There is a very busy diner in New York on 2nd Avenue known as John’s Café. I started visiting John’s in the 1990s when my late older friend Joana Foster, who passed away recently, introduced me to the place. John’s is very close to the United Nations, so this means whenever I attend the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, I have breakfast there. They open up till 8pm, so I also have dinner there on occasion. It is a very small place, it could probably not sit  more than 40 people at a time. There is nothing fancy about John’s, everything is basic and to the point, but it is one of the most efficient restaurants I know. When I first started attending the annual CSW twenty-four years ago in 1993, the organisation I was working for at the time in London did not have a lot of resources, so I saved money by staying with friends who lived in the Bronx. I would make the journey by train every morning into Manhattan to attend my meetings at the UN, and go back the same way in the evening. The CSW is usually February-March and it is quite cold at that time of the year, and  there is often snow. When we became more successful at mobilizing resources our delegations to CSW could afford to stay closer to the UN, which was a whole lot better than traipsing around New York in the cold. As from 1997, whenever I attend CSW I stay at either the UN Millennium Plaza, or the Hilton, both across the road from the UN. They are also just a block away from John’s Café. I don’t bother with the overly expensive hotel breakfast. I just walk the block into the familiarity and simplicity of John’s Café.

I am currently in New York, attending this year’s CSW. Every morning since I got here, I have gone into John’s for breakfast. There is a place I like to sit, in a corner next to a window, near the cashier. The first morning I was there this year, I had tears in my eyes. I thought about Joana and how we used to go there for breakfast and plan our day at the UN meetings. I would picture her throwing her head back to laugh if there was something she found funny. As I sat there, staring out of the window and sipping my coffee while I waited for my toast and eggs, I was painfully aware of not only the finality of Joana’s absence, but of the permanence of movement. Everything and everyone moved. Traffic moved. People moved. The staff in John’s moved. One of us drops away and everything keeps moving on. In December 2015, the prominent Nigerian women’s rights activist and Lawyer, Mrs Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi passed away. She too had been a regular presence at CSW for a long time.

I have found myself thinking about why I keep coming back to John’s. I can afford to have breakfast in the warmth of my hotel. Yet I still walk the block to John’s. Is it because it is cheaper? Is it because it reminds me of Joana? Is it the Polish waitress Christine who has become a friend and who I sometimes tip more than what the food costs? Probably the smell and taste of their coffee? Is it because I have had many breakfast and lunch meetings there with other people attending the UN meetings? Is it the view from the window, watching people hurrying to their respective destinations? Is it the feeling of peace I have whenever I am there, even in the midst of all the noise of the early diners? Is it the familiarity of the place? Certainly all of the above, and definitely not just one reason.

At John’s Café, I am reminded of how life stretches into infinity, and all we can do is mark ourselves as present and carry on till one day our time comes and we become absent. Our absence will not prevent the presence of other people. They will still move around, grabbing their coffee and donuts, and the cheerful Christine will continue working till one day, some other young woman will take her place in search of the American dream.

I butter my toast and think about all the years I have been planning, organizing, advocating with other women, hoping for a better deal for women and society as a whole. Many gains have been made over the years, but huge challenges still remain. Patriarchy is not about to go away any time soon. I look around me and see other women who are attending CSW from around the world, making the annual pilgrimage to fight the good fight. Some like me, have been doing this for years, others are here for the first but hopefully not the last time.  I look at the veteran and rookie troops, and a new resolve sets in. Knowing that just like Joana, one day I will not be here to do this anymore, I recommit to ensuring that there will be scores of other women who can figuratively sit in the window at John’s and keep watch over the struggles we have fought for so long. I have run many programs over the years to help build the leadership capacity of thousands of young women. However, because I started doing this at an early age, a lot of the work has been with women who are now either my peers or just a few years younger. The great news is that a lot of my mentees are now mentors to other young people. The inter-generational movement building however needs to continue.

One of my best friends and mentors is Dr Abena Busia, a Professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey. During the week, she invited me to address some young African women who are part of a leadership development program she is involved in. I spent two hours with them, and it was a very rewarding experience for all of us. They asked interesting questions, no different from some of the issues raised in other gatherings of young women I have been a part of. They had concerns such as How do I balance my family obligations with my career? How do I know when I meet the right person to marry? What do I do when I am treated badly at work? How can I become financially independent? There are no simple answers to any of these questions because we all have different contexts. I am however committed to doing whatever I can to recruit both young women and men into social justice movements. So how did I respond to my young friends, who I hope will take their place at John’s Café as they start their day? These are some of the things I said to them, in no particular order.

Learn the discipline of planning. You will never be an octopus, but you will get things done.

Tell yourself what you are worth. Never let anyone devalue you

You will know The One when it is time. You will just know. Have faith.

Be yourself, not an imitation of someone else

You can have it all, but probably not all at once

There is a reason why Superwoman and Superman are comic book characters

Be kind to people. Others will be kind to you too.

Use your voice when you have to

Use silence when it is necessary

Hold on to your faith, however you chose to worship God. It will see you through your journey

Understand the difference between being selfless, selfish and self-full.

I have a few more days to have breakfast at John’s before I leave New York. I am grateful for the peace I find in this small, nondescript diner. It makes me appreciate the simple joys of life. Just being able to take twenty minutes out of a very hectic day to appreciate life and good health. May we all find meaning as we rush about our daily endeavors and may God bless the work of our hands in this and the next generation. We will come and go. Even John’s Café might not be there one day. Yet coffee will still smell the same.


Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com



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23 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: John’s Café

  1. Toluene March 20, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Waoh…. I give you a standing ovation for this beautiful writeup…. I took my time to digest every lines.
    Thanks for the advices and A very big Amen to all the prayers.
    A very great article to start my Monday morning. God will continually bless u ma, more wisdom nd Grace nd More victories for your fight for everyone ijn….. I just Love you ma

  2. Samuel March 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    This is really for me. Thank you ma’am for penning this down. Even when i eventually pass away, life will still go on. My ambition is to serve God right and make impact. Really leant from this script and i hope others would as well.

  3. kelechi March 20, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Hmmmm… this is such an inspiring piece.
    we will all come and go. Positive impact is the bone of living.

  4. Bisi Alawode March 20, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Life is a stage, the better performance we give, the better memory we get. Understanding that we are here to take a role on humanity not impress people who are vain, is the most expedient thing in life.
    This is such an inspiring piece.

  5. Femi Diipo March 20, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Yeah this as usual is a wonderful piece. Time indeed will outlive us all and things and people are moving each moment. Life doesn’t stop for anybody and we should all strive to make out marks. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!

  6. Dom Dom March 20, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Time indeed waits for no one and we all mostly have a place like John’s Cafe we we get to sometimes sit, think of people and of time itself. May we get to leave a mark on time so then when it passes us there’ll be others not only to replace us but remember the impacts we made

  7. ibiwoye yetunde March 21, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    What a beautiful wake up call. Life is about impact and the very statement that got me here is understanding selfless, selfish and self-full. God bless you ma. Life will continue no matter the tragedy and legacy is the only thing that speaks.

  8. Zara williams March 21, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    When we see deeply we understand that the lessons of life are more than the dramas of life. Living a healthy life is more than eat veggies and drinking lots of water. It’s about us make the other person our responsibility sincerely. May we live a life of good legacy

  9. Olushola Aderanti March 21, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    I can’t get a enough of this. This is so deep. I must work at being a better person. sincerely, this is deep.

  10. Princess March 21, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Hmmmmn the words pierced through my heart, like a smile that ecstatic like a baby’s laugh. Life is a metamorphosis. Live it love it!

  11. Ebonychyqui2 March 21, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    It was as though this write up was for me, I felt nostalgic about my friend who left me without saying goodbye 4years ago. Its still like a mirage to me, reading this write up word for word is just like regurgitating everything that happened that year. Lesson learnt is that people would leave you and still leave their footprints in your life.

  12. latoya March 21, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    This is worth sharing. I am sharing this with my friends. Thanks a lot ma.

  13. jerry Omole March 21, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    What a big one. if we do not affect our generation, we are dead beings in human form. No matter the length of years, our legacy is what makes our living count. Thanks, for this wakeup call.

  14. Gloria Nelson March 21, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Another wonderful piece. I wish Nigerians most especially our leaders would read this and know that life is beyond packing dollars and building houses abroad.

  15. Oluwatosino March 21, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    Waoh, this writeup is really deep and the comments from every members here is so beautiful. What more can we give in life than to make impact and reach out to every people around us. Life continues no matter what happens to one, when their is life, hope is not lost. God bless abovewhispers.com and God bless you for this great writeup

  16. Esosa March 21, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Life is very short, and once you are out no second chance. We all should live a life that is pleasant and acceptable before God, I am ravenous for more of this article. It’s just as if it should not end, God bless you ma’am for this.

  17. Monica March 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Life is a beat, the music never stops but the dancers take a rest. What a wonderful wakeup call for all of us

  18. Wilson Adefemi March 22, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    I am in awe right now. Loud whispers has always been a character shaper for me. This is so great.

  19. fola March 22, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Spot on
    Spot on
    Spot on
    Spot on!!!!
    If everyone can see life the way you see it, Nigeria will be great and i still wonder why you cannot be made minister of women affairs. This woman is dynamic.

  20. olaniyi March 22, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    @wilson, I am wondering too o. Because these are the kinds of women we need, these are the kinds of feminists we need not those who make ”feminism” an escape route for a failed relationship they made foolish decisions about.

    I love this writeup

  21. DSEED March 22, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    I am reminded of how life stretches into infinity, and all we can do is mark ourselves as present and carry on till one day our time comes and we become absent. Our absence will not prevent the presence of other people. They will still move around, grabbing their coffee and donuts, and the cheerful Christine will continue working till one day, some other young woman will take her place in search of the American dream. This got my attention when reading through the all article. Life must be handle with simplicity no one leaves forever.

  22. olakitan March 22, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Thank you big time ma for this write up. It is a call to wake up into reality of life. You are such I blessing to our generation ma.

  23. Akpes March 23, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    This is one of the best i have ever read i must confess. Thank you maam, you don’t know what this write up mean to me.


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