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Lives Less Ordinary


Have you ever locked eyes with a stranger and wondered, "What’s their story?" Step into someone else’s life and expect the unexpected. Extraordinary stories from around the world.


London, United Kingdom




Have you ever locked eyes with a stranger and wondered, "What’s their story?" Step into someone else’s life and expect the unexpected. Extraordinary stories from around the world.






BBC World Service Bush House Strand London WC2B 4PH

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Lost in lion country and saved by Spam

In 2016, when Jenny Söderqvist and Helene Åberg’s car exploded in the middle of the vast Kalahari desert, their supplies and only lifeline to the outside world went up in flames. No rescue would come. The two friends from Sweden would spend the next five harrowing days lost in the wilderness and stalked by lions, until their salvation appeared to them in the most unlikely of forms: a tin of Spam. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: Edgar Maddicott Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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Painting, prison and two decades in Guantanamo

Mistaken for a terrorist, and detained without trial. Art became his refuge. Pakistani taxi driver Ahmed Rabbani was arrested in 2002, labelled a terrorist and spent 21 years in US detention, including time in a CIA secret prison. Incarcerated without trial or charge, Ahmed was subject to enhanced interrogation, or what he describes as 62 different types of torture. When he was transferred to a cell in Guantanamo Bay, Ahmed would pick up paint and pastels and find solace through art – creating vistas he could only imagine. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: Maryam Maruf Voiceover: Mohammed Hanif Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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Introducing… Different

In this podcast, Nicky Campbell talks to extraordinary people and explores what it means to be different. Is it how we think? Or how we act? From those who’ve survived extreme experiences to people with unique jobs, listen to hear something different each week. For every episode, just search for Different wherever you get your BBC podcasts.


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An Afghan taekwondo champion's fight for freedom

A sport that involved kicking and punching was a natural fit for Marzieh Hamidi, who spent her teens fending off men on the streets of Kabul. At just 21, Marzieh Hamidi has had to be a fighter in most aspects of her life. Now based in Paris, on a scholarship from the Olympic Refugee Team, she tells the full story of her and her family's remarkable quest for freedom for the first time. Correction: we originally stated in this podcast that Marzieh is 22. She is in fact 21. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producers: Laura Thomas and Kevyah Cardoso Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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How I convinced police my dad was a murderer

On the day his mother disappeared in December 1989, 11-year-old Collier Landry started looking for evidence. He suspected his father, a rich and well-respected town doctor, had something to do with it. This is the story of Collier's fight to get justice for his mother, and the detective who believed him. Collier's film is called A Murder in Mansfield. Presenter: Asya Fouks Producer: Helen Fitzhenry Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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Balochistan’s mystery benjo man, part 2

How Ustad Noor Bakhsh, a Pakistani shepherd in his 70s, became a folk music star After hunting for four years, Pakistani ethnomusicologist Daniyal Ahmed finally finds Ustad Noor Bakhsh, an elderly shepherd and master of the electric benjo – an obscure stringed instrument with typewriter keys. With Daniyal’s help, Ustad Noor would go from serenading his goats in the jungles of Balochistan to performing for revellers on the European festival circuit. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: Maryam Maruf Translation: Wajid Baloch Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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Balochistan’s mystery benjo man, part 1

The epic quest to find an elderly Pakistani musician and his unusual stringed instrument Daniyal Ahmed is a flute player and anthropologist who spends his time searching out and documenting folk music across Pakistan. In 2018, he was mesmerised by a video clip of an elderly man – described as a “poor fisherman” – expertly playing a benjo, an obscure stringed instrument that looks like a cross between a guitar and a typewriter. So began Daniyal’s hunt for this mystery master musician. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: Maryam Maruf Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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Exposing Silicon Valley's multimillion dollar fraud

Erika Cheung went from a trailer park to a top tech company job, but something was off. She knew how to work hard, growing up in a one-bedroom trailer, she dreamed of pursuing her passion for science and helping others. So Erika was thrilled to land her first job out of university at a booming tech company promising a revolution in healthcare. Fronted by the glamorous and wealthy Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos claimed to have the technology to be able to tell from a few drops of blood whether someone had a range of diseases. That was not true. And it took Erika, one of their most junior employees, to blow the whistle – at great personal risk. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Mary Goodhart Editor: Munazza Khan Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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Bonus: The Black 14

A bonus episode from the Amazing Sport Stories podcast – The Black 14. Sport, racism and protests are about to change the lives of “the Black 14” American footballers. It’s 1969 in the United States. They’ve arrived on scholarships at the University of Wyoming to play for its Cowboys American football team. It was a predominantly white college. The team is treated like a second religion. Then, the players make a decision to take a stand against racism in a game against another university. This is episode one of a four-part season from the Amazing Sport Stories podcast. Content warning: This episode contains lived experiences which involve the use of strong racist language


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My grandmother walked the rabbit-proof fence

Maria's grandmother was forcibly taken by Australian officials, but made a daring escape. As children Maria Pilkington's mother and grandmother were both among the Stolen Generation, removed from their homes to be trained as domestic servants for white families. It was part of an Australian policy dating back to the 1930s to remove mixed-race children from any Aboriginal influence. But Maria's 14-year-old grandmother escaped, with her sister and cousin, by following a pest-control barrier that went right through Western Australia back to their home. The girls' extraordinary three-month, 1400km walk home became the Hollywood film Rabbit-Proof Fence, based on a book written by Maria's mother. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Sarah Kendal Get in touch: or WhatsApp 0044 330 678 2784


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How to talk to guerillas

Leyner Palacios grew up around volatile armed groups, so he learned to negotiate with them. He comes from a remote forested area called Bojaya, where clusters of small villages are spread along isolated waterways. Leyner's community had to share the rivers and forests with outsiders, armed groups like the Farc and the paramilitaries, who were locked into a decades-old conflict. As a child, Leyner learned to constantly navigate checkpoints manned by volatile armed people, and he showed a talent for negotation and mediation. As the conflict heated up, and with his community under siege, these skills would become more useful than ever. Music from the 'Cantadoras de Pogue' was recorded by the Centro de Estudios Afrodiaspóricos - Presenter: Asya Fouks Producer: Harry Graham Translation: Jorge Caraballo Sound design: Joe Munday Editor: Munazza Khan


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Behind the locked door

The Austrian house where a doctor experimented on children. Evy Mages grew up in and out of foster care in 1970s and 80s Austria. But even when she started a new life in the US, she was haunted by traumatic memories of a strange yellow house high up in the Alps, where she had been placed as an eight-year-old. It took an idle internet search in her 50s to reveal that this was actually an institution called a 'Kinderbeobachtungsstation', or 'child-observation station', where vulnerable children were experimented on by a psychologist using shocking methods. She decided to step back into her past to uncover the full, disturbing truth of what happened there. Evy’s story first appeared in a New Yorker article in September 2023. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Edgar Maddicott Editor: Rebecca Vincent


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I cycled across Africa for a place at my dream university

A handwritten map is all Mamadou Barry had to guide him from Guinea to Egypt. At the age of 24 he had reached a crossroads in his life. Having failed his final year secondary school exams five times in a row, he set his sights on a different type of education. Mamadou had heard about the prestigious Al Azhar University in Egypt, but could not afford a plane ticket. So he decided to set off on an epic adventure, travelling by bike, and leaving his home in Guinea with only $55, a small bag of clothes and tools, and a map he had drawn himself. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: Rob Wilson Translator and interpreter: Olivier Weber Voiceover artist: Gaïus Kowene Archive was from the official YouTube channel for Will Smith


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Going cold turkey in a Bangkok prison

A life shaped by addiction. Australian Holly Deane-Johns had a complicated childhood. Her parents ran an escort agency from their home, and heroin addiction later took over the whole family. She was first given heroin by her mother, aged just 15. Holly ended up dealing to feed her habit, and in her early 30s was sentenced to 31 years in a notorious Thai prison, convicted of drug smuggling. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Mary Goodhart Editor: Rebecca Vincent Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784


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The Pacific odyssey of a runaway rebel

Ruth Shaw spent years on ships and islands, trying to outrun her past. She left her home in New Zealand as a young woman, driven away by a traumatic attack that would shape her life for years to come. Ruth tried to find escape on sailing ships, in Tahitian gambling dens and in the bars and kitchens of Papua New Guinea. But ultimately she had to head home, to face up to deep adolescent scars, and to find the child she’d been forced to give up years before. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: May Cameron Editor: Munazza Khan Photo: ‘The Bookseller at the End of the World’


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Fugees Family: the football team who became my life

The extraordinary coach who started a football team but built something much bigger. One day when Luma Mufleh was driving home to Atlanta, Georgia, she came across a group of barefoot boys playing football in the street, using a raggedy old ball and rocks for goalposts. They reminded her of how she played at home in Jordan and she asked to join their game. The Fugees Family football team was born. Luma Mufleh has written a book about her extraordinary story, Believe in Them: One Woman's Fight for Justice for Refugee Children. Presenter: Jo Fidgen Producer: Helen Fitzhenry Get in touch: or Whatsapp: 0044 330 678 2784


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My dad was Britain's 'most wanted'

Without realising it, Nick Reynolds had been living his childhood on the run. Early one morning in 1968 he answered his front door, completely oblivious to the whirlwind about to be unleashed on his family. Most of Nick's early years had been spent carefree and happy on the shores of Mexico with his British parents. But all the while he had been growing up in the shadow of one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century. Presenter: India Rakusen Producer: Eric Mugaju and Anna Lacey Get in touch: or WhatsApp: 0044 330 678 2784 (Photo: Nick & Bruce Reynolds. Credit: Ronnie Biggs)


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Trapped in an icy hell: my 72 day mountain escape

After crashing high in the Andes, Nando Parrado had to go to the extreme to get out. In 1972, when the plane carrying 22 year old Uruguayan Nando Parrado and his rugby team came down deep in the Andes mountain range in South America, they were left for dead. Rescue teams called off their search after 10 days. Nando and the other survivors would spend an incredible 72 days trapped, frozen and forsaken in this icy wilderness. And in order to come out alive, they would have to do the unthinkable. Presenter: Asya Fouks Producer: Edgar Maddicott Editor: Laura Thomas


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A Libyan kidnapping and the words that brought us together

Lucy Sexton was making a TV series about hostages when her father Joe was abducted Lucy and her father Joe Sexton are American journalists. In 2021 Lucy was working on the TV series ‘Hostages’ when her personal and professional life collided. Joe had been abducted while on a reporting trip in Libya. What followed was a surreal week of parallels as they both tried to make sense of what was happening – Joe from a cell in Libya and Lucy from a production set in Washington. Later, they turned their experience into a joint writing project that brought them closer than ever before. Presenter: Asya Fouks Producer: May Cameron Editor: Harry Graham Sound design: Joel Cox


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Discovering my mother was a Vietnamese rock'n'roll star

A chance email led Hannah Ha to uncover her mother Tam’s forgotten musical legacy. Hannah knew her mother could sing. When she took the stage at karaoke, she always stole the show. But when a chance email revealed she had once been a recording artist called Phuong Tam in 1960s Saigon, she was stunned. Hannah embarked on a two-year hunt to track down her mother’s long-lost recordings – and her rock 'n' roll legacy. Presenter: Mobeen Azhar Producer: Zoe Gelber