Meet Chipo Faith Biti, a 24 year old Zimbabwean creative and student. She is a writer, blogger, editor of an online magazine, motivational speaker and aspiring activist. You can watch her amazing motivational TED speech right below the interview. In this interview, we learn about her experiences living, schooling and starting a career in Cyprus, the growth she has witnessed on this island(and in herself), the problems she has seen and the ways she suggests some of these issues can be overcome. Chipo recognizes the vast potential that abound in this island, and she shares what she feels is holding Cyprus back and so much more.
1. What is your name?
Chipo Faith Biti
2. Where are you from?
I’m from Zimbabwe
3. How old are you?
I’m 24 yrs old
4. What do you do?
haa! ermm.. That’s a good question.. I’m a student in visual arts and communication design in Eastern Mediterranean University Northern Cyprus. Besides that, I don’t really know how to put it so usually I just call myself a creative because I’m into a lot of things.. Before I used to be a writer, I owned a blog, then i started going into other projects, like doing a magazine, making motivational videos, now I’ve gotten into photography,and I’m always growing.. so rather than call myself one thing I just refer to myself as a creative.
5. So why did you go into visual arts?
I went into it because I felt like that’s where I belonged. I used to be in engineering and then, at some point I kind of realized it just wasn’t for me. it’s not like I was struggling or anything, which confused my parents even more when I told them I was moving. But I wanted to move to something where I felt I’d actually be doing what I was meant to be doing in this life. I also wanted something that would at least present a challenge and I felt like VACD(Visual Arts and Creative Design) would do that. Everyone expected me to go into departments like Radio/TV/Media Studies or Public Relations and I was just like ‘I want to try something different’. I like designing even though before I moved there I could barely design, I barely knew Photoshop so it was like a leap of faith for me but it’s worked out just fine.
6. So what did your parents say?
Ohhh ohh, they said a lottt. Till this day they still don’t understand, my mum would be like “what did you say you were studying again? when people ask me I don’t know what to tell them” The visual arts part throws them off because they think all I’m doing is just drawing AND I’M LIKE NOO its soo much more than that. At this point, they’re kind of just hoping that something just works out and I’m okay with it.
7. How long have you being in Cyprus?
I’ve been in Cyprus for quite a while. I’ve been here since 2012 and now we’re in 2017 so its roughly about 5 years.
8. Is there a history behind you coming to Cyprus?
I was in my final year of high school and we’d kinda established that I wasn’t going to school in South Africa because I stay there with my family, so I didn’t want to go to university there. I wanted to go overseas and initially I was looking at America, I had like these huge ivy league dreams. I wanted to go to Yale, then during process of everything I don’t know what happened, i cant really describe it. I woke up one day and I was just like no. I don’t want to go to America.. Trust me, I know it sounds really weird. You know, I’ve been feeling somehow about it but I’m glad I didn’t go now because I would have been stuck doing something that I didn’t want to do and the pressure would have been even more because you don’t just drop out of Engineering in a university in America.
I guess that at the time, I just didn’t feel ready for it, I didn’t feel ready for such a big move so I ended up coming to Cyprus instead, to a place I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t even know what Cyprus looked like. My whole flight yeah I was just like ‘Lord I’m not getting trafficked am I?’
9. What were your expectations when coming to Cyprus?
I didn’t know what to expect. I told myself “I don’t know where I’m going to so I might as well expect anything… whatever it is work with it”
10. Would you say you were a bit disappointed when you got here?
I wasn’t entirely disappointed.. At first I was a little bit overwhelmed because when I landed, I lost my luggage, the flight before, I almost missed it.. And now getting here and just seeing fields of dead grass and everything. I was like “Where I’m I? what is going on? Am I supposed to be here?”. I started off at Cyprus International University (CIU) and when I saw the campus I was like “Ok, this looks like something on the internet” It didn’t help that the student who came to pick us up hated the place so he just washed down everything.. he was like ” This place is terrible, you guys should just plan to move” I was already hypertensive so when i got into my dorm room.. I took a deep breath and told myself.. “You know what? you’re here, probably for the next four years, so you have to make something off it.. you didn’t just come here for no reason.. don;t just end up here. just try and enjoy it “ that was exactly what i did. I enjoyed Cyprus
11. So what’s next for you? Are you still thinking of going to America or going back to your country?
Oh no, not America and not my country either. I’m still thinking.. I wanna go into voluntary work hopefully with non governmental organizations that deal with women who are human trafficking victims, sexual abuse, domestic violence and somehow also incorporate my writing and photography into documenting everything that is going on there to like create awareness because I’m very passionate about things like that. The places I’ve seen that are like hot spots for it are mostly places Asia. So I was looking at Thailand and around those places as well
12. So what made you started enjoying Cyprus?
I met nice people. The first people I met were very nice, they showed me around and we became good friends. They were from Kenya
13. In your 5 years of being here, what changes have you noticed in Cyprus from your first time and now?
I’ve noticed that this place has actually grown.. Fast growing internationally, and technologically were are getting there. There’s been a whole lot of developments. I remember when I came in Lefkosa, there was this one street Dereboyu and there were only about 3 places you could go to and now it has turned into a more hyped up trendy place, a packed street full of different restaurants, cafes, show and whatnot.. Even in Famagusta, there are apartment buildings going up almost every week even though their quite expensive. its still a development. The city mall practically happened over night…it has become a lot more accommodating to international students. The international community is growing, even beyond student wise.. As slow as the progress may be. Its good that they’re waking up and realizing that the place needs development
14. Has Cyprus influenced you in any way?
Oh yes! Cyprus woke me up.. I came here when I was about 18. Fresh out of High School and coming to a foreign land where I didn’t know what to expect only to find out this place is probably crazier than a lot of places, very highly underestimated. And I was thrown into a lot of hectic situations, some I wouldn’t wish to relive ever again and some that was very pleasant. so yeah the experiences kind of woke me up and overall made me wiser, a lot less ignorant , a lot less naive and a lot more open minded to people.
It made me a lot more driven, a lot more goal oriented and its pushed me to dream bigger, to think beyond what’s there… I guess maybe it was the sight of not seeing much here and thinking well, make something for yourself.. so it brought out the ‘goal getter’ in me
15. You consider yourself as a creative.. what was your first creative activity and why did you start?
It was blogging. I started blogging in 2013, i wanted to voice my thoughts i guess. And also to create conversations and get people thinking. Blogging became the platform for me to do a lot more other things. I really cultivated my writing there and I even dabbled into a little bit of designing because i did some creative projects from time to time with blog before moving to start a magazine.
16. Tell us about about this magazine, how did it happen?
I wanted to capture what I was seeing in Cyprus, which was international students who were doing really great things and I wanted t show people like” Look, there are young people who are doing things and you can do stuff too”. And it was an amazing experience for me.. not only did I prove myself wrong. I showed myself how far i could go. I met a lot of amazing people who I made long lasting friendships with, helped people realize their potentials.. It just caused a ripple effect in my life because if it wasn’t for that magazine I don’t think I would have realized I wanted to go into VACD, even photography as well
17. What inspires you?
I get inspired by seeing other people get inspired.. I don’t know if that makes sense. I like to show other people that its possible in the sense that, if i can do it.. then you sure as hell can.. And when people come back and share their stories with me, it really inspires me and it gets going on by reminding me that everything I’m doing is not just for me, but for other people too..
My family inspires me as well. just the thought of everything falling into place and them really understanding that “OK, so this is what you do”.. I always have that mental picture in my head for when that moment comes. That keeps me driven
18. What do you think is holding you back in advancing your career in Cyprus or maybe international?
funding,.. other than the language barrier.
19. What do you think is the solution to this issue?
we need more spaces with the local community, okay we can’t have a work permit. There are freelancers! almost everyone here are freelancers.. That’s a loophole.. work on that .. I know amazing designers and photographers and business people and young passionate entrepreneurs who have wonderful ideas that could benefit everyone if they just had partners who are locals and also have their best interest at heart. Because I know a lot of people that have been taken advantage of and had their money taken
if there was just a good clear way to create spaces for these people in different sectors.. There are local companies that are opening up everyday mostly to earn from the students. Reach out to the students and search for collaborations.. “we’re looking for photographers, we are looking for writers, we are looking for cooks. we are looking for people who can sample things.. ” Give them spaces to actually promote their things and build their portfolios..If these space are created they won’t be let let down at all.. I’ve seen the work ethics of most of the people here who have projects on the side.. They put in their all. And if you now tell them that they’re going to get paid for what they’re doing..They’re work ethics will triple and it will work out for the locals and international community..It could also help strengthen these companies relationship with their target audience..Like I said earlier there is a huge communication gap and we really do need local support
20. From your own point of view, how do you feel about the relationship between other nationalities?
I think most people tend to stick to people from their own countries.. And their other groups who most hangout with people form other countries, But they’re not the majority.. Its not like there is cohesion or undertone conflict or anything, People just feel comfortable with what their familiar with. I think that’s something that needs to be look at. I know what brings people together usually is common grounds. So if people with common interests were to bond together in like workshops or events as such that enable people to bond together on similar interests, it’ll work
21. As part of the group that is seen to be minor, have you ever felt the need to question your identity?
Question my identity? hmm, not really but to reinforce my beliefs in myself, yes.
22. Have you been discriminated in any way?
Yes I have been.. from sitting in a bus and a white guy sitting next just gets up and walk away.. to having people pull my hair and examining me like an animal.. Also times that people are looking at you and talking in a different language,, and you can tell because they all look and start laughing.. really? seriously 2017 and we are still doing this.. These little things that appear harmless but they’re not.. And sexual harassment from cab drivers that’s the major one.. There are cab drivers that’ ll be like I’m not going to drop you off until you have sex with me and i was like ” I’m about the open this door and roll away”.. Fortunately these guys, they loose their nerve when you yell at them.. which is annoying because I have to act all animalistic to them in order to get my way.. so ill literally start yelling, screaming then they chicken out and come back to their senses. It often seems like a demonic exorcism
literally a friend mine was telling me about a friend of hers who was looking for a job.. She walks into a shop and the guy just whips out his penis and started masturbating.. and he was like come help me.. I was like what?? yes it actually happened. Girls get sexually harassed by their bosses, they report the cases and then get fired for reporting it. its a whole a lot that does need to be uncovered and spoken about because they’re a lot of people that are suffering in silence. Some get taken advantage of by their landlord. The problem is that people who are doing this are people in power.. On the surface, Cyprus looks like a small island where you feel nothing much is going on but when you put your ears to the ground, darling the ground would talk back
23. What is the one thing you would like to change about yourself?
I overwork myself to the point of not being able to function. I don’t why i do that. The moment I feel a little bit better, workout myself out again.. So I’m trying to just being easy on myself and not pressure myself too much
24. Coming from a place with a certain culture and lifestyle, How do you feel about living with people whose lifestyle is different from yours? any culture shock experiences?
I’m very open minded.. I try not to get phased and I’m more willing to hear where a person is coming from.Also the fact that I’m living in a country that has a completely different way of living.. I can’t just come here and start expecting everything to go my way.. So I’m just like
“OK, look you’re a minority here and amidst different people so there’s no time to start forcing you way of living on other people. get to know people, be open, know your boundaries and yeah” that’s how i roll
25. how do you relate with people from other countries?
I like to think that I relate with them very well because I moved from Zimbabwe to South Africa when I was like 12. And South Africa is a whole culture shock of its own. So living there my mind was already opened, and i was forced to get used to people.. So it made me freer with people .. I have friends lots of friends from different countries
26. how would you describe your personality?
I don’t know, I’m a confused person.. A loner but i like people as well. There are times where everyone wants to go out and I’m like I need time to myself
27. In terms of social issues, what major social issue you think needs to be dealt but its been overlooked or ignored in Cyprus?
Discrimination, sexual violence and sexual harassment even Domestic violence.. Because those are actually really major issues that are going on. While there may be are basic systems that have been set up to take care of the problem. They are not working.. they need to be spoken about.. not just spoken about .. I think more work needs to be done there.
look at the recent cases of murdered women.. women are being stabbed in public and no one has a problem with it. it just shows that these things have been happening behind closed doors and now its overflowing because no one just suddenly get the confidence to stab someone outside a school, outside a coffee shop.. those are public places.. That means that’s rage and it doesn’t just happen.. you don’t just get angry right there and decide you’r going to just stab someone. The human mind doesn’t work that way. Its something that has been accumulating for a while. I looked at the statics of domestic violence in the country and its horrifying.. and whats more horrifying is the reaction and lack of shock when these things happen. like its a normal occurrence
28. What has Cyprus taught you so far?
Cyprus has taught me to speak up, to stand for what I believe in.. to be kind to others.. Because there’s a whole lack of kindness going on in the world. To be protective of myself and go for my dreams no matter what
29. How do you see the country in the next 10 years?
I don’t think I’d recognize this country in the next ten years.. if this is the rate they’re going at now. in the next ten years no one would recognize this place. It’ll be a lot more advanced in different ways. Hopefully by then they’ll be able lot more international business and they’ ll be more open to English. Definitely it’ll be booming.. even their hotel industry is seriously stepping up its game.. I think it’ ll be a real contender for quite a few places
30. What do you think Cyprus could learn from your country?
Being open to new ideas and embracing new opportunities
31. What do you think your country could learn from Cyprus?
not to always be in a rush. I like the way these people work here, they’re so laid back but they get things done. it can be frustrating if you’re from a fast pace country. You’ll die of stress here. You walk to the health center and you wait for like half and hour for the doctor to arrive. Try that back home, people will be swearing and cussing you out. They have a way of doing things..I mean buildings get built, the services get done. Although sometimes it can be very annoying. But they have simple way of living that makes sense… Cyprus is very different from a a lot of places. its almost 10pm right now, the fact that I can walk back home and not worry about it is noteworthy. You can’t do that in a lot of places including South Africa. It’ is quite safe over here.
I hope this simplicity stays. I hope that vibe stays with Cyprus as it changes. Because it’ll be very sad for them to lose that. I hope that they’re able to maintain the simple community kind of vibe.
32. What’s your definition of fun and what do you do for fun?
I go out with friends, I go for long walks in the beach.. sound weird when I say it, so typical. Love anything that involves food.. I really do enjoy cooking
33. whats your favorite dish to cook?
I did it i a few of times because of how long it takes but i really enjoyed making it. it was lasagna. And love makeing pies.. like those old school kind of pies
34. what quote do you live by?
I live by many quotes but the one I live by the most is a very absurd one by Shonda Rhimes from a book . “Yes is meant to feel like the sun” which basically means she went on a whole challenge to challenge herself to say all kinds of things that scared her. And she was like even in the midst of saying yes, she wants to enjoy that yes.. no matter how tough the situation is
35. If you had 3 wishes, what would you wish for?
I would wish for funding, just enough to get me stable and for my projects so I can also help other people. Coz that’s all i ever want to do, set up platforms for other people as well..
To travel to anywhere and have all expenses paid.. Or just have visas to everywhere.
And for my parents to be able to retire and enjoy their life
36. If you could get a project to be funded, what project would you like that to be ?
The magazine.. I’d really love to get that funded because that is the one project that will not just benefit me but also benefit a whole lot of people in the process as well.
37. Give us a brief summary of the magazine?
It is an online magazine title The Isseu (see the last last edition here). The magazine is about embracing and exposing the good that is Cyprus. It encompasses all sections of Cyprus; from the food industry to fashion, tourism, culture etc. Its a lifestyle magazine based in Cyprus that is also exposing the talents within the African community … Because I was doing i from my perspective, but it’ll be open to change.. The purpose of the magazine is to promote both the good in Cyprus and the good people who are part of it.
38. What is one question, you were expecting that I didn’t ask?
I think you asked everything.
Follow Chipo Faith Biti on Social Media
Instagram – @chipochashe_
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ChipoBiti
What her amazing inspirational TED speech below