No Dessert

Girl eating Togolese staple food “pâte.”

Dessert? Some people have never even heard of it. This 4.5-minute radio piece examines the cultural relativity of this sweet, after-meal food practice by contrasting views on dessert from the United States and Togo, West Africa. It aired on AARP’s Prime Time Postscript in 2012.

More Background:

I created this piece shortly after my return from Togo, West Africa, where I had been serving as a Girls’ Education and Empowerment volunteer with the Peace Corps. In Togo, there was very little variety in food choices, just mainly a staple starch food called pâte, made from corn flour and water, and served with some kind of sauce. In particular, I was struck by the lack of dessert in Togolese food culture. In other countries I’d lived in, such as Chile and Azerbaijan, there was no tradition of dessert either, but at least there were sweets — they were just eaten at other times of day, rather than directly after the meal.

“No Dessert ” (4:12) takes a humorous tone to tackle themes of guilt and greed within the subject of food and culture. The idea for this piece came to me as I was trying to make sense of the strikingly different food practices that awaited me upon my return to the US. After living in less economically developed areas, it is sometimes hard not to see the American tendency to overeat and have lots of sweets as unfair in some way when so many others eat just to sustain themselves. My intention was to investigate the topic of dessert and make people more aware of their own dessert culture and food choices.

The Togolese person I am interviewing is Catherine Talim, a librarian and my counterpart teacher and co-leader of my Girls’ Club at the local middle school in Kanté.

Simmer 2: The Rainbow or the Stick?

“The Rainbow or the Stick?: Teaching and Discipline Across Cultures” features interviews with Renee Owen, director of the Rainbow Mountain Children’s School in Asheville, North Carolina, and Monsieur Bayamna, a junior high school French teacher in Kante, Togo, West Africa.

Producer Carla Seidl starts off reflecting on her own teaching experiences in Azerbaijan from 2006 to 2008. She then juxtaposes perspectives of two teachers: Renee Owen, director of the Rainbow Mountain Children’s School in Asheville, North Carolina, and Monsieur Bayamna, a junior high school French teacher in Kante, Togo, West Africa, to create an thought-provoking reflection on teaching and discipline across cultures. Seidl spoke with Renee Owen in Asheville, NC in 2013 and interviewed Monsieur Bayamna in 2010 while serving as a Girls Education and Empowerment volunteer with the Peace Corps in Kante, Togo, West Africa.

Simmer 1: Jingling to Health and the Relativity of Poverty

The first Simmer episode features an interview with Malawi Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and songwriter Dr. Jack Allison and an investigation of the cultural phenomenon of dessert.

Dr. Jack Allison served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi from 1967 to 1969 and then led a long career in emergency medicine in the United States. His health-care-related jingles became hit songs in Malawi. In this 2013 interview, we discuss health care, the cultural relativity of poverty, his songwriting, and cultural differences between Africa and the United States. The segment concludes with “No Dessert,” an original piece about the cultural relativity of the food practice of dessert.

Maba Ela

Singing with Togolese music group Kotr Wiss in Kante, Togo, December 2010.

“Malaria has killed my friends. Poverty has killed my neighbors. AIDS has killed my friends. Sorcerers have killed my companions.”

“I have only my voice to sing their memory. My guitar to cradle their crying hearts….my voice to bring back joy.”

—Klenwa Toua


Fufu is a starch staple food pounded with a big mortar and pestle and made from large tubers called ignams . While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Northern Togo in 2010, producer Carla Seidl talked with Madame Helim, a pâte and fufu seller, about the process of making fufu.

Host Intro:

In the small West African nation of Togo, a typical meal consists of one of two staple foods: pâte (pronounced like “pot”), made from corn flour and water, or fufu, made from pounded yams. For those in the North of the country, where yams are too expensive to be eaten year-round, fufu season comes as a welcome change.

Blog Post

“When I first tried fufu , I was less than impressed. While the flavor was mild and harmless, the texture was so gluey and unfamiliar that I found it difficult to swallow. Now, though, after over a year in Togo, I’ve grown fond of the food, and will go out of my way to order it if I’m out and about. It goes especially well with what is known as wagash , a cheese made from the milk that the local herding Pulaar people sell.

Locals eat fufu , like pâte and other foods, with their right hand, taking a piece of the fufu and using it to scoop up some sauce before putting it in their mouths. The yams used to make fufu are huge tubers with a skin that flakes off like thick paper. During yam season, you can often see a mound of seven or eight of them stacked and tied onto the back of a bicycle, the rider straining at the slightest incline, despite his physical fitness – that pile of yams must weigh a hundred pounds!”

Radio Réussite (Radio Success)

Radio Success: Togolese Girls’ Radio

Listen to the series here.

A series produced in French in Kante, Togo, West Africa, by Girls’ Education and Empowerment volunteer Carla Seidl in 2010. The goal of the program was to educate and empower Togolese girls. The program featured the voices of Togolese girls and women, as well as advice and inspiration that they could use toward achieving personal success. The show mixes interview, skits, poetry, and music.

Themes treated in the shows in the Radio Réussite series include: prostitution, forced marriage, gender equality, sexual harassment, beauty, infidelity, role models, the value of work, and study tips.

The show features original songs related to female empowerment composed and performed by Carla Seidl and the group Kotr Wiss of Kante.

Description en français:

“Réussite: La Radio des Filles Togolaises”

Radio Réussite était une initiative de l’americaine Carla Seidl, volontaire de Corps de la Paix à Kante, Togo, dans le domaine de l’éducation et la promotion de la jeune fille. Le but de cette émission, réalisée en 2010, était de valoriser les voix des filles togolaises en leur donnant l’opportunité de s’exprimer. On voulait aussi offrir des conseils et de l’inspiration qu’elles pouvaient utiliser pour réussir. L’émission mélange l’entrevue, la musique, la poésie, et des sketchs pour transmettre son message.

Thèmes traités dans les émissions de Radio Réussite sont: la prostitution, le mariage forcé, l’égalité genre, le harcèlement sexuel, la beauté, l’infidélité, les rôle modèles, la valeur du travail, et des conseils d’étude.