I still remember my initial telephone conversation with Alim those many weeks ago; I remember listening to him
paint a picture of what the night would be like - the night's theme of "Education and Financial Empowerment of Women", the speakers who have been invited, and most significantly, the Muslim Aid video that will be screened. I remember getting off the phone, the beginnings of an idea slowly forming in my mind about what the focus of my new poetic piece would be.
And here I am, weeks later, rehearsing the poem I am soon to perform at the Dinner tonight.
I stand in front of my vanity mirror, holding the sheet of paper, yet looking ahead at my reflection, practicing how I would recite my poem - mentally noting the tone, the pace and the points requiring emphasis. As I read the lines aloud, I can't help but find myself not able to say them as I know I will in the moment, on stage, in 'real-time'.
Because ever since high-school, I've always been the type of person who struggles giving 100% during rehearsal time when it came to 'acting' - I find myself getting nervous and self-conscious, my voice growing quiet. Yet on the performance day itself, it is as if I am able to fool my mind and convince myself that, just for this finite period of time 'on stage', I will be 'someone else' - I will perform my character so believably that it will move the crowd. And then, the moment the performance has concluded, I will simply 'switch' back into my normal self.
As strange as this may all sound, I suppose it has always been my secret strategy to overcoming 'stage fright'.
I arrive now at the venue, much earlier than expected. I feel some butterflies as I approach the registration table. I look inside and hear the hustle and bustle, the amazing Rajo crew busily ensuring the set-up is done to perfection and ready before any of the guests arrive at the expected time of 6:30pm. At this point, I notice the stage and begin picturing in my mind where I will stand in reference to the projector screen.
I am finally introduced to Alim face-to-face for the first time, who then directs my attention to the guy who I assume will be the "Techie" for the evening - the Techie (whose name I cannot recall, but I think it begins with an 'M') walks me through the presentation set-up and the plans for the lighting.
I nervously save my introduction video onto their laptop, then I am assisted to insert the video into the Rajo powerpoint presentation itself. I hurriedly test the video and sound but only allow the beginning of the video to play very briefly, afraid of ruining the 'surprise'. Only two people know what I have planned - the element of surprise is perhaps one of the biggest factors to ensure the strong impact I envision for my performance.
Casually, I give my quick thanks to Mr Techie and will him away, continually praying silently that my video intro will not accidentally play before the scheduled time! I finally slip behind the curtains, sussing the stage area, holding my Miss Erika bag that carries the secret items of clothing no-one will expect. I place the bag at the very back of the large stage, clearly planning in my mind what I must do when the moment arrives.
Everyone now seated, the formal proceedings begin, speeches and powerpoint presentations shared, and finally, my name is called. My name is called too early - they haven't showed the Muslim Aid video yet that is meant to precede my presentation! I have no choice but to simply 'go with the flow', and so up to the stage I confidently walk to disguise the nervous, quick re-planning that must take place in my head. I barely remember the words that I spoke into the microphone that moment, but they attempted to fool the audience into believing that all was going according to plan.
Finally, after playing the Muslim Aid video and introducing the video to my poetic presentation, and remembering I have about a minute to 'dress', I quickly disappear behind the curtains and sprint as quietly as I can to the back of the stage where my 'costume' lays. "Shoot", I mutter under my breath at the sound of the thud my toes make with the wooden floor, and I silently pray the audience didn't hear my pitter patter!
My emotions are high at this point. As I hurriedly fumble with and slip on the 'African patterned dress' and plain black scarf over my formal evening attire, I breathe deeply to calm my racing heart.
I can hear the video ending. I quietly walk to the middle of the stage, just where the curtains meet, and on the video's cue, ruffle through the curtain's opening into the spotlight. For the next few minutes, I am no longer Raihanaty A Jalil - for the next few minutes, I am Hawa Abdullahi Farah...