“Go and do something my friend. Anything,” says Nathi, a good friend of mine.
“I didn’t prepare anything, and I’m not confident enough to stand before people and speak,” I reply.
“Come on my brother, you will try,” he says.
“No, I cannot.”
“Okay, let’s make a deal. If you do something, I will perform one of my poems, preferably, a Xhosa poem.”
I stare into his eyes, trying to find my uncertainty. I smile and say to him, “If you will, then I shall.” I can feel the blood rushing through my veins and every part of my body quivering.
It’s 3 October 2018 on Second Avenue campus, one of the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) campuses, located near the coast in Summerstrand village in Port Elizabeth. It’s the third and final day of our training as peer helpers. On the 2nd day of our training, Zukisani, one of the loudest boys in the group, asks our facilitators if we should have a talent show at the end of our training, so that we could get to know each other as peer helpers better. The facilitators say that they would have to make some revisions to the schedule so that they could accommodate the talent show. Everyone is against the talent show, except Zukisani and the facilitators.
At the 1pm, we return from lunch. We settle down and await our next session. It’s taking place in an old, small hall called The Pavilion. The wall is cream coloured, and there are fractures in random parts of it, but it is beautiful. It’s like the photographer’s wallpaper. Our desks are U-shaped, like a board meeting setting. The facilitators are seated at the front, by the wall. Before us is a small, mobile projector that the facilitators use during facilitation. Sheri-Ann and Candice, the facilitators, stand before the projector and welcome us back.
“Welcome back guys. While you were enjoying your lunch, we didn’t join you because we were doing some adjustments in our schedule to meet the request Zukisani put forward yesterday about the talent show. So we decided to give you an hour. When you are done we shall proceed with the training,” says Sheri-Ann.
“Yes!” Zukisani jumps out of his seat to conduct the session.
He conducts the session like a professional presenter. Yolanda goes to the stage and sings. Her voice is very sharp and brave like an arrow. I am moved by her performance. Nathi is imploring me to perform and I am super nervous. Kanya, sitting to my right, pulls out a small, black wireless speaker from his backpack. He begins to play a beat from the speaker via the Bluetooth. I pay attention to the beat and not to the performances on the stage. I listen to the beat until it resonates. The beat takes me to my own world. The atmosphere changes. It becomes ambient. I feel Nathi and Kanya’s soft hands on my shoulders, and hear their voices say, “You got this boy.”
I look in Kanya’s direction and say, “Can you please start the audio from the beginning.”
He restarts the beat and I freestyle on the beat with a spoken word poetry that I entitled, “The African Proverb” as I approach the stage. Though it’s not easy, I manage to flow with the beat as I tell my life story. My eyes are closed as I’m looking at the younger me and the man I have grown to be. I connect with my audience on a deeper level. When I open my eyes, I see their watery eyes and others consoling each other. The tears I have been holding fall down as I walk towards my seat. For the first time in my life, I received a standing ovation.
I sit down and put my head on my desk so that no one sees me cry. I feel various hands tapping my back. I begin to ponder on the magic around me, the people who believed in me when I thought less of myself. The 3rd of October 2018 was the beginning in the middle of my living, because of the magic around me that revealed the artist within me that I had always ignored, and ignited the fire of poetry and storytelling within me.
Tell us: Do you believe that it’s important not to hold back your story?