radio

A Conversation with Peace Corps Legend Brownie Lee

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.

Simmer 5: Is Community the Answer?

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.

“Simmer” on the air

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.

About

 

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.

Simmer 4: Citizen, Not Consumer

The fourth Simmer episode features the second part of the documentary “Telling Our Own Stories: Wally Bowen on Creating a Democratic Media,” plus an original spoken word entitled “Citizen, Not Consumer.”

In the second part of “Telling Our Own Stories: Wally Bowen on Creating a Democratic Media,” Bowen speaks of the importance of an engaged citizenry. He encourages listeners to manifest their own visions and stories. This Simmer episode also features an original song, “Citizen, Not Consumer,” by producer Carla Seidl.

Simmer 3: Democracy and Telling Our Own Stories

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.

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.”

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.

Telling Our Own Stories: Wally Bowen on Creating a Democratic Media

Documentary 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. Interview recorded May 2012.


Media reform activist Wally Bowen of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) of Asheville, North Carolina speaks from his front porch about his work and life, reflecting on themes of democracy, equal opportunity, sense of place, social capital, and the dangers of corporate-controlled Internet and journalism. Bowen shares his vision of locally-controlled media, which he says would not only create fulfilling work opportunities and enhance knowledge and human connection, but also enable us to shift from being passive consumers to engaged citizens. Speaking directly to the problem of social and economic inequities, Bowen introduces listeners to the problem of corporate media control and educates on the possibility of a different, more democratic model of journalism. As Bowen tells his story, including topics of home, spirituality, and facing the challenges of illness (ALS), he encourages us to tell our own. The documentary encourages listeners to become more active and engaged in their own lives.

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.