First, a personal thanks to the Voice of America, which enabled me to travel to most of the 60 countries I experienced during my 36 years at the Voice from 1962-1998.
Two incidents during those wanderings stand out as a foundation for my understanding of public diplomacy today:
- On the banks of the lower reaches of the Suez Canal, our preschool daughters were with us as we had a picnic lunch on the western shore of the Canal. A giant ship was passing by and it sucked Canal waters surrounding the two eldest preschool Heil daughters. They instantaneously became almost high and dry in the hot mid-day Suez sun. They squealed but rather than cry, little Wendy and Susie Heil screamed in delight!
- During our Middle East tour in the late 1960s and early 70s, I traveled to eight out of nine Arab countries, and will never forget my thrill, in northern Sudan, when I saw campaign posters painted on a mud hut — that country’s then unprecedented free election. The village was on the Nile bank, and its hosts offered a delicious lunch of roasted lamb and rice. Risky, but no ill effects on the traveling correspondent.
A November 7 Washington Post book review section reminded me of those experiences, including those with a familiar twist. One of the reviews is appropriately entitled Minarets in the Mountains: A Journey into Muslim Europe by Tharik Hussein. As Post reviewer Jen Rose Smith explains: “Bangladesh-born British writer Hussein grew up facing racist taunts while living in London’s East End, hearing from politicians that “Muslim” always meant “foreigner.”
“But when Hussein took a family trip to northern Bulgaria, he was startled to find historic and thriving Muslim villages. Turban-shaped tombstones and whitewashed mosques signaled the region’s rich religious traditions.”
A personal recollection about Cyprus
When I covered Cyprus in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was problematic that a relatively stable internal peace between the Greek and Turkish communities inhabiting the island might ever evolve.
But my wife Dot and I were in our kitchen in 2014 five decades later hosting a pair of young visiting Greek and Turkish Cypriots in their late teens. That was part of an exchange program designed to reinforce today’s peace between the main communities in their homeland.
To us, the transformation was inspiring. The two guests staying with us for the weekend were trading jokes and describing how their families often socialized and ate meals together, and even how much they valued the United States exchange program they were experiencing between school semesters that summer.
As the Post’s informative book review section made so clear on the first Sunday of November 2021: “These books will whisk you away — no plane ticket needed.”
*To view the Washington Post book review: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More