My dad was a company man for over 25 years before he ventured out on his own and started his own business. During most of that period Zimbabwe’s economy was the envy of many a nation on the continent. So much so in fact that that it was commonly referred to as the bread basket of Africa. As is often the case in such a stable and vibrant economy being a company man has it’s vast array of perks. In my dad’s time these included company houses (rent free) and company cars with a fuel allowance to boot. Your kids school fees were also taken care of by the company. My dad being a hotelier, had other benefits specific to his profession, and these included fining dining and free holidays to some of Zimbabwe’s most picturesque and prime tourist destinations. And you still got paid your salary at the end of the month. Man, that was the good life. *le sigh*
Despite all this my dad never once let us believe that the many different houses we stayed in and the cars he drove were his. In fact he made a point of drilling into us that at any moment these could all be taken away from us. In the end when he retired from being a company man he had managed to build a house of his own as well own his own cars. To this day that is a lesson he never tires of repeating to me. That you should not get to comfortably with life especially when you are working for someone else and when you don’t have any assets of your own, because at any moment they could be taken away from you. And if you haven’t prepared for this eventuality you will be left exposed.
For me and most of my generation of Zimbabweans the company has been replaced by the diaspora. Over the last decade or so Zimbabwe’s economy has become a pale shadow of itself. So much so that what once was the bread basket of Africa became the basket case of Africa. As a result many son’s and daughter’s of the soil have left for greener pastures in the diaspora. And so the diaspora became the company for us, although I am not sure it offered quite the same benefits. It did however present new opportunities and possibilities that we are the better for. Some that immediately spring to mind and that I can personally attest is an enhanced world view and rather ironically a more heightened sense of patriotism. But I digress.
The thing about the diaspora though is that it can still offer the same trappings as the company did back in my dad’s time. When you are living in your adopted country it can just be as easy to get comfortable and not plan for your future appropriately. It is often because of an indecisiveness founded on not being entirely sure where your long term future lies. If you you are going to build or buy a house, do you do so in your adopted country or back home? For most of us this is not an easy question to answer and we often just push it to the back of our minds and continue paying the rent. Our indecision tempers our motivation to invest in assets of our own in the same manner as say for example my dad did during his stint with the company.
I found myself mulling over this a lot in the weeks after I turned 30. At the time I was going through a bit of an existential crisis. In those quite moments of reflection I remembered a story my dad once shared with me about how he ended up building his first house. I would like to share that story today.
When I was 3 years old we lived in a penthouse suite at the city hotel my dad was working at. On occasion my dad would take me to the nearby park to have a kick about and also just so I could enjoy the great outdoors. According to him every time we had to go back to our suite I would throw get hysterical and throw a tantrum all the way back. I hated being cooped up in that suite. There was no backyard. And to make matters worse my mum was always telling me not to touch stuff for fear I would break anything.This just exasperated me even further. But hardly anything in that penthouse was ours, it belonged to the company. So in hindsight I can understand her position. Long story short, every time I would return from the park with my dad says he would be consumed by guilt. One day the guilt became too much and he finally bit the bullet. He went to his bank and applied for a mortgage so he could buy a piece of land and build a house with a large backyard for his family in the suburbs.To this day he says my tantrums are what finally gave him an impetus to go to take out that mortgage. And that is the story of how my dad finally built his first house, even though the company always gave him a place to stay.
Looking at my current station in life I have to constantly remind myself not to be so hard on myself. The lesson has stayed with me. I know all too well not to get comfortable or relax without a concrete plan for my long term future. I know I want to build my very own house of stones eventually. I have my dad to thank for that maybe all I need is just that push that overrides my indecisiveness in the same way my tantrum prompted my dad to act.