In the early, wee hours of the morning, I get a wake-up call from Kounila, my colleague from Cambodia, a 23 year old brilliant journalist who has a contagious laughter, whom I call the “li’l one” as she is the youngest in our group. She, graciously, calls me “pretty one”. Kounila announces she has arrived, and tells me she is now dozing off as she was traveling all night. I wake up, a tad bit lazily.
The balcony it is again. And what a view in daytime! I view the many churches, and spot a couple of minarets of mosques as well. A deeply religious people, the Ethiopians throng churches on Sundays. On this Sunday morning too, I see the hustle and bustle around churches, and the air resonates with sounds of hymns being chanted. On Fridays, I discover later, the government offices close down around noon to allow Muslims to go for Jumu’ah prayers. Peaceful co-existence of different faiths.
The cars in the parking lot of the Hilton are smaller and less luxurious than the ones I see in Pakistan. A mint coloured Beetle (Volkswagen) catches my eye. A lot of tin-roofed, tiny homes in a slum-like area are in front of me. Green hills are in the backdrop. I get a light, heady feeling. May be it’s the high altitude of Addis. Or maybe I’m feeling a light-headedness to experience this new world….and a new world inside me. Time on my own is a rarity, after all. Maybe this is the effect of that.
Once ready, I head down to the bustling restaurant for breakfast and find some more of my colleagues. We reunite after six months amongst excitement and hugs. There’s Brenda, whom I call “tech guru” for her talent for milking the internet in unique ways for journalism. Kounila calls Brenda “the mother of African journalism”. There’s Tetee, strong and inspiring in a gentle way. There’s Shifa – young, fiery, feisty, and not afraid to speak her mind, whose write-ups are worth reading. There’s Montessori – calm, cooperative and sweet. And there’s Shai from India, a genuine, smart, wonderful woman……Shai I am the happiest to meet. I have known from the day I met her that with her I have the makings of a lasting, deep friendship.
These women, and others who will unfold in the blog, and myself – we are the “Women’s Edition 2010-2012” members, which is a program organized by PRB (Population Reference Bureau), funded by USAID. Senior women journalists chosen from developing countries, who have a special interest in reproductive health. Some 13 women chosen from a pool of 200 plus applications. Women fortunate enough to meet each other, experience different countries and cultures and the problems and solutions of these countries, so that they may go back to their own countries and hopefully make a difference by sharing these success stories. A tiny but important step towards making the world a better place. And having some fun while doing all of this. After all, girls just wanna have fun J.
The breakfast has many many courses that day….not just the food but the tier upon tier of subjects that keep unfolding in our chat. Cup upon cup of coffee, great food and loads of catching up. Women from different worlds, with the same concerns at the end of the day. We discuss potential shopping in Ethiopia. We discuss the men in our lives, lambast them collectively, and eventually submit that life ain’t easy without them either. We have already begun to miss our children, and we all animatedly talk about our kids with sparkly eyes, whether our kid is 20 years or 20 months old.
Unanimously, Brenda is anointed our unofficial tour guide, as she has traveled to Addis many a time. We aimlessly start to walk on the streets of Addis. We stop at a handicraft shop to take a look. The young boy at the shop offers to buy dollars, in a clandestine way, offering a better rate than the bank. Some of us take up the offer. The Ethiopian “Birr” is 16 to a dollar, in whopping contrast to the Pak rupee being 80 something to a dollar. Inwardly, I squirm.
The boy, polite and helpful, agrees to be with us for the day as a guide. He firmly puts on a yellow cap, and guides us to the taxi stand, where we hire a small, rickety mini-van. Votes are taken. We head to the museum. A modest museum with a few interesting sections, showing visibly the pride this nation takes in its roots.
Suddenly, rain begins to pour. Thunder rolls. My first taste of Addis rain. My heart soars. My mind is brimming with the millions of “barish” songs I have heard all my life. My spirits are elevated even further. I hum. And I dash, along with the others, back to the van, loving the fact that I am sloshed with rain drops.
In the evening, the adventurous women that we are, we end up at the traditional Addis Ababa restaurant. What seemed to me to be millions were realistically hundreds of Ethiopian people gathered in a hall, sitting around round tables, chatting, singing, eating and drinking. We find it too crowded. I do not see any sign of halaal food here. I take a drop back at the hotel while the others continue to check out another restaurant. Eating vegi pasta all alone on a table in the hotel restaurant, I miss home a little, and the home-cooked chicken karhai a whole lot. Once back in the room, I Skype with the family, do my daily rituals, and prepare for Day One of the conference the next morning before going to slumberland.