Around the first time I went to America, it was quite an auspicious occasion especially when European and American Visas then needed all the gods to intercede in order to get one. It generally was an extreme sport going to the diaspora because most had no idea if they would ever see their loved ones again or how many years, decades would pass before seeing them. I vividly remember the day my step father went to the UK. He had a convoy of relatives take him to the airport, it was a spectacle. When we got to the airport, to my delight, he emptied his pockets and gave me all the money he had, quickly gave me a hug and said goodbye. Only later did it dawn on me that i was now alone, my entire family was gone. I was to be left in the company of his sister until I could get my own apartment closer to the university I was attending… preferably a flat in town. I was the only one in my family to be denied a visa. I was now legally considered an “adult”, able to fend for herself as I had just turned 18, with no knowledge on how to do that apart from the skills I had acquired from boarding school and the practice with chores at home. That time was also the last time I would see my step dad alive. The next time I saw the man I had called dad all my life, almost 10 years later, was in a small brown wooden coffin used to fly his body back home to be buried. By then I had just started “tasting” the responsibilities of adult life when he passed and had only bought him so far,a leather jacket and a bottle of whiskey to thank him for raising me. My next thank you as the first born was to make sure my brother and my sister whom he dearly loved, could fly back home to attend his funeral. All children wish to buy their parents a home at least to show their gratitude for their sacrifices but it wouldn’t be the case for us. But then again, that was the way of life for most Zimbabwean families…survival… tragedy…family separation.
Sadly… it was “normal.”
I too in my moment of departure had a convoy of relatives and friends taking me to the airport. As I walked away to board my plane, my aunts started singing a Sutu song. I’m sure it had some sort of goodbye or protection meaning. Sutu is the one language that never stuck while growing up. I learnt Ndebele and Shona but not Sutu, yet it is my mother’s tongue. As I walked slowly to my theme kumbaya song,tears rolled down my face not sure what I was to face ahead of me. I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that my aunts were embarrassing me in front of all the travelers that day. I’m sure the entire airport knew it was the first time for me to fly overseas. Days before my departure I had given away most of my clothes and left a few since America was the land of “milk and honey.” Clothes were apparently so cheap over there, you could literally pick them off the streets they said. People also threw away TVs and couches too, something that was amazing to me since some Zimbabwean homes considered TVs expensive and an unnecessary luxury. I studied carefully the American way of dressing on Channel O, a popular African music channel, and decided the outfit befitting of my grand entrance to this glorified country was a pair of very tight skinny jeans and a fancy denim waist clincher that sucked my stomach in and extremely high long boots…. all of which were suicide for a long plane ride especially to the heart of Texas during the peak of Summer time. How could I have known?
One of the stops was to be at the large Heathrow Airport and my entire family including extended family with aunts and cousins would be there waiting to see me. We had been told I could just go to immigration without a UK visa, show them my boarding pass to the USA and ask them to see my family while I waited for my plane. But alas, I was in shock when the immigration officer told me that’s not how it works. I needed a visa just to say hie…imagine!!! My young innocent mind didn’t understand why they had to be so cruel. I put on my saddest puppy face and begged him to let me see my family but he said no, with a stern face with no ounce of pity in his eyes. Didn’t he understand that it had been at least 3 years since I’d seen my siblings and step dad AND at least 2 years since I’d seen my mother? Thank God she had visited a few years back otherwise it would have been 9 years since seeing her. All he saw I’m sure, was a potential crazy illegal immigrant trying to smuggle herself in plain sight into the Great Britain. Disappointed, I walked away with tears in my eyes and called my family on a phone in the boarding area. Everyone was cheerful non the less and just grateful I had escaped the harshest part of 2008 in Zimbabwe. I wobbled with my high heels through the horrendously large Heathrow airport with my feet burning like they were cooking on hot coal while I wondered why no one had been kind enough to tell me to wear flats… a lesson I learnt at least the 2nd time flying. I had forgotten my first lesson so quickly. The second time would be my first visit back home… Zimbabwe. But of course I had to look like a superstar at all costs and flats would ruin the plan. I knew I would have a crew waiting at the airport to see the new “Americano” and i had a matching accent to suit my new identity. It would be my reveal day after a few years worth of a make over!
How did it feel leaving your country for the very first time?