Courtesy of Jim Wildman/NPR
Renee Montagne and Jim Wildman in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in photos they took of each other. In the background is the space where the giant Buddhas were located before the Taliban blasted them out.
Renee Montagne and Jim Wildman in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in photos they took of each other. In the background is the space where the giant Buddhas were located before the Taliban blasted them out. Courtesy of Jim Wildman/NPR
Friday is the National Day of Listening, a chance to sit down with a loved one, turn on an audio recorder and ask that person about his or her life. You can find tips on how to record your conversation at nationaldayoflistening.org.
When Morning Edition host Renee Montagne thinks of her longtime producer Jim Wildman, she goes back several years to their reporting adventures in Afghanistan.
The two spent a total of six months there over the course of five trips from 2006 to 2011. "I always felt like you were taking care of me," Montagne says. "That's why we could go to these places that sometimes were far enough away and isolated enough that they were dangerous."
She remembers the only time she was afraid when Wildman couldn't help her: They were walking along a very high, unprotected ledge above where the Bamiyan Buddhas had been before they were blasted apart by the Taliban.
"I got scared because it was a strange sensation: If you slipped, you went down. You died," she says.
The story they were working on at the time, Wildman remembers, was one they "absolutely" had to report. But first they had to move along that terrifying ledge.
So how did Wildman cope?
It was simple, he says. When he heard Montagne's voice rise in fear, he knew he had to calmly move them forward – with the audio equipment recording, of course — "because at the end of this walkway is a stunning view of the Bamiyan Valley, and if I can just get Renee to that vantage point, it all makes sense."
Finding a way to describe moments of their (sometimes harrowing) searches for stories to tell in Afghanistan is not easy, Wildman says.
"We know it's there, but we don't know what it is yet," Montagne recalls.
"It's a little bit like when we came back down out of the Buddha, there was a warehouse full of giant stones that had once been the Buddha, and they were trying to catalog these stones so that perhaps one day they could rebuild the Buddha," Wildman says. "And in many ways, that's the task that we do in Afghanistan is walk around those stones and try to piece it all together."
After 16 years, Wildman is leaving NPR for new adventures with his family.
"I'm sure we'll have other occasions to do this, and we don't have to do it on the air, necessarily, but I do want to say goodbye ... to you," Wildman says.
"How about farewell or a bientot or until next time?" Montagne says.
Wildman offers ghoda hafez, a gentle goodbye in Persian they learned in Afghanistan.