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TEDxRamallah

So does a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star. And as mere human knowledge can split a ray of light and analyze the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsible creature on it. A Tale of Two Cities

Well, Saturday was an exhausting day at TEDxRamallah, a day to inspire and educate and share ideas. So I got up at 6am, got ready to be at the bus by 7am, to take us to Bethlehem. Of course, this being Palestine, the buses didn’t leave until close to 7:20, and stopped twice in the first half hour to pick up people who were late to the original bus lot. Then, on the way, when we were close to Bethlehem, our giant bus pulled over to the side of the road, close to a monastery and a large hill… and waited. Our bus driver got out to smoke a cigarette, of course, and there were crowds of people standing outside from other buses/vans. But we couldn’t figure out if there was something significant about the site? And of course no one on the bus knew what was going on either. So after about 15 or 20 minutes of just chilling, our bus driver got back on the bus and we continued on our way.

The event website had stated that registration would close at 9:25 and the doors would close at 9:45 sharp in order to start the event on time at 10am. We arrived at 9:30 at the beautiful Convention Palace in Bethlehem to the longest line I could have imagined! Organization is not the strongest point of events here, so there was just one line for hundreds of people to pick up their badges and event bags from the poor 4 or 5 volunteers. So we waited… and waited… And finally got our badges and bags, and then went to get coffee and find seats for the event to start… an hour late.

But once the event started, it was interesting to say the least. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – from the tedxramallah website, it stated its purpose to showcase inspiring stories of Palestine. And there was a great speaker list – Steve Sosebee, the founder and CEO of the Palestine Children Relief Fund; Alice Walker, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize; Suad Amiry, architect and founder of Riwaq and author; Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and many others. Entertainment performers included Rim al Banna, DAM, and spoken word artist Mark Gonzales.

The videos are all online and there are plenty of blogs and tweets about each act, but a few highlights: Huwaida Arraf made everyone cry, I think, as she remembered Vittorio Arrigoni, someone she personally knew and worked with, the Italian activist who was just killed in Gaza. Mohammad al Dahshan is an Egyptian who blogged about the revolution from the beginning. He encouraged us to remember, from the big picture of the revolution, that it was made up of stories from each person who decided to participate. Julia Bacha, documentary filmmaker best known for the film “Budros” about the nonviolent movement in the village named Budros in Palestine against the separation wall, gave a wonderful talk about cognitive dissonance and the importance of being aware of when new information is trying to take hold in our minds given our preconceptions. Khaled Sabawi, president of MENA Geothermal, gave an entertaining presentation on geothermal processes for heating and cooling houses. Alice Walker spoke about her ordeal at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, which is controlled by Israelis, and how she spoke to her Israeli soldier interrogator like she would to her son – “Do you know what you’re doing? This [occupation] isn’t good for you.”

It was a good day, I’m glad I went, and I hope next year’s is even better. If the goal of the event was to tell stories from Palestine or share the struggle of Palestine to the outside world, I’m not sure I would call it a success. Many of the speakers would say, “well, but you know about that already, as Palestinians, so I won’t talk about that,” whether they were speaking about the Wall, or the checkpoints, or the degradation or humiliation of the occupation… but most of the outside world who might have been streaming these videos don’t know about those things! But, I think there were inspiring stories and stories about success despite the hardship of the occupation and good ideas for the future. I wish there had been more time in between sessions or at lunch, because even though I ran into a few people I knew from outside my usual social circle, it would have been interesting to meet more people. Plus, we made our insanely large badges with our pictures and three key words for people to come talk to us about! Could have put those to good use.

Then, after the event ended an hour after it was supposed to, since it did begin an hour late, we hopped in the bus again and headed through the narrow and windy Wadi al-Nar (Valley of Fire) to get back to Ramallah, around 9:45pm. Exhausted, but having promised friends I would join to watch the Real Madrid-Barcelona game, I met some friends at a restaurant, pigged out on food because the TEDxRamallah conference food was so poor, and then sat sleepily through the game.

Not the best picture, but the only one I have from the conference!

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