Interviewing Arabs

It’s my last few days here, and I’m interviewing Arabs.

I’d had the idea for a while – to write a story about a science and technology show that airs on the BBC Arabic. It’s called 4 Tech, and I’ve watched it a whole bunch, and I think I probably blogged about it some, back when I was religiously¬†keeping up with the Arabic news. But when I first mentioned it to my editor a few weeks ago, she asked: so is this the only show of its kind in the Arab world? What’s the broader context? Hmmm … I had no idea.

This week, while scrambling to try to find one last topic to write about, 4 Tech came back to mind and wouldn’t budge out. I contacted the single online email I could find for one of the presenters; and then I contacted a few scientists in Iceland whom they’d had on the show; and a bunch of professors who specialize in monitoring Arabic TV. I did it all sort of mechanically, just so I could tell myself I’d given it my best shot. I didn’t expect everyone to get back to me quickly enough so I could pull off all the interviews I needed, and then do the writing/editing/fact-checking, all by the end of the week.

Looks like I’m going to make it, though! Hopefully. By some weird magic, the 4 Tech people got back to me Tuesday early morning, after I’d emailed them Monday afternoon. They’re in London, and like 8 hours ahead of me in California, but they said they’d all three be available to talk at 7:30 pm London time, 11:30 pm California time. Now, this availability to talk immediately never happens – and definitely doesn’t happen when you’re trying to interview 3 people at once. And two of the people in Iceland got back to me, too. And I interviewed all the media experts today, and wrote up the article.

Things have been moving too quickly for me to take it in, but interviewing the 4 Tech people is really special to me. I’m not one to be interested in science and technology shows in the least. But I liked this one a lot! It’s so upbeat. And they’re always showing things that I didn’t expect – not just gadgets or stuff from the most famous universities. Like 2 years ago, I watched them do an episode in Ghana. I was really tickled, because my hero Mr. A is from Ghana. Well, yesterday I got to ask them all about it. And I got insight into another episode I’d really liked, which had focused on technology making life in Syrian refugee camps easier. And I finally got to the bottom of how they managed to seamlessly ask their scientist guest a question in Arabic, which the guest answers directly in English, without cutting the camera or anything.

Dalia is the female presenter. I always liked watching her especially – she’s been kind of like a role model/character study to me! She’s so approachable and friendly, but also confident and focused, on the show, and I loved to wonder about her. I never ever could have thought that I’d be interviewing her. Though when I first heard her voice through the Skype call, I didn’t gush, or even have the inclination to gush; or even realize that gushing was one of my options. I just sailed in with the interview, being all cool and calm. It doesn’t seem right, because I know a part of me should have been gushing.

This has been my second unexpected surprise, I-can’t-believe-I’m-interviewing-these-people experience while at WIRED. The first was when I interviewed people at the Swedish UN office. I’ve been spamming them (lovingly) on Twitter for a long time, and I couldn’t believe I had a sure-fire, valid excuse to contact their media department and bother them some more. I never, ever could have dared to hope that I’d stumble upon a story idea that would give me such an excuse. Which is just as well, because when I hope for things about Sweden, they never happen. But same thing with 4 Tech, interviewing Sweden UN was just too wonderful of a thing for me to really grasp it. It should have been such a sweet and giddy moment. But it wasn’t. I’m all strict business over here, it appears.

 

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