Our Ancestors Wildest Dreams: Elisabeth Tubajika

I met Elisabeth more than ten years ago when we both lived in South Africa. It was through social media that we reconnected again and when the idea for this piece came about, Elisabeth was one of the first people that came to mind. As a black woman, I have come to the realisation that it is important to celebrate your milestones and achievements regardless of whether the world co-signs with what you’re doing and who you are. No one embodies this better than Elisabeth. Elisabeth started a non-profit organization in Texas call ‘We are The Voice’ to celebrate the beauty of Congolese culture and also raise awareness on the inequality that the women in the Eastern region of Congo face. Elisabeth also has a podcast called ‘Master’s Piece’ with the aim of encouraging people to live in a way that glorifies God.

In your own words introduce yourself

Elisabeth is a wife, daughter, sister, aunt and a friend. I am and will always be a child of God that is my truest (if that’s a word) identity; without God I’m nothing.

 I am a proud Diaspora and native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Before I am an American I am a Congolese woman. It took a long time for me to embrace everything that is a part of me but I love being African and I love being a brown skin girl. To really make it simple Elisabeth (Kadesi) now Tubajika is a world changer. My mission before leaving this world is to have impact. whether that impact is big or small in the eyes of society, I pretty much don’t care. I want to inspire people to become their best version, I want to create, I want to build, and I want to empower. Oh I can’t forget to add this one I love to travel, laugh, dance and shop (Very important details lol).

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When it comes to the experiences and places that have shaped your life, what or who has contributed to the woman you are today?

The biggest contributors to the woman I am today goes to several people, some tangible and others intangible. The greatest influencers of my life are my parents, the greatest role model of being a Godly woman is my mom. I also have my sisters and friends who teach me so much about life & virtual mentors (if you know what I’m saying). A big contributor right now is my husband. Being married for 4 months now, he’s taught me a lot we’re both learning together.

In general, I love learning from people who refuse to be victims of life’s circumstances. People who are passionate about their purpose. The places that have really shaped my life are all condensed from experiences in Congo, growing up in a post-Apartheid South Africa and being an African in America.

What are some of the things that you’ve accomplished that fill you with unfiltered back joy?

Graduating from University was one of my greatest accomplishments as an African girl. I always thought that it wasn’t possible for me but when I got my 4-year degree, the possibilities seemed endless. Another great achievement for me was starting my first non-profit organization (We Are the Voice) in 2012. Our mission was to help the battered women of East Congo and promoting education for orphans in Africa. Congo at the time was constantly in the media with negative press; and though we did and still do have conflicts and wars I wanted to show Americans a different type of Congo.  The beauty behind despair. The Congo with riches, wealth, enough natural resources to assist the world, beautiful black women, talented artists, and a beautiful culture. To be able to gather people from everywhere to hear your story, your vision, is a beautiful achievement.

In light of your philanthropic endeavour, ‘We are The Voice’ what was the internal shift that needed to occur to move from being appalled by something, to doing something to make a change?

One thing, mind-set. It takes a mental decision to change the narrative of your story. To move from being a victim to a leader. Congo is such a powerful country but with poor infrastructure and leadership.   Who do we continue to blame? The Belgians, White people, western countries? I was tired of our country being portrayed as a victim; yes, we’ve been through a lot, but we’re not slaves. We’re warriors, kings and queens.

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 I did a lot of reading on my culture while in college; I was curious about African studies. I asked my dad a lot of questions, and those who grew up in Congo during the 1960’s (our independence). I read a lot of books and watched movies on great leaders who changed the trajectory of African politics and culture. If you’re tired of seeing negative press on your people start becoming the kind of person you would like to see in the press.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt on your journey thus far?

Nobody is responsible for your happiness. If you want something communicate! Say it, go get it, and most importantly do something.

How have you maintained the authenticity of your brand in this age of social media?

With social media everyone copies and imitates each other, and you can get discouraged feeling like your vision isn’t necessary. I heard this quote somewhere and it changed my view on authenticity. When you come from a place of experience, when you share and create based on your own experiences you will never lack content”. There is only one you and that is your superpower

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The climate that we’re in necessitates rest both physically and mentally for black women, how do you take care of yourself to prevent burnout?

The year 2020 has been a very challenging one for everyone with black lives matter, COVID19, and unemployment rates at its highest. I prioritize my mental health, is important to me. I don’t leave that responsibility to someone else. To keep my sanity in these times I have to run, pray, meditate, and watch a lot of comedy. My husband and I laugh a lot together so thank God the quarantine didn’t destroy us lol.  Another important step for me is controlling what I choose to watch. You have to manage every aspect of your being: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. They are all VERY important.

What advice would you give to the younger version of yourself?

I would tell that black girl that there’s nothing more beautiful than being yourself, you were supposed to be different embrace it.

What does it mean to you to be you ancestors wildest dreams?

Being my ancestors wildest dreams is a very profound statement. To me the question is what were my ancestors dreaming about? What were their desires? As black people we all come from different tribes and backgrounds, our history dynamics are so different. One thing our ancestors all had in common was the need to survive, to be free and to leave a legacy. I want to give my ancestors more than that, not only do I want my freedom, I want excellence for my people.  I want to thrive not only survive. I want my ancestors to see that I was able to be a steward of their history, wisdom and culture.

To my ancestors we’re tired of being victims of the past, we’re tired of only fighting, we hear you. It’s time to take our crowns back. We are royalty.

Our Ancestors Wildest Dreams: Intro

We can’t afford to wait for the world to be equal to start feeling seen.

Michelle Obama

In a system built to destroy you, joy is rebellion! My family arrived in a post-apartheid South Africa from a war torn Democratic Republic of Congo and the one thing I can always remember from those early years is never feeling as though I could fit in anywhere. I spent a lot of my primary school career trying not to be noticed. Whenever people asked where I was from, I was quick to shutdown anything that linked back to my heritage and answer Belgium. Which is true as my place of birth, but I remember very early on, learning to be ashamed of my blackness. I remember one girl calling me a ‘makwerekwere’, a derogatory term used in South African for foreigners. On the other side of the spectrum, my white schoolmates were being raised by parents who enforced the old apartheid regime. Black was bad, black was dirty, black was wrong. In a few peoples eyes it felt as though I was the ‘dirty black’ who dared to be in the same space that they were in. I was lucky enough to find a group of friends that made surviving high school , and a system that was so against me, much easier!

In my thirty years of being a black woman, I have gone through a plethora of emotions. At times I would wish I was the right type of black to fit in with everyone else, and on the other side I wished I was a more acceptable type of African…whatever that means. Other times I wished my nose was straighter, less bulbous and indicative of my blackness. It took going to study in London to help me find my true identity and to stand boldly in who I was as a black woman divinely crafted in the image of a breathtaking God. My first year in the U.K. was marvellous. I grew up in a tight-laced conservative Christian family. I had my first sip of alcohol at 17 and the lightweight that I am, I passed out (still happens 😂) but somehow I still had enough sense in me to remember to tell my friend to tell my mum that I’d fallen asleep if she came into the room and found me passed out. Such is the fear that having African parents can instil in you 😂. In London, away from my parents’ rule and away from being in the shadow of my siblings, I was my own person. For the first time in my life, I found myself surrounded by people who were from different cultures, but they carried their culture and blackness with pride. The black women I met weren’t ashamed of being black, my goodness they were stunning. I started to wear my hair in its natural texture, I experimented with colour contact lenses (black girl rite of passage…), I embraced not only my features but my skin colour as well. This is gonna sound a touch shallow, but it did boost my ego a lot that people…and by people I mean the hotties on campus, had a bit of jungle fever for the girl from Africa 🤷🏾‍♀️ very much a ‘Mean Girls’ moment! And while 2020 Aurélie has grown so much (praise be to Jesus,) and no longer needs male validation to thrive, I was 18 and very silly at the time.

In those years living in London, I truly believed and embodied a phrase made popular by Dark n Lovely: ‘my black is beautiful.’ Fast forward to when I met my husband. I was a bit jaded by romance and had no strong feelings about getting married. I knew if I wanted to have children, I could do that by myself. My mom was quite horrified by that, which humoured me a lot more than it should have. Hubby is the most refreshing part of my life. The bonus & most importantly: he did not fetishise back women like SOOO many other creeps I encountered before him. Neither of us have ever applied the phrase ‘I don’t see colour’ to our relationship. In fact we’ve always been transparent about the differences in our upbringing, and the lives we have so far led. There are so many things that make being married to Sam wonderful. I’ll gush about that in another post…

Hubby and I had some marvellous plans for the future, and then 2020 hit. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, black people were reminded of an enemy they have always had to face…racism.

The passing of Big Floyd reminded us all of how far we haven’t come since Martin Luther King marched at Selma, and Nelson Mandela become South Africa’s first black president in post-apartheid South Africa. I remember waking up on Saturday morning going for a run in an attempt to forget the emotional and mental trauma of realising once again that to some, black lives don’t matter. I recall coming back from my run the morning after the video of his passing circulated, and started to feel so ill that at some stage I asked myself ‘covid is that you?’ I woke up the next day feeling physically better largely due to a sleeping tablet, and as I continue in my attempts to heal from the collective trauma that the black community is dealing with, I am grateful for the sweet Holy Spirit that continues to remind me of something:

I am my ancestors wildest dreams

As a black woman, I should not be where I am. Free, educated, alive. And sometimes I forget that. I am notoriously bad at slowing down and smelling the roses. It truly takes ALL of heaven’s armies to stop me. This is one of those moments. The realisation that who I am today is what my parents, and grandparents (on my mothers side cause Lord knows our fathers always have messy family dynamics) prayed for.

As a black woman, I have often found myself in deep need of a pouring into my spirit that I am loved, valued and beautiful. I am grateful that I have very dear and lovely people who have seen this in me when I have not. As black people the world often times wants us to forget that we are loved, valued, and beautiful. This is a world that crushes so much of our spirits that we forget the beauty that being black is. What the enemy wants to do through racism is to break us. He wants to keep knocking us down until we get to a place where the trauma becomes a part of us, a part of our DNA that we continue to pass to our children, and their children, and their children. To get to a point where we grow so tired of fighting the microaggressions that we face on a daily basis that we retreat on the inside and start to feel the years of trauma breaking us down mentally, physically and emotionally. I refuse to be broken. The revolution WILL be televised and I will be part of it. This is where our ancestors wildest dreams comes in. An online space to remind black people of the beauty and magic that lies in their melanin. Some of them I have the privilege of knowing personally, and others I admire from afar. The magic embedded in the DNA of all black people will not be stopped. Our stories of success and overcoming in spite of the odds so heavily stacked against us, will not be erased. I look forward to sharing more from a community who are EVERYTHING that their ancestors dreamt of!

Black Lives Matter

Saying that Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives are valued less, it just means that there is a group of people who for years have been undervalued and exploited and it’s time we stop.

Nathan Ryan

Black Lives Matter is more than a slogan, it is a movement that was founded in the United States of America, after the murder of Trayvon Martin. This movement is about connecting Black people from all over the world who have as their primary mandate to act in the best interests of their community. As a black woman living in South Africa, I am grateful that the levels of racism I have faced, have not led to me losing my life. The unrest in the US has forced us all to evaluate just how clean our hearts are. Now more than ever, I am grateful for the friends/allies who have never pegged me based on my race. As we seek out new actionable ways to embody what Christ instructed us to do i.e ‘love thy neighbor, as you love yourself’ (Mark 12:31) may we not shy away from the awkward discomfort that some of these conversations will bring. It has been heartbreaking to realise over the past few days that there are people who would much rather die than admit that black lives matter. Thankfully in spite of the vitriol of hate that people spew out to black and other non-white people, I am comforted by the words of Maya Angelou:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

30, flirty & thriving

On the 18th of April 2020, I turned 30. I’ve been looking forward to this day for the past year. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the way we’ve been conditioned by society about the ages that represent growth, wisdom and responsibility: 21, 25, 30 and 40. Those were the ages that growing up, I looked forward to. There’s something about leaving behind the twenties that makes 30 feel grown up. It feels like overnight I’ve developed a different type of skin. I realise though that is wasn’t overnight. There were habits that I developed over the past two years that prepared me for thirty without me feeling as though getting older is the curse that the media will sometimes spin on us women. There were attitudes, and thought patterns that I consciously had to refuse in order to enter my thirties in the healthiest way possible.

The New Normal

The smile on my face… plastered.

How is lockdown going for you? Over the past three weeks, I have gone through ALL the emotions, and none of them have involved much productivity. There’s a strange thought that started spreading across mainstream social media channels that this is a time to learn a new skill whether that is playing a new instrument, learning a new language etc. Basically if you’re not doing any of the aforementioned things, then you’re a wasteman. Yesterday I was speaking to my supervisor who is part of the covid-19 response task force and he said something that is aiding in shifting my perspective in regards to what life post covid-19 is going to look like. Until we get to a point where scientists have created a reliable vaccine, we are going to have to find a way to go back to living not as we used to , but as our new world requires us to. Life is not going to look like what we previously knew, and in all honesty, we should be very glad about that. The normal that we were used to was unhealthy with ethnic groups with people that look like me, left on the outside. The old way of living was toxic. I suppose if you benefited from the old way of living,, you’d be resistant to accepting the reality that things are never going to be the same again.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19 (ESV)

Y’all please don’t come for me and loop me in the same group as the crazy Christians who say covid-19 was sent by God for a mass cleanse to restore the good in humanity. RUN from those peeps!!! What I am saying, like Isaiah writes in the verse above, God can make our world (individual or collective) better in the midst of what feels like a crappy season in the wilderness. The one thing that we do know for certain, and that I think we can find some comfort and safety in is this: things are never going to be the same again, and that’s okay! It might actually be the best thing to come out of this., We’re still gonna have bad days, and that’s normal. It is a global pandemic after all. It’s okay to feel as though you’re not coping, and if you need a little bit more support, don’t be afraid to reach out. The only thing I’m working on is actually found in the title of a very popular Bee Gees song, ‘staying alive,’ and you know what? That is good enough.

Resurrection Sunday

Last night my mom asked me what Easter means to me, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. One of my favourite things about this time of the year, (Resurrection Sunday) is the fact that a woman (Mary Magdalene) was the first to have seen Jesus. Throughout the Gospels , I’ve always found it so beautiful (& comforting) to read one account after the other where Jesus saw the value of what was traditionally thought to be the insignificant sex, growing up in a traditional patriarchal African household it was a big deal to know that I was loved and valued beyond measure… beyond just one day growing up, getting married, popping very cute babies out & that’s it Jesus beam me up 😂 Jesus lived in a time when it was scandalous to allow women to speak, let alone treat them with respect, yet He did it… might He have been the first male feminist? On that cross, in a moment that seemed to be marred by darkness, Christ poured out His love for us, placed value on all of us. I suppose you could call it a homecoming of some sorts, one that we work out everyday. A journey of us becoming who we were always meant to be. ♥️

‘Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King.’

Going back to Uni: 5 Tips for the mature student

If someone had told me that in 2020, I’d be halfway into completing a FULLY FUNDED MSc. programme, I would’ve slapped them in the face and said ‘get behind me Satan’. Granted a lot of that statement would have been rooted in the negative lense that I saw my life through at that time, and a crippling inability to see the ways that Jesus was working things out in my life. Thankfully, things are slightly different now. When I first started working in research, I had been unemployed for about two months, when I went for my interview I had no idea what my bosses were going to ask me to do. I’d been away from academia for about 3 years and the practical aspects of my Honours degree that I thoroughly loved, were more than a little fuzzy. On that day, my mum told me to go in and just give it all I had. It was a huge boost to my self esteem then, and now as I think of how cute I looked on that day. I thought I was going in for an interview but praise God, they had actually decided that they wanted me onboard but needed to see me face to face. My plans after my Honours degree was to specialise as a haematologist. Now I’m building my professional life in HIV research, with an emphasis on early infant diagnosis, and I couldn’t be happier. So what are the traits you need to get to where I am? I’m glad you asked!

1. Believe in your sauce. When I decided that academia was for me, to say that I was nervous was an understatement. For the first few months at work, concepts that used to be familiar now felt foreign to my very much matured brain (I was 28 at the time). I am grateful that I had my lovely husband rooting for me all the way. He would listen to me telling him about concepts that were new to me too, and engage in conversation with me. He would also remind me that had I not been capable, they would have FOR SURE not hired me. This is something that I have had to remind myself of especially when I’m hit with a heavy dose of imposters syndrome. Believing in your own sauce doesn’t mean that you’re oblivious to the things you don’t know, or that you blag your way through things (in my industry blagging ain’t gonna get you anywhere). Believing in your own sauce means being aware of where your strengths lie and not being afraid to utilize them when needed.

2. Speak up. My bosses are ridiculously good researchers in the field of HIV. THe more publications I read and found out just how good they are, the more I started to feel like I didn’t have anything to offer. When I commenced my MSc. programme, the awe & admiration I have for my bosses, became crippling. I found myself saying yes or keeping quiet, even when I didn’t agree with a certain course of action. As I grew in confidence (and also had my husband speak to me on this), I realised that my voice was important too. It may not have carried as much wisdom and knowledge (yet) as my supervisors but the last thing they wanted was a parrot who regurgitated their ideas and was a yes (wo)man.

3. Don’t stop learning. This is one that I had no other choice but to do. I had no idea of how testing was conducted for HIV diagnosis. My understanding of it was elementary, and definitely not on the level of someone who wished to work in that field. I can’t tell you how many journals I’ve downloaded in recent months. How many terms I’ve gotten acquainted with, and how many more terms I still haven’t gotten acquainted with. Being aware of how much you still have to learn is important BUT unless you take action, you’re going to stay in the same place.

4. Be flexible and laugh… A LOT! In this journey of being a student, ESPECIALLY a more mature one at that, things will go wrong. Balancing being a great partner, daughter, employee, student, sister and aunt is tough work. I’ve dropped the ball countless times, and guess what you’re not immune to ball dropping. This isn’t a negative prophesy I swear! The reality of life as a student, especially in research is that you’ll drop the ball somewhere. Your supervisors will drop the ball somewhere. The Gantt chart mapping the expected timeline of various tasks will become something that mocks you, reminding you of how far behind you actually are. Sometimes I feel as though mine laughs at me every time I look at it. 🤔 Experiments will fail, your controls will invalidate specimen results and leave you in tears, you’ll save over recent versions of your thesis but you know what in the end it’ll all work out.

5. Don’t sell yourself short. When my supervisors told me that they’d be paying for my studies, I felt very much like what the prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 41:14, I am but a worm, how do I even deserve this. It sounds extreme right? But isn’t that the trajectory our mind follows when we believe very little of ourselves? This point is very tightly tied to point 1, believe in your own sauce. Believe that you have something to offer, believe that you’re there for a reason. This can sometimes be a tough one to remember as your progression begins to grant you access to rooms more advanced and intelligent. HOWEVER, if at the core of you, you’ve built your self-esteem and value to be unattached to anyone or anything else, it may be difficult to remember but it won’t be impossible. You think Beyoncé cares about the people who don’t believe in her talent? You shouldn’t either. Show up, set the place on fire (with your talent, not literal fire), and then let your work speak for itself. Accept that you aren’t like anyone else, and that is your greatest gift. Stay in your lane and excel in your lane!

BONUS TIP: Get comfortable with your work being critiqued. This is the hardest one for me, and the one that the Lord continues to humble me through. The first iteration of my research protocol was horrible. The more that precious document bounced between my supervisors and I, the better it got. When I submitted it, I couldn’t believe how far it had come from that very sad first version. To get to the masterpiece that my protocol is, was a labor of love. I remember the first email where my supervisor had removed information that I had become personally attached to. I had to swallow my ego, cry at home…sometimes at work, to come to terms that the prerequisite for life in research is being comfortable with sometimes having your work critiqued. Sometimes your ideas will shine bright like a diamond, and other times those more experienced than you will offer a different angle that you perhaps hadn’t thought of. There is a time to defend your ideas, and there is a time to realise that maybe your idea isn’t as great as you thought it was.

P.s. Try keeping yourself in as much of a positive circle as you can. If I had married anyone else, I may truly have ended up setting things on fire… literally! 😂

Le Féminin

On this International Women’s Day (8th March 2020) I think of what the Duchess of Sussex said on her visit to Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham on the 6th March 2020, ‘you have your mother’s, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life, protect them.’ So often the directive for women empowerment is geared towards women. It’s time for this message of empowerment to shift towards men.

I live in South Africa, a country where being female has for many years felt like an extreme sport. Last year, University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana was brutally murdered and raped when she went to pick up a parcel at the post office. The fact that such a heinous crime was committed in broad daylight (around 14pm) in an area that many of us frequent, is what made her death even more shocking. Every rape in South Africa, to the women of this country, is more than just another statisitic. As women, we’re told not to walk alone late at night, we’re told not to wear revealing clothing, we’re told to have just the right level of sweetness combined with firmness when we’re catcalled. The message that we get is to be accommodating to men. What if men were taught to be feminists, advocating the rights of women without looking out for their own selfish gain.

I think of Jesus, so ahead of His time when He dared to speak to the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) during a period of time when speaking to women was taboo because of the second class citizens they were thought to be. A man who spoke to women the way He saw them; treasured, intelligent, valuable, and with as important of a role to play as man ever could. When Jesus rose from the dead, the first people to see Him were women. If it weren’t for the women in our lives who have made an impact, where would we be?

On this international women’s day, I hope that you are reminded of your strength and tenacity as a woman. I hope you are able to remember that regardless of how the world seeks to break you, it never will be able to extinguish the fiery flame in you. Happy international women’s day to all you lovely, strong, and breathtaking women.

C’est fort, une femme

Quand on nous blesse et nous accable, on n’se plaint pas

Quand on nous laisse, que tout l’monde part, on reste là

Avec les restes, on reconstruit, on est comme ça

C’est ça, une femme

Vitaa & Slimane- XY

Pregnant or Fat?

I’m going through a crappy period with my weight and it’s hard not to get down on myself, especially when everyone keeps asking if I’m pregnant 🤰🏽 I’m not, I’ve just gained weight. I’m on a solid reset plan that involves zero sugar and mostly veg. So far so good, BUT it’s tough. I looked at my body today and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. There’s the quiet voice from my bulimic days that sometimes taunts me. My plan is to see a nutritionist and find out how I can potentially do plant based eating alongside long distance running and CrossFit. Right now I am being as gentle as I can be with myself while on this new journey of bettering myself and shedding a few kilos. Choosing to go on a health kick during the festive season is probably not the best idea 🤦🏾‍♀️.

It’s easy to hear the voices of others and often very difficult to hear your own. Every person you meet is going to want something different from you. The question is: what do you want for yourself?

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter