What I like about the British Media in general, and the BBC in particular, is that they’ll let just about anyone have a go at broadcasting if they have something reasonably interesting to say. I’d already appeared on the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent (twice) and on Excess Baggage (also twice – talking about Sinai and Palestine respectively). But on 30 June a rather different story was broadcast, on Radio 4’s Saturday morning programme, Saturday Live. This was part of their ‘Sound Sculpture’ series, where listeners pick a sound and describe what it means to them (great radio!). So here’s my Sound Sculpture, which pops up around 12.30 minutes into the programme.
I always appreciate the chance to write about my home city of Oxford, which I thought I knew pretty well after 25 years of (mostly) living there. In this piece for TIME Magazine, however, I interviewed five eminent Oxford women about how they would spend a perfect day in the city. And in doing so, I discovered some hidden nooks and secret crannies that were new even to me …
I was pleased to be invited back onto BBC Radio 4’s flagship travel programme, Excess Baggage, which goes out live every Saturday morning to an audience of around 10 million. Last time, in July 2010, I was talking with the witty Sandi Toksvig about my experience on a desert retreat in Sinai, alongside the writer Anthony Sattin (see the ‘TV & Radio’ page of this website for the podcast).
This time the programme’s theme was Palestine, hosted by the charming John McCarthy and with two other guests: the writer of a new guidebook to Palestine and a young circus performer whose troupe of clowns had recently been out to the region to perform to children. I was asked about my experience of walking there: meeting ordinary Palestinians, sharing meals cooked by local women and sleeping in Bedouin tents and village homes. I wanted to give an alternative view to the negative headlines and the stereotypes so often portrayed in Western media, and tell people about the beauty of the countryside and the warmth of the people I met there.
One of my most memorable experiences when in Palestine was hearing a shepherd play the flute to his flocks, which I filmed. Another was hearing the memories of an old Bedouin sheikh, which I wrote about in the Guardian (and added on a previous post) and the life story of the marvellous lady, well into her 70s and the daughter of an Orthodox priest, who runs the Arab Women’s Guest House in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, which I stayed in and whose profits go towards women’s projects in the area.
And if anyone would like to visit Palestine, and share some of the same experiences, I recommend this not-for-profit organisation: the Siraj Centre for Holy Land Studies, who will arrange a tailor-made trip for you. Other great organisations that offer walking/cultural trips in Palestine are Walk Palestine (or for cycling, Bike Palestine), and Hijazi Travel, run by a professional hiking guide.
My trip to Palestine earlier this year proved a fruitful one, and I came back with many stories to tell. One rather personal story was recently broadcast on the BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (second story), with this intoduction by the BBC’s Alan Johnson:
“You might say that in life, there are few more important things than finding the right person to love. But what’s the best way of doing that? Some say it’s all about personal feelings and romance – and luck letting the right two people meet at just the right time. But others aren’t keen on leaving everything to chance. They would say that with a bit of planning, marriage and love can both be arranged. In many cultures and countries, people are finding their own ways to blend both approaches and take a little from each. For them, both traditional and modern strategies for mate-finding have their advantages. Gail Simmons has been watching one such relationship develop amid the hills of the West Bank.”
(And here’s some more information about the programme, which has been running for over 50 years.)
In May I travelled to Palestine to walk on a new hiking trail there, Abraham’s Path (Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil), and was inspired to write various stories about the experience. One of these, for TIME Magazine, was published today.
I’ve recently come back from a trip to Palestine where I was walking on a new hiking trail, Abraham’s Path, and where I stayed with a Palestinian family in the village of Kufr Malek. I was very struck by how the village women were striving to get themselves educated and into the workplace, often earning more than the men. Tourism projects, such as Abraham’s Path, were playing an important part in this.
I spoke about this rise of women in Palestinian society on the BBC World Service programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent‘ (04.40 min into the podcast) on Thursday 26 May. If you’d like to read it, the full text of my piece will shortly be available under this photo of the Bedouin sheikh (in whose tent I also stayed in Palestine).