Taking the bull by the horns!
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!