Thembiso and her road to the A-List

You can almost hear Thembiso’s voice, even over the static medium of text.  The smiley faces and exclamation points that dot her responses paint the image of  a young woman whose face that’s just as expressive as her voice.  You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this: a recent graduate living in California, Thembiso’s planning on making full use of her social skills to propel her to an anchor spot on E! News.

“It’s (the constant moving) definitely made me really social and friendly because I was forced to put myself out there in order to make new friends with each move.”

Thembiso Mawema was used to travelling around.  “My dad was a diplomat so I travelled a  lot but moved to Malawi, Kenya and Zim.”  2007 spelled the big move across the ocean to the United States, but after moving  around so often it wasn’t anything new for her.  Schools were on winter break when Thembiso and her family arrived, but she started school almost immediately after settling into her new home.  “That was definitely the biggest change, from going to a Zimbabwean private school like Convent to an American public school! Major shock! I went from an all-girls school were discipline was a big deal to a co-ed school where kids would make out in front of their teachers like it’s  nothing.”

“I got the most ridiculous questions a lot of the time tho like ‘how did you learn how to speak English so fast’, ‘do you have cars in Africa or did you ride elephants to school’.” 

Apart from the usual comments on whether she lived in a hut or how could she speak such good English, she had no problems fitting in and finding friends.  Travelling and moving so often helped Thembiso hone her social skills and she’d learnt to adapt to new places and cultures.  She upgraded to university, where she graduated with a degree in communications this year.

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“My goal has always been to be a host on E! News, but I just love entertainment, & pop culture & fashion so as long as I’m doing that I’m golden.”

Thembiso had always been set in her career goals.  “My endgoal is to be a host/tv personality”, she says, and true to form for Zimbabweans the world over, she’s started laying the foundation for her dream.  It all started with one of the newer social media platforms, Snapchat.  “I just used it like anyone else & people always tell me how much they enjoy them & how I need my own show. I was just being myself too so it was nice to see that people enjoyed that I suppose.”  Thembiso laughs as she thinks back to where she started.   She’s continued with her Snapchat stories (hosting a #AskThembi every Sunday) and now has her own blog and Youtube lifestyle channel:

Whilst Thembiso has started the journey to create her own brand, she did meet some initial resistance from her parents, who didn’t see entertainment journalism as a legitimate profession.  They naturally had other plans. “My mum has dreams of be becoming a lawyer  which would definitely be my first choice if I didn’t want to be an entertainer.  So I would say they definitely prefer me to do something else, but they support me in what I want to do which is more than I can ask for. My mom gives anyone and everyone the link to my blog to boast.”

 

“I want young guys and girls, to live the life they want for themselves, to not be afraid to not want to be an engineer.”

Thembiso hasn’t been back to Zimbabwe since her family moved, and being away for so long has had an effect on her connection to her old home.   She arrived in California when she was 14 and Thembiso spent the all-important adolescent period in a new surrounding.  However, she never let go of who she was and what she’d learnt when she lived in Zimbabwe.  Her parents and friends (those who are still Zim based) are her touchstone.  “Being close with them and them keeping me grounded and reminding me where I came from is what keeps it (her Zimbabwean identity) going.”  Although she hesitates on whether she’d permanently move back to Zimbabwe, Thembiso’s firm in her resolve to maintain and represent her Zimbabwean roots whichever platform she’s on.AhrRisgu-Q5LU3fMBbH1YME-kOhE9tzBAGqrxhBPki0q

You can check out  Thembiso’s work at www.justthembi.com,  as well as her Youtube channel.

 

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Chanelle and working the catwalk

Her eyes are the first thing you notice when you look at her pictures.  The deep brown pools switch from an intense stare to a warm inviting gaze in the flash of a camera.  It’s no surprise though – Chanelle has been posing for the camera for over 10 years.  Her career began in Zimbabwe, bagging campaigns with Shamaika, Bella Hair and Deep Beauty Products, and strutting down the runway at Zimbabwe’s first ever Fashion Week.  Everything screeched to a halt in 2008, when she had to pack her bags and move to England.

chanelle3       “THE PEOPLE WERE THE BIGGEST THING TO DEAL WITH”

With most of her family already in England (her father is English), she didn’t feel completely alone. However, not even the safety net of family could protect her from unavoidable culture shock.  “Having family made it easier to adjust as I had a heads-up on everything, which I’m thankful for.  However, your family isn’t there with you in the schoolgrounds or in the classroom.”  Like many young Zimbabweans, Chanelle had a tough time finding people she could really connect with – a problem she hadn’t faced in her home country.  “The people were the biggest thing to deal with.  I didn’t expect to be judged for being different, or excluded from social circles because I spoke differently.  Not saying that every person here thinks like that, I just found that the social prejudice of certain classmates shocked me.”

Some of Chanelle’s poetry 

Although adjustment was initially uneasy, Chanelle overcame the growing pains.  She’s made friends, with her best friend being Zimbabwean.  Living in London, affectionately known as “Harare North”, was an added bonus: Chanelle had a little home away from home, to get her through the times that homesickness hit hard.  Part-English she may be, but the model didn’t ditch her Zimbabwean identity.  For Chanelle, it’s clear that she can be just as comfortable walking the streets of Harare as Portsmouth.

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If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about Chanelle, it’s her determination.  The six years she’s been living in England haven’t always been rosy, but true to Zimbabwean nature, she hasn’t let bad experiences derail her plans.  Currently studying Fashion Marketing, Management Business and Entrepreneurship at university, Chanelle wants to make a bold splash on the fashion industry.  She’s continued her modelling career in Portsmouth, where she’s now based, working with photographers and make-up artists, building her network with each photoshoot.  She’s had to learn new skills to land jobs, both in and out of the fashion world.  Given how fickle the industry is, a career in fashion isn’t one that the average Zimbabwean parent would support.  Lucky for Chanelle, she’s always had her parents in her corner.  “My parents support my decision.  They believe in allowing a child to cultivate their gifts.”

 

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For Chanelle, the road to success is still long, but as long as her passion for fashion keeps burning, she knows she’ll make it big.  “I believe that everyone has gifts and it is one’s own responsibility to cultivate those God given gifts.”  So she keeps working, keeps learning, and keeps praying, never doubting herself and never giving up.

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Twitter: Chanelle Davies @CocoChanelle93

Instagram: chanelle_davies

Tanya: Poetry as her Medicine

“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”

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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”

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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.

   Praying
endlessly praying
for those who love me
thanking the heavens for your grace
for creating a space where I can be,
Freely
Unapologetically.
I am praying
for your peace
for your comfort
for your serenity
for your compassion
for your empathy.
Sincerely,
Pusha T

(Kween of Hearts @sucolorfavorito)

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