Thursday, December 06, 2007

From rising star to tea girl

I’ve had a very interesting week. Rounding up a three day workshop organized by the American Embassy and Ruyi Communications, I had the opportunity to learn a lot of new things from experienced Journalists from America and here in Nigeria, I got along well enough with the other journalists, even made a few friends I’d dare say.

On the second day of our training, we had an assignment to write a lead story on a topic, ok, this was the group for the print media, so within five minutes we were to write this lead. I actually had no idea what a lead was……but I heard someone say it was an intro, so I said ok here goes…then I began my lead, I wrote
‘six women die every hour………”

Our trainer asked who will go first and I was pretending to look busy so he wouldn’t call me, but he walked up to me to say I should go first, then I said ‘aww…I am not even a health reporter” he said yeah..just give it a try… so I did, I read my lead out loud……..
Anyway, both the American and Nigerian trainers and my fellow participants liked my lead; I was even complimented outside the class by one of the trainers. After just one month of being a “journalist”, without any guidance or formal training it seemed to me,”maybe I really do have a talent for this job”. Little did I know that, that was just the beginning of discovering me!

The third and final day of the workshop, saw the print media group, once again brainstorming ideas that we could write on. When the issue of sexism in the media came up, I found that it was an excellent opportunity to comment on the way news is written when it concerns, teenage pregnancies for instance, there seems to be this implied blame in the Nigerian media, that the girls are entirely to blame for their unwanted pregnancies and the abortion with all its consequences. I tried to point out that it isn’t fair to ignore the other parties responsible……….parents, the boy that got her pregnant….

Anyway, it became very controversial as some men in the group started making terrible comments and felt we were overreacting. But we quickly moved on, and then I was selected to represent our group in front of the rest of the participants and the trainers. I wasn’t nervous or anything, but I didn’t want to go first….but I was asked to go first to present the ideas we had come up with to the rest of the group.

So I began……..I did my bit, within the ten minuets permitted and took the Q&A part too, handling it well enough to avoid controversy. I kept the Audience attentive, and paid attention to the coordinators timetable. The sexism thing came up again, and I did my bit to comment on the need for balanced reporting when it comes to reporting women’s issues.
As I sat, I received a sitting ovation and praises from my colleagues, but the best part was when Mr. Soni Irabor came over and shook my hand and said “you should be on television..I’ve got just the show for you”. The coordinator, the press officer for the American embassy said “excellent presentation”. And the best part of all was when Moji Makanjuola, an experienced health reporter on NTA tapped me on the shoulder and said “you’re good”.

OK, it might sound like I am desperate to be complemented but it wasn’t that at all, its just that I had no Idea I had it in me to do all these things…the writing..the presenting…the people skills…. and I was just seeing a side of me I didn’t know existed. I mean I have been a “house wife” for the past eight years and after just one month on the job………

Anyway, as I rushed to the office the next morning, as we were told our American trainers would be coming to pay a courtesy visit to our establishment, I sat doing my job, when my editor called me and said I was needed in the meeting place, I went in and the American trainers and press officer all stopped what they were doing and saying and greeted me individually, calling me by name, I responded politely but was interrupted by my boss who said I should carry the tea tray to the next room.

I felt so embarrassed, I mean all that talk about sexism, and here was I carrying tea tray to make tea for the same trainers that considered me as someone with great potential. I took the tray out then, me and another female colleague made the tea and she carried it in. I went back to my work, feeling so belittled, then my editor came again, to call me then I said “sorry I don’t do tea tray carrying it’s not part of my job”, then my other female colleague came to say I should come, they wanted to complement me again, so I came back and the American trainers repeated again how good I was…., one even said “she was the star”…..then my editor said we should sit, there was only one chair there ,where my tea making colleague was perched, she parted a side of the chair that I should perch with her in my mind I was like “heck no, I aint perching on no chair like some house help”, I turned to leave the room as there apparently wasn’t any room for me there, then my boss said …”we need more hot water (for the tea that is), I’d had it at that point so I said ‘I’ll get Ada (that the secretary) .
I went back to work feeling reduced, from a rising star to a tea girl.


aruni said...

I don't think they thought any less of you or your work it's just the gender roles defined by society that causes these errors. If there is a group and there's only one woman in it, she is expected to serve tea. If there's a group and only one man in it, he's expected to do the heavy lifting. Strangely, this occurs even in a society like North-America where everyone has to be politically correct lest they get a lawsuit on their heads, for example in our IT dept where majority of staff are men the task of organizing b'day cakes, cards, dept parties, showers etc tends to fall on the one woman member. I think it has nothing to do with her personally, it's just that as a woman she's viewed as being able to better handle such issues. Had I been in your shoes I would have felt exactly the same. Kudos to you for reacting the way you did!

P. M. Jay said...

What pissed me off the day of the meeting is that they knew they would be expecting guest, so there was enough time to allocate the role to the appropriate person.
They just take it for granted that the female journalist should make the tea.
If it was impromptu, and it was like "ladies could please help out kind of situation", i wouldnt mind.

But they intentionally felt the need to use the women as erand girls, in the middle of a meeting which we could have also benefited from.
I dont think it is fair either to ask a male journalist to do the lifting when every organisation usually has a "handyman' for that kind of task.
Its just utter disregard for the employee. male or female.

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