The Essay Project
Dispatches is well known to champion the radio documentary - a craft where expressions like "people are our pictures" and "sounds are our scenes" are prominent. But we also pay deep respect for the oldest of all dispatches. The letter home. The craft of the written word. Short. To the point. A little personal. Sometimes cheeky.
These radio essays (click "read more" below) spell out timely observations, wrapped in the tone of the voice of the writer. Sometimes a little sound punctuates that.
It's a selection of letters home from (mostly) Canadian correspondents abroad, that we've been happy to feature since Dispatches went to air in 2001.
Bon Jovi at Ground Zero?
September 26, 2001
The CBC's Connie Watson thought that making a rock video at Ground Zero was too much, until she cried with a firefighter who had a good time dancing in it.
On the road to Karachi
October 17, 2001
CBC correspondents rotated through various posts around Afghanistan for the past month.
It's a tag-team affair, aggravated by limited visas and a 24/7 workweek; a recipe for reporter burn-out.
Recently it was David McLauchlin's turn to depart the riot-torn city of Quetta in Pakistan.
With the air space closed to civilian aircraft, he had to take the long way home, down a long dark road.
It turned out to be a passage of missiles and miracles beneath an upside-down sky; where the voyage was every bit as important as the destination.
David McLauchlin, on the road to Karachi...
Life in Tehran
November 21, 2002
Iran is a country poised between history and modernity. It's vibrant young population always brisling under the rule of aging conservative Ayatollahs.
For some, that means living a kind of double life. Moving to the spiritual rhythms of Ramadan by day, to the sexual sway of techno pop at night.
The CBC's Neil Macdonald recently experienced Iran's contradictions first hand.
And he found the whole experience rather arresting.
Death in Tehran
February 13, 2002
Iran is celebrating the 23rd anniversary of its Islamic Revolution this week.
The United States, needless to say, is not.
George W. Bush says Iran is in cahoots with Iraq and North Korea in something he calls an "Axis of Evil". It's widely known that Iran sponsors the Hezbollah guerrillas of Lebanon but an axis, especially a big evil one, hints at something rather more efficient.
And Iran is not renowned for efficiency, except perhaps at its gravesite.
Iranian bureaucracy may be uphaurant, its traffic apocalyptic, but few nations can put you in the ground faster than Iran.
More thoughts now, on life and death in Iran from guest essay, Borzou Daragahi, in Tehran.
Bureaucracy, Italian style
June 12, 2002
The Italian prime Minister has plans to revolutionize the country's infamous bureaucracy. Italy, he says, is to be transformed into an "information society."
This in a country where it usually takes weeks to get a new passport, months to get a phone line, and years to get an income tax rebate.
No matter, government services will soon be done with the click of a mouse, and millions of Euros have been set aside to see that they are.
Sceptical Italians suspect all this will likely require not so much a revolution, as a miracle.
And our sceptical Italian Canadian contributor, Megan Williams, recently put the old system to the test, just to find out, by daring to renew her passport.
Susan's South Africa...
October 16, 2002
Sometimes if you make an effort to see a place, it will meet you halfway. And will even reveal something of itself.
The CBC's Susan Lunn waded into the hurly-burly of a Johannesburg market place, and emerged with a few home truths we didn't know.
And one in particular we may never ever fully comprehend.
Racial casting in South Africa
November 6, 2002
We heard how call-centres in India are standing in for the American heartland.
Here's another employment opportunity for actors to pretend they're someplace else. This one, in South Africa.
For Dispatches contributor Wilson Lee, it also involved answering a telephone.
But in a place where the reality of the colour bar has been so cruel for so long, make-believe is now an expanding industry.
Connie buys a Burka
October 15, 2003
To Afghanistan now, where one of the stated goals of the coalition invasion was to liberate women from the repression of the Taliban.
But if you took that to mean they'd be throwing off those head-to-toe burkas the Taliban forced them to wear, think again.
Now, even among female reporters like the CBC's Connie Watson, the burka belongs in the travel pack right next to the flak vest and medical kit.
Kabul's letter writers
November 5, 2003
Like a scene from Rudyard Kipling, the letter writers ply their trade in the streets of Kabul.
Aging, educated men still hire out their words and pens to the illiterate, and feel the pulse of a recovering country.
This scene was captured by Manon Globensky of the CBC's French network, Radio-Canada.
From a mountain in Durban
January 21, 2004
This is a holy month for many of the Zulu of South Africa.
To followers of the faith known as Shembe, it's a time for religious pilgrimage to a place where mysticism collides with the modern.
It's the subject of the Dispatches essay from Canadian writer Marian Botsford Fraser on a mountain near Durban.
Kabul's bodyguards shoot both ways
January 28, 2004
Hard to say when life was more dangerous for Hamid Karzai; back during Afghanistan's many wars? Or now, now that he has the job of trying to rule the fractured state.
It's made him a target for every ticked-off tribal chief and every devotee of the Shoulder-Fired Missile Party (SFMP) left with a leg to stand on.
And this is the guy the West is betting on to calm the place; a man whose life is at such risk, he needs bodyguards who are prepared to shoot his other bodyguards.
That's right. And when David Common of CBC Television News told us that, we immediately asked him for this dispatch from Kabul.
Cellphones, bombings and political upheaval in Madrid
March 24, 2004
You see a cellphone, but they see a trigger. Those annoying little instruments have a sinister new significance since their role in the bombings of Madrid has come clear.
CBC correspondent Laura Lynch hears the chirp of the cellphone as the tribal drumbeat of the digital generation...a beat that's now being sampled by assassins -- and activists.
Bikinis, Italian style
June 2, 2004
Dispatches likes its cultural history even more than the next program, which is why it wants to tell you about the bikini.
While you're wondering where we could possibly be going with this, you should know the teeny-weeny two-piece has been a part of Sicilian culture for at least a couple of thousand years.
Hell, in Italy, they're worn by everyone from God-daughters to Grannies, self-consciousness not being much of an Italian vice.
You do find some ladies of a certain age prepared to exercise until their thighs tremble, we're told, because the bikini is really just an excuse for social intercourse.
Which is where Dispatches contributor Megan Williams is going with this.
Dining out on disaster
October 6, 2004
A correspondent's notes, this week from Haiti. The CBC's Stephen Puddicombe was on the island recently, covering the terrible damage of Hurricane Jeanne.
And he was also marked by the csm between rich and poor that is typical of Haiti -- but so much more striking, in the middle of a disaster.
Rick, from Shanghai
October 27, 2004
Rick finds that an old reporter's trick doesn't work in today's Shanghai.
Ghana pols pay the pipers
December 1, 2004
Dispatches is terribly fond of culture shock. Whether it's the happy fire of gold-toothed guests at a Chechen wedding, or a nice badger cutlet in Hong Kong, nothing jimmies our endorphins quite like out-of-the park experiences. But Canadian journalist Tanya Birkbeck has just had one from the red end of weird. In Ghana, she discovered the culture of journalism itself is the shock.
The Long Runner in Germany
January 5, 2005
We Canadians are often asked to explain ourselves when we go travelling overseas. In some quarters we're still curiousities, we colonials, we people of the snow.
Luckily, we wear the weight of our own brief history a little more lightly than some cultures do. Good thing too, as Naomi Buck recounts.
South Africa's rape cages
October 27, 2005
The spread of AIDS in Africa is not just caused by unsafe sex; it's also caused by unsafe societies. Women in urban South Africa, for example, live each day with the very real risk, of sexual violence
. Should a foreigner visit Johannesburg, Canadian journalist Alison Armstrong learned, she'll likely enter a world of rape cages and razor wire.
Nigeria's oil-slicked poverty
April 2, 2007
The new government of Nigeria will preside over one of the largest oil-producing nations in the world. But there ain't much trickle-down. Of its 130-million people, most live well below the poverty line. Much to think about. And a little context would help. So we've asked one of Nigeria's celebrated writers to provide some. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a novelist.
A knife through the wall
June 4, 2007
When Dispatches contributor Declan Hill was doing his original research on the sorry state of professsional soccer in much of the world, he ventured into one of the worst parts of Nairobi -- to spend a night with a family there, in its mud-walled home. That led to an unnerving experience with the nature of gang violence there.
Hadeel's year in Cairo
December 10, 2007
Anyone who's read Hadeel Al-Shalchi's blog from Cairo isn't about to forget her stories of wrestling with the way they do things there. It's a culture shock of a young Canadian Muslim as she grapples with the vastly different world in Egypt. Now she's back in Canada and she's put together this brief reflection on the swells and troughs of those times.
Paan, and a girlhood memory
March 3, 2008
Paan -- a mood-moderator of choice for Muslim women of some cultures -- comes with an etiquette all its own. For Dispatches producer Naheed Mustafa, a single, surviving piece of paan-related history is also window on the world of a family tradition.
Blue in Beirut
May 19, 2008
When it comes to ranking the world's Prozac Nations, little Lebanon is punching well over its weight. Prozac and Zoloft are among its biggest medical imports.
A recent Harvard study reveals Lebanon is among the most depressed nations on the planet.
The same study says exposure to political crises and war increase the risk of mental disorder.
Lebanon has had both in spades for the past 30 years, not to mention the last 30 days.
From her base in Beirut, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed considers Lebanon's plight.
Soccer mum goes to war
Sep 22, 2008
European soccer thugs are scary. But mortars and artillery are much, much scarier. Especially the first time, as Margot Dunne recently discovered.
She's a British journalist who normally covers the pitched battles of soccer for the BBC in Berlin.
So covering the Russian assault on Georgia was quite a different game, with some very dangerous players. But she survived to tell her kids about it. Us too.
Robbed by rebels
November 17, 2008
In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, warlord Laurent Nkunda has been waging war on the government in Kinshasa.NGOs across Africa warn there's a humanitarian disaster looming there, and urge the U.N. to protect civilians in the region. It's a "vision thing," according to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.
His fondness for silver canes and high-minded rhetoric can't mask how many civilians are dead or displaced by his offensive. But warlords are often like that. They can be charming. Canadian journalist David McDougall faced that charms offensive, near Goma, Congo.
Gaza, Fatah, and a fixer's fantasy
Jan 12, 2009
Rick remembers Gaza from the early '90s. A reality that won't give in to dreams.
Living on air in a dictatorship
February 2, 2008
Zimbabwe's political rivals have cut a deal to share power, though it won't matter to most people unless they also share food. It's not like there isn't any. But when a bag of flour costs seven months salary, there may as well not be. Under the clenched fist of President Robert Mugabe, the country is also being squeezed by cholera, and the effects of an international embargo. Donors say they will let foreign aid flow, but only after a new unity government takes office next month.
Doug MacLellan went back to Zimbabwe recently, to visit a Canadian doctor friend, and deliver money to the hospital he works in. Doug is a Canadian freelance photographer based in Windsor.
A kick and a prayer
March 23, 2009
In Rome, our longtime contributor Megan Williams recently stumbled on a hidden surprise.
She recalls a moment of coincidence that ties past and present purely through the sport of soccer.
Forcing kids to kill
April 12, 2009
Seven years ago, paramilitaries forced their way into a school in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and kidnapped the fifth grade and turned them into child soldiers. Today, the former leader of those rebels is on trial for it. It's the first time the International Criminal Court in The Hague has tried somebody for sending kids into war. Observers hope a guilty verdict from The Hague might act as more of a deterrent. Meribeth Deen, a Canadian journalist who's been covering the trial finds the evidence to be overpowering.
India's voteless masses
May 18, 2009
India's new economic booms and busts are changing the way India's enormous democracy works. It's not a question of who Indians vote for. It's a matter of who votes at all. Ananya Mukherjee Reed is a Canadian political scientist who's observing the current elections there.
The land of Him
May 25, 2009
When our Jerusalem-based correspondent Margaret Evans mentioned she was going to Libya, and was Dispatches interested? ... well. We wonder what things are like in post-Lockerbie Libya, now that mercurial Muammar Gadaffi has renounced terrorism and returned to the world's good graces, more or less. He's even opened the country to its first foreign investment. Surely transparency is the order of the day?
Never mind that Reporters Without Borders says press freedom is virtually non-existent in Libya. CBC Correspondent Margaret Evans got in after all.
The screwy Saudi security scene
March 11, 2011
Rick MacInnes-Rae remembers a Saudi man in flowing robes approaching him in the street and said the house across the square is headquarters to the notorious Abu Nidal, at the time a wanted terrorist:
"Then he asked if I had any whisky. Screwy moments like that are, frankly, one of the perqs of being a correspondent."
And for a female correspondent working Saudi Arabia, the stories can be considerably weirder, especially in a time of unrest, like now, as we hear in this week's guest essay from the CBC's Laura Lynch.
Categories: Essays, Highlights
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