I cannot wait until some rural Pakistani kid learns the unqualified joy of this song:
Yes, you did the math right. Sesame Street is going full-steam ahead in Pakistan with a $20,000,000 grant from USAID, "the principal US agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms." As the Toronto Star reported recently, USAID is providing massive funding for the ground-breaking and incredibly influential children's show. Sesame Street was the first children's show to use actual lab studies to measure viewer engagement, and in doing so, they created legions of young fans and indelible memories for all young North Americans. Recognizing the power of education and entertainment, Sesame Street slowly spread worldwide, taking time to ensure each series reflected local sensibilities while pushing boundaries and creating new role models and ideas for kids from Bangladesh (Sisimpur) to Germany (Sesamstrasse), from Israel (Rechov Sumsum) to Palestine (Shara'a Simsim) and beyond.
The careful respect for culture, sensitivity, and context (what people dismiss as "political correctness") that is the hallmark of Sesame Workshop shows has led to incredible success and a strong hold over the hearts and minds of the kids – and parents – in the countries it has come to. When you watch a localized episode of Sesame Street, you can see and feel that it isn't American cultural imperialism hidden under a smear of hummus - it's genuinely of their land and their culture. They make such an effort to create an appropriate show, you can easily imagine that kids might be surprised to learn there's an American version.
First airing August 15, 2006, Khul Ja Sim Sim, the Indian version of Sesame Street, was also shown in Pakistan. It has been renamed Galli Galli Sim Sim (street, street, sesame) in India and produced anew as Gali, Gali Hamara (street, street, ours; the repetition implies "every street") in Pakistan. It won't just be Urdu either – Gali, Gali Hamara will be dubbed into four more languages (Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, and Pashto) to vastly increase its reach and unique combination of love and learning. There's nothing formal on the Sesame Workshop Around the World page (as of this writing) for Gali, Gali Hamara but I imagine once details are finalized we'll see something soon. They've got their work cut out for them – 72 half-hour episodes are planned over four seasons. Fifty-two of them will be redubbed in the other languages mentioned above, and there will be special radio-only broadcasts aimed at mothers. The current expectation is for a July 2011 start. (The original USAID page from October 2010 is now a little outdated – the number of episodes has changed, they didn't name the show, and they aim for an April 2011 start – but there's still a large element of 600 live puppet performances and more for rural areas.) They won't be addressing politics. They are pushing understanding, inspiration, tolerance, and respect. The emphasis on creating a genuine Pakistani experience is paramount – no hints of America are allowed, given how sensitive the region is to American influence. From the Toronto Star article:
Twelve of the show's first 14 characters will be Pakistani. The main puppet character, Ranni, is a 6-year-old girl who has her hair in braids and has a passion for school. In place of Oscar the Grouch will be Haseen O'Jameel, a wily crocodile who starts each show as a troublemaker and inadvertently learns something.
The only characters adopted from U.S. Sesame Street producers are the popular Elmo and a new character that has yet to make his debut on TV, a donkey named Bailey. "We have to make him look more like a Pakistani donkey, less pink on the nose and his ears more straight up," Peerzada said.
In the show's first episode, Ranni and her friend Munna, a 5-year-old boy, bemoan the fact they don't have a place to play. Adults ultimately agree that on selected days, a local street should be closed to traffic to give kids a chance to play safely outside. Other subplots will feature the benefits of good nutrition and answer the familiar "why is the sky blue?" type of questions.
"The characters will learn about things like what they can learn in a library and science questions like the migratory patterns of birds," said Imraan Peerzada, the show's lead writer. "We'll deal with universal truths like the importance of not stealing and lying, but we don't want to get into giving sermons. Lots of kids here are not taught to question and that's something we really want to bring out, being as playful as we can."
The stories that are part of Sesame legend often include parental bonding with children as they share episodes together, so this is just brilliant. Not only is television ownership a luxury we take for granted, but in oral cultures where storytelling is revered, radio programs have a special impact we forgot about long ago. With or without radio, almost every child who grew up in North America has strong memories of Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and so many more – both muppets and humans. (Who didn't shed a little tear when they heard about Mr. Hooper's death? I'm getting a little sad just writing about it.)
Gali, Gali Hamara is not by any means the Sesame Workshop's first venture into the Muslim world – these people are truly courageous in many ways. There was a 2004 venture into Afghanistan that featured Grover wearing a kufi. Puh-leeeeze - if you have that video, send it my way!!!
- Galli Galli Sim Sim – India is rife with ethnic and religious tensions, not to mention multiple languages. Pictured: Boombah the lion, Aanchoo the purple monster, Chamki the little Indian girl, and Googly, the blue monster.
- Alam Simsim – Egypt is a generally Muslim country with a strong Christian population. Pictured: Filfil the purple monster (brown in the illustration), Nimnim the huge green monster, and Khokha the peach monster (inexplicably purple in the illustration).
- Jalan Sesama – Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, and consistently ignored proof that Muslims aren't frothing-at-the-mouth maniacs that will ruin everything. Pictured: Jabrik the baby rhino, Putri the little girl, Momon the little boy, and Tantan the orang-utan.
- Hikayat Simsim – Jordan, like Egypt , is a generally Muslim country with a significant Christian population, and also shares a border with the home of Rechov Sumsum. Pictured: Juljul the little boy and Tonton the little girl.
- Sisimpur – Bangladesh. A country that has many challenges and surprises. The kids learned to use video cameras and produced many documentaries on their lives, and these small films are featured on the show! The story of Sesame Street in Bangladesh is beautiful and inspiring from the word go. Pictured: Ikri Mikri the small blue monster, Halum the Bengal Tiger, Tuktuki the young girl, and Shiku the jackal.
- Shara'a Simsim. Speaking of challenges, Palestine has more than a few of its own. Simply the fact that Palestine is recognized as an entity with its own name is worth paying attention to. The Sesame Workshop acknowledges the depth and importance of the Palestinian identity, but intentionally does not include any direct references to the overall politics of the region. Concepts of tolerance of the "other," teamwork, non-violence, and recovery from disaster permeate the show. Shara'a Simsim is the current production; previously there was a joint Israeli-Palestinian show known both as Rechov Sumsum and Shara'a Simsim (the characters live on separate streets but occasionally meet by crossing over on friendly visits), and Palestinian-only show named Hikayat Simsim. Pictured: Kareem the rooster and Haneen the monster, characters from the original shows who continue on.
- Rruga Sesam/Ulica Sezam. Kosovo still feels the pain of its terrible conflict, and the unhealed wounds run deep. So deep that a key aspect of Sesame Street, visual learning of language, brought new challenges for the Sesame Workshop team to overcome. In addition to overcoming ethnic "otherness," Kosovo has two official alphabets, Cyrillic and Latinic for Serbians, and Latinic for Albanians. Even seeing Cyrillic can cause emotional upset for some Albanians because of the history within the former republic of Yugoslavia. The team decided to teach literacy through the spoken word rather than the visual (not unlike Rosetta Stone) and include clips in Turkish, Roma, and Croatian in addition to Albanian and Serbian. I wasn't able to find any images of Kosovo's muppets. If you know of any, please post them in the comments.
The show has been brought to at least 18 different countries outside of America and Canada (apparently our localizations aren't worth listing - CBC's Sesame Street Canada later renamed Canadian Sesame Street and Sesame Park, apparently followed by a lengthy gap which has since been rectified). The work they've done is massive; I've barely scratched the surface, and hope you are able to plough through the links and enjoy more of what the Sesame Workshop people have done.
In the meantime, imagine how cool it would be to learn how to sing this song in Urdu: