A few weeks ago Clare managed to get herself invited to speak at an event entitled Hear I Am being organised by Nazmin Akthar of the Muslim Women's Network. Now I thought this fabulous, I've been saying for long enough that she needs to be heard more as her writing and poetry is far deeper than the airhead dittys I write. So she got writing and I got inviting my bezzie to act as the support team. And not hecklers. Oh no.
Fortunately, it was yes. Her reading was flawless and we could relax before being taxied by Clare's bf to a strange place called Stratford... Now the funny thing was whilst I'd never heard of the venue, actually, it's not that funny, I knew exactly where I was as I had a 911 break down right outside in the horrendous stationary traffic they used to get before the bypass was built. Which made it weird for me, I was finally going in to one of the buildings I'd stared at so patiently in the late eighties and early nineties on trips to London.
An odd place is memory lane.
Anyway, we got there. Furnished the driver with some pennies to get some, err, essential supplies for after the event, and waved him off nervously as, frankly, his ability to miss turnings has become the stuff of legend and great amusement here in Contrary Towers and we really didn't know if we'd see him again...
...and with that thought we parodied a classic bad joke as these three women walked in to a bar.
The welcome was warm. I know that is such a cliché of a phrase, but oh it truly was. We had a little indecision at first as, well, D'Gaf is dry and we, well, oh you've all read our blogs and know exactly what we're like... But it's lovely and the staff were fabulously friendly and said they'd bring our soft cocktails to wherever we happened to be sitting.
Now then, the evening: the idea was to support an anthology of poetry being put together by the Muslim Women's Network, hence why we were there as we do poetry and, obviously, have strong views on women's rights regardless of background.
She was wonderful in a slightly manic - at times ditzy - way that can only be achieved from somebody of obvious deep intelligence. She introduced the idea behind the Muslim Women's Network, their priority areas and the anthology project before finally dedicating the evening to Cassandra Balchin who sadly died last year after losing her battle with cancer. It's strange to get a pang of utter regret that you will never be able to meet a woman who sounded like the very definition of amazing.
Opening the performance was Mizan The Poet with a powerful poem full of string imagery beautifully delivered. He was quickly followed by Sacha Wise who gave a moving, intensely personal view of her abuse. I was in tears. Actually, I think everyone was in tears. As it turned out they were the first of the many that would follow in the evening. And it gave me pause to reflect, any abuse I suffered was purely mental and whilst I'm still coming to terms with some of it - ok, all of it - I knew I had never been through anything as harrowing as this.
It did though throw my note taking out of kilter and I then stopped writing who was performing and just immersed myself in story after story of a lives I had never lived.
During the evening we found we were sitting opposite Rania Khan who, it transpired, is a Tower Hamlets councillor. As we chatted we found out about an event that we can see from our balcony actually was! There is a mini olympic sports and culture event, the program for today looks amazing! Anyway, it was fascinating talking with a local councillor.
As the evening wore on we broke for dinner, we'd settled on the vegetarian option, which, once it arrived, was stunning. But the delay was a marvellous glimpse of serendipity in action as we got to chat with Saleha Begum who would also be speaking that evening. If I do have a regret it's that I didn't have the cash on me to pick up a copy of her book Ruptures and Fragments.
The evening wore on wonderfully. A particular highlight was the performance by Zena Agha of her "Woolwich: Not In My Name" poem, this was simply amazing. To follow it up she gave a rendition of a very personal piece on what she wanted to say to some oaf in a nightclub. It gave an amazing insight in to the strength and clarity of mind that this eloquent young woman gained from her faith. Wonderful.
Eventually... It was Clare's turn to talk. It was her first performance and given that she was shaking with nerves it was beautifully delivered. And, I'm pleased to say, well received.
The evening closed with a video of street interviews by to ladies of the MWN to the men of East London. It was both engaging and fascinating to watch.
So what did I learn. Well, difficult to say, in advance of the evening I had refreshed my memory of what the five pillars of Islam are. I'd pondered how I would be received and, also wondered what I would ask as the chance came along. So what I learned was actually quite simple, the sorority of womanhood crosses many boundaries with people from a seemingly unlimited diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. I learned that regardless of what our backgrounds were we could easily come together and chat like old friends and be left wondering just what the hell the media keep wittering on about.
Which leaves me with the strange title. In Zena Agha's talk she used the line one step forward and a marathon back. But that was a specific event. For me this was, simply, a marathon forward.
My thanks to Nazmin and all those that were involved with the event, you are all utter, utter stars.