FROM living in Direct Provision to making movies, 38-year-old Zimbabwean actor and film student Tendai Manuel has found his feet on Corkonian soil.
Currently studying TV, radio and new media at Tralee IT, and living in Mallow with his wife Christine and his two children Adelle, 7, and Alayna, 4, Tendai doesn’t see himself leaving Cork any time soon.
Having moved to Ireland in 2009 seeking asylum, Tendai was moved to a Direct Provision Centre in Limerick where he stayed for three years. Tendai said that it was the most painful and challenging time of his life.
“I was not allowed to work at that time and so many things passed me by,” he says. “There were so many missed opportunities.
“It was a waste of time and everything else kept moving, time kept moving, but I stayed the same, just getting older.”
Tendai said the hardest thing was knowing there was nothing you could do.
“You can’t do anything and after a while your creativity decreases, you can’t think of ideas like you used to,” he says.
After three years in a Limerick centre, Tendai moved to Drishane Castle in Millstreet, a move he had been fighting for over many months since meeting his wife Christine in Cork city.
“I was staying in Limerick and I was visiting my brother Peter in Cork city. Peter lived in Fermoy at the time.
“We were in Cork city and a Zimbabwean woman asked us for directions to Dublin.
“As she was from Zimbabwe and I found out she was in the same situation as me, staying in Direct Provision, I did everything I could to help her.”
The pair stayed in contact from their chance encounter and over time began a relationship which was made difficult by their living circumstances.
“I was supposed to sign in every day in Limerick, but I would visit Christine and we would stay at my brother’s in Fermoy and then I would get in trouble when I went back to Limerick.
“Sometimes I would stay away for three days and eventually when I went back they threw me out.
“I had nowhere to go.”
Tendai was snuck in and out of the centre by friends while he worked with the non-profit human rights organisation Doras Luimni on getting accommodation.
In 2012, he was moved to the Millstreet centre where he and Christine could be together.
In 2015, Tendai was granted ‘leave to remain’ and in 2019, he and Christine got married at Blackrock Castle, where he had proposed two years earlier in the tower.
“I had it all arranged, we went for dinner and I asked friends to pretend they were doing a photo-shoot and they ‘asked’ us to pose in the tower and I got down on one knee and proposed,” he says.
Tendai and Christine now live in Mallow, where he commutes by train to Tralee for college five days a week and where Adelle and Alayna go to school. “They love school, they also take drama classes which they enjoy as well.”
Since arriving in Cork, Tendai said he has a soft spot for visiting old castles and Irish pubs.
“My favourite pub in Cork city is ‘The Oliver Plunkett. I remember walking in when I first arrived in Cork and I just fell in love with the place. The music and the character, there is something special about it.”
As a student, Tendai is busy with assignments and exams, but he also works as an actor with various productions at Troy Studios in Limerick as well as working as a wedding videographer.
He said at times he does miss home, in particular, the sunshine, his parents, and sister, and the food. For the first time in 10 years, he visited his home country over Christmas. “It is very expensive to visit Zimbabwe, so I don’t know when I will get to go again, but it was very nice visiting over Christmas and spending time with my family.”
While he missed home, the young actor and film producer said that Cork has been kind to him over the years and he has made many friends in the Rebel County.
Cork people are very friendly and I have friends who have helped me a lot, given me opportunities when I needed them and helped me when I could see any light,” he says.
“I have so much to thank Cork people for.”