What started as a random blog post about 18 unknown and farfetched islands has turned into 300 podcast episodes and a love affair between man and country.
In 2007, Matthrew Workman, a journalist from Portland, USA, was checking out where his blog readers where from when he stumbled upon a dot in the North Atlantic Ocean.
“There were little red dots on the places I would expect and then there was one that looked like it was floating in the middle of the ocean,” Matthew says. “I click on it and it sends me on a search. Eleven years ago there was much less in English online about the Faroe Islands than there is now.”
Matthew remembers being awed by one particular image while searching for information about the unknown islands.
“The very first photo I saw was of the church in Saksun. It sounds flaky, but it spoke to me. It called to me. I got this feeling and it said, ‘You will stand in this place. It’s your problem to figure out how, but you will stand in this place. So I became obsessed.”
Countless searches online appeased Matthew’s appetite for finding as much as he could about these remote islands. He started dropping references to a country that he had never heard of into casual conversation with people. His friends did not hold back making fun of him for it.
“As a response to my friends, I wrote a post about the country,” he says. “The idea of the post was, ‘Here is everything I know about a country that I’ve just learned about.’ The tone was silly, light and not meant to be taken seriously.”
Befriending the Prime Minister on Facebook
Partly to keep the joke up, but also because he was truly interested, every week after that Matthew wrote something about the Faroe Islands and called the feature “Faroe Friday.” A couple of weeks later, a Faroese man named Tollakur left a comment on his blog. A year later, Matthew had joined Facebook and started introducing himself to people in the country. Among them was Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen, who at the time was the Faroese Prime Minister.
“I was his thirty sixth Facebook friend!” Matthew says. “That’s when my wife knew this was serious!”
In the years that followed, Matthew and Tollakur started producing podcasts together. Tollakur would translate Faroese news into English and find someone for Matthew to interview over Skype. Matthew would send Tollakur to public areas with a dictation machine to pick up ambient sounds to tell a story about the place.
“The idea was that you could take these elements and get a feeling for what it was like. If you hadn’t been there, you could get a feeling for it. Which now seems crazy, because I had never been to the Faroes and I was trying to convince people what it was like to be there!”
A few months later, the Faroese tourism board invited Matthew to visit the country to produce podcast episodes.
“Arriving here at that time was maybe the most magical experience of my late,” Matthew recalls. “To land in a place that you had been studying and learning about for two years… it’s like you’d had a vivid dream and somebody built it and now you’re riding a bus through it. That first day, I stood in that place, where that photo of that church in Saksun was taken. It was so wonderful and surreal.”
300 episodes, 130 countries
Matthew is taken aback that he has produced 300 Faroe Islands Podcast episodes within the last nine years. However, it is perhaps not that surprising, considering how special he thinks the Faroe Islands is and the vast amount of special stories it has to tell.
“Faroese people have managed to pull off this amazing feat of being both modern and traditional at the same time. And they have a desire to integrate with the rest of the world. But in that desire to integrate and be part of the rest of the world, there is also a refusal to give up what makes the Faroes unique. The islands have kept their language, traditions, national costume, chain dancing, rowing and so forth. In a world that is getting more and more homogenous, the ability to engage with that world but not lose what makes you unique is a really special thing. I don’t know of any other place that has been able to pull it off with as much success as the Faroese have. Nine and a half years later, that is still really interesting to me.”
The stories about the Faroe Islands have reached all corners of the globe. According to Matthew, people from 130 different countries have downloaded a podcast about the Faroes. Ireland top the chart, followed by the USA, the UK, Faroe Islands, Denmark and Germany.
“There might be only one or two in some places, but somebody in Saudi Arabia is listening to every show!”
Most important episode
Matthew’s topics vary greatly, from whaling and music to the Faroese community and football. According to Matthew, his most important episode to date was about the LGBT movement in the Faroes. He attended the first big Faroe Pride event in 2009. The organisers expected 500 people. 5,000 turned up.
“It was obvious that I was viewing history. I thought, ‘This is the country changing right now’, and everyone knew that. As a journalist, to find yourself in the middle of that, to see the country change, to see history happen… in terms of what is important, I think that’s it. Sometimes you do a show and you end up disappointed that you couldn’t make it what you wanted it to be. But that show, when I put the final edit on it, I cried. It’s maybe the one thing I’m most proud of in the whole archive.”
In July this year, Matthew aired show number 300 live at a venue in downtown Tórshavn. It was also a chance for people to meet a man who fell for the Faroe Islands and has spent much of his time this past decade broadcasting stories about the islands to a host of people worldwide. Matthew does not plan for podcast number 300 to be his last.
“There is a certain kind of non-Faroese person. They find out about this place and it is as if they have found a little piece of themselves that was missing that they didn’t know about. You visit the country and you are whole again for a little while. I’ll acknowledge that it’s a form of insanity to keep doing it, but I can’t not do it.”
Listen to the Faroe Islands Podcast on www.faroepodcast.com
Words: Levi Hanssen
This article was originally posted on Faroeislands.fo