Pasi’s “No Boundaries : Zimbabwean Immigrants Abroad” a must-read

AFTER what appeared to be a bit of cajoling, I eventually purchased a copy for myself. Curiously, I gave myself a target of one week to finish reading the book. Once I went through the first paragraph, I did not feel like stopping. In three days, I had read every word in and on the book.

If you are a Zimbabwean in the Diaspora or one who intends to take the arduous journey into this maze in future, No Boundaries is a must-read. Even those back home who either don’t have the will or the means to migrate, will find this text most intuitive.

Those already in the Diaspora, whether as new or seasoned immigrants, will find chapters 3 and 4 most revealing and thought-provoking. For those who don’t know or wonder what experiences Diasporans go through in their adopted countries, the entire book, particularly the opening chapters, will provide tangible insight whereas those in the corridors (or is it jaws) of political power, will be challenged by the closing chapters.

Nobel Pasi, himself a seasoned migrant having resided in a few countries before settling in Western Australia, is very articulate about the multi-faceted challenges and realities that characterise the life of Diasporans. In the initial phases of migration, the author likens immigration experience to a honeymoon as new migrants will be overwhelmed by the excitement of having finally made it into the Diaspora or the greener pastures. Soon, reality strikes and the same people go into a serious state of crisis as they start seeing that, after all, the grass is not that greener.

Relatives, friends and colleagues back home compound the crisis through unreasonable demands and expectations while the new Diasporan desperately tries to impress them, to demonstrate success through remittances and all sorts of gifts. This scenario creates a serious hole in the new migrant’s financial life whose effects will only be felt a few years or months down the line, when reality bites.

Cultural shock, compounded by "systematic rejection", "structural racism" or "xenophobia", observes the author, become the precursor of worse things to come for the new migrant. Finding a professional job or one that somebody is qualified in, is a mission which finally compels the Diasporan to resort to menial jobs, often underpaid. At this point, stress, depression and cognitive dissonance creep in.

Those who are quick to read the situation start to explore ways of up-skilling themselves or changing professions altogether in order to stop "surviving" and start "thriving". This is the adjustment phase that the shrewd first-time writer alludes to. For those with a positive mindset, adjustment leads to adaptation while those who continue to focus on the negatives continue to live as if they arrived yesterday.

Pasi goes on to make a discerning analogy between "cultural limbo" that Diasporans experience and the old African tradition of initiation into adulthood. He posits that during the initiation ritual, a person is extricated from normal life, gets transformed into a "stateless state" where they are neither an adult nor adolescent. This is called the limen phase. Similarly, Diasporans face this dilemma at one point when they get confused as to which culture they belong to; the new cultural order or their original one. At the same time, kids start changing accent.

At the end of the ritual, initiates are "re-aggregated" into society as adults, where they start a new life with new responsibilities and challenges. The author re-assures the reader that this process is pretty normal and should not be cause for depression or stress. What’s important is to accept that it is a cycle that one has to go through in this new "evolution". Pasi also postulates that culture, by its very nature, is fluid and dynamic. Hence, the need for individuals to keep adjusting to the new cultural order. Even back home, the old culture would be evolving so migrants should not mislead themselves by thinking that they are losing their culture, if anything, they should aim to strike a balance between their old culture and the new one, in forming a totally different culture applicable to their circumstances and environment.

A very important question the author raises is "When will the Diaspora return home?" The answer depends on a combination of factors, most notably availability of investment opportunities, normalisation of health and educational systems, re-establishment of the rule of law, dual citizenship, genuine political reforms, respect for basic freedoms and property rights etc. His own prognosis is that there will not be an exodus from the diaspora at least in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the majority remain loyal to their home country and will continue to send remittances, invest and visit.

No Boundaries is a very pragmatic hand-book which is a valuable addition to one’s book-shelf or tool-box. Personally, it reminded me of the early 80s when we had an influx of immigrants from Malawi and Mozambique; what they went through then, what they did to survive, adapt and thrive. Today, some of them hold very significant positions in society, business and politics, having started from humble beginnings as labourers on farms, in mines and with the railways. Some of them, but not the majority, chose to return to their motherland in the late 90s.

The Zimbabwe Diaspora is trending towards this. How often do we hear Zimbabweans saying "my parents came from Malawi?" Some of the kids born to the Zimbabwe Diaspora will be echoing the same in future. What’s crucial is for our political discourse and dispensation to acknowledge this reality and start formulating effective strategies to positively embrace this new generation of Zimbabweans as we seek to position our nation for the future.

For more on the author and how to get your own copy of this useful hand-book, visit www.vividpublishing.com.au