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The Tragedy of Brain Drain

By Aceme Nyika (Zimbabwe)

 

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Tafadzwa’s grandmother was very happy that Tafadzwa was now departing to the United Kingdom. This was in spite of her undisclosed worries that her grandson was going to be flying in those man-made things that fly like birds created by the Almighty.

She had this hidden feeling that it was because of such efforts by man to imitate the creator that there were so many unexplained natural disasters in the world. However, it boggled her mind why there had been unprecedented suffering in her country. Suffering that could not be attributed to natural causes. She had never experienced as many hardships in her life as she had experienced in the recent decade. She could not grow crops in her fields as she used to do because maize seeds were nowhere to be found in the country. The few shops that were still operating had empty shelves. No farm inputs. No basic commodities. Not even salt. Once in a while, the situation was worsened by spells of drought.

All the people now had to rely on was food aid from various foreign organizations. But the food aid was not adequate for the millions of people; hence the majority were always on the verge of starvation. She left her rural home to join her son, Tafadzwa’s father, in the capital city. But the situation was equally bad. That is why every relative of Tafadzwa was excited about the possibility of him going to the UK. However she never disclosed her worries about the man-made things that fly lest she was perceived as being backward.

The grandson, Tafadzwa, was also worried but for different reasons. After Tafadzwa received an acceptance letter from the UK College of Nursing, UKCN, he became more worried than when he was sending out application letters to colleges, companies, churches in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and other developed countries. It was going to be a mammoth task to help his hopeful extended family.

On the day of his departure, most of his relatives accompanied him to the airport. This included those who had contributed some money towards Tafadzwa’s air ticket as well as those who had not managed to contribute anything. It was well understood that lack of contribution was solely due to lack of money and not because they did not want to help. Thus sending Tafadzwa off was considered a critical symbolic gesture by all the relatives.

“I feel very bad that not only could I not afford to contribute towards Tafadzwa’s ticket, but that I had to ask him to help me with bus fare to enable me to be here today. I feel so ashamed,” said Mr Zvakapuresa, the eldest brother of Tafadzwa’s father. “It is not your fault, my brother, had it not been for the unprecedented difficulties we are experiencing in our country you would have been helping many people. Most of us used to come to you for assistance because we knew that you were a very successful farmer. Many people, including your young brother, Tafadzwa’s father, used to come all the way from various towns or rural areas to your rural home to ask for help” replied Marutenga, trying to console her brother. “That’s what makes it very painful to me. From being a very successful peasant farmer to being a dependent poor person. I want to do farming but seeds and fertilizer are nowhere to be found. Now we spend all our time waiting in long queues for food handouts. Sometimes we gather at the food distribution centres everyday for several weeks waiting for the food to come. It is very frustrating and humiliating,” said Mr Zvakapuresa to his sister.              

While the elderly siblings were lamenting the prevailing and unprecedented hardships in their independent country, Tafadzwa was listening attentively and respectfully to his mother’s emotional words of advice. “Tafadzwa my son, don’t forget about us when you get to the country where honey and milk flow freely. Remember us your parents, your relatives and all the children who are fighting for survival. Our God and our ancestors seem to be very angry with us as a nation. We are now all beggars in our own country,” Tafadzwa’s mother said in a faint weak voice that seemed to reflect her old age and failing health. She sounded as if she had not eaten a decent meal for days. Tears were trickling down her chicks as she gave him advice. Tafadzwa noticed that most of the elderly female relatives who were gathered around him and were listening to his mother were also sobbing quietly. “I will not let you down” said Tafadzwa, wondering what words could comfort the crying relatives. In his mind he was wondering how he was going to manage to take care of all these people when he was just going to be a student nurse.

He had his wife and two children to take care of. As if his wife had read his mind and was getting worried that she would be abandoned with the two children, she burst into a loud cry as if a loved one had suddenly died. “How will I manage alone without a job? If we did not have these two children, it would have been better, but these innocent souls have suffered already while their father was here fending for them. Ahh my God!, How will I manage! Will I ever be with him again!” cried Tafadzwa’s wife. Tafadzwa’s two children, James aged 6 and Amanda aged 3, were now confused and they also started crying their lungs out.

“No my daughter-in-law, do not cause misfortunes by crying like that. This is not a funeral. It is taboo to cry out loudly like that. You should control yourself.” This was Tafadzwa’s mother now calming down her daughter-in-law.

The check-in announcement for Tafadzwa’s flight was made and he had to leave. But not before hugging each and every relative of his who was present. Some were taking long, whispering some words of advice to Tafadzwa. His two children clung to him and had to be plucked off from him. It was as if they felt that they were going to be left defenceless, with no one to fend for them. The sobbing of their mother seemed to reinforce that sense of vulnerability. After getting his boarding pass he turned around and waved at his relatives who had been waving at him all along, even if he was busy checking in.

Tafadzwa arrived in the UK and had no problems with entry since he had all his relevant documents from the nursing college that had accepted him for training. Upon completion of his training as an Instruments Technician at a polytechnical college in 2001 Tafadzwa got a job in the engineering department of a local bottling company. He  got married and moved out of his parents’ home to stay with his wife. He was able to help not only his parents every now and then but could also afford to help other relatives as and when they were in financial difficulties. He also used to help his in-laws and they really loved him because he even took over full responsibility for paying school fees for his two sister-in-laws until they completed their secondary education and vocational training. However, since 2004 things started getting difficult for Tafadzwa. His company started experiencing losses year after year due to the declining economic conditions in the country. Initially salary increments were frozen, and, when that did not help, workers had to work less hours.

He contacted his relatives back home and informed them that he arrived safely. Tafadzwa’s wife was very relieved when she talked to him over the phone. She wanted to know when he was going to send tickets for her and kids to fly to the UK and join him. He had to explain that it was going to take some time for him to save enough money for them to come. Joining a nursing college was the best option for Tafadzwa because there was no need to go through the hassles of trying to get a work permit to work in the UK. As a nursing student entry into the UK was smooth, there was accommodation for him at the nursing college and he was going to get a monthly stipend. However, Tafadzwa had never imagined himself dealing with ill people. He was more comfortable handling non-human patients, machines, than dealing with human patients. But with the situation prevailing back home, anything that could get him out of the misery and despair was more than welcome. He had to find a way to get out of his country and be able to help his family and relatives as much as possible. Dealing with patients would be nothing compared with having to struggle for survival on a daily basis and having to watch loved ones almost starving to death.

The little money that Tafadzwa sent home was very helpful. It was only after receiving such money that Tafadzwa’s relatives could buy some basic commodities which were now available only on the black market. The basic commodities were very expensive since they were brought into the country from neighbouring countries by individuals who were trying to make ends meet. Because there were no jobs, with an unemployment rate of more than 50%, people had to find ways to survive. One way was to cross borders into neighbouring countries with some crafts or crotchets for sale and then use whatever little money earned to buy basic commodities to take home. A proportion of the basic commodities would be for family consumption while the remainder would be for sale on the black market so as to raise capital to buy crafts and crotches for the next trip across the borders.

The most frustrating aspect of the cross border informal trade was the corruption that increased with the increasing volume of cross border traders and the humiliation that the traders had to endure. Traders spent hours and hours in long queues while some officials were attending only to those who would have paid ‘something for a drink’ through some ‘agents’ who earned a living through such informal and corrupt activities. Most of the traders were educated people, some with professional background, who had been forced into cross-border trading by socioeconomic hardships prevailing in their own country. In addition to it being cumbersome, frustrating and chaotic, the cross border trade was very risky and dangerous. The traders had become an attractive target for thugs and thieves, with some extreme cases involving armed robbers and leading to deaths of innocent victims.

One day Tafadzwa was at a bus stop in London waiting for a bus to go to town when he heard someone speaking in his vernacular language. “I am suffering here without a proper job and without papers, yet you accuse me of abandoning you and the kids. You know very well that I came here as a visitor with a six months visa. Now, now… let me finish first before you say your rubbish! Look my airtime is getting finished. I want you ….listen! listen….”

Tafadzwa could not help but pay attention to what the man was saying. It was obvious that the man was arguing with someone about the welfare of kids and the like. “Yes, I know I borrowed the money for the air ticket, and I intended to pay it back. But I do not have a job. Wait let me finish …. I will pay back the money I borrowed for the ticket. I know that my parents cannot afford to pay it back for me since they have no livestock left that they could sell. I know they are struggling to take care of you and my two children. But it is not because I am being irresponsible; it is because I am in serious difficulties, probably worse difficulties than what you are experiencing at home. At least you do not have to play hide-and-seek with the police. I am living like a criminal, yet all I want is to work and take care of my family. I am not…listen, let me finish… if you think I am giving lame excuses, why don’t you do something to get us out of this predicament? Hee! Why don’t you go to America or Belgium or any developed country yourself and get a job and then get all of us to stay there with you?.......I am listening…..If you expect me to take care of you and the kids why should you not take care of me and the kids if you get a job? What! Ashamed of what? Who said men only should fend for their families? Are there no equal rights? So when it suits you you say there are equal rights and when it does not suit you you say there are some things which women should not do. You are a parent of those children and you also have a responsibility to contribute towards their welfare.”

From the bits and pieces that Tafadzwa had heard, he figured out the gist of the argument. This must be someone who came to the UK like him but without the right documents to stay in the UK. In a strange way, Tafadzwa was hoping the bus would not come immediately so that he could hear more and probably talk to his country-man. He felt sorry for him.

The conversation went on.“The fact that some people came to the UK the same way I came and managed to get jobs and the right immigration documents does not mean that everyone will be that lucky. There are so many people like me here who are struggling to make ends meet and are trying very hard to stay here legally. It is not a matter of choice. What! What did you say! I think you are growing too big for your shoes! You are a qualified accountant with many years of experience but you are also not working like me. What! You can also go wherever you think you will get a job, any country of your own choice instead of just complaining about me while doing nothing at home……….No!  my parents would have taken care of my children if you were not there. I am at least trying to do something so that you and the kids can come here and at least be able to provide for the kids. They need good education which they cannot get back home. Halloo! Hallo! Halloo!” It seemed that the airtime got finished and the two were cut off.

“Phew, women can be a problem. Just a little suffering and all hell breaks loose” said the man to Tafadzwa in English.

“Well, well, my friend it is quite complicated,” said Tafadzwa hesitating to take any sides.

The man was startled by Tafadzwa’s response because it was in his vernacular language and not in English. The man rushed to Tafadzwa and hugged him tightly and emotionally. “Oh God is great! He leads his loved ones to the right people at the right places and the right time” This made Tafadzwa a bit worried. He wondered in what way he was going to be the answer to this man’s problems which seemed to be insurmountable, judging from the heated telephone conversation he had just witnessed.

“My name is Tafadzwa, and I am studying nursing at the UKCN. I have been here for just about 3 months now,” said Tafadzwa, gently pushing the man away in order to free himself from the hug.

“Lucky you my brother. My name is Zvaramba. I have been here in the UK for about eleven months now and I still do not have a proper job and I do not have immigration documents. So I am illegally here and that has caused me a lot of problems as you must have figured out from the telephone conversation I just had with my wife who is back home. How did you manage to get a nursing place within such a short period of time?” Zvaramba asked.

“It’s like I already had a vacancy at the nursing college when I came to the UK. I applied while I was still back home and got an offer to study nursing. So I got a student visa before my departure to this place” replied Tafadzwa.

Their attention was drawn by a bus that was coming. It was bus number 12. “That’s the bus I am waiting for. Is it the same one that you want?” asked Zvaramba.

“No I am waiting for bus number 23. So I guess …”

Tafadzwa could not finish his sentence as he was interrupted by Zvaramba. “No no, don’t worry. I will let it go so that we can talk. I am not in a hurry. It is important that I talk with you because you may give me some ideas or some help. I used to have many friends from our country but now they all seem to avoid me. Very few people can be genuine friends who can stick with someone through thick and thin”

“We could just exchange phone numbers so that you could jump onto your bus and we could catch up later” suggested Tafadzwa as the bus was close to the bus stop where they were standing.

“No my brother, there are plenty of buses here, every 30 minutes a bus passes by. So if I let this one go I will catch the next one after about 30 minutes.” Zvaramba let the bus go and continued to talk with Tafadzwa. “So what advice would you give me? Where do you stay by the way? Probably you could let me stay with you for a short period of time to enable me to look for a job or a vacancy like the one you have” continued Zvaramba.

“I am staying at the UKCN students’ hostels. Unfortunately the accommodation is strictly for students and there is tight security.” Tafadzwa wanted to make it very clear right from the beginning that he could not offer Zvaramba a place to stay. “Why didn’t you get a vacancy before coming over here?” asked Tafadzwa.

“My brother, not all people are as lucky as you are. I tried for a number of years, posting dozens and dozens of application letters per month but in vain. I am a qualified medical laboratory technologist and I was working for the Professional Medical Labs back home. Due to the economic challenges in our country the company firstly retrenched about half of its workers, and I was lucky to survive that retrenchment. However, streamlining the workforce did not seem to help the company since the macroeconomic and microeconomic conditions in the country continued to worsen. The company eventually collapsed. Life became very difficult and I was watching helplessly as my family suffered. I tried a number of self-employment projects but that did not work because the majority of people are struggling for survival without any meaningful income. Most people are depending on food handouts even in the towns. That kind of compelled me to come over here even without a concrete offer of a job or vacancy for any studies. In fact when I came here as a visitor I had three interviews lined up. Two were for jobs and one was for a postgraduate scholarship. But I was not successful in all of them. Maybe I was too anxious and nervous to perform well in the interviews. My brother, all my hopes gradually became shuttered as it slowly dawned on me that the expiry date of my six months visa was approaching without any success. Eventually, the visa expired, and one after the other friends and acquaintances found reasons for not being able to stay with me anymore. Hence, I am kind of homeless right now. Sometimes I get some part time jobs like digging people’s gardens, mowing lawns, washing cars and the like but without a fixed residential address it is very difficult to get many such jobs” responded Zvaramba.  

Now Tafadzwa was wishing bus number 23 would come. He felt like knowing more about Zvaramba’s predicament would make him feel very bad since he was not in a position to give him meaningful help. He did not want to raise Zvaramba’s hopes and expectations for nothing.

As if Zvaramba sensed Tafadzwa’s feelings, he said, “I know you have problems of your own and you would not want me to add to your problems, but please, any kind of help would be critical for my survival. If you happen to know people who may have some work to be done at their homes, please recommend me to them. Especially people from our home country; they may feel generous enough to help me. Here is my mobile number.” Zvaramba handed a thin strip of paper with a number written on it to Tafadzwa. “You see, I keep these strips of paper with my number so that whenever I meet a potential customer I give it to them. Some may not want to enter my number into their phones so I give out the number and let people decide whether to keep the number in their phones or not.” Tafadzwa noticed that at the back of the strip there were the words “corn flakes ….”, which implied that the strip had been cut from a box of some kind of corn flakes, probably picked up from a bin. At this point, bus number 23 appeared and was heading towards the bus stop.

“There is my bus. I will call you, now that I have your number. And indeed I will recommend you to people who may need your services.” 

Tafadzwa received an email message from his cousin, Ruvimbo, who attended the same primary and secondary schools with him. After secondary school Ruvimbo obtained a BSc degree and subsequently Masters and PhD degrees in Biochemistry at one of the local universities. The two were more than just relatives but were very close friends. Ruvimbo was a lecturer at one of the local universities. Ruvimbo married Takashinga, the man she met when he was a medical student at the same university with her. The email message from Ruvimbo was very long. Although she used to write long messages to Tafadzwa, this one was more than twice the usual length. Tafadzwa knew there must be something troubling her. Ruvimbo confided in Tafadzwa so much that she told him anything that may be troubling her, including marital affairs. Tafadzwa always gave her advice which in most cases seemed to help her overcome her challenges.

“Dear Tafie, Its now about two months after you responded to my last message. I have been down with flu 3 times in the past two months. I was beginning to worry that it could be swine flu. I later figured out that it was the dust from my lab that was causing the flu. As you already know, we no longer do any research in our labs due to the economic hardships prevailing in our country. Consequently, the lab equipment gathers a lot of dust. Seeing how my lab was now looking like a chicken run, I decided to clean it every now and then. It turned out that after a day or so of cleaning, I would catch flu and spend some days at home lest I spread the flu, which people feared could potentially be swine flu, to fellow workers.

Anyway, enough about my flu. The reason I am writing to you is because after you gave me your advice I have tried to talk to Takashinga but it’s not working. I thought since he has been participating in several strike actions by the medical doctors and nurses he would see the need for us to look for jobs elsewhere but he is adamant that we should be patriotic and stay put until things improve. This year alone, the cumulative time the health workers have been on strike is about five months. They keep going on strike because firstly they do not have basic needs such as gloves, bandages, water, electricity, and other things that a hospital should always have, let alone essential drugs. Secondly, their salaries are pathetic to say the least. For instance, Takashinga uses public transport to go to work, even when he is on call and has to go to the hospital for emergencies. In some cases he comes back home very frustrated after having failed to save a patient’s life due to lack of one basic thing or another.

Recently he was very sad that a woman knocked down by a car died simply because there was no ambulance to take her to the hospital in time to prevent her from dying from excessive bleeding. The reason was that the fuel allocated for emergency services that include ambulances had run out and the hospital had been waiting for three weeks hoping to receive the next allocation. The other day he was talking about this poor little boy whose wounded leg got septic to the extent of requiring amputation because the prescribed antibiotics were not available and the boy’s family had no means to procure the antibiotics from outside the country.

I thought all these hindrances in our day to day work would help to make him buy the idea of looking for jobs in countries that have good working conditions but he won’t budge. I pointed out to him that just being there in the hospital without making any significant impact on the health of the patients is not any better than the brain drain that he is against. It is like having brain in the drain. I have not conducted any research in my laboratory for the past 5 years now because the macroeconomic and microeconomic environments make it almost impossible to get research grants. He argues that research should not have anything to do with economy of the country.

What he does not understand is that with the prevailing inflation levelsand the requirement to have all research grants converted to the local currency and managed by the university under the ministry of education, research is severely affected negatively. For instance, if a researcher gets a grant of US$100,000.00 and it is converted to the local currency using the official fixed exchange rate which is way below the market or so called “black market” rate, the grant will be inadequate for the proposed research activities because consumables will be bought at the market rate and not at the official rate. In addition, the reagents will require foreign currency, which means that the researcher will have to apply for foreign currency through the central bank.

Due to the shortage of foreign currency in the country, research is not considered a priority, hence the researcher may not be guaranteed of getting the foreign currency since there are such things as food and fuel that need to be dealt with first. Thus although the researcher was given a grant in foreign currency by the funders, the researcher may not be able to conduct the proposed research in the agreed timeframe of the research project. The researcher will be blamed for failing to achieve the milestones stated in the project proposal, and may fail to account for the research funds eroded by inflation.

On the other hand, our government has other pressing issues and has no resources to support researchers.  Consequently, funders are now hesitant to fund researchers from our country and there is no local support. Yet Tashinga fails to see the negative impact. Without research grants researchers cannot conduct research, which means they may not publish any findings. Lack of publications creates gaps in the CV’s of researchers which negatively affect career development and will in turn make it even more difficult to attract grants or to find employment elsewhere. The bigger the gaps in the CVs the more severe the negative impact on the researchers.

I asked him if the country benefits by having medical doctors, researchers, skilled people and other professionals who spend their time chatting at their workplaces because of lack of the necessary equipment or resources. Our social life is not spared. Our stressful decline into poverty is noticeable even to our kids who keep asking why we no longer live the way we used to live. For instance, now we cannot afford the type of breakfast we used to have, with either eggs, baked beans, chicken liver or beef sausages with tea and some juice. Basic commodities that we never used to fight to get are now scarce and prohibitively expensive for the majority of people. As for other meals, we feel very relieved and grateful to God when we manage to have at least one meal per day.

So the kids don’t understand when they complain that they are hungry but they are not given anything to eat. Instead, they are told to wait for the main meal of the day. Gone are the days when kids could pop into the house from the playground and ask their mother for an apple or orange juice. Our two children go to school but they are negatively affected by shortages of books and trained teachers. The schools have asked parents to buy books for their children but with parents preoccupied with the struggles of providing at least a meal per day for their families, books are not prioritized.

Tafadzwa, in brief, I think we should either settle for brain drain and join those who have left our country for countries where there are conducive working conditions and good education for our children, or we hang around and underutilize our skills and knowledge, like having our brains in the drain, while also denying our children access to quality education which is critical for their future.

I have been offered a job in Australia but Takashinga has told me that if I consider myself to be his wife then I will be patriotic and stay put with him. I am now facing a dilemma, I love him and my children yet I am seeing ourselves sinking deeper and deeper into this frustrating and difficult situation which we may not be able to get out of if we do not act now. I think you made the right decision to try something else in the UK. I think if I have to go I will have to sneak out of the country without Tafadzwa’s and many people’s knowledge - otherwise he will confiscate my passport or just do something to prevent me from going. What is your advice? Best regards, Ruvimbo.”

Tafadzwa was really touched by the message. It always boggled his mind why Takashinga failed to understand that as parents they should prepare their children for the future and one very important part of that preparation is to ensure that they get good education and obtain some skills that will enable them to take part in building the economy of the country. If the children go to school where they spend most of their time playing and the educational system of the country has collapsed, their future is very likely to be doomed. They probably will be the general labourers while those who were sent to countries with good quality of education will be the professional and skilled bosses. Whereas the politicians are always preaching patriotism to the general man in the street, most of them send their children to countries where the quality of education is good. Even after completing their studies and training, most of their children remain in those developed countries and never return to their home countries to serve their own populations. Yet, their parents-cum-politicians preach to the ordinary people that brain drain is one of the manifestations of lack of patriotism on the part of the professional or skilled people.

Tafadzwa’s response was brief and to the point. “Hi Rue, I will be very brief and to the point as usual. I think you should go for it. Once you get there you will be able to help your family and relatives back home. Hopefully that will make him see the difference. I think if you send some money for the kids and for him to live a better life Takashinga will change his mind and join you in Australia. So go girl!”

At the bus stop, when Tafadzwa had promised to keep in touch with Zvaramba, he meant what he said. After communicating for some time, Zvaramba considered Tafadzwa to be his best friend who gave him advice and referred many potential customers to him for general work. However, although Tafadzwa liked the determination and openness demonstrated by Zvaramba, he did not feel that he deserved to be considered a best friend since all he could do was listen to Zvaramba’s problems and wishes and offer advice and encouragement. Indeed he referred people who had some ‘piece jobs’ to Zvaramba but he did not feel that he really deserved credit for whatever successful negotiations and assignments that had followed the referrals. 

One day Zvaramba asked Tafadzwa to join him for lunch. Tafadzwa tried to decline but  Zvaramba pointed out that he had something very important that he wanted to discuss with him. As far as Zvaramba was concerned, Tafadzwa was more than just a friend to him; he was like a blood brother. They agreed to meet at the Feel at Home restaurant, which had now been nicknamed  ‘The Home’ by many foreigners who found it affordable, with a variety of dishes from across the globe. Consequently, it became a very popular meeting place where most people went to relax and chat about their lives in the UK and about their home countries.

When Tafadzwa arrived at the The Home, Zvaramba was already there sitting with two men and one lady. As usual, Zvaramba was very excited to see Tafadzwa, and he introduced him to the other people. “Hi Tafie, I have been chatting with my friends here while waiting for you. Please meet my best friend, my brother, from my own country, Tafadzwa. Tafie, meet Peter, John and Nathalie.” Zvaramba said. “Halo everyone, I am pleased to meet you” said Tafadzwa. Tafadzwa excused himself and asked to talk to Zvaramba. He suggested that they occupy a table that was in the far corner of the restaurant.

“My brother, thank you for coming.  What food should I order for you?” asked Zvaramba as soon as they were on their own in one corner of the restaurant. “Fresh chips and orange juice will be fine for me” replied Tafadzwa. “Ok, I will order the same for myself. Waiter!” A waiter came to them and they ordered their food. “Now Tafie, as you may have noticed, things have been improving for me, thanks to you for your help and advice. I now have saved some money and I would like my family to join me but I am still an illegal immigrant. Thus it will be difficult for me to facilitate their coming here. I therefore need your help. “

Zvaramba was looking at Tafadzwa with an expression that showed desperation, the same type of expression that Tafadzwa noticed the first time he met him. “That is a mammoth task” said Tafadzwa. “You see, I do not have my family here myself because I know that I am not in a position to facilitate their coming. How then can I be of help to you when your family is not even my responsibility? I am still trying to save money to be able to bring my family so I do not have enough money to help you” explained Tafadzwa.

“No, you do not have to worry about money; I have saved enough money for that. I sometimes come here at The Home to hear how some people managed to overcome their challenges. One day I met a person who was in the same situation as I am. He was an illegal immigrant and he wanted his family to join him. So he looked for a friend who was in the UK legally and asked him to be the one inviting the family to visit the UK. To facilitate the process of obtaining entry visas, I will give you money to deposit into your account and thereafter you obtain a bank statement to send home as supporting evidence of your financial position.”

“But I also need to bring my family here when I have saved enough money.” Tafadzwa said. “The immigration officials may block my family because I will have already assisted your family to enter into the UK”

Tafadzwa felt that he had to be very frank. Although he sympathised with Zvaramba and wanted to help whenever possible, he did not want to help at the expense of his own family. Every time he spoke to his wife and kids over the phone they cried and pleaded with Tafadzwa to make arrangements for them to join him in the UK.

Zvaramba  responded, “The immigration people just look at your status in the UK and whether or not you have the financial resources to look after the visitors for a period of up to 6 months which is the maximum period that a visitor is allowed to stay in the UK. I have met a number of people who did the same thing and still managed to eventually help their own families. Some are actually doing it for a fee, and I am prepared to pay you for your services”.

“It’s not about payment at all” Tafadzwa said. “I am just worried that I may put myself in a position where I will not be able to help my own family. Let me think about it and also ask for other people’s opinion before I can make a decision.”

After asking other people, Tafadzwa agreed to assist Zvaramba and the plan worked out successfully. The whole exercise seemed to strengthen the friendship since their wives met and started communicating before Zvaramba’s wife left for the UK. Arrangements were to be made for Tafadzwa’s wife to follow within a few months, and Zvaramba had promised to do everything possible to help as much as he could. Zvaramba had found out how to get some immigration documents to enable him and his wife to work in the UK. Soon after Zvaramba’s wife, Sarah, arrived, necessary documents were organized and both Zvaramba and Sarah started working.

They were now a happy family that had been united after a long period of separation and suffering. Zvaramba and Sarah used to invite Tafadzwa to their home almost every weekend. Seeing them happy as a family made Tafadzwa’s heart very painful as that made him wish his family could join him in the UK. Zvaramba and his wife kind of sensed this and they offered to top up Tafadzwa’s savings so as to enable his family to come also. Tafadzwa accepted the help and his family came to join him without any problems. Zvaramba also offered to assist Stembile, Tafadzwa’s wife, to have immigration documents sorted out to enable her to work but she was hesitant and she asked for time to think about it. She said she wanted time to get used to life in the UK first before she could start working.

The two families became very close, and most weekends their children played together, either at Zvaramba’s place or at Tafadzwa’s place. They encouraged each other not to forget about their relatives back home. They also used to discuss challenges faced by some people as well as many examples of some who had become very successful in the Diaspora.

“Tafie, what is it that is bothering you?” asked Zvaramba as they sat in the lounge at Zvaramba’s residence one Saturday afternoon.  “You are not your usual jovial self today. Tell me what is it? Even if I may not be able to help, there is a saying which says a problem shared is a problem half solved.”

“You are very observant!,” said Tafadzwa.” You are like my father back home. He would pick up the slightest change in his children’s moods. Anyway, it’s this cousin of mine Ruvimbo, ….” Tafadzwa was interrupted by Zvaramba who seemed keen to show that he knew about Ruvimbo from their previous chit chats. “You mean Ruvimbo in Australia?” asked Zvaramba.

“Yes, that one. Now she is in serious problems. She has been sending money back home to her husband to take care of their children and their extended family but that has not worked out the way we thought it would. The husband, Takashinga, has become very irresponsible. He now drinks alcoholic beverages almost daily, claiming that he wants to drown his problems in the beverages. He is also womanizing, claiming that he has no option because his wife deserted him to be with affluent boyfriends in Australia. He spends a very small proportion of the monies sent to him on the children, let alone other relatives. In fact, he refuses to give Ruvimbo’s parents any money, accusing his wife of focusing on her parents instead of focusing on his parents. According to him, a married woman should leave her parents and live with the parents of the husband and should not support her parents but her in-laws. In brief, the marriage is on the rocks, and Ruvimbo is very unhappy. She has tried everything possible to save the marriage but in vain. Now she wants to find a way to get her children so that they can live with her in Australia. The husband has vowed that the children will be taken over his dead body. One option is to go to the courts but that requires her presence and time, which makes it a challenging option” explained Tafadzwa as Zvaramba and the two ladies listened attentively.

“That is really a waste of brains. This is a good example of brain in the drain,” retorted Stembile. This guy is a trained medical doctor, and he spends his time doing nothing because of shortages of basic medicines and the poor state of the public hospitals” said Zvaramba. “I feel sorry for Ruvimbo. She is living a lonely and difficult life for the sake of her family, yet the very person who should be supporting her is throwing spanners into the works. At least I had my children when I was suffering back home, and it was comforting to know that my husband Tafadzwa was working very hard to get us out of the suffering. Now imagine not having your children, not having your spouse’s support and knowing that most of the money you send for the benefit of your children is being abused. That is very painful” added Stembile.

“Daddy, Daddy, I scored two goals and James still has one goal!” shouted Casper, Zvaramba’s son, who was playing football outside with Tafadzwa’s son, James. “

You are not a winner yet! The game is not yet over” protested James. The families ate lunch together and, before Tafadzwa and his family left, they agreed that after two weeks they were going to get together at Tafadzwa’s home to celebrate Tafadzwa’s two recent achievements. He had successfully completed his training at the UKCN and had just been offered a job by the Premier Hospital.

Stembile started preparing for the get-together party to celebrate Tafadzwa’s achievements. Unfortunately Zvaramba’s wife could not help her to do the preparations since she was working. Stembile compiled a list of the items that needed to be bought and she was buying them in small batches that she could carry on the public buses since they did not own a family car. Zvaramba’s wife, Sarah, would phone every other night to check on the progress and to give ideas. Sarah seemed to be so knowledgeable about organizing events that Stembile relied on her for ideas. In fact, Sarah had organized quite a number of functions such as weddings and parties for some people who were doing so well in the Diaspora that they could afford state-of-the-art functions. And that meant some extra income for Sarah.

Considering that many families had been invited, she was wondering where she could go to hire some chairs and tables for the event. It was now Tuesday, three days before the date of the event. She texted a message to Sarah to find out where one could find chairs and tables for hire. It was now afternoon and Sarah had not responded. Although she usually responded immediately or within an hour or so, Stembile assumed that she must be too busy at work to respond. As she was preparing food for the kids, her phone rang and she thought it must be Sahah who had decided to phone rather than send a message. Sarah used to do that when she needed to explain something in detail.

It was not Sarah but Tafadzwa, and he sounded unsettled. “Hallo, Stembile, has Sarah called you at all today? Has she been in touch with you at all today?” asked Tafadzwa in a tone that startled Stembile.

“No she has not been in touch with me today. What happened? What is it?” asked Stembile, now worried like her husband.

“That is what we are trying to figure out. Zvaramba just called me to say he received a brief call from Sarah to tell him that she had been arrested and that the police may be coming after him. She asked him to take the kids to safety and go underground for the sake of the kids. Zvaramba could not get more information because Sarah’s cell phone has not been reachable. Probably it is switched off” said Tafadzwa.

“So Zvaramba wants us to go to his home and take the kids and stay with them until he knows what is going on. He does not want to go to his home lest he gets arrested as warned by his wife. So I am on my way to collect the kids from Zvaramba’s home as per his request” continued Tafadzwa.   

Zvaramba’s kids were brought to Tafadzwa’s house. It turned out that Sarah had been arrested for using forged documents in order to get a job. The police were looking for Zvaramba in connection with the same fraud.

The kids could not understand why they had to leave their home and why their mother was not coming back home. They were missing the hugs and the fruits that she normally gave them when she came back from work. Their father came to see them once in a while, and for a very short time, which further confused them. He was a very different father now from the one they had known for the past months in the UK. He was no longer a strong confident person who acted as a strong pillar of support for the whole family.

Whenever Casper had experienced anything that bothered him, he would go to his daddy and tell him and daddy always came up with solutions. Even when Casper was being bullied by this other child at school, he told his father about it and the father went to the school the very next day. The headmaster was informed; the bully was called to the headmaster’s office and warned never to do it again. Indeed it never happened again. Initially Casper was not performing well in school and the father taught him all the subjects at home to the extent that Casper was now one of the top three students in his class.

“Daddy, why are we not staying at our home anymore? And where is mama? Why do you stay away from us for many days and then come just for a short time? Daddy, did we do something wrong? I always eat all my food and take my plate to the kitchen after eating. I always do my homework before I go out to play. And I do not hit others when playing with them.” Casper showered all these questions at his father who had come to visit them. Zvaramba was looking away from him instead of looking him into the eyes as he used to teach them. Zvaramba actually had tears in his eyes and he did not want his son to see the tears. “I will tell you some other time. I have to go now. I will see you. Be good boys to Auntie Stembile and Uncle Tafadzwa,

“OK,” said Zvaramba as he got up to leave. “Did I make you angry Daddy? Sorry Daddy! Please don’t leave us again. Sorry Daddy” Casper pleaded with his father who just turned his back to the kids and walked out of the house as he said “Tafie and Stembile, I will see you. I have to go now.”

Sarah was sentenced to eight years in prison, with two years suspended on condition of good behaviour. The police were still hunting for Zvaramba. On the day that Sarah was sentenced, the issue was covered in the main news on TV, radio and in newspapers. The following day, Zvaramba went to Tafadzwa’s house to see his children. It was mid December and schools had been closed for the festive holiday. The kids were at home with Stembile while Tafadzwa was at work. “Stembile, here is some money to help you to take care of the kids. Xmas is around the corner and there will be need to buy some food and other goodies for the kids” Zvaramba said as he took out from his pocket a khaki envelope full of money.

 “No I do not think it is necessary,” said Stembile. “I think we can manage. You should keep that money just in case you need legal fees for Sarah’s case” She refused to accept the money.

“You see, with these problems we are experiencing, it is important that you keep the money” insisted Zvaramba. 

“You should talk to Tafadzwa first” said Stembile.  

“You know very well that I am being hunted for by the police. I may have to go into hiding before having had a chance to give the money to him, and I may have to stay in hiding for as long as it is not safe for me to come out” explained Zvaramba.  

Stembile was convinced and she took the money to her bedroom for safe keeping.

“Stembile, let me take my two kids to the Kids Shop by that corner there to buy them a few clothes. I could have taken all the kids with me but moving around with a group of kids may draw people’s attention and I may end up in trouble. So let me take just my two kids because I can carry the younger one and Casper can walk” explained Zvaramba.

“That is fine,” said Stembile.” It is a good idea. The kids will feel much better if they do some shopping with their father, which is an activity they must be missing a lot. Let them change their dirty clothes first.”

The kids were very happy to be going out with their father. They walked to the kids shop nearby and Zvaramba bought the kids some toys and some clothes. After buying the items, Zvaramba and his kids got into a taxi outside of the shop and asked the taxi driver to take them to his house.

“Where are we going now Daddy?” asked Casper as the taxi was pulling out of parking.

“We are going to our house” replied Zvaramba.

“Why are we going there now Daddy?” asked Casper.

“We want to go and collect all your toys so that we can bring them to Uncle Tafie’s house” replied Zvaramba.

“Will mama be home when we get there?” Terence, the younger son, asked.

“I do not know. We will see when we get there” replied Zvaramba, almost choking with emotion.

They arrived at their house, which was deserted. The lady who used to help them to take care of the kids, Theresa, had to leave when the kids were taken to Tafadzwa’s home. In the house there was a creepy atmosphere, like a haunted house, with dust on all surfaces. It was stuffy and hot in the house.

“Mama, are you here! Mama, we have come!” shouted Terence.

“No don’t make a lot of noise. Let us just look for her without shouting” interrupted Zvaramba.

“Daddy, I do not like our house anymore. It is very dirty. It is very scary. Why has Auntie Theresa not been cleaning our house?” asked Casper.

“We will go back to uncle Tafadzwa’s home soon” replied his father.

“Casper, stay here on the ground floor and take all the new toys out of their boxes. Put them into this one big box here. I will go upstairs with Terence to collect more toys” instructed Zvaramba.

“Ok Daddy” replied Casper.

 Zvaramba carried Terence upstairs to the main bedroom. He got into the bedroom and took the child to the bed. “Daddy, I do not want to sleep. I want to look for our toys” said Terence as his father placed him on the bed. Zvaramba could not reply. He looked at his cute little boy and hesitated. He then heard Casper calling him from downstairs and realised he had to decide very fast. Either to do it now and fast or not to do it. 

The innocent look on his son’s face made it very difficult. “But who will take care of him if I don’t do it?” thought Zvaramba. “I have tried, but now all things are falling apart. I love my kids so much that I do not want them to suffer for the rest of their lives” he pondered as Casper continued to call him from downstairs. “Ok I have to do it right now!” thought Zvaramba. 

He had never imagined himself having to commit the most evil crime like this one. He never thought that a person educated and trained to the level of a laboratory technologist could do such a thing. But here he was, one gone, one more to go. “Casper, come over here!” shouted Zvaramba with his head peeping out through a half opened door of the main bedroom. “Terence! Terence! Terence! This car has a remote control. It can go very fast!” shouted Casper as he ran up the stairs towards the main bedroom.

When Tafadzwa returned home from work, he immediately noticed that the other kids were not around. “Where are Casper and Terence?” he asked as he sat down in the lounge.

“Their father took them for shopping about three hours ago. He said he wanted to buy them some clothes and toys for Xmas. He also left some money which he said should be used to help to take care of the kids. I told him that he has to discuss that issue with you first. He said he will discuss it with you but he left the money here because he could not move around with it. Tafadzwa, it’s a lot of money. It’s 17,500 pounds” Stembile told her husband.

“Maybe you should call him. He said he was going to the kids shop nearby but now it is over three hours and its beginning to get dark. Since he is someone on the run, check on him just in case he is stuck somewhere afraid to come out to bring the kids back” suggested Stembile.  

“Haa, you are right. Maybe he is unable to come back with the kids,” said Tafadzwa as he phoned Zvaramba’s number. “Its ringing but he is not answering. I will try later,” said Tafadzwa before going to the kids’ bedroom to help them with their homework. Stembile was busy cooking in the kitchen while listening to the TV, which was in the lounge.

Suddenly Stembile shouted aloud. “Tafadzwa, come and listen to this. Oh my God! This can’t be true!” With her hands on the back of her head she started crying.

“What is it!,” probed Tafadzwa. “Stop crying like that. It is a taboo to be crying loud like that” Tafadzwa tried to calm down his wife as he rushed to the lounge. The kids were confused and scared as they saw their mother crying. Stembilie only managed to point at the TV. It was the main news. A man committed suicide apparently after murdering his two children but the older one miraculously survived the attempted murder. Undercover detectives who had been keeping an eye on the deserted house found the child unconscious but alive when they moved in wanting to arrest the fugitive. The child was taken to the Premier Hospital and was in a critical condition in the intensive care unit. The police recovered a suicide note in the main bedroom where the deaths occurred.                                   

To Sarah, my beloved wife here in the UK,

To all my friends here in the UK,

To my loving mother and father back home,

To all my relatives and friends back home,

It was out of my love for my two lovely children,

That I had to do this to my two lovely children,

Being born was not up to them,

I failed to fend for them,

I tried to fend for them in my mother land but in vain,

I joined the brain drain but in vain,

So I have to surrender into a deep underground drain,

My little achievements go with me into the drain,

My little education and training go with me into the drain,

All efforts by my parents go with me into the drain,

My children’s small clever brains go into the drain,

For there will be no one to nurture them into big clever brains,

For Sarah is incarcerated in a foreign land with all her brains,

For Sarah’s incarcerated love for the kids would not reach them,

For Sarah’s big clever brains would not cater for them,

For I did not want Sarah to suffer thinking about them,

So I had to go with them,

For Sarah knows our parents back home would not manage to look after them, 

For our parents have been incarcerated into poverty in their mother land,

Now I go back to our mother land,

For my body and brains to be buried in a drain in our mother land,

Sarah you were lonely and incarcerated in poverty with our kids in our mother land,

I struggled to get you and the kids out of our mother land,

It was not my intention that you come and suffer in the UK,

Sorry that you have to suffer in the UK, 

We leave you heartbroken and incarcerated in this foreign land,

Unable to make use of your brains in this foreign land,

But do not blame it all on me,

For the motherland is failing to feed and protect its own children,

For it is our mother land that is vomiting its children into the wilderness through brain drain,

Or swallowing the educated and skilled brains of its children into its deep poverty-stricken drains,

Unable to make use of their brains,

Sarah we leave you swallowed in a foreign drain,

Sarah we leave you lonely and heartbroken, 

Never again to be with me,

Never again to be with Casper,

Never again to be with Terence,

It was not easy for me to do it,

But I had to do it,

Tafadzwa use the money to fly our bodies to our mother land,

Any balance give to Sarah,

All of us love you all in the Diaspora or in the mother land.

 

Zvaramba

                  

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