Postcards from TEDActive 2012

Areej Mehdi is the organizer of TEDxKinnaird in Lahore, Pakistan. She has held several TEDxWomen events, and hopes to continue “mentoring more Pakistani young women towards curating a peaceful Pakistan in their own little way.”  This is her account of TEDActive 2012 in all its global glory.

We all ask stupid questions, let’s be honest about that. If you allow, I’ll add another question to this ever-growing list, and that is: How was your experience at TEDActive?

From the outset it appears to be an extremely harmless question. But when you ask a recent TED attendee the same question, there can only be two responses. Either you raise an eyebrow in a way that says, “like you’d understand,” or you dunk your description in at least five of these words: awesome, wonderful, amazing, exciting, thrilling, gorgeous, breathtaking, overwhelming, marvelous, remarkable.

And while I fall in the first category, I will attempt to delineate my experience in terms of images, because that’s how I work best. This is a shout out to the larger than life South Koreans I met; Egyptian friends who wondered at my love for trains; TED translators with their kick-butt skills; sitting next to strangers and sharing a good laugh at the antics of TED speakers on stage; brushing away tears at a moving TEDTalk while pretending to have something in your eyes; queuing outside the venue to scramble for the best seats; learning and forgetting names; the various TEDActive projects; picnic luncheons and late-night dinners; fireside discussions and coming up with random ramblings to change the world; learning to say hello in seven different tongues; getting lost while making way to the Grand Ballroom; waking up in the middle of the night to scribble down a favourite quote in the Full Spectrum program guide (I know I’m not the only one who did that).

More than anything, being at TEDActive allowed me to meet up with “the crazies and the misfits” –- you guessed it -– TEDx organizers. The sense of rejuvenation that I felt as I came across the hard work and effort so many people are putting in to their TEDx events all over the world is humbling and awe-inspiring to say the least. It is perhaps, only at TEDActive that you can be inspired all ‘round the clock—an entire five days. To my fellow TEDx organizers, here is an invisible toast to you all!

My TEDActive journey has been fraught with a good number of thorns, but look what came out of it. As I gear up to bring the TEDActive experience and the lessons I learned back to my community, I can’t forget the support of Lara Stein and her extraordinary team as well as The Gates Foundation, who made it possible for me to become a part of TEDActive as a Gates Grant recipient. In retrospect, it’s easier to infuse humor in how I choose to see these past three years: I’ve seen the TEDx movement grow since 2009, and feel like a proud parent who is both apprehensive and excited. For now, I think I’ll side with excited and let it work from there on.

Dispelling notions of the attitudes towards a single Pakistani girl in a foreign land, the support from my community has been more than I could have asked for. Apart from the occasionally delivered, “I’m so jealous,” exclamations, the goodwill messages pouring in from all over the country have been surreal. To be honest, I never knew all it would take for so many people to be proud of me was a visit to the United States. Jokes aside, I am looking forward to the chance of mentoring more Pakistani young women towards curating a peaceful Pakistan in their own little way. Us girls are a formidable force, especially when we are activaTED.

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