Mbeke Blog

Mbeke Blog

Category: Education

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 – Women going tru!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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