Mbeke Blog

Mbeke Blog

Category: African women

Black Expat Stories – Police people

We sat in the car nervously. We had a Nigerian driver for today’s excursion and the police had pulled our car over. It would seem that three black women and a black driver were cause for concern in Malaysia

They demanded our passports and none of us had them with us. We hadn’t thought and so the driver was asked to step out.

They want money I thought.

 In Ghana, my driver was tired of dashing anything to the policemen.  The one who pulled us over on that Christmas Eve morning was drunk. I smelt the alcohol on his breath and saw the gun swinging carelessly on his arm.  I became worried for I had not gone to Ghana to die! I suggested to the driver,

 I will pay. It is not a problem!

 He did not care anymore for he was tired.  His Christmas earnings were disappearing and there seemed to be stop points at every junction. I paid and we moved on.

 The policemen in Malaysia looked so young on that morning.  He had demanded that the tinted windows be opened.  As he heard our English, Carribean and Yorkshire accents, he seemed confused though. Somewhat agitated too.  He may not have been able to identify our accents but it wasn’t what he expected.  After all, all black people are Nigerian….

 Passports! Where are your passports? He asked

 I felt a slight anxiety begin to rise. We, like any vulnerable group, could be taken to a police station and never seen again. People did not stay connected in this day and age. Once they did not hear from you, a fleeting thought of I wonder what happened to so and so would so be lost I the noise and disruption of gadgets and social media.

 The driver came back to the car where his brow showed signs of serious tension.

 Where are your passports? he asked.  He knew the answer yet hoped they would appear…just to make this situation right.

 My day of black girl magic had started with the reminder that black peoples power is so great that the whole damn world is threatened.

 We want to see your passports

 No problem, you just need to follow us to the hotel and we’ll present them, we confirmed.

 I work here, I repeated.  He didn’t flinch. He was preparing to deliver the classic line

 I am the police. I don’t follow you!  You follow me to the station! There it was! Power over those who, at the moment, have very little!

 I work here, I repeated. It is an MOE project, I said   He didn’t flinch. I tried giving him specific details of where the office is and the name of the departments who we worked with. He was not interested.

 Has your work permit run out? He asked, smiling

 I reminded myself that the woman who carried the AK47 was not needed today so I simply smiled too. My sister stepped in and stated what everyone knew.

 If we follow you to the police station, we still won’t have our passports!

 Don’t get loud with me. He responded. She was not loud.  She was a gentle professional black woman. It was clearly time to retreat.

Let’s go back to the car I suggested, leaving the driver to negotiate his (and our) way out of this one. He came to the car just after we sat down and took some money from his wallet.

 How much are you giving them? I asked

 I only have 50, he answered as he hoped this would buy us our freedom today.

 OK. I said. I was angry at the global abuse of power that police people demonstrate. I wondered where the land was that this did not take place.

Some of the women in the car were surprised. I was not for I knew this from Ghana, Jamaica, South Africa, Tunisia, and Malaysia. And yes, it happens in the UK!! It was not a surprise. The stop. The threat. The unreasonable demands. More threats. The solution to help us. The result is that we really don’t need to go to the station. And then, the exchange!

 

With passports in hand, we began the day again. We would not be defeated!

Black Expat Stories – Ode to Aunty Dimela

 

 

It was too hard and I was too far away.

I had received the message that you had passed on aunty. I had not seen you for some time with thisAfrican clothes

expatriate life that I now live. My trips were always full. Filled with family, friends and house things. Nothing really… Our relationship had changed when I no longer heard from you. I didn’t know. I didn’t know you were ill. It seemed fine but now, as I looked at the pictures which were coming through, it was so not fine.

So much time had passed and now, not only had the time passed but so had you.  Being this far and not able to attend the nine nights where I knew you would be celebrated. Where the old friends would reunite and remember. Where libation would be poured, messages would be spoken, good food would be shared and tears would be allowed to fall.

A  space where your spirit would laugh and dance with all those who had gathered….I weep for not being there. I smile for having enjoyed your words of wisdom for many many years.  Your direct questions and unsolicited advise that, whether liked or accepted, I always knew was right.

I looked at us in our African clothes. Matching head wraps which are now sold to everyone in high street designer stores across the world. Our revolutionary clothes took a turn into the fashion houses aunty!  In those clothes, our family had provided love, laughter, nourishment, and security back then.  In our difference, we were the same and aspired for the same ideals that we knew the united states of Africa and united states of the Caribbean, would ultimately bring.

Our heroes and sheroes were Davis, Winnie, Lumumba, James, Makeba, Bishop, Manley, Nkrumah, John, Kuti, Marley, Jeffries, Diop, Shange, Welsing, Van Sertima, Angelou, Walker, Nyere, Biko, Morrison, Karenga, Collins, Iyapo, Baldwin, Gilroy, Zephaniah, Stuart and Yekwai….yes….Yekwai.  For you had penned our thoughts and told the world that we knew of their lies and actions towards us. Oh yes, you knew!

Travel safely over aunty and be well. Have the peace of heart, mind, and body that was denied to you in its entirety in this incarnation  A place that is denied to many of us who really know.

I love you and I hear your all-knowing energetically earthly laughter.

Walk good and rest until you come again.

 

 

Mbeke Waseme

19.7.2018

 

Black Expat Stories – My original hair they asked

I peeped around the corner, as I  quickly pulled the hot comb through my hair. There was no sound. Thank goodness, my mother was still sleeping.  The kitchen window was open so that she wouldn’t smell the hot comb process from that morning.  It was 1976 and a seriously hot summer.  My afro would go from 7 to 2 inches as soon as I started to sweat. I loved the work of Angela Davis and so wanted my afro to look just like hers. In 1976, as one of the hottest recorded summers in the UK, the shrinkage was real!

I allowed my sister to convince me to put ‘realxing cream’ into my hair once. It was hard work though and all of that burning, visits to the hairdresser and ‘treatment’ really didn’t work for me. It was so funny watching the women flock to be around the male hairdresser. He reminded me of Marvin Gaye, but that was insignificance once he started doing my hair as it all took so long and seemed to cost so much money! He was making a killing as I suspect those women would have paid him just to walk across the shop floor.

I had locks for years. Once I cut my locks off, I wore all of the hairstyles which looked exactly like locks. Single plaits and that pineapple wrapped thing were my favorites. Whilst I had lived in Ghana, having my hair ‘fixed’ was easy and cheap.  I could change my style every week if I wanted to and explore colors, up, down, braid, weave, whatever I fancied!.

Moving to Asia was a different ball game. There was one Ghanian aunty who I found after asking all the women who I saw with braids, where did you do your hair?  Aunty Cynthia was great and I bathed in the familiarity of her and her twi speaking customers.  Her tails of the traffic she endured to get to her place in Cape Coast and the constant light off, brought back fond memories.  I had loved many aspects of my Ghana journey. The traffic Jams and power outage were not part of that though! I liked aunty but she never really understood how tender my scalp was. I mean, really was.  Twelve years of locks had made my scalp super tender.  On my last visit, I had to bite my tongue and hold myself from cursing as she had not mastered the crochet style and kept digging my head with the needle. It was not a good look and my blood pressure rose every time she exclaimed ‘sorry o’. I decided to only go there if I was absolutely desperate.

The Nigerian community in Malaysia had grown and hair extensions, bleaching creams, and yam had appeared in Chowkit market.  The store owner offered me a hairdressers number but, if the truth be told, I was wary of the Nigerian women I had met so far. My Nigerian friends had also stayed away from Nigerians. The young men told me how their mothers had categorically warned them not to go to their churches. They said too much 911 was going on so I followed their advice.

I pulled out my braids on a trip to London, and, although I knew that the hairdresser there had overcharged me, I paid anyway. The fact that she whispered the price was not the friendly gesture that the mini-me had received this as.  My funds also looked greater on the first day than they did on the last. I wanted a good steam and wash, plus she reminded me that I have hair so I paid her asking price.

I left the hairdresser happy that my hair was clean and that she had managed to comb out all of the hair which had begun to lock for I had washed it many times with the braids in. As she blow dried my hair, I admired it in the mirror.  It looked good and felt so soft. I was considering a short neat cut, but not today.  I loved the feel as I walked down Peckham Rye Lane with my own hair. That trip to sunny London was way too hot to wear my wig and my hair demanded to be free of all attachments so I listened and complied.  I decided to stay in that space for my return to Malaysia.

People asked me is that your original hair?.   I loved the way that the English language took on its own style in the different places I have lived and worked in.  My hair! My original hair! Not someone else’s hair or a synthetic rendition but my own hair!  I told them yes.  It was not a perm.  Their stories came out of how they had longed for curly hair! How their children had been born with beautiful curly hair, which soon became limp and straight. Who would have known that these Malaysians wanted what I had been covering up for so long?

Black women support a billion dollar industry of hair extensions and products.  Indian and Brazilian women of all ages sell their hair for very little money.  Whilst wearing braids, I had wondered if, even though it was described as synthetic, whether it was, in fact, the hair of a cousin or sister of one of the many south Indian people who live in KL

I reminisced on my years of having locks. Large unruly beautiful locks in a time when locks were worn as a covenant with the most high. My cutting and disassociation from that community came after years of watching domestic violence and disrespect.  My son was born and there was no rasta man I wanted him to emulate. The locks could have been transformed into a ‘hairstyle’ but, that was not my attachment to them. They had to go.

 

I still watch admiringly now at the many who wear locks. There are sista locks,  ‘false’ locks and lots of different colored locks.  Some people feel that it is a mockery for all of these Asian, Caucasian and others to be wearing locks. I reflect that mocking can only take place if people don’t know their power.  If we don’t collectively know our power.

At the end of my UK trip, I let the Antiguan hairdresser straighten my hair.  I loved her energy and we both had lessons to learn. Me about the healing I and my loved ones needed. She about her health choices.  As she used the hairdryer and straightener,  I was fascinated as it smelt exactly as those early morning hot comb quickies had.  The hair looked lifeless though. My already thin hair hung and even though she tried hard to convince me that it looked ‘wonderful’, I wasn’t persuaded. As I left the salon, we hugged. Something special had been planted between us.

It took two hours for the humidity in Malaysia to kick all of that straightness out! My afro returned whilst all of that straightening and serum simply disappeared.  But hey, the fro looked good and Viola Davies and many other black women before her continue to empower as we celebrate our natural hair.

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There are women who work in countries and/or organizations where their natural hair and/or the wearing of braids is illegal. The growing movement of black women who are wearing their natural hair continues to challenge those systems and to empower women’s right to have this choice.

Black Expat Stories – Meet you at the Toast Masters Club

Meet up groups were a new discovery for me. Whilst I was working in the Far East with no friends and family to call on, it meant that I had to create my own work-life balance. For me, this meant spending time with people beyond those who were working on the same project as I.  In my previous overseas roles,  family and friends had resided locally and I had happily spent much of my social time with them.  This location came with none of that!

 

It was not long before I found a large number of groups on the Meetup platform. They included cookery, language, travel, wealth creation, discussions about spirituality and lots of health-related activities. There were many clubs and outlets and it was easy to spend a Sunday afternoon visiting a local indigenous group, observing

their traditions and wearing their customs, or traveling out to see traditional dishes being made and having the opportunity to meet other local and expat travelers. The writers club was fun, although a little confusing as I had rushed over, thinking the black UK writer, Zadie Smith was going to be present, whilst they thought I was her when I arrived!!

The photographer group took me to Chow kit market where I discovered plantain, and black hair products on sale everywhere!  I met one of my fellow photographers on the journey home and we sat on the train discussing how we had both toyed with the idea of attending the Toastmasters club.  It had taken me about a year before I attended my first meeting and she had been considering attending for just as long. Others whom I’d spoken to, had said the same thing.  This was strange for me as, there we were, both professional trainers and yet there was a reluctance to place ourselves in a space where we’d be judged on something that we did every week. I decided to go along as my curiosity and love of words meant that I couldn’t stay away.

 

My first Toastmasters visit had me in awe and bouts of laughter at the same time.  There were a conviction and commitment that the core members demonstrated through their opening allegiance. Traditions which had been recorded and started in 1903 by Ralph Smedley, and which were alive here in Malaysia in 2018.  Needless to say, other clubs existed then and still do in many parts of the world with very similar aims and objectives.

Toastmasters prides itself on the development of confident and proficient speakers and leaders.  As a professional, these are two of the core transferable skills that I and many others,  find ourselves teaching, training and coaching groups and individuals in the development of.  In this fast-changing and unpredictable environment,  Leadership and Presentation skills remain current and necessary for us all.  Whether you are a business owner, self-employed, employed or unemployed, the ability to sell our skill set, improves with confidence and proficiency in our presentation and leadership skills.

At my first session, the evening began with the usual ‘Where are you from ?’ question.    My ‘proper English accent’ did not fit in with some of the member’s prejudgments of how a woman with this voice, should look, so the inquiry was lodged again and my response was repeated.  In my mot non threatening voice, I asked if I had been white, would they have had a problem with my location of birth.  There were uncomfortable stares and some silence. Eventually, a braver soul inquired, so where are your parents from and the pompous ‘Ah ha’ to my answer  ‘Jamaica’, was familiar.  After all, they knew there was ‘something else which I just wasn’t saying!!! I could not be ‘British’ !

 

The roles were introduced and I watched with an increasing curiosity and excitement.  The Time Keeper, Grammarian, and Ah counter would evaluate each person that presented a Table Topic.  The timekeepers’ lights would guide the presenter through,  the grammarian would feedback on the accurate and inaccurate use of grammar and the ‘Ah’ counter cited all of those Ah, well, hmm moments which find their way into presentations.

The table topics and word of the day followed and this opened up the opportunity for anyone to speak on the topic for two minutes. I volunteered on my first evening and the feedback was kind. It was a test speaking to a line of a nursery rhyme so, as they say, I did my best! I cringed as I watched the man from Bangladesh who volunteered after me.  He was not familiar with English nursery rhymes.  He spoke for two minutes as to why ‘the dish ran away with the spoon’ but his logical approach to this nursery rhythm, which of course has an adult history to it, was painful to observe.   The voices in my head complained about Cultural inappropriateness and being inclusive. Were these issues not of concern to this club in the heart of Kuala Lumpur?

 

The set speakers of the evening,  presented and we were then tasked with providing feedback to the evaluators once they had given their feedback to those speakers. As a Coach trainer, I know whenever a role play situation is enacted,  the coach, coachee, and observer gain equal value as each role affords the participant, a unique perspective and opportunity to develop their skills. On this evening, we had the opportunity to speak, to give feedback and to evaluate those who had evaluated!

The club is based on what some may consider as old-fashioned, albeit, sturdy values.  They do form part of the cry for 21st-century skills and an evening at the Toastmasters club will include problem-solving, critical thinking, flexibility, managing uncertainty and providing constructive feedback. All are cited by the top leadership and management game changers as critical for survival in this century,

 

I left the Toast Masters club feeling satisfied.  It had been a good use of my time. The gentleman who I left the building with asked me why did you come?. I was a little taken aback and responded that feedback in a friendly environment is always useful.  He had won but had seen a light in me, even though I had not thought I had presented well. I  was reminded that I am often my worst critic and that I need to be a lot less harsh! Pictures were taken and moments captured as is the case at every event I have attended in Malaysia so far.

My work colleagues were invited to the second Toastmasters trip. They too had been considering it for over a year. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it that evening.  The core members and 10 guests were in attendance at my second session. One of these was the international champion for Malaysia who had recently come second in a tournament. He is a lecturer by profession.

I grabbed the opportunity to do the two-minute table top talk again and froze at the first sentence.  I wanted to remember FEAR as False Evidence Appearing Real. It wouldn’t come and there lies the irony! I asked if I could begin again and the smiles and head nodding confirmed that I could. The skill of being able to come back from the floor and to still do well takes confidence, determination, and a little arrogance.  I left knowing that, it doesn’t always go well, and that too is ok.

Yes, the Toastmasters club is filled with quirky word enthusiasts who are taking every opportunity to improve those all important presentation skills as they surface in so many areas of our life. As with every other place where two or more people meet up, this is also a networking opportunity. One of the new guests ( but a long-standing toastmasters attendee from Lithuania) is employed at the Mind Valley corporation office in the same building! Mind Valley produce amazing self empowerment material.

If there are any grammatical or spelling mistakes, unwanted ‘ahs’ or ‘wells’ in my written or spoken pieces, get ready to see the back of them as I fine tune my skills through my attendance at the Toastmasters clubs in Malaysia.

 

DISCLAIMER:

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

 

 

 

Black Expat Stories – Eating Durian in Malaysia (what was all the fuss about)

Just do it! Yes, I know it’s the Nike strapline but it dawned on me that its success had come from the fact that it was true! There are things which we take far too look to make a decision on and yes, I know about all of those sayings including the one that says that nothing happens before its time.  I had not tasted Durian in Malaysia,  even though 24 months had already gone by since I first moved to live and work in South East Asia.  With the pungent smell that overpowered everything around it, that for me had a big turn off.  Its offense was so indignant,  that it was banned in hotels and many condominiums. That had been enough for me to refuse every invitation to ‘Durian eating sessions’. I had given into my fear of this strange fruit which others seemed to be happily enjoying with no lasting consequences or illness. You know that I had checked!!!

Walking through Penang after a day of consulting in schools, it was easy to feel motivated around Azinah though. Her loving and sweet personality had us chatting and laughing at the ease and delights of this part of Malaysia. When she asked

Would you like to join me for Durian ?’ in that happy jovial Azinah way, my natural reply of ‘why not’ made total sense. I let my mood dictate my openness to this adventure for her energy was always so pure and kind.

Have you had it before ?’, she asked as we entered the store

I haven’t’, I admitted, a little embarrassed.

This store we entered sold nothing but Durian. The aesthetics were not important here.  The café style tables and chairs were plastic and very basic.  The Durian fruit and Durian products were scattered on the shelves but it was safe to say that all overheads had been kept to a minimum. It was not so much a store as an open space with some Durians on a rack, a sink where you could wash your hands and table and chairs.

The young man at the door looked as if he’d been on shift all day. He was not kind to my many questions about why the Durian came in different shades of yellow or why it was so expensive (equivalent to 20 British pounds) or what the health benefits were. Whilst Azinah giggled at the blatant curiosity of this expat, he simply stopped answering for he was not about to be my Wikipedia for the day. Didn’t he understand that I still thrived on human interaction and to be honest, I thought his answers would be more authentic than Wikipedias. We opted for what was the king durian and as there was no queen durian.  Having made out purchase, we sat down ready!

I looked over at the table of eight men and women who ranged from dark to light shades. They were also sharing the experience of durian eating.  I could hear Asian and European accents.  The fear on my face must have been evident.

Is it your first time? , one of the men asked

It is!!! Answered I, the virgin Durian eater

You’ll be alright. It really isn’t that bad!!!!. He reassured me as he returned to his group.

 

I smiled and wondered why there were no beautiful pictures or some degree of distraction for us over emotional and sensitive types! As I sat in front of Azinah, I asked her to record this coming of age experience in Malaysia for it was time!

 

The bright sunshine, Azinah’s smile and the laughter from the other table, all helped to diffuse the pungent smell. The first taste was mild. Incredibly mild compared to the smell.  I was waiting for the taste to knock me down or to at least throw me from my seat and a little way from the table. It didn’t do any of that. The texture reminded me of freshly made butter. Incredibly rich and creamy. The fruit slid from the seed into my mouth with so much ease. The richness of the texture made eating large amounts impossible. It had to be taken a small mouthful at a time and  I closed my eyes and swallowed the rich, slightly pungent tasting fruit. It was however not offensive. I had tasted grapefruits in the UK which had me twisting, and resisting the next segment. In this case, the smell soon disappeared and the specialness of the fruit lingered. I ate another piece and found that I liked this strange fruit. I liked that it was warm and comforting and strangely familiar.

My husband hates it so I have to eat it outside,   Azinah explained.  She smiled all the time, what seemed to be a genuine and love filled smile. I wondered if there were things her husband ate or did which she didn’t like.  Did she have space to also express or to object? So many of the women I had met here, were warriors. just like other women. I had stopped letting the smile and hijab fool me in any way.

One of the men from the other table joined us. He had a German accent. He had come to see if I had survived the ordeal for he had been watching me.

How was it? my new friend enquired

It was fine, I smiled still eating small pieces.  Have you finished yours?

No, I didn’t take any today. I’ve had it before…my friends wanted to come.

Ahh. So you just accompanied them?, I asked

Yes. I don’t like it that much anyhow. He admitted

I understand, I said, eating the last of my own supply. It had begun to grow on me

He sat with us for a few minutes and then wished us a good evening as he returned to his group.  They were still laughing and discussing the experience.

Azinah and I had planned to take some back but our plates were empty and we remembered that it was banned in the hotel. Having had such a great afternoon, I wondered what had all the fuss really been about anyway. I shall certainly eat Durian again!

 

 

DISCLAIMER:

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

The Black Expat Stories – African Women (Like me) do climb mountains

 

A bucket list wasn’t for me. I was either going to do it or I wasn’t! “Yes, I’ll add that to my bucket list, and that, and oh yes, that too!”, they say! A list that will go into a draw, maybe next to their will and some poor soul will find it when they have transitioned.
In Ghana, I simply asked if I could join in the climb. It was being organized by one of my colleagues’ professors and it afforded me the opportunity to meet Ghanaian intellectuals and to climb a mountain. Both were of interest. Mount Afadjato is one of the highest mountains in Ghana’s Volta region and the guide Joey took us to the summit and back down in one day.

 
In the UK when I had first accepted that I would be moving to work abroad, mountains and hills had become symbolic for overcoming challenges. Up until that point, I had been a seasonal exerciser where the long spring and summer months would find me walking for hours, bike riding and jogging. The winters would come along and it was easy to revert to eating a certain brand of apple pie and custard in front of the TV huddled under the quilt with my children. My spirit knew that the energy I needed to relocate, was going to take a sustained effort of exercise and healthy eating. And so it began. I wrapped up warm and found hills to climb, parks to exercise in and streets to jog along. The move was hard but made possible by a stronger healthier mind, body, and spirit.

 
The party of four of us who completed the climb up Mount Afadjato were all fit and the professor was practicing for her climb of Mount Kilimanjaro later that year in her efforts to fundraise for a project that documented the stories of the elderly in Ghana. The climb itself was exciting as we navigated the forest terrain. The funniest part must have been meeting the locals at the top who were sitting and talking. They looked at us as we celebrated and congratulated one another on our achievements. It was more a sneer than just a look for, they probably walked this mountain every day to their farm, or to somebody else’s! They saw no need for celebration! As Ghanaians say, ‘I didn’t mind them!’. No one was taking away this victory from us and I changed there and then to take photographs of me holding yoga poses to honor the mountain and myself.

 

 

My second big climb up Mount Kinabalu was different. There was no one there to meet us for no life sat on or close to that hard rocky surface. The last four hours of the climb had taken place in the dark with nothing but head torches to guide us. The ropes had been strategically placed alongside the stairs and rock edges and it felt as if every ounce of energy, had been diverted to my arms to pull me up. At this point, my legs felt oh so heavy and were barely holding me up. I didn’t recognize my body and why would I? I had never climbed for two days. The altitude affected my breathing and I found myself stopping, at points wondering if I would even make it to the summit.
There were no friends here and the work colleagues had gone their own way as my need to stop, to gauge the risk versus the triumph of continuing, had bought out the survivor mode in them. It was definitely every wo/man (or couple) for themselves.

Whatever happened, we would meet back at the halfway house.

The first part of the hike had been fine. Each stop had made restarting difficult for a rhythm and a momentum had already built up. The rest stops, lunch stops and toilet stops allowed the muscles to cool down and the steeper the hill became, the tighter the calves and thighs were. We kept stretching but they were holding in that lactic acid.


I had worn my blue headscarf on the morning of the climb to the summit.  This had come with me from Ghana and was a simple blue tie-dye print in satin and very similar to those found in Malaysia. In the last hour of the climb, the wind and cold became so intense, reminding me of the coldest harshest winter days in the UK. I placed my wool gloves over my mouth and cheeks to generate some heat. Tying my bandana over my mouth was fruitless for, no sooner had I tied it, that I would have to release it. That feeling of suffocation!  It was a mad situation so placing my hands on my face, provided some temporary relief and then I could go on.

 

 

 

The intensity of the climb increased as we drew closer to the summit. I had packed cloth for every leg of this climb. A fellow climber had asked me where I was from! He had seen my ‘ethnic cloth! It had been a short conversation beginning with ‘Where are you from?’.  As the cold increased, I wrapped the cotton headcloth over the satin one, grateful that I had packed it for at 2 am, having slept very little in a dormitory of 6 beds with my colleague on the bunk above, clearly unable to control his flatulence problem, meant that I wasn’t too sure what I was doing. There was a reason my spirit had wanted me to be on the top bunk! The smells wafted down and there was nowhere to turn so it was a very long night.

 

As I climbed towards the summit,  the winds increased.  I wrapped the cotton cloth over the satin scarf. The sunrise revealed the extent of the vast open space which I had just climbed. I met two of the couples descending as I approached the summit and although we were only five minutes apart, they were descending as I was going up. We stopped and shared how nausea had us feeling that we might just not make it. I climbed to the top where I stopped, watching others take their photographs with the sign and taking in the magnitude of what I had just achieved.

 

I had passed younger, fitter, taller people than myself who had stopped 10 minutes away, telling themselves they could not go any further. They looked healthier than me. I too had spun myself that lie and then I had flipped the script. I had come here to reach the top and I did! The sun had risen.

 

Back at the half-way house, we ate breakfast as it was only 10 am. It was 10 am and I had just climbed a mountain!  It was an amazing if unbelievable feeling.  We drank tea, ate breakfast and repacked for the final leg of the journey.  The climb had taken so much out of me. I wasn’t sure that I had enough leg to navigate the descent.

 

As we left, I decided to leave the others behind and walked the four hours walk alone out of the forest. My knees were hurting and I realized I would need focus, concentration, and energy to leave the forest. All the qualities and skills that I had needed to successfully arrive at the summit.  I had been told that Mount Kinabalu was a spiritual space. In between feeling the pain and soreness of my ankles, thighs, and shoulders, my knees began to hurt further. I saw monkeys, ladies in threes, crocodiles and old men watching me. As I looked back or came close, they were no longer there.

My flight was three hours delayed.

No one tells you about the spiritual, psychological and physiological impact of such a climb..but that’s for another story. The image of me standing on the mountain is my story. My headwrap is what people noticed and as I studied the image, which confirmed that women who look like me, do climb mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER:

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

For information on expeditions, you can contact

Ghana :Dziedzorm JayJay Segbefia
dziedzorm@braveheartsexpeditions.org

Malaysia: Clement@trulysabah.com
0060146510218

The Black Expat Stories – Conversations in Cameroon

I stood on the corner watching the women carry their baskets up the hill. I had long admired the straight back mena dn women who could carry things on their heads, leaving both of their hands free. The first month of the volunteer position in Cameroon was over and we were moving to a new village today.

Sitting in my chair in Catford, I had been waiting for something to happen. Working with homeless young people and responding to complaints about loud music and disruptive arguing was not what life was supposed to be about. A young man had moved in with the speaker boxes from his sound system.  The boxes were as big as the wardrobes we provided and his room went from being 24 by 20, with lots of floor space to 6×4 available floor space. The complaints came in thick and fast and those meetings where I at twenty-one, had to tell him at seventeen, not to play the boxes in the house or in the street, became more and more hilarious. Then he dared to ask if I would go out with him. After all, he fancied me and age was nothing but a number.  I understood why they had thought I was too young to be recruited for such a ‘responsible role’.

Three months of voluntary work in West Africa sounded great. I had to be fit and healthy as the role involved lots of walking.  Whatever my state of health was, it sure was not going to improve sitting around in the office. I asked the management committee for three months of unpaid leave, making sure that the rent and bills were paid up before I left.  The voluntary sector of the 1980s was so cool and off to Cameroun I went.

The group of women stopped at the top of the hill. They were sweating and took the baskets and bags from off the top of their heads.

‘Are you waiting for your parents?’  they asked me

‘No. Just waiting for friends.’ I answered

‘Which part of Cameroun are you from?’ they enquired

‘I am not from Cameroun’, I responded

‘So which part of Africa are you from?’. Their look of concern was funny and endearing at the same time.

‘I am not from Africa…. well not born here’.  I could feel myself stumbling.  They looked at each other. Puzzled.

As I had walked through Goldsmiths college that day wearing my new Kaba and slit from Ghana, a white man had asked me the same question.  In the time I had thought about how to answer him, he had stabbed me with Well I am from Zimbabwe so I am more African than you. I had crashed to the floor but risen as quickly. The wound had taken some time to heal though.

‘So where are you from?’ they asked. More concerned and a little impatient now.

‘I am from…I am from Jamaica’, I blurted out. I made a decision to say Jamaica today.

‘Jamaica?’  they asked repeating the name quietly. It was not familiar to them.

‘Where is that?’, they asked and I wondered if it was my accent.  They were saying various versions of Jamaica.

You are African! They confirmed. ‘Where is Ja…may…kah? In their world, life was simple and all black people were from Africa. The oldest known body confirms this.

‘The Caribbean!’  was the answer I gave and this was met with more puzzled looks. I so wished the car would turn up

‘Where is this place?’ They asked one after the other.

‘Do you know Bob Marley?’ I asked as a last resort. I assumed that if people didn’t know Jamaica, they would certainly know Bob Marley.

They all laughed. ‘ Yes. He brings us reggae music.  We like to dance to this.’  they all smiled. I liked the term ‘he brings us’.  They still needed their question answered.

‘So how did you get there…to this Ja,,,may..kah place ?

I looked at their concerned faces for this young African girl who they thought should be home with her husband or family.  I wanted to say something that I hoped they would know.

‘Slavery’, I said quietly. It was a word that could never be empowering. I didn’t even know if it was true.  The staistics showed that most African people arrived in the Caribbean through the Atlantic slave trade. Not all though.

‘Slavry! What is that?’, they asked.  This was so much harder that I had thought it would be!

‘White people took African people to work for free in other countries’ was the simplest way I could explain this antisocial and greatly economic system. It was complex and left scars on the taken and the takers.

‘Why did they do that?,’ was the obvious follow up question. Why does one group use Christianity to justify 4-500 years of enslavement of another group of people and then systematically reduce the majority of the world’s views of that group to a list of negative nouns that many spend their life trying to redress? I looked at the faces of these women who were busy trying to get this young girl to her home.

‘Are you all married?’,  I asked. I needed to change the subject.  I realised how much I had taken for granted in my previous conversations. The reality was that these were not simple concepts or ideas.

‘Yes we are all married.  I am the second wife, she is a third wife and she is a second wife too’, said the tallest of the three women. She pointed to the other two women as she spoke.

‘What is that like?’  I had to ask.  I knew men who had girlfriends in the UK and in Jamaica. Those relationships were fluid though and although the women sometimes knew they had signed up for relationships where they would be sharing their partner, others did not.  A past relationship came to mind when a man I was dating, had no time to respond to messages from exceptional  me and after week three, when I called him out, he told me ‘I was quick’. He had expected me to hang around and just be there for when he was ready to show up.

‘It’s not good. The men have favourites’. They looked at each other and continued.  It was safe as I was a stranger from a place Bob Marley had come from. I had read about polygyny.  It is where a man can take more than one wife.  I had also read about polyandry and liked that more. After all, the idea of having more than one husband was somewhat appealing and I had already figured out at 21 that everything could not come from one person.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked. I shared the little knowledge that I had.’ Do you all get a home, food, clothes and school fees for the children?’

‘Yes, yes! That is easy for he has money!’. They sighed

‘What is missing then?’ the curious and naive twenty-five-year-old me asked.

‘Many of these men do not spend time with you when you are no longer the new wife.  We feel it as our bodies change and we become older.  Each new wife is younger and younger’.

The main speaker signed and looked out to the hills ahead. I had not thought that this system of legal sharing would also bring preferential treatment and imparity.

‘Hey!’ one of the women exclaimed as the other spoke these words. She had been very quiet up to then. She threw her hands and head up to the sky and hugged her stomach, bending over.  I watched in silence. This looked like too much pain for her alone to be carrying.

‘She is pregnant again’, one of the women said. ‘It is the second time her husband has slept with her this year and we are in March already. A woman has needs beyond clothes, a house, school fees and dresses’.

I nodded my head. I didn’t know what to say

‘You western women. You always ask us about the same things. Do you think we do not have feelings and suffer from loneliness?’

I had not thought.  I had just wanted to make conversation. To change the subject. The car pulled up. I turned to the women who had already positioned the baskets back on their heads. We had not exchanged names. They continued on their journey. Angela Davis had spoken of her experience in Sudan. The women had said to her that outlawing FGM would not make them free.  It was a western agenda.

DISCLAIMER:

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

 

 

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