The morning started as the attendees from all over Baghdad started gathering around the Green Zone’s entrance that’s leading to Al Rasheed Hotel,then, after a routine process of checking in which went as smooth as possible, the guests swarmed around the main entrance and waiting areas inside the hotel, patiently waiting to receive their badges and sign up. At around 10 am, the hotel lobbies were filled with people. Volunteers were seen in every corner, each assigned to a specific task and at a specific location in order to guarantee that everything was going as planned. They’d been working and planning and practicing for this very moment weeks and weeks ahead, wherever one turns, there was one of them eagerly greeting the guests and was ready to help them in anyway they can.

Volunteers were also present at the sign up table, carefully examining lists of guests’ names and rallying them up in lines while making sure that the process was going smoothly and without any errors. Then, when the event was about to kick off, they started ushering attendees to the great hall in order for them to be seated in the audience chairs in front of the big theater. The great hall was decorated with beautiful paintings, one of which was a big canvas depicting images representing Iraqi cultural artifacts and historic symbols, old and modern, it was surrounded by pictures of the Arab World flags clustered together in union. Sophisticated filming machinery and technical professionals were filling the hall, intent on carrying out the job correctly in order to capture every moment of the event and send it out to be watched by millions of viewers worldwide through the live broadcast on, which was a task assigned to TEDxBaghdad’s social media team, who were taking post up in the monitoring cabins above the hall, accompanied by instant interpreters, that later on, had to improvise due to changes in some of the speakers’ scripts which took place one night prior to the event and during its morning. Ibraheem and Noor, volunteers from the social media team, expressed their mixed feelings of both excitement and anxiety for the start of the event that they’ve been looking forward to for so long, they had the task of organizing interviews carried out by different TV stations that came to cover the event.

At 10:40, the event started as the two presenters took the stage and gave a warm welcome to the musician Duraid Ahmed who, despite his disability, played the national anthem on the organ piano beautifully and received a round of applause. The event’s inauguration speech was given by chairman and director of TEDxBaghdad, Yahay Al-Abdaly.

“We broke the impossible last year, we continue on this year with as much excitement as ever with great speakers and performers, those of whom were the blossoms of hardships and bad times, yet they persist and penetrate obstacles in the hope of a better tomorrow.”, said Al-Abdaly.

Then, Ali Mehsen Al-Alaq, secretary general of the Cabinet of Ministers, delivered a message from the prime minister of the Republic of Iraq, Noori Al Maliki, congratulating the great efforts of everyone who worked to make this day happen, he started it by reciting to the audience a memory of his own, a story about a man he used to know, a scientist who was imprisoned, seeking knowledge had been his only crime, and even in prison, he survived and thrived due to his persistence and belief in the mind’s ability to prosper and in the power of imagination to take over and live on, even in the darkest of places. He made rosary beads out of bread and water, and gave them away to other inmates so as they would not lose hope.

” This day captures the essence of what that man lived for and fought for.”, said Al-Alaq.

At 11 o’clock, The event’s 1st speaker, Martin Kobler, the special representative of the United Nations’ Assistance Mission to Iraq, took over the stage and asked the audience an important question:

“What are your dreams for the future of Iraq?”

He had asked this question 6 years ago to the Iraqi people in a published paper called “Iraqi Horizons”.

“Looking at it now we can see that some dreams have become real, but some have not. If we ask this question again what would be the answer?”, inquired Kobler.

He explored the possibilities of what the basis of this dream should be, such as “a green, rich & democratic country”, but then summarized it in two concepts: “Tolerance and Dialogue”.

“Tolerance hurts, but it must be accepted despite disagreed”, he said.

He spoke of a personal experience with his son, and how he, as a father, taught his son how to be tolerant.

“Nothing is hopeless, so long as one has hope then everything is possible, the dream for future of Iraq is in the hand of its youth.”, he stated.

Kobler giving his speech at TEDxBaghdad 2012 stage

Ghaith Salih, a self taught photographer, took the stage next. He had only practiced photography for 3 years and had already won a National Geographic award for photographic works. He had once bought photography equipment that he thought were useless since they didn’t really work for digital cameras, later on, he thought he should explore what potential possibilities for which he can use those equipment. Somehow, he managed to incorporate the elements of these old lenses into the new cameras’ systems and came out with a new imaging technique that allowed normal cameras to be used almost as a microscope, capturing astonishing photographs of spiders, flowers and the human eye with high power, all of which he demonstrated to the amazed audience . He kept experimenting with different types of lenses, until he came up with the perfect combination of lenses, with which he could photograph the head of an ant with an immense amount of detail.

Saif Nabeel, an artist and an attendee, thought that Ghaith’s presentation was great because he summed it up in a few words. Hala, a medical student who also was an attendee, thought his idea was inspiring because he had experimented with an old concept and managed to make a whole new one by adding a twist to the outdated concept, while Abdulrahman, a 10 year old 5th grader enjoyed this idea because it is fresh, and because it started out little, then became something great.

Harith Khlaif, an architect, started his speech with a simple mind game, what goes into one’s mind when they hear the word “Paris”, and in contrast, what happens if the word is replaced with “Baghdad” instead.

“Why is it that at first we have a clear image of what to imagine, while in the latter, an inconspicuous blur of an image comes to mind?”, asked Khalif.

He thinks the answer lies not in lack of cultural significance of the city’s places, but rather, the dissemination of such places amongst old and dying out buildings which bear no historical significance. He proposes a solution to this by unearthing the historical symbolic areas and letting them be the architectural icons of our beloved city.

The last performer to come to stage at the end of the first session was the singer and songwriter Mandy Dhiab. Mandy’s talent and love for music did not come as a surprise, she grew up in a home that cherishes music and has a father that had always been supportive and encouraging of her through every steps of the way. Together they had built their own little studio in which she records the songs she covers and the songs she writes. Mandy plays the acoustic guitar and the piano. She had been on stage and TV multiple times before, but that day, she was very excited and nervous because it is her first time performing in front of such large a crowd, and especially because the performance was taking place, in no other than, her own homeland. She kicked off her performance with a song written especially for this day, a song which carried a beautiful message within it’s lyrics:

“You should know who you are, you should know what you want, All you have to do is believe in your dreams.”

The second song was called “beeny w beenak” (Between you and me), a song which was also written by herself and was dedicated to her loving fans. Her melodic voice combined with the soft sound produced by the guitar’s strings, evoked goose bumps in the crowd, she received a huge round of applause, was very glad about her performance and was most anxious about her fans’ reactions.

After the event’s one hour coffee break had ended, the attendees were either guided or escorted back to the hall where the conference’s activities were taking place by TEDxBaghdad’s volunteers.

There were roughly couple of dozen chairs placed on the stage in preparation for the event’s third musical performance of the day. The members of Baghdad’s youth orchestra began boarding the stage, brought along with them, were their musical instruments. The Maestro had been the last one to board the stage, he stood before the orchestra and shortly afterwards, music was played as he began waving his baton to conduct the performance, later on an enthralling combined musical and vocal performance of the inveterate Arabic song “lama bada yatathana”, whose lyrics had been written in paschal Arabic. The voice of the young vocalist that had undertaken the burden of singing such a difficult song can only be described as soothing, yet powerful. She had infatuated the audience with her voice ensuing an infallible vocal performance.

Finally, after they’d received a standing ovation from TEDxBaghdad’s audience, the orchestra left the stage.

Later on, the presenters hosted on stage Mr.Yahay Al-Abdali, chairman of TEDxBaghdad. He made several statements about the role that TEDxAmsterdam had played in terms of being his initial motivation to attempt holding a TEDx event in Baghdad several years ago.

“A few years ago, I had been an attendee of TEDxAmsterdam, much like how you’re attendees of TEDxBaghdad this very day. I was inspired to hold an event here after I’d seen a man reciting poetry verses about Baghdad on TEDxAmsterdam’s platform, I was so fascinated by what he had said that I had to speak to him after the event had concluded, he spoke to me of his profound love for the city and how he’d wanted to pursue an education right here in Baghdad a few years back. Upon hearing what he’d said,  the idea of holding a TEDx event here in the capital of Iraq, came to my mind for the 1st time.”, stated Al-Abdaly.

He’d also remarked on the enormous success which TEDxBaghdad had turned out to be last year while disclosing his sentiments of hope that this year’s event’s success, much like the turn up, would exceed last year’s.

“Last year, people that resided in a total of 19 different countries had tuned in to watch our event’s broadcast on it’s livestream channel, this year, we’re anxiously waiting to find out how many people have joined us over the internet, which shall be declared after the event concludes.”, he added.

Then, it was time for the 2nd session’s 1st speaker, Rayan Abdullah talked about his fascination with calligraphy, a fascination which had lead him to become a landmark in the world of corporate design, he shared with the audience the criteria on which he relies during the process of constructing new fonts.

“Order, beauty and practicality are the norms that form the basis on which the framework of a conspicuous and readable font is constructed.”, he elaborated.

He also elucidated the strategies that he had relied on when he created fonts and logos that were adopted by globally well-known and leading companies such as Nokia, Audi, Ubunto…etc . For instance, when thinking economically, space between typed letters must be reduced and he’d accomplished that by methods like putting the dots of the Arabic letters one over another in a linear manner, instead of the usual side by side arrangement. he’d also attempted to hybridize the way Arabic letters are written by  interbreeding them with Latin letters, and finally, when he created a font that’s implemented by the banks of England, the font was embellished with a tinge of elegance that suits the purpose to which it’s been created.

Then, the 2nd session’s 2nd speaker followed. Jaffar Maki is a doctor that had once dreamed of becoming an engineer, he had laid aside his plans of studying engineering once was admitted to medical school. He shared with the audience a story from his past which had helped in defining the person he’s become and had inspired him to combine his knowledge in both medical and engineering fields to create a contraption that is of great help to society.

“During my third year in medical school, I watched in awe as a bus driver accidentally ran over a girl while backing his vehicle, the young lady’s life was cut short by the incidence.”, recalled Maki.

He mentioned that the thought of creating an electronic cane, for which he had received a patent back in 2007, came to him as he wondered about how difficult it must be for someone that has lost the gift of sight to carry on doing his everyday activities while managing to stay clear of harm’s way.

“I have decided to combine what I’ve learned from the medical field along with my love for engineering to create 5 contraptions which aid people that are suffering from a physical disability in living an easier life, I’m completely aware of the fact that for some of them, it’s more emotionally difficult to reckon on other people’s help than to have the disability itself.”, he declared.

We’ve met with Jaffar Maki during the event’s lunch break and he had the following to say about his TEDxBaghdad talk:

“I’ve never taken pride of anything that I’ve done more than creating the electronic cane, not only has it changed the lives of many, but it’s also made of simple low-cost material which makes it affordable for any average Iraqi citizen.”, he remarked.

The next talk, was of the brilliant Iraqi musician and Maestro Karim Wasfi, the founder of “Peace Through Arts” center, which had taken the initiative of teaching Iraqi orphans how to play classical music. Wasfi explained the reason behind this innovative endeavor by stating:

“Society’s perception of an orphan is somewhat skewed, an orphan is not a human being who’s lost either one or both of his parents, I’d define an orphan as someone who’s rather, lacking the will to live.”

After meeting Karim Wasfi during the lunch break, he added that the children which his initiative had undertaken and is teaching the art of playing musical instruments to, were perceived as pests by society, roaming the streets of Baghdad either begging or working jobs that can be described as unsuitable for their age, instead of going to school. He had mentioned during his TEDxBaghdad talk that he perceives  those children as the leaders of tomorrow, and that we must pay attention to the way they’re brought up, for they will lead us to an either bright or dim future. Wasfi also quoted Alexander Dumas saying:

“All for one and one for all”.

Three young children boarded the stage during his talk, each holding a musical instrument, they played music taught to them by Mr.Wasfi, including Frère Jacques and the Iraqi National Anthem.

Wasfi also had the following to say about his TEDxBaghdad talk on the interview we’ve conducted with him during the event’s lunch break:

“Should the rest of the world ever doubt the concept of hope, then there’s work to be done for people like me, people should doubt the principle of doubt. We must reach a state where a human being is able to collaborate with the other members in his community successfully and effectively, it has been extremely easy for me to form a connection with today’s audience, for they possess a very powerful positive energy.”

Sheima Qammar’s talk followed, as peacemaker, she talked about the major life experience which lead her to become a so called “peacemaker”, and the importance that volunteerism brings to a fully functional society. As an Iraqi refugee taking asylum in Sweden a few years ago, she expounded the difficulties which Iraqi refugees are bound to face in foreign countries.

“A feeling of disparity consumes a refugee, we feel that we’re culturally retarded, our education is considered insufficient, we even look different and consequently, we feel dissonant from our peers that have lived their entire lives in this community which we perceive as new and foreign.”, said Qammar.

She emphasized the importance of having everyone contribute to their community by taking part in volunteer work.

“Volunteerism has changed me from a negative person, that’s a burden on society to a positive one, that contributes to building a better society.”, she declared.

She also remarked that volunteering to help the world’s different communities requires neither an immense fortune nor a great deal of effort, and that it’s highly requisite in developing the citizens’ patriotic sense.

“Most people believe that teaching children to recite patriotic psalms in preschool helps them develop a love for their country, I say that getting people to be involved in their society is what nurtures that love.”, she said.

Mahdie Al-Mualim was the next speaker, he boarded the stage holding a candle in his right hand.

“Painting has always fascinated me, I remember, long ago, a friend gave me a palette as a gift, a palette with no brush and I couldn’t find the one I needed for it on the market back then, I sought other people’s assistance to help me obtain one by any means, I ended up borrowing one from a friend. The brush which came to my possession had a broken handle and it’s bristles were stiffly dry, and yet, the happiness which I had felt after I obtained it cannot be described in words.”, said Al-Mualim.

He said that during his third year at the academy of arts, he had discovered that he had been suffering from cancer, an illness which he had decided to conceal from his own mother in attempt to spare her the pain of watching him suffer. His doctor had informed him that his disease can be cured by undergoing surgery to extract the tumor, combined with chemotherapy. The doctor also warned him about the effects of the therapy which would induce hair and weight loss, effects that he must manage to hide well lest his mother discerns them. He claimed that he’d managed to so by shaving his hair bald and eating 6 meals a day while telling people that he was on a diet to loose weight.

One day, a relative came to him weeping and said “I’m afraid that I might loose you.”

“If you do loose me, then you’ll be loosing a single person that’s dear to you, however, when I die, I shall loose everyone who’s dear to me, including my dearest mother.”, he replied back.

The year was 2007, he used to go visit the forensic medicine institute in Baghdad, he stated that due to the decline which the country was suffering from back then, he’d witnessed trucks loaded with dead bodies of people from all age groups arrive at the institute, sometimes, carrying severed limbs of an unknown source. Upon seeing the ill-fated people whose lives had been cut short abruptly and with no prior alarm, while they’d done nothing wrong, the question of “Why me?” which had used to puzzle him a great deal during his sleepless nights, had seemed to vanish from his mind.

Although he’d accepted the fact that he was doomed to die, he went back to the academy of arts and completed his 3rd and final year as a student there, he graduated and obtained a college diploma despite being completely and utterly convinced that it will be of no use to him. One day, one of his professors came to visit him as he was being treated in the hospital, after he’d left, Mahdie Al-Mualim overheard the professor speaking to someone in the hospital’s hallway, saying that in the short course of his life, he hadn’t accomplished anything and that when he dies, his mother wouldn’t be able to benefit from anything that he’d left her, his painting don’t amount to anything.

After having heard that, depression took over him, and in a moment of severe desperation, he lit a candle and started burning all his drawings. His heart, mixed with feelings of disappointment, hatred and grief, had wished that he could find a way to start all over again, this time, creating something different that world had never seen before. He noticed the shapes which the smoke, rising from the candle, drew on the papers he was burning, and thought that it would be completely innovative to try drawing using smoke.

“I had decided to start over, this time, using the smoke as my paintbrush. Smoke is very much like wild horses, which everyone believes that no one can tame, I’d decided that I was going to endeavor taming it and I was successful. I’ve came up with a brand new approach to the art of painting, and have received a certificate of creativity in 2012 for my innovation.”, he said.

To an emotionally overwhelmed crowd, Mahdi Al-Mualim lit the candle before descending off the stage.

A musical performance of two professional and highly skilled musicians, Sarmad and Ahmed, on the guitar followed. Then, it was time for the conference’s second lunch break.

During the lunch break, some of the attendee’s we’re congregating around a painting of the world’s map done by Saif Nabil, they were dipping their hands in different colors of paint and imprinting their palms over the painting. Saif Nabil explained to us the idea behind the painting:

“I think that it’s an unusual yet a brilliant idea, to have our attendees leave the imprint of the palms of their hands on the world’s map at this time and in this place, “leaving one’s impression in the world” is a metaphor that best describes the concept behind what we’re doing, and as you can see, they’re not allowed to write anything, they’re only allowed to make an impression.”

In a booth across the corridor from the hall’s entrances, stood a couple of TEDxBaghdad volunteers, handing out pamphlets and booklets to the attendees which promote exchange programs sponsored by the US embassy in Baghdad and are usually conducted during the summer. One of them, who’s been with TEDxBaghdad from the very beginning, had the following to say about the event and it’s creator, Yahay Al-Abdaly:

“I’ve known about TED before the TEDxBaghdad project was pitched, a friend of mine had participated in a TEDx event held in the United States a couple of years ago, shortly afterwards, I heard that someone named Yahay Al-Abdaly had obtained a license to organize a TEDx event here in Baghdad, I obtained his phone number, called him and asked him to tell me all about TEDxBaghdad. He was excessively welcoming and very informative, he mentioned that he was looking for volunteers to help him out and so, I decided to become a part of the initiative.”

He also commented on this year’s event stating that it was more well organized than the one held last year.

“It’s a good thing that we’ve learned from our mistakes, everything was better executed this year, the lighting, audio and visual means of presentation…etc. Organizing for the event was more time consuming last year, since we had no experience what so ever pertaining to how to organize an event of this magnitude.”

Suhad Al-Fartousi, co-organiser and project director at TEDxBaghdad said the following about TEDxBgahdad 2012:

“It’s simply perfect, everything went as smooth as possible. Of course, as the event’s co-founder, I will always strive to make it even better.”

The event’s 3rd session commenced with Matteo Montavani’s talk, an environmentalist who’s talk revolved around the drastic pollution which Iraq is suffering from and is gravely neglected or rather, ignored by both the Iraqi people and the country’s esteemed government. He’d started with listing the key sources of pollution which he’d identified as the chief emitters of Methane and Carbon Dioxide, his short list was topped by oil refineries, which he condemned for being a malevolent corruptor of the environment, the second cause he’d stated was the methods that were used to dispose of garbage in Iraq, as it is more often burned than recycled, which is considered an inadequate means of disposal. Later, he went on to mention what the audience, as citizens of the aforementioned county, can do to help the ongoing damage that’s being inflicted upon the environment in Iraq:

“Raising your voice and demanding the government to pay more attention to the harm that the environment is constantly undergoing, just might help in reducing it, you can also use public transportation as an alternative to using private cars for transport purposes, which will reduce the amount of harmful gases arising from vehicles, turning off lights around your homes in areas that you’re not occupying will reduce heat emissions from those lights.”, said Montavani.

Sammar Fadhil, also known as “the people’s choice” followed, she was selected amongst dozens of applicants that had all auditioned to become speakers at the event.

She shared with the audience a story from her past, which inspired her talk. During her senior year in highschool, a friend of hers had suffered from a loss of an immediate family member, which had affected her emotional status during that critical phase of her life, Sammar, being a close friend of the girl’s, had aided the girl with her studies. And so, along with the help and support the girl had received from her friends and teachers, she ended up acing the final examinations, successfully graduating highschool, and got admitted into a good college. The events which had taken place that year also coincided with the 1st time that Sammar had watched the film “Pay it forward”, a Hollywood production whose plot revolves around a child that comes up with an idea to change the world by helping 3 people and asking them each, in return, to help 3 other people themselves, consequently, a good-will movement is launched all over the world. She pitched the idea of executing the film’s plot in reality.

“It’s easy, for instance, when you see an old man on the streets holding a heavy bag of groceries, help him out!.”, she said.

Duraid Ahmed, who played, on the organ, the National Anthem at the inauguration of the event, had also given a second performance that day. An original song, the lyrics to which were written by himself in both Arabic and English. The song’s lyrics were a message from the artist to the Iraqi citizen, intended to uplift his spirits, remind him that all encumbrances which attempt to impede his march towards glory are only impermanent and that, as a human being, an Iraqi should never cease attempting to overcome them. His voice was warm, yet possessed a melancholic tinge (That very much suited the harmonies produced by the organ.), which gave the performance profoundness and made its message, almost effortlessly, communicable to the audience.

Mustafa Khalid followed, he’d managed to build a robot which dismantles explosives. Being the young man that he is, he stated that great minds are not measured by their owners’ ages, but by the extent of their vision and creativity. Before he built the robot, he’d calculated his chances of succeeding and had seen in his mind’s eye that the success of his endeavor was highly possible, for the parts from which the robot is built are affordable, available in the market and could be easily assembled (by himself and his team of experts). He’d provided his robot with a high definition camera, wheels that are similar to that of a tank and the ability to be controlled within a range of 1600 meters, all of which costs approximately 5% the price of robots that are similar to it in function. He also mentioned that the parts from which the robot was built were assembled at the campus of the University of Technology in Baghdad.

Later, it was time for Mohammed Maan Zakaria’s talk, a native of Mosul, a city located to the north of Baghdad, he spoke about the movement of cleaning up Mosul which he, along with his friends, had campaigned for and had taken part of several months ago. He said that the idea came to him after one of his friends had commented on the city’s deteriorated neatness by saying (With the distinct accent which Mosul’s indigenous inhabitants are known for.) “There’s no fixing it”, meaning that he’d believed that it cannot be ameliorated by any means. After Zakaria heard what his friend had told him, he decided that he should attempt to get the people of the town to participate in getting the city back to it’s beautiful previous state by removing all the garbage that was thrown onto the streets’ floors rather than inside garbage disposals.

He’d launched a page on Facebook calling out to the people of Mosul, the page was entitled “Let’s clean Mosul (Seriously!)”, and within less than 1 week, over a thousand people had liked the page. His campaign for cleaning Mosul which he’d promoted for via Facebook has resulted in the collaboration of all the city’s residents in attempt to clean their beloved city themselves. He’d set the date for the people to step out of their homes to clean the city, and when the day came, he went out with his friends to participate in the initiative which he had taken and was surprised by the turn up he’s encountered from the city’s responsive citizens that had also went out to help him clean their hometown.

Karam Turki, through a very intricate and time consuming process, had produced a 3D animated motion picture, the 1st of it’s kind to be produced in Iraq. The plot of the film had been derived from the epic epopee “Gilgamish”, one of the earliest stories written by man and a marvelous example of the ancient Mesopotamian literature and culture. The film’s plot had been simplified, of course, in order to be suitable for an audience of young children. He’d mentioned how extremely complex a process it was for him to direct a 3D animated feature.

” Over 100 processors had to work simultaneously in order to render a single image, we also had to be cautious about any obstacles that we had faced along the way, power outages are a perfectly good example.”, said Turki.

The event was concluded with a collaboration between two musicians, Sarmad, who played the guitar, with Mustafa Zayer, who played the Oud.

Finally, TEDxBaghdad Chairman, Yahay Al-Abdaly gave a closing speech, thanking the audience for their attendance, the people who’d watched the broadcast of the event on it’s channel for tuning in, and last but not least, the speakers, for their innovative and creative ideas which had earnestly earned the privilege to be spread on TEDxBaghdad’s platform, wishing them all the best of luck and hoping that they’ll meet again on TEDxBaghdad’s 2013’s event.

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