Nothing to envy in the UK…the story of Tariro Mabhena

Posed photograph of Carina McGuire, 18 (left) and Anna Galbrait, 18, smoking outside the bars on Ashton Lane in Glasgow. Drink sales have dropped by more than 10% since the ban on smoking in public places came into effect in Scotland, pub bosses said today. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 23, 2006. Food sales have also dropped by 3%, according to the Scottish Licensed Trade Association. It said 46% of licensees reported a drop in visits by regulars since the ban came into effect on March 26, and only 5% reported an increase. The impact on sales was said to be similar, with 51% reporting that regulars were spending less and only 7% more. See PA story HEALTH Smoking. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson / PA

TARIRO MABHENA has been in the UK for two decades but Zimbabwe remains the country she loves most.
She vividly remembers her first moments in the UK.
She found the country not as glamorous as she thought it would be.
“I found everything strange, even ugly,” she recalled.
“There was a lot of old buildings for my liking. I was disappointed. There was just no glitz and glamour.”
At 33, she has not forgotten the cold blast that greeted her – a stark difference from the scorching heat of her native Chiredzi.
“Oh my God, on going out, I would pile on clothes! It was really horrible in the first days, especially considering that I was coming from a very hot region,” said Mabhena.
“I came to this country when I was 13. I remember in those days I was a called a ‘fresher’ by fellow Zimbabweans.”
Finding her way around was not easy — it was a nightmare.
“On my daily subway commute to school, I clung onto a small paper. On it were all the stops that led to mine. My brother wrote the stops for me,” she recalled.
“Every black person was auntie or uncle and, at 13, I found that all confusing. I remember it was nice just seeing another black face in that sea of white people.”
What has been considered one of the best education systems in the world she found less challenging compared to what she had experienced in Zimbabwe.
High school was easy for Mabhena, coming from a serious culture of studying.
“The English system does not really encourage studying. It makes learning a joke; as a result I was always on top of my class. The painful thing was that I would be bullied for being on top of the class. At my school, I was the only black student for two years then in the third year, a few more enrolled but the challenges remained,” Mabhena said.
What she experienced in the British school system was shocking.
“I saw drugs at school, I would see students in the hallways, snorting cocaine and smoking. This was something that would not happen in schools back home, at least not so openly,” she said.
“In this so-called ‘finest flower of civilisation’, danger lurked in every corner. I was advised not to smile at strangers, not to get into cars of people that I did not know or talk to them.
“In the land of ‘plenty’ was plenty cruelty, plenty kidnappings, plenty child abductions and plenty evil. You cannot smile at anyone without being labelled.
“How I wished people who envied me back home knew of the reality of this cold country. It was not all rosy and sweet. It was plain brutal — just getting used to the systems here was no stroll in the park. Matters were worsened by being black. One had to develop a thick skin to make it through the day.
“The thing is that people don’t tell their real stories to people back home but for many, the initial experiences were horrendous,” said Mabhena.
She said with the attendant so-called advantages of being in the UK, there are equally many disadvantages.
“The so-called good life has consequences associated with it; obesity, loss of identity and just plain missing of people back home, the food and familiar places,” she said.
“However, these challenges strengthened and made me a focused person.
“Today I am a self-sufficient woman engineering her future.
“My dream is to help develop my country, Zimbabwe.
“I miss my country, especially the family gatherings where we would catch up, share problems and ideas. You will always miss your country for home is best no matter what one is exposed to. No amount of riches or ‘great’ experiences can erase your essence, can erase that which defines you.
“I look forward to returning home regularly and contributing to the development of my country,” said Mabhena.
“The successes I have achieved here, I want to replicate back home, among my people. There is no substitute for home. Zimbabwe has vast potential and many opportunities that await resourceful people.”
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