Dilemma of flying or not flying to Zimbabwe to visit family: view from Canada

This First Person column is the experience of Charleen Sibanda, a Zimbabwean-born lawyer who lives in Vancouver.

Amidst the relentless buzz of Vancouver, I am perched by the window of a cosy coffee shop, scouring the internet for affordable flights to Zimbabwe — a destination that holds a special place in my heart.

Spring has sprung, and the cherry blossoms sway in the gentle breeze, unburdened by the weight of longing for their native home. However, while these beauties are content to flourish where they are planted, I’m constantly torn between two worlds.

I left Zimbabwe on Sept. 25, 2009, driven by aspirations that echoed the timeless adage: the grass is always greener on the other side, and most of that day remains vividly etched into my memory.

I remember Mama’s heartfelt prayer for my safe travels, our parting words, and the long embrace.

Mama even pulled an embroidered handkerchief from her bosom to dry my tears. However, soon after arriving in Canada, I realized the “greener pastures” that had beckoned to me were not as idyllic as I had imagined. Instead, I found myself facing a rainbow of greens, some vibrant hues, and some faded tones, each with its own set of challenges and costs.

Although I’ve grown to love Vancouver and appreciate the life I’ve built here, my heart remains tethered to Zimbabwe.

The weight of preserving connections with two far-flung homes extends beyond mere financial strain, encompassing a cost that only those who straddle multiple worlds can truly comprehend.

And now, as costs rise, it feels as though the universe is taunting me for daring to live a life that spans continents.

The shade of sage green haunts me. Although the greener pastures that I enjoyed when I first moved to Canada are not as arid as Zimbabwe’s economy, lately they’ve been losing their vibrancy.

The cost of air tickets to Zimbabwe, and in general, have gone up significantly in the past two years, making it challenging to plan a visit home, especially during peak holiday seasons.

Even though I was searching six months earlier, a December round-trip flight costs just over $4,000.As an immigrant, I’ve learned to bear personal struggles in silence, often concealed beneath the veneer of success that’s associated with the diaspora and the gratitude for the opportunities that brought me here. It’s the heart-wrenching choice of sending money home for funeral costs instead of being there in person — a decision made from practicality and necessity rather than desire.

It means I’ve celebrated holidays and special occasions apart from loved ones; watching as my mama aged alone from a distance and only allowing myself to break down in private after long workdays.

It’s like paying a steep fare for a journey to a better life, where the costs come not only in dollars but also in the intangible tolls I pay along the way.

As I switch to another website hoping to find a better flight deal, my mind turns to that September day when I left home.

The road was riddled with deep potholes and each crater seemed to yawn wider than the last, threatening to swallow the Greyhound bus whole. Despite the driver’s attempts to avoid the unforgiving terrain, the bus bounced and lurched with each impact as if to protest the injustices and instability in the country.

Over a decade later, the potholes have become chasms, reflecting the struggles of the people who navigate them.

Without the regular remittances that my siblings, who also left Zimbabwe, and I send for the upkeep of relatives, their struggle for survival becomes even more difficult.

These remittances are often a lifeline, helping to pay for necessities such as food, housing, education and health care.

As some of my relatives age, their changing needs lead to increased expenses, broadening our responsibility to support them beyond their basic necessities.

However, the increasing costs of the same necessities and other obligations in Canada create a greater challenge for us, affecting the amount of remittances we can send home.

It’s a constant struggle to balance my duties as a provider and remote caregiver with my own personal needs and desires.

Shutting down my laptop yet again without a purchase, a pang of guilt envelops me.

Time is another cost, one that I can never afford, and each passing day brings me closer to the inevitable: another text message about a beloved relative or friend who has passed away.

Three smiling people sit on the steps of the front entrance of a house.

Living far from loved ones, like her aging relatives in Rusape, weighs heavily on Sibanda.

Still, even if I were to close my eyes and purchase the exorbitant ticket, I can’t bear to arrive empty-handed. In my culture, it’s an unspoken expectation to bring gifts not only for immediate family but also for extended relatives.

And by gifts, I don’t mean trinkets or the typical souvenirs like, “I love Canada” key chains or golf caps; I mean clothes, shoes or anything else that is useful and practical.

While I value the significance of this tradition, it adds another layer of financial demand to an already costly visit. As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite the journey.

One that demands both steep fares and tolls that come not only in clinking coins but also in the quiet sacrifices made along the way. CBC

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