My Mentee Arre (Arrey Echi)

Its Saturday evening.  Once not so long ago, the most exciting thing of the hour used to be a reality dance/music show on TV or a new release on Netflix.

But in the past few months, this has changed. Now, I wait for the clock to strike past 10 when a gentle text will appear on my Whatsapp screen: "hello sis, how are you?"

There maybe a hundred people texting me all evening, but something - maybe its love or maybe its the 6th sense - would tell me its her: a woman who lives on the other side of the world, who hides the warmth of the sun in her heart and the bravery of a Samurai in her fragile bones. She is my mentee 'Arre' (Arrey Echi as you know her).

{I wanted to write this post weeks ago. But I don't know what held me back. But every time, I would fiddle with the keyboard, wondering what to begin with and how to articulate the bond we have . And then came a moment when I said 'to hell with correctness, I am just going to say how I feel". And here I am.} 

So let me tell you about my feelings. 

It was a few months ago when I and Arre were paired as mentor and mentee under the new, now ongoing mentorship program of World Pulse. Of course I was familiar with the name Arrey-Echi, I was also aware of the fact that she was a community leader and a digital Ambassador. But there's a huge difference between being familiar and knowing. So my first thought was 'I don't know her! I need to know her'!

3 months later (we first connected on September 12) that thought is still alive as I am still in the process of knowing her better, knowing more of her. But this is a new journey of knowing - one that fills me with joy, pride and inspiration.

Many of you who are reading this may have already read her articles on World Pulse ( she is a featured storyteller) or conversed with her in the Ambassador group or read her posts on Facebook. You may already know she is living with Sickle Cell disease and has been devoting herself entirely to raising awareness about this sickness that most people still don't know about and mobilizing support for others - especially women- in her community who are living with it.

But what you may not know is this: Arre is one of those warriors who thinks of bandaging the wounds of her fellow journeywomen while she is bleeding herself. She lives with pain and its not just the bodily pain caused by sickle cell, but also the pain of seeing how little people know or care about this health issue, the pain of not being able to speak while in her heart the words, ideas and thoughts are screaming to burst out, the pain of not being well understood and the pain of changing this world order for herself and for all women with sickle cell and not being able to do that.

But despite bearing so much pain in her bosom, Arre is a ball of sunrays: speak with her any day of the year and you will always be greeted with a smile. Always gentle, full of love and understanding. And she is always thinking of the path ahead, of doing something. 

And then there is the vision she has: to make this world good (not merely better) and kind (not merely kinder) and truly equal to all the people (not only those in her country Cameroon) who have sickle cell. And she is chasing this vision even when her family and loved ones are far away, caught up in a conflict which makes it almost impossible for her to visit them.

Now, as her mentor, I am supposed to be perhaps twice as sweet, gentle and as supportive. But frankly, there are many a times when I feel I am falling short of the expectations. We have connected in the age of the pandemic and the numerous complexities it has brought in life, changing it drastically. There are days when I am too exhausted or lacking the time for our weekly chat. And although she is always so full of understanding, there is always this nagging, uneasy feeling of letting her down. The thought of turning that smiling face into a sad one is very unforgiving, I confess.

But then we bounce back. The half an hour chat goes on till it is way past midnight. We speak, we laugh - often of things that are not really within the purview of our work-profile:  food, family, culture, medicine, transport and gadgets. And when we finish, I feel we have just walked a little road together, hand in hand. 

As a senior journalist and media trainer, I have been training and mentoring women in so many countries for several years. And every time I have  believed that the relationship doesn't and must not stay confined within the margins of the rule-book. We must take it beyond these margins and form a human, sibling-like bond. A project or a program has a time span, but a relationship must be strong enough to live for years thereafter, if not life. And finally, a mentor-mentee bond is not a one-dimensional relationship, but a two-way path: while we guide and help them move along the path of their vision, we must be open enough to also be inspired and enriched.

With Arre, this has always been exactly how I imagined: I am from the mountains of north eastern India, now living in Hyderabad -a big, noisy, overtly populated city. But every Saturday, courtesy my mentee, I travel to Yaounde of Cameroon and beyond . After  our chats, I am often inspired to browse the internet and learn more of Cameroon, its geo-politics, social and financial issues, its tribes, their heritage etc. And this is how she makes me grow a little every day.

There are also times when I am fighting personal battles and feeling depressed. But after we chat, her infectious enthusiasm for life and energy to fight always do their magic and I feel the light of hope re-appearing. 

I want to wrap this post with one such magical moment: Sometime in early October, at least 3 of my reporting and trainings projects got cancelled within a week due to the pandemic and the international travel ban. It was a huge financial as well as an emotional blow and I was struggling to get a grip over that. Then, over the weekend, during our mentor-mentee chat, Arre shared with me this wonderful news: she had just mobilized and delivered medical supplies to a 100 warriors (women who live with sickle cell), many of them living in remote and very hard-to-reach areas.

As we chatted and looked at the photos she shared, I felt the wrap of my own sadness melting away and after several nights of sleeplessness, I actually slept well, knowing that the morning would be different, because I was going to find new work avenues. And I did.

As I end here (although I don't want to), I want you to know that being a mentor is one of the most beautiful opportunities life could offer you and that you should never let it go. And I want to tell a beautiful soul called Arre Echi Agbor Ndakaw that I will always continue to be your mentor, your friend  and your sister with a shoulder to cry on, way after this program has ended.



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