Sunday, April 17, 2011

Podcasts for company

Before I joined the Peace Corps and came to Senegal, I used to go running a lot, but almost always with someone – usually with my sister, or if not with her (when we didn’t live together) then with another friend. During the past year and a half that I’ve spent in Senegal, though, I typically haven’t had anyone to go running with: I clearly haven’t been able to go running with my sister and I am not usually with other Peace Corps volunteers to go running with them; I have gone running with a couple young guys in my village (when there has been too many people that want to play soccer so they can’t play right then), but that doesn’t happen very often since I usually go running in the morning and these guys all play soccer/go running in the evenings. Like many people who run by themselves, I would listen to music on my iPod. This was fine, but I still missed the conversations I used to have while running with someone else. So, I started listening to podcasts, and now I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to podcasts when I do lots of things, not just go running, and, to be perfectly honest, it’s kind of an addicting habit. By listening to podcasts when I’m running, not only do I get my English fix for the day (something that used to bother me a lot more than it does now that I speak Wolof quite well) but I also am able to stay on top of American and world news while being entertained. Sometimes I get so engrossed in the podcast that I forget what I’m doing, which then usually means I slow down, but it’s well worth that sacrifice. J The podcast that I listen to the most when I’m running is The Story by American Public Media ( It’s a little less than an hour long, which means I never get to the end of it during my normal 45-minute loop and therefore don’t have to try to flip through podcasts to find another one to listen to while I’m also still trying to run. I also really like it because it’s so conversational – Dick Gordon interviews people who have interesting stories to tell, whether they’re about a unique job, a strange coincidence, a heartrending narrative, or an uplifting experience.

I also listen to podcasts when I go biking. Some people (both other PCVs and Senegalese people) have asked me about how safe that is on the roads here, but I always make sure to have the volume soft enough so I can hear approaching cars – and it’s not like that’s that hard anyway because the roads are so bad so the cars are usually not going that fast and they are also jostling around so much you can hear them over a kilometer away. My favorite podcast when I’m biking is Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! According to their website ( it’s “NPR's weekly hour-long quiz program. Each week on the radio you can test your knowledge against some of the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world while figuring out what's real news and what's made up.” In the program callers can call in and answer questions; if they get enough questions answered correctly, they win the prize of Carl Kasell’s voice on their home answering machine or voicemail. There are also three panelists that are on the show that answer questions, too, as well as chime in with funny comments throughout the show. In addition, there is always a famous guest on the show who is interviewed briefly and then answers questions, with the hopes of winning Carl Kasell’s voice on another (not famous) person’s home answering machine or voicemail. I learn the week’s headlines from this podcast, as well as obscure events that happened recently – all in a hilarious format that keeps me smiling and sometimes even gets me laughing out loud. In fact, I can still distinctly remember one evening last November I was biking back to Kaymor from Nioro and listening to a Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! podcast. I was approaching a small group of men that were sitting on the side of the road waiting for a car to drive by that they could get on to go wherever they wanted to go, when the podcast go to the limerick part of the show, where host Peter Sagal reads a limerick and the caller has to provide the final word or phrase. Just as I reached the group of men Peter Sagal finished the limerick and paused for the caller to provide the final word/phrase. I don’t remember what the limerick was about, but I do remember the caller’s response: “plaid shirt”. I think the limericks are usually pretty easy, and I remember knowing the answer to this specific limerick, and it was not “plaid shirt”, nor anything even remotely close to that. So when the caller responded with that phrase, I immediately just burst out laughing – it was just such a random phrase to say! – and this happened to coincide exactly with me passing this group of men. I usually greet anyone I meet along the road, but couldn’t this time because I was laughing so hard, and I can’t imagine what those men must have thought – this white girl biking along the road in the hot late afternoon sun with something wrapped around her arm and something else sticking into her ears (most people don’t know what iPods are, or even what headphones are) and just bursting out laughing randomly; they probably thought I was crazy. By the time I pulled myself together enough, I was too far past them to even yell them a greeting, and then I started laughing again as I contemplated what they were thinking of me. I still chuckle every once in a while when I happen to think about this.

There are several other podcasts that I listen to when I’m running or biking, or, more commonly, when I’m doing sit-ups or some other workout behind my hut, doing laundry, doing other random chores in and around my hut, or traveling in cars: BBC’s Global News, NPR’s Science Friday, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, NPR’s Fresh Air, Freakonomics Radio, APM’s A Prairie Home Companion’s News from Lake Wobegon, and sermons from All Saints Lutheran Church (ELCA, Cottage Grove, MN), Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church (MN), and h2o (a church in Columbus, Ohio, on the University of Ohio campus). I used to listen to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion online all the time when I was at Cornell to get my Minnesota/Lutheran fix for the week, and since I can’t easily listen to the whole thing here, the News from Lake Wobegon has to suffice.

I don’t just listen to saved radio programs (i.e., podcasts) for my news and entertainment – I also listen to the radio itself. Obviously most of the radio stations that I get in my hut on my short-wave radio are Senegalese, and are therefore in Wolof or French, neither of which I can easily understand (because they always talk too fast…). Usually if I’m listening to a Senegalese station, I listen to a station that plays fun Senegalese music. I can sometimes get random American or European radio stations, but not with much consistency or clarity. I did recently discover, however, that a Gambian radio station that I can get with great clarity plays the BBC’s world news hour every day from 8-9pm, so I have also started listening to that.

It’s amazing to think about how radio revolutionized how we share information, and how now, with the advances the internet has provided in terms of storing and distributing radio programs, radio is still such a major medium for information sharing.

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