Transcript

481:

This Week
Transcript

Originally aired 12.07.2012

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/481

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Tuesday, Tucson, Arizona.

Sarah Bromer

How are you feeling?

Rediet Seifu

I'm scared.

Ira Glass

Rediet Seifu moved to the United States from Ethiopia four months ago. She's learning English. And once a week, one of her teachers from the City High School in Tuscon, Sarah Bromer, takes her to Ike's coffee shop to practice a simple English conversation.

It goes like this-- Rediet orders tea. That's it, actually. That's the whole thing. Usually, they walk past the door four or five times before she even gets the courage to go inside to do this. And they rehearse beforehand.

Sarah Bromer

So she's going to go-- she calls everybody hon. Do you know what that means? Like honey?

Rediet Seifu

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Today, for the very first time, Ms. Bromer is making Rediet order without her help.

Sarah Bromer

She might say, hey, hon, what do you want? Or I bet she'll say, hey, hon, what can I get for you? You'll say--

Rediet Seifu

I would like a tea, please.

Sarah Bromer

And then what if she says, what? What? Pardon me?

Rediet Seifu

A tea. You confused me.

Ira Glass

Ms. Bromer's actually teasing Rediet by saying, "What?" She knows that this is Rediet's biggest fear, that people will not understand her, that they're going to say, what? What? What was that?

Sarah Bromer

Well, that's what you're afraid of, right?

Rediet Seifu

You confused me.

Sarah Bromer

You're afraid, right, you're going to say, can I have a tea? And then she's going to go, what? What?

Rediet Seifu

Tea.

Sarah Bromer

No, you're saying it just fine. She's going to know what you want. I'm just kidding. You'll say, I want a tea.

Rediet Seifu

OK. I want a tea.

Sarah Bromer

Good. She'll say, what kind do you want?

Rediet Seifu

Honeybush tea.

Sarah Bromer

Huh?

[GIGGLING]

Ira Glass

OK, they practice a few more times. And then, finally, Rediet approaches the counter.

Rediet Seifu

Hello.

Barista

Hi.

Man 1

Have a good one.

Barista

Bye, guys.

Rediet Seifu

I would like a tea, please.

Barista

I'm sorry?

Ira Glass

OK, I just have to stop the tape right there. Did you hear? It happened. Exactly what she feared. The lady didn't understand her.

And listen how she handles this. She's so good. Let's take that from the top again.

Rediet Seifu

I would like a tea, please.

Barista

I'm sorry?

Rediet Seifu

I would like a tea, please.

Barista

Sure.

Sarah Bromer

Hot tea.

Barista

Hot tea?

Rediet Seifu

Yeah.

Barista

Do you know which kind you'd like, sweetheart?

Rediet Seifu

Yeah, honeybush tea.

Barista

Honeybush?

Rediet Seifu

Yeah.

Barista

Anything else?

Sarah Bromer

No.

Barista

OK.

Ira Glass

She doesn't giggle. She doesn't panic. She's perfect.

Barista

$1.69.

Ira Glass

It's her first time buying something by herself in the US.

Barista

And $0.06 is your change, honey.

Ira Glass

Welcome to America, Rediet. You bought something. You're engaging in commerce. You're talking to the lady at the counter.

We are so glad to have you here. Have some tea. You'll be paying for it yourself.

Rediet Seifu

I'm not scared.

Sarah Bromer

You're not?

Rediet Seifu

Yeah.

Sarah Bromer

Really? You felt brave?

Rediet Seifu

Yeah.

Sarah Bromer

Well, I think you did a really good job.

Rediet Seifu

Yeah, I think. Yeah.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. This week on our radio program, we're trying something unusual for us. This is the second time we've done this. Instead of our usual picking a theme and finding stories on the theme, the theme this week will simply be the week, the week that we all just lived through, these past seven days. Everything on the show has just happened, including stories that are so small and personal-- like, you know, Rediet ordering her first tea-- that they would never belong on a regular news show.

And we have stories that are bigger, too, like this next woman, whose husband is Syrian. They lived there again in Syria till January, when it got too unstable. And she came to America, where she grew up. And then something bad happened.

Woman

I don't know. Really, I don't believe this could be happening. It seems like something that would happen in movies or in a book. We're just normal people.

Ira Glass

Her husband's still in Syria. He owns some businesses there. And two of their employees were taken hostage by the rebel forces who are fighting President Bashar al-Assad. President Obama has called for him to step down, of course, on Thursday. The Pentagon warned him not to use chemical weapons.

Ira Glass

Did you talk to your husband today?

Woman

Yeah, I did.

Ira Glass

What's the very latest?

Woman

He told me this morning they said that they would accept $80,000, and my husband said OK.

Ira Glass

And you and I are talking on Wednesday.

Woman

Yes. Yeah, I mean, I think their objective is to get the money and hopefully not to kill somebody in between.

Ira Glass

And it must make you feel so strange to feel like, oh, and these people who you guys are negotiating with, those are the US allies in the war.

Woman

Yeah. They're trying to clean up their act and get rid of this type of stuff, or appear like that. And I don't know--

Ira Glass

So have you spent most of this week just, like, on pins and needles just to hear what the next thing is with these employees?

Woman

Yeah. I haven't slept because of this. So hopefully-- I don't know if you are familiar with how things work in the Middle East, but everything always takes forever.

Naderev Sano

We don't really have 25 days. We have a few precious hours left. We are at a critical juncture.

Ira Glass

In Doha, Qatar, this week, at the latest United Nations Climate Change Conference, the main goal that they were trying to achieve seemed incredibly modest. The things that the world originally negotiated in 1997 in Kyoto about climate change are about to expire. If all goes as planned, the delegates here hope to recommit to them.

But their bigger mission-- for instance, limiting the increase in world temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, which the world's governments committed to in 2009 in Copenhagen-- is starting to seem impossible, meaning more hurricane Sandys, more drought, more floods more frequently. A typhoon called Bopha hit the Philippines on Tuesday with a death toll that'll probably be twice that of Hurricane Sandy. This man speaking is the lead negotiator from the Philippines, Naderev Sano, giving a speech that becomes, as you'll hear, very unusual for this deeply bureaucratic, diplomatic setting.

Naderev Sano

An important backdrop for my delegation is the profound impacts of climate change that we are already confronting. And as we see here, every single hour, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, we are suffering. Madam Chair, we have never had a typhoon like Bopha, which has wreaked havoc in a part of the country that has never seen a storm like this in half a century.

Finally, Madam Chair, I'm making an urgent appeal, not as a negotiator, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino. I appeal to the whole world. I appeal to the leaders from all over the world to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face. I appeal to ministers.

The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people. I appeal to all-- please, no more delays. No more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around.

Michael Mcgill

No choo-choo out of the train. No train whistle in the train. No doorbells.

Ira Glass

As we poured gases into the atmosphere that are slowly heating the planet, threatening our very existence, we also put on plays for children and the disabled this week. In Montana, the Missoula Community Theatre prepared a special performance of the musical Miracle on 34th Street for people on the autism spectrum. This meant no sudden loud noises, lower lights, volunteers with glow sticks signaling when to applaud, and lower sound levels in general. Director Michael McGill discussed the changes with the cast before the show.

Michael Mcgill

Young people, when you come out for Donald Duck, you come out quickly, but you don't scream.

Woman

Just know that Mrs. Sawyer's going to be very quiet in the trial scene.

[GROANING]

Emcee

OK, here we go. Our first group coming up. We've got Hype-- Hyphen. Y'all give it up for Hyphen. They're doing some step for us today. Give it up, give it up, give it up, give it up.

Ira Glass

At the Best of Both Worlds Dance and Step Competition in Charlottesville, Virginia, Akayla Brown, Aquasia Baker, and Destiny Grady, ages 10, 10, and 11, told reporter Eric Mennel that they were confident of winning, even though they were competing against college kids.

Akayla Brown

And I think they'd be like, oh, we can just beat the little kids and this and that. They just think that they can just get in our Kool-Aid when they don't even know the flavor.

Aquasia Baker

Ooh! That's a good one, [? Akayla. ?]

Ira Glass

That same day, in Newark, New Jersey, a stranger on the train that carries you between terminals at Newark Airport got into the Kool-Aid of a man named James Braly, asking where he was headed.

James Braly

I am on my way to meet my brother-- or my half-brother, depending on how you look at it. The internet is a very, very strange thing.

Man

Oh, really?

James Braly

Yes.

Man

First day?

James Braly

For the first time.

Man

Seriously?

James Braly

I'm absolutely serious.

Ira Glass

The half-brother, Jan, who is from Norway, recently learned the name of his father for the very first time, did an internet search, discovered James' family in the United States, and was coming to meet them. The guy on the train asked James, what proof do you have? You going to get a DNA test or something?

James Braly

Uh, not unless he asks me for a lot of money.

Ira Glass

When James gets to terminal A, he scans the crowd and spots him.

James Braly

I think that's him.

Ira Glass

His half-brother's a 52-year-old man with a waxed handlebar mustache, hair thinned from chemo, and his dad's eyes. He is instantly recognizable, James says, as family.

James Braly

Can I get you a drink?

Ira Glass

Welcome to WBEZ Chicago. It's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. Coming up all this hour, stories of all kinds, from all over, all from the past seven days. Stay with us.

Act One. Kabul, Afghanistan.

Hyder Akbar

Let me grab Josef, who's here, who actually was trying to get my dad to let him go back home tomorrow. I can bring him in here and talk to him about what's going on.

Ira Glass

That seems great. Yeah, bring him in.

Hyder Akbar

What are you doing when you [INAUDIBLE]? OK, just a second. Let me--

Ira Glass

So Josef shows up.

Hyder Akbar

[SPEAKING ARABIC].

Ira Glass

And Hyder asks him what's happening in Kunar right now.

Josef

[SPEAKING ARABIC].

Hyder Akbar

Oh. Oh. He says the most interesting thing is that the Americans have just pulled out of an area called Pashangar, in his area, where there was almost like a local militia with them and then the Americans controlling them. And they pulled out of that base. And now the problems have started.

And they're warning everybody, they're telling everybody, look, the Americans are leaving. The Americans are out. We're coming for you guys. We're going to go after whoever cooperated with the Afghan government, with the Americans. You guys better be careful. And they've started attacking the Afghan National Army. That, he says, is the main thing going on right now.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Hyder Akbar

There might be a chance to get interesting audio there, too, that this might be of interest. So let's see. Let's see.

Ira Glass

So they went to see, in an ancient Toyota Corolla. They drove up there. They'd have to be careful, stay under the radar. A few days before, Hyder said, a few guys with the Afghan National Army were stopped on the road coming from Kunar and killed.

They left on Tuesday. They were going to be back Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Our plan was to talk again 6 o'clock Wednesday night, Kabul time.

Then, Wednesday, Hyder wasn't answering any emails or any phone calls. 6 o'clock came and went. I started to get worried. And then, after an hour or so, I saw that he was online, on Skype. So I tried him.

[RING]

[SKYPE CALL STARTING]

Hyder Akbar

Hello?

Ira Glass

Hyder?

Hyder Akbar

Hey, Ira.

Ira Glass

So it's Wednesday, and you just got back from Kunar Province.

Hyder Akbar

Yes, I did. I just got back from Kunar. This was probably the most intense experience of my life a few hours ago. So that's kind of at the forefront of my mind.

Ira Glass

What happened?

Hyder Akbar

I was coming back with a story. And I was very excited, driving down, taking in the view of Kunar, which is actually very scenic. So I had my headphones on. And I'm driving down.

And I have Josef, who lives with me now and works with me. And Sartor, who you've been introduced to through the previous documentaries, was sitting in the back. And I wanted to drive myself.

And we were coming by this bend in the road where it slows down a little bit. And we were passing by that bend when, all of a sudden, somebody jumped up behind this wall. He jumped up behind the wall, and he tried stopped the car. He put his hand on the car twice, like-- [BANGING] --and yelled, stop.

And I had my headphones on, so I just looked through the corner of my eye. And I see confusion. And I see Josef next to me, yelling, go go, go! And I looked at him, and he had his AK-47 pointed straight at us.

When he had his AK-47 pointed straight at us and I saw that, I just floored the accelerator. I floored the accelerator, and I was like, oh, not time to stop. And my music was still going on in my ears.

And then, all of a sudden, I just see firing. And they had a few men on that side of the road firing at our car, and then a few men on the other side of the road, as well, too, firing at our car. They're just emptying into our car.

Josef is ducked down. Sartor is ducked down in the back. I had my head up, because I have to look at the road. Here, the tires go flat. They hit both tires. And as they hit both tires, I'm kind of looking up and trying to still make it. We're probably going a few hundred meters past them now.

And then, all of a sudden, I see another person jump out. And he had an RPG in his hand. And he's looking right at me, and I'm looking right at him. And he shot the RPG right at me. He shot the RPG at me.

And I'm seeing this rocket come towards me, and I'm like, OK, it's fine. I've done enough here. I had a pretty fun life. Obviously, all of that went through my mind. I was like, OK, it's done. It's done. I'm done.

And the RPG-- this is why everybody was so shocked. So at that second, we hit like a little bump on the road. And the RPG goes straight through the engine of my car, instead of coming directly at me. So it hits the engine right in front of me.

Ira Glass

And is the car on fire? Are you in danger of the car blowing up?

Hyder Akbar

[INAUDIBLE] the engine on fire at this point. [INAUDIBLE] being able to take a picture later on. I could probably email this to you later on. But I'm going to show you on webcam real quick. You might be able to get a sense of how damaged it was and--

Ira Glass

OK. All right, you're holding this up to the webcam. We're talking over Skype.

Hyder Akbar

Yeah. Can you see the car?

Ira Glass

Oh my god. So the whole front is dented in. And then is the windshield busted in? It's hard to see.

Hyder Akbar

Everything's busted in. The whole car went on fire. Do you see that hole right there?

Ira Glass

Yeah. So there's a huge hole in the driver's side in the front, on the hood.

Hyder Akbar

[INAUDIBLE] right now. Yeah, that's where the RPG went through. And you're looking at it in reverse right now, I think, because of the cam. But that's basically where I was sitting, right above it.

And that's where the RPG came through. And that's where I missed the bump of the RPG. I mean, he was aiming straight at me. Like I said, when I saw that RPG come at me, I thought it was done. So--

Ira Glass

So the car is on fire. You guys are in the car. These guys are shooting just a couple of hundred meters behind you. And maybe have they stopped at that point?

Hyder Akbar

So at this point, it's quiet for a second. We're all kind of looking around. Right then, these two pickup trucks of ANA soldiers are driving by on the opposite side, going in their direction.

Ira Glass

This is the Afghan army. This is friendly to you--

Hyder Akbar

The Afghan National Army, yeah. So we see the Afghan National Army, two pickup trucks, plenty of guys in there. So we're like, OK-- phew-- coast clear. The ANA's going to be able to take care of this. And we get kind of relieved for a second.

We get out of the car, we just see the ANA drive off. They saw it. They saw our car on fire. They definitely heard the RPG his us, because that doesn't make low noise.

They heard the gunfire. And they just drive off. They just drive off, and I'm like, OK. All right.

Ira Glass

They drive off in the direction of the guys who are shooting at you, or just in some other direction?

Hyder Akbar

No, past them. Past them. Past them. They were driving in that direction, and they kept driving. So at this point, Josef just runs off. Josef has run off. He's a good hundred meters away from us at this point.

And me and Sartor are kind of just looking at the car on fire, and we're like, what the hell? And we're looking at it, and Josef's screaming, get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!

And I just looked at Sartor, and I was like, dude, my laptop bag's in there. Everything's in there. So we both run in. We open the door to go inside to grab the laptop bag out of it, with my laptop and other stuff in there.

And so as we do that, they start firing again. Luckily, the car covered us. And the bullets just hit the back of the car as we were on the side of the car trying to get the laptop bag out. We managed to get the laptop bag out. And then I'm kind of hiding behind the car.

I take out my iPhone, because I'm like, OK, I've got to record this a little bit, at least, for you guys. I was like, I want to record this thing. This is an interesting thing. I look at my iPhone. It has, like, 1% battery, 2%. I'm like, [BLEEP].

So I have this on record, and I see Josef just come running back down. And it was kind of funny. He's like, what are you doing? I'm like, I need to record the car, I need to record the car for the thing. Remember, we came here to do the radio thing.

And he cursed you guys out and punched the hood. And basically, he said, F This American Life. What the hell are you going to do with This American Life when you're dead? And he started dragging me away.

And right then, the phone turned off too. The phone turned off too, so it didn't save the recording, either. And he's dragging me away. As he's dragging me away--

Ira Glass

OK, soon after this in the conversation, I let Hyder know that if he is ever again in any situation where he might get killed, it is OK if he runs away and stops recording for the radio show. So he explained that they went around the bend. They saw two civilian cars stopped there. They were still being shot at. So they got into those cars. They got away.

This was the first time, Hyder said, that somebody specifically tried to kill him. And he thinks that they wanted him because they were letting other cars pass by on the road, and they specifically tried to stop his car. But who was it who was targeting him? And why were they targeting him? That wasn't clear to him at all.

Hyder Akbar

That's something I'm going to have to think about and figure out tonight, in the next couple of days.

Ira Glass

Well, what are the possibilities? List through right now, tick off a couple of possibilities, just so I understand. What could it be?

Hyder Akbar

It could have been the Taliban. It could have been the Taliban, who might have been following me a lot more closely than I realized, following my locations, where I'm spending the night, where I'm living. They definitely knew exactly where I was. I can't think of anything personal, in terms of any personal feuds, et cetera. So it'd be most likely the Taliban or people in Kunal that are with the insurgency that don't see me, I guess, as a threat.

Ira Glass

And Hyder, is it as simple as you and your dad aren't necessarily so crazy about the current government in Afghanistan, but they know you definitely do not like the Taliban? And is it as simple as that?

Hyder Akbar

Almost as simple as that. The one thing I would add onto that is they could see us as being even more of a threat because we're not that close to this government anymore, because we don't approve of many things that are going on in the government. They can sideline a lot of other people very easily by saying, oh, these guys are corrupted individuals, involved with the government, fattening their pockets. But when they see me driving around in a [BLEEP] Corolla and just talking to people, engaging them, and being pretty sincere in my efforts, that's seen as much more of a threat, because they could delegitimize the Afghan government and the officials involved with them much easier.

Ira Glass

And it's not crazy to think that Hyder is now at a point where he would be worth killing. His family's from Kunar. His father and uncle were in the insurgency in Kunar that drove out the Soviets in the 1980s. When the current Afghan government came to power after September 11, Hyder's dad was appointed governor of Kunar. They have friends there. They have a base of support.

And as the Americans pull out in the next two years, there's going to be a power vacuum in the country. And people are getting in position for that, including Hyder. He is setting himself up to do politics. The way that he explains it, he says he wants to be the Afghan equivalent of a congressman, though with a militia. You need a militia, because it's Afghanistan.

We talked for a while. Hyder insisted that he is planning on going back to Kunar soon. And he's going to do it just like he did this time, in another beat-up old car, to prove that they didn't scare him, to prove that he wasn't going to stay away, which I really hope that his mom and his dad and his uncle talk him out of. And then we finally got to the reason for his trip in the first place, the story that he was so excited to bring back, that he ended up risking his life for, of what was happening in the province.

Ira Glass

So just review the highlights for me. So let's talk about what you saw when you were there. What's interesting?

Hyder Akbar

OK, so we drove up there. We drove up there yesterday. And we went into the Pesh Valley.

It's actually kind of funny. So the Pesh Valley's sort of like the valley of death. It was the place that was considered very dangerous. And some interesting new dynamics have emerged there with the ANA, the Afghan National Army.

Ira Glass

Again, this is the government's army. This for the government of Afghanistan.

Hyder Akbar

The ANA, the Afghan National Army, is in control there now. The Americans have pulled out. What's going on because of that is that a lot of people, especially the civilian population, is siding with the ANA now. The ANA is just culturally much more aware. They've been able to make inroads amongst the population.

They've been able to push the Taliban out, especially from the main roads. I was driving by areas where people used to get stopped and beheaded, government officials or those considered working with the Americans, driving past all of these potholes in the road where they had laid down IEDs. And that was fine. It was fine. And we're all taking in the scenery.

And it was a very heartwarming story, actually. I was actually very excited to come back. I was kind of aware, I was like, OK, maybe good news is not always that fun to report about. I was like, but it'll be exciting to finally come back. And I was very hopeful and feeling pretty jolly.

Ira Glass

Because it was so hopeful that the Afghan National Army was doing a decent job?

Hyder Akbar

Exactly. Exactly, that there's hope for this country, there's hope for security in this country, there's hope for stability in this country. And as somebody who has spent the last 10 years involved in this place, that was incredible news for me.

Ira Glass

Hyder Akbar. He's the author of the book Come Back to Afghanistan. This song that's playing right now is one that he swears was playing on his iPod when he was ambushed. And it's such a weird choice that it's hard to believe that he'd make that up. It's the Geto Boys' 1991 hit, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."

[MUSIC - "MIND PLAYING TRICKS ON ME" BY GETO BOYS]

Act Two. Tucson, Arizona.

Ira Glass

Well, if you live in a part of the country that has already had snow this year, you may find it hard to relate to the thrill experienced by some people in Arizona this past week. Lisa Pollak explains.

Lisa Pollak

When I heard that an outdoor mall in Tuscon was promising snow on Saturday, a day when the high temperature hit 77 degrees, I figured there were only two possible explanations-- a pre-Christmas meteorological miracle or a ski resort style snow machine. But there was, in fact, a third option. I heard about it from Melanie Sutton, the senior marketing manager at La Encantada mall, the mall that sponsors the annual event known as the Enchanted Snowfall. She said that what we were about to see falling from sky that night was a desert style snow.

Melanie Sutton

As our tagline, we say, "98% magic, 2% soap."

Lisa Pollak

Oh, wow. So it literally is, like, that's the ingredient, is soap? I mean, besides the magic.

Melanie Sutton

Correct. The ingredient is soap. But they're shaped as snowflakes.

Lisa Pollak

Got that? Me, neither. But minutes later, along with hundreds of parents and kids in the mall's open-air courtyard, I had a chance to see it for myself.

Dad 1

Oh, oh, here we go.

Lisa Pollak

"Oh, oh, here we go," I heard one of the dads say. Then there was a whooshing sound, followed by white stuff falling from the sky.

Child 1

It's snowing!

Lisa Pollak

From a distance, I can report that it did indeed resemble snow-- heavy, white flakes lit up by spotlights in the darkness. Up close, though, it was hard to be fooled. Imagine little clumps of bath suds or globs of latte foam, with a faintly fresh smell.

Dad 2

There it is, look!

Lisa Pollak

This man is talking to his three-year-old son, Cameron, who at first seemed to be saying how much he liked the snow--

Cameron

I don't like snow.

Dad 2

You like snow.

Lisa Pollak

--but on closer examination, was actually saying how much he didn't like the snow.

Cameron

Don't like snow.

Dad 2

It's OK.

Cameron

I don't like snow.

Dad 2

It's OK.

Lisa Pollak

Cameron was the exception. All around me, kids seemed to be going insane with joy. Over by the Apple store, a group of them had planted themselves under one of the faux snow machines and seemed to be trying to get as much white foam on their hair and clothes as possible. Others ran around with outstretched hands, trying to catch enough to make mushy snowballs and smash it on each other's heads.

[CHILD LAUGHING]

Child 2

My hair!

Lisa Pollak

One boy walked up to me with a mass of suds in each hand and a look on his face like he couldn't believe his good fortune.

Boy 1

Look at how much snow I have.

Lisa Pollak

Suddenly I felt a sense of duty. Shouldn't these kids know the truth? I would break it to them gently.

Lisa Pollak

It looks kind of like soap.

Boy 1

That's because it is soap. It's kind of like regular snow. But if it gets in your eyes, your eyes just terribly burn. It's just bubbles, but I can't believe it! I've never seen this happen before!

Child 3

So fun! And it's soap!

Boy 2

I tasted it. It tastes like soap.

Lisa Pollak

About halfway through the show, I noticed I was starting to cough. And I wasn't the only one. I overheard this lady talking to her husband. Everyone's coughing, she said.

Man 4

We're all going to get cancer.

Lisa Pollak

What did you say?

Man 4

We're all going to get cancer.

Lisa Pollak

Why did you say-- [COUGHS]

Man 4

Just listen. Everybody's standing here coughing, right? So it can't be good for you.

Lisa Pollak

[COUGHS]

Man 4

Yeah. Right? There you go. There you go. Get you some.

Lisa Pollak

I checked with Melanie, the mall's marketing manager. She assured me that whatever was in the bubbles had been tested and was nontoxic. Though I believed her, I was a little relieved when the Enchanted Snowfall powered down after 15 minutes. Like a lot of things about the holidays, it was at its best from a distance, and a little went a long way.

Ira Glass

Lisa Pollak. Coming up, a guy walks into a bar-- usually not a life-or-death situation. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. Washington, D.C.

Norman Ornstein

But all I care about is that you mention the book--

Ira Glass

And the title of the book is?

Norman Ornstein

--which is, It's Even Worse Than It Looks-- How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.

Ira Glass

Consider it mentioned.

Norman Ornstein

OK.

Ira Glass

So you're in Prague this week. Isn't this kind of a big week not to be near Capitol Hill for somebody like you?

Norman Ornstein

It's a good week to be away from Capitol Hill in a lot of ways.

Ira Glass

How so?

Norman Ornstein

Well, it seems like a big week. But the fact is we're in the middle of an end game. And I've been kind of bemused by all of the focus on the every-minute maneuvering of Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, including a heavy focus on the fact that Boehner didn't pose for a picture with the President at the White House Christmas party.

And there's one important principle to keep in mind. When does an end game end? At the end. And the end is not this week.

Ira Glass

Are you basically saying that this is a week we might as well ignore the news from Capitol Hill?

Norman Ornstein

Yes. I'm saying that there are naturally going to be people who follow every little twist and turn. But it doesn't really matter.

Ira Glass

So this is the thing that I was wondering, is, when you look at this maneuvering, can you tell how it's going to play out?

Norman Ornstein

The answer is two-fold. The first part is, no, you can't tell how it's going to play out. But all of these ploys and, in some ways, histrionics are par for the course. So taking the temperature on any one of them doesn't really tell us that much.

Now, what I would have to say, though, is the second point. And it's frankly a giant caveat here. We are going through the most dysfunctional politics I've seen in 43 years. So I think there's a pretty good chance we'll get a patchwork deal to get us past this dilemma before the end of the year.

But I also think that there's a substantial chance, much higher than it would have been if we were looking at the process 20 years ago or 10 years ago, even 5 years ago, that we'll slip over into January. And it might take a jolt, a serious jolt, from the markets to bring us to some kind of conclusion here.

Ira Glass

Norman Ornstein. I asked him, why do they even bother going through the theater this week? Why not just skip to the part where they actually hammer out the deal? His answer, I thought, was interesting.

He said that the Republicans need to demonstrate to Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh and all their own constituents that they tried everything, their back is against the wall, there was no other choice before they can raise taxes. The Democrats have their own version of it. They have to demonstrate to their base they had no choice but to cut entitlements before any deal. Both sides need to say no, he says, for a while.

Act Four. New Orleans, LA.

Joni Cooper

Hey, guys.

Bar Patron 1

How are you?

Joni Cooper

Can I come chat with you?

Bar Patron 1

Sure.

Joni Cooper

Well, my name's Joni. And I'm here with NO/AIDS. We're doing free HIV testing today. Would y'all maybe be interested in getting tested tonight?

Ira Glass

NO/AIDS is an organization in Louisiana that works to prevent and reduce the spread of HIV and help treat people who are infected. Louisiana has the fourth highest estimated AIDS rate in the country. In 2011, nearly 60% of new HIV diagnoses in Louisiana were gay man. 74% were African Americans. So NO/AIDS tries to make finding at your HIV status as convenient as they possibly can, which means, for them, going into bars, asking people to put down their drink for 15 minutes, and come get tested. They get the results on the spot.

Bar Patron 2

It's my birthday, so--

Joni Cooper

[SCREAMS]. Happy birthday!

Ira Glass

Joni is pitching a group of guys who are out for their friend's 30th birthday. You might think this would not be a receptive crowd, but listen to what happens.

Bar Patron 2

You're doing it right now? Like, what time?

Joni Cooper

We're doing it right now.

Bar Patron 2

Let's do it.

Joni Cooper

You want to go?

Bar Patron 2

Let's go.

Joni Cooper

All right!

Bar Patron 2

Let's go. I'm going to get tested. You coming?

Bar Patron 3

Where?

Bar Patron 2

Right here, right now.

Robin Pearce

You catch someone by surprise. You kind of catch someone off guard, and they're like, oh, well, I guess it's here. I've never done it.

Ira Glass

Robin Pearce runs the testing program, which has testing sites all over New Orleans, not just in bars.

Robin Pearce

The statistic is that 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and one in five of them don't know they have it. So finding the people who don't know that they have HIV is the point of what we're doing.

Ira Glass

The week that we're covering here today happened to begin with World AIDS Day. And thinking about that, we sent out a writer, Nathaniel Rich, to watch the HIV testing at one of the highest risk venues NO/AIDS tests at-- Club New Orleans, a five-story sex club for men in the center of the French Quarter, which means that this story might not be appropriate for all children or maybe any of them. It acknowledges the existence of sex. Here's Nathaniel. We changed the name of the guy he's writing about in this story.

Nathaniel Rich

Room 300 was the largest bedroom in the club, just large enough to fit a chair and a queen size bed covered with red satin sheets. Sitting cross-legged on the bed was Alex Lee, a 25-year-old counselor for NO/AIDS, who's also a student at the University of New Orleans. He's majoring in anthropology. In fact, he had a final exam the next morning.

When Mark entered the room, Alex was reading an essay about Occam's razor. Alex asked Mark to sit in the chair. He explained that the HIV test would only detect an infection that occurred more than three months ago. He showed Mark how to use an applicator to swab this mouth-- first his upper gums, then his lower gums. When Mark was finished, he dipped the end of the applicator into a small vial.

Alex set a timer to 20 minutes, the time it takes for a test result to appear, and placed it on the bedside table between them. He asked Mark a series of questions. "When was your last test?" "About a year ago," said Mark, "at a bar, in fact."

"In the past 12 months," asked Alex, "have you had anal sex with a man?" "Yes," said Mark. "Have you had sex without using a condom?" "As a giver," said Mark. "How about sex with an anonymous, casual, or internet partner, someone you didn't know too well?" "I'm sure I have," said Mark.

He seemed to become increasingly anxious. He crossed his arms, holding his elbows, hugging his chest. "Have you knowingly had sex with someone who's living with HIV?" "No." "Have you injected any drugs?" "No."

"Have you had sex with someone who injects drugs?" Mark paused for two seconds. "No," he said. Alex started the next question, but Mark interrupted him. "Yes," he said, "yes, I have." "Sex with someone who injects drugs?" "Yeah. I just didn't know it until after."

The timer beeped. "Does that mean it's ready?" asked Mark. "No," said Alex. "It just beeps sometimes."

"It's so funny," said Mark, "and this is so crude, but I did have intercourse last night, not wearing a condom. It's just weird. The guy told me he was negative, but for some reason, after all was said and done, I thought he was really positive. And then I was thinking on the walk home how stupid that was."

Mark had been busy all day at work, so it had been easy to avoid thinking about it. But that evening, he went for a walk and soon found himself standing in front of the club. It was odd, Mark said, because he hadn't visited the club for a year. As soon as he stepped inside, a voice came on the loudspeaker announcing that there would be free HIV testing that evening. Suddenly, Mark understood why he had come to the club, and he felt scared.

There were five minutes left on the timer. "I'm really anxious," said Mark. He looked it. He was jittery. He rose from his chair. He said he was going to walk around and come back when his result was ready.

But five minutes later, when the timer went off, Mark was gone. Alex waited another 10 minutes, then another 10. A different man was tested, waited for his result, then left. Still no sign of Mark.

Alex was mystified. In his two years testing men at bars, nobody had ever fled before finding out his results. It was now almost 11:30. His shift had official ended half an hour ago, and his anthropology final was at 10:00 AM.

As Alex gathered his testing materials, his colleague, Brandon, decided to make one final effort to find Mark. Brandon started in the gym. Mark wasn't there. Nor was Mark in the sauna or the whirlpool.

He was not in the room called the Bookstore, which doesn't have any books, nor was he in the Barracks. He was not in the so-called Porno Room, in which every surface is made of black rubber. And he was not in the Dungeon.

Brandon paced through the narrow hallways, which are lined with more than 50 tiny bedrooms. Some of the doors were ajar. He saw harnesses and swings. He saw men watching videos.

And then, in another bedroom, Brandon saw Mark. He was sitting on a bed, talking with a naked man. "Oh," said Mark, "are you looking for me?"

Five minutes later, Mark returned to room 300. His fingers were trembling. He was too nervous to sit. Alex told him that his test had come back negative.

"Yay!" Mark shouted. He was ecstatic. He asked Alex to show him the result on the test form. "God, I'm so happy. Thank you. Oh my god."

He thanked Alex a few more times and said he was grateful for the work that NO/AIIDS was doing. Mark even said he wanted to volunteer for the organization, that he felt, as a member of the New Orleans gay community, it was the right thing to do. Then, negative test results in hand, he disappeared into the club.

Ira Glass

Nathaniel Rich. He's the author of the forthcoming book Odds Against Tomorrow.

[MUSIC - "ERASE" BY THE CHAINSMOKERS]

This, what you're listening to right now, is a Samantha Ronson remix, released this week by the Chainsmokers. Except for the Geto Boys, all the songs between stories today was a release or on albums that were released in the last seven days.

Act Five. Cairo, Egypt.

Ira Glass

A week can be a long time, when every day seems to shift the direction of your entire country. Egypt has had a week of demonstrations, counter demonstrations, and violence. The demonstrations are for and against the country's president, Mohammed Morsi.

And OK, quick review-- Morsi was democratically elected a couple months ago. But at the end of November, he shocked many Egyptians by issuing a decree giving himself enormous powers, basically putting all his decisions, past and present, above the law. He said he had to do this because judges appointed by Egypt's ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak, were undermining him. Some of those judges had dissolved Egypt's newly elected parliament right before Morsi took office.

So now, if you follow the news at all, you've seen this-- both sides are dug in, each convinced that they represent true democracy in Egypt. There are a lot of ways for things to get worse, very few for them to get better. Nancy Updike reports on what has happened and how some of the anger is being spread around.

Nancy Updike

Up until this past Wednesday, opponents and supporters of President Morsi had held their rallies in different places-- on purpose, to avoid confrontations. But late in the day on Wednesday, supporters of President Morsi, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, marched to the presidential palace, where some anti-Morsi protesters were camped out. And after that, all night long, people fought or ran or hid.

By Thursday morning, seven people were dead, and hundreds were injured. And four of Morsi's advisers had resigned in protest. As of right now, Friday evening, around 6:00 PM Egypt time, the leaders of both sides aren't talking to each other, and protesters are still in the streets, separate and peaceful for the moment.

When I was in Cairo after Mubarak was ousted last year, I saw a scene that now seems impossible-- writers and editors, secular Egyptians, who were talking over croissants with members of a formerly violent Islamist group named Gamaa Islamiya, an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. The secular men and the devout men weren't becoming friends. But they weren't beating each other up in the streets, either.

[PHONE RINGING]

Yusuf Al

Hello?

Interpreter

[SPEAKING ARABIC].

Nancy Updike

On Thursday night, I made a phone call through an interpreter. She was shouting a bit to make herself heard. And we called one of the people from that meeting, an Egyptian novelist in his 70s named Yusuf al-Qaid to find out his take on the week's events. He remembered me, but he wanted to make absolutely sure I knew where he stands in this fight.

Yusuf Al

[SPEAKING ARABIC].

Translator

I would like our American journalist here to understand that I am not in any neutral position here. I am with a civilian modern state. I am against a religious state. I am against any rule based on religion.

Nancy Updike

So against Morsi. And since he brought up the fact that I'm American, I told al-Qaid that I'd seen pictures of anti-Morsi protesters, people like him, carrying signs talking about the US and President Obama. I didn't mention this specific one to him, but I saw a sign that said, "Obama, your bitch is our dictator." The vehemence of al-Qaid's response caught me by surprise.

Translator

In my view, the biggest betrayal that has taken place against the Egyptian people is the absolute support that the American administration has given to the Muslim Brotherhood. America is ignoring the violence that is conducted against the Egyptian people. America is completely silent and has voiced that its relationship with Egypt is strategic. And therefore, passing events do not affect this strategic relationship.

Nancy Updike

By strategic relationship, he means that the United States is more concerned about Egypt's dealings with Israel than about Egypt's dealings with its own citizens. This week, more than ever, I realized that no matter how angry and caught up in their own national issues a person is, depending on what country they're in, they probably still have plenty of anger left over for the United States.

After I hung up with al-Qaid, I called another person I met in Cairo last year-- completely different guy, a religious man, young, 28 years old, named Mohammed Agiba. Mohammed spent years in the Muslim Brotherhood. But now he's marching against Morsi too. He knew Morsi's power grab would divide the country. And he thinks the proposed constitution is a disaster that has to be stopped.

And talking about the constitution is when we ended up at the same place I ended up with al-Qaid, the secular guy. Mohammed talked about how the constitution calls for a joint civilian military council, weighted toward the military, that has to be consulted before the president can declare a war. The council also has a role in deciding on the military's budget. Mohammed sees the council as one thing only.

Mohammed Agiba

[SPEAKING ARABIC].

Translator

This is what the US wants; this is what Israel wants-- a regime which appears to be democratic to the people, but actually it is this defense national council which will be doing all the work. This council, the National Defense Council, will be the one ruling the country.

Nancy Updike

So are you saying you think President Morsi or part of his government or all of his government are puppets of the United States?

Mohammed Agiba

[SPEAKING ARABIC].

Translator

For sure President Morsi wants the interests of Egypt. However, he sees the implementation of this interest, or finding the interest, from a very narrow perspective that the United States has set for him. We do not want him to see that perspective through the United States' perspective.

We want him to see it through the Egyptian people's vision and through the Egyptian people's perspective. And we say, please, the Egyptian people should be your priority and not the American administration.

Nancy Updike

I asked Mohammed one more question, not about America, but about Egypt and the choices people have faced there since the revolution. I asked him if he'd voted for Morsi. He did, like a lot of people who are now protesting against Morsi.

He said he doesn't regret it. The alternative was worse. He says he just hopes Morsi can pull out of this and pull Egypt out too.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike. She's one of the producers of our show.

Act Six. Boston, Logan Airport; Chicago, IL; Springfield, OR.

Ira Glass

OK, let's go back to America. Friday morning, Boston, Logan Airport, 5:40 AM.

Fred Beaton

Delta. United.

Ira Glass

30 times a night, six nights a week, Fred Beaton drives the shuttle bus on the same loop, from the parking garage to the terminals, picking people up, dropping them off, every 20 minutes, same loop. He's been doing this for 16 years, till this morning. He's retiring.

Fred Beaton

Hopefully, this is my last trip around the airport.

Vinny

Freddie B, you'll never be done here, never.

Ira Glass

That one was his boss, Vinny, over the radio.

Fred Beaton

Off to the sunset.

Ira Glass

But everybody got in on it.

Man On Radio

Freddie B's last ride. [EVIL LAUGH].

Ryan Murdoch

So do you feel sad at all, nostalgic, maybe?

Fred Beaton

No, I don't feel sad. No.

Ryan Murdoch

Not even a little bit?

Fred Beaton

I'm glad, happy. It's somebody else's turn.

Ira Glass

His stepson, Ryan Murdoch, is riding with him, making this recording and talking to him. They calculate that he's done this loop 128,000 times in 16 years. And at 6 o'clock, when he gets to the end of his very last ride, the guy who was supposed to show up was late.

So he has to do one more. Perfect, right? And then he gets to pull the shuttle bus over one last, last time, and climb out.

Fred Beaton

All right. Hey, glory Hallelujah. I'll see you.

Vinny

Best of luck, Freddie.

Fred Beaton

Take care.

Vinny

Nice working with you, my friend.

Fred Beaton

Yeah.

Ryan Murdoch

All right, we're done.

Fred Beaton

We're done.

Ryan Murdoch

You've got a huge smile on your face.

Fred Beaton

Good. Getting out of here, you know?

Ira Glass

In Chicago, Linc Cohen began his retirement this week. He worked at a steel mill for 18 years, and then for 20 years after, for the union AFSCME. Monday was his first day home as a retired person. And his wife, Sandi Wisenberg, had some questions. She recorded them.

Sandi Wisenberg

Are you going to make the bed? You can make the bed now.

Linc Cohen

Well, you got up after me today.

Sandi Wisenberg

But I never make it.

Linc Cohen

I know. When I get up last-- the day before, I got up after you, and I made it.

Sandi Wisenberg

Right. But what if I get up last, and then you're still here. You can go up and make it.

Linc Cohen

Yeah, I might. I might not.

Sandi Wisenberg

Oh, I thought you don't like it when it's not made.

Linc Cohen

I don't like it when it's not made. But I also don't like cleaning up your messes. I have enough of that to do.

[CELL PHONE ALARM]

Ira Glass

In other news with people not getting to work in the morning-- Springfield, Oregon, Monday morning of this week, 7:30, a grad student named Morgan Peach hears the alarm that is supposed to wake him up. Then he shuts it off. This happens again at 7:35--

[CELL PHONE ALARM]

--and then again at 7:40.

Morgan Peach

[GROANS].

[CELL PHONE ALARM]

Ira Glass

Once more at 7:45.

[CELL PHONE ALARM]

You get the idea. 8:15, 8:25. Finally, 9 o'clock, his girlfriend Angela Evancie, who made this recording, steps in.

Morgan Peach

It's time?

Angela Jane Evancie

It's time.

Morgan Peach

It's time.

Ira Glass

He doesn't get up. It's finals week. Besides an exam, he has two research papers to turn in and 55 exams and papers to grade. Angela sees him struggle every day with waking up. But she thought, this week, this week, for once, he would do it when the alarm sounds, because he has so much to do.

Tuesday, it goes off first at 7:30, then seven more times-- 7:40, 7:45, 8 o'clock, 8:05, 8:10, 8:15, 8:20. Wednesday, pretty much the same deal. At some point, Angela says to her sleeping boyfriend--

Angela Jane Evancie

Did you set the alarm for 9 o'clock?

Morgan Peach

Yes, I did.

Angela Jane Evancie

Can you afford to sleep in that late?

Morgan Peach

I certainly can. I'm wealthy in time, not in money.

Ira Glass

Wednesday night, Morgan tells Angela that the next morning, Thursday, he actually is going to have to get up early. A geography paper is due at noon.

Morgan Peach

Yeah, could you set the alarm for 7:30 tomorrow? I'd like to get up at 7:30 and work on my research papers and finish them.

Ira Glass

Hours pass.

Angela Jane Evancie

And now it's 8:00. The alarm went off, and he reset it for 8:30. I really thought he was going to do it this morning.

Ira Glass

Sometime near 10:00 AM, they finally have this conversation.

Angela Jane Evancie

It's time to get up.

Morgan Peach

[INAUDIBLE].

Ira Glass

And then, still lying in bed, he explains the whole thing perfectly. It would be impossible to say this better.

Morgan Peach

It's almost as if the sleeping is that much sweeter when you have to get up or you think you have to get up, and then you don't.

[MUSIC - "LOVER TO LOVER" BY FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced this week by Sarah Koenig, our senior producer, Julie Snyder, and me, with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Jonathan Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Brian Reed, Robin Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Production help from Tarek Fouda. Amy Phillips, from Pitchfork Media, was our music consultant, finding brand new songs. Seth Lind is our operations director. Elise Bergerson's our administrative assistant.

At our website this week, we have a gallery of photos taken on Instagram by people all over the world in these last seven days of events large and small. Emily Condon on our staff did the photo curating. She did so good. You should look. That's at our website, thisamericanlife.org.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. And our film Sleepwalk With Me is now available for download at iTunes-- itunes.com/sleepwalkwithme. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia, who never stops saying--

Hyder Akbar

F This American Life. What the hell are you going to do with This American Life when you're dead?

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.