I’d like to start this chapter by wishing you a very warm welcome to 2019! If this is your first time on the blog then you’ll need to pop over to the HOME PAGE of DRIVEN and read the Introduction and the first chapter.
If you are returning then let’s get stuck in!
The Final Days, Zimbabwe
During my first year at the Heritage school in Zimbabwe my dad moved to a neighbouring country called Botswana for work. The plan was that we would all be there as a family once my sister had finished her 6th form and her A Levels.
My dad was working and living alone in a brand-new country and had taken the chance to get out of Zimbabwe. We were very lucky as a family as many people lost so much. I have friends who left with just a suitcase after being thrown out of their own homes. Even though we were lucky we still lost a hell of a lot, the infrastructure had fallen apart. Bank accounts, savings, pension funds… All of that investment gets lost in an economic crisis, unless you’ve got money offshore. We were still fortunate as we got out with some money and without our lives being in danger.
My dad, through his contacts had managed to arrange for someone to buy our house and I’m not entirely sure about how the agreement was made, but it meant we were far luckier than other families who were trying to get out. It just didn’t make sense to stay there as my sister and I had our eyes set on further study at universities overseas, with the economic collapse and the exchange rate being what it was – we would never have been able to leave.
In my last few months at Heritage school I had made some friends, had a good social group, but it never really felt stable. So many people were leaving the country to go and live somewhere else because it was just falling apart. This didn’t really stop us as kids, but I like to think it made us a slightly dysfunctional set of early teenagers. Term time for me was a lot less focused on sports, mainly because the school had a mis-mash cricket team, not to mention I had lost interest in pursuing cricket as a career entirely.
There was a decent golf team and we would often play together during the week. I was porky again though and I had also been put on the orthodontist table and fitted with a brand-new set of shiny railway tracks! I used to walk around school as a 14-year-old boy hoping and praying that girls would see past the porky exterior and shiny braces on my teeth and see me as something worth spending time on.
It was the time of the Nokia 3310 and everyone had a phone, everyone played snake religiously, and texting became the norm in the afternoons. One day I received a text message out of the blue from a random number. It was someone by the name of Megan and she was not from our school. She told me that she was a friend of three girls in my class and she wanted to chat. She told me that she had met me at a firework show that the school had put on and that she thought she would ask me out.
In an instant my life changed! Bang, I was in, someone had seen me and thought I was cool! Beyond the porky belly and the constant battle to keep food out of my braces I was actually noticed! The best part, it was a GIRL! We seemed to hit it off and over the course of a week or so I was hooked on the idea that I would have a girlfriend. Our texting went on for a while, along with the odd phone call and then suddenly one day there was silence. I wasn’t sure what had happened, had I been too keen? Was she just shy to meet?
A few days passed and there was no contact and I was beginning to think that dating would never happen. I tried calling and got a voicemail. Texting back then meant there was no way of knowing if she had read any messages. I was gutted. Some kids seemed to find it easy to find girlfriends, they found it easy to get out of the ‘friend zone.’ I was permanently there, I’d set up camp in the friend zone and was the fat friendly guy.
My hope for the blossoming relationship was fading and having been bullied the year before, changing schools and having the prospect of leaving the country to deal with I was not one for feeling too positive about life. Let’s not forget that I was wearing braces and was porky and I’d also managed to ask my orthodontist for bright green rubber bands on my braces. As if I wasn’t cool enough already!
One day I was standing at school with my friends at break time and my phone vibrated in my pocket. I looked and it was a text from Megan! I read the text without being caught on my phone by a teacher, it said that she was sorry for being out of touch but her dad had made the snap decision to pack up the house and leave the country. She was on the way to the airport to fly off to Australia. Goodbye was the last word.
I couldn’t believe it, my first shot at actually dating a girl and she was leaving the country! I decided it was best to call and say goodbye. I phoned, I didn’t care if a teacher saw me and took my phone – in a weird way I had seemingly pinned my future on the potential of this relationship playing out. I felt like it was a lifeline of positivity to hold on to after such exposure to high school.
She answered the phone and we spoke. I told her that I was sad to hear that she was leaving and the conversation felt weird then a few seconds passed on the phone and laughter erupted from down the phone and across the path in the school break area. I thought it was a bit weird… I looked up and the three girls from my class were laughing hysterically at me whilst holding a phone. As I looked over I realised that Megan wasn’t at an airport, nor was she even real. She was just an elaborate prank that the three girls had come up with as a joke. I was so embarrassed and angry, I didn’t know what to do.
I was a laughing stock. I’d spent days texting and calling a girl who didn’t exist and trying to decide on where to take her out on a date. I was limited to where I could go too because I was threatened by the boys at my previous school, “If we ever see you out we’ll f*ck you up Turner!”
Not to mention that the attention that I had felt from ‘having someone in my life’ meant that I had been excited about life for the first time in a year. I actually felt valued until I realised it was all a joke.
It was that moment that sealed the deal for me in Zimbabwe – I hated it.
When the day came to leave Zimbabwe and pack up my things, I was happy. The only time I have ever been back is to play some golf, get my braces taken off by my orthodontist and get my driver’s licence.
I remember as I got into my dad’s car to drive the 10 or so hours to my new home in Botswana my only concern was that I would find the same kind of people at my next high school.
My first week in Botswana was hot, that is all I remember… Just heat and to the point where it felt like my head was going to explode. My first day at school in 2002 didn’t happen because I was so hot that my head was pounding. I remember because my dad and I had to get up early for school and I was just in so much pain.
My final few months in Zimbabwe had no structure. My mum was working all the hours under the sun and falling asleep on the sofa at night drowning in paperwork. My sister was headstrong on finishing school and I didn’t really have any drive to play cricket or golf very seriously.
Botswana was immediately different, it was just me and my dad, he dropped me at school before 7am and would head off to work. Schools started early in Botswana because of the heat, 7am – 2.30pm and then the rest of the day was yours. There was no compulsory sport, no strict hair cut regulation, no prefect shouting at you for running in the corridors. It was just relaxed yet focused. On my first day I sat down at and empty desk and this skinny guy with dark hair introduced himself to me straight away. He shook my hand and said his name was Sean Paul. In minutes I learned about him, his history and that one day he wanted to race in the Tour de France! We hit it off and I knew that I would have a friend for life.
It wasn’t long before I realised that it was time to step back into the driver’s seat of my life and my future. I had a new country, a new home and nobody knew who I was. It was a chance for me to use everything I had learned from Zimbabwe, the bullies at St Johns School, the people at Heritage School and the weird social dynamic of a country that was falling apart and apply it to my school life in Botswana.
If you have ever been to Gaborone you’ll know that it isn’t the most scenic place in the world. It is a bit of a dust bowl but it is the people in the place that make the place special. I made a lot of friends quickly and realised that there was no agenda for any of the kids in my school. Everyone was from somewhere else, everyone had a story and we just learned to get along.
I became a member at Gaborone Golf Club and before long I was on the course looking to improve. After having such low points in the last couple of years it was amazing to have a breakthrough. There is a saying by Thomas Fuller, ‘the night is darkest just before the dawn.’ There are multiple times that I have found the saying to be true.
At the golf club I was introduced to a golf pro called Bobby, he was a really tanned guy and looked to be very laid back. My dad had paid for some lessons and Bobby took me off to the driving range for our very first one, within 30 minutes I was swinging the club differently, with more purpose than ever before.
Over the following weeks I watched as my handicap fell and my scores on the course improved, it was epic. I felt empowered, not only had I made friends but my confidence was growing again. I was still a bit porky, but it didn’t really matter to me, what mattered was the fact that I was playing golf, enjoying it and didn’t have to worry about being hit, bullied or emotionally abused. Life was good!
The 16th year of my life was a year of progression and whilst I completed my IGCSE’s golf had to take a bit of a back seat. It took almost a year for my family to transition from Zimbabwe. My mum had stayed with my sister so that she could finish her final year of 6th form at Chisipite Senior School. Not long after we were all a family again my sister shipped out to England to take on music at university.
We were officially EX-PATS and Botswana was my home. When people ask where I am from today I often just say Botswana for two reasons. The first is that Botswana gave me a fresh start and restored my faith in the people that I was surrounded with. The friendships made in Botswana will last forever because we all had a similar story. The second reason I say I am from Botswana and not Zimbabwe is because people respond to Zimbabwe with confusion and sympathy. People know there was and still is suffering but don’t understand why it is still happening and therefore the conversation spirals, which is something that I’d rather just not talk about.
I very much value my experience of Zimbabwe, I think it was a great place to learn golf and sport, in it’s own way it was very cut off from the world. Botswana allowed me to learn and grow and gave me the confidence to step on a plane when I was 18 to explore life in the U.K. (more on that later…)
The best golf of my life
2003, the 16th year of my life, saw me enter my final two years at high school. Bobby left the golf club and I met a new chap called Gareth who helped me take my game to the next level. I started the International Baccalaureate Diploma, it was set to be two years of hard work but the results would be worth it. In all fairness I didn’t care too much about school but I liked going to school. It was weird but I’m sure that it is something that most people can relate to in some way.
Behind the scenes my dad had been doing some research into golf and how I could make some progress, he had been in touch with some of the organisers of the South African Northwest province golf team and arranged for me to play in a few of their events. As with most things in life, we have to test ourselves if we want to progress, golf is no different and the golfing competition in Botswana was not at a high enough level.
My dream and my focus lay in America, playing college golf, my dream was to play on the PGA Tour and win majors. These were the dreams that I had every time I teed the ball up to play a round of golf.
The golfing season kicked off in South Africa for me in the middle of 2003, it was winter and it was cold. Sure, midday brought the temperature up but when you are playing 36 holes in the middle of nowhere it meant leaving home or the place we were staying at 5am, sometimes earlier.
For many of the weeks I would jump in a pick-up truck with a bunch of other guys, all half asleep we would talk, we would sleep or we would laugh our way through the long journeys to each course. Once on the golf course it was business as usual and my game was starting to get sharp. The final provincial event of the season for the under 16 team was played on one of the courses in our team’s province. We were all confident and it came down to this final tournament, call it a ‘Ryder Cup’ format where we would team up, I was paired with a friend called Danie. He wasn’t a big hitter, but he was consistent. We were both hitting the ball well and when we stepped onto the back nine of the first round it was clear that we were in full control. We won our first matches and then went on to the singles in the afternoon, I was hitting the ball so well, down the fairway and I was in full control.
Golf is a game I liken to life, if you are confident and stay in the present then you will be in control. You use the past holes to fuel the next few, but it is always best to stay in the moment because that is what you can control. I ripped my way around the course and beat all my opponents contributing to the tournament win for the Northwest Province team!
Friends for life
It is a funny thing to think back to when I talk about my time in Botswana because I was only in the country from 2002 until 2005 and yet I regard it more as my home than I do Zimbabwe, and yet I lived in Zimbabwe for most of my life. The main thing that separated Botswana and Zimbabwe were what I call the ‘Impact Years’. The impact of friendship, the impact of learning and development, the impact of change.
I’ve grown up being uncomfortable and it has always made me feel stronger for it, I’ve grown up with conflict and it made me learn the value of calm. The truth is that times of great success are often met just after times of great tension – Zimbabwe was tense, the politics, the people, the vibe – it was all difficult. Botswana was a lease of life that gave me the confidence to move forward in life. The vision and the DRIVE to be stronger and better.
That’s why to conclude this chapter I’ll remind you of Thomas Fuller’s quote, ‘The night is darkest just before the dawn.’
You have no idea why you might be tested in life, but you’ll learn why in times to come, the best thing you can do is hold on, enjoy the ride and learn as much as you can along the way. I learned a few things, firstly never give up on yourself because there are millions of people who haven’t gotten to know you yet. Secondly, never let comfort define your life, be brave and get outside of what’s comfortable – not all the time – but enough to make you better.
That’s all for this instalment – be sure to register to read more of the blog.
As ever, Stay Strong and Keep Moving!
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