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Out of Zimbabwe

“I was at a point where I was ready to go. It was difficult, though. I would like to stay home with my friends and family, but at that point, those weren’t the best options for me.”

Bukhosi Ndlovu, a local Elizabethtown resident, recently shared his story of coming to the United States from Zimbabwe in 1988. But growing up in what is now considered a Third World country is not the most amazing part of his story — it’s how successful he’s made his life here that’s so interesting.

For you to realize just how much different Ndlovu’s life could have been, you have to understand where he came from. According to Ndlovu, Zimbabwe is divided into two portions: a modernized area and the countryside which, he says, is not primitive, “but pretty much close to that.” Ndlovu grew up in the countryside with his grandmother and six siblings—two brothers and four sisters—as both of his parents were working-class citizens deployed to other areas of the country. “My mom was a nurse and my dad was a teacher. It was typical to have one parent working somewhere and the other working in a different area,” Ndlovu said.

Ndlovu lived with his grandmother from first to seventh grade. Afterward he went to boarding school. However, because of the liberation struggle going on at this time (1976-1980), many schools were closed, and Ndlovu, along with many other students, lost four years of education. In 1980, when Zimbabwe gained its independence, Ndlovu resumed his education at a school affiliated with the Brethren in Christ. It was here that he completed his form one through form four, which is equivalent to eighth grade through 11th grade in the United States. From there, Ndlovu went onto his Advanced, or A, levels, which is a two-year program equivalent to the last year in high school and the first year in college. There, he took up math, chemistry and biology.

“When I completed my A levels, I knew I wanted to further my status,” Ndlovu said. “However, at that time, Zimbabwe had only one university and, with a population of 11 to 12 million, the competition was pretty rough.” He decided that he could go into teaching, continue with the academic environment, or go for the vocational status, but then found out about programs the country was offering to send students to places like Cuba, China and Romania to further their education.

Ndlovu applied to two of the programs and, after being accepted to both, decided he would like to go to Cuba.

“So I did Spanish for six months,” Ndlovu said. “A week or two before I was set to leave, I decided to drop out because I decided that it wasn’t the right program for me. I was also looking at agriculture in England. That was my primary program that I wanted to go to, but I didn’t have the funds to pay for the education.”

Ndlovu thought perhaps teaching would provide him with some of the funds he needed as well as some valuable experience. He taught for two years, during which he asked the heads of his church if they could help him travel to England. “[My church] indicated to me that they didn’t have the funds to assist me, [but] they recommended that I put in an application at Messiah College.”

Ndlovu applied to Messiah College. Not only did they accept him, but they also offered to pay for his entire tuition. The only thing Ndlovu would have to come up with was room and board. After working all summer to save up enough money to cover these costs, Ndlovu came to America.

When Ndlovu got here, he was joined with two others from Zimbabwe — a friend from his hometown and an acquaintance, who made his transition a little easier. “It was rough, [though],” Ndlovu said. “It was difficult from the cultural standpoint and adjusting to the food and to the way of living.”

The most difficult transition Ndlovu faced was the cultural differences between Zimbabweans and Americans.

“I had to adjust to [the way] people related to each other,” Ndlovu said. “It’s a little bit different coming from Zimbabwe, a community-oriented environment. America is an individualistic country that has a heavy influence on the individual, so I had to learn to balance out my upbringing and the environment I was living in. The other transition was being able to maintain some [of my] identities that [were] valuable to me, even though I was living in an environment that did not value those identities. That was a little bit difficult to balance out.”

During his time at Messiah, Ndlovu visited Zimbabwe four times on independent study trips. After graduating from Messiah College with a degree in chemistry, Ndlovu went on to West Chester University to obtain his Master’s Degree. However, after finishing his college education and gaining the experiences he had sought, Ndlovu did not return to Zimbabwe on a permanent basis. He decided to stay in the United States. to raise a family with his new bride (his college sweetheart) and work with Bayer Pharmaceuticals, making pain relievers from Advil to Excedrin.

When asked what was so special about the United States. that he chose to stay, Ndlovu replied, “Maybe the question should be what is Zimbabwe doing to keep people from staying?”

He continued, explaining that after his graduation and marriage, the question of where to make their permanent residence loomed. “I had to … look at the opportunities that each country and environment was providing not only for me but for my family,” Ndlovu said. “At that point, we chose the United States. because of the opportunities that it presented at the time.”

By staying in the United States, Ndlovu has been able to provide financial aid to his parents and siblings. While it has worked out pretty well from that standpoint, Ndlovu recognized another side to the coin.

“Looking at it from the Zimbabwean side, the poor economy and political situation has driven most of the professionals out Zimbabwe to other countries, so as a result, I think the country doesn’t have the kind of knowledge and expertise that it used to have at one point,” Ndlovu said. “Right now, it doesn’t provide those kinds of opportunities like it used to provide before.”

Ndlovu explained that with the political climate in a state of hostility, the country is not as stable as it used to be. “Zimbabwe used to be one of the best countries in Africa, other than South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya,” Ndlovu said. “It used to be one of the most promising.”

However, in the past five or six years, things went downhill very quickly for the Zimbabweans. Now the country is one of the poorest in Africa, and, perhaps, the world.

Although Ndlovu says his parents would “absolutely” come to America if they were given the chance and the means, he realizes that they’re surviving. “They’re managing just like everyone else,” he said, “[but] it’s a tough situation to live in; I don’t know how people make it day to day.”

In accordance with Zimbabwe’s current economic state, Ndlovu was asked whether he would have come to the United States had he known beforehand what the state of the economy would be 20 years after the fact.

“I look at the situation in the states like, you have private schools like the Etowns the Messiahs and the $50 thousand to $60 thousand colleges. Then you have the state schools that cost $15 thousand to $20 thousand. And then you have the small and the big state schools and you have the community colleges. But the value of education that you get from all of those institutions is the same. Whether you go to Harvard or a community college, it’s what you bring to the table; you have to prove yourself anyway. Given that, you still have choices,” Ndlovu responded. “In Zimbabwe, there’s only one university. You don’t have a choice of where you want to go. I still think the environment and the conditions here are lucrative compared to other places; the worst of the United States is still the best of other countries.”

It’s easy to see why Ndlovu has become so invested in the United States. “There’s that aspect of ‘I’d like to be home with them,’ but at the same time, I think we all have to make choices at some point,” Ndlovu said. “I made the choice to make this my residential place, and it has worked out okay for me.”

Author:  Jennifer L. Tarr