‘ATC’ to air format-breaking diary of a Saudi teenager

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Abdulghani (Photo: Radio Diaries)

All Things Considered will break format today to air a unique 23-minute segment of a teenage girl from Saudi Arabia telling her story.

Majd Abdulghani has been recording an audio diary for the last two years documenting her life in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as she balanced her dream of becoming a scientist with her family’s hope for her to enter an arranged marriage.

In 2013, Radio Diaries and NPR sponsored a contest to find an audio diarist and called for submissions on Cowbird, an online library of personal stories. Abdulghani was selected as the audio diarist from nearly 1,000 submissions.

“She’s an incredible diarist: funny, intimate, very ‘teenage’… from the most restrictive country for women in the world,” said Joe Richman, founder and e.p. of Radio Diaries. “I don’t think there has even been such an intimate and inside portrait of the experience of women in that region.”

Here was the submission for the contest from Abdulghani:

I am 18 years old. My mother deemed me old enough to marry when I turned 16. She does not, however, think I’m mature enough to go out with my friends. Even though they’re all girls! (God forbid I should speak to a boy unless absolutely necessary.) “18 is an emotionally-unstable age,” she said as she folded my dad’s shirt into a neat square. “It’s very easy to make wrong choices.” Right, because getting married at 16 to a guy 8 years older is a right choice. Her too-young-to-go-out-with-friends-but-old-enough-to marry policy confuses (and frustrates) me to no end, and I’m constantly worrying whether I am classified as young or old or somewhere in between and why she can’t just decide. Maybe it’s because I haven’t.

An NPR spokesperson says that ATC airs a “handful of format-breakers every year.” But the most recent long-form segment, an investigative piece on Hurricane Sandy and the insurance companies, aired last week.

“This is an extremely rare case…. doing a format breaker for one person’s personal story or audio diary,” said Joe Richman.

Richman founded Radio Diaries in 1996 with idea of giving audio recorders to individuals and helping them tell stories from their own lives. The diaries have been produced as stories for NPR newsmagazines and This American Life. Radio Diaries is also a founding member of PRX’s Radiotopia podcast collective.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the running time of the segment. It is about 23 minutes.

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