“This is the first time that I stand up in front of all these people,” Shadi Ismail told a rapt audience at the monthly Boise storytelling celebration known as Story Story Night, held at JUMP on Jan. 31.
Public speaking is the stuff of nightmares for many. Do it the first time in a second language? Get out.
But Ismail has already been to hell and back. He fled his native Syria largely because his father and others wanted him dead because of his sexual orientation.
They burned him, beat him and hunted him. There’s nothing funny about any of that but Ismail’s storytelling is infused with humor.
Telling his story publicly is a triumph over the violence and darkness he endured — and his way of thanking all those who helped him along the way, including a stranger whose simple act of kindness made all the difference.
“Boise, for me, it’s [the] city of love,” Ismail said in closing. “In Boise, I did not have to run anymore. I did not have to worry if I hold my boyfriend’s hand. I did not have to worry if I’m Arabic, or if I’m [a] refugee, or if I’m gay. People accept me for who I am, and that’s amazing.”
The crowd was riveted by his story — and he was rewarded with a rare standing ovation.
Listen to a high-quality recording of Ismail’s talk on the Story Story Night podcast, which was made available online Thursday to the public (it’s free). His story starts about 26 minutes into the podcast.
The traditional format for Story Story Night is to have three featured storytellers who tell a 10- to 12-minute story on a specific theme, with “slammers” in between (storytellers from the audience whose names are drawn from a lunchbox). Ismail’s story was about twice that length.
“It’s such a powerful story that we just kind of threw the rules out the window,” said Jodi Eichelberger, artistic director and host of Story Story Night.
Go watch, or get involved yourself
Why are slammers’ names drawn from a lunchbox? The season sponsor is LunchboxWax.
Each Story Story Night session has a theme: On Jan. 31, it was “RUN.” The theme for the next event, Feb. 28, is “CAMP.” Featured speakers then will include Tiffany Turner Fite, who took a two-year camping trip that ended in Boise, and Hanako Wakatsuki, who will talk about a camp — the WWII-era Japanese-American internment program — that impacted her entire family and her career.
Eichelberger said people send in pitches to be featured speakers, but he recruited all of the storytellers for “RUN,” including Ismail. The other two featured speakers that night were:
▪ Bandanna Running & Walking’s Rich Harris, a former professional distance runner who shared a heartbreaking and hilarious story about competing in the 1984 Olympic trials. (His story is the first in the podcast embed above).
▪ Hayley Brown talked about helping to save her daughter and others through running, by organizing Cupid’s Undie Run in Boise. (Her story starts at about 12 minutes in the podcast above).
Eichelberger works with the featured storytellers to polish up their presentations, and the participants do peer review.
Tickets to Story Story Night are $12. Purchase them online here.