Alice Chigumera

Born: 15th May 1965

Harare, Zimbabwe

Date of interview: 31st May 2006

Map showing where Alice Chigumera came from

How old were you at that time?

I was twenty years by then, when I applied for the job to go in to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, so by the time I turned twenty one I was, I went to join the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Harare, it's the only chance I get. It was quite devastating to leave my parents but I went to stay with my brother, the one who was the policeman and his wife in Harare, as you know with our culture extended families are acceptable, we live as one and we love each other no matter what happens.

Staying there I went to train what they call diplomatic courses, mostly of the things were done by the British people and we were trained for six months by a teacher, who came from Britain. She was a fantastic woman who taught us a lot about ethnic, different diversity in the world because we're going there alone, talked about us, about more or less what we call a finish school, about how you dress, how you eat, how you talk with certain people, and all the values of different cultures and how to persevere in a world where it is different from the norms of our own culture. It was a fantastic way of doing it and I was looking forward to that challenge, I was going out.

Then just before I left in 1989, my brother, the one I was very close to, the policeman just died in an accident in a, when he was coming from work. He was what we call by then a scuba diver who used to go in to different places and do different things and he had an accident and died on the spot, he left a three month old baby and a newly wed wife. This really devastated me because I'd only one month to leave, my father was approximately about seventy and almost blind and depended mostly on, they had children to sustain them and I left.

My first posting practically was to go to Yugoslavia, it was in December 1989 and due to the fact that I'd no experience about the cold weather and having had a system whereby in our country we always believe that because of our traditional values, which include British values, I was dressed more or less like in a suit way, in high heels and I had on my stockings and got on to the plane and came to Germany where I was met again by one of our officers from the Embassy. It was quite snowy, very cold and I didn't have anything to wear, which could keep me warm but they knew that I was coming and they brought some few things for me to keep myself warm.

It was a good experience to see the snow for the first time out of the country to such a far away place and I got on to the next plane, again to Yugoslavia, got in to the plane and I couldn't speak their language which was more or less like Serbia or Croatia, they're flight. We had a bit of mis-communication because when you wanted coffee, the one I'm used to is a bit lighter and they have more or less like what you call the thick kind of coffee. When I got to the airport, again it was snowing, met by our Embassy officials who helped me and I checked in to a hotel where I stayed for a month without even knowing any single word. That was in Belgrade then, 1989, and it was quite difficult for me because during that time it was a time of transitional period, er the communist era and all that was happening in Yugoslavia and there was a bit of resentment looking at an African black woman coming in and single handedly staying in a hotel.

The language barrier were the other thing, staying in a hotel, you wouldn't know how to order the food, you wouldn't know how to ask for anything publicly or if you go to the shops how you could speak their language, so I was helped more or less by students, African students who were there, who could sometimes, if I wanted to go shopping they would help me, go with me and they'd speak the language and that's how I slowly learnt how to speak a little of Serbia or Croatia and I just started picking up on a few words.

I stayed in Yugoslavia for almost about a year, almost two years, but luckily I left Yugoslavia before the war that started, I was very, very lucky, I left in 1992 early, before the war started.