I was raised by an incredible Zimbabwean woman named Emmely. My father, an NGO worker, was the reason we were in Zimbabwe; my mother, a doctor, worked long hours until I was six. Emmely lived with us in Bulawayo and then moved with us to Harare. But when the next work posting came in - this time to Paraguay - she could not follow.
We said our goodbyes, but ultimately it was my English grandmother who remained in contact with her. The last time I saw Emmely was in England in the early 2000s. We went to see her at the home she was working at, dutifully raising yet another child that was not her own. Her own children remained in Zim whilst she moved in order to provide for them. A Zimbabwean family had offered her work in London, and trusting their shared background, she accepted. Upon arrival they asked for her passport for “safekeeping” and then to “register her.” The expiration date came and went and yet they would not give back what was rightfully hers. Her trusting nature had turned her in and she had become an illegal immigrant seemingly overnight. Technically a prisoner to this family, she continued to raise their child with the same love she gave me.
Somehow we lost touch after this encounter. The dial tone where she had been living was dead, and with it our connection to her life. I was living in Maryland this past summer when I got a text from my mom saying she had found Sehlule, Emmely’s daughter, on Facebook, and through her, Emmely. I have never loved social media more. I could write odes to Whatsapp, prayers to Facebook. I must admit I was naive, thinking that when I messaged her I would find a happy woman who had somehow become a British citizen. Instead I found out she was working for an old English couple so ill, they were on the brink of death. She was disillusioned and still going through the process of seeking asylum.
As the weeks went on, we all waited to hear whether asylum would be granted. It was not. She asked for them to review her case again and they said she would have to submit new proof that it was unsafe for her to return to Zimbabwe. They completely disregarded the fact that during the time of the Fifth Brigade her husband had been taken off a bus in Matabeleland and shot for not speaking Shona, Mugabe’s language.
Moreover, Mugabe was and still is raging an internal war. Somehow these facts did not matter and someone up there in the law wanted more gory details to prove without reason for doubt that she deserved the safety another country presented. With no further proof regarding her own personal safety, she submitted the same plea and was rejected. She now has the option of either returning to Zimbabwe or submitting her case for judicial review - something which costs nearly £2000. Apparently the home office believes asylum seekers have an infinite income regardless of their inability to work legally within the country.
The clear gap between my life and the life of one of the women who made me who I am today is unthinkable. This past summer I met up with people who I had grown up with, friends who had been given everything I had except my passports. One of them had been granted a work visa through the lottery system, whilst the other had a month to leave. Yet another one of my friends has to decide whether an American visa is worthy of the cost of returning to school. Her nationality, not her capabilities, dictate her possibilities and her future.
What makes me an expatriate and my friends immigrants is a luxury I have never done anything to deserve. I did not grow up in a particularly rich household in comparison to my schoolmates, but I was given the privileges certain expatriates are rewarded abroad. Not only did I receive a first class education, but I also got nice homes, travel, friends across the world, and Swiss Miss hot chocolate as a merienda drink, not a treat. I was given dual citizenship by two people who happened to meet in Nepal in the 70s. The chances were so slim.
With Brexit I lost one iota of my privileges and felt the pain as if it were catastrophic. With Trump I have lost my hope, but nothing has changed in my own white life. As a woman this may change soon, but nothing will compare to the pain inflicted on the lives of people who aren’t seen as truly American due to their skin color or culture. There are people shouting at people to stop speaking other languages -- languages more beautiful than English could ever be, languages that have 5 words for what you’re feeling instead of one.
For every step forward, must we take five back?
Who threw the dice that decided I should get the life I did whilst Emmely’s family got condemned to the survival of an unhinged dictator? She has loved me like a daughter even at her lowest points. She has never begrudged me nor has she ever lost faith in a Lord that has given her nothing but adversity. In the face of suffering she has remained strong, caring, and hopeful. If we can draw inspiration from anyone, it is from her.
I cannot stop what has happened and I cannot undo what is to come, but I promise to always give you asylum. I’ll find our differences as things of wonder. I won’t take the easy way out - I’ll speak up against those who speak out against you. I will use this privilege I have been handed to try my hardest to give you everything I have ever received. I will treat every single person I know with the same level of acceptance because humanity is humanity is humanity is humanity.
I am one of the lucky ones and I don’t feel like I can do much, but I will do everything I can to make your life as much a priority as my own.