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!!!