The busses started rolling at 6:30 AM. A very weary group of TED-xers got on board and were treated to the surreal experience of driving through a hazy sandstorm while watching Japanese boy-band videos on the bus monitor. I have no idea why they chose that as the entertainment but it made the morning feel like one strange dream.
The buses could only take us so far into the desert. I was really surprised to see about 30 new SUVs parked and waiting for us on the side of the road. We jumped into the trucks and took off out into the sand for a 20 minute thrilling ride over the dunes (gulp) and along the ocean. There were a few moments when I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to make it up the hill, but nothing stopped this caravan. Suddenly a huge campsite appeared out of the haze… we’d made it to the “Desert Day Un-Conference”.
Complete with lighting, lots of pillows, low tables and carpeting, the tents served as our meeting places and the only shade for the day. We started the day with some free time so I quickly donned my bathing suit and ran down to play some beach volleyball international-style (lots of people – no rules – plenty of laughter). What made it extra interesting is that I attempted to still play in my sarong so that my knees wouldn’t show and offend anyone. It wasn’t my best game!
After getting sandy and sweaty I ran out into the Persian Gulf and dove right in. Much warmer than Lake Michigan and saltier too, the Gulf was absolutely perfect for swimming and playing catch with an old nerf football someone had found. Too soon it was time to get out and head over to the first of the un-conference sessions.
My favorite session while in the desert was called “Dream City 2.0”. A large group of us gathered and expressed our dreams for our cities. Right after that our “Action” team had an impromptu gathering with Chris Anderson and other TED folks to get a better understanding of TEDPrize and the City 2.0 project. There’s nothing like sitting under an Arabian tent in the middle of the dessert, problem-solving and brainstorming with a group of brilliant, creative and all-around amazing people! Imagine how productive and creative I’d be if I worked like that every day.
Late in the afternoon we had more free time. I didn’t waste a minute of it. I learned how to smoke a Sisha pipe (hookah – not real tobacco plus I didn’t inhale), I participated in making the world’s largest human TEDx logo and rode a camel.
All this before dinner! As we were eating we started discussing TEDPrize and City 2.0 again and came up with a few ideas. Jenn Graham (TEDxAtlanta) and I decided to write those ideas down before we forgot them. We got comfortable on the tent floor and make it about three sentences in when I fell asleep. She quickly followed.
I guess we were quite a sight, both passed out on the tent floor with our notes around and on top of us. Luckily I heard someone ask “How long should we let them sleep” and woke up with a start. The tent had emptied and it was time to head back to the hotel! That could’ve been really bad… or more likely really funny had we slept on.
The pace is grueling but there’s so much to learn and so little time. I’m off to go and soak in some more TEDx-ness!
Speaker Host, Co-Organizer