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.

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.


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.

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!

Guitar Making: The Human Element

A new audio documentary about luthier Scott MacDonald of Huntington, NY.

Internationally renowned guitar builder (luthier) Scott MacDonald of Huntington, New York says that his work is essentially a human art. Scott is different from most guitar makers in that he doesn’t produce models, doesn’t believe in reproducing the same instrument. Instead, he builds custom instruments, uniquely designed to fit the needs of each person – physically, musically, and personality-wise.

Scott is skilled at picking up cues about people. In fact, sometimes he can tell what a person he’s just met does just by the sound of their voice or their posture. And when he creates a guitar for someone, he is guided by feeling and impression more than the specifics of his craft. Listen to him share his philosophy on guitar making and hear his people skills at work in this non-narrated documentary including wood, workshop, and musical sounds from his finished and unfinished guitars.

“Cannibal Theme Park” on WILL-AM

The radio documentary “Cannibal Theme Park,” related to Carla’s Ecuador experiences compiled in The Sophisticated Savage, was featured this week on Sidetrack with Jason Croft on Illinois Public Media’s WILL-AM. To listen, click here; the piece starts about 27 minutes into the broadcast.

Four Eggs

When invited to be a lunch guest in an Azerbaijani home, be prepared for cultural difference and great hospitality.

Azeri tea setting

Azeri tea setting

Aired on American Public Media’s “The Splendid Table” on November 1st, 2008, this radio piece documents Carla going guesting in an Azerbaijani home and receiving an unexpected gift.

“Four Eggs” shows how integral hospitality is to Azerbaijani culture and also illuminates how food often represents a forging of human relationships. Carla recorded this piece while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan. The language you will hear spoken underneath her English narration is Azerbaijani.

The piece is also featured in this blog posting from the University of Chicago Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies.

Practicing Awareness

Phil Nyokai James teaches shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, in Portland, Maine. For Phil and his students, the lessons of the shakuhachi extend beyond the music to teach them about listening and presence in their daily lives. This 6.5-minute piece was produced while a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. It aired on Weekend America in 2006.