This week we premiered our first installment of “TED in the Field” – I am directing a new series on TED.com where we track significant progress from past speakers, and also introduce new people and ideas.
Our first follow-up: Nicholas Negroponte and his One Laptop Per Child initiative.
I flew to Colombia with just under a day’s notice, arriving in Bogota on Thursday, December 4th at 6am. Three hours later, camera in hand, I was soaring over the Andes in the cockpit of a military transport (the kind of plane you’d expect Val Kilmer to drive a Jeep into) along with Nicholas Negroponte, the Commander-in-Chief of the Colombian Army, the Minister of Defense, a lot of soldiers, and a handful of dignitaries and journalists. We were visiting a town in the center of Colombia, called La Macarena, which had been under guerrilla control over the last 40 years. Nicholas presented the kids with 650 of his little green computers.
After losing myself for an hour or so filming the kids in their classrooms I realized all the soldiers had disappeared and Nicholas was nowhere to be found either. I ran along the dusty road leading to the airstrip just in time to watch a military plane take off and when I asked the three guards on duty if they had seen my friends they pointed to the sky.
I was in the middle of nowhere, I had no cash in my pocket, no cellphone reception, and I speak Spanish exclusively in the present tense.
Conjugating nearly every verb I could channel from the eighth grade, I told the soldiers I had to return to their nation’s capital inmediatamente. Next thing I knew, I was being whisked away in a motorbike cab by half a dozen members of the local youth police corps. Their ring leader, an eight year-old girl, explained to the rest, “You need to ask him easier questions. He speaks Spanish like a baby.” I didn’t know where they were taking me, but so long as we didn’t drive the motorcycle over the Andes and past the FARC, I figured things would work out.
Sure enough, the kids dropped me off at an incredible vista to be reunited with Nicholas and the rest of my travel companions. They hadn’t left at all, they had just moved on.
Laptops delivered, the next morning I was on a plane back to New York.
My rescuers are pictured above. Below are a couple snapshots of the gunner from the helicopter and me playing with his ammo.
You can find out more about OLPC and the G1G1 program here – www.laptop.org
And you can watch the video here – Nicholas Negroponte Takes OLPC to Colombia (6 mins)