Sunday, 28 October 2018


What a crazy week. After a couple of months of rehearsing at home, it was finally time to head off to Luxembourg to give my TEDx talk on informal v. formal education.

I left around 8 p.m. on 22nd October, arriving in Luxembourg around 10 a.m. the following day, after a quick change at Schiphol. Thankfully, it was the same time zone, so I wasn't battling jet lag like a couple of the other speakers. My lovely friend Harris, who got me into all of this in the first place, arranged for his friend, Shilton, to collect me from the airport and take me to the hotel in Esch-sur-Alzette.

Shilton is from Albania. He very kindly brought a warm coat and a large bottle of Albanian hooch. So, by 11 a.m. we were driving down the motorway, me with a mouthful of honey mead fortified with rakija. It certainly kept the chill away.

Talking of chill, I don't actually own a coat. I very rarely leave Africa, and when I do, I'm usually met by family at the airport with something warm. When I arrived in Luxembourg, it was 4c and I could see my own breath. I was torn, because I was cold, but didn't really see the point in buying a coat that I would only wear for a week. I went for a wander up the high street and couldn't find anything I liked for a price I could afford, so vowed to remain wrapped up in the bundle of shawls I'd brought with me. This is what helped me survive.

Ham and cheese croissant, pistachio bun and hot chocolate.

Esch-sur-Alzette Heigh Street
I had a bit of a nail incident on the plane. I'd allowed my nails to grow long for the talk, then one broke really badly, very close to the finger. Luckily, there was a nail parlour right next door to the hotel and a lovely Vietnamese woman magically made it all better. Can you tell which one is plastic?

There was also an orthopaedic shop on the high street, selling ankle supports for buggered Achilles tendons. So, all in all, Esch was a useful place to be stationed.

Harris was jetting off to Kazakhstan for a WHO conference (not to be confused with a Who concert), but we had time for one meal before he left. I managed to stumble across a gorgeous little Lebanese place called Hotel Le Cedre, which did a huge spread of dishes and proper Lebanese coffee.

Then there was just time to take Schindler's lift back to my room and soak myself in a long, hot bath before bed.

The next morning, I had a leisurely breakfast before hopping the train one stop to Belval campus, where the talk was taking place, and where our dress rehearsal was scheduled to begin at noon.

Belval is a really strange place. Impressive on an industrial scale, as it was built on top of an old steelworks.  



Caught between steampunk and Mordor. Visually impressive but, as someone pointed out, there are no green spaces for students.

We were in the Maison du Savoir building, in an auditorium that looked a lot like the one we would be using on the day, but green rather than red. It was a long day - a full run-through of speakers, performers and timing. Started with a warm-up around 12 p.m. and finished up at 7:45.

MC Phil

My dress run-through didn't go swimmingly. At one point I forgot a line and may have said 'shit'. This was the first time I'd ever given the talk in front of anyone, so it was a bit nerve-racking. Everyone made it through though, and we headed out to a very nice restaurant for food.

Shrimp Gnocchi

Tanja & Chris
It was a long day, but the atmosphere was so incredibly supportive and it didn't take long for me to find people with the same sort of crazy. Many of the speakers had already met at the previous rehearsal on 8th October, but others like myself and Chris - who flew in from America - were meeting everyone for the first time. Such a diverse group of people talking about such different topics.

The next morning was a free period. The hotel didn't provide a laundry service, so they sent me up the high street to a dry cleaner. They charged a fortune, but promised my clothes would be delivered to the hotel the next morning. 

From there, I hopped a train to Luxembourg. There's a lot of street art around the city, and the autumn colours were really starting to show. They also have those wonderful European double-decker trains where you can sit upstairs.

It didn't take long to get to Luxembourg, but when I arrived, I couldn't find Tourist Information. I followed the sign, but ended up in a ticket office where the woman's response to "Hello, is this Tourist Information?" was a curt, "No, here's a map of the city," before turning away.

I wandered a couple of blocks with the map, but my leg was really starting to ache and it was very cold, so eventually I turned back, opting instead to head to Belval for a burger before my one-on-one coaching session. People say the old part of the town is nice, so perhaps I'll go back sometime when Harris can give me the guided tour. If it is very beautiful, it's well hidden. Everything else looks fairly industrial, although there were some pretty, misty forests flying in from the air.

The one-on-one coaching session was really just a last chance to go through the talk. Mine was with Jan, who was the main organiser. He was very encouraging, although I did miss a line again. Frustrating. I do a lot of training with adults, and usually I'm fine talking in front of people, but the problem with TED is that you know you're not only talking in front of people, but you're being recorded for all of time. This adds an extra layer of 'Oh, holy crap.'

Still, I muddled through it and went back to the Lebanese with Chris that evening. He was staying nearer to the venue, so left before nine, after which I found the lovely company of Susanne and Helmut back at the hotel bar. We stayed up drinking and chatting.

The next day, 26th October, it was back to Belval for the live performance. Unfortunately, the dry cleaner absolutely ruined the lovely fabric I had taken them. My dad and Marilyn had bought the material whilst on our holiday to India, and my friend Shema had tailored it. I had two tops traced in gold detail so that it glittered. Their chemicals had managed to strip all of that detail, plus my top for the performance, which I'd worn to the dress rehearsal, smelled terrible. I spent the first part of the morning hand-washing it in the toilets and trying to dry it under the hand dryer. Not impressed.

We were all there by about 11 a.m. for food and a final warm-up, plus a much-needed chance to face-down the stage and convince ourselves it didn't frighten us.

Sitta warming up with her band.

Youri warming up for his dance performance.

The Jean-Guillaume Weis Ensemble
It was a very long day, but absolutely worth it. Again, everyone was so supportive of each other. There was lots of high-fives and fist pumps going on behind the scenes, and Ferrero donated a large basket of chocolate to keep everyone going. 

Despite mucking up my dress rehearsals, my actual performance went perfectly. I was extremely happy with it, and I'm looking forward to seeing the glossy, edited version that gets released in a few weeks. For the time being, if you would like to see it, my talk is still available on livestream. You can watch all three sessions here:

I had been slightly dreading doing the talk, but looking back, it's one of the best things I've ever done. Really happy to have made new and interesting friends, and to have been a part of the first ever TEDx at the University of Luxembourg. The after party was absolutely brilliant. They had wine fairies who kept topping up your glass even if you'd only taken a couple of sips. Sitta, who had been performing during the talk, sang with her band throughout the evening. There was much laughter and shenanigans, and a lot of very kind feedback from the audience, including one Rwandan lady who came to say 'mwiriwe'. An intense amount of preparation, but it really paid off.

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