Teri Orr: The storytellers, truth tellers, catalysts… | ParkRecord.com

Teri Orr: The storytellers, truth tellers, catalysts…

Sunday in the Park

By Teri Orr
Park Record columnist

We are all Africa … that much is clear now to me. After two weeks on the continent — it is not a country — I have been reminded the red dirt, the beginning of all human evolution, is embedded in all our collective souls. The time spent with fellow TED Global travelers and adventurers allowed for deep conversations and explorations about what it means to exist — anywhere on the planet. And the explosion of growth and possibilities for more than 50 countries here, is dizzying.

With no disrespect but a desire to paint a deeper picture in this small space, without direct attribution, here are snippets from speakers on the stage and around the bonfires at night.

The musician who pulled out his Ethiopian guitar "but with Fender picks," he points out the need to use music " to call back the things we have forgotten." The young writer who runs "The Center of Unintended Consequences," says eloquently, about the inequality of geography, "Talent is universal — opportunity is not."

There was the stunning internationally known transgender woman, tall-thin, in high heels and an elegant sheath with enviable hair and make-up, who proclaimed "there is a rural African child inside all this fabulosity." And we laughed and cried a little as she told her story of growing up queer in her very rural village. The need for rural children to understand their differences are OK. She called it " the indigenousness of my queerness" and she explained why that mattered.

Several speakers have talked about the commonly held belief that by 2050 the population of Africa will exceed the combination of both China and India. Let that sink in -- two and half billion people.

The graceful director of the Yerba Bueno Center for the Arts in San Francisco danced for us and spoke about how "freedom exists in our bodies — how it can incarcerate us or transport us. It can make us weight-less or grace-less." And then he danced with ghosts and shadows and beautifully messed with our minds.

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We learned the unfair irony scientists have discovered, why the rate of some cancers in Africa is disproportionately high — it may be caused by anti-malaria drugs given to children.

A female playwright creates works sparking a dialogue on global issues. Her latest piece is entitled "You, Me and the Silence." She says, "We are all expats in different fields."

A very brave young woman from a very closed society became a lawyer — now activist — founded the Digital Rights Society. She tells stories of women the world over who are not allowed to have cell phones of their own until they are married, and of the honor killings that are happening because of young women sneaking phones. It sounds too fantastical until she details the forms of online harassment that comes to women owning phones in a variety of closed cultures.

The whimsical designer tells us,  “If the world is ending, nobody will need a lawyer but they will still need pants." To save a language she has created words in Arabic from universally recognized Legos. It blows the mind how simple it is to immediately recognize color and shapes and words this way.

We have a reading from an internationally celebrated photographer whose portraits hang in the top museums in the world. He sits on stage in a bright yellow overstuffed chair with a wild wedge of hair and a jacket of many colors and as he finishes each page of his reading he tosses the page to the floor. All the while explaining the stunning slide show we are seeing on the screen. It is a kind of performance/visual/literary art and it so unexpected and wild amid the more serious predictions from other speakers of Africa's future, it refreshes us.

Several speakers have talked about the commonly held belief that by 2050 the population of Africa will exceed the combination of both China and India. Let that sink in — two and half billion people. A few us question why population control isn' t part of the dialogue. For all the challenging issues presented, why this isn't being talked about from the stage? We learn anything revolving around procreation is still simply taboo.

A charming man talks about the much photographed/ talked about dumps in Africa and why we need to see those images differently. He explains those are the places "where your data comes to die" and we see hard drives and discs and all things electric amid the refuse. In there, people have created a thriving industry repurposing all those inner parts: copper wires, aluminum, plastic and steel components. They are hacking their way into reconstituted computers and other electronic devices. The urban mining he describes shows the cycle of "make, unmake and remake."

Poor access to transport limits all growth in Africa- so a TED fellow has invented a vehicle called Möbius II — set to launch next year. It is built with the kind of suspension one needs for endless unpaved, rutted, jarring, back-realigning roads. The front looks like a kind of heavy-duty Tonka truck-meets-Range Rover. But the magic happens in the units you can choose to attach to the back — a box for passengers, a box for cargo, a box to make it an emergency vehicle. It is brilliant. And it will costs around $ 12,000 — less than half the cost of a five year old SUV in Kenya.

One of the rock stars of the conference is based back in the states, Stanford to be exact. He has created a delivery system for medical supplies right now in Rwanda — for life saving plasma and blood — to the remotest of areas by using a drone delivery service. They aspire to deliver supplies in 15-30 minutes anywhere needed. They are already saving lives, mostly of post- partum women who often bleed out and die after childbirth. I think you can find their breathtaking video at Zipline International.

At the very end of the conference a few attendees can have one minute on stage to comment about any talk. A young man who graduated Dartmouth and is now a divinity student at Harvard takes the stage. By now, we have all started learning bits about the flooding in Texas and the levels of response. The handsome man effortlessly takes the mike and says " Faith-based organizations need to open to the homeless and to voter registration and create partnerships with schools and social impact groups. And if your church isn't doing that — it isn't really faith-based." We are cheering and crying and smelling the smoke from the bonfire and realizing change in the world starts with change in ourselves. Everywhere on the planet. Every Sunday in any park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

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