Africa meets Asia; One world One sisterhood
One World One Dream
A story of two women’s love and support for each other across Africa and Asia.
In the afternoons my bedroom gets very warm. The back of my neck was wet from perspiration. I was drowsy and demoralized like never before. But I knew I could not rest yet. I had to look up more job portals and apply for more jobs. I needed a job and I needed it badly. I had lost count of how many interviews I had been to. A good job was hard to come by nowadays. Journalists are sworn to poverty in my country India.
The avenues are limited and the money is bad. It is as if journalists are only in this field because of the love for reporting. Leading newspapers seem to take either freshers who have no experience or the-know-it-all-done-it-all genre; the first they pay peanuts and the latter they pay better. I was neither of the two. I was a social development journalist and no newspapers had a beat other than politics, crime, fashion, travel, business and food! Where sex sells, no one wanted a development journalist. I knocked several doors. In time my self-esteem was dwindling faster than my resources. There came a time in my life when I began to think how much a meal would cost me and if I could make do with eating just boiled corn in the street before I got home. It was difficult because my parents thought I was outstanding and they had faith I was capable. It became a burden to my very struggle to find my own space in this life.
I met Olutosin Oludosu Adebowale from Lagos, Nigeria several years ago on a medium most consider as frivolous- the internet. We were sisters on World Pulse- that’s how we address fellow journalists and activists on World Pulse. She was someone who would read my articles on World Pulse and leave her comments. I don’t even remember how the comments on my stories transitioned to undivided support, to affection, to understanding, to love until one fine day all this culminated to something more deep. We began to share everything. I began to share everything and she returned it by sharing everything with me. We used World Pulse, we used Facebook, we used Gmail and we even used Skype to talk to each other, share our dreams, our aspirations, our thoughts and our soul. And when we were not doing that we shared our disappointments and our heart aches. We shed tears many a times for each other’s hardships.
The day I was shortlisted to contest for a big position in a renown organization in the city I live in, Bangalore, I still remember finding her online and breaking the news to her. I was jubilant to get the opportunity to compete and had not even thought of the competition. “Go, sister, go!!!” had been her words before I left for the interview. I faced a difficult selection procedure which was a mix of a written exam and few rounds of interview. In the process I interacted with others competitors; I learnt that candidates had come from different parts of India from varied educational background. I also learnt that this selection had been going on for few days and the people I met were not the only ones who were competing. I gave it my best but deep in my heart I had decided I could not expect to get this job. When I walked out I looked back to that big beautiful office, thinking this would be the last time I would see it.
When I met Olutosin online that night, she asked me about my interview. She now tells me that this is what I told her, “I did well but I have no chance of getting that job, there were so many out there who had better qualifications than me.” Olutosin told me, “God will find a job for you. The best job will find you soon.” Her reassurance and her faith on me moved me to want to carry on with my life with hope and optimism. And I did.
Along our struggles, our trials and tribulations Olutosin has been there to hear what I have to say, to correct me when I waiver, to pick me up when I fall, to boost me when I lack confidence and to believe in me when things go wrong. This is what I found in the global sisterhood at World Pulse. I could not believe it when she told me, “I am coming to India!!!!!!!!” She was coming to Kerela for an change programme at Kanthari and would be in my city in October. The feeling was special. I can’t even begin to describe it. The dream-like trance began to look real when she called me and told me she had taken a train to Bangalore and would reach my city in few hours time. We made a plan to meet up and I waited for her at a known location. I was lost in my thoughts sitting quietly on my own. Flashes of what Olutosin and I had shared all these years came to me. My eyes filled with tears remembering how she had been a source of motivation and affection all the time I had known her. And I had not even met the woman!!
A small voice behind me broke my trance. “My sister( is that you)?”, were her first words spoken to me in person. I jumped up and embraced her. We laughed, we hugged, we cried, we screamed but we both beamed from within. A circle had been completed today. I met the woman who had played such an important role in my life for so long. I realized that there aren’t any differentiations between a ‘real life’ and ‘virtual’ friend, there are just true friends! It does not matter if two people have not met each other in person, if they still wield a powerful influence on each other’s life and for the better, that relationship is special.
We spent an entire day in my house with my family. I cooked for her with joy and we ate together like a big family. My parents looked at Olutosin just the way they would have looked at any other friend of mine I loved and who was an India. And this is what I want to say to you women of the world. Don’t you ever doubt that we women can support each other across continents and across barriers created by man. We can be there for each other to share our problems and seek joint solutions till one fine day distance becomes just a word. Like it did for Olutosin and me.
And when Olutosin landed in Bangalore one of the first things I told her was, “ I got that job, sister!!”
Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale is the Founder of Star of Hope Transformation Centre in Lagos, Nigeria and a citizen journalist. She has travelled the globe and carries the message to support education of the girl child. She trains women to become entrepreneurs in a bid to strive for economic independence and empowerment. A powerful speaker, she is a change maker in her community, her country and wherever she goes.
Urmila Chanam is a social development professional in HIV/AIDS, a gender rights activist and a journalist in Bangalore, India. She works with vulnerable communities including the transgender, the sex workers, trafficked women and girls and the marginalized. A columnist in leading English daily, she works against child marriage, domestic violence and trafficking of women.
Brought together by World Pulse and the bond of friendship we are are now working together to make a documentary film on the trainings Olutosin is imparting to marginalized women in remote India on entrepreneurship. We are writing concept notes and proposals for projects.
And this is just a beginning.
Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale's;
Support, motivation, encouragement, love, solidarity, friendship, validation, inner-strength, kindness, mentorship from two great women, long-term commitment to my cause, special bonding, genuine help in times of distress/sickness, recommendation for leadership programmes, recommendation for grants, recommendation for international awards, inclusion into the international sisterhood alliance, push for greater exploits, secret inbox messages to for better opportunities, special presentation opportunities, international recognition, respect, improved and mental alertness, awards, special secret sisters, a home- made up of large community, a mountain made of sisters, a home in more than 100 countries, improved self confidence, improved writing skills, self esteem, new dream, 6 months citizen journalism training, solidarity and referee letters when and if needed, are just a few of what I enjoyed from Jensine Larsen and WorldPulse.
Although, I was ignorant when I entered into my relationship with World Pulse, but just as like the other relationships I have enjoyed in my life; the only things I have to offer in return is commitment and loyalty to the sisterhood.
After receiving so much from Worldpulse, I decided to give back, to every aspiring sister who raise her hand for friendship and sisterhood, I return with gesture of love and encouragement. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy the sisterhood to the fullest.
Encouragement and support is basically what we need to become better - focused - individuals, on the other way round, lack of extra- time for friends, survival of the fittest and rat race have deprived us of moments for friends. Its even harder in our relationship with people around us, where we have become so developed in the developed and developing world, that we do not even know our next door neighbours anymore.
My desire and decision to give back from what Worldpulse has given me, made me to double my struggle in order stretch a hand to sisters on World Pulse. One of such sisters, who is blessed with openness and desire for change is Ch Urmila, she became one with me; in receiving, accepting and sharing. My relationship with Urmila dated back to 2011; we met on Worldpulse, as usual, and I discovered that she is an open minded sister, ready to share, ready to learn and ready to make amends whenever necessary.
I discovered her passion for the minority people, who are without voice or who I will simply love to refer to as “the“preferred ignored” in India. I gladly gave only one thing; encouragement; this I did through commenting on all her posts, validate her points and research more on her topic in other to clear any grey areas . I understand how this work on the writers’ psyche because I enjoyed it without measure from Jensine Larsen, Jade Frank, Jennifer Ruwart, JAP 21, Jacqueline, Scott Beck etc on World Pulse. It boosts my esteem in those days.
Like every sister, Urmila has myriad issues and most of these issues are mirage, they do not exist. They are fragments of her imagination, borne out of fear, due to our socialization and tradition. I have realized from my personal experience that; like me, what she needed was a ‘push’ from someone who will just stay behind her and say “go ahead”, just as it was instilled in me, by World pulse women.
The uniqueness of Urmila is her love for writing down all the advice and her putting them into heart; this serves as an encouragement to me too. She is always coming back for more. Our last conversation online was “sister, you can understand, its like they made me feel as if…….and my response was “my Worldpulse mentor, ma K-Lee Starland told me in 2010 that most of the great people you see, speaking in podium……..in the United Nations…..and she said oh sister, there is this thing about you…….
One fateful day in December 2012, Urmila sent another mail of complaint to me, that this was what happened again today in the office and I responded thus; "in 2009, my Worldpulse mentor Ma Natalie Safir told me that, there are some cases, when those people you look up unto, make you feel as if you are a non existing rag; it has nothing to do with you; it has a lot to do with them, some people cannot handle what is right with you….some people treat others the way they were treated or the way ….it has nothing to do with your personality at all……..some cannot bear to see others happy"…… I will go on and on. Urmila will pen down all my advise that I gathered from Ma Natalie Safir and K-Lee Starland who are my WorldPulse mentors……just the way I wrote down their advises in 2009/2010.
K-Lee Starland will send a mail to me……….” I was thinking about you today, Tosin… I want you to fake it, go out there, stand on the stage, do it night and day and before you know it, you will master public speaking……. She once told me that is I was given the opportunity to check the Blood pressure of leaders speaking in public gatherings and fellow passengers on-board flights with me in planes, I will know that everyone has their mouths in their cheeks just like me; people just fake it till they become master of the art…...” every advise I recived from these great World Pulse leaders did I passed down to Urmila.
After years of friendship, online sisterhood and non-professional advice, I eventually have an opportunity to meet my dear Urmila. Kanthari presented another opportunity to travel to Kerala-India. When I informed Urmila about it, she jumped and screamed, I will meet you, we will sit to talk all the night, we will hug, weep, eat , sleep together and I will introduce you to my family.
We had our pains, we had our moments of tears and we had those moments of fears but above all, we have one another. We have the sisterhood and we cherish every opportunity to learn from each other. On getting to India, I discovered that she has a broader shoulder; always online to chat with me, she will ask so many questions; what is it? What happened? Do you want me to come in? What do you need? Do you want your phone to be recharged? Do you want more Maaza? How can I post Maaza to kanthari? (I love Maaza drink) Should I send some money to your phone? Do you want to call your daughters? Do you need to speak to someone?
Ah sometime,I will become fed up with her desire to give all and even what she does not have at hand, and I will scream, I do not want anything!!!!! Urmila’s love, kindness, the support, the concerns and openness bring tears to my eyes, I could not ask for more, no one should ask for more!!!!!!
Our day of meet up was fast approaching, Urmila lives in Bangalore.
Just imagine, sisters who have being online friends for about 3 years, they have become well known to me like the back of my palm. Immediately I sighted Urmila, sitting and waiting by the road side, I informed my room-mate who accompanied me that “this is my sister” she was surprised and she asked, how did you know that she is the one?? I smiled and responded; we may be online sisters, but I don’t see her as an online friend anymore, I have accepted her as my sister and I can recognize every of my sisters when I see them…….. and suddenly I screamed “my sister!!!!!!” she suddenly raised her face up, she saw me and screamed too “my sister!!!!” I swept her off her feet.
We hugged and hugged and continued to hug each other to the amazement of infuriated “passer –by seated bys and standing bys’
It was a World Pulse moment. Everything stood still at BEL Circle junction in Bangalore.
Every Pulse stopped and to our amazement and we could only savor some moment, to catch our breath. We were just talking without listening to each other; we had so much to say at that moment. We had bottled up so many unsaid things, waiting for a hot embrace to burst out the ripe boil of our words. It was our moment, a time we had patiently waited for these past years.
There and then, I realized that we are not just online people. World Pulse is a community of people of great people who are yet to meet. We exist! We have pulse, we have blood, we are human, we are World Pulse, clicking silently, tick- tock in nooks and crannies of the world.
Urmila and Olutosin locked each other into several moments of more and more embrace, after which we left for her house.
Her family is another beautiful story.
Her parents could not stop talking to me, her mother went into her wardrobe to decorate my neck and ears with her precious jewel, her sister in-law confided in me “we have never had such huge amount of feast in this house before and I have never anticipated the visit of a foreigner like this”, her elder brother who just flew in from Delhi while I was there said, young woman, I have heard too much about you from Urmila, please make yourself comfortable, our home is your home”.
Urmila’s father, who had a Ghanaian friend during his military school days, told me the story of how hard it is to be a minority in any sphere of life.
He narrated how he had to become a friend of a Ghanaian soldier, during his military training because he was ill-treated because they were minorities. We explored the challenges faced by minorities all over the world. We worked with a world map and I had a better understanding of issues in India, why Pakistan, Kashmir, Manipur may not know lasting peace soon. Most importantly, I realized why Kashmir is a crown that can only be worn by a king.
After the feasting, loving, story- telling and what seems like an unending chat, I returned home with one message from Ch Urmila’s father. His advice was, my daughter “go and write your story, make it into a book for the next generation because I made a mistake, I did not write my story and experiences in Indian army, now I have forgotten everything and it will enter into the grave with me, nobody knows the story. Write about your experiences, make others read and learn from those facts”
Later in the night, we walked into the waiting hands of Mahila Smakhya, and as I lay in my bed, just before turning to the wall to enjoy my best night in India, so far; I reminded myself of Urmila’s father’s advise; I whispered into the wall in the thick darkness of the moment “Olutosin go and write the story of sisterhood before your memory fails”.
Photo by: Aneesh Acharya
Post production: Asha Krishn