It is not always doom and gloom whenever people, especially Africans, travel to the Middle East in search of new job opportunities. There are a few exceptional cases, like that of Emmanuel from Zimbabwe whose humble upbringing and background were more than enough motivation for him to relocate to Dubai and try his luck.
In my opinion, Emmanuel —a Zimbabwean staying in Dubai —is the best definition of ‘a humble beginning, a glorious end.’ “Even the poor used to call us poor,” he says. Their family used to live in a small room with leaking roofs. Poverty meant that on most days they had no food to eat since they neither had a garden to grow food nor money. They would labor in other people’s gardens in return for sustenance, though this wasn’t always assured. Along with his siblings, three sisters, they never studied beyond the primary level.
But Emmanuel never gave up. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge so he would often sneak into high school classes to satisfy this desire. Whenever he would be busted by the teachers, he’d move to a new school which meant that he never wrote exams or got involved in most school activities since he was not a legitimately registered student. Yet it never stopped him from helping his classmates with their assignments. This made him very popular with his schoolmates so they always covered for him, with others lending him their school uniforms to enable him blend in with his peers.
Fortunately for him, most schools have more than one hundred students in a class at a time, so blending in wasn’t hard. All he had to do was keep a low profile; no answering questions in class even if you know the answer, no participating in music clubs—despite the fact that he is extremely talented in that field —and in case of any bullying incident, he couldn’t be involved or report it. Being an extrovert meant that keeping quiet was his biggest challenge. Eventually, all the schools within his proximity got wind of his antics before he completed secondary school, resulting in him getting banned from their premises.
His mother’s demise
His parents really wanted to send him to school but they couldn’t afford even the cheapest school around. Besides, their foremost priority was putting food on the table and treating his mother who had a liver condition. Sadly, because of malnutrition, her condition worsened and she eventually passed away. “If it weren’t for famine, my mother would still be alive,” he says. He was utterly surprised when at her funeral people brought a lot of food and money to facilitate the burial.
He believes that if these rich relatives had come out and offered their help before her demise, maybe she would have survived. At sixteen, due to his talent in playing musical instruments and singing, Emmanuel moved to a well-off pastor’s home since the church needed him ‘in good shape.’ The pastor’s children would go to school while he stayed at home doing house chores and writing songs for the church.
Despite the obvious setbacks, Emmanuel still harbored dreams of being a successful business man and his family’s breakthrough. He spent four years at the pastor’s place, hoping the rich man would offer to send him back to school, but it never materialized. All he got was a green jeans and a white shirt, plus learning to drive which he taught himself every time he would wash the family cars. When he brought up the issue of compensation for all the services he had provided them, he was labeled toxic and got kicked out of the house. Yet he had preferred being taken to school over monetary reimbursement.
He resorted to using his talent by playing musical instruments and singing in churches to earn some money. His father had also got a job, so the two became the family’s breadwinners. Just as things were starting to look up for him, he got a girl pregnant. This meant that he had to get out of his comfort zone and hustle even harder since he now bore more responsibilities. As he was contemplating his next move, he ran into an old school friend (one of the boys he would help with their class assignment) who told him about the possibility of travelling to Dubai and earning more. Vanbless, the friend, lent him the money he used to travel, and he was to repay when he gets a job. A friend that became the brother Emmanuel never had.
Coming to Dubai was a great transition in Emmanuel’s life. In the first three months, as is the norm for most of us, the biggest hustle was searching for a job, though he exuded confidence that he would get one. Two days before his visa was to expire, there was still no sign of him getting a job. That is when doubt started creeping in and he began sensing defeat, but deep down he knew going back to Zimbabwe was not an option. Being a staunch Christian, he knelt down and poured his heart out to God to enable him realize his dream. His story makes me believe that God is real and He listens because right after his prayer, he received a phone call, inviting him for a job interview.
When he went, he made sure he left the room having convinced the manager he was fit for the job. He joined the company as a bartender since, just like me, he was only knowledgeable in the art of coffee making. He had no clue about alcohol, but was ready and eager to learn and become a professional mixologist.
Read more of Emmanuel’s journey in Dubai in chapter two of the story.