A Luta Continua… (Part 5)

The struggle felt like trudging through the forest.

After securing the new accommodation, all that I thought about was moving. The excitement I felt gave me tons of the courage I needed to face the irate landlord. The fact that I was moving to a new house meant that, at some point, I would have to face him. Because not facing him meant that I had to continue living in his house, and that was NOT an option! So, I gathered all the courage I needed and told him that I was moving out. As expected, he did not receive the news well because this unexpected development was going to be a huge blow to his budget. I reminded him that he had kicked me out, so, by leaving his house, I was respecting his wishes. Not that I expected him to see reason.

I think this is a sad fact about humans: we do not always know what we have till it’s gone. On the one hand, people ill-treat those they feel they have power over as landlords, while on the other hand they desperately need the money they pay as rent.

The insults he hurled at me only confirmed why moving out was the best decision I had taken. After all, I was going to live in a room that had a proper toilet and shower. Henceforth, I would be able to take a bath with running water and not have a bath in a sort of fountain where the same water keeps going up and down where one simply puts their dirt back onto their body and believe they are bathing. Moving to the new house was some form of upward social mobility. I was rising in accommodation status.

The moving-out day came. My new landlord provided me with transport as she had a van which she used as a business to ferry people’s goods to the Zimbabwe – Botswana border. The excitement I felt about moving was intoxicating! I can say I was drunk with it.

The moment I moved in; I knew that I had to make that place a real home. So, to give it this homely feel, I bought a double bed and a 21-inch TV. All along, I had been using an airbed. I am sure those who have used airbeds will certainly agree with me when I say that it is not at all comfortable. One can use it for a few days but for months or years, daily! Not on!  I already had a DVD player which I had been using to play music DVDs and listen to the radio. You see, I love my music: you can take everything away from me but just leave me with my music. And I will be just fine!

Living in this house, even though it was just a room, made me feel like a real working-class woman who could go back to an almost normal home after a long day at work. And my working days were long indeed!

Nevertheless, the room had its drawbacks: it had no windows. For ventilation, there were two triangular openings, the size of a brick high up in the wall on two sides of the room. When it was during the hot season, when Botswana got extremely hot, it became unbearable! Despite the challenges, I loved the new place.

When faced with challenges, one needs to have the heart of a lion, the speed of a cheetah, the wisdom of a serpent, the strength of an elephant and combine all these attributes to work to one’s advantage. However, sometimes the slowness of a tortoise can work to one’s advantage. One needs to have a discernment spirit to be able to make the right decisions at the right time.

One problem solved

I had only changed my place of residence, but my place of employment remained the same, therefore, my financial woes were still very much a part of my life. At least I now had only one issue to worry about. The other advantage with the new set-up was that my new landlords were Zimbabweans who knew all about my workplace and its financial issues as their kids attended the same school. Moreover, they were also a very understanding couple.

Since they were aware of my working conditions, they never made it an issue if I paid rent late. It is not every day one gets such understanding from landlords. However, when I eventually received my monthly income, I always ensured my rent was the first expense to be taken care of which earned me a good name as a tenant.

My new place of abode was, without a doubt, a different scene altogether: no rules to break, a lot of space, and, in addition, Zimbabweans to talk to in my home language. You never know how much you miss conversing in your mother tongue until you spend years speaking in English 24/7!

The cottage had two rooms. I used one and the other one was occupied by a Zimbabwean couple. We lived very well together, and it was just great to have people to talk to and laugh with.

The place was also near the Central Police station so there were no problems with thieves. It was also near the road to Zimbabwe so when I was returning from Zimbabwe, I could drop off close to home anytime and walk freely. It was a very secure neighbourhood.

I lived there for over a year until I left Francistown.

The Same Work Place

They say that work is not where we go, but what we do.

Remember the challenges I faced at work when I first arrived in Botswana? Now the challenges were different. I now had the work and residence permits so my stay in the country was legal and stress-free. However, the challenges which now existed were more to do with the workplace and the unfavourable working conditions.

I constantly reminded myself that life is a constant challenge that you either face head-on and succeed or do nothing and fail. Nothing in life is easy. Motivational talks and quotes about the difficulties that exist in life became my favourite and that got me through the days.

Because we were no longer living in Tonota in the communal residence, we did not arrive at work in the wee hours anymore. We had to be at work by 7 am when the school day started. Unfortunately, we still had to work way into the night as the school was running both day and night schools.

In Botswana, there is free secondary education, but, for one to get access to secondary education after the Junior Certificate (JC) level, one must have passed the JC examinations. The JC level is 3 years long. The government schools’ set-up is such that students attend schools that offer the JC level only then move to a different institution to complete the remaining two years of secondary education.

If one does not pass the JC level, one cannot be accepted to the next level. So, these children must find alternative schools to repeat their JC level and retake the exams or proceed to the next level. This is how they end up in private schools like my school. So, you can imagine the calibre of students in the school. We were dealing with learners who were troublesome and had been expelled from government schools and were not that interested in school or those who were not academically gifted. But some students were children of foreigners who could not get into the government school system or other very expensive private schools.

At that time, there were only three well-run private secondary schools in Francistown: John Mackenzie School, a very expensive school; Eastern Gate Academy, a Seventh Day Adventist school; and Tabitha Private school, a more affordable private school. My school was the cheapest option and an educational haven for those who could not get accepted into government schools.

I could have started my stint in Botswana at Eastern Gate Academy. A few years back, a friend of mine who had moved to Botswana to teach at a private primary school called me about an employment opportunity at Eastern Gate Academy. They needed a teacher urgently and she had recommended me. I turned it down! At that time, I was doing very well in Zimbabwe because I was making money from selling sweets. Yes, sweets!

Making ends meet in Zimbabwe

It all started as a joke. One day, I took some sweets to school to see if I could sell them to the learners. I did not expect them to buy. Was I wrong! The sweets I had taken got finished so quickly I regretted having taken just one packet.

After my first business attempt was well-received, I had to ensure it continued, so I worked on ways to sustain it. I decided to sell different types of sweets, chocolates and eventually upgraded to the more expensive cakes and crisps. Every school day was market day for me, so I had to ensure my business was stocked daily. To do this I would pass through Jaggers wholesalers, N. Richards, and Balmain store to buy the required supplies.

Every time teachers went on strike and we were told not to go to work, I would be unhappy because it would be a loss of income for me. So, I would be one of the stubborn few who still went to work, not because I loved the job, but because these were the best days for my business. No teachers meant pupils were freer to visit my business!

I made a good profit daily. Because of inflation in the country, it was not wise to keep money in the local currency. So, I would trade the money for the Rand and save it that way. It was also good for the “money clubs” I belonged to.

In these money clubs, we were grouped as five or six women who would meet every month to give one member an agreed amount in Rand or Pula. We had four sets of these groups which meant that when one person was hosting a party about thirty ladies would meet. The one who would be receiving that month would host the other members and could also invite outsiders. The more people one could invite to attend, the more money one would make.

Food and drinks would be sold. The members would be expected to buy a plate and at least six drinks. All thirty members needed to attend and buy food and drinks. If for any reason one would not attend, they would be expected to send their club money as well as the money for food and drinks.

The members of that group would pay the agreed amount and other people could bank. So, if someone banked at your party you would be expected to return that same amount when they hosted their party. You would also be expected to spend as much as the person spent on food and drinks at your party. So, keeping records of who bought what and who banked what amount was crucial!

My sweet selling business made it possible for me to take part in these parties without necessarily relying on my salary. I always had forex on me every day of the month. Therefore, it was no surprise that when I got job offers outside Zimbabwe, I was not keen on taking them. I felt that I was comfortable where I was.

When I say that I was selling treats at school, it does not mean that I was doing it legally. I was doing it under the table which meant that no one had to know about it. I could not tell other teachers about it. Only two other teachers knew about it and they had also started selling, so they could never talk. Only my customers, the pupils, knew about it. And these young people could keep secrets!

But no matter how much you try to hide certain activities in a community like a school, they always have a way of coming out!! I guess my clandestine business was bound to be exposed!

One day, the deputy headmaster and the senior master came to my classroom which was on the second floor of Block A. They said that they had heard that I was operating a business in school! I just laughed and said I knew nothing about it. One of them sat right in front of a desk where I kept my products. If he had just lifted the desk cover, he would have seen a whole shop under it!

I was so scared to be discovered. One small boy almost blew it for me. He walked in and when he saw them, he said he was looking for a spare chair! I don’t know how he thought of that so fast, but I was impressed by his quick-thinking skills. The two gentlemen just laughed and said they could see that they were chasing my customers away and took their leave. I am convinced they knew for sure that I was selling things at school. The only reason they did not make a big deal of it was that they were my friends. We used to laugh and joke together a lot and they probably did not want to be hard on me. I continued with my business, but more cautiously.