The ‘honest’ returnee guide to living and working in Harare

I had to wait at least 2 months after leaving my job of 2 years, and a little over 2 years after returning to write an honest article about living and working back home in Zimbabwe. This article is for students in college or recent graduates who are looking to make the move to return to Zimbabwe in 2019.

So now you have graduated, or your OPT has expired and you are seriously considering leaving the bubble and taking on the world in your own home country. There are many reasons you might want to leave the developed world. Maybe you’re tired of giving up so much freedom living and working as an sub-citizen, you might be completely frustrated by the immigration processes, or maybe you just miss being home with family. With all the negative news, it seems like most people who have returned and somehow positioned themselves seem to be having more fun than you while in contrast every fellow-countrymen around you are hellbent on never leaving the comforts of a developed country. The courageous idea of going against the grain may turn you into a nerve ball. I’m here and I will attempt to give you a series of articles to give you an honest insight about returning permenantly or semi-permenantly to Zimbabwe. Something which could be one of the most critical decisions you will have to make in your young adult life.

Relocating to any destination has its advantages and disadvantages and returnees will find that coming back home is no different, although I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons here. However, it all boils down to your motivation for moving back and your eagerness to readjust to the country’s complex dynamics to achieve your ends.

First of all, will you have decent accomodation ?

Most returnees would shun moving back with parents or relatives. I mean it is understandable that after enjoying your own space and freedom, having a curfew or not being able to host friends may seem to dim your experience. However, the high cost of housing and utilities and the lack of affordable decent housing may also limit your opportunities for a safe, happy, healthy life especially if your are living on limited and fixed incomes in an unstable economic environment. If you are not earning USD, which most landlords are demanding for apartments or cottages with running water and reasonable power supply hours, then staying with your parents or relatives is a safer option. It not only allows you to save on expenses, you will also have more stability being home as the factors to the standard of living change rapidly. You may also consider talking to your employer about housing support as you negotiate your renumeration.

Working in Harare

NEGOTIATE YOUR SALARY: In the words of Jordan Peterson, “if you can’t tell someone go to hell then you can’t negotiate with them”. Always make your salary and benefits negotiations wisely and make sure your employer has officially confirmed these before you begin work. This failure to do this will surely mess up your experience. You want a salary that equal the work, ideas, and skill you are bringing to the company because what may seem free to you may earn your employer millions in future. Volunteering is benevolent, but when moving back to Zimbabwe you will need the money to save yourself from vulnerability especially if you are a woman. Choose an employer who is considerate of your need for financial stability and upward trajectory in social mobility. A good salary which is constantly reviewed and adjusted to inflation will ensure your personal development and a healthy social life among other personal priorities that will need finances.

TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN, MUCH IS REQUIRED: If you are a lucky returnee who just landed a matching job with decent renumeration, then make the best out of it. Put in effort to learn, stay humble and bring on the table new ideas. Go ahead, raise the returnee flag high.

WORK RELATIONSHIPS: Hopefully got a great bunch of new work mates to get along with and help you socialize. It is practically impossible not to ‘network’ in Harare. The returnee community is small and no matter what you do for a living, employed, self-employed or unemployed- meeting friendly like-minded people is easy. However making good close friends off the bat may not be easy unless you have something particular in common, interesting venture. One has to be sensitive about conversations on politics, religion, and the economy. Zimbabweans who have been living in the country longer are tired of seeing and hearing about their country’s problems yet experiencing them. So spare them a break and until asked keep conversations about how wonderful everything is in the United States and how awful everything is in Zimbabwe.

Make Friends in High Places

It’s a who’s who world and who you are or who you know can save you and open doors for you. However you have to be innovative, and have projects you are working on that could be of interests to institutions and bring you income. In your contact book should be accountants, projects people, financial advisers, lawyers, HR people, public figures, politicians from your hometown, etc. Do not forget the unsophisticated people too, they too know something that you don’t.

Study your organizational culture

You should do this before you apply for the job, and when you get it. The Zimbabwean workforce is a fruit salad of people. While you may have a few close colleagues who love and appreciate you however, be cognizant of those who have had stagnant careers and salaries for years, jealous co-workers, religious and spiritual fanatics, ambitious managers. You may be that bright new kid on the block from with a diaspora mention may arouse feelings of admiration, envy and contempt. I am sad to say this, but females in the working world can be vicious so if you are a bright, graceful and outspoken and navigate your relationships with care and do not outshine your master in anything. That is the sad culture here.

Dressing for Ladies

So you have your trendy and stylish clothes and brands. That is great to get you outstanding and looking graceful but always remember to dress conservatively. Zimbabwe is considered a conservative culture with a highly religious workforce. So depending on the organization you work for and it’s culture, it is advisable to dress modestly in the old school sense. Watch out for the length and fitting, you do not want to invite wrong attention from males and the piercing glances of more senior female co-workers. Dress modestly.

Bring your Financial Literacy game on

You may find yourself without a car or fuel, be ready to hike, carpool, and use public transport. Making friends with people with cars also helps. Know how to play the financial game, stay updated on the rate of the day, know where to exchange money and get bond notes at good rates. Living your life as is given will get you broke and financially distressed a few days after your pay day or in case of a short-change in the cost of living due to hyper-inflation. So say bye bye to happy hour, wanton shopping, eating out, and hosting cousins and friends every other day. Because of the hyper-inflation and price distortion, retailers and institutions have knives out for your money. Nice luxuries like make-up, hair and skin produces, as well as clothing, shoes, and accessories are overpriced in Zimbabwe. Move back with enough stock to last you months until your savings build up and can afford a trip to South Africa. Alternatively, cross-border traders are very common here and people have contacts whom they send for all sorts of items from neighboring countries where they are much affordable or of better quality or preferable design.

Always keep your savings in foreign currency and value preserving items

Save your money in a form that preserves its value i.e. the USD, and Jewelry. For those who plan to stay longer than a year, research the financial market and invest your money in shares of promising and well-to-do companies. It is wise to make your move back to Zimbabwe with some coins in your piggy bank. It is also helpful to get a bank which serves internationally in countries including in countries like Zimbabwe for example Bank of America provides its card service to its customers in Zimbabwe unlike banks like Wells Fargo or BSC. Alternatively, you can bank your money on PayPal which will be helpful for online purchases or emergency remit cash.

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