culture

Enough to Eat

“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

Togo, 2010

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
Every evening
slightly slimmer

Could losing weight
be one good thing about
this hunger
this heat?

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.”

Simmer 6: Coming to America

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.”

Learning Lama

Not gumbo but millet kernels between the teeth

TN
GB
ND
NT
koHN
TFilim,
waKR

I chomped on the Lamba language
reluctantly at first

Munching on it like
the bones
my parents said would
tear up my insides or
get stuck in my throat.

Everyone eats them here.
Not just fish bones
but chicken, guinea fowl
and dog if you are lucky.

Like the toned and chiseled bodies
Lama a more down-to-the-bones language
than decorative, excessive, lactifying
French.

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 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.

Ça va aller

Over in Togo

Ça va aller. It will be all right. Just lay back and relax.
Wait all day by the side of the road to see
if a bus or truck
is going your way.
Go with the destiny.
God and the spirits control, not us. There is so much suffering; what can we do? Just bear it,
supporter.

The Yovo Song

Yovo, yovo, bonjour! Ça va bien? Merci!

This piece, recently aired on AARP’s Prime Time Postscript, was produced while Carla was serving as a Girls’ Education and Empowerment volunteer in Togo. It deals with the common annoyance faced by herself and other volunteers of being constantly confronted with a chant by local children that drew attention to their race, their whiteness, their difference — and this, when volunteers were doing their best to integrate into and become part of their new communities. “The Yovo Song” examines reactions to and history behind the song, ultimately concluding that acceptance of this chant is a better path than resistance.

Audio Postcard from Azerbaijan

In this unnarrated sound collage, Seidl creates an aural painting of life in her village using recordings of sounds she often heard in her daily life there. She interweaves sounds of chores, animals, music, nature, and talking in the Azerbaijani language to give us a sense of a very rich and very other place.

For the first year of my Peace Corps service, I lived in a small village in the north of Azerbaijan, a country that lies between Iran, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and the Caspian Sea.  There, the rhythm of life was different, the food was different, the language was different, nearly everything was different from anything I’d known before. When I closed my eyes and focused on my ears, I heard lots of sounds repeating themselves over and over again: sounds of animals, of chores being done, intermixed with more modern sounds of Turkish pop music from the satellite television.  In the following sound collage, I tried to give a feeling for my village life using sounds I recorded in Azerbaijan in 2006 and 2007.

This audio postcard from Azerbaijan was recently featured as part of WNPR’s first “Radio Adventure Theater.” Thanks to Where We Live Senior Producer Catie Talarski!