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Iraqi roadtrip USA

the roadtrip on BBC’s Americana

audio,media — richard @ 11:07 am

The podcast of our interview with the BBC on Americana is now available.  Our section starts at 7:10.  Here is the link to the audio.

This interview in Washington, DC was one of the last stops on our roadtrip, and the edited program aired on Sunday, August 30th in the UK.  It features some nice snippets of interviews that we recorded throughout the journey.

the roadtrip on Chicago Public Radio!

audio,media — richard @ 11:43 pm

Listen here to the segment that aired today on Worldview.  Here is the direct link to the audio.

Fouad and Ahmed recorded this interview while we were passing through Chicago.  They tell the stories of how they got here, their prospects for returning to Iraq, and their reactions to their time in the USA so far.

We made it!

Uncategorized — richard @ 9:53 pm

We have made it through to the end of our trip, on schedule and with no major mishaps!  One thousand thanks to everyone who helped us, hosted us, and offered a kind word along the way.  Below is a very brief run-down of where we went and what we did since the last audio update.  Stay tuned for upcoming press links and our own audio to be posted here on the journal!

Warren Avenue, Dearborn MI

After upstate New York, we circled Lake Erie to arrive in Detroit, Michigan.  We stayed with an Iraqi Christian family, friends of ours from Damascus who have been resettled in the far suburbs of Detroit.  We learned about their situation as new Iraqi refuge-seekers recently arrived in Motor City without jobs, without much English, and without a car.   An Iraqi friend of a friend we met earlier in New York City agreed to show us around Warren Avenue — the main drag in Dearborn, Michigan, where almost all the signs and shops are written in Arabic as well as in English.  Ahmed bought an argile (hookah) which served us well for the rest of the journey.

Argile City, Dearborn MI

South Bend, Indiana, is the center of operations for the Iraqi Student Project, the organization which organized the scholarships that have brought Fouad, Ahmed, and other students to the states.  We enjoyed meeting Fouad and Matthew’s Iraqi friends from Damascus who have been studying here for a year, and we all sat down at a potluck with the members of local student support groups.  Good people, good times.  The next morning we talked with the students about what life is like for an Iraqi on an American college campus.

South Bend, Indiana

In Chicago, Illinois, we met with a resettled Iraqi friend from Damascus, who told about the challenge he faces finding a way to study at the same time as he works to support his retired parents.  We were interviewed by two local radio stations, Vocalo.org and Chicago Public Radio.  Smoking argile on Lake Michigan beach aroused the suspicion of police, but without incident.  Running out of gas (don’t even ask) in the middle of downtown Chicago offered an exciting twist to one of our days there.

Every now and again throughout the trip we would stop at various monuments or parks that we passed, partly to stretch our legs and partly to get a feel for where we were. The site of the Battle of Tippecanoe gave us something to think about.

Tippecanoe, IN

We arrived in Indianapolis at the same time as the Gen Con gaming convention, so the streets and restaurants were filled with people dressed as fairies, wizards, and unidentifiable other creatures.  A warm Saturday evening; a perfect chance to start some conversations with the “man on the street” — these vox-pop-style interviews made for some of the most interesting times we had on the trip.

We came to more Iraqi student friends in St. Louis, Missouri, where we enjoyed the gateway arch and talked with its other visitors.

arch reflecting clouds

In Boonville, Indiana, we had an utterly unique encounter: an Iraq War veteran in the National Guard (a friend of a friend of a friend) met us at 10:00 pm at our campsite.  With the crickets singing in the background, we talked late into the night about reasons for war, about the experiences of war as a civilian and as a soldier, and about possibilities for the future.  A conversation that gave us lots to think about.

Boonville, IN

We crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky where we camped for a second night in a row.  Around our campfire we munched on shrimp and fish from a fast-food place that sells only seafood.  Sipping on argile, we told jokes and stories and revealed our secrets, speaking only Arabic for a change — what a relief.

Campfire, hookah, stories

Then, a long drive through the Appalachians: from central Kentucky to Baltimore in one day.  The drive was made easier by listening to local talk radio discussing health-care, a cassette tape of bluegrass we bought, and our own vocal a capella creations as the day wore into night.

West Virginia mountains

In Baltimore, Maryland, we met Ahmed’s lively support group and devoured a few dozen crabs — yum.

Baltimore crab massacre

During our brief visit to Washington, DC, we managed to see some of the famous buildings, conduct some vox-pop interviews, be interviewed by a BBC radio program that airs in England, and attend friday prayers at one of the biggest mosques in America on Massachusetts Avenue.  Whew!  It was a very fast-paced 2.5 weeks of traveling, with many different places and people crammed into few days.  All four of us ended the trip exhausted but thrilled with all that we had seen.

Washington, DC

Finally, we drove north towards New England and Ahmed and Fouad arrived at their colleges where they are now in the middle of freshman orientation.  Matthew and Richard are now back at Richard’s parents’ house in Philadelphia, logging the hours of audio we recorded and working on turning it all into a radio-ready piece.  Check back for updates over the next few weeks!


Uncategorized — richard @ 3:03 pm

Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan

Greetings from far southern Indiana – picture from far northern Indiana a number of days ago.

Posting has been tough this trip. A very full schedule has not left much time or energy in any of us for regular updates. We’ve been working hard on recording and logging audio for the documentary that Matthew and Richard will be editing after Fouad and Ahmed get to their schools just in time for orientation. Hopefully this site can be the place of periodic audio updates as we edit down the interviews and prepare them for the final product or products.

Time to get back on the road: we’re headed East!

from Niagara Falls

audio diaries — richard @ 10:57 am

Niagara Falls

Posted from Chicago. We’re delayed in updating our audio diaries as it has been a busy few days with lots of driving and interviewing and being social. We’re exhausted!

Recorded August 10th. Getting on the road again, going fishing with an ex-marine, and running in a rainstorm.

Fishing with Jimmy, ex-marine.

near Stony Point, NY

audio diaries — richard @ 5:58 pm

Stony Point Beach, NY

Recorded August 7th. Talking about our last day, leaving NYC and a surprise delay. Also: struggling with overuse of the adjective “beautiful”.

New York City

audio diaries — richard @ 5:27 pm

the group in times square

Reflections on New York City: shock, the subway, diversity, times square, a syrian cellphone-store owner, and our meeting with Iraqi journalist Haider Hamza.

Recorded the morning of August 6th.  It’s a rough cut, but we’re still getting the hang of recording and editing on the road.

See Haider Hamza’s video on This American Life here, and don’t forget to check the second part.

brooklyn, ny

Uncategorized — richard @ 1:27 am

JFK welcome

We’re now all arrived and gathered. All of us exhausted, especially those who have traveled the farthest. Welcome to New York City.

Final preparations

Uncategorized — matthew @ 9:49 am


The time has come. What started as a daydream in Damascus is about to get real. Fouad and Ahmed arrive in NYC this afternoon, along with a couple of other ISP students. And then it begins. Richard and I have spent the last couple of days making final preparations and buying supplies. We’re going down our list of essentials- tent, camping stove, car jack, werthers originals (endorsement please?), maps, to name a few. And then we’re hitting the road. Will we pull it off? What adventures await? Who knows… If anyone has any last minute tips on how to make a half-decent radio show, don’t hold back.

How to be a refugee…

audio — richard @ 8:31 am

morning view of shoura mosque

This is the first appearance of Fouad and Ahmed, a short pilot piece that was made in May 2009 entitled ‘How to be a Refugee in Damascus’.  They talk about their life as Iraqis in Syria; language, loss, money-saving tips and a very special dish called ‘Masguf’.  This was based on a writing project done by a group of Iraqi Student Project students, and includes interviews with fellow ISP students.

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