Reminscings of Ramadans Past

One of the ways in which we’ve ushered in the holy month of Ramadan as a Hareri community over the years is by doing a deep clean of the home – a spring cleaning if you like. Those that can afford it will paint their houses and change their carpets and curtains – bringing out the best they have. A decluttering of our physical spaces precedes Ramadan – perhaps an indication of the decluttering and the detox that must also take place in our bodies and minds. Some families do this systematically – flushing out their bodies of all toxins in preparation for the month.

Next, once the start of Ramadan is announced, families embark on ‘aboredena hamdi’s’. ‘Aboredena hamdi’ loosely translates to ‘gratitude that we are alive to see this day’. So entire families will call to wish each other ‘Ramadan Kareem’ and then go visit each other in person. This is usually done within the first two weeks and if possible within the first week and preferably particularly for close family and the elderly, the eve of Ramadan, if possible.

One of the responses to greetings of ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Shahr Mubarak’ is often ‘Kulu am we antum bi khayr’ or it’s Hareri equivalent: ‘Amet amet zom yabordena’ which is basically saying may we live to see many more Ramadans for years to come…

This year it was more significant than any year before and I said it much more purposefully and consciously because there are those who were here last Ramadan who are no longer with us…and this has been the case for the last few years but this year as I greet family with this familiar phrase, I think to myself to be grateful for this moment because this time next year, I’m not sure if they’ll still be around, or me for that matter.

One of my favorite memories of Ramadan is of daddy bringing home fruits of all kinds and turning them into juice for us to consume voraciously during Iftar. Decades later, it’s a tradition we still maintain – fruits and juice are always a staple during Iftar. I also remember him bringing home bread balls – kind of like bread sticks but instead of sticks, they’re balls. I’d break them in half, stuff pitted dates in them and devour them like only a child could, popping one after another in my mouth – as fast as I could assemble them.

I remember daddy, regal, dressed in his best jalabiya, shal and koloyta ready to go to the mosque and pray tarawih. His perfume would linger in the room, long after he’d left. He always believed one should be in the best shape and form when going to the masjid.

Ramadan was always very communal. If we sat at the table the rest of the year, during Ramadan, we gathered on the floor to break our fast.

Ramadan is special in ways I can’t describe. People are on their best behavior. They are nicer, kinder, more considerate and conscious of their words and actions…perhaps because it’s re
quired of us – all year round – but more so during Ramadan when we believe the shayatin are bound and cannot sway us towards evil.

So this Ramadan, as we get close to hitting day 10, may those who’ve passed rest peacefully, surrounded by the fragrance of jannah and reassured they are not forgotten. My we live to see many more Ramadans, may we use the remaining days to work on ourselves so that we may emerge better human beings and sustain the beauty that emerges this time of year for the rest of the year until Ramadan comes around again, if we are lucky enough to experience it.


Grumpy Old Men

Lots of old grumpy (English) men on this train. There seems to be a mix-up with reservations and they’re having a go at each other when they come to claim their reserved seats. It’s quite amusing except it’s getting a bit out of hand.

An elderly woman passes by, brushing an elderly man to my left who is attempting to put his suitcase away in the overhead compartment. He shouts ‘you stupid woman!’ to her as she passes. She either doesn’t hear him or completely ignores him as she doesn’t even turn to give him a second look. His wife, on the other hand, is completely exasperated and very cross with him. She turns her face and her body away from him, facing the window after telling him, incredulously, that he can’t talk to people like that.

Another set of elderly men in front of me, ones who hadn’t reserved refused to get up for those who had. One of them assures the other who is getting visibly upset not to worry as he’ll go get the guard. He comes back a few minutes later with a train conductor. He leaves unsuccessfully a few more minutes later unable to get the man out of the seat and returns with a second conductor who cajoles the man out of his seat.

Wonder what will come of us as we age? Will we become grumpy old folks who insult all in their way?

The icing on the cake – I of course was sitting in a seat I hadn’t reserved, but no-one had come to claim it so I thought I was safe. And it was a nice seat too, a single by the window. Anyhow the ticket conductor came by and took my ticket. It took her a bit of time to give it back to me or say anything to me. Wondering what the problem was, I asked her if there was a problem. She tells me, quite annoyed, that my ticket is for 2nd class and this is first!

Of course the grumpy old men had a field day as I walked past them with my luggage. I’m sure they were shocked at the audacity of this girl, decades their junior, without a reservation, and one class down, who sits unmoved in a first class seat while seniors battle it out.


Two African photographers, one Ethiopian and the other Congolese, embarked on a project to document the immense changes taking place in the new flower, a birth city for one and a city that the other has come to love as his own – Addis.

For those of you who’ve been following this blog, you know I’m the Ethiopian. The one who was birthed in what is referred to as the capital of Africa. Addis Ababa is not only the city of my birth, it’s the city I grew up in, left and came back to 14 years later. It’s a city I’m relearning and getting acquainted with. It’s the city that has safeguarded the remains of my ancestors, but sometimes also thrown them up whole to make way for ‘development’. It’s a city that accommodates both old and new – although much of the old seems to be giving way to the new.

I’ve wanted to put on a photo exhibition for a long time – it’s been one of those items on my bucket list I wasn’t ever sure I would cross off. Then John comes along and pushes this idea of capturing the skeletons of Addis. Why not? If I had to start somewhere, it should be by paying tribute to the city that birthed and raised me. So there you have it – the birth of URBAMORPHOSIS!

As we took these images, we journeyed through Addis, conscious and witness to its past, its present and its looming future. The Addis we knew, or even know today is not the same Addis that will be tomorrow. The only constant being change.

This project forced me to see the city differently. Everywhere I looked, I could see the cityscape dominated by new high rises, even the most iconic of Addis’ treasures was framed by construction – and destruction.

This project aims to capture some of the rapid transformation taking place in this city. For both of us, it is a tribute to the people who are constantly negotiating their place in this new flower and to the city which is forever trying to outpace its name.

URBAMORPHOSIS kicks off a week from today on Thursday, May 11th, 2017 at Dinq Art Gallery in Addis Ababa. We hope you’ll come out and experience for yourself.


My FEMNET journey – Six Years Ago Today

BBOG - NebsSix years ago today, April 18, 2011, was my first day of work at the FEMNET Secretariat. New city, new position, new challenge. Little did I know that my four plus years would mean I would criss-cross the earth, deepen (and question) my pan-African and feminist politics, be an active participant in game-changing global, continental and regional policy making processes, lead campaigns and take to the streets (on numerous occasions), be in the same spaces with presidents, movers and shakers, incredible and passionate activists and idealists who put everything on the line to make sure the earth would be better than the way they found it.

We made magic happen, with sisters (and brothers) from across Africa and across the globe, and for those experiences and more, for working with colleagues who became family, for being allowed to build wings and fly, to innovate and renovate, to imagine and deliver, to be challenged and to grow exponentially, both professionally and personally, I am forever grateful.

My FEMNET journey will always be a part of my story, and all of you characters who populate it. Thank you for fighting the good fight, for your love, your warmth, your passion, your courage, your persistence and so much more. I miss you, on a day like today and on many days.

Lamu’s Shella


Breezy Cushioned Rooftops
Canopied by darkened skies
Lit up by constellations and maybe even whole galaxies
I couldn’t seem to trace
Or even attempt to begin to count

Shooting stars (and drones?)
Overlook as
Flirting winds
Kiss blushing trees,
Applauding oceans
Create waves
Romantic spell broken only by speedboats
Rushing noisily to get nowhere

A solo trip
A 12 room house to myself
Yet I’m almost never alone

Startled in the middle of the night
By sad brayings of donkeys
Creaking of open windows
Banging of open doors
As the wind negotiates past…
The night whispers its sweet lullabies
And yet I’m unable to fall asleep to its tune

Waking up to the sweet rising of a sun
I saw setting from a dhow the eve before
A breeze I would buy and bottle if I had the means

7 Muathins call the faithful to prayer from every which direction
Like a staggered chorus,
Echoing each other’s “Allahu Akbar’s”

Business/Entrepenurial tips from
Stranger turned suitor
Announcing news of our unagreed yet impending wedding
Mind you, a self-confessed former playboy

Strikingly absent
Is that why they look at me so?

Marriage/Relationship tips from masseuse turned confidant
‘You’re getting old, you must get married!’
Says host/receptionist/assistant/caretaker adamantly
He’s an Omer-do-it-all sort of Jack who’s been around for close to two decades

Henna painting by a mother turns into
Convo with child about academic pursuits, dreams and how far one should persist
She promises to keep pushing

Collecting shells and stones by the seashore
Getting increasingly excited with every find
Omer indulges my unbounded and child-like excitement
I keep picking until his pockets begin to jingle and sag with the weight

Her/historic visit
First Ethiopian
First meal where host and guest sit together
Feasting on fresh fish neither had caught
Sweet potato mash suggested to chef
Now to be part of menu permanently as ‘Nebila mash’

Transport by all means
Donkey and bare feet tread the land
While sail and speed boats alternate the water ways

Bats hang, as they do, upside down
From the balcony
As I attempt to transform memory into floetry

Police Trips Over Power

We are standing outside Nyayo House, the one-stop shop for all things immigration, whose basement is also said to have housed torture chambers during Moi’s time. You stand in line waiting for the security check, only for your bag to be prodded haphazardly and you waved on insignificantly. If you’re going to do something, might as well do it well.

We proceed to the entrance when we hear an officer in military uniform shouting at a young man who must have been in his late teens or very early twenties, “YOU COME TO KENYA TO BOTHER POLICE OFFICERS?!” The young man walks on, and infuriated, the officer continues to shout and repeat his question. He follows the young man and though a distance away, we can hear quite loud and clear the same question being shouted. We can’t hear what the young man says but the same questions are angrily repeated in increasing pitches. Unsatisfied apparently with the responses he’s getting and seemingly high off power, the officer removes the one meter rifle from his shoulder and shoves the young man. He points the rifle at him and continues to shove him with it until he is out of the gate. I hope it ended there, but only God knows…

And we wonder why we have enemies of the state when we humiliate, degrade, strip people of their dignity, point a gun at them and just make them feel utterly worthless. As a good friend says, “don’t take the job more seriously than it takes you” and that’s exactly what this officer was doing. I don’t know what the young man said to the officer, but the reaction was unwarranted and overblown. When the officer could have easily let the situation pass, he made it a point to showcase his authority and flaunt his power. It’s shameful that we are so power hungry that we use every opportunity to abuse it, and go on a power trip.

This is what we should do with all the guns in this world:

We need to end police brutality – let’s start with citizen policing.

Blessed to be Alive

My classmate, who I hadn’t seen in 9 years was in town, so we headed towards Naivasha, Kenya on Sunday, April 22nd. That date didn’t seem so significant at the time. We had two destinations in mind, Lake Naivasha & Hell’s Gate: Apparently the inspiration for Lion King. I didn’t see the resemblance… We were to head to the lake first, and then head over to Hell’s Gate in the afternoon. Upon consulting with guide books, we decided to head to Hell’s Gate first to avoid the scorching heat that comes with the noon/afternoon hours. Not sure how it got it’s name, but we proceeded to Hell’s Gate, where a geothermal plant has been set up to harness the energy of water beneath which gets up to over 400 degrees. Apparently the the plant is the largest on the continent. And funny enough, the guide book says about it, “doesn’t ruin the landscape”! Oh yes it does! I know it’s clean/alternative energy and all, but it does ruin the landscape. Question is which do we value more.

Anyways, our very knowledgeable guide was a 12 yr old by the name of Charles. You couldn’t help but fall in love. He’s a seventh grader who will be a pilot when he grows up so that he can travel the earth. He took us down 90 meters to the gorge, took us to Hell’s Kitchen where you can boil eggs from the steam of the boiling water that emerges from the rocks. We proceeded to the caves, the mini waterfalls and hideouts and saw everything there was to see of Hell’s Gate.

We left a little before 2:30pm before the rains began to descend. After getting home, we hear that 7 people drowned in that same spot after we had left due to the heavy rains. It had really become hell’s gate for them. It was shocking news, more so because we could’ve easily been among those 7 had we not changed our plans, or had we spent more time there.

It was also a reminder that no moment should be taken for granted…we shouldn’t be so complacent to think we are invincible or immortal. Young or old, we have limited time on this earth. The fact that we don’t know whether we’ll live to be 5, 25, or 85 means that we have to make the most of every day, so that when our time is up, we’ll have no regrets over things said or unsaid, deeds done or undone…

May they rest in peace.

All in a Day

All in a day
March 8, 2012

“He was our hero, if only he had a message!”
-of an 83 year old man who we thought would be a great advocate against VAW/G (violence against women and girls). When asked about the topic, he went off topic.


“How do you know my name?” It’s the second time this guy calls me by my name, and I have no idea where I know him from. Or do I?

“I’m just psychic. Give me your palm, and I’ll tell you something about yourself.”
I readily give him my hand, preparing to be taken aback by him disclosing something few people knew about me.


I burst out laughing. He’s a fake & a phony! Fempact means nothing to me. FEMNET on the other hand is where I work.

“Your lines are blurry” he protests.

I look down at my palm and see very clear lines in every which direction.


“He can be gotten.” In response to my questions about the whereabouts of a man


“Can I pay my bills now?”
“No, it’s better you pay in the morning before you leave.”
“What if I simply leave without settling my bills?!”
“Oh, not to worry. We know people, who know people, who know people —-(wait for it) at the airport!”
“I see….there’s no negotiating that one then. Especially them being at the airport and all…”

You Need Your Butt To Walk!

I am sitting watching cartoons with an adorable three year old. According to me, the most adorable lil thing in the world. She turns to me, and simply states: “I don’t need any help watching TV.”

Dumbfounded, I remain silent. Kids these days, disrepecting their elders like that! That would never have been tolerated in my day…She looks at me again, waiting for me to leave the room.

“Ok, ok..I’m leaving..” I say still seated.

She turns to me and matter of factly states the obvious, “you need your feet to walk”.

Yes, thank you very much ms. smarty pants!

The scene is repeated another day. This time, I think I can outwit her and still seated, stomp my feet as though I’m walking.

Unamused, she turns to me and tells me, “You need your butt to walk!”

At this point I simply die with laughter. What would this world be without cute, adorable, but smart, sassy, wise-beyond-their age, smarty pants and smart allicky kids? Boring.


He extends his hand towards her. “Hallelujah.”

Perhaps confuzzled, she remains silent.

“Hallelujah.” He insists, his hand still extended, in anticipation of hers.

“Amen!” she says, as she returns the handshake.

I laugh out loud. I try to explain, between bursts of laughter that Hallelujah is in fact his name, not a religious cry!

“Where do you work?” He asks, trying to brush it off, as though this hasn’t happened countless times before.

“Equality Now.”

“What about later?”

She pauses, hesitant, trying to find a suitable response.

Satisfied, he walks away.

I’m almost rolling on the floor laughing, but I remind myself this is hardly the appropriate time or place. After all, we are in the lobbies of the AU Summit. ROFLing wouldn’t look too good for corridor diplomacy that is to follow…

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