Book is Broadcast in Afghanistan & Beyond

Flashes of War was featured on prime time world television this weekend via TOLO News, the #1 news source in Afghanistan broadcast around the world. Their Saturday night talk show news called Farakhabar featured a military expert and one other guest to discuss the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan. The show concluded with a 4-minute Skype interview with me. Here is the version in Dari (English version below that) and it’s worth checking out the opening credits. Also, note the giant image of Obama, a gun, and a hand forming a peace symbol on the studio set. The interview slot beings around minute 26:00:
I can’t emphasize how much I learned from this experience. First of all, as you’ll see in the English version, I didn’t have an actual human face to look at during the interview. This is why my eyes are wandering so much during the feature. It’s amazing just how much we glean from facial expressions and body language…especially in cross-cultural or unfamiliar situations. I had no visual cues to work with, even though they could see me entirely. I found it challenging!
Second, I was using Skype through my computer camera, so I had to tip my chin up but keep
my eyes down in order to remain somewhat “natural” looking during the recording. I found this awkward. I’d recently studied how to prepare for a TV interview for my NBC segment, and learned about the importance of hand gestures. But the limitations of using a built-in, stationary camera are obvious and I had no one zooming in or out on my face or positioning in the room. As a result, I had to raise my hands unnaturally high to get them into the shot. I did this consciously, but it required mental effort on my part. I think it looked good in the end, but it tied up part of my mind that I would have liked to have free for more presence during the interview itself. So much to learn!
Third, I wasn’t given any context for the show. I knew from my new BBC connection in Kabul that the audience for TOLO News is, according to him, “primarily educated Afghans and Afghan youth all around the world.” I did not know–and perhaps my interviewer didn’t know either–what show I would be featured on. The person who interviewed me via Skype was not the same man who is the host of the show–despite the editing that makes it looks as though we are in direct conversation. Was I going to be nightly news? A short feature? A talk show? It turned out to be the latter, and because I don’t speak Dari I still know very little about the context within which my interview was placed. It is a very curious feeling. Not a bad feeling, but a bit disorienting.
Last but not least, I learned a lot about trusting others to translate my words. You’ll notice that the segment which aired is about 4 minutes long, but the English version I recorded via a free software download (that’s why it says “Camera Demo” on the screen) is 8 minutes long. A careful English-speaking listener can also glean that the broadcast version cuts my Skype words off in illogical places. This leads me to believe that some of what was translated is not matched up verbatim with the words I was actually speaking on video during the clip displayed. I have no reason to doubt the quality of the translation, but I do find it interesting to think about the implications of my words being translated in Dari over different facial expressions I might have made for completely different English words. And of course, at this point I have no way of knowing which of the words I said in 8 minutes were actually translated and used for the 4 minutes. I said some things that I feel were more important than others…but I’m curious about what TOLO decided was important, and of course I’d like to know how those words were perceived.
I’ve received a few messages through Facebook since the show aired, and several invitations to visit the country. I’m negotiating those messages diplomatically but also with a grain of salt. With kind help from my BBC friend in Kabul, I’m starting to get a feel for who listened, who wants to read the book, and the diversity of opinions about US presence currently bouncing around the major cities in Afghanistan.

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