(first published in Daily Times Nigeria)
|I am on the left. PHOTO CREDITS: M. DABOGI.|
I was delivering a speech on Identity and Politics in a Time of Crises. First let me say that the high table is for me a deeply uncomfortable experience. This is because I am a restless person and do not like being watched by a crowd like an animal in a zoo. Also I like to react to things and I have realized that it is a waste of time for me to hide how I feel about something or someone. My face tells all. So the high table is not the best place for me.
However, I learnt a lot from last Saturday and instead of writing a glossy motivational book titled ‘How to be a Public Speaker in Nigeria’ or ‘Seven Habits of Highly Successful Naija Speakers’ and have my books sold at every hold up in Nigeria, I have decided, to risk poverty and share my thoughts with you for free.
LESSON 1: ALWAYS ASK WHO WILL BE IN THE AUDIENCE
I almost ran away when I walked into the hall and about a quarter or so of the hall was full of secondary school students- including students from a new Almajiri school. So that rendered nearly half of my speech unusable. Unfortunately one of the organizers saw me before I could sneak off and claim sudden illness. I had to instantly start mentally re-writing my speech.
LESSON 2: DRINKING THE JUICE REQUIRES SKILL
Now I assume that the juice on the table is not for decoration, but when it comes to eating and drinking in front of 300-500 people, I get very shy. Thirty minutes into the event I suddenly got very thirsty. In front of me on the high table were a bottle of water, a pack of juice and a glass cup. Everyone else on the high table ignored them like saints avoiding sin. The people on the high table even avoided eye contact with the juice. With every passing minute my frustration and thirst grew. I tweeted while on the high table and got some useful suggestions like, ‘it doesn’t matter’, ‘the rest are also waiting for you to drink first’ and ‘drink the juice with panache’. The last one, by a fellow writer struck me. ‘Panache’. I checked the word on my Encarta dictionary and saw the definition: ‘dashing style: a sense or display of spirited style and self-confidence’. I practiced pouring with ‘style and self-confidence’ with my hands under the table. I concluded that I would be better off not bringing the whole body of writers into disrepute by a lack of panache. By the way, the juice promptly disappeared as soon as the event was over just when I thought I could finally have a quiet sip beyond scrutiny.
LESSON 3: USE AN IPAD OR NOTHING
Everyone comes to an event with an iPad these days. Pastors, Imams and those who don’t own iPads. I tell you they wanted to make me feel small, all those iPad wielding people. And here was I cuddling my dear ACER notebook, Magdalene. I could almost feel Magdalene feeling fat and ordinary in the face of those sleek things. But she kept her head up, dear Magdalene.
LESSON 4: USE THE TOILET BEFORE YOU GET ON
I hope it’s not abnormal or anything, but I feel the urge to pee when I am nervous and when I am cold. I will google it to be sure. Anyway, the combined effect of nervousness about giving a good speech, frustration about the juice and the discomfort of so many eyes, I felt this urge to pee. When? Just when the speaker just before me was close to the end of her speech. Suddenly it felt like all the people in my village who were conspiring against my success had finally gotten to me. Gladly, the organizers came to beg me so they could sneak in a brief performance just before my speech.
LESSON 5: BEWARE OF THAT GUY IN THE AUDIENCE WHOSE SOLE AIM IS SHINE AT YOUR EXPENSE
So I gave the speech. That was the best part. It emboldened me to at least open the bottle of water in front of me. I deserved it. All that speaking! Then during question and answer time, this guy, who eventually came up to me to inform me of his just having returned to Nigeria six weeks ago from Harvard, stood up to give a little speech of his own. He reeled out all the big social science terms and theories and although he claimed to be disagreeing with me, ended up summarizing my speech. All I could say (in my mind of course) was ‘God is watching you!’
LESSON 6: ALWAYS CARRY MONEY FOR PHOTOGRAPHS (OR WARN THEM NOT TO TAKE YOUR PHOTO)
So this woman photographer (God will judge her appropriately), with many photos of me in her hand, came right to the High Table before the program was over, to whisper that each tiny ugly photo was 200 naira. I felt sweaty all of a sudden because my wallet was far away where I had parked my car. Not that there was money in it. I would have to go to an ATM to be able to pay her. Now, the other people on the high table were looking at me. No, God will judge that woman! This is one of the few moments when I have been thankful for being a lawyer, trained to squeeze water out of a stone. I told her with a stern face: ‘I do not take photos. I do not like photos. I did not ask for my photo to be taken...’ I might have gone on and on and accused her of blackmail, of being an agent of my enemies and village people, but the woman by my side said, don’t worry ill just pay for all the photos. I initially protested, careful though not to protest too hard, lest I would have to make the uncomfortable trip to the ATM.
My prayer for you is that you are blessed with better high tables and more juice loving people on the high table. And that God shows you those plotting your downfall before they see you.