Beatrice Achaleke. Follow. to Africa. In an unspoken conversation with Nelson Mandela. diaspora edition

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1 Beatrice Achaleke Follow me to Africa In an unspoken conversation with Nelson Mandela diaspora edition

2 Follow me to Africa In an unspoken conversation with Nelson Mandela Beatrice Achaleke diaspora edition, May 2015

3 Beatrice Achaleke All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form by any means, without prior permission from the publisher or copyright holder. Text Beatrice Achaleke, 2015 Published by diaspora edition 2015 Vienna, Austria ISBN-13: ISBN-10: Facebook: Twitter: #followmetoafrica Blog: Cover design: Dominik Hruza studio Front cover photo: Thomas Traub Back cover photo: Beatrice Achaleke Proofreading: Opicho Alvine Paul, Meghla El Hague and Michael Bitzan ii

4 Follow me to Africa DEDICATION I wholeheartedly dedicate this book, first to my brother Gabrielle Bebonbechen who left us way too soon on August 2, May your soul rest in perfect peace! And then to you personally! No one but you can change your reality. Thank you for being part of my personal transformational journey! Beatrice Achaleke Vienna, May 2015 iii

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6 CONTENTS Preface i Prolog Shit happens Uncomfortsable Conversations 25 3 Finding Ubuntu - I am because you are 71 4 The voices Embracing Globuntu 90 5 Who is Globuntu Tracking records of an extraordinary journey The women on the big screen Doing Follow me to Africa Balancing opens and consistency The wisdom of my ancestors my Grandma Getting ready for South Africa questions In my own words my lessons learnt My game changing year Follow me to Africa Thank you

7 Beatrice Achaleke Epilogue Impressions vi

8 PREFACE Upon my first introduction to Beatrice Acheleke, over 4 years ago. I was in the midst of a unique life transformation. I was waning between occupational interests of being in business for myself as a consultant and following my heart to continue pursuing opportunities within the entertainment industry. Beatrice was slated to deliver the keynote address for a conference that I was hosting, and it was during her talk that I felt compelled to be fully fearless! I was captivated by her prowess of four languages, especially her stellar command of the English language, and her willingness to learn MORE and be even GREATER! I particularly recall a moment between us during a session at the conference when we were asked by another speaker to say something uplifting and kind to a person sitting next to us. Beatrice chose to turn to her right and face me to relay, I am because you are. In that moment, she was no longer a stranger, but she was my sister. I was astonished that upon her return to Austria, she followed through with an and a Facebook friend request, and I was confident that we would become dear friends. Over these few years, she has allowed me to share in her dreams, learn about her family and personal pursuits as well as counsel her through her personal challenges. It is with GREAT honour that I endorse this powerfully masterful and creative work. Beatrice Achaleke is a magnificent teacher, speaker, mother, sister and friend who is dedicated to life learning

9 Beatrice Achaleke and rigorous application. She is a brilliant mind who seeks thorough understanding in every quest, and demands the highest motivation from her inner voice. She has invoked the passion within me to focus on my goals and not rest until they come to fruition. Follow me to Africa is a reflection of honesty and candour that will inspire you to free your mind of limitations and lead your life s journey with direction and purpose. Beatrice Achaleke is the ultimate risk-taker and waymaker! She continues to inspire others to learn the art of global communication whether by linguistics, actions, charities or travel. The handbook for the journey of selfexploration is in your hands at this very moment. Let s go to Africa my friends! Ericka Dunlap Ericka is a globally recognized Diversity & Inclusion Advocate and author who held the distinction of Miss America in viii

10 Follow me to Africa If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change! Wayne Dyer ix

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12 PROLOG Shit happens! It all started very gradually three years ago. On June my world changed completely. On that fateful day I got three official notices for outstanding bills delivered by the postman in my office, and two others when I opened my private post box after work. That made it a total of five in just one day. The reason behind them was the same. Unpaid bills. I had not been able to pay my bills for the last three months and that was just the beginning of a series of real troubles. When I got these notices I was devastated, sad, angry, disappointed, ashamed, and above all, afraid of what would happen next. I was in desperation and confused. I felt I was all alone in the world and with no one to really turn to. To understand why I felt this way, I need to tell you who I am. I am a single mum of two school kids, at the brink of their teenage lives. A very challengingly and demanding age for both kids and parents. I am an entrepreneur, which means I depend on my customers to pay me fairly and in a timely manner in order for me to pay my own bills. I am an immigrant in a country where being an immigrant is rarely an advantage, no matter how talented, experienced or smart and connected you are. 1

13 Beatrice Achaleke Given that I had been living in this country for twenty years, I knew all the people that seemed to matter in town, having been the active person that I had always been. I am a foresighted agent of change, this means I am not only constantly questioning systems, but above all proposing innovative changes to entities and enterprises, most of which are perhaps often seen as being too innovative and farfetched. If you know how conformist the society I live in is, you may begin to understand how resistant it is to change. Above all, I was not just an immigrant but also a black woman for that matter. Please don t get me wrong, I am not being emotional or overly sensitive. The truth is that it really does matter when you look different in any given system, especially when it comes to visible attributes like skin colour. I am forty plus. This means I am in that crucial stage in my life when I sincerely think I should either be where I think I belong to, or on the fastest highway there, if I want to get there at all. The truth is that I am still struggling to even figure out where I could be, in spite of my impressive track record of activities, expertise, knowledge, references and credentials. A clear indication that something is not right. 2

14 Follow me to Africa Public vs. private me Many in town and beyond view me as someone who is extremely successful. To them I am the diversity queen, a diva, an expert even a guru as some like to call me. I have received nine awards and four nominations for my diverse activities over the last seven years, ranging from local, national and renowned international awards, some of which have been previously received by state presidents like Vaclav Havel. I am always present, active, working, speaking, organising, teaching, coaching and much more. I should have been at the top, but there I was with my five exhortations and lawsuits for bills that I could not pay. Not that they were of any substantial amount of money either. It amounted to a sum totalling less than eight thousand Euros and yes, I was unable to pay them. This explains my feelings that evening of helplessness, confusion, anger and real fear. If you think that was all, then you are in for more surprises. It was just the beginning of the big shit that was going to happen to me within the next three months. When I finally took myself off the state of mind of selfpity that I was in, I knew I had to act immediately before much worse could happen. I took the bitter decision to make more budgetary cuts in my household, as if our current life of limited finances was not enough. In fact, I was living a life of scarcity and need come to think of it, I 3

15 Beatrice Achaleke had always lived a frugal life for reasons I will explain later. So, back to my load of bills, warning letters, lawsuits and the decisions that I needed to take. Office gone The first cutback was my office. I decided it was time to close my office and let my assistant go. For the past couple of months, I had also not been able to pay the rent for the small one room office which I had been sharing with my assistant. I took the painful decision to give up the office. This had consequences, it meant lugging back all that was in the office to my home, one which I was also being asked to move out of. The three major challenges that came with this decision were: - giving up my assistant whose support I badly needed, especially at a time like this. - organising and paying off someone with money I did not have, to move my office stuff to my home from which my kids and I were likely to be thrown out of at any moment. - finding a place in this very home for the office stuff for as long as we could still call this place home. The hardest of these challenges was explaining to my kids 4

16 Follow me to Africa what was happening and why we had to get rid of some of their stuff to create space for my office stuff. Why our dining table was becoming my office, and why I was going to be working from home from then onwards. In the midst of moving objects back and forth between office and home, dealing with all the questions and the insecurity my kids felt, I just knew I needed all my strength and creativity to manage everything. I needed all the sensibility and due diligence to deal with the question of how to get our apartment back again. I just knew I had to function rationally more than ever. What I felt at that point was secondary. Things just had to become normal again. For that I needed to juggle between cleaning up the shit that was happening, managing the present daily challenges and most of all, building a future that was going to be markedly different from our current one. Preoccupied with all these dilemmas, I just shored up all my energy towards soldiering on with the tasks at hand. I did not only do that which was needed to be done, but rather what I could rationally do under such circumstances. I harboured no feelings. I started becoming very pragmatic in my thoughts. It is amazing how your actions automatically match and fit into your thoughts under such circumstances. 5

17 Beatrice Achaleke I talked with a few friends, sent out a couple of s and reluctantly made the decision to follow Louise Hay s advice and become open and receptive to the totality of possibilities. I trusted in my instincts which effectively told me what to do. I subsequently had experiences and held discussions that threw me off balance and made me go completely out of my mind. I reprogrammed my mind on the no sensitivity modus operandi. It is amazing what some people will say to you; how they will treat you when they find out that you are in a precarious situation. It is equally amazing how many new people will come into your life and play major roles that you would never under normal circumstances ask them to play. Brother gone, way too soon As my kids and I were getting used to the new arrangements at home, like sharing our meals with my imac on the dining table, having cartons everywhere and expecting the post man to bring another worrisome notice or the landlord to come with his men to move us out, the next piece of news came in. My cousin, who was like a kid brother to me, died aged barely thirty-three in the USA. This was another blow, both emotionally and financially. The loss was so big and so sudden that I feared I was going to break down completely. At the 6

18 Follow me to Africa same time, I knew I could not, I had to garner another resistant muscle in me to weather this shock, for two big reasons. My Aunty Bibi, the mother of my cousin, who is basically my defacto mum, as she had brought me up, was going to be needing every bit of support she could get to go through this irreplaceable loss. Gabriel was the apple of her eye, her biggest love on earth. Now he was gone and she, his mum, having to stand by and watch him go, powerless, without being able to do anything about it - I knew she needed support. I also knew I could not tell her about my situation. I just needed to train another enduring muscle in me, one, two, three four and five if need be, to get through this. The second reason I had to overcome this was for my own kids. I had to be here for them. I had reassured them that all was going to be fine. I needed to let them understand that the current loss was not going to keep me away from working on the project of securing our home, an office, and taking the computer off our dining table and providing them once again with pocket money - something they had to do without for the past five months, because the extra money was just not available. The third challenge, the one that caused me most anxiety at that time bore the name: MONEY. Yes money, the five lettered word that appears to rule the world, families, 7

19 Beatrice Achaleke businesses, and relations at all times, irrespective of human feelings. I was completely out of cash. This meant that I was not going to be able to accompany my Aunty Bibi to the USA to get Gabriel home. It meant that I was neither going on her behalf, nor was I going to join them when they ultimately brought him home to lay him to eternal rest. In our family and the culture I come from, not being able to mourn with your loved ones in times like this is an emotional roller coaster of the worst type. My situation notwithstanding, I knew I was in a big mess. This mess was going to heighten my money woes even further. I knew the only way that I was going to manage to stay in touch with my family in that devastating situation was by staying on the phone. Fortunately Skype made things a bit easier, but not all calls could be made via Skype. I made up my mind to do what was needed to be done and think about the consequences later and so I made all the calls that needed to be made, as long as the phone was active. I knew what was going to happen thereafter but I just had to carry on regardless. I was on function mode. When the burial was over, the phone line was off. Not that the bill was big, no, it was peanuts, except for the fact that any bill at this time was a big bill. The phone was off 8

20 Follow me to Africa and I was left with this immense sense of loss. The loss of a human being, and the pain of not having been there either for him or for our Mum, Aunty Bibi when she needed me most, was acutely hard to bear. The mother in me could only imagine how it would feel to be in her shoes in that situation, and the feeling seemed fateful and disheartening. With this additional package in my suitcase of challenges I needed to get back to reality quickly to deal with the existential crisis my kids and I were in. How was I going to save our home, and prevent us from landing on the streets in winter? How on earth was I going to bring normality back into our lives? I knew we had drifted far, very far away from living a normal life. What used to be normal became a luxury. As if this was not enough to deal with, the universe seemed to have gone onto a path that would stretch me even further. Securing our apartment was becoming even more impossible. There was no new home we could go to. All the while, my mountain of unpaid bills was occupying an increasingly bigger space on our dining table. I could not stand dealing with them anymore no matter how hard I tried. I just wished I would wake up and find my kids and myself far away from all these problems. At the same time I knew this was a wish that was not going to be fulfilled, nor was it going to take me anywhere. 9

21 Beatrice Achaleke I was in the shit and needed to clean it up to move on. But where could I start from? How could I clean up and build at the same time? Where do I get the energy from? I felt my body threaten to breakdown and I found myself begging and cursing my it at the same time, not to dare to let me down. My whole being was like a web of contradictions. I was tired, yet felt this surge of energy. I was completely bursting, yet felt this deep hunger and emptiness, this impatience to get things moving faster. I was tired, yet felt this deep need to run even faster, not stopping until I got to that place where life could become normal. But where was that? In between I managed with the help of some very good friends to clear the outstanding rental bill. My son in the hospital That evening some more surprises awaited me. My kids came back from school and complained that they were not feeling well. Please don t do this to me I prayed to God. Don t you see how full my cup is and how much I am struggling? In my despair, I called their dad and begged him to take them to the doctor. He did and the doctor ordered for a blood test. Two days later we got the results. We needed to see a specialist to check their thyroids, and so I booked an appointment with the doctor for next Friday. 10

22 Follow me to Africa On Thursday evening, I got the message that we could keep our apartment for the time being, but that the danger was not yet over. My kids and I could never have been more thankful in our lives. We laughed and cried at the same time. We were so moved and we hoped that things were finally falling in place. And so, truly happy for the first time in six weeks, we went to bed looking forward to the doctor s appointment in the morning. We were very sure nothing could shake us again. In this hopeful mind-set, we visited the hospital. While in the consultation room, the doctor did another blood test. When the results came out, he looked sceptically at me, shook his head and asked for a second blood test. This can t be! He said, obviously thinking aloud. What?2 I asked him sensing that something was not right. Has he collapsed before? He asked looking at my son. No. Why should he? I asked, surprised. Well, I do not want to speculate. Let us do a second blood test to be sure. The test was quickly done. And this time he looked even more baffled. 11

23 Beatrice Achaleke You said he has never collapsed before? No Doctor. Would you please tell me what you obviously know? I pleaded. I was becoming impatient. Well then it is just a question of time until it happens. Your son is highly diabetic and we shall have to keep him in the hospital for the next fourteen days, if not more. We need to do some more tests, stabilise him and observe how he responds to the medication. It is going to be a complete change of lifestyle, not only for him, but also for the rest of the family I heard him say as he picked up the phone. Nurse, get ready for your next patient. He will be there in 10 minutes, he is highly diabetic and will stay with us for the next fourteen days. Get everything set for all the necessary tests and proceedings. Thank you. Then he turned to me. I looked at him with my mouth open. Don t worry, many kids at his age have that disease nowadays even though we can t explain why. All will be fine. We are very well equipped here and the station staff are very experienced with cases like yours. He will be fine, I barely heard him say again. 12

24 Follow me to Africa At that moment it dawned upon me that I was in a real mess. Real shit was happening to my life. The question - What next? After living and working in an environment for twenty years, your life becomes pretty much like a routine. When you are a single mum, working and travelling like I do, then you just know how much you depend on these routines to manage your life. When you are an entrepreneur, you know how much hard work it takes to build a reliable reputation and a good customer base. When you are an active person you have a big circle of friends and a social network that gives you that good feeling that you know many (if not all) key players who matter in your environment. If addition, if you are an immigrant like me, who has invested twenty years of her life in a country, in a city, no matter how beautiful it is, then you probably are familiar with these nagging questions that creep into your head and begin to spread like a virus. Am I in the right place? Am getting to where I want to be? Is this all that is there for me, or is there something more promising ahead? 13

25 Beatrice Achaleke Where is home really? Would it be inappropriate or uncomfortable to ask such questions? When, like me, you are in your mid-forties, you realise that you are not getting any younger. You know that you have reached that majestic age in your life physically, biologically, emotionally and maybe even spiritually. If you are one of the few who are privileged to be financially independent, then you happily look forward to planning your retirement. However, if you are one of the many who still struggle hard to make ends meet every day, you begin to get really uncomfortable with how fast time is slipping away from you and you become more eager to change something before it becomes too late. To top it all, you wake up one morning and you realise that your cash flow is so dried up that you are unable to pay your own bills. Then your unpaid bills turn into lawsuits, and the lawsuits begin to bring in the bailiff who knocks on your door at 6:00 a.m. to throw you out of the home that you and your two barely teenage kids call home. Then you just know it is high time for uncomfortable conversations, an express change of your mind-set and making extremely radical decisions. 14

26 CHAPTER If after 20 years you still find yourself struggling to be who you really should have become, then you just know it is high time for you to make a bold and radical change if you want to grow. Beatrice Achaleke 15

27 Beatrice Achaleke 1.1. TEDx Talk Sometimes it is good to leave people with something to talk about when you plan a big move. When, on October 2, 2015, I posted my TEDx Talk titled When shit happens, clean it up and move on first on YouTube and then on Facebook, I knew what was going to happen. I knew they were going to talk about it. I also knew, it was the right thing to do. The massive feedback I got proved me right. Within one week the video had more than 2000 views, and I imagine the reason people were clicking and sharing was either because they could connect with what I was saying or because it took them by surprise to hear that story from someone like me. The diversity of comments that I received on Facebook, via text messages, and through phone calls, confirmed what I knew to be true. Some people called me to hear it from the source. Some called to celebrate me for my courage. Others called to get more details so they could have something to talk about. Some wanted to find out if I was still alive. Some wanted to know how on earth I could still laugh and maintain my high spirits under such circumstances. Others even went as far as asking me if my easy going, 16

28 Follow me to Africa open and relaxed way of facing my shit (as I called it) was not fake. Still others generously offered to provide shelter in their homes for me and my kids. Some just visited spontaneously and brought us something to eat. Some, in their kindness, were in their well-meaning way of the opinion that I needed to see a psychologist. Others thought I should go to Caritas and ask for emergency shelter. Deep within me, I could understand each one of their kind suggestions and reactions. Most of all, I understood that I needed more than ever to find the way to me, to my inner me. More than ever, I needed to connect with my highest consciousness and my field of potential if I wanted to find the right answers and solutions that would get me out of my situation. I needed to be calm, relaxed, collected, vigilant, and most of all, attentively open to each input that I was privileged to receive. I knew I was being given a big opportunity to learn big lessons of life. The magnitude of the mess I was in made me realise that it was much too big for me to handle alone. I knew I was just the messenger who had been selected for whatever reasons, to receive a message that she will then have to deliver to others. 17

29 Beatrice Achaleke 1.2. On my Globuntu Mind-set modus Bringing myself to this mind-set injected in me the extraordinary cocktail of openness, distance, humility and gratitude I needed to rationally sort out things without letting my personal feelings and emotions distract me from what needed to be done. At that moment, I thought for the first time intensively about how Nelson Mandela must have felt when shit happened to him. For the first time, this crazy idea to launch a conversation with him crossed my mind. It is this fearlessly ambitious challenge that I am undertaking in this book, - a deep, soul searching, mind-blowing and self-transformational journey in every sense. When I reached this mind-set, I reckoned that whatever feedback came in from friends, clients, vendors, public opinion, law enforcement authorities etc. - verbal or nonverbal - contained a lesson for me, especially those with really ugly and stinking surfaces. I remember one of my very influential acquaintances I had contacted was very kind to forward my to the Caritas office in Vienna, asking them if they would have an emergency home for my kids and I. The very friendly and thoughtful reply said that there was no space available. However I hereby enclose the contact details 18

30 Follow me to Africa of another office for homeless people. They may be able to offer you an emergency bed for the night. They normally have a very long waiting list, just to tell you if they are unable to offer you a bed. I wish you and your kids all the best she concluded kindly. While my friend Sinoula was so shocked and angry at simply the thought of us being associated with homeless people, I was unbelievably calm, unusually and astonishingly collected, and untouched. So much so that I found myself comforting and reassuring Sinoula that everything was going to be alright and that she need not worry. She could not understand how on earth I could laugh off such a message. To be honest, I do not know either. All I know is that I had no other choice but to behave the way I did. No amount of anger, indignation or self-pity was going to make my situation better. I remember when the lawyer of my landlord had told me I had just fourteen days left to leave the apartment without me knowing where to go with my kids. I remember how it felt when she told me, See Ms Achaleke, you are a single mum, an entrepreneur and an immigrant, you cannot afford to keep that apartment. You have to move with your kids to a much smaller one. I remember how my adrenaline skyrocketed, hearing someone who knew me solely from the piece of information she got from her client, which said that I had 19

31 Beatrice Achaleke a two-month outstanding rental arrear on a house for which I placed a down-payment and had been living in for the past five years, pretending to know me so well that she knew what I was capable of doing or not! I also remember the calmness with which I told her, I was by no means moving into a smaller apartment, thereby reducing my two kids to sharing a room with each other, contrary to what they had been used to. I remember taking a deep breath and thinking about Mandela at his Rivonia trail between 1963 and 1964 and his uncompromising readiness to opt for lifelong imprisonment for his conviction, and how that thought melted away the anger I felt inside like ice on a sunny day. With that elevated calmness and serenity, I heard myself telling her firmly that I was not ready to settle for anything less than the three bedroom apartment we were in. I would do all it takes to pay the rent on time, no matter what it cost me. Deep within me, I knew I was going to be the one to decide to move out of that apartment and when I did, I was going be moving into a much better one. I was not going to let someone who only knew me based on a piece of hearsay decide upon the destiny of my kids and me. 20

32 Follow me to Africa I was not going to let her perception of me become my reality. I realised in that moment that it is sometimes wise in a given situation to give people something with which they can occupy themselves, and while they are doing that, you can gain space and the resources to move quickly onto your next planet. I knew that I did not by any chance want to give anyone the opportunity to invent either my story, my life, or that of my family. 1.3 Transformational lessons learnt I learnt that people will always judge you based on the bits and pieces they think they know from your past and your present, and not based on who you know you are becoming tomorrow. The most important thing is to know who you REALLY are about to become, even if no one understands you. When the majority of the people you know do not understand your dream, then you know your dream is bigger than them. You know you have to change your environment if you want to birth that big vision. You just know it is time to take a big jump into your future. When I finally understood this I knew that I had to get into the driver s seat of my life s car, take total control of who I was about to become - including full ownership of 21

33 Beatrice Achaleke what was going to be my story thereafter. I knew I was ready to be both the author and the main character in that story. I knew it was high time to write this book! My story, like yours, is something not only very personal but very special and complex. It consists of where we come from, on whose shoulders we stand, and who I know I am becoming. It has many layers, most of them invisible, so invisible that it would be naïve to expect someone else to know and understand. This is why it is my story. This is why no one else but me can be the author of my story. Over the last two years I came to realise that sometimes it is absolutely necessary to go into isolation. When shit happened to me, I became increasingly aware of the need and the benefits of taking off quality time to spend with myself. I remember Mandela saying that while in isolation in his single cell he had much time to do some real and constructive thinking. I was overwhelmed by how valuable, educational, enriching, satisfying and self-fulfilling being on, what I subsequently called my self-discovery journey into me, truly was. I became so aware of the burning need to find out who I really am, and most of all, who only I knew that I was capable of becoming. This very intensive process demanded that I spend periods of time in 22

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