In 1955, the BBC began broadcasting From Our Own Correspondents, providing a forum for journalists to expand upon context, background, and historical points of reference related to foreign affairs news. Today the format remains the same as when it started: “It remains a simple collection of radio essays written by correspondents eager to tell you about events unfolding in their part of the world.”
Edited by Tony Grant, this is a comprehensive collection of those essays spanning years and continents. These are the real stories of people whose names and stories don’t make it into our nightly news programs or morning papers. These are the voices of the victims and the nameless heroes who suffer, fight, adjust, and somehow survive the actions of political bullies and soulless regimes.
Owen Bennett-Jones writes of his meeting with the late Benazir Bhutto, whom he describes as “…domineering, articulate, brave, charismatic, good fun, quite flirtatious, very cynical and flawed.” In this brief essay, Bennett-Jones explains much about Bhutto’s appeal to the masses, as well as her deep-rooted courage and the flaws that made her human.
Mark Whittaker writes of “The most dangerous road in the world,” a stretch of dirt that runs from La Paz in Bolivia to a region known as the Yungas. A rock wall on one side, a clean drop to the other, “there’s no margin of error: the road itself is barely three metres wide… And yet, incredibly, it’s a major route for trucks and buses.” Odds of surviving a trip on this road are slim, and yet “…people seem still drawn to the road with the vertiginous drop,” even as their own vehicles inch slowly around the dead and dying who headed out before them and will never complete their journeys.
Russia, Pakistan, Somalia, Nepal, Antarctica - almost any place you name is represented by one of the essays in this book. Especially interesting to me were the pieces related to the U.S. We tend to think of ourselves as the center of the universe, so it was disorienting to find my own country written about with the same sense of wonder, puzzlement, and wry humor with which the British journalists view ‘foreign’ countries. In 1996, Gavin Esler writes of country where “the American hero was dead, replaced by a new culture of whining, litigation and political correctness.” For those of us who remember the glory days of Motown, Stephen Evans offers a charming and poignant account of his interview with Martha Reeves. After sharing breakfast in her apartment (or ‘flat,’ as Evans calls it), “…she stood up, put her CD on and pulled me up to dance with her.”
In these vignettes, we see the desperation of those who prefer death to the hopeless situation around them; we gain insight into the people as individuals who rise up like a tsunami of the oppressed to overwhelm the bullies on the beach; and we rejoice in the blissful moments of dancing with a musical legend. More From Our Own Correspondent is a gift package filled with extraordinary tales of ordinary people, all of them more alike than they realize. Through these essays, the world grows smaller and the optimism of the few encompasses it all.