The Journey Continues…

Taking the bull by the horns!

I made the bold and permanent career move to another country.

Silver Lining!

The salary problems persisted. As if that were not enough, I was also faced with the challenge of not having a work permit: so, I was an illegal worker. In fact, most of the teachers in the sister schools were illegally employed!

This meant I had to travel out of the country from time to time to avoid overstaying and spoiling my passport. To ensure that my entry into the country would not be denied, I would always request two or three weeks at a time. Sometimes I would go to the immigration offices in town to apply for an extension of my stay and I think I did that twice.

You see, traveling was not always the best of options considering my dire financial situation at the time.

Because of all these challenges, my dream was to get work and residence permits so that I could enjoy all the benefits that came with having those legal documents. I came a step closer to realizing my dream when, towards the end of term, I was called to the Director’s office and asked to prepare my documents for the Permit Application.

I was over the moon! I quickly put together everything required and filled in all the necessary forms and returned them to the office. I had almost exhausted the yearly allocation of the 90 days I could use to stay in Botswana. This meant returning to the country in January would be a challenge.

However, when I returned to Zimbabwe, I was walking on cloud nine because of the permit application documents I had submitted. There was nothing any foreigner wanted more than to hold that legal document! I even got the courage to go and resign from my job so that I could commit fully to this new opportunity.

On one of my trips back home, I had applied for a new passport as the one I was using was about to expire and I collected the new passport during the December holidays. I traveled to South Africa for grocery shopping using my new passport; it felt very good!

This was also possible because on closing we had received a payout of BWP900! This was the biggest amount I had ever received at one go. Because we were always being paid in bits and pieces, we were still owed some of our money for the previous months as well as the balance for the November salary.

There was no salary for December in that school!!!! I never understood that practice, but one would always learn to live with the situations they are presented with. So, I sucked it up and made peace with it. In my country, we used to get paid every month of the year and we even received a 13th cheque back in the day.

When schools opened in January, I returned to Botswana a bit late. The Director, himself, phoned me and told me not to return without a Police Clearance as it was a requirement for permit application. The police clearance was acquired after two weeks and I could make my return journey to Botswana.

A fresh start!

Because I was using a new passport there was no record that I had almost used up my 90 days and it was a new year which also counted in my favour. That was the reason why I desperately needed a Work Permit! Worrying about how many days one has stayed and all was emotionally draining, and I had had my fair share of that in the previous term!

Being in possession of that A4 size document had a lot of advantages: no more long queues at the border as permit holders had their own queue which was normally shorter and faster than the one for non-Residents; I could go to work without fear of immigration raids; I could open a bank account; just walk around Francistown freely without worrying about the police.

The change would also stabilize my stay in the country and at work – no need to hide from the police and immigration officers who normally made spot checks at schools for illegal workers. I suspect that they knew there were always illegal employees at my school so they would always stop by. However, they would not find any illegal workers as some people downstairs would raise alarms so that the affected would hide, even in cupboards!!!!!

I was lucky to have never had to go through that ordeal as the only time they came in my presence, I had already received my permit.

Illegal immigrants always played cat and mouse games with the police in Francistown as there were thousands of them in the city. Perhaps because of the proximity of Francistown to Zimbabwe, it was just 86km from the Botswana – Zimbabwe border. A myriad of Zimbabweans walked from the border to Francistown through the forest. There were some people who charged a certain fee to help people cross the border on foot through the forest. Sadly, a lot of female border jumpers were exposed to acts of violence such as rape and robbery.

Another positive in the new year was the fact that the school’s finances were promising to improve because the school owner had enlisted some board members to oversee the running of the school. This meant that the monthly salaries would stabilize, and we would get paid our full salaries every month end. It was a welcome development for all teachers, and we were all very excited!

Making a bold career move

This improvement in the working conditions gave me the courage to take the next career-changing step: I finally resigned from my full-time teaching job in Zimbabwe. At the same time, I had also been offered a tutoring post in the Portuguese section of the Modern Languages department. But, I decided to let that pass as the economic situation in my beloved country had deteriorated further. I chose to go and receive a pittance and survive than to get a Master’s degree while starving and struggling with the accommodation and transport woes in Harare!

In the first term of 2008, the financial situation at work had improved and we would receive our salaries in full and on time most of the time. We were no longer getting part payments throughout the month.

I think I only returned to Zimbabwe once to get my passport stamped before my Work and Residence permits were processed! It was total bliss for me! The first thing I did was to open a bank account so that I could receive my salary through the bank! This was a huge improvement!

With a stable income, I now had to look for accommodation in Francistown so that I cut out the daily travel of 30km twice a day as well the cost of the commuting. All the other teachers I had been staying with had found accommodation in Francistown and I had been left alone. I didn’t mind as the place was quiet.

However, it was not practical for me to live that far, and at times when I returned late from work, I would walk in the dark to get home. The place was about a kilometre from the main road and that was extremely dangerous for me!!

At first, I wanted to find a house in the Tonota area because it was cheaper than Francistown and quieter. Sadly, the houses I found were not very appealing. It took me about two months to finally find something close to town, in fact, it was just on the edge of town near the Nzano shopping Mall where The Game Stores are located. It was the best place as I would walk to work: it was about five minutes away. All my colleagues envied me!!! Seemingly, I had the best accommodation location.

However, as the saying goes: “every level has a devil”

I was to find out soon enough!

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The Grass Is Not Always Greener On The Other Side!

Starting a new life in a new country was not always easy!

After the first signs of harsh working and living conditions at the new school, I unbelievably went back for more! When I returned to Botswana after securing the indefinite sick leave, I was expecting the work situation to, somehow, improve but not change entirely.

I must admit that this stage in my teaching career was the most difficult. I understood that it would be a long time before I would be able to receive a full salary at the end of each month, but I was prepared to leave with that reality and just be able to, at least, send some foodstuffs and money back home.

A Zimbabwean School in Botswana

My place of employment had a primary and secondary school: I was in the secondary section. The teachers at this school were mostly from Zimbabwe with the only local teacher being the Setswana language teacher. We all worked very hard for the salaries that came in instalments throughout the month.

I remember the first time I arrived in Botswana, most of the teachers at the school where I was teaching (from both the primary and secondary schools) were accommodated in a nearby small village, Tonota, about 30km from Francistown. The school was renting two houses in a compound that belonged to a certain organization. The male teachers occupied one house while the female teachers occupied the other.

In the shared accommodation, just like boarding school pupils, we slept on thin rubber foam mattresses like pupils in a boarding school. Going through the night on these extremely thin mattresses was very painful, especially for someone who had spent years sleeping on a Luxaire “Fantasy” bed. In one bedroom, there were three or four people.

A few lucky ones had the pleasure of sleeping on single size spring beds on the same thin rubber mattresses used by those who slept on the floor. Since I was the new teacher, there was no way I would have had the privilege of sleeping on the spring bed. I felt like a rookie!! Uncomfortable as it is, in this case, it was bliss to have one to sleep on!

Luxury was not the issue here, it was simply a question of having a roof over your head and being able to wake up, bath and go to work.

For cooking, there was an old over-used two plate stove which we all had access to in turns. Some people had cooking teams and would prepare their meals together on the worn-out stove. Some of the teachers who had been around longer than I had managed to buy their own cooking implements, so did not have to queue up to cook which also helped make the cooking queue shorter.

At that time my target became to secure my own stove and pots, etc! I had big dreams of how I would live my life if and when my financial situation improved.

Harsh Working Conditions

Our working day started very early and ended late! We would leave the house at 0530am daily which meant one had to wake up and prepare well before that. Thankfully, the house had a solar geyser so there was warm bathing water!

I never understood why we had to leave this early to get to work only to sit in school and wait for learners who came in at 0730am. It was many months later that I found out that the reason was that the teacher who drove the Minibus we used had no licence to ferry passengers!!! So, we left that early to avoid running into the police.

The job involved teaching day school and night school which meant that we knocked off around 8pm! Returning home at the end of each working day and arriving around 9pm to start cooking was a tall order! But it had to be done and I had to make it work, somehow.

We worked very hard, in fact honestly and earnestly but we were not being paid well or on time. It was common to just receive a fraction of our salaries for the whole of term 3 that I worked full time. However, the small amounts I was receiving intermittently, when converted to the Zimbabwe currency would actually give me more than my Zimbabwean salary. The school authorities knew this and decided to capitalize on our misfortunes.

Have you ever worked for an employer who wants to use the situation in your country of origin to exploit you? You are given a lot of work but when it comes to the salary it is a different ball game altogether! I do not understand why people can utter statements like: “This amount of money you earn, if you take it to Zimbabwe you will be a king!” Hello!!!!

Believe me when I say that I have heard this statement so many times and I have found it degrading and extremely insulting!

Between 2002 and 2008, the economic situation of Zimbabwe deteriorated drastically! This situation forced millions of skilled citizens to flee the country in search of better lives, and I am one of them!

The truth is that the grass was just not greener on the other side. It was unfortunate that our troubles back home made us prey to jackals who felt it necessary to exploit us because we ‘had nowhere to run to’. African Foreigners all over the world continue to fall victim to exploitation by thousands by employers. However, some lucky ones who work for good employers enjoy their work experiences abroad.

One thing I am proud of as a Zimbabwean is a fact that, despite the economic challenges in our country, our government availed quality education to the people in the beginning. As a result, most Zimbabweans are well-educated and hardworking; because of this strength, they are able to penetrate most, if not all the countries in the world in search of ways to survive. And even survive in harsh conditions!

Sadly, the Zimbabweans’ desperate profile provided unscrupulous employers with the opportunity to use us for cheap labour despite our qualifications and experience.

Our country of origin continues to work in our disfavour. In spite of all this, we soldier on relentlessly.

Making It Against All Odds!

 Back to my account! The situation I had to adjust to went on till the end of the year. What would happen was that every time there was cash available the money would be shared among all the teachers. Because I was the last one to come into the school, I would always receive the smallest figure and be told that the other teachers were owed more than me. This just added to my frustrations, but I held on and continued to work hard hoping for change.

These part salaries would be paid as and when there was money available from school fees payments, so there was no set pay date. Private schools in Botswana have in place a system where fees are paid monthly, however, in this school, not all parents were consistent with their payments. Most of the time the fees paid would be channelled to the school owner’s personal needs, leaving teachers stranded and hungry!

BWP35 Take Home!

Though the money we received was very small, we somehow managed to survive fairly. I could send money or groceries back home regularly. I remember a day where I signed for BWP35 as part payment of my salary. This was after all the cash available had been divided equally among all the teachers. This was the lowest I had ever received because normally it would be BWP100 or more. The highest lump sum I receive that term was BWP600! On this day I felt like I was on top of the world!!!

Living comfortably was, of course, not important at that time. It was just a question of survival. If I say this was easy, I would be lying: this period in my career was a trying one that I can never forget. When I look back, I can safely say I have surely come a long way!

This was only my first full term with the school where I was to spend the next two years of my teaching career!!!

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My Journey Through The Years as A Teacher ….

The Long Journey of a Teacher Of French and English

My first foreign country teaching experience started in Botswana.

My journey as a teacher of French started when I got to secondary school and I had to choose between French and the local language of my country.

Picking the local language was not an option. You see, during my primary school days, the local language was not compulsory as a subject because we did not even write it as a primary leaving examination subject.

There were only two subjects written at Grade 7 level: Mathematics and English. My country had inherited the pre-colonial ways where the local languages were disregarded. It was a few years later that the local languages became compulsory and examinable at the primary level.

I remember my first French teacher was a Mauritian gentleman, Mr. Bapoo. Sadly, he had to return to Mauritius, and we were left without a teacher for a long time until we were rescued by a gentleman from Zambia.

He also left and we got another gentleman from France, Mr. McGhee, who took us through to our final examinations. I do not know how I passed French because when I look at my secondary school years, I spent more time without a French teacher than with one.

My passion for the subject was high from the beginning because I continued to work on my own using the textbooks. We had no internet those days which made self-learning a challenge. Nonetheless, I persevered.

When I completed my secondary education, I went to a Teacher’s college and specialized in French and English, after which I went to Reunion Island for more French teaching training at the University of Tampon.

 I returned to Zimbabwe and taught for many years then decided to further my education by enrolling at the University of Zimbabwe to study French and Portuguese on a full-time basis for three years.

The years at university were not without their own drama. In Zimbabwe, you cannot say you have gone through university if you have not breathed in tear gas! I remember at one time some students mobilized themselves to march to the State House for what was termed the “Final Push!”

The march was in a bid to show the then-president R. G. Mugabe that people wanted him out of office. They did not get far with their march as they were stopped in their tracks by a Police Roadblock along Sam Nujoma Way. The only results they got from that march were hundreds of Riot police officers on campus over a week!

I remember soldiers and police officers came in tear gas spitting tanks and terrorized students on campus regardless of whether one took part in the foiled march or not. Every morning the riot police officers would come to the university and sit in trees around the college.

I could tell they were enjoying themselves as they would chant anti-student songs while students inside the college would also be chanting anti-police songs. It was really comical when the police officers were not using their baton sticks and tear gas on students.

These numerous unrests forced the college to shut down on a few occasions.

When I finally and thankfully completed my studies, I returned to my teaching post, but I only taught for two years and resigned to pursue a career in another country.

The economic situation in Zimbabwe had become sour: as a teacher, it had become increasingly difficult to make ends meet on the meager salary we received. We had to find ways to survive. It had become a sink or swim situation.

Therefore, I decided to swim. The school where I was teaching was a government boarding school regarded as an “elite” school. The who’s who of the province and country sent their children there. It was not surprising to find that students had more pocket money than what their teachers earned at the end of each month.

An idea came to me. What if I sold sweets? And I started. The response was astounding! I couldn’t meet the demand at first as I had ordered small amounts, unsure of how the “customers” would respond to my “business.”

After seeing the positive response, I had to increase the supply. With time I ventured into different items like lollipops, chocolate bars, chips, cakes, and doughnuts! I made a lot of cash on a weekly basis and I would buy foreign currency and save my money in that form.

Every week I counted profits, real profits! I was never cash-strained, and I always had foreign currency on me throughout the month. I remember those days we used to be in money groups where we put people into teams of 5 or 6 people who would decide how much they wanted to contribute monthly, in Rand currency, between ZAR300 and ZAR500.

The members would all bring their monthly contributions and all the money would be given to one member on a rotational basis. The member receiving would host a party where food and drinks would be served. Members would be compelled to buy a plate of food at a uniform cost in Rand and at least three beverages of their choice. Extra plates of food and drinks would be available to buy for those who would want more or to take away.

This system worked perfectly well as one could receive the money and use it for business or whatever one wanted to do. Ladies had become hustlers who did whatever it took to survive. So, in a year one would receive the lump sum twice and do something big with it.

My sweet selling hustles on the side made it extremely easy for me to be in these money groups. During those days the Rand was a powerful currency in Zimbabwe, and one could do a lot with just ZAR1000!

When I decided to leave the country, it was not really because I was in need of money, but I had gotten so annoyed with the water cuts and load shedding. It had reached a point where we would only get electricity around 2300hrs and lose it around 0500am. It was so unbearable that I was slowly but surely losing my mind!

So, I decided to put my shoulder to the wheel and leave for “greener pastures.” My first stop was Botswana and it was quite an experience in the beginning!

When I left, I thought that I was now going to live my life! Boy, was I wrong!!!

The first school where I worked was a true career challenge. When I arrived there, I realized that the grass wasn’t always greener on the other side! I learned that the teachers were unhappy and not paid well or at the end of every month!

Coming from a place where every day was payday for me to where every month end one was not necessarily paid day was a tall order. It was not surprising that I missed my workplace back home. Fortunately, I had not resigned as it was school holiday time in Zimbabwe.

Basically, I was keeping two jobs. My new school in Botswana was almost getting to the end of term when I joined them so when it was holiday time I could return to Zimbabwe. On the last day of school, the teachers were paid a fraction of their salaries and I expected to receive my own portion. But, alas! I was only given a freaking BWP100!

I was like Whaaat!! So, I should go back to Zimbabwe and return next term on this? It got me thinking that back home I earned that much over two days with my side hustle! I felt very insulted and thought of not bothering to return the following term.

I traveled back to Zimbabwe and survived on my own money which had nothing to do with the job from where I was returning. Funnily, I found myself planning my return journey. I had to devise a plan to enable me to return without jeopardizing my job in Zimbabwe. I decided to seek indefinite sick leave.

This was just to protect me in case teachers returned to work while I was away. Teachers in Zimbabwe were, generally, on strike at that time, so nothing was happening in schools. My absence did not really make any difference as no students suffered because of it. Frankly speaking, I would not have been at work anyway had I been in Zimbabwe.

The “Indefinite sick leave” meant that I became cleared and could return to Botswana. This arrangement worked perfectly for me and enabled me to explore other avenues.  

That was when the real foreign country experience began!!!

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