Sunday, April 17, 2011

TedxRamallah

Inspire and be inspired. That's what it is ultimately about.

A good friend of mine put me in contact with the event's organizer, Ramzi Jaber. We exchanged emails, and he asked if I would like to be on the blogging team, to post on the TedxRamallah website during or after each session. I leaped at the chance-hello, graduating soon, must build up résumé- after informing my teacher to pretty please postpone my exam on Saturday. I admit I might have told her that the whole event rested on my shoulders and that it was imperative for me to go.

Heba was supposed to attend with me but she backed out at the last minute. Instead, it was just me and the mother. We got up at 6am, something we both haven't done in the longest time, and I busied myself with trying to find an economical way to dry my newly washed jeans. The iron wasn't working, neither was the hair straightener, the blow dryer would wake up the whole building...I considered just putting them on wet where they would sap my body heat, but in the end I turned on the soba and steamed them.

Even though the event is called TedxRamallah, it was actually held all the way in Bethlehem because the venue in Ramallah wasn't ready yet. We hurried through downtown and as we came into the parking lot where the buses were scheduled to be, we saw them slowly rumbling down past us. Shoot. Cue Mama griping how it was all my fault being late. Luckily, there was one micro-bus due to arrive shortly, and we climbed in with the other late arrivals gratefully. The hour and a half twisty turning trip began.

What is TED? It stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The little x means that it is an independently organized TED event. From their website:
TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. The annual TED Conference invites the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes. Their talks are then made available, free, at TED.com. TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani,Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The annual TED Conference takes place in Long Beach, California, with simulcast in Palm Springs; TEDGlobal is held each year in Oxford, UK. TED’s media initiatives include TED.com, where new TEDTalks are posted daily, and the Open Translation Project, which provides subtitles and interactive transcripts as well as the ability for any TEDTalk to be translated by volunteers worldwide.

TED has established the annual TED Prize, where exceptional individuals with a wish to change the world are given the opportunity to put their wishes into action; TEDx, which offers individuals or groups a way to host local, self-organized events around the world, and the TEDFellows program, helping world-changing innovators from around the globe to become part of the TED community and, with its help, amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities.
The remarkable speaker line-up include Huwaida Arraf, who co-founded the International Solidarity Campaign, Steve Sosebee, the founder and CEO of the Palestine Children Relief Fund, Raja Shehadeh author of award winning Palestine Walks, Alice Walker the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, Suad Amiry architect and founder of Riwaq as well as the author of hilarious novel Sharon and My Mother in-Law, and many more. Providing the entertainment were Nazareth songbird Rim al Banna, hip hop group DAM, and-be still my fluttering heart- all round philanthropist, spoken word artist, and wager of beauty Mark Gonzales.

We arrived at the Convention Palace, and stood in the huge line to get our badges. After that I went inside with the other bloggers who were already firing up their laptops and ready to go. There wasn't a room or whatever to accommodate us so we had to sit in the last two rows on one side. I peered into my bag and grimaced. I decided to get it over with.

"My laptop is ancient so don't make fun of it. And the battery lasts for half an hour so I need to be near the socket."

To which the rest of the team replied:

"Hey, my battery lasts that long too."
"Yeah mine doesn't last that long either, we'll take it in turns to plug in."
"Or some of us could share a laptop since we all won't be writing at the same time."

Awesome, they weren't those annoying 'look-at-me! Ive-got-a-Mac-and-I-just-like-swiping-my-fingers-here-and-there-and-windows-will-magically-appear' types I half expected them to be. We settled down, and watched hundreds and hundreds of people file past us, going down the stairs and taking their seats.

The event was to be live-streamed to Beirut and Amman, with 17 other cities watching. The hosts Jameel Abu-Warda and Huwaida Arraf kicked things off with Raja Shehadeh being the first speaker. Some speakers couldn't make it to Behtlehem/Palestine in general because of their visas. Wael Attili was one of these victims and he spoke to us via Amman. He's the co-founder of the Kharabeesh network, where story-telling takes place through cartoons. Kharabeesh means "scribbles" in Arabic and Wael shared the story of how one day his little daughter proudly told her class that her dad works for Kharabeesh and went home crying because they all laughed at her.

I'm not going to describe each speaker since there are hundreds of thousands of tweets that already did that, but I'll just pick the stand-out talks I really enjoyed. Huwaida Arraf managed to get all us teary-eyed as she talked about Vittorio Arrigoni, a man she personally knew, and described him as a beautiful soul who was more Palestinian than other Palestinians. It really is depressing to lose such a monumental activist, a man who had a larger than life personality and was simply passionate about Palestine. Activists don't come like that every day.
Fadi Ghandour, the CEO for Aramex and founder of Ruwwad for Development shared his experiences with his attempts to better the community of Jabal al-Nathief located in Amman. There are 75,000 people living there and only 62 trash cans. Jabal al-Nathief (Mountain of Clean) is filthy. That means 1209 people for every one trash can. So the first thing Ruwwad did was to instill more trash cans. However there was a dire lack of facilities and institutions. There wasn't even a police station. And so Ruwwad got to work, opening up a library that kids voluntarily choose to enter, an IT lab that gives free lessons to all, improved classrooms, a project to get children to read for 6 minutes every day-after some UN organization concluded that the average Arab child reads for 6 minutes a year. Handicapped people weren't left out either; they made use of their hands and learned how to make pottery, recently putting on an exhibition for the first time. But it wasn't all easy sail as Fadi faced a lot of prolonged delays and uncooperative behavior from the thousand and one Jordanian ministries who like to hoard money and now and then sprinkle out a few coins to the plebeians.
Mohamed El Dahshan is a writer and economist who blogged up the revolution in Egypt from the very first day. He earnestly relayed to us how the impressive aerial shots of Tahrir Square failed to capture the true essence of the revolution: the up close and central lives of the partaking people. As Mohamed said, "I think we had the funnest revolution ever."
Julia Bacha, the Brazilian filmmaker also made an absorbing speech at which point I was loudly but internally cursing my laptop, myself, and the whole Internet nation since the two pieces I had written so far disappeared into oblivion, which meant I missed much of Julia's talk about how cognitive dissonance brings about change.
Munir Fasheh, a professor at BZU had us all in stitches as he eloquently and entertainingly made his argument. The education system here in Palestine simply stunts the intellectual growth of students, and yet it is so institutionalized that any improving factor from the outside is considered detrimental and unacceptable.
Mark Gonzales equals amazing, end of. Mama enjoyed his performance a lot more than she did for DAM's, whom she called "imsak3een". Well their last song (I'm In Love With a Jew) was pretty terrible.
Khaled Sabawi, the president of MENA Geothermal (green energy) delivered a highly informative presentation. Basically, Palestinians pay the highest prices for energy in the entire region; 97 percent of the energy they consume is exported; in a few years Palestinians will be living through congested smog worse than Mexico's, but fear not! When there's a will there's a way. Enter geothermal energy. The earth consumes 50 percent of the sun's rays, and two meters below ground the temperature year round stays at 17 degrees Celsius. Pipes underground could be used to extract temperature via a cooling process in summer and a heating process in winter. The Israeli Interior minister wrote Khaled, "We could learn a lot from you." So as a result he was barred from entering Palestine three times, an engineer his company had worked on training was arrested and held in solitary confinement for 2 months on no charges, all for the sake of ensuing that the quality of Palestinian life remains miserable and backward.
Alice Walker stood on the stage and told the audience how she ended up speaking to the Israeli soldier who was interrogating her at the Allenby border crossing like she would to her son: "Do you know what you are doing? This [occupation] isn't good for you." The soldier was pulling up everything she had ever said about Israel and said, "Look, it says here you boycott Israel, that you would never come and visit it" to which she smoothly replied, "I'm not visiting Israel, I'm here for Palestine." She asked him if he thought that peace could ever be possible between the Israelis and Palestinians, and he answered honestly, "No. There's too much hatred on both sides."

After the event was over, Mama went up on-stage to talk to some of the speakers while I was wistfully thinking of food and fighting the urge to hoist my jeans up which had magically turned three sizes bigger. She had already talked to Khaled and Sam Bahour, both family friends, as well as Mounir Fasheh. She set her eyes on Alice and managed to get through the hungry fans. She then proceeded to tell Alice her life story, the whole ugly narrative of my family's displacement because we all don't have the correct Israeli issued IDs, how as a result my dad can't come in and is living in a different country. "So hating the Israelis for what they did to me and my family is something I can't help, you know?" Alice had an expression of pain on her face. She put her hand on Mama's shoulder and said, "I know. I know. Believe me I do. I'm from the deep South, where they had all kinds of apartheid laws there, and for a while I hated the whites too. But I got really sick. And I don't want that to happen to you, I don't want you to hate until you get physically sick." Then she was bombarded by the event's volunteer kids and disappeared for a moment. She then called out, "Hold on, I want to hug you. I would really like to give you a hug." And so they embraced. Women. So proud to be one.


We walked out, and brought a couple of books-Vittorio's Stay Human about Operation Cast Lead which he had witnessed from the ground, and Ben White's Israeli Apartheid. I went into a frenzy seeing all the books as usual, but contented myself with the knowledge that Ghada Karmi's books had to be in at least one of the three libraries on campus, unlike Edward Said's The Question of Palestine which they conveniently "lost". I asked Mama what she thought of TedxRamallah.
"It's nice, really enjoyed myself. Most of the speakers had really good speeches. Maybe next year I can be one of them?"

We climbed into one of the coaches, and I popped in my headphones, unbelievably tired. Mama was still enjoying herself as she was conversing with the other people around us. I turned off my iPod and listened to them talk. There's Maysar, sitting two seats down, who is a genius. He showed us all on his phone the gamma robot he had designed and invented, and told us how most of his professors at his university (Al-Quds/Abu Dis) discouraged him and were totally unappreciative of his project, despite him being the smartest sophomore in his department. They didn't like how he had used 'unconventional' methods to build the robot, and how his calculations weren't written down but were done mentally. This brought us back to Mounir Fasheh's speech, and how the method of intellectual stumping was all too glaring. We all encouraged Maysar, telling him to forget his teachers and to continue building/inventing more robots because sooner than later someone will recognize him and he will go on to achieve greater things. If only those idiotic professors of his realized what a truly talented student they have on their hands and to do nurture him instead of shooting him down because he dared to think outside the box. As we rumbled past Qalandia checkpoint, Maysar passed his notebook around and we all wrote supportive messages.

Inspire, and be inspired. Roll on next year!

7 comments:

  1. Wonderful post.. I was standing right there while you're mom gave Alice a big hug.. Then I remember her saying, and this is my daughter.. cool.. :) Glad you enjoyed the event and helped Ramzi too.

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  2. Great post, and it was a great event, just amazing :)

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  3. Marouf, I can't believe you were right there! I don't count this as an official introduction mind you ;)

    thanks transitiongirl, congrats on ur new blog :)

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