Here is a storytelling transcript of my Toastmasters speech from last week and a continuation from this post.
Storytelling: Project 1, The Folk Tale: The Dream
Fellow Toastmasters and guests,
[This is the traditional way we Toastmasters address an audience.]
Come with me on this magic carpet and we’ll hurtle thousands of miles to the east, and thirteen centuries into the past.
Now our magic carpet is slowing down. Below us we see forests, mountains, and rivers. Now the sun is dipping below the horizon as we cross a sea. We’re close to the ground now, about fifteen feet. We’re crossing a desert beneath a star-filled sky. And there before us is a city sleeping in the starlight.
Look down as we float over the city wall. There below us is a fountain in a courtyard. And next to the fountain are three tall date palms. Opposite them, a narrow street that bears to the right, at the end of which is a small pink crumbling house.
Upstairs in the house is a man.
He is asleep in bed.
He is dreaming.
He dreams of a voice: a soft, feminine voice that says, “Go west young man. Go to Cairo. There you will find your fortune.”
Some time passes.
The Student Mustafa wakes up. For The Student Mustafa is the man’s name.
He sighs. “That dream again!”
He’s had the same dream for six nights. Like most students, The Student Mustafa has money problems. He has student debt. He’s behind on his rent. He doesn’t know what to do, until an amazing thought pops into his head.
“I know what I’ll do. I’ll go to Cairo.”
He gathers his belongings, goes down stairs and along to the Zip Camel lot.
[No laughter from the audience. Should I have said, Zip Car today, Zip Camel, thirteen centuries ago? Get it?]
The Student Mustafa says to the Zip Camel lot attendant, “I want to go to Cairo, Egypt.”
The Zip Camel lot attendant says, “Oh, that’s a long way. What’s your subscriber number?”
The attendant looks up his information on his Zip Camel parchment scroll.
“Membership expired, you’ll have to renew.”
The Student Mustafa is crestfallen. He has no money to renew. But the attendant takes pity on him.
“You can drive a camel, right?”
The attendant writes something down on a piece of parchment and gives it to the student.
“Go and see Abu over at the Camel Train Station and say to him what’s written down here.”
The Student Mustafa thanks the Zip Camel lot attendant and makes his way through the bustling street. He’s trying to figure out what’s written down on the message as he walks.
The city is jam packed with life. It’s Bagdad 1300 years ago. It’s the center of learning, cross-pollination of ideas, and commercial power. Libraries are being built, mosques are under construction.
Baghdad is on the Silk Road. To the east, spices, gold, lapis lazuli, paper, exotic animals, and rare goods flow in from India and China.
From the west, merchants come from far across the vast Sahara Desert right from the Atlantic coast, the edge of the known world.
The Student Mustafa pushes his way through the crowded streets. He sees tigers in cages, vanquished tribes in chains, gold sellers and diamond merchants, elephants, water carriers ringing their bells, snake charmers, goats, and every sort of life imaginable.
Eventually, the Student Mustafa finds his way to the Camel Train Station.
And there is Abu sitting on his camel as The Student Mustafa approaches. By now he’s figured out what is written on the parchment and holds it up and reads…
“Better the gurgling of a camel, than the prayers of a fish.”
[No laughs from the audience. But I think it’s hilarious.]
Abu looks down, pauses, and then says, “Better a bag of bees than a sack full of flies.”
[Audience is sitting there politely. Maybe they don’t know me well enough to find this amusing.]
The Student Mustafa and Abu have established their credentials. They’re both in the CDU (Camel Driver’s Union.)
Abu says, “Where do you want to go?”
The Student Mustafa, “Egypt, I had a dream about going to Cairo.”
“What a bit of luck, that’s just where we’re going. You can work your passage.
“Take Flossie over there. She spits a bit, but she’s a good one.”
[Flossie for a name of a camel doesn’t get a laugh.]
The sun goes down and the stars come out.
Look up, you can see Venus. There is the Great Bear and Pluto’s over there. The Milky Way is so bright you can read by it.
They set off. They sleep in their tents during the heat of the day, and make their way beneath the silent star-bright nights, going from oasis to oasis.
Weeks later they arrive in Cairo.
The Student Mustafa says goodbye to his buddies and goes in search of a place to sleep. He sees a mosque under construction. Next door is a rooming house. The sign reads vacancy.
He pays for his room, goes upstairs, and gets into bed.
This is far better than all that camping out in the desert heat. He’s just drifting off to sleep when…
Bang! Crash! Wallop! Sounds of running feet. Voices in the street. Shouts! Breaking crockery.
He rolls out of bed, stumbles downstairs, flings open the door, and tumbles out into the street.
No sooner has he stepped into the street than hands grab him and throw him on the ground.
“You ain’t from around here,” The militia man says.
Now he’s in the hands of the militia. The mosque next door was broken into and the Student Mustafa is accused of theft.
They throw him in a dungeon. And there he languishes for days.
He doesn’t know anyone.
He doesn’t get food.
He only has water to drink.
He’s worried about what they do to thieves as he looks at his hands.
The door of the dungeon opens with a bang!
It’s the Chief of Police. He stands there drawn up to his full height.
The Chief of Police says, “We’re terribly sorry, we made a mistake. The culprits have been captured and being dealt with. Please let me make it up to you. Come to my house and allow me to offer you hospitality.”
The Student Mustafa is in a state of shock and meekly follows the Chief.
Not long afterward they’re in the policeman’s house. It’s fabulous: mosaics along the walls, domed roof. In the courtyard, banana trees, date palms, fountains, parrots, fish in a pond, song birds.
Inside they sit on sumptuous cushions.A deep-pile Persian carpet of intricate design covers the floor. They drink mint tea and eat sweets from silver trays.
The Student Mustafa is now bathed and dressed in a new white turban and magnificent robe.
Eventually the Chief of Police says, “What are you doing in Cairo?”
“Oh, ah! I had a dream. There was a voice. It was a soft, feminine voice telling me to go to Cairo.”
The Chief of Police rolls his eyes and lets out a sigh of exasperation.
“Everyone has dreams like that. I certainly have. But they’re just dreams. You need to get real young man. Look at me. I have a good job, a wonderful house. Come over here. Look out the window. See all that land down to the river. Well, that’s mine.
“I’m a success. Just pull yourself together. Don’t go paying attention to dreams.”
“Please tell me about your dream, anyway,” says The Student Mustafa.
The policeman grunts. “Oh it was something about going to Baghdad and there would be a fountain and some date palms. At the end of a street I would find a pink crumbling house with a lemon tree in the back garden. Underneath the tree would be treasure. Complete nonsense!”
The Student Mustafa recognizes this description as his house. So, he says, “Thank you for your hospitality. I must be going.”
The Student Mustafa goes to the Cairo Camel Train Station.
“Better the gurgling of a camel than the prayers of a fish.”
“Better a bag of bees than a sack full of flies.”
[No detectable laughter.]
The camel train takes off toward Baghdad. They travel from oasis to oasis and navigate by the stars.
Weeks later they arrive in Baghdad.
The Student Mustafa, goes by the fountain.
He crosses the square by the date palms.
He walks up his street that bears to the right.
He opens the gate to his house.
He unlocks the front door.
He reaches up for a shovel.
He walks to the back of the house.
He opens the back door.
He goes down the path.
And there under the lemon tree he digs.
“My treasure”, he says.
Whatever that is for him.
This folk-tale is called the Dream and it’s from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. It’s known by other names. Acres of Diamonds is one. This story has been told for centuries and across cultures. I believe it speaks to a timeless human truth.
We can look outside of ourselves for satisfaction and love. But it may be what we’re looking for is within us, if we learn to recognize it.
And now I’d like to hand the meeting back to the Toastmaster.
[Applause were good though.]