Back to Common Ground Archive

Week of April 6, 2004

Program 0414


UN Slum Report | Transcript | MP3

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs | Transcript | MP3

Baltimore Immigration | Transcript | MP3

German Jazz | Transcript | MP3

Iran Horses | Transcript | MP3

Iraq Horses | Transcript | MP3

Iraq Oud Player | Transcript | MP3

The Flute Player | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

ANNA TIBAIJUKA: Health will be continuing to be elusive if people find themselves in slum conditions.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the worldwide challenge of slums.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, the connection between global poverty and national security.

DR. JEFFREY SACHS: This could change our planet in a way that people have dreamt about for ages but is now possible because of just how rich we are and just how good our science and technology and proven results are.

MCHUGH: And we’ll cruise the Rhine on a German jazz boat.

REESE ERLICH: The definition of jazz is pretty loose.

HARTMUT SCHRODER: It is. And it is, I think as loose here as it is anywhere else [laughs].

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

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UN Slum Report

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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. One-third of the world’s urban population lives in slums. That’s the finding of a recent United Nations report, which warns the number of people living in poverty in cities globally could double in the next 30 years. The UN agency Habitat, which is in charge of improving the plight of slum dwellers, says a billion people are in urgent need of help. Steve Mort reports from the United Nations.

[The sound of children playing in a Kenyan slum]

STEVE MORT: The sound of children, some toddlers, playing in the streets outside their homes. These youngsters live in the slums of Kenya—one of the countries with the highest proportion of city residents living in poverty. The UN agency Habitat says in a new report entitled “The Challenge of Slums,” that in some parts of the world more than 70 percent of urban dwellers live in such areas. The message contained in the agency’s report on slums is clear—the problem of city poverty worldwide is growing and urgent action is needed to tackle it.

ANNA TIBAIJUKA: About 40 percent of the city settlements in the world are classified as slums.

MORT: Anna Tibaijuka is the Executive Director of Habitat. She says the expansion of slums is responsible for a range of problems and is preventing the UN, as well as individual nations, from achieving targets in key areas such as health and education.

TIBAIJUKA: Health will be continuing to be elusive if people find themselves in slum conditions. We can also submit that targets like education will be very difficult to achieve when people do not have adequate shelter and a place to live. Water and the sanitation of course, they go to show exactly the situation facing the slum dwellers.

[The sound of a crying Afghan child]

MORT: The UN says the problem is not confined to any one region of the world—a mother tries to comfort this crying baby in a slum in Afghanistan. The concentration of slum dwellers is highest in African cities, but Asia accounts for some 60 percent of the world’s urban slum residents. Over 30 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean reside in slum conditions. The numbers contrast sharply with an average of only six percent in developed nations. Jeffrey Sachs is a leading advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the United Nations’ so-called Millennium Development Goals. He says by 2020, half of the world’s entire population will live in cities.

JEFFREY SACHS: What’s going to happen in the cities of the poor world is going to determine whether poverty is alleviated or worsened, whether health crises are alleviated or exacerbated, whether people have access to basic services, which is a global commitment unfulfilled, of safe water and sanitation, for example, or whether the numbers that don’t have access to these services widens.

MORT: The question of why slums are growing so fast is one on which experts find it hard to agree. Habitat believes the expansion is due partly to the spiraling birth rate in many developing countries. But Habitat Director Anna Tibaijuka says the crisis is mostly down to people leaving the countryside in an effort to find a better life.

TIBAIJUKA: Rural-urban migration is going on very quickly in many parts of the world. In Africa, in Asia, urbanization is going on very fast. In Latin America it is, for all practical purposes, a completed exercise.

MORT: She says that in some parts of the world, migration to cities is not necessarily the result of rural poverty.

TIBAIJUKA: In Africa, the main factor fuelling the growth of slums is, of course, failure of agricultural policies but also conflicts which are flushing people prematurely from the land.

[The sound of a busy city]

MORT: Migration to cities, according to Jeffrey Sachs, is not necessarily a bad thing. Urban development, he says, is needed to ensure economic development, so long as conditions are right.

SACHS: There’s a tremendous amount of evidence that cities really are the core of economic growth in the long term. This is very promising from the point of view of how developing countries can get integrated and grow in the world economy. But the question is, are these healthy cities that are producing jobs and incomes and livable conditions? Or are they instead simply places where even more impoverished people from rural areas are flooding, not because there are jobs and opportunities there, but because the situation in the rural areas is even more desperate?

MORT: The UN report on slums runs to over 300 pages and calls for ways to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. It says the critical situation of urban poverty is recognized by very few governments, cities, and other agencies. Jeffrey Sachs, advisor to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, says the solution will take time to achieve.

SACHS: We need viable, creative, job producing, income producing cities to meet the slum goal and to meet the overall Millennium goals. And that’s not going to be achieved only by a focus on specific issues, however important they are, of housing tenure for example. It’s going to be guaranteed by making these rapidly growing cities in poor countries viable places for overall development and for human habitation.

MORT: The authors of this report from the United Nations say it’s the first global assessment of slums. But they acknowledge that solving the problem will be far more difficult than documenting it. Figures show that 43 percent of people in cities in the developing world live in slums—some one billion people—and that number is predicted to double over the next three decades. For Common Ground, I’m Steve Mort at the United Nations in New York.

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Dr. Jeffrey Sachs

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MCHUGH: Some of the most far-reaching efforts on global peace and security are focusing on the role global poverty plays in instability around the world. Keith recently spoke about these efforts with one of the world’s leading experts on global economic issues. Dr. Jeffrey Sachs directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University and is a special advisor to the United Nations. Dr. Sachs first explained the connection between national security and global poverty.

DR. JEFFREY SACHS: We know very well that when societies that don’t prosper—indeed, when they’re in extreme poverty and falling backward, that things fall apart—disease, government can’t function, the situation in the environment tends to get worse. And what’s been observed and actually studied with a lot of care is that when you get that kind of downward spiral of economic collapse and social calamity and the governments aren’t functioning you can get revolution, terrorism, civil war—all the things that pull the US into one mess after another. And yet we find that we seem to wait till the mess arrives rather than trying to get to the root cause. Helping countries before it becomes so expensive that we’re spending tens of billions of dollars to clean up a mess rather than spending much smaller amounts to help countries avoid falling into that niche.

PORTER: Much of what you’ve just said has been written down in the form of the Millennium Development Goals. Give us in a nutshell what those goals are.

DR. SACHS: When the millennium started, the new millennium, the world’s leaders got together at the United Nations in September 2000 and said, “Let’s, make the new millennium a little bit more peaceful, safe, and securer than the old millennium. Let’s actually take on challenges which are now possible because of our tremendous science and technology and wealth.” What they said—all of the countries of the world, indeed said—”We have the capacity to sharply cut extreme poverty, hunger, and disease. And by doing so not only save millions of people each year who would otherwise die and who are dying right now, but also make a world that is much safer for everybody, more prosperous, more secure.” And so in September 2000 they adopted the Millennium Development Goals. They said by the year 2015 we want hunger of the extreme sort—the sort that kills—we want that to be cut by half. We want poverty of the extreme sort—the sort that’s killing people—to be cut by half. The great irony is that the more closely you look at it, the more clear it is that this is something that can be accomplished. But it’s also tragically true we’re just not on course to accomplish it because we’re spending all our time thinking about things like Iraq in this country. We’re, we’re not spending our time thinking about the problems of disease and hunger which are the root causes of the Iraqs of the world.

PORTER: What would it take on the part of the developed world, the richest countries in the world, to actually meet the goals set forward in the Millennium Development?

DR. SACHS: In the years 2000, 2001 I directed a commission for the World Health Organization to look at that question with respect to disease. Poor people are dying by the millions. That means thousands and thousands every day of malaria. Easily treatable. But they’re still dying because the drugs aren’t there. Tuberculosis. AIDS. A treatable disease but the poor people don’t get the drugs. Even diarrhea, which kills millions of children in poor countries because they don’t have access to proper water, sanitation, and health services. Well, we looked at that in detail. We found something absolutely astounding, which is that if you target well the kinds of health investments that need to be made to fight these diseases, for a mere 1/1000th of our income of the rich world—that is one cent out of every $10 of our GNP, or 10 cents out of every $100 that we earn each year—if the rich countries did that they’d be able to put together a fund of about $25 billion a year which would be sufficient to save 8 million people each year, mainly children, who will otherwise die. And what we also found is something the people find surprising but is really a powerful truth. If those children were to stay alive actually the problems of overpopulation, paradoxically, would be less rather than more. Because we found all the evidence in the world, and experts have been saying it for a long time, that when the children survive the poor families decide to have fewer children. And that happens quite quickly and you actually end up with lower population growth also. In other words healthier populations, averting death, slower population growth, and much more chance of economic development. And this, for 1/1000th of our annual income of the rich world. This could change, change our planet in a way that people have dreamt about for ages but is now possible because of just how rich we are and just how good our science and technology and proven results are.

PORTER: It seems like there must be people out there who hear you say this and say, “You know, I’ve heard these things from the United Nations before. I’ve heard this from, from do-gooders all over the place before, that we can end something or we can stop something. And it never seems to really happen.” So what do you say to those, to the skeptics who, who look at this and say, “It’s just another report from the UN. It’s more hot air over Manhattan.”

DR. SACHS: I think the skeptics are absolutely right. This is more hot air until we decide to do something. A report won’t solve a single problem. But what the skeptics need to understand is that when they’ve heard this time and time again—what they’ve heard has been correct but it hasn’t been acted upon. Maybe we ought to act rather than just issue reports. So, I understand the skepticism. Absolutely. I feel it the same way. I ask, “So what? Another report.” The point is that we are not acting. And what people do need to understand is the big misunderstanding that says, “Well, we’ve tried that before.” That’s not true. We’ve taken money that we said was to help development but it wasn’t. It was for foreign policy purposes or military purposes. We haven’t tried to fight disease, to end hunger, to help get children into school. Very practicable, doable, utterly straightforward things—that we haven’t done yet.

PORTER: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

MCHUGH: Coming up next, immigration by way of Baltimore. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Baltimore Immigration

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MCHUGH: You have only to mention immigration history in America for people to conjure up images of Ellis Island and the long immigration piers in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. But for millions of Americans—though many may not know it—their families first stepped ashore in Baltimore. The global connections of this gritty Maryland seaport are not well known. But local community leaders tell Nina-Maria Potts they are determined to highlight Baltimore’s multi-ethnic past, present, and future.

DEAN KRIMMEL: Most Americans think of immigration and arrivals of ancestors associated with Ellis Island. I think if you stopped anyone on the street and asked them if their ancestors were immigrants, as most Americans are, they would say, if they said yes, and you asked them where they came through, they probably would say Ellis Island. Most people are not aware that if you were a port city, you would have immigrants coming in, because immigrants would come in any way they could. And the fact that Baltimore was a major port.

POTTS: That was historian and curator Dean Krimmel, who is working on the Baltimore Immigration Project, founded in part to commission research into Baltimore’s largely untold immigration story. Dean Krimmel says the charting of Baltimore as a gateway to America can’t happen fast enough.

KRIMMEL: The routes, as in r-o-u-t-e-s of immigrants, there are a number of German groups who’ve come to Baltimore tracing their ancestors. There’s an explosion of interest in family history. And as more and more ship—the records like the ship passenger lists—as they become more and more available, there’s people all over the country who are finding that they’re surprised their, their ancestry came through Baltimore.

POTTS: By some reckonings, Baltimore ranked second to New York as a port of entry during the period of mass immigration. It was this discovery that led a Baltimore realtor and community leader, Ron Zimmerman, to set up the Baltimore Immigration Project. He wants to raise public awareness and honor Baltimore’s immigrants by recording oral histories, reinterpreting historic sites, and creating an immigration park and exhibition area.

RON ZIMMERMAN: With this immigration project, it’s a project that, that honors all people, all nationalities. Some people just have a Polish museum, or a Jewish museum. This is going to take in everybody. Not only that, it’s going to be a point where new citizens who are going to be sworn into this country can come here and see what people came into this country done prior to them, what they accomplished here.

POTTS: Dean Krimmel says the numbers of people who came through Baltimore are staggering.

KRIMMEL: Over about a 100 year period probably two million people came through. And in the era when there was a formal immigration depot, which would be similar to Castle Garden and Ellis island in New York, and this depot was in Locust Point, where we are now, about over a million came, about 1.2 million came. You know, not a small number.

POTTS: So why did they come through Baltimore? Dean Krimmel says the reason was financial.

KRIMMEL: It’s competitive in that they—you know, the price of passage, as the North German Lloyd might say, is cheaper if you go through Baltimore. “We can offer you a great railroad rate.” It gets a little less romantic when we talk about the business history. [laughing]

POTTS: Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss is an immigration historian at Johns Hopkins University and says Baltimore has a long tradition of ethnic diversity.

DR. MELANIE SHELL-WEISS: Immigration to Baltimore, as to many east coast cities, goes way back to the 18th century and before. And you’re talking about a large variety of individuals and groups of people who are coming during this time—English, French, German, Irish, Polish—in addition to other important waves of migrants such as escaped slaves and those you know, leaving rebellions in Santo Domingo and the like. Chinese laborers who came through Baltimore, some of whom stayed and some of whom left. So the real peak period, what’s called the Great Wave of migration for Baltimore, begins around the 1860s and extends through the early part of the 20th century.

POTTS: Dr. Shell-Weiss says the reason Baltimore’s immigration history has been overlooked by historians is because many immigrants arrived, but then left.

DR. SHELL-WEISS: We tend to focus on communities where people stay. The tendency up till now has been to look at, you know, where immigrants congregate. And Baltimore I think, if one looks at this through a slightly different frame is very exciting for understanding the migration process. Because the city provides us with a window into where immigrants go. I mean, Baltimore is truly a port city, it’s a doorway in. Some individuals stayed, but many more moved somewhere else.

POTTS: Many immigrants moved west, mainly because there was a good railroad connection in Baltimore. Again, Dean Krimmel.

KRIMMEL: Most of the steamship companies in Europe were offering tickets to Europeans that included both the steamship passage and rail to a destination. So people were choosing Baltimore to come into and then moving out because of the rail connections.

POTTS: One Baltimore family to move west, but which later moved back again was that of Bill Struever, a property developer with a special interest in re-interpreting Baltimore’s historic sites. His ancestors were among Baltimore’s earliest arrivals.

BILL STRUEVER: My great-great-great grandfather was a French doctor, Loius Dounan, in Haiti, and he had saved the life of a young slave girl that was horribly burned, and when the Tousant revolt was in full swing and they were killing the whites, the mother of this young girl hid Louis and his fiancé and got them to the coast and they got on a ship and in the great tradition of America’s fugitives, came to Baltimore in 1803.

POTTS: Baltimore’s immigration story may have an early beginning, but it is also ongoing, according to Dean Krimmel.

KRIMMEL: We always talk about the period 1820 to the 1920s as the great, the great mass migration, but there are people coming in after World War II, and then particularly after the 1960s. And in our case, in Greektown for instance, there’s plenty of people who are first generation. They’ve just, they’ve come over in the last 20 years.

POTTS: Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss agrees. She says the real strength of Baltimore’s ethnic identities lies in their ties to history.

DR. SHELL-WEISS: Anyone who comes to Baltimore for the first time I think is amazed at the strength and evidence of its ethnic communities. I mean, Baltimore very much remains the patchwork quilt of ethnic communities. You know, traveling through downtown Baltimore and one passes through Little Italy, one passes through centers, large Jewish communities, African-American communities, West Indian communities, Hispanic communities. And you can knock on the door in Little Italy and find a resident there who would be happy to tell you that they are still in the row house that was inhabited by their great grandmother.

POTTS: For Common Ground, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Baltimore.

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German Jazz

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[The sound of Dixieland music]

PORTER: Ah, the sound of traditional jazz played aboard ship, floating lazily down the river. Sounds like a cruise down the Mississippi to New Orleans. But as Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Erlich found out, this riverboat cruises the Rhine near Frankfurt. And German fans feel just as passionate about the music as their American counterparts.

[The sound of Dixieland music]

REESE ERLICH: According to stereotype, Germans drink beer and listen to oompah music. Well, some do. But here on the Riverboat Shuffle, part of the annual Rheingau Music Festival, they are just as likely to be sipping Riesling and listening to the music of New Orleans.

[The sound of Dixieland music]

ERLICH: [interviewing a passenger] What is your name?

DIEDER PFIFER: Dieder Pfifer.

ERLICH: When did you first start liking jazz?

PFIFER: Oh, I think when I was 15. I heard music from Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald. I think the people like the Dixieland, and not the modern jazz. ‘Cause modern is not good for my ears.

FEMALE PASSENGER: Let’s go further upstairs.

ERLICH: There’s the band.


ERLICH: Is that them?

ERLICH: Many Germans say they love jazz. But by the time the music crosses the Atlantic, the definition gets stretched considerably. The Riverboat Shuffle has four bands, playing traditional jazz, boogie woogie, zydeco, and New Orleans-style rhythm and blues.

[The sound of New Orleans R&B]

ERLICH: Hartmut Schroder is director of the jazz cruise.

ERLICH: [Now interviewing Mr. Schroder directly] The definition of jazz is pretty loose.

HARTMUT SCHRODER: It is. It is. And it is, I think it is as loose here as it is anywhere else. Well, everything that isn’t classical music and everything that isn’t pop is jazz.

[The sound of New Orleans R&B]

SCHRODER: Our audience is usually middle aged and older who are well situated. That is just our typical audience. This audience that goes to jazz here does also go to classical music and other parts of our festival. And in Frankfurt you have a lot of bank workers and they are one of our main audience. Bankers for jazz.

[The sound of Dixieland music]

ERLICH: Florian Abel, another organizer of the event, says the audience can relax on the sun deck, getting a river view of the region’s castles, monasteries, and vineyards. And then he spots the famous Lorelei mountain, and explains the myth that surrounds it.

FLORIAN ABEL: This girl called Lorelei has fallen in love and couldn’t get the man she wanted. And then she waited at the top of this mountain. The sailors were falling in love with her and crushed into the mountains and sank. She’s now sitting up there up to the hills.

ERLICH: Now, presumably, your captain is not in love with Lorelei.

ABEL: We hope that he doesn’t love Lorelei. He’s married. Maybe he’s putting wax into his ears.

ERLICH: On this cruise the captain may not be the only one needing wax in his ears. The music can get very intense.

[The sound of a loud boogie woogie piano trio]

ERLICH: Christoph Oester, a native of Frankfurt, bangs out a bad boogie woogie.

[The sound of Christoph Oester speaking in German, receiving applause, and starting a new boogie woogie piano tune]

ERLICH: Oester initially studied classical music. Then after 10 years of playing the European classics he fell in love with boogie woogie.

CHRISTOPH OESTER: I played some music from Liszt and integrate something of this music in my boogie piano style. Some of this classical trained virtuosity, you can hear in my own piano style.

ERLICH: Oester also studied the recordings of everyone from boogie woogie masters of the 1930s to modern day jazz-rock musician Dr. John.

OESTER: They played this kind of music in the early ’30s and the late ’20s, yeah. The influence of this music to rock piano, to soul piano, and to funk piano is enormous.

ERLICH: Strictly speaking Riverboat Shuffle may not be a jazz cruise. But the 1,000 Germans on board dig the music. And the joint sure is jumping. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich cruising the Rhine in Germany.

[The sound of a loud boogie woogie piano tune]

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, a visit to an Iranian horse track.

SHIRIN ASEFI: [via a translator] In my opinion, horse riding is the only sport that lets you exercise with an animal, and there is mutual cooperation between the horse and the person. It gives a sense of pleasure, power, and calmness.

PORTER: Plus, a former Cambodian child soldier says flute playing saved his life.

ARN CHORN POND: The Khmer Rouge are crazy. They said, “Alright, we’re gonna start a music and dance troop to entertain.” So I raised my hand. And the end of five days or six days three did not succeed—they got killed.

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Iran Horses

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MCHUGH: Horse riding is a source of pride for many Iranians. The first record of riding comes from the region more than 4,000 years ago. After Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, women found fewer opportunities to continue the sport. But now women are making a comeback. Roxanna Saberi visited one of the oldest horse riding clubs of Iran and brings us this Destination Spotlight.

[The sound of trotting horses.]

ROXANA SABERI: In the southeast corner of Iran’s capital city, you can find a bit of nature, culture, and competition.

[The sound of applause at a horse show.]

SABERI: Every other week at the Shoha-da’ Riding Club, women take turns guiding their horses into a tidy simple stadium. Today, 19 women—teenagers and adults—skillfully ride their horses over high hurdles scattered across the dusty round arena.

[The sound of an announcer at a horse show.]

SABERI: Judges and nearly 200 spectators watch the competition from the bleachers above. Thirty-year-old Shirin Asefi is one of the riders aiming for trophies.

SHIRIN ASEFI: [via a translator] In my opinion, horse riding is the only sport that lets you exercise with an animal, and there is mutual cooperation between the horse and the person. It gives a sense of pleasure, power, and calmness.

SABERI: This club, owned by the government, has attracted both women and men riders for years. Managers say it was built around 40 years ago as a private hunting ground for Iran’s leader at the time, Mohammed Reza Shah. A revolution in 1979 put the grounds in the hands of the new Islamic government. But manager Soraya Bahrami says until six years ago, women could not ride here, mostly because they did not have the proper Islamic clothing.

SORAYA BAHRAMI: [via a translator] Considering the situation and rules of the country and system, we designed a kind of riding outfit for women. It’s beautiful and women are very comfortable wearing it while riding. Women stopped riding until we prepared these clothes.

SABERI: Women riders here substitute the required long coat or chador for long-sleeve shirts under vests and black, tight trousers. Like elsewhere in public, they must cover their hair—here, they wear small black caps.

[Sounds from the crowd at the horse show.]

SABERI: Today women and men riders and spectators are separated. Many of the participants here say there are still fewer women than men in this sport, though the number of women is rising. Riders here estimate 10,000 women across the country are taking riding lessons at the nation’s 80 or so clubs. Shirin says the women who come here are mostly upper-class, highly educated, and have open minds.

SHIRIN: [via a translator] There is no prohibition against women riding horses, but overall the number of ladies is very low. Maybe families do not agree with women’s horse riding. It is quite dangerous and more common among men.

[The sound of applause.]

SABERI: Many women here, like the manager Soraya, say this club offers more than just exercise and lessons in riding and judging.

BAHRAMI: [via a translator] The rider and the horse can have an emotional relationship, which can affect a woman spiritually. If a woman is an athlete, she can educate her children better.

[The sound of neighing horses]

SABERI: To them, the Shohada Riding Club takes them out of their everyday routines and gives them a sense of spirituality that affects other parts of their lives. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.

[Musical interlude]

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Iraq Horses

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PORTER: In Iraq today there are few areas of life that have been unchanged by the overthrow and capture of Saddam Hussein. And beyond the headlines about the violence and uncertainty that has marked the US-led occupation of the country, many Iraqis are slowly adjusting to their new freedoms and rediscovering some age-old past times. Simon Marks spent a day at the races in Baghdad.

[Sounds from a crowd at a Baghdad horse racing track]

SIMON MARKS: It is not a scene that outsiders immediately associate with Baghdad. But at the Baghdad Equestrian Club, horses and their riders slip themselves into a set of stalls, are placed under starters’ orders…

[The sound of a bell at the start of a horse race and the opening of a horse racing gate]

MARKS: …And they’re off.

[The sound of pounding horse hooves]

MARKS: Three times a week the dusty track comes alive in Baghdad, as some of the finest Arab steeds battle it out for racing supremacy. Iraq, like many Arab states, has a rich horse-racing tradition, and the animals are in world-class shape—making good time and glistening in the sun as their jockeys urge them on.

[Sounds from the crowd at the track]

MARKS: Urging them on from the stands, hundreds of racing enthusiasts who have come to the club for years to while away a few hours—and more than a few Iraqi dinars. Hassan Karra—a housepainter by trade—has been putting money down on the horses here for 40 years.

HASSAN KARRA: [via a translator] I bet a few thousand dinars each time, depending on my financial situation. Maybe 50 or 60 thousand dinars. Twenty-five or thirty dollars. I make a little money, and then I gamble it.

MARKS: Not all the race fans were happy to talk. The Koran says gambling is a sin, and there’s still some embarrassment and discomfort here about the racetrack’s success. But there’s also a new atmosphere at the club. For the first time in decades, those watching the races know that the outcome will be fair. In the old days, more than 100 horses that raced at the track were owned by Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay. And when they raced, they always won. Even when they didn’t. Kasim Daoud is a jockey, a veteran of the Iraqi track.

KASIM DAOUD: [via a translator] Now there is freedom in riding. In the past, there were times when we were forced to lose, or to let someone else win. Today, we ride freely.

[Sounds from the crowd at the track]

MARKS: And ride they do, carrying with them not just the hopes of a few nearby gamblers, but perhaps also the hopes of a nation that is chomping at the bit to explore all aspects of life unscarred by Saddam. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Baghdad.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: Coming up next, Iraq’s prince of oud players. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

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Iraq Oud Player

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MCHUGH: It’s a musical instrument that’s found a home in many cultures. In modern America, its electric and favored by rock stars. In medieval Europe, it was heard at royal courts, by kings and queens. In India, it has a long, thin neck and a small, round body. Its the guitar—related to the Renaissance lute and the sitar of India. And, in Iraq, halfway between Europe and India, there’s a similar instrument, the oud. After a concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Priscilla Huff spoke with the prince of oud players, Omar Bashir.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

PRISCILLA HUFF: Without sheet music, Omar Bashir opened his concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. with a 19-minute composition, a taqsim in maqam hijazkar—that is, a solo improvisation upon a melodic mode.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

OMAR BASHIR: [via a translator] Its a very eclectic kind of music, so it allows you a lot of, a lot for your imagination.

HUFF: Omar Bashir is the son of Munir Bashir, an Iraqi known as the king of oud players, who died in 1997. Born in Hungary, Omar Bashir trained at the Baghdad Music and Ballet School. In his early twenties, Omar returned to Budapest to join the Franz Liszt Academy. A friend from Hungary served as translator.

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] He started when he was five, he started learning from his father. He was a world-famous lute player and he started learning from him and he was nine when he gave his first performance.

HUFF: Omar Bashir has already won his own fan base, as one elderly lady insisted on an autograph from the handsome young Iraqi.

TERESA, AN AUTOGRAPH SEEKER: What is that instrument called? I’m Teresa, from Ireland.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: That instrument is the oud—shaped like half a fat pear with a short stem, originally it had five double strings, but Omar Bashir plays the version his father developed, which has a sixth bass double string.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: Western music is based in melody, a tune upon which musicians build harmony and themes. Music of the Arab world, such as that of the oud, sounds utterly different, because the focus is not melody. Instead, the compositions begin with a maqam which is similar to the Western concept of a musical key—such as C major. But its different, because the oud allows for the quarter tone—a smaller variation between notes than the 8-noteWestern scale. The oud player performs what are called taqsim—a type of improvisation that allows for spontaneous moments, yet has musical structure.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] Basically, it is an improvisational, meditational music, so he, he wants to give you like, room to, for your imagination. Whatever you wanna be, wherever you wanna be—if you wanna be in the desert, you know, you can be in a desert.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: This taqsim is called Love and Peace and it was written by Omar Bashir’s father, Munir Bashir. Omar says he’s also composing.

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] He writes themes. He has written many themes like that himself. But today he played that in memory of his father.

HUFF: But what Omar’s music reveals is the continuum of the influence of guitar-like instruments across cultures.

[The sound of an oud playing flamenco music]

HUFF: If you listen, you can almost hear the stomping feet of the Spanish flamenco—and that’s because Moors brought the oud to Spain in the 8th century and they remained there through the 16th century

[The sound of an oud playing flamenco music]

HUFF: The oud also traveled with the Gypsies, who may have started their cross-continental journey in India, hundreds of years ago.

OMAR BASHIR: [summarized by a translator] They took a little piece of culture with them every country they went through and composed their music.

HUFF: From India, across the mountains of Pakistan to the valleys of Iraq, and then beyond the deserts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean sea to Spain, Omar Bashir, the prince of the oud demonstrates the universal language that is music.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

HUFF: For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.

[The sound of Omar Bashir playing his oud]

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The Flute Player

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: After decades of war Cambodia is slowly emerging from its painful past. In 1975 a group of ultra-Maoist rebels, the Khmer Rouge, seized power in Cambodia. An estimated 1.7 million people died as the reign of leader Pol Pot and his followers brought chaos, brutality, and starvation to Cambodia. Arn Chorn Pond was a nine-year-old boy when the Khmer Rouge took power. Chorn Pon?? says his ability to play the flute literally saved his life. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman has the incredible story of survival and hope of the man dubbed “The Flute Player.”

[The sound of Arn Chorn-Pond playing his flute]

ARN CHORN POND: All of a sudden people starving, kids are dying, and you know, screaming for mercy. They killed them. And I don’t know—the Khmer Rouge are crazy. They said, “Alright, we’re gonna start a music class, a music and dance troop to entertain.” So I raised my hand. Five other kids raised their hands. And the end of five days or six days three did not succeed. I was number one. There was a number two, number three, number four, number five. Number three, number four, number five ended up in orange grove, too. They got killed because they didn’t succeed. And my teacher, my first teacher was only five days he taught us, they killed him, too. I didn’t even know the guy’s name.

BROCKMAN: Arn Chon-Pond says he became a very good flute player. Eventually the Khmer Rouge forced him to perform for their leaders. And they took Chorn-Pond to the killing fields, the orange grove as he calls it, where they made him play the flute while they murdered people around him. He says he closed his eyes, numbing himself to the horror.

ARN CHORN POND: Kids are screaming. Blood and everything, you know. It’s like hell. I escaped with the music, you know. I play it, my mind would be someone else.

[The sound of Arn Chorn-Pond playing his flute]

BROCKMAN: Chorn-Pond still plays the flute with his eyes closed. But when he opens them these days he usually sees children. Part of Chorn-Pond’s therapy is traveling America playing for school kids and spreading his message of tolerance.

ARN CHORN POND: [speaking to a group of American school children] You know, really why you call each other names? Why you hate each other like that? When, when you are now being taught so—the teacher, you know, the parent, you know, work hard to teach you about love, about living. Maybe you don’t have to love each other, just get along, okay? Because everybody hurt when, when you say that, right? You hurt when people call you, right? I was called a chink. For what I don’t even know. They think I’m Chinese. I’m not Chinese. I’m from Cambodia. You see, so we need to learn, we need to tell our real friends about that. Don’t call each other names. You waste your time about that. Caring and respect each other feel good, right? Sure, I want to feel good. I don’t want to hate people anymore. I don’t want to kill people anymore.


BROCKMAN: Chorn-Pond is speaking to an assembly of students at an Iowa middle school. Not all of the questions are serious.

UNIDENTIFIED IOWA SCHOOL CHILD: Can you play other songs on the flute?

ARN CHORN POND: Sure, sure I play many, many, many other songs. And it’s all traditional, all traditional. But I’m planning, I’m planning to, you know, you know, hip-hop.

[children laugh]

BROCKMAN: Chorn-Pond says he was forced to become a child soldier when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, until he finally escaped into the jungle. He ate tree bark, monkeys, and fish he caught with his hands. Eventually he found his way to a refugee camp in Thailand.

ARN CHORN POND: Two years I live in the camp and a lot of people killed. There were rainings, you know, monsoons very hard. And I, again I was put in the put there with about 500 other children, too. I was, you know, 40 pounds and trying to swim back. I couldn’t swim. I was 40 pounds. I was probably 12. And the rain, monsoon rain is like, you know, all these kids are being drowned there. And it’s just, you know, chaotic. And this guy stepped on me and you know, he’s probably like 250 pounds or something. And I probably screamed, literally. And he saw my teeth. He told me later on, we got to America and he said, “You know, your teeth saved you, Arn. I saw your teeth.” I think—because he stepped on me, that’s why I was screaming. And then when he bend down—he bend down trying to pick me up—I was trying to see what’s going on, I sort of, my arm clung to his neck. I wouldn’t let him go. [laughs] You know, that’s how, he never let me go, like a monkey, like a little monkey.

BROCKMAN: That man, Peter Pond, a Lutheran minister and refugee camp worker, brought Arn and several other children to New Hampshire where he and his wife adopted them. Two years ago Chorn-Pond decided to make his home in Cambodia again. He travels to the United States frequently to raise funds for his many projects, which include a community service program for Cambodian children, a gang intervention program, and a project to find former Cambodian cultural masters. He says the Khmer Rouge killed 90 percent of the country’s artists, musicians, and dancers. As for the future, Chorn-Pond wishes for world peace and a good nights’s sleep.

ARN CHORN POND: America can make things popular, like you know, french fries, you know. We can make peace popular here. I want that. I want that for children, to sing for peace and stuff like that. And it’s a good feeling. And for me personally, before I die you want to have good dreams. One good dream in my life before I die. One good dreams, not nightmares. And it’s very emotional for me to say this, because I don’t think it’s too much to ask the world for a child, a 12-year-old child, that probably is still in the jungle right now, holding a guns. And I’m still calling him to come. And I want to wish that for him.

[The sound of Arn Chorn-Pond playing his flute]

BROCKMAN: For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

[The sound of Arn Chorn-Pond playing his flute]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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