The most painful decision for me was to have to leave my country.
The most painful decision for me was to have to leave my country. I had spent so many years in stressful situations but I was determined to trudge on because I believed that my stay was healthier for the culture of my country because of my own personal and public contributions to public discussion. So, leaving was a painful choice for me.
I came out of the country under the auspices of the International Parliament of Writers based in France. When they realized that I was at great risk, they decided to persuade me to leave. They negotiated with the city of Ramboulliet, just outside Paris, to accommodate me.
As for my expectations, I did not have many. I just wanted to live a normal life without the cloud of the traumatizing fear that I had lived under for so many years in my country, Zimbabwe. I actually thought my exile would last only a year or so in order for me to return. I had started my own private company (a culture consultancy) in which I was the only employee and it gave me and my family enough to live on rather well. So, when I went into exile, it was painful to have to abandon all my work. Fortunately, I had lived in other parts of the world as a guest writer, and I knew the vagaries of living far from home. My expectations did not include returning home as a 'rich writer from Europe.' I just wanted to be 'free' from fear, nothing else.
I should think my expectations were quite realistic. As an experienced writer and traveller, I did not expect my hosts to nurse me in any way. I knew that I had to find my way just as I had learnt to find my literary and life way in my own country. I am not a romantic who thinks the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Some writers tend to make the mistake of thinking that once they arrive in the asylum city, they are like they have arrived in some kind of heaven where they are pampered and spoiled to their deaths. I am not one of them.
Being a famous writer in my country and in the rest of the world where my books are published, one of the shocks of coming to Norway was that some well-educated people usually asked me some 'uneducated' questions like: 'Are you sure you are a writer?' But being used to that kind of question all over the world, I just laugh it off. In my country, walking down a street or even a village, is quite a nightmare. People who are former students or they see me in the newspapers on a weekly basis or heard me on radio, they crowd around you to greet you and talk about books. Then when you go to another culture, you are all of a sudden a nobody, just a refugee.
My advice to other writers is based on an African proverb from my country, Zimbabwe. The proverb says 'mwana washe muranda kumwe' (the son/daughter of a king is just an ordinary person in other lands). It means the writer, no matter how famous they are in their own country, they would have to face the fact that they are in another country and culture which might not acknowledge enough how famous the writer is. It is a natural occurence in all cultures. If I were to direct Ibsen's play in my small home town, people will probably just to check on how crazy I am to direct a play by a dramatist they have never heard of. It is the same with guest writers. I think we have to work hard to contribute to the new culture which has invited us as contributors and not dependents.Writers should realize that no cultural journey across cultures is without pain, and sometimes tears of loneliness and misunderstanding. That is natural. Even in our own countries of origin, cultural transition has always been agonizing and painful, just like every childbirth.