Kish island, an Iranian resort off the south coast, is a Free Trade Zone, no visa required, for anyone. Most people here in UAE know this as they conduct regular visa runs (Filipinos working in Dubai especially) to the island. “Don’t go to Kish, it’s not Iran!” Iranians here will tell you. A quick look at travel guides show a sleepy tourism trade and some gorgeous coastline that once hosted pearl-producing oysters whose treasures once adorned the necks of queens. What else goes on there? Ranked in the world’s 10 most beautiful islands by The New York Times in 2010, it can’t be that bad, surely, people of Dubai? The people’s history tends to disagree: “After the Islamic Revolution, Kish Island became a duty-free shopping centre” someone has surreptitiously loaded as fact on Wikipedia. It also lists a 1943 Greek shipwrecked as its top tourist attraction. Not looking good. However Muslims and Christians co-exist peacefully here and the island has a rich history, including a city below ground, diving schools borne out of early pearl diving traditions and cycle paths across the entire landscape. The problem is that due to sanctions most tour operators don’t recognise it as a flight destination, although from Dubai daily flights are £100 and a car ferry takes 4 hours.
However, in the light of what when on there this month at the Kish International Convention Center, none of this history, commerce or politics seems to matter.
TED talks are at the forefront of our evolutionary frontier, i.e. they are what gives humans today something they can honestly be proud of. Kish’s TEDx was “A Framework for Creativity or Design Thinking: The Art of Continuous Experimentation.“
One speaker was American Rick Gunn, relating a story of how he always dreamed of cycling around the world, and spent months cycling in the coldest cities on the planet, which he says tangentially taught him “the power of love”. On his travels (travel seems to be big topic in this conference) he met Mohammad, an Iranian and kindred spirit. They crossed Malaysia together on bikes. Mohammad also spoke on stage about his project “Wheels of peace”. “The first sign of peace is between these two countries Iran and U.S.” cites the TEDx conference on social media, followed by this “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend” Martin Luther King. This is not a whimsical idea.
Their project, Wheels of Peace, begins with each of them visiting schools in each respective country and sharing their experiences of finding friendship with someone who might otherwise be considered an enemy. The children will write letters to students in the other country. For those of us who had pen pals as kids, pre-internet, we know the power of writing and posting and receiving and reading another kids thoughts and sketches.
TEDxKish decided another way to show the love was to give free places to Iranians coming from Iran and offer an innovation prize of cash, sponsoring and mentoring “Our goal is to unleash the exceptional array of Iranian talent and to celebrate the innovative spirit of Iranians.” Innovators, travellers, writers, Iranian sportswomen even an avalanche amputee survivor exchanged ideas. Shame they didn’t record any of it, they would have shared it further, there are plenty of TEDx talks with Persian subtitles, but perhaps when it comes to sharing personal stories, what happens in Kish should perhaps remain in Kish.