Mbeke Blog

Mbeke Blog

Month: December 2017

Black Expat Stories- Why Jakarta ?

I woke up and looked out of the hotel window. Century Park Hotel was fine. The long drive and time in the traffic following the initial delays at the airport was not fun. Unfortunately, Jakarta looked a lot like Malaysia and I wondered why I had booked my long weekend here. Travelling out on one of the many public holidays in Malaysia had become a habit. I would see the Air Asia printouts in the hands as other staff members walked away from the photocopier. Expats and locals just loved to travel. Another trip was confirmed on the cheap airbus of this region and off we would go. We had already visited Bali, Vietnam, Thailand and so Jakarta was one of the many local countries on that ever-growing list. Looking out this morning though, I did start to wonder if it was time to reduce the local trips and to start planning for a few long haul trips to places like New Zealand, Australia, India or Mauritius. Paupi New Guinea sounded nice too…

The hotel had been selected as it was next to a park. Hours had been spent looking at the many hotel and flight packages, figuring out which offered a free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and free shuttle. It was back and forth and back again until I couldn’t remember what had attracted me to that particular hotel in the first place. In the end, either my selection was confused or my laptop was for we ended up in a hotel with no free breakfast or shuttle. The website also did not mention that the stadium and park were closed for renovation. The dark rainy day was not inviting and I wondered whether I had been blessed with the writing weekend I had been asking the universe for. I looked around the large room and knew that, with sufficient sustenance, I could possibly stay here all weekend and write.

Bola messaged me and we agreed to meet in the foyer to walk to the closest mall. We needed to find some food for breakfast. We had both forgotten the one-hour difference as arriving at the mall, we found that most of the restaurants were just setting up. The staff took to staring at my braids and at Bolas skin whilst putting the chairs and menus out. We kept walking, mindful but not troubled by this attention for we had become used to. Those already open, displayed a list of dishes that were dominated by meat and fish. That wouldn’t work as we were both living happily without either.

A walk towards another mall was met with can we just go back to the hotel and use their wifi to find a vegetarian place. I didn’t resist as jetlag was kicking in. I could have walked or returned.

Burgreens was such a great space with a covered outdoor space that resembled a countryside summerhouse and a small and cozy store. It was positioned on the top of a small building with two other outlets in total alignment with all that it stood for. The ground floor sold organic fresh vegetables, the middle floor sold vegetarian and health products including raw honey, essential oils and vegetarian/vegan cakes and snacks. At the top of the building, stood Burgreens selling great what we used to call whole food…wholesome dishes and all vegetarian/vegan cooked and raw. The term used now is Plant-based and as with previous labels, it has different connotations for all who use it.

 

The restaurant was set up so that customers could watch all of the food preparation and taking photographs was totally accepted. There was staff who spoke English and they were able to explain what was in each dish. At the restaurant, we saw the advert for the Healthy diet and lifestyle conference and knew that this was why we were in Jakarta on that weekend.

 

Saturday morning began with two yoga sessions for me and a meditation class for Bola. The Yin class was great as was the hot yoga class. Having qualified this year as a yoga teacher, I was mindful that I needed to practice more until I was able to commit to delivering a regular class. With my work travels being ad-hoc, I had found that I could not attend a regular class to stay in shape. Delivering a class had also proved problematic and I recalled the private teacher who had been mentioned to me some time ago.

The second yoga class was hard and reminded me that I needed to push myself more on the yoga mat. I recalled my yoga teacher saying that the body has muscle memory. So it was important that my recent memories were of an accurate and strong yoga practice.

The aura reading was enlightening and I watched the reader as her words flowed and flowed before she spoke. Her face showed no emotion and so I started studying her hair and clothes as I waited for her to return. Her energy was not definitively male or female and I asked my self if this was important. It didn’t seem to be. She didn’t look up until she had stopped writing, as if she had taken an x-ray of my soul, seeing only what she could see and then take the words to paper from that x-ray. When she spoke, I asked little for it is true that with self-awareness, there is little new news that comes my way. We thanked each other. She had only met a few like me. I laughed and then smiled.

Watching the different faces as they engaged with the knowledge from their readings, gave me pleasure too. Reflective looks and smiles were all around. People connected with memories that confirmed why that had not happened or indeed, why that had happened. With yoga classes, ancient chanting, the smell emanating from the body and soul products and delicious food, I was at home.

 

Meeting the owners of Burgreens was inspiring. A young man and woman had met in university in the US and had returned home to Indonesia, determined to eat in a way that was not harmful to the environment or to their bodies. With asthma, eczema, insomnia and ongoing colds, it was time to change their lifestyles. They had successfully healed their bodies and were now sharing that with the millions who would benefit from their knowledge and meals. The naked Burgreens, raw strawberry cheesecake, and super nutty protein bowl served me well for Saturday and Sunday morning. Helga Angelina and Max Mandias thank you for following your dream.

I stood at my window listening to the music. There were so much noise and so many people. The covered school girls moved along the road in groups and I assumed it was a school day. I couldn’t remember if this was a Sunday to Thursday or Monday to Friday region. The music increased as did the crowds. I could see colored mascots moving too with the sun reflecting on their bright colorful headpieces. I wanted to see more and my room view no longer seemed satisfactory. I put my exercise shorts and t.shirt on, checking in with the hotel staff to confirm that it was acceptable to be on the street dressed like this. I found myself in a carnival atmosphere with food sellers, clothes stalls, live bands and a flow of people carrying batons in T-shirts for the Family Olympics. The announcer included ‘African’ two or three times as he described the moving crowds. I noticed and moved on right in with those on the walk. It was the Olympic Day fun run 2017. The characters from The Justice League were also there to remind me that You can’t save the world alone. The aura reader was right.

 

Moving along with the crowds, I watched the families, police, sellers cyclists and serious runners negotiate the path. All senses were being fed. I stayed with the walkers for an hour and a half, powering up and slowing down as the body dictated. Towards the end of the run, I decided to follow others going from one side of the road to the other to catch the best images as the sun opened up over us. I retook some of the earlier shots as the dark morning had not afforded those images the intensity and contrast that came with the early morning sun. Amongst all of this activity, noise, and movement, I was temporarily rooted as I watched the drone moving over the crowds. I had seen the young men setting it up but watching it move now overhead, whilst taking its aerial shots was something else. What an invention this was. It had revolutionized so many things in my lifetime.

I drank the fresh orange juice and purchased something which looked like a banana fritter. It was the one thing that everyone nodded to when I asked vegetarian? The dignitaries sat under the canopy in front of the fan. They took selfies in their nice suits whilst waiting for the speeches to begin. Groups of children and adults were preparing to display their martial arts, stretching and balancing. Others danced to the local popular music that was pumping out. An elderly man of about 75 caught my eye with his sharp foot movements. Age was not going to catch him at all! I watched as many of those who had been walking, now sat eating noodle dishes with fish, meat, tofu and vegetables added. It had been a fun morning. The serious runners didn’t stop and looked as if they would just run on along to join another event.

Back in my hotel room, I continued to watch the crowds from my window. The traffic could still not pass down that road so it continued to back up along the park road. I was tempted to shower, change and rejoin them. I hadn’t packed yet though. There were clothes on the bed, chair, and sofa looking at me as if to say don’t you dare leave this room again. I really did need to pack.

 

Why Jakarta? All of this of course! You never know what or who you will find or what you can create until you get there.

DISCLAIMER:

The thoughts in this blog are mine. My opinions, uncensored.  Please don’t take it personally

Black Expat Stories – Women going tru!

You are no longer employed here.Your contract has been terminated
Ok. I wasn’t expecting that. Having returned to the UK during the vacation, this was simply a courtesy call to inform the principal that I’d be back this weekend. I would return one week late and had warned her that may be the case. The training at the beginning of each term was not challenging. In fact, the trip had been a great excuse for me to miss this. I hated in-service training that didn’t provide any new information. Maybe it had backfired. I needed to think quickly. Would I return to Jamaica with my two children or stay in the UK? Jamaica was still calling me so we boarded the plane for year three. There was no knowing what that return trip would bring. I was more than willing to find out though

Our home was owned by the school where I no longer worked and the children attended the school where I no longer worked. Schools fees needed to be paid and I had very little reserves. I was figuring it out as I went along. Sitting on the bed thinking about how best to manage this, I thought about another credit card. My current plastic options were limited and if the truth be told, I was in no state to apply for another one. They were too damn easy to get anyhow. The rent for month one was there. We’d have to see what happened in month two.

Being let go from positions is a humbling experience. I had been too radical for them, teaching my students about Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Nanny of the Maroons in the Language Arts class. The US curriculum in Jamaica angered me so much. Why couldn’t I teach about Jamaican heroes in Jamaica? The parents complained. They did not want their children knowing about ‘dem deh people’. Their privileged lives left no space for this perspective. For if Garvey spoke of ‘African for the Africans, at home and abroad’ and they didn’t see themselves as African, my influence could only be negative. I had worn my Nigerian dress to school with my hair in an Afro and the head teacher remarked that I looked like an ‘African Princess’ to which I had responded ‘I am’. Working in a Christian school as a non-Christian was a compromise I had made to get the bills paid. This school needed me to compromise in a way I hadn’t even considered.

When I had sat eating roasted sweet potato or breadfruit at lunchtime, the children had asked me what is that maam? Their privileged lives took them to eat KFC and Haggen Dazs ice cream after school. It was at a cost that many Jamaicans were paid for the whole month, what these students had access to for their afterschool snacks. Their relationship with the place where they were born, was not connected to the things which long haired tourist loved to experience in authentic Jamaica. There seemed to be so much disconnection or maybe it was I who was disconnected.

Debbie called me from downstairs, ‘Me can come up?’ It was mid-day so she must be home for lunch. She ate turn cornmeal with sardines most lunchtime. We had experienced a few lunchtimes catch ups since I found myself between jobs
W’happen’, she greeted me. She always looked like she pitied me. Like I just didn’t get it.
“How tings?’ she asked leaning over to look at my computer screen.
‘Tings noh so nice since me loss me job. Me ah look fe wok’. I explained. She looked at me
‘Wok? You pretty you know,” she said as if I didn’t know.
‘Yeah’, I responded in a way as if to ask and how will that help me
‘Why you don’t just go fin a man, one a dem rich one up ah red hills. Plenty returnees deh bout’. She looked satisfied as if she had just given me a gift. The answer to all of my problems for the foreseeable future.
She was right. In her world, pretty light brown women did not sit around musing over small things like paying bills, school fees and buying food. In my world, the social security and unemployment benefit offices served the same purpose. As my surrogate husband, they would give me a small allowance so long as I complied with their rules, behaved myself and didn’t try to earn a penny more.

He had been watching me for a while. He was tall, dark and very handsome. Always beautifully dressed. There to pursue his graduate program in Global Development studies. I was an 18-year-old duffle coat wearing child from London who was wondering what the heck she was doing at University. Coming for a poor background, it really was not a part of the plan. When mummy died, it seemed that anything and nothing were possible.

We met at the African society where people with black skin all came together. As I sat in his room listening to his musings about the car he was shipping from Germany and his house in Benin state which his relatives lived in, I suspected that sex would have been my passport to some of these things too. His thick accent was interesting and although there were some words I didn’t quite catch, I knew Bumi and her family well back on our estate. The intonation was familiar. My mother was not happy with this, always warning me Don’t eat from dem, but they were orders which I ignored. I looked at him and understood the trade-off. It would be my body for the ‘things’ which he had access to. After all, that was the world I lived in.

‘I have to go’, I said standing to change the reality in front of me.
‘But…I thought you would stay’. His gentle voice and beautiful face, sounded and looked so disappointed. It was hard to tell if it was affection or wounded ego. I didn’t look back, buttoning my duffle coat and walking through the campus through the cold November air, I exhaled once I was in my room. At 18, I knew that big cars and houses weren’t the most important things for me.

I had been watching Debbie since she moved in with her sister. Let me reframe that. Since her sister had sublet one of her two rooms. I was so glad that the children and I had the top two rooms. With the different hours they all kept, I wouldn’t have been able to withstand the door banging and smell of food wafting past our doors at all hours. It’s funny how I had learned to compromise on what at another time in my life, would be totally not up for discussion.

Why you don’t just go fin a man…look how you pretty She exclaimed. I smiled and made no judgement. She worked in an expensive shoe shop which paid enough for her to pay her sister for the one room which she occupied with her son. There were at least three men who picked her up on respective nights and there was one from whom she returned home with many bags of shopping. I suspected that the others paid for her son’s school fees and towards her rent. Even nice shoe shops in Constant Springs didn’t pay local floor staff high salaries.

It was her reality and a reminder of why I had swotted over those books late at night for my Teachers certificate and Master’s degree. The next day I woke early, went to the internet café to print of copies of my CV and targeted the UN offices in New Kingston where I was offered work as a Consultant.

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