From as early as eleven years old, Mbeke Waseme was drawn to a world of self-discovery after her experiences of education both positive and negative forced her to start contemplating the big questions in life. While attending secondary school in south London during the seventies, it was the advice of her English teacher to take up reading books by Black writers that opened her world to a new sense of affirmation and acceptance.
From then on Mbeke, no longer needed to internalise the damaging words of another school teacher who accused her of copying the words of her own poem from another author. “Give me the book where you copied that from,” were the exact reproachful words of the teacher who had already confessed to never having taught in a school with so many ‘coloured’ people. Not only did Mbeke have to suffer detention but the deeply demoralising and experience of not being believed. See article (1) below
This is, of course, a common story for many black students in education up and down the UK. Yet the new world opened up by writers ; Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Jean Binta Breeze, and Zora Neale Hurston meant that Mbeke could free herself from the mental slavery of self-doubt and low expectation to discover a new sense of identity and self-expression.
Fast forward to the eighties and Mbeke Waseme has joined a drama and song writing group examining the stories of women from the Windrush generation culminating in a production called Motherland, while still a student at school. This is followed by the publication of her first poetry book at the age of twenty two entitled Exploring All of Me.
Her sense of wanderlust soon takes over and Mbeke spends the next twenty years, on and off, working in Ghana, Jamaica, Dubai, Malaysia; her first port of call being the Cameroons in West Africa. Mbeke arrived specifically to carry out a voluntary programme distributing eye glasses to people who were suffering from water blindness.
“It was overall a positive experience,’ she recounts, ‘I remember travelling into the interior and seeing things like coffee beans drying in the sun and the gratitude of the people in villages when we distributed the glasses.’
Mbeke encountered new challenges like sacrificing her vegan lifestyle for the practice of eating fish in order to fit into the community. She killed chickens with her own bare hands or found porcupine on the evening menu. Other cultural differences that sparked her curiosity was the practice of polygamy. Mbeke spent much time deliberating with women in the communities. She learned first-hand how multiple wives handled the different circumstances they found themselves in. ‘The newest wife always got the preferential treatment,’ the women cried.
Back in the UK, Mbeke Waseme , whose first name is taken from the Ibo meaning, ‘born on Sunday’ and whose second name from the KiSwahili meaning ‘let them talk’ continued to expand her professional horizons by qualifying as a secondary school teacher, counsellor, yoga instructor, health expert and leadership and educational consultant. This is all while bringing up her young family in London. Her qualifications have been put to good use in her next posting as a teacher Inspector in Dubai and then in several placements as an educational consultant improving school curricula and teacher training programmes in Ghana and Malaysia.
‘These were amazing experiences that pushed me out of my comfort zone,’ says Mbeke. Using every opportunity to push frontiers and to understand the culture and polemical issues of the country, Mbeke gained insights into the societies she was working in that went far deeper than the usual expat surface encounters. In Malaysia she learnt about the endemic skin bleaching and colourism problem by people who deemed lighter skin colour to be a higher standard of beauty. She saw how the indigenous original people, the Orang Asli, experienced ongoing overt discrimination.
The years spent travelling, journeying into different cultures provided excellent fodder for her publications including an anthology of poems and many published essays.
Fast forward again to 2019. Mbeke sits in a café in Kent, in South East of UK, reflecting on her very full life. The realisation has occurred that she has come full circle and wishes to pass on the wisdom gained from a life without confines onto the next generation of women trailblazers like herself.
“What advice would I give to my younger self?” She contemplates. Surely the hurtful words of the narrow minded teacher who could not accept her words of poetry occupy her mind. It prompts her to revisit and republish her first book of poems, ‘Exploring All of Me’ with the question in mind. And yet as she contemplates, it is the richness of a life lived to the max that offers the best answer. Spoken in her own words, she proclaims,’ I AM ENOUGH’.
Mbeke is a Writer, International Educational Consultant, Coach, and Trainer. She has lived and worked in Cameroon, Ghana, Jamaica, the UK, and Malaysia. She has a body of articles that have appeared in Black Business and Culture Magazine, Pambazuka, the Alarm Magazine and 72M Magazines. She now contributes to Diversity Business and Turning Point Magazine. Mbeke is available for coaching, speaking and writing engagements.
See also other articles by Mbeke Waseme:
Read the review of Black History Boat Tour : https://diversitybusinesspromotes.uk/black-history-on-a-boat-cruise/