This piece, from interviews on the role of women during my Peace Corps service in Azerbaijan, aired on the Women’s International News Gathering Service (WINGS) in October 2008. The conversations here informed my decision to join the Girls’ Education and Empowerment program in Togo.
I learned this song during my travels in Azerbaijan/Turkey/Georgia, and it has remained with me.
Since you were so lovely,
Why did I stay away?
Why did I not open
my heart to such a love?
Was there another way of loving you
you who woke me tenderly
whispered sweet words
and took me in your arms?
© Carla Seidl
(original loose translation building in turn off of an Azeri translation from the original Georgian)
From paleo to vegan to good ol’ Southern comfort food, Asheville’s colorful and diverse salad of food philosophies helps shape our city’s identity.
I’ve been talking with a lot of folks this summer about what they eat and why. The result: “You Are What You Eat: The many faces of Foodtopia,” a gathering and analysis of food philosophies, out today as the cover story in Mountain Xpress.
Rebekah Brown “Brownie” Lee talks and reflects on cultural and economic difference, race, colonialism, and the Peace Corps at her home in Ouidah, Benin, February 22, 2012. I am revisiting the interview now in honor of Brownie’s recent passing. As the Francophone African saying goes, “Que la terre lui soit légère.” Friend and mentor, you are missed.
Lee cites materialism and the extended family as two major cultural differences between West Africa and the US. She speaks of her own experience taking in children in the various countries in which she lived and worked, and shares her concern about the practice of psychoanalysis (“I came home from Peace Corps, and people were going to counselors like we used to go the the dentist.”). She concludes the interview with her favorite proverb: “The snake cannot give birth to anything short and fat.”
Brownie Lee joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in 1962; she was part of the first group to serve in Togo, West Africa. She then served as a volunteer in Guinea (1964-1966) and had a long teaching career that spanned Eastern and Western Africa, the U.S. and Jamaica, before returning to work in varlous supervisory roles and program directorships for the Peace Corps in the 1980s and 90s, and finally serving as Peace Corps Country Director in Togo and Benin (starting in 2007 and 2009, respectively).
Interviewer Carla Seidl served in the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan from 2006 to 2008 and in Peace Corps’ Girls Education and Empowerment program (which Brownie was influential in starting) in Togo from 2009 to 2011. At the time of this interview, she was serving as a Peace Corps Response volunteer at the International Center for Art and Music of Ouidah (CIAMO), Benin.
Background noise during the interview is Lee’s adopted teenage girls doing housework and meal preparation.
The fifth episode of Simmer features an interview on the topic of community with community consultant Gaya Erlandson, founder of the Lotus Lodge Community & Learning Center in Candler, NC. For counterpoint, her comments are interspersed with reactions of a fictional Azerbaijani housewife named Gunay Qasimova.
Community consultant Gaya Erlandson shares her perspectives on American culture and the importance of community. Topics include dynamic governance and intentional community. Erlandson is the founder of the Lotus Lodge Community & Learning Center in Candler, NC. For counterpoint, producer Carla Seidl voices reactions from Gunay Qasimova, a fictional Azerbaijani housewife whose perspectives draw from those shared with Seidl by several Azerbaijani women during her Peace Corps service in Azerbaijan from 2006 to 2008.
Carla’s six-part radio series, “Simmer: Bringing the Global Local” begins tonight at 7:30pm on MAIN-FM (Asheville 103.7). Listen to all six episodes on PRX here.
Bringing the global, local, with multidisciplinary artist and returned Peace Corps volunteer Carla Seidl.
“Simmer” is a six-episode experimental series of 30-minute programs produced for Asheville’s MAIN-FM in 2013. Host and producer Carla Seidl returned from teaching abroad in Azerbaijan and West Africa and sought to tie her experiences living in less economically developed regions to issues facing her community of Asheville, North Carolina. The program straddles art and journalism by combining interview with music, collage, and personal reflection. It aims to expand listeners’ awareness and sensitivity to other cultures and perspectives.
Topics are evergreen: education, democracy, health, media, and community.
The series served as Seidl’s practicum toward her MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College.
The third Simmer episode features the first part of the documentary “Telling Our Own Stories” introduced by anecdotes about democracy from Seidl’s time in Azerbaijan.
Producer and host Carla Seidl shares anecdotes related to democracy, localism, and corruption from her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan (2006-2008). We then hear the first part of “Telling Our Own Stories,” the 47-minute-long documentary that Seidl produced in spring of 2013 on the life and work of media reform activist Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in Asheville, North Carolina.
“If I had money, I’d record
albums of the calls of children begging
their meals in the street. I’d address
books to all the rich people, to let them know that
in this world live millions of humans
who don’t have the rags that they burn.”
—Richard Dogbeh, Beninese Poet
Two women walk along the road in front of in colorfully patterned, matching pagne cloth. Assuming I don’t speak their language, one turns and brings one hand to her mouth as if eating. I respond, “Moi aussi, j’ai faim.” And the women laugh and look at one another. What a stupid yovo, if she with her white skin and privilege can’t find anything to eat! I guess we are not so bad off after all.
My own nighttime musing:
Legs under mosquito net
Could losing weight
be one good thing about
I talk with a Togolese friend about whether my “hunger,” my stomach grumbling and losing weight from not having easy access to food options that appeal to me, feels any different from the hunger experienced by impoverished Africans. Unlike many locals, of course, I have the financial means to purchase food items; I am not at risk of starving. “I’m not sure,” he says, “but we are used to suffering here. Look around and you can be sure that some of the people you see haven’t eaten in a couple of days.”
“Bowing Before Gods: A Yovo Encounters Voodoo in Benin” is an essay that speaks to my experience considering other ways of being. It was published in the current issue of Newfound Journal.
The final episode in the Simmer series combines interview with El Salvadorian immigrants in Asheville, NC, cultural reflections from Robert Kohls’ “Values Americans Live By,” and two original songs.
Luiz Antonio Alvarado came to the United States from El Salvador in 1990. Host and producer speaks with Alvarado and his nephew, Noa Herrera, about cultural difference and the challenges of immigration at Alvarado’s home in Asheville, North Carolina.
Interspersed into our interview are sections form Robert Kohls’ “Values Americans Live By.” The episode also features draft recordings of two original songs appearing on Carla’s 2013 Who Are My People? album: “Suffering Song” and “One Way.”