So one thing I do a lot of is listen to podcasts. I subscribe to them left right and centre and they range from poetry readings, the brilliant history of Rome, to Above and Beyond’s Trance around the World (they have got me back into Trance, marginally, and it’s great to run to in the gym) and some Radio 4 programmes, including Excess Baggage, Friday Night Comedy and Crossing Continents.
Crossing Continents I started listening to because it touched on my love of travel. It is a bit hit and miss, but every now and again there are some wonderful, powerful stories that remain with me long after they are told. The first one to impact me was an investigation of the human trafficking of women from Uganda who ended up working as virtual slaves in Iraq, and how some of them were rescued. I was walking up round the London Olympic site at the time, it was in the evening and I remember the sun was setting as I realised I had a lump in my throat.
Another one told of the people brokers of North Korea, who smuggle people desperate to escape to the South, The risks that people take to make the journey, and the cost. It will be interesting to see whether this will be made easier now the Great Successor is in charge, but I can’t see myself putting money on that.
This morning on my tube ride to work I listened to the first in a series of three about the Arab Spring, presented by Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s foreign editor. He was in Egypt during the revolution and the vivid energy flowing through the country throbbed through my earphones. On my way home I listened to the second one, focusing on Libya, including an interview with Gaddafi himself, in which he denied that there were any protests at all. Jeremy Bowen’s conclusion was that he was not mad, but was surrounded by ‘yes men’ who kept him in a state of illusion, or perhaps that should be delusion.
I’ve still got the third one to go but I have already found the first two immensely fascinating. I followed the Arab Spring as much as I could on the news, indeed still follow where I can the situation in Syria, because it seems so alien to me.
I have no concept of living under such a regime, to know that the people who govern and protect you can make you ‘disappear’ should their paranoia become enough to think you are a threat, to smell the reek of corruption that floats at the top of the hierarchy where little benefit flows down to the common citizen. I also can not fully appreciate the strength and courage that it must take to reach a point where you are willing to lay down your life in order to overthrow something that has been a constant all the way through it. In a separate edition of World Football on the World Service they did a story on how the Libyan football team had qualified for the African Cup of Nations, and how players took part in the revolution. One player who was on the front line was given softer missions, or had people go in front of him to protect him if he was shot at so that he could continue playing football for the national team.
One thought that occured to me during the spring was that now they have the belief that they can change things, I could see it happening more often, I fear for the rebuilding of these shattered countries. If something is not to the public’s liking or perhaps isn’t happening fast enough (something highlighted by the retaking of Tahir Square to protest at the military’s hand over of power in Egypt) then they will protest again, and again. I guess this is the growing pains of any nation, or perhaps democracy, but I hope that something healthier blossoms from the Arab Spring.
The podcasts available from radio 4, including crossing continents can be found here