Serendipity is fun. Not only is it, by definition, beneficial in some way, it’s also, by definition, completely random and unexpected. It’s like walking into a room and being showered with money and chocolate and pizza (I really like pizza).
I was very fortunate to find myself in serendipitous circumstances this past March at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai. I was there working PR for the festival – making sure authors and journalists found each other at the appropriate times, credentialing journalists, etc. Suddenly, one of my colleagues approached, leading behind her respected Palestinian poet and novelist Mourid Barghouti. Mr. Barghouti was scheduled for a special ‘author spotlight’ session that evening on the outdoor stage overlooking Dubai Creek, but the person who was to be reading the English translations of his work was unavailable (Mr. Barghouti writes primarily in Arabic, and while he speaks English very well, he felt it would be better to have someone else read out the translations on stage instead of potentially leaving it to the live translators). My colleague, upon discovering this, suggested me for the role. I had twenty minutes to prepare.
You can imagine both my excitement and dread as I was handed photocopies of poems and short prose passages that I had never seen before, but was now expected to skillfully recite in front of hundreds of people who had no idea who I was. The excitement far outweighed the dread, however, and I simply reached back to my university days where, for a time, I made a habit of attending open mic poetry nights and even helped organize and host a reading or two.
It was a surreal walk to the stage. Mr. Barghouti is quite well-known and loved within the Palestinian community, and every few steps there was somebody coming up to shake his hand, chat, or even break down into tears in his arms. Finally, though, we were all in place and ready to go, Mr. Barghouti and the moderator in comfy armchairs stage-centre, me tucked away amongst the spotlights and decorations at the back. At first came a general discussion with Mr. Barghouti about his life and work in Arabic, which, since I had no access to the live-translation headsets, I did not understand a word of, but then it was time for the readings and I took up my position.
We alternated, Mr. Barghouti reading a piece in Arabic, then me reading it in English. I was rubbish on the first one – my nerves getting the better of me and causing me to rush it; but, as the session went on, I settled into a comfortable groove and did pretty well for the remainder of the poems. Mr. Barghouti was very complimentary afterward, and for the rest of that night and the rest of the Festival, I had people coming up to me and delivering plaudits on my performance.
All in all, it was a great experience, and I only hope that the next time I’m on stage at a Lit. Fest it’ll be my work that I’m reading and discussing 😉