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!

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! 😂

Arms like aunty a.k.a black, female & strong

Aunty* just turned 60…

Simmer on that. Yes, my eyes popped out too!

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I was about six months late on watching Black Panther. While I understood the cultural significance of Black Panther, I am not one of those people who will rush to the cinema for new releases. When I finally watched it, I left feeling as though an incredible opportunity to feature more of aunty Angela was missed. I don’t have any doubts that CrossFit, running, Nike training club workouts and the occasional Jillian Michaels workout here and there will keep me fit until the day I return to God, but whenever I feel myself getting lazy, somehow as if by magic a picture of aunty Angela pops up out of nowhere. As a black female constantly at odds with the stereotype still running rampant that black women don’t work out or have a high sense of health prioritisation, seeing a black female icon (my others being Serena Williams obviously, G.O.A.T!!!  Elisabeth Akinwale, Massy Arias and Lita Lewis,) breaking this stereotype is representation that truly does matters!

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In an interview with Essence magazine, Angela spoke on her confidence on the red carpet;

Sometimes, if you don’t feel it, you gotta do it and then the feeling will come. I’ll say to my glam team, ‘I have great arms, you might want to show that!’ I believe we all have something—great legs, beautiful hair—so find your something, be proud of it, and accentuate it.”

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My something has for a long time been my arms, however it isn’t always an asset I flaunt because of past insecurities on my arms being too muscular for a girl, add to that a very strange experience where a man I do not know came up to me and touched my arm and proceeded to ask how I got them that way. Lord knows I wanted to say ‘if you train, you too can have arms like mine.’ Unfortunately, it’s only in my head that I’m extremely snarky to intrusive strangers. How can I forget a blind date gone wrong where I was asked to flex? That is exactly what every woman wants to do on a date…

Lately I’ve started to care less about what people think about my arms, about me. At the end of the day, my body houses my spirit, my thoughts, my emotions, my intelligence (both intellectual and emotional.) Our physical appearance, our physical make up is secondary to our spiritual make up. Internally, (not just about my arms,) do I love the physical manifestations that I am responsible for on this glorious journey of life that I get to experience every day? It’s the opinion that you have in relation to your life and the things you can control that matter the most. There are circumstances and people that are out of our realm of control. The things that we can change, requires strength from us to take that first step towards boldly walking towards those things we know will fulfill us. I love Beyoncé (you’re crazy if you don’t) and I love what she said in her interview with Vogue magazine. Queen B said that she wants her son to realise that the real magic he possesses in this world is that power and ability to affirm his own existence.

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image courtesy of Vogue magazine

I believe this is the boldness and confidence that exudes so visibly from the women that I’ve mentioned in this post. The ability to claim the space that you take up unashamedly and unapologetically being true only to yourself. This act of taking up space and claiming it is one that I am currently learning. I work with the most intelligent people, yet they’ve maintained a humility that you wouldn’t expect from people of their calibre. The boss lady is a woman who astounds me each time I speak to her. I gush A LOT about my bosses to my boyfie. When I first started my contract, I would have this ‘deer caught in headlights’ look whenever I spoke to her and now I’m finally moving to a stage where because I’m growing in confidence simply by listening to the knowledge they impart, the fear-filled look on my face has all but disappeared and I am learning to use the responsibility I’ve been given to speak up when needed, without fear or apprehension.

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G.O.A.T

Positive images of blackness are affirming, positive images of womanhood are affirming. Positive images of what it means to be black and female, even better! In a world that doesn’t immediately (and often times does not at all,) appreciate blackness, seeing black women thrive whether they be artists, sportswomen, academics or the girl next door, is empowering and validating. To see women who are as committed as you are in looking after the body that houses their spirits, the very essence of their being lends to your own stamina and endurance on this journey of life.

You can recognize strength by it being juxtaposed against vulnerability, vulnerability is sensitivity and tenderness and all those things, there’s great strength in that. It ebbs and flows, it’s just being human. Knowing that whether I’m strong, whether I’m weak or I’m tender, I’m enough. Angela Bassett

aba*you’ll get the aunty reference if you watched Black Panther 🙂