Italian, French and a few others. Next on the list is Arabic, an undertaking for which I'm extremely excited. I come from a large family, which in enmeshed in somewhat of a complictaed kinship system. I listen to nobody who tries to caution me against the perils of television. I'm also super attached to my beard.

One of my many flaws is verbosity. I'm working on it. If you'd like to find out more about all that I do on campus or just want to chat, shoot me an email. I'm always down to talk. 

Good Vibrations

Spring Break has come and gone, but I’ve not had a single day of rest in months. I handed in a 140-page draft of my thesis this morning after a week of, on average, 9hrs/day of sitting at my desk, writing, honing and revising. I’m happy with what I handed in, but I’m exhausted and it’s a mission to now get motivated enough to catch up in the other spheres of life. I just want to thrust my head in the sand. I have a week-long break from my thesis work while I wait for feedback from my readers, which means I can concentrate on my 3 classes for a little bit. In my ill-preparation for classes over the past several weeks, I had to devise a participation strategy so as to continue my contribution to the discussions. I’m particularly proud of what I managed to come up with. I’m a little hesitant to share, but I’ll do so in spite of myself.

It’s quite simple really: (a) Be the first to say something at the beginning of each session (If you say something painfully obvious or not too insightful, nobody can judge you because you are the brave one who spoke first), (b) Be the last to speak, too (This gives you enough time to surmise what the readings were about, to formulate an intelligent comment, and if you can’t, to pick someone who spoke during the course of the discuss with whom to agree). So, as you can see, the trick is really timing. Use my strategy if you will, but don’t do it unless the circumstances call for it!

There is so much sunlight on campus at the moment, but it’s terribly misleading. The temperatures are still bitterly cold, which is compounded by intermittent gusts of wind from who-knows-where. It’s hard to believe that graduation lies 7 weeks ahead. I can’t be excited yet because I have not found a job. Hopefully something will turn up. Until something does, no sleep for the wicked!

Venturing out

October has carried over into November. Although the trees are almost bare, the days have shortened and bouts of bitter cold are episodic visitors, but, oddly, the air is still tepid and the sky fairly clear. (See at right, a view from one of my windows at around 8am this morning) As much as I welcome such weather, it also worries me: I cannot help but imagine that this winter promises to be a short but acute in its temperature drop and snowfall. I might just be confounding fiction with reality: call it imaginativeness. That Game of Throne’s leitmotif “Winter is Coming” is constantly with me, haha. Enough of that.

I just went through my final pre-registration process at Amherst College. Super weird, but reassuring at the same time. Graduation is in sight and my project, now, is to go out with a bang, in a manner of speaking. My friend from Mt. Holyoke has finally succeeded in convincing me to commit to a class at her campus. She's been trying for over 3 years. It's not that I've not found her arguments for "expanding one's horizons" unpersuasive or the idea of taking a class off-campus unappealing. 

I've simply been able to find most things I've needed right here at home. I've also been bound to my home campus because, for all the convenience a free public transit system can furnish, I hate commuting. When I was in grade school, I was forced to suffer through 2-hour commutes in each direction from Monday to Friday for a decade. Nowadays, I take every opportunity I can to delay the start of the day. It’s funny to think that, with the exception of no more than 5 occasions on which I was ill, I never missed a day of school when I was obliged to commute. I don’t routinely skip classes here, but there have been occasions on which I’ve stayed in at whim (see my pretty dorm at left as of this morning) or on account of unpreparedness for class.

Anyway, I digress. The other reason I can point to for not having “branched out” so far is that it’s pretty easy to be satisfied with the great deal of choice and variety here at Amherst – in class and beyond. But, the hour is now ripe, if for nothing other than to experiment. I’ve been to Mt. Holyoke many a time. I really appreciate the beauty of the campus and quality of the parties. I’m well acquainted with the social scene. Let’s see what the classroom has to offer! I’m certain that the French class I plan to take will hardly be representative of what one might consider typical of the classroom experience there, but it should give me some interesting clues thereto. I'm excited. 

In other news, I received a little gift from a French friend a few days ago: macaroons, otherwise known as deliciousness. Of course, the box looks nothing like this anymore, but you get the picture. Zing, puns!


Fall Fun

The past few weeks have offered an onslaught of good memory times. So many occasions to dance, run around, frolic and generally be merry, even with the high concentration of midterms. 3 Weekends ago was Homecoming. In a college context, Homecoming word is synonymous with fun and it sure delivered again this year on its promise. I spent the better part of the day reconnecting with some graduate friends over beer; with others over coffee. I was only at the game for less than an hour - enough time to see the Jeffs struggle and fail to subdue the Wesleyan team, which emerged victorious. I would have been upset if football occupied even the slightest corner of my heart. Still, it was a bummer to witness our team's loss. I ended off the day with a reception for Zumbye Alumni and that was a highlight. 

Yes, I am above 21!

The following weekend was Fall Festival, an occasion to eat great food, listen to some wonderful music and play fair games all on Valentine Quad, one of the main sites of college-sponsored parties on campus. This past weekend was Family Weekend and, while my own family couldn't make it, I didn't feel forelorn because a few friends decided to include me in various family gatherings. It was really something special.  

Singing with the Zs at Fall Festival

Unrelated story: I was on a PVTA bus this early afternoon. It stopped over in Northampton at the Academy of Music and picked up a bevy of students. I struck up a conversation with one of them (a young woman who'd taken the seat next to me) and something strange happened as we spoke. She revealed that  the group she was with were Holyoke Community College students. I immediately began to feel self-conscious, over-analyzing all my words and actions in the process. An odd soliloquy was going on in my head: "Do I seem odd to these people? Should I share where I go to school? Oh no, my ID is sitting on my lap! How apparent is my privilege?" I've never had such an experience and I wonder what triggered it? I guess the subject of privilege is broached so often in my classes and in conversations I have with people that, even (or especially) as a guy from a family of quite modest means, I painfully aware of all that being an Amherst student affords me. I hope my discomfort from that point did not register in her consciousness, or at least that she didn't think I was uncomfortable because I'm a snob or something. 

What's in a name?

Senior year is, in one respect, characterized by a cognitive dissociation disorder and blurring of time. As a personal matter, there is Bongani (who laborers on a thesis project and does all that he’s been doing for the past 3 years) and then, inhabiting a superimposed space and time, there is the doppelganger (looking for jobs, networking, and crying in anticipation of all the rejection that lays ahead). The extent to which this is institutional as opposed to self-imposed remains unclear to me. What is clear is that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the “next step” in life, so much so that I often feel only partly tuned in to all that is happening in any given moment. If it can be argued that a senior lives in the moment, it is my impression that this bearing is a desperate attempt to savor what remains of college – an experience soon to be history – and to fend off or delay a fast-approaching and uncertain future. For a large part of the year, a senior is everywhere but in the present. I would wager that to most of my classmates, the present year has ceased to be an important unit itself. It has become a transitory period engineered to refine oneself and to assure that we escape a kind of extinction when the period expires. 

 Beyond just the simple question of securing the next chapter, I’ve been thinking a lot about the form and content of such a chapter. Law school, graduate school, international organization, private corporation – wherever I land must be a place of quality, a place that will vindicate the work I’ve done (and the money I’ve paid) – in brief, a place worthy of an Amherst graduate. But what is this obsession with names? In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare observes through Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Unfortunately, Shakespeare, names are important – for the images they conjure in our minds and the impressions with which they leave our entourage and us. Names denote and connote. If arbitrary at one point, they scarcely remain that way. A Chester Dinklage, anonymous in childhood, might soon come to stand for scientific excellence. This is why I find it so fascinating that, in my culture, parents traditionally would defer naming until the child came to develop some personality. With that point made, back to Amherst.

Our aspirations are bound up in names-brands. How do we break free of a fixation? While an Amherst graduate might not think like he or she is better than anyone else, I feel the peculiar strain of learning we undergo in this specific context engenders a certain entitlement. In large part, Amherst used to be a training school for well-off WASP boys looking for entries into a comfortable life in business, finance and law. With the college’s contemporary sensibilities, we are a world’s leap from that era. And yet entitlement lingers. We expect to lead ‘lives of consequence’. This is not a contentious point, in my opinion. Contentious, are the feelings of inadequacy and disappointment which are without a doubt to plague some of us seniors upon graduation. Of course, this has been changing for a long time. People find satisfaction in a myriad métiers and the definition of success is continually evolving. My hope is that my peers don’t get too bogged down by the schizophrenia of senior year. Though are paths will vary and be limited by disparate steps, we will continue on to do meaningful things in life. And I want to extend that reassurance to the high school seniors considering Amherst.

Yes, Amherst is a brand of great value. The name signifies, among other things, world-class scholarship and teaching and the (re)production of a conscientious, critically-minded student paradigm. Do I love being here? Yes. But you know what, I probably could have been happy at other places. As one of the Admission deans always says in her information sessions, remember that at the end of the day, you are going to go to college. Do not stop working hard, but do remember as well to savor every moment because once it’s gone, you cannot revive it to its original majesty.   



Finding a love object?

I participate in many activities around campus, but I make a point of only doing those things that I love. It took me some time to get to this place of ‘wisdom’ and contentment. As a greener student, I was always wary of becoming lopsided in a pool of well-rounded individuals. Students who have many interests are very attractive. I can see 2 reasons for this. First, a diversity of interests implies a diversity of experiences that an individual can then bring to bear on social and classroom encounters in an manner that enriches the collective. Second, we have such a small community of people from different backgrounds that any factor which can result in overlap in prized. A student who had many interests is more likely to find things in common with peers and is thus more "accessible" to such peers.

Are students expected to do it all? Is one activity enough? I learned in that first year that the answers to these questions are no and yes, respectively. Once I cut down to just the things I loved, I found it much easier to stay motivated and much easier to have fun (fun is not always easy). While my loves are numerous, the activity which is without a doubt the closest to my heart is singing with the Zumbyes. Yes, this is not going where the title led you to believe it was going. 

The Zumbyes, notoriously dubbed "the most dangerous a cappella group on the planet" by the New York Times, is the oldest continuous a cappella group at Amherst College. Founded in 1950 by a pack of freshmen who preferred jazz to the traditional collegiate repertoire of the period (barbershop, glees, etc.), the group today boasts an energetic and complex repertoire reflecting a significant jazz influences. The groups' performances can be better described as spectacles – for their witty skits, elaborate choreography, strong musical blend and the motley characters they feature. We perform on street corners, at weddings, schools, corporations, private residences and anywhere else we can fit our croissant (horseshoe in layman’s terms). Beyond the fun we have at every gathering, we spend so much time together and care so deeply for each other that it is an unspoken understanding that we are a family (odd a family as it may be, what with nothing but men). I'm sure many can say the same of their respective groups. 

At a place as small and cognitively charged as Amherst, it’s important to find something that you love – a charm that can instantly fill you with happiness and conjure a smile on your face. If that something also affords you a supportive entourage, you’ve struck gold. The Zumbyes are my gold. I can't wait to take over Hanover, Boston and Providence this weekend with these fine gents. Fall Break, it's on!