Over a cookout on the Fourth of July, a time for reminiscences, I talked with my family about the place I grew up, rural Western Massachusetts. This pretty part of the world is physically unspoiled and idyllic in many ways. My husband and I spent a recent weekend hiking around the lush woods and hills (called mountains, but none over 2,000 feet), spotting birds and slapping mosquitoes. As a teenager, though, I thought of it as parochial and mean-spirited, because when I returned from college in Boston I often heard sarcastic and hurtful comments about the “big city.” The cookout conversation this Fourth wandered to people we know or had met who had not been out of the city of Boston, or the state of Massachusetts, or New England, or the U.S. We wondered how anyone with no first hand knowledge of the rest of the world can possibly make intelligent decisions about foreign policy, because each and every American is purporting to know something about the U.S. as a global influence when they cast a vote in a Federal election.
In mid-June I was privileged to be able to visit the tiny studio of WorldLink TV in San Francisco. This amazing satellite station started on a shoestring budget in late 1999. Among other programming dedicated to global understanding and conflict resolution, it carries “Mosaic”, TV news programs produced by national broadcasters
throughout the Middle East. The news reports are presented unedited and translated, when necessary, into English. While we were in the station in San Francisco, we met Israeli and Palestinian translators, busy with headphones and mikes. With the staff, we stared at monitors as they transmitted live shows from Germany, England, the Middle East and Australia. The world seemed very small indeed.
In the San Francisco area, my husband and I live in an apartment and almost never watch television. But immediately after returning to our East Coast home, we called the local satellite company and soon found ourselves in a remake of the T.V. commercial about switching from cable to satellite. The very eager guy who came to install our dish had to tromp around on our roof a while to find the place where trees were not between us and our friendly stationary satellite, but after a few hours of work we were live.
The first program we watched on WorldLink was Czech with English subtitles. Touring folk singers drove around the countryside like ancient troubadours, singing to and with people from villages, refugee camps or the cities. In a particularly destitute area, one of the performers hesitated, repeating “Look at them!” over and over. She was told “They’re people just like you.”
As the country follows the Bush tour through Africa, media focuses on pictures of the President, his entourage and various local leaders. How would local T.V.stations cover the visit, and what if we could see behind the scenes to tales of AIDS and famine like the story in the Wall Street Journal on July 9? What would this country be like if people occasionally watched a folk singer in a refugee camp in Czechoslovakia instead of Sex and the City or flag-draped Fox News? I wish every voter could see what we now are able to see through our little satellite dish — an insider perspective of what it feels like to be an Iranian, or what the U.S. looks like from Germany or Africa. I believe it would make a difference.