31/10/2015 Witness


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Now on BBC News it's time for Witness.


Hello and welcome to Witness with me, Tanya Beckett, here


We've got another five witnesses who have shared their personal memories


This month, we'll hear from the British


scientist who helped alert the world to an environmental tragedy,


one of the thousands of Danish Jews who escaped the Holocaust, and


But we begin with an assassination which shocked


In 1981 the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was gunned down


Our first witness is his widow, Jehan Sadat.


I knew from the beginning, since he took the decision, to go to Israel


and make peace with Israel, I knew that my husband would be killed.


He was the first leader, the Arab leader, to make peace with


Israel, and it was such a very difficult time for people to


absorb what he was saying, but he believed in peace as a mission that


Clouds of black smoke rose from piles of burning tyres and


piles of refuse, set alight by the Palestinians and the Lebanese


leftists in protest against the visit to Israel of President Sadat.


But my husband believed he was to bring up the new generation


Since my husband went to Israel, every time - everyday, every minute


he was out of the house meeting for something -


I always believed he would not come back, that he would be killed.


We received many threats telling him that they would kill him.


He knew it, I knew it, but we didn't talk about it because we didn't want


I remember he was saying, while we were walking, you know, Jehan,


I was watching the parades for the 6th of October.


That day, I told him to put on the bullet


He said, no, no, no, if the bullet comes to my head, am I


Then, as the parade was reaching its climax,


with most people distracted by an air display, two grenades exploded.


When it happened, my bodyguard pushed me, because the


bullets were coming in the window, and I said, what are you doing?


He said, this is my duty, Madam, and really he saved me.


When the bullets stopped and the fire stopped, I rushed to the


NEWSREADER: The assassins managed to cut down at least ten people,


President Sadat was rushed straight to a helicopter which took him


The hospital was crowded with people.


The chief of doctors was there, and I told him, why are you here?


He looked at me and he said, I can't bear it.


I knew what happened when he said, I can't.


I knew it would come, but when it came it was such a big shock,


to lose not only my beloved husband who I had loved


all my life, but he was my partner.


It was something very hard, to face life


After the fall of the Soviet Union, scientists were able to assess


environmental conditions behind the Iron Curtain for the first time.


And on a trip to Central Asia in 1990,


they confirmed that the Aral Sea was shrinking at an alarming rate.


Witness spoke to Professor Denys Brunsden, of King's College, London.


The Aral Sea is in a special category of its own.


It is the fourth biggest inland lake in the world, and it shrank


This is the greatest loss of water caused by human beings


A Russian professor invited us to go to a conference,


I think it was an adventure for any British academic to go


into the Soviet Union, let alone to go to Uzbekistan


As we flew over the Aral Sea, we began to realise there was


Stalin needed cotton for the army, for his tents and clothes,


so he introduced cotton growing in the area and


the only way you could do that was by irrigation in a semiarid area.


The result of doing that is that you do get salination


of the soils over time and the soils lose their fertility, so the obvious


thing to do if you are losing fertility is to use fertilisers.


You will use pesticides and then the next step is to


defoliate, get rid of the leaves, so that the picking is easier.


What happens when the sea level goes down is that it actually goes out,


and it exposes the sea floor, and that sea floor was salt and mud, and


silt and sand, and all the human waste from the Zardoya River, and


all the pollutants from all of the agriculture as well,


What then happens is that you have seasonal winds blowing,


and particularly the Northeast wind, which sweeps


right across this exposed sea bed, picks up a dust cloud, and it is


It goes over towns and it causes untold damage.


The young children were getting respiratory illnesses,


they couldn't breathe, there were problems with the women


I can remember walking from the hotel, and there were women just


sitting under loquat trees all the way down the road, they had nothing


and they looked very hungry and poor, so


with a few colleagues we went into a


nearby shop and bought a bag of goodies and took them back,


and chatted to the ladies and just walked on leaving the paper bags for


the food there, and the next day when I came back one of the women


was still sitting there and she had obviously wanted to give


us something back, and I can remember her just reaching up to


the loquat tree and picking a seed and just putting it in my hand.


It was all she had to give me, and I brought it home, and it is growing


A shorter line is the only place on earth where the land and the ocean


and the atmosphere meet, and it meets in a long narrow line, because


it is a shock absorber, absorbing all the energy of the sun, through


the wind, into the waves, and the beach goes, 'thanks very


If you haven't got the sea there, crumbs.


And now to the elegant world of ballet.


In recent years some of the most exciting dancers have


come from Cuba, and that is largely down to a remarkable prima ballerina


She founded the Cuban National Ballet company more


than 50 years ago, and she spoke to Witness in Havana.


NEWSREADER: Immediately following the


revolution in 1959, Alicia and her first


husband, Fernando Alonso, were given the money and support needed to


found the National Ballet company of Cuba.


A recent prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso, now in her 90s. Remember you


can watch Witness every month on the BBC News channel or can catch up on


over a thousand radio programmes on our online archive. Just go to our


website. Now to an incredible story


of survival. When Nazi Germany invaded Denmark


during the Second World War, the Jewish community feared


for their lives. But, miraculously, almost all of


Denmark's choose managed to escape to neighbouring Sweden. Our next


witness, Bent Melchior, was one of them -- Denmark's Jews. When we


closed the doors to our apartment, we did not know whether we would


ever come back. My father was then the acting rabbi of the Jewish


community and was therefore one of those that was first informed, when


the German Navy Aketxe gave away three days before it happened that


the Germans were going to deport -- Aketxe. If they were going to be


arrested, they should try to leave home and find a place where they


could hide. My parents decided to try to find a way to Sweden. The


fishermen that brought Jews over had to charge people, because besides


being in personal danger they also had the danger that there are boats


would be taken and they would not be able to have any livelihood. This


day on this boat was anyway on pleasant, but that was part of the


situation -- unpleasant. It was especially unpleasant for my mother


who, which I did not know at the time, was pregnant. There were a


number of miracles necessary, but we actually found their way to a place


in southern Sweden were no refugees had arrived before, and where is


little boy at the age of six was playing at the shore. When he saw


our little boat for a way. He was the son of the fishermen. The moment


when the father said, welcome to Sweden, welcome. That was the moment


where we could breathe. And it was unbelievable.


The fishermen himself and his wife died, but the little boy was still


alive and continued to live in the very same house so I have visited


again and again -- fisher man. Although we were well received, and


I often say that we were luxury refugees, I learned that the refugee


is a very difficult situation. You are nobody, so if you want to become


somebody you have to start from nothing. Denmark was liberated on


the 5th of May, 1945. Before the end of May, we actually came back to


Denmark. To come back and opened the door again -- open the door. It was


like opening the doors to heaven. That was rabbi Bent Melchior there.


Our final witness this month has made more of a contribution than


most to modern life. He is the Indian businessmen who had the


bright idea of opening the company 's first Coll centre in 1998. It is


still open today and we went to Delhi to visit. You know, I wish I


could tell you there was a Eureka moment, but there wasn't -- call


centre. It seemed so surprising nobody thought of it earlier. We


were the first one to start because centre in India. -- to start a call


centre in India. You could hire a chartered accountant for 14,000,


15,000. You could hire a Masters degree. It was just being able to


walk around the streets and find gold dust. It was very difficult to


convince people initially for the very simple reason that our phone


lines did not work. In those days we all had three phone lines at home,


or two, because one was down all the time. When we went to the telecom


authority, of course they laughed at us. We will let you have a full


miser you can dial people all over the world. It is not going to


happen. But I am by nature an optimist. That is what gave me the


confidence. Also foolishness, fundamental foolishness! For which I


am very proud. Slowly, doggedly, we got the phone line. Outside this


building, if you go, a true landmark of India. A giant satellite dish.


Getting that big satellite dish in place was the start, in some


respects, of the entire revolution. The first Coll -- call centre, we


did not have its own proved, so we brought saris and curtains, it was a


shambles. We had saris everywhere, about 18 people making calls. There


was an air of excitement and adventure, men and women working


together in a way that did not happen in India at the time much. It


was quite liberating, I think, on some level, and people were willing


to try. If calls did not go through, you would try again, people would


hang up. Clients would call was with a broken down supplies and our


people had never seen a washing machine before. You know that thing


at the back leaking in the washing machine... What? One customer was


kind of wondering where the hell this call was coming from, or what


was this funny accent. Lots of us still do. Then teaching our people


how to manage that. Don't let them be hostile. If they are, push back


after a while. Don't get upset yourself but if somebody is too rude


feel free to push back. You know, lots of cultural assimilation,


training and handholding. We had accent correction training going on


and then feeling out, you know, what do we call ourselves? If I say


hello, this is an Indian name, they don't know, but if I say, hello,


this is piqued, that is OK. When you are in the throes of it, you don't


realise what you've got and what we had was a tiger by the tail -- my


name is Pete. Many cities have been built around this industry because


these are young kids and if you look at them, they have money, they will


spend it. There are kids here who financed homes, tuition, for their


relatives. It has changed people's lives. I don't know of anything else


like that. You look every day and think, my God, what did we spawn


here? Indian businessmen Pramod Bhasin, still proudly working at his


call centre. And that is all from Witness this month, here at the


British Library, but we will be back next month with another round-up of


history, as told by the people who were there. Thank you for watching


and goodbye from me and the rest of the team.


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