Melissa Berketoft, Anchorage Daily News, Oct. 29
I am a 19-year-old Zimbabwean girl. For the past week I’ve been staying in Alaska. It was my first time in the United States and something I’ll never forget.
I lived in Zimbabwe for 17 years and have seen some very serious political problems in my country. Our president, Robert Mugabe, has been in power for 30 years, destroying the country the whole time. Most of my life I lived on a farm, and in the past five years we’ve have had to face a big problem: white farmers are not wanted in the country anymore.
It is extremely hard being a teenager because we have no freedom. Most of my friends live on farms as well, and we have all had groups of 200-300 black Zimbabweans coming to our front gate singing and chanting, demanding to use our farm equipment. The mob threatens to kill our whole family if we do not give or lend it to them for free.
Other groups will come to a farmer’s gates just for supporting the opposition of the president and many families have to evacuate their home to keep their lives. Some of my neighbors have been very unfortunate, loosing their fathers because the mobs have beaten them to death.
Who will stop them? The police do nothing; there is no law or order in our country.
I saw as I was driving with my friend in Alaska that it is safe to drive on your own even if you are a young girl. In Zimbabwe I could never think of doing this.
I never drive without at least two of my guy friends in the car; if I was on my own I could easily get car-jacked. We can’t even stop at stoplights when it’s dark outside. In Zimbabwe, if I was driving alone someone would pull me out of the car at a stoplight to beat me up and steal whatever they could.
One day I went to a boarding school to visit some of my friends, and at the time the political situation was very tense. There had been mobs in the area stopping cars and throwing stones at those that passed by. I found this out the hard way and had to follow an adult home. I have never been so scared as I was from this experience, which was very traumatizing.
I never saw anything like this in Alaska. Young people have so much freedom to go where they want and don’t have to plan ahead of time to see if an area is safe or not. They are very lucky to have that freedom.
It is very frustrating and traumatizing being a teenager in Zimbabwe. Not being able to do what you want or go where you want without having to think twice about endangering your life is difficult. More than anything, though, knowing that your family’s lives are constantly in danger has scarred many teenagers in Zimbabwe.
Melissa Berketoft now lives in Denmark. If you have questions for Melissa about her experiences as a Zimbabwean teenager, e-mail them to [email protected] and we’ll forward them to her.