Sep 17, 2012

Free Hugs in TEDxBeirut Salon

My presence at the salon was originally to volunteer with the team members to record the salon on video throughout its duration. It was usually in such cases, numerous cases, where I'd put all my concentration in framing my footage and taking the best shot, as much as possible, which obviously stands in the way of grasping the freshness of the location, the sparkling falls of colors among the visitors and the props around the set, thus eventually limiting my presence over there to an inside observer much more than a normal visitor. This time, it was not the case.

Courtesy of Nadim Kamel, TEDxBeirut Team
Ever since the first of July, I've been carrying around the most wonderful activism project, the child of a long story, as long as my own year count. I could never imagine we'd become more than 200 supporters of the cause, and more than 4 dozens of people physically present at the Free Hugs Flashmobs we do every other week, holding their signs, withstanding the humidity and the fatigue after 2+ hours of non-stop action. I hid that sparkling secret behind my back at the TEDxBeirut Salon in Zouk, never expecting to put it unto bright light as happened later that night.
Courtesy of Patrick Abi Salloum, TEDxBeirut Team
The salon began exactly as announced earlier, and the curator Patricia started with the usual introduction of the TEDx and a brief sum-up of what this Salon's theme is. A note on the side though, not only did I hear it from one of the team members, but I actually saw it with my bare eyes: Patricia's effort weighs as much as all the other member's efforts, added together. I saw the enthusiasm this young woman has to such an important gathering. I saw the way she insists on rehearsing her speech and maintaining order at the preparations, altogether while checking the setup of the trashbags and making sure there were two distinct colors, and of course being always ready to answer whatever question any volunteer or member needs to ask. She must've been a true warrior in a previous life. Having spoken about the organizer of course leads me to mentioning the more-than-wonderful team of volunteers every organizer would dream to have. The punctuality, the organization, the serenity and the joy the are blessed with even though they're preparing an event that would welcome more than 200 visitors.
Courtesy of Patrick Abi Salloum, TEDxBeirut Team
The theme for tonight's salon was "Heroes", especially those whom no one speaks of. It was time to uncover some real human heroic projects and initiatives, among which outstood the "Donner Sang Compter" initiative by Yorgui Teyrouz, and two other recorded TED talks. The moment had come and Patricia opened the door for visitors to tell their own individual heroic stories and the great decision that was taken based upon that story. I can't deny the Free Hugs activity jumped off to my mind right away, but it was my job there that should've taken all of the attention available to make it work and finish what I promised I'd do. But, as soon as the audience started to elaborate about their experiences, the Free Hugs became inevitable. Microphone in hand, permission granted, here we go:

Photo taken by Zeina Awaydat, audience
"My story briefly goes like this: I've never received any hug my entire life. For 25 consecutive years, I hadn't had any hug ever, but this fact remained true until last year (audience goes "awwww" and two gorgeous hugs were then received from Reem and Patrick, while the applauds escalated in the background). During last year's summer, I was, for the first time in my life, telling my burdens and the daily problems to someone who was not related to me, nor did she ever have anything to do with me being happy or not. That's when I got my first hug, and it felt like HEAVEN. It was like, all my problems just gotten away, and now I can share the virtual load and take it off my shoulders for an instant. That was last year. A few months back, right in the middle of May 2012, I received a message from my friend, with a video link inside. The video was surprisingly that of the Free Hugs campaign in Sydney, by Juan Mann. And the sparkle just burst out! It has become clear to me now: Why not start our own free hugs in Lebanon? In the blink of an eye Bilal went and launched the Facebook event for the first Free Hugs flashmob in Beirut, right in the middle of May, dated in the first of July. People in big numbers signed up already and pressed the "Going" button, but when the 1st of July came, there were only 7 of us. I knew the others were only supportive, and needed only the push, they needed to see it succeeding on the ground. So, we started out two persons, and now we're more than 200 free huggers, 50 of which have already been there in one of our flashmobs. Today we mark our 6th flashmob, where we've already been to Hamra, Beirut souks, Jbeil, Ashrafiyyeh and soon to be in Gemmayzeh. And finally, when someone asks us about the reason behind us hugging strangers, and we get that a lot, I used to give away superficial answers because words truly weren't up to the true expression, but just lately, I discovered my perfect answer which's gonna be "Just look at that smile on your face and you'll know why". Thank you everyone"

If that exact incident wasn't a life-changing moment, I then have no clue what else to call it. Thank you beautiful TEDxBeirut team, especially Patricia for her efforts and for what I've been hearing about her work. 

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