podcasted into the past

Anyone who thinks it is quiet outside the city has not spent much time around cicadas...

Before I was pregnant with Baki, I was able to read in moving vehicles without any trouble at all. It was one of my gifts, like being able to fall asleep anywhere, that I was always grateful for. Well, that changed, and it was inconvenient because I spent a total of 3 hours a day on a service bus, commuting to and from work. Knitting came to the rescue (I made a lot of socks in traffic jams). Then, I got an iPod and started to download podcasts and suddenly I was knitting and listening to podcasts while commuting, all the while feeling quite smug at how “productive” I was being.
I do not miss commuting at all, amazingly, but we do have something of an equivalent in the garden now that it is summer. Every morning, from 630 to 830, Ali and I water. One of us does the top of the garden and the other does the bottom. It is work that occupies my hands, but leaves my mind free, and since I have Kaya with me in the sling, I do not have to have my ears open. I listen to a lot of different things, but most recently I have started to listen to the A History of the World in 100 Objects podcast from BBC Radio 4. I had read about the book made of the series, and Ali’s sister sent him a copy of it (neither of them read much fiction, but are wildly enthusiastic about reading history). Since I have basically surrendered all of my reading time to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books (I’m on book 4 now, and am actually glad that there is only one more of the anticipated 7 available, since I have other books I’d like to read!) I decided to listen to the programs as podcasts. I like to hear how the objects are described before I look at pictures of them in Ali’s book, and I love listening to radio programmes. It takes me back to the days when we used to gather in front of my father’s enormous shortwave radio. This was in Nairobi, and when I say enormous, I mean as big as a tv set! Once a week, we all sprawled out on my parents’ bed to listen to Letter from America by Alistair Cooke, a role model for any correspondent, to be sure. So, to make a long story short, these days as I water, I am strolling through history.
Other times, it is my own history I walk through. Listening to All Songs Considered a week or so ago, they played a track from the new album by Tinariwen (which you can hear ) and the desert sounds took me to a place not so far from the band’s homeland of Mali.
I had been working at a newspaper called the Earth Times. One day, my boss called me and asked how my French was, and how would I feel about going to Mauritania? The trip was charmed from the start. I Fed-Exed my passport to the Mauritanian embassy and when I called to check that it had arrived, the receptionist told me she doubted very much that I would get the visa on time. She had my passport in her hand as she spoke and fell silent for a moment. “This passport was issued in Istanbul?” she asked. It turned out, she was Turkish; I had my visa in plenty of time.
I was traveling in the company of a Norwegian representative of the Lutheran World Federation, Njell Lofthus, to visit greenbelt projects in the desert. Villagers were planting a variety of mesquite in the dunes to stabilise them. It was right up my alley; my dad did a story on desertification in the 80s, and the issue had captured my imagination. Mr. Lofthus was eager to get into the desert, and the night that I remembered as I watered the garden, he was on his hands and knees on the floor of a tent in a pale blue boubou, engaged in a game with a child who squealed with delight. Outside, the drums were being tuned, a lengthy process which involved burying them in sand just so. When they were ready, the drumming began, and everyone streamed outside into the cool evening to dance. I had been swathed in a gauzy veil, and it fell from my head as I joined the dance, but everyone said, “Ca va! Ca va!” and I let it go. Then, the dancers came, and we stood aside as they swept over the sand, their boubou swirling, their feet barely seeming to touch the ground, their eyes seeming to focus on the stars above.
Tinariwen’s music is different, of course, but something in its way-out mellowness evokes the vastness of the sea of sand, as it was called. They are on tour right now (dates at the) and I bet they’d be amazing live.

One thought on “podcasted into the past

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s