This American Life, Radio Ep. 335: Big Wide World


This American Life is a weekly radio segment out of Chicago that is broadcast on National Public Radio in the US. This episode (#335) tells the story of a 19 year old Iraqi who was living in Iraq before and after the war. Haider Hamsa is a son of an Iraqi diplomat who was brought up all around the world. Fluent in English, he tells his story with candor and wit.

Ok, so this is not free software, but I promise that you will find this podcast very interesting (Click here to listen to the Podcast, or here to download the mp3). This episode, entitled “Big Wide World“, contains a number of stories, but to be honest the story that captivated me (and the reason I am posting this radio show on my blog) is that of the Iraqi young man (approx 6:15 mins into the audio file). The thing about this guy is that his life both before and after the war is very interesting.

He has the perspective not just of an Iraqi but that of a citizen of the world, and his story is not just of Iraq and the war but of a young man trying to relate to a father that he loves but whose world view and life values seem to belong to a different world altogether than the one the son has to negotiate and live in.

Haider Hamsa brandishing a camera

The episode includes the following stories:

  • Host Ira Glass’s first encounter with beer in the fridge at a friend’s house.
  • Ukrainian Immigrant Valentina Filimonova’s first experience buying feminine products in the US.
  • Sarlee Kine describes how her father “learned that there was a whole other way to live his life—after staring at a fish tank.”
  • Haider Hamsa’s journey, beginning from when he started working with the Iraqi Ministry of Information. “He was specially trained to talk to visiting dignitaries and foreign reporters, and he loved his job. It was exciting, and he was treated like a celebrity. Then the war broke out, his family fled, his job disappeared, and Haider suddenly had to figure out what to do next: hide, like his father wanted, or jump into the fray—in one of the most dangerous ways possible.”
  • “Filmmaker Tony Hill took his friend Sally Goode, who was born blind, to a place she’d never been before, then taped her trying to figure out where she was.”

I was driving in my car when I heard this radio show for the first time and found myself dreading the prospect of arriving at my destination before the show was over. Arriving at my destination I lingered in the driveway in order to hear as much of the program as I could before having to go inside. I

I transcribed a few seconds of the radio segment, a description of the morning when the Americans entered a town in the south of Iraq at the very beginning of the war:

“I remember I walked out of the house and everyone was trying to get at the door, and we were looking down the road and on the main highway there were American soldiers with full gear… They were on one knee down on, like, in a guarding position, and they were not moving, as if they were statues…and they just showed up like, overnight…

At night no one would go out of course cause there were sirens, so when you can go out in the morning you saw them … and they were not there last time you checked, so its like … they showed out of nowhere and the people were just staring at them… it was funny… it was like watching E.T landing in your front yard, you know… seriously that’s how they were looking at them. People did not know… should they walk down and talk to them? should they be friendly, should they not?… I … I couldn’t wait, actually, to go talk to them.”

The story is not about preaching for or against the war, but of regular people living in pre and post war Iraq.

Go to the This American Life site, episode 335 – or download the MP3 here.