“You caught me at the perfect time!” The relentless ring of the incoming Skype call had woken her up, the sky still dark in Rome, where she’s celebrating the new year. Rome, New York, Montreal, Switzerland: Tanya’s had a life that, on the surface, seems to have strutted off the pages of a magazine. For her though, the glamour of the West was nothing more than a bitter illusion. “I hate Europe and North America. It’s like a prison.”
“IT WAS A VERY TRAUMATIC TIME FOR ME”
Tanya is settled now, but life post-Zimbabwe initially was riddled with hurdles. Uprooted in 2005, she left her friends, her school, and her home for Switzerland – a country radically different from what she was used to. “There’s nothing cool about being in a place where you are the minority”, Tanya says. ‘Minority’ in this case is putting it lightly: in 2007, African immigrants only made up 0.09% of Switzerland’s population, most of whom were from the Maghreb. In Tanya’s graduation class, there were only 2 black girls in a class of 350 students. There were no black boys.
“I WAS THIS LITTLE ZIMBABWEAN GIRL IN THE MIDST OF THESE CLOSED-OFF COMMUNITIES”
Another speedbump was integration into the Swiss education system, a system radically different from Zimbabwe’s. Tanya had to learn French before she could start going to school, and even when she finally got into the classroom, she struggled to keep up, failing maths in her first year at high school. Her frustration grew with each passing year because of the “structural violence” of Swiss education, which Tanya believes discourages immigrant children from going to high school. “I had amazing teachers who always pushed me. A lot of my friends didn’t have the same opportunity.”
“WHEN YOU’RE CONSCIOUS OF THE WORLD AT A YOUNG AGE, IT MAKES YOU AWARE”
Living in a world far removed from the home she knew, and alienated from Zimbabwean culture, there was pressure to shed her identity and adopt a Europe-friendly personality. However, Tanya never felt inferior because of her heritage or the colour of her skin. “The whole thing of being Zimbabwean, we have pro-black embedded in our culture. I didn’t come (to Switzerland) with racial insecurity.” She pushed herself through high school, and as soon as she graduated, Tanya swapped Switzerland for Canada, a place where she feels far more at home. “Every black person in Montreal knows each other.” Tanya’s regained the sense of community that she lost during her time in Switzerland, and now she’s set to finish her degree in Sociology.
“I DIDN’T COME TO SWITZERLAND WITH RACIAL INSECURITY”
Tanya shares her experiences through poetry and music under the moniker Pusha T. She intends to pursue a Masters degree in Community Development, coupled with a tour of the African continent. She’s already started saving for the trip, with plans to link up with friends in Cameroon, Sierra Leone and South Africa. “I need to be back in Africa. I can’t even speak Shona!” She laughs, calling her parents ‘masalad’ because they don’t speak Shona around the house. French and English are now the go-to languages at Tanya’s home, her native language another casualty of her alienation from Zimbabwe.
“You have to have a plan,” Tanya says, her drive for life and social change jumping through the shaky Internet connection. It’s the mantra of every young Zimbabwean trying to get ahead, and for Tanya, she’s taking her country and her continent along for the ride.
for those who love me
thanking the heavens for your grace
for creating a space where I can be,
I am praying
for your peace
for your comfort
for your serenity
for your compassion
for your empathy.
(Kween of Hearts @sucolorfavorito)