Mbeke Blog

Mbeke Blog

Category: Blackexpat Page 1 of 2

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.

.

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.

 

 

 

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

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.

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.

 

 

The Black Expat stories – Meeting Winnie in Jamaica

‘Mummy aunty Precious is on the phone’ my daughter called

‘Tell her I said good morning and I’ll call her back’ I shouted back to Ams in the other room

‘She said it’s important mummy’. Came back the response

I loved Precious but with her children all grown up, she had a lot more time on her hands that I with my two small ones at two and seven years old.

‘Marning Sis. What’s up?’ I asked whilst thinking about the green gungo soup I was trying to master.

‘Everyting cool! What you up today?’ I could hear that Nat King Cole album playing in the background. She played it a lot all by herself up there in red hills

‘Nothing planned. Just cooking breakfast and dinner now. Plan to chillax today. Why what’s occurring?

‘You want to meet Winnie?’ Precious asked. She was always inviting me to things.

‘Winnie who?’ I asked whilst thinking about where I could source a coconut this morning. The soup tasted better with fresh coconut milk.

‘Winnie Mandela!’ she said casually

‘Precious how you can ask me dat!’ I screamed back laughing! The children jumped up and started to laugh too. ‘Of course, me waaan fe meet dah great Winnie Mandela! Where and what time? Jamaicans were often so casual about super important things. I had come to the conclusion that Jamaica had so many internationally renowned famous people from this ‘small island’, that everyone had simply stopped thinking fame was any ‘big ting’

‘3pm at the Pegasus. Come for 2 pm if you can’. She laughed.

‘Will be there by 1.30!’ I responded as I started to think about what the children and I would wear.

I heard Precious laugh and mutter to herself as we hung up.

Out came our best African matching outfits. Royal blue or Orange? I couldn’t decide. Both seemed perfect for the occasion The Pegasus was close by so we dressed and walked across emancipation park to the hotel lobby. The children and I looked and felt fine and people commented on as we passed by. ‘Yes Queen’ and ‘Africa fambly’ came from many passers-by. All three of us smiled.

The park was a mess although there were great stories of the plans to renovate it. They would turn it into a space that Jamaicans would be proud of. A place that celebrated ‘Jamaica’s emancipation’. I looked forward to that day. Joggers were happy to just have something other than the pavement even though it meant jumping over rubble and garbage, it was an open space all the same.

I sat in the foyer and the children ran around. Hotel lobbies were great places for people watching as families, couples and young groups came and went. Jamaica was the place that people dreamed of going to and, for many, once they arrived, it was just one long hot sunny and sexy party. An opportunity to do and play in a way that only Jamaica allowed for.

The South African football team emerged and like all good Pan Africanist, I knew their flag alongside most of the African countries. They looked like kings with reporters and photographers surrounding them. I so wanted to push them out of the way to just get one photograph but, alas, there wasn’t a hope in Jamaica of that happening. I sat enjoying the show that celebrities have to put on for the cameramen and women. Precious appeared at 1.45 and I was glad I had shown up early.

She beckoned me over.

‘You have yoh camera Sis?’ she asked whilst talking on her phone.

‘Of course!’, I mimed back.

‘Good. We going upstairs. Winnie here already and Muta comin over too,’ she confirmed

‘Great’. I said calling the children over as we followed obediently.

Precious smiled at the security guards who already knew her. They are with me. She said and they escorted us all to the lift play fighting with my son and telling my daughter she was a ‘beautiful African princess’. We all felt super proud. I could hear Winnies’ rich textured south African voice, on exiting the lift. Walking towards the room, I remembered all of the times I had watched her with fist raised on the TV. Winnie had symbolized the struggle against Apartheid more than Nelson had ever done for me. For, whilst he had been locked away on Robbin island, she had carried the baton like a warrior queen. As a human being, she had made some mistakes. They say she had lovers and I had wondered why she wouldn’t. Twenty-odd years with her husband in jail. She was not a nun. The killing of Stompie was a media story I had not been comfortable with. I had also learned how hard it was to trust the media though She had danced the warrior dance society was always unjust with women leaders. As I had watched the announcement of the separation of her and Nelson and saw the meek-mannered Graca Machel take her place, I knew it was a victory for patriarchal, capitalist society. There would be no justice and no peace for warrior queens…not now anyway.

Time was of the essence. I didn’t want my picture taken with her but if she could just hold my son…I handed him to Winnie and he looked at her strangely. He didn’t know who this woman was but he was a sociable child. My daughter was playing with the other children and as soon as the photograph with Khu was taken, Muta arrived. He hugged Winnie like an old friend. Greeting me like a new friend. I was still yet to be positioned in Jamaican society. I hadn’t been there long enough and whilst people knew I was a teacher, they had also seen me with a ‘real camera’ and knew I wrote for the African Business magazine in the UK. In this class based society with colorism and so many uptown and downtown judgments at play, they were still unpacking me. Precious was one for picking up strays like me though so it was not surprising that we had this ‘kinda friendship ting’ going on.

Muta did not want a photograph of him standing and Winnie seated. He chanted that down as ‘Victorian’ and was clear that was not how he wanted to depict. He kneeled down next to Winnie, happy to be in that position. Winnie laughed a deep throaty genuine laugh. I wanted to bottle the feeling of gratitude I had for being there at that moment.

 

L’Acadco dance group performed and L’Antoinette conjured all she could with her Yoruba high priestess training. The first piece was a powerful dance of a people in exile and the pain which this brings. The second piece was a celebratory dance with African moves from Ghana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Phenomenal dance pieces from African Jamaicans through which Winnie’s gaze never shifted. Black woman sang by Judy Mowatt, had been an anthem which many in that room had grown to love and when Carlene Davis sang ‘Winnie Mandela’, the room moved to a dream-like state for reality and fantasy had merged. My spirit could not be still and I watched as it danced around the room flowing, trancing and beating drums. Luciano apologized for being late. He had just heard and could not have Winnie in town and not perform for her. Being in the Tuff gong or Motown studio must have felt like this.

Winnie stood up and looked around the room. She looked at each one of our familiar faces smiling. We knew each other. We had journeyed together.

I did not know. I did not know there was so much Africa here in Jamaica. It was your music… Your Jamaican music that we listened to under tables as others looked out for the police. The revolutionary music of Jamaica helped us during those days of Apartheid… and still does now.

She raised her fist and shouted Amandla and we responded Awethu!

 

I could not sleep that night. My spirit was too excited. It would not settle. The visitors in that room were ancestors who came to pay homage to one of our leading warrior queens. My children were quiet. There were many familiar faces in the room and they had been to many talks over the years. For them, this was another gathering of people ‘like mummy’.

 

Disclaimer

This is my work and these are my opinions.

 

The Black Expat stories – In search of plantain

I realized how low I was feeling as I sat at the bus stop watching the young college students. It was the time of the day where there was a lull.  The afternoon school session had ended and the workday rush had not yet begun. At 5 pm, I knew I was cutting it fine as I walked up the road to the stall. It was closed. This was my third attempt in three weeks and each time the stall had been covered over. I wondered if the trader had moved on.

I had not formed a great relationship with him. The men at the coconut stall were friendlier. They were bad boys after all and although now in their 50s and 60s, the free spirit bad girl in me, connected with them. They were always chatty and pleasant and allowed me to have coconut water in those few days when I had changed bags and left my purse at home. The owner would tell his assistants, ‘she is my good customer…comes all the time’. Some evenings, I had stopped there just to revel in the thrill of watching the men play their board games. Their bodies swayed as they weighed up the opposition, cigarette smoke hanging over them, suspended until, bang! Down would go the piece they had played, which was often followed by laughter, shouting and then silence again as the next player repeated the same process. It reminded me of the big men who played dominoes at the Christmas gatherings, weddings, and christenings, I had attended as a child. I never quite got why they banged the pieces or made so much noise but I did get that the socializing and comradery that came with playing, was always more important than winning. Here the noise level was about the same.

This man, however, insisted on short-changing me every time. He had a limp and a funny mouth. I wondered if he may have suffered a stroke at some point. He usually had to stop our proceedings to cough at length, sounding like he had bronchitis or a chest infection. He would always return my change 5 or 10 ringgit short. I had started simply standing there with my hand holding what change he had given me. The gently bang on his head which he administered, resulted in him going back to the till and returning with my balance. Maybe he was knocking sense into self! No, we were not great friends but he was the only one who sold plantain in walking distance from where I lived, and he was who I wanted to see today.

As I sat at the bus stop, too forlorn to walk back and allowing myself to indulge in this overreaction that only a plantain loving person could relate to, a Malay woman approached me. She was smiling and I knew she was going to say something about my hair.

‘Where did you get your hair done?’, she asked

‘Sorry?’, I looked at her before answering. After all, she was fully covered and I had made a lot of assumptions.

‘Where did you get your hair done? I want to do mine!

‘Sorry…? I was repeating myself!  I could hear her words yet her full covering and question did not make any sense to me. I knew that Muslims in Malaysia were more liberal than other interpretations of Islam I had experienced, but still, I was confused. She saw my confusion.

‘Yes, I’ve had it done before and I love it!’ she said “Even when it hurts’. She was clearly excited at the prospect of doing it again.

‘Sorry?’ I could feel myself repeating the same response but I seriously could not help myself. Broken record syndrome had taken full hold of me.

‘Are you a Muslim?’ I eventually asked.

‘I am but I wear braids sometimes. My husband doesn’t like it but hey ho!’ She was bubbly and funny and I was stunned and awkward.

‘I had my hair braided in London.’ I finally responded. ‘ I do know a few people here who braid too’, I added

‘Great. I shall take their numbers from you. I am not sure if those who do my hair are charging me correctly’ she admitted

‘How much do you pay?’ I enquired

‘600 ringgits. I have a Nigerian woman in Kuching who does it for me. She is married to a Malay man.’ She had definitely been overcharged. I wondered about the Nigerian woman and Malay Man. I let it go as I was working hard unpacking the Muslim women in front of me.

‘Do you live around here?’ she enquired

‘Yes…not too far. I just came to buy Plantain but the man isn’t there. I could walk home but I feel lazy’. It was a half-truth. I didn’t feel the need to bore her with my drama and recount of longing for something I could not get. Being an expat who didn’t drive often meant that I knew of only one or two places where I could find certain things. In this case, it was one.

‘Plantain? Plantain?’ She had gone into recall zone. ‘Oh yes, those big bananas! My Nigerian friends eat them’ she confirmed

‘Yes, yes!’, I agreed ‘They eat a lot of plantains’. I remembered that it had been my Nigerian friends in the UK who first introduced me to the black eye beans and plantain stew in red oil. In that world, any pot with fish or meat in it was called ‘stew’. What sweet memories!

‘I am sure they sell it in Gasing. Oh yes, my name is Rosita’ She said stretching her hand out. ‘What’s yours? My car is there so jump in and I’ll drive you there’.

I got into the car smiling at how bizarre the situation was. I had taken lifts with strangers in Ghana and in Jamaica so that was not new. It was one of the ‘calculated risks’ that I was willing to take. We stopped at the small shops a few roads from where we had met. Rosita asked trader after trader and they all seemed to be pointing in the same direction.

‘Yes, I was right. We will have to go to Gasing’ she said with a determination and spirit which totally bowled me over. Heading towards Gasing took us along some pretty rough terrain. It was an area where recent demolition had taken place and where new apartment blocks were already going up. I wondered if I had made the right decision though. I was going further and further away from my home and I didn’t know how I would get back. I felt so vulnerable in local areas without the language skills and where English was rarely spoken. Did I want plantain that badly?????

Rosita spoke openly about being a doctor as we drove along. Coming from a family where she was expected to be a doctor or lawyer, she had not planned to be anything else.   I asked her what she had wanted to do. She said Art and Design but her parents had told her that it wasn’t a solid career…. wouldn’t pay the rent. She and I came from a time where our parents were gods. My mum had died when I was sixteen and yet, two years later when I applied to university, I still didn’t do the BA in Linguistics as I could hear her voice asking me first of all, what is linguistics and what job I would get with this ‘Linguistics degree’. Hearing this in her quietly spoken Jamaican accent, meant that it sounded so much more demoralizing. I opted for Sociology instead!!!

As we pulled up at the stall, I smiled broadly. There were bunches of plantain and coconuts everywhere. It was that thing. That thing which connected me to home (UK, Jamaica, and Ghana). There it was. And plenty of it. Maybe this place too would be one of my homes…one of the places I would become a local of. A bus passed us by. A bus I had seen many times parked at the station next to my office. It was another place I could travel to by bus or taxi. I had options and everything was alright. I purchased ripe and unripe ones. Enough to last me

Rosita insisted on dropping me home and we chatted about the many ways in which plantain could be prepared. She was fascinated that I would consider eating it raw. She had eaten it boiled, mashed and fried with her Nigerian friends but none of them had ever spoken of eating it raw. She asked the usual questions about whether it would make me sick or wasn’t it designed to be ‘cooked’. Sharing my limited knowledge of foods that could be eaten raw felt good.

Outside my apartment, I asked a stranger to take a photograph of us two laughing ladies. He was in a bad mood and said he would only take one. It was not like the experience of Malaysians who often took 10 photographs when you handed them your camera and of the last five, my hand would be stretched out indicating that I’d like my phone back…please. Rosita and I laughed lots and I knew I had found a kindred spirit. As the angry stranger handed me back my phone, we both hoped he too would meet a stranger that would help to take that cloud away.

 

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén