Week 17, 2022: Hope
It’s half past midnight, and I’ve just finished up packing my kit after delivering a virtual keynote talk to parents and students in a rural district of Ontario, Canada. I knock back glasses of water in between packing the ring light and returning the furniture to its original place, pulling the dining table slowly to avoid waking up the downstairs neighbours with the juddering of its legs across the wooden floor. I pause, take another sip. We’re still in the final days of Ramadan and I have spent all month oscilating between various states of mild to severe dehydration, not quite getting my liquid intake right. At this point in the night it feels like I’m force-feeding myself. I’m no longer hungry or thirsty but I know from experience, as soon as Fajr hits I will regret not taking that one extra mouthful. Sip, sip.
It occurred to me today that I have spent more than half my life delivering speeches - keynotes, debates, provocations, moderations - to audiences around the globe. The first address I remember was at school assembly for our seventh grade graduation (would have been, what, 11?), too short to be seen over the podium, but I made myself heard, alright. I must have delivered hundreds of talks as the Founder and Chair of Youth Without Borders in the years after, but it wasn’t until I was 24 or 25 that I began to speak ‘professionally’, with agents, contracts, serious fees. That being said, I’ve never thought of it as a ‘career’ on its own, because it has always felt like an ancillary activity: one speak about what one does, rather than treating it as the end goal. Either way, there’s no doubting that I’ve done a lot of it.
And subhanallah, has it taken me places. From delivering a presentation in broken Arabic to university students in Saudi Arabia to a keynote about unconscious bias to a small community centre in a remote corner of Canada, I’ve been fortunate to travel the world with this odd sort of vocation. In some way, it has served as a balm against my well earned cynicism. For hiring me, in itself, is an act of faith. Organisers of events look me up online, they see my videos, my website, my wikipedia page, my tweets. I cannot hide that I speak my truth plainly, that I want us to be better, that I believe things should change. And still, people bring me into their community halls, their schools, their companies. Sometimes, I am there to say what people within the company cannot say themselves. Other times, I’m there to genuinely introduce a new idea to folks who have never engaged with these topics. And occasionally, like I suspect today, I find myself speaking to an audience who might in fact be hostile to the idea of change, who don’t like what I have to say, don’t want a bar of it. The organisers of the event know this, of course. But they bring me in anyway, because they want things to be better. I’m no silver bullet, not even a pellet, really. But I am a nod towards a desire, perhaps. Or at least, that is what it felt like tonight. A sentiment which strangely, gives me hope.
But hey. It’s almost 1am. Will this all feel very different in the light of day? Is this simply the sentimentality of the early hours? We shall see…
Thanks for being patient over the last few months. I’m not sure how regularly I will return to this platform, but I have broken the seal, so expect to hear more (but not too much) from me.
1 - My essay collection comes out in just over a month, pre-order it here. People have said it is “a powerful meditation on who we are, and who we might become,” “full of humour and love and indomitability,” and is “brilliant, entertaining and fascinating.” Let me know what you think when you get a chance to read it!
2 - I’ve started a regular column with The New Arab, where I talk culture, politics and whatever else takes my fancy that the editors are alright with. I’ve done a piece on Ramadan nostalgia, Ibn Battuta and my relationship with travelling, and subliminal messaging in Ramadan TV series. The next piece is on Elon Musk and twitter… stay tuned.
3 - Listen, Layla got a bunch of cool awards, which is lovely. Here is a link to buy if you’re so inclined (or borrow it from your local library)!
4 - I’ve been doing ‘One Minute Reviews’ on Tiktok and Instagram of TV shows, books and podcasts I’ve been consuming. To be honest, the teens on tiktok aren’t loving them, but it’s been fun for me. Here’s the most successful of the reviews so far:
Next on my to-watch list is the English remake of my fav French show, Dix Percent:
That’s all for now, ya shabab. Stay tuned for more updates and midnight musings.
Oh, and Eid Mubarak!