Home From Africa – 13 Symptoms of Peace Corps Withdrawal

Intro from Jay Allison: Jake Warga has made three radio pieces in his life... #1 "When Brian Took His Life," #2 "Street Dogs" with Matt Perry, and this one, #3 "Home From Africa: 13 Symptoms of Peace Corps Withdrawal." We're partial to Jake's work. Not just because he's got good story sense, snappy rhythm, and rare sensibility... but also, in a fit of our own self-centeredness, because he got some of his chops from resources at Transom.org. This piece is filled with surprising heart and thought. Jake will give you the background...

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Listen to “Home From Africa”

From Jake Warga

Intro
One of the most amazing moments in my life was sitting in a small house in a mud village in West Africa. No electricity. The night incredibly hot. The crickets deafening. The only illumination coming from an oil lantern–and a little red blinking light from my audio recorder as it, and I, listened to the person who lived in this house in Benin: Jenafir.

Photos from Jake Warga’s Trip to Benin

Chronology

Hanging out in Jen’s village, near Allada.

It started with a fun idea: record my college friend before she left for the Peace Corps, ask her what she expects, then give her the tape on her return 2+ years later. It grew from there.

We were both graduating from college: I was off to LA to make movies, she was off to Benin. We had to go to a book store so she could show me where this tiny country was. With my lecture cassette recorder I asked her, in a super market aisle, what she expected.

A year later she came back to California for a half-way visit. For it I borrowed a friend’s fancy DAT and stereo mic–I had little idea how to use either. She put the headsets on and we figured it out together.

Clouds Over Benin
Ominous view from outside Jen’s house, a tropical storm opened soon after. A shower in the heat.

Then came a mini-disc recorder, a clip on mic, and a promise: Before she left, I said I would come and visit her in Africa during her second year. After a big job in LA, I took the money and ran. And that’s how I found myself in Africa and having the most painful and wonderful experiences, as yet, of my life.

Lastly, with more audio experience, I met Jen on her way out, when she was done. When we met, she clipped the mic on herself while I asked: How was it?

The List

Baby
The way to carry babies: use a pagne (fabric).

The Peace Corps gives volunteers a small booklet when they complete their service–to help them with re-adjusting and potential culture shocks. An actual government publication, it includes a list titled: Symptoms of Chronic Peace Corps Withdrawal. I wanted to stay out of the story as narrator–I’m still not keen on hearing myself speak. It was an exercise in telling a story with only the subject speaking. When I saw the list, I knew I had the frame structure. I had her read it to me, thus allowing, in editing, her to introduce the main acts: Disease, Dirt, Work, Culture Clashes, and Leaving America/leaving Africa.

Notes on Sources
Sometimes I spliced in sections of tapes that Jen would record and send me from Africa. In response to dust, heat, temperament, and a crappy recorder, the tapes were of poor quality, and often at odd speeds which I sped up on the computer to sound normal. But those are some of the best moments in the piece.

Music
The African experience is incomplete without music. Angelique Kudjo, the female vocalist, is from Benin. She sings in Fon, the local language, and Jen, and her PC friends, can actually make out what she is saying. Most all the other artists are from West Africa. Jen warned me, in one of her tapes, that a really popular song is played to death there. Over and over for months–everywhere. So I thought I would include them… one last time Jen.

Boat
Hand-carved boat in Grand Popo. The same beaches where slave ships landed, taking people mainly to the Caribbean.
Smile
One of many happy faces in Jen’s village eager to have their photo taken.
T-Popo
A view from the beach of Grand Popo where I lost my glasses… maybe this why it’s a Radio story?
Girl
Patrishia, one of Jen’s village kids.
Boys
Minding the road from Allada, these boys use a dead bird wrapped to a stick as a toy.
Brooms
Jenafir’s brooms on the wall outside her house, the ones she loved to sweep the yard with.
Ouida
Ganvie: a village entirely on the water. Benin’s main tourist attraction. Boats to the mainland use maze sacks woven into sails… we took one with an outboard motor.
Stuff
From a craft shop in Ganvie.
Girl
Taken by Jen, one of the children she worked with and tried to find services for.
Between
Culture shock: Jenafir outside a huge clothing store in Paris on her way home… caught between cultures.

Support for a broadcast version of this story for “Savvy Traveler” comes from HearingVoices.com.

Jake Warga

About
Jake Warga

Jake Warga started in radio by recording his friends and sending the stories to Transom. After graduate school in London for visual anthropology (he’s still not exactly sure what the study is) he returned to Seattle where he continued his dabbling in radio. Now he’s a photographer, writer and freelance journalist. With microphone and camera he’s traveled to places common and exotic to photograph the destinations for PR, travel industry and stock agencies. A retrospective of his African portraits is now on view at the Seattle Art Museum. He sends radio pieces off to shows like All Things Considered, The World, Studio 360 and always Hearing Voices. You can learn more about Jake and his work at his website jakewarga.com.

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  • Jay Allison

    12.21.01

    Reply
    Home From Africa: 13 Symptoms of Peace Corps Withdrawal

    This piece of Jake Warga’s (his third ever) has interesting formal aspects to discuss — a novel structure, surprising movement in time and place, organic music, a complex sonic blend of source material, a lengthy sustain of a solo-voice non-narrative — but mostly it makes you think about the responsibility of being American.

    We have had it on our shelf waiting for the right time to feature it, and the holiday season of 2001 seems right.

    ———————–
    NOTE: An edited version of this piece will be airing on Savvy Traveler in January as part of the Hearing Voices project.

  • Kevin Ellis

    12.29.01

    Reply
    Home from Africa ( Israel? )

    I recently heard this story on my local NPR station in Seattle and I really enjoyed it. I travelled overseas for almost two years and one of the high points was a six month stint working as a volunteer on a kibbutz in Israel. I can really relate to Jenafir’s observations on the way this type of experience can impact you and how difficult it is to communicate that to the people in your life when you return home. It’s been twenty years since I returned home and not only am I still conscious of the effects of my experience, but I still have difficulty expressing it to people in a way that they can understand. This piece has helped me to do that. I searched for this on the internet and played it for my wife. Using Jenafir’s words and descriptions to illustrate my feelings about my life changing exposure to the "non-American" world.
    Thank You,
    Kevin

  • Kevin Ellis

    12.29.01

    Reply
    Music?

    I loved the music you used. I tried to catch the names, but wasn’t able to pick them out. Could you post them?
    thanks,
    Kevin

  • Seth Lind

    12.29.01

    Reply
    "13 Symptoms" shines

    Jake and Jenafir, Bravo!

    Jake:

    This is a great piece, showing patient dedication to a story over a long period of time (the key to most good documentaries, I think). The 13 symptoms framework is very creative and keeps the pace well, turning what could have been a more standard before-after document of change into a Tarantino-timed journey-as-list. Interspersing Jenafir’s post-PC reflections throughout the second half also keeps things appropriately deep, repeatedly answering Ira Glass’s favorite question: "so what does this mean?". The music is great, especially the transition from Jenafir’s spoken wish that you could hear "Aisha," into the song itself. The last song, eventually accompanied by the child, is gold.

    I would cut out your own narration, though, or have the host of whatever show it appears on read your pre- and postscript. Jenafir’s voice alone will make it feel more holistic. The closing NPR bit is funny, but the best place to end would be after the kid joins in with the last song. It just felt right.

    Again, great piece (!), and good luck.
    ___________________________________________________________________
    Jenafir:

    Thanks for putting your thoughts on tape. The thing I regret most about my 5-month stay in Mali (N. of Benin, for Transom visitors) is that I didn’t record anything! You were worried that you would forget village life, that you’d become complacent, but your words snapped me right back to Sanankoroba, Bougouni and other Malian towns. As long as others, like you, keep resuccitating (how do you spell that?)these experiences, they won’t be lost.

    Your "symptoms" are perfect; I’ve recently moved to New York, and have noticed that bank mergers occur as rapidly as the exchange of W. African greetings. Ok, I’ll spare transom visitors from reams of reminiscences…

    Best of luck on getting back to Benin. I’ve been back from Mali for 2 years, and am beginning to think daily about a return.

    Seth Lind

  • Mahua Mandal

    12.29.01

    Reply

    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this piece. It was recommended to me by a fellow RPCV, and Jenafir and Jake capture those "things" about West Africa, being a foreigner there, and then being a "foreigner" here in a remarkably astute fashion. It’s always nice to hear the similar experiences others have had in W. Africa.

    Mahua Mandal, RPCV, Ghana

  • Viki Merrick

    12.30.01

    Reply
    grubby

    I remember when I first listened to Jenafir – I was in the car – it was fall I think – but I felt sweaty and grubby and I could smell dried mud – I kept wiping my hands on my pants.

    I lived a comparatively cushy "ex-pat" life in Europe for 15 years – I wasn’t on any mission of good. just living. but the comparitive brain thing – from "home" and "away" and back again – was so well revealed in this piece. It’s not an easy experience to explain – you live with a strange misplaced sort of nostalgia forever – but nostalgia for what? for what was before you left? for the "special status" of when you were away? She got me thinking about it all again, and I guess the answer is : both. Jenafir, if you are communicating on this site, maybe you could talk about what’s up now.

    One thing about sound quality and gear etc. I am becoming more and more convinced that scratchy shitty quality means more real, more intimate. Maybe we listen harder or stop breathing, to get underneath the distortion. But damn the dark is darker, the dirt under the fingernails the grittiest.

    It sure is great to have substance on the tape – but the editorial choices were superb.

  • Jake Warga

    12.30.01

    Reply
    The Music

    00:10 and 16:27 Sam Mangwana sings Dino Vangu
    1:36 and 9:55 Lagni-Sussu "Adabi Camara"
    5:20 Le Panthire Noire
    7:35 Prince of Dahomey "Dance of the Hunter" African Tribal Music and Dance.
    19:27 Kaled "Aicha"
    20:44 Lauren Hill ‘The Miseducation of Lauren Hill’
    22:44 Angelique Kidjo from KCRW ‘Morning becomes eclectic’
    28:12 Angelique Kidjo ‘Oremi’

    Thank you all for your comments.
    Seth: My narration was just a guide for whoever gets to introduce it. I tried hard to stay out of the story, at least in foreground.
    Viki: I like the rough parts too, it implies authorship and more authenticity. The tapes she sent me went through as much as she did.

    i RPCV= Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

  • william warner

    1.01.02

    Reply

    good story. i thought the structure of telling the story while working through a list of symptoms worked well. i would have liked some factual context, though. more on benin, more on her duties with the peace corps.

    thanks for making and releasing the recording.

    ww

  • beedge

    1.02.02

    Reply
    1)Point 2)Structure 3)Compress

    the JakeJen show could be great, but is not now. it is can easily get there; if someone makes the hard decisions that, as yet, haven’t been made.

    problems are basic:
    ~ decide what show is about.
    ~ find a structural flow for the show.
    ~ compress each scene to its essence.

    the tape is so good it’s easy to see what to hold/fold. let me just give a few examples…

    What It’s About- the point should be up front. you’re lucky, Jen states quite clearly the point (or the point i hear) about half way in, when she talks about coming back and finding her old American self but fearing the inevitable loss of the African Jen.

    the Jake thing at the beginning has to go. that’s by far the worst part of show, and you start w/ it. everything Jake sez at the start should be handled by the host anyway.

    so what probably has to be done is move above Jen Afri-Ameri-ca quote to as close to start as possible. she follows that with some talk about country Benin, and being in Africa, which, aside from the Peace Corp, is all you gotta know. so make Jen say it, and cut Jake.

    Flow- one obvious structure, both from a storytelling p.o.v., and from the tape you have: 1) Go into Africa. 2) Get immersed in Africa. 3) Leave Africa. actually there’s a 0), which is the 1st few minutes you have now — about Peace Corps and such, with the added Jen-Point/Africa quote.

    this is basic structure you already have, the Trip as the structure. but the exceptions regularly interrupt the flow. ask of each segment whether it would best move the story towards, within, or away from Africa. move the segments w/in the three groups (four w/ intro) so that: 1) each segment makes a vital contribution to the story, 2) each flows elegantly in and out of its neighbours, 3) each still retains the direction and momentum of the overall Trip structure. aka, 3D chess.

    the 2-Immersion section probably crests with that voodoo-drums tape. the 3-Leaving/Left section has the weakest tape, so will likely be the briefest. but you’ve got plenty of great tape to fashion a fine grand finale.

    the PeaceCorpsSymptoms will still work w/in this structure, w/out having to hold up the structure (cuz some of ’em ain’t dat strong).

    (maybe some folk like the flexi time/place structure it has now. for me, it’s pure distraction. but if you do go w/ an alt.structure, make sure it helps, not hurts, this simple story.)

    Compress- nearly every scene has some Jen gems mixed in. but there’s an almost equal amount of ordinary or repetitious statements. so, by not reducing scenes to their essentials, instead of grabbing attention, you often encourage the listener’s attn to wander — get right to the best lines, until all that’s left are best lines.

    for instance, many of Jen’s observations on America are predictable. but at the end, she has that zinger about gluttony/encore. move to that as quick as you can, so listener is always attentive, surprised and stimulated.

    that "sweep dirt" scene should be great. but right now it’s boring cuz she repeats similar thoughts and phrases. less is more. many scenes like this would work better at half the length.

    a few scenes need to to be removed: like the supermarket segment. it’s simply not as good as the rest, so let it go. (and why is supermarket followed by Afrique music???) and one more thang…

    Rhythm- bust up your pattern of PeaceCorps symptom, then example; symptom, then example. for instance for #9-greeting-length. start the greet-tape then come in with Jen reading #9-symptom over it.

    also, on the 1st 10 symptoms, Jen seems to react to each with similar sighs/laughs. lose a few of Jen’s post-symptom sounds. it gets old..

    lastly, some of your music bridges are kinda stuck in there. use music after you’ve earned it: following a particularly striking piece of tape. listener then gets a chance to ruminate, and you get to transition. if you just stick music in w/o earning it, you drain the power of this transitional tool. (of course, you can also let music play after talking about music — something you do well in several places.)

    the piece is in there. now get it out.

  • larry massett

    1.03.02

    Reply
    Wow

    Gee,I thought this was a great piece. Maybe it comes from having had similar experience, hard to explain to others- Jen and Jake nailed it. I know an anthropologist who spent a year or so living in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Shortly before he left to go back to the States the village honored him with a pig feast. They presented him with a particularly greasy morsel as a farewell gift and, deeply touched, he packed it in his luggage instead of eating it. By the time he was going through US customs a few weeks later, the pig hunk was in an advanced state of rot.

    "What is this?" sniffed the customs official.

    "Pig, obviously."

    "Well you can’t bring it into the States."

    The anthropologist drew himself up to his full height (about five foot five). "Whose pig is it?" he yelled indignantly. "Is it your pig? No! Is it my pig? Yes!"

    A winning argument in Papua New Guinea. At LAX, they just called the cops

    I read Barrett’s message above and might agree with his points if I pondered them; on first listen, though, the piece was such a thrill I didn’t mind the occasional repetitions or longeurs. I loved the structure, loved the way the story deepens as it goes . A number of listeners seem to have quibbles about the beginning; my quibble would be that neither Jake or Jen make it clear there really is an official government booklet on Symptoms of Chronic Peace Corps Withdrawal. I already knew that from reading the website, but would a listener hearing the piece cold find it real? Oh, why quibble….kudos to both of you.

    Jake, are you working on any other audio now?

  • larry massett

    1.04.02

    Reply
    Aicha

    Jake, how could I get a recording of, or download, Kaled’s "Aicha?" The music itself is sort of ripe, but I caught a reference to "Reine de Saba," the Biblical Queen of Sheeba. Saba was once a real kingdom in the hills ot what is now Yemen, with a sophisticated irrigation system and control of the spice trade, and nowadays my private obsession. Some of the world’s greatest coffee comes from Yemen; I’m afraid our B52a’s may not be able to tell the difference, from altitude, between a coffee tree and a terrorist. Did you know that a classic French cake is called "La Reine de Saba?" God knows why. Anyway I am researching "la dame qui fut" and following any lead.

    thanks,

    Larry

  • Jake Warga

    1.07.02

    Reply
    Responce

    Barrett:
    Wow. If comments are the hard currency of public radio, then you’ve paid me richly. Thanks for your attention to my efforts. It was such a project editing it, and such a solitary experience, it’s nice to hear such specific ideas about it.

    Maybe people can share about this, if it happens to them: I find that when I’ve spent so long editing, that when I listen to it, I drown it out. Sometimes I don’t even hear what she is saying anyany morecause of the accacutemiliarity. Jay has given me a 21 min version and know that when I listen to it, I can detect changes, but can’t always put my finger on them–if I’m not following the transcripts. For me, Editing is visual (thanks to colorful propro toolsRecording is aural part.

  • cherry in san diego

    1.07.02

    Reply
    thank you

    oh what a delight to hear the sounds of Africa, to listen to a fellow American,I spent some time in Bamako, my dream was to go to Africa, not Arabic Africa, nor South Africa, but the real Africa of my dreams. Jennifer and Jake, again, I thought it was perfect.
    Merci
    CW

  • John B

    1.08.02

    Reply
    Moral dilema: To send or not to send.

    I thought this piece was very well put together. I particularly appreciated how the structure of the symptoms shaped the narration. I had a similar story idea myself, as a college friend and I have kept a minidisk dialogue throughout his PC mission in the Ivory Coast. I had recorded "Home From Africa" to MD and thought of mailing it to him, but later thought he might better appreciate it when he returns in August. In all due respect to the piece and the creator, and although I am sure my friend is already aware of the serious post-Corp withdrawal, I am not sure if it is what he needs to hear. Am I being too protective here? I welcome any of your thoughts, JB

  • Joellen Easton

    1.09.02

    Reply
    in the gut….

    …in every way. The piece hit me in the gut — Jen talks about some experiences that I’m familiar with, and the piece succeeded completely in making me feel nostalgia, pain, fear…. I liked the little bit at the end about "where is npr?"… Though I do agree with Barrett about needing to earn the music, I could go either way on compression. Yes, it would be a much snappier piece if tightened up, but I was caught in the flow of it, and had absolutely no problem sticking around for the whole ride. Thanks, Jake.
    -Jo

  • Joan Schuman

    1.09.02

    Reply
    listening, a feeling

    Jake:

    This piece is indeed transforming as it is about a transformative time in Jenafir’s life. I found myself thinking afterwards about not only what she said, but the intimacy with which she said things. I’m beginning to think we get our best interviews from people we know, people we know well. They open up in a way that strangers don’t often do.

    In terms of editing and restructuring, I agree with a lot of what Barrett Golding said. I even went back to listen to the beginning a couple of times. Definitely drop your intro and outro. There’s confusion in how to get into the subject here: do you want to give it a linear structure? a swinging back and forth between Africa Jen and post-Africa Jen?

    I think there’s a way to combine the two, not linearly, and have it be clearer. Choose the gems and dump the extraneous, repetitious cuts. That may help. Find parallel or oppositional themes within the two geographies. Listen to the patterns (themes, ways of speaking) and compose them, like music: repetition is good but not too much or we’ll expect it. Surprise us. Do that with juxtaposition and with your music.

    The music, by the way, is great. It carries the feeling of the piece as does Jen’s way of speaking, her way of talking directly to us.

    I agree that the piece could end with the child singing along.
    Though I love the NPR story, perhaps you could find a place within the piece rather than ending with it. It’s important to realize how isolating it was for Jen to live in Africa and how we take all that "connectedness" for granted.

    It needs a bit of restructuring, but it’s a great, great piece.

  • Jake Warga

    1.09.02

    Reply
    Audience

    The question of audience is on my mind as the discussion seems labored on editing. It was a daunting task in light of hours of recordings and way too much cool music to chop and contend with. Here’s what I originally did: Highlighted on the transcripts of the interviews what seemed good tape. Then I tried to figure out how to assemble the story: chronologically or thematically. Then I banged my head on the wall, thew it all in a closet and did something else for a few months.

    On the advice of a writer/TV producer/instructor friend of the family, I made clean copies of the MDs, ignored the transcripts, and just listened to them and hit the track insert button to mark ins and outs. Then I went back to the transcripts and cut out what I had marked on the MD copies. It was a revolution to me listening to it all fresh again. I noticed, from all the pieces of paper taped on my walls and kitchen door, themes emerging.

    So who did I make this for? First, it was a present to Jenafir, and if nothing else came of it, I will have had the fun of trying to document one of the more amazing things I’ve seen a friend do by choice.

    My intro and outro were guides, and I think I sounded goofy enough to guarantee their removal. It may sound odd, but I don’t like hearing myself speak. The whole editorial effort of this project was to keep me out as narrator.

    To appease the editing comment trends above, Jay Allison had done an beautiful chop job for "Savvy Traveler" It is now 20min or so, the music shorter, the talking less, the structure the same.

    If I could bother to edit the WHOLE thing again, I don’t know if I would do a whole lot differently–many of the detail comments mentioned above, sure. I too would have liked a clearer focus or statement as Barrett suggested, but it’s so hard when I can’t jump in as narrator and say what it is. The pallet to paint with was so large, that the result can only be an expression of the individual who painted it. I don’t know if any experience can he documented fairly, that is a privilege that will forever hide in the memories of the person who had it. I came, I took pictures, I took sounds. I returned, I cropped some photos, and cut some audio.

    I have enjoyed greatly the editing comments, I like to think I’m sill malleable as a producer since I’m only on my third story. I like hearing the suggestions of how other people might have done things. Again, pulling me from the solitary confines of a laptop once buried under minidiscs. It’s flattering to hear, for all you RPCVs and expats, that I did get you back to where you once were–nostalgia in stereo. I think Jenafir is both burdened and tickled to have had someone do this for her experience.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    1.10.02

    Reply
    Hey, Jake!

    You sure know how to pick them Jake, both stories and friends, that is.
    I also appreciate your generosity of spirit (the way you thank Barrett, for example, rather than getting defensive, and the way you let us know how you struggled)
    Were you just born a gem or did you get some sort of enlightenment somewhere?
    I am completely serious. It seems it takes gems to find and polish other gems, and I wonder about others out there.
    Where’d you get the idea that you could find and create things? and how did you find out that criticism is a gift?

  • Viki Merrick

    1.12.02

    Reply
    honey

    Funny you should mention criticism. I was wondering when someone might bring it up – giving criticism is apparently an art itself. Barret obviously paid close attention and made some excellent points, which were unfortunately garbed in thorns.
    I think for those with newer skins, that sort of critique might cause a fledgling radio producer to keep their distance from the Transom – after all this isn’t boot camp, or the colosseum.

    To quote the founder: criticize us gently, we’re public radio types

  • jonathan menjivar

    1.12.02

    Reply
    off the road but not into the trees

    I don’t want to divert too much from the story into a talk about criticism, but since it sounds like an edit is in progress or near completion, maybe we can steer away for a little while.

    I was glad to see Barrett’s post. Even though I didn’t agree with some of it. It was harsh at times but it seems to me that part of Transom is making the pieces better. And to do that, we need that ability to be open and say what we think about the pieces.

    Jake, if you don’t know this by now, the piece articulates that sense of unbalance that anyone who has been somewhere else for awhile feels remarkably well. To me, that part about America/gluttony was too much. It felt like a political statement…just less real and honest than most of the stuff she says. I like the subtle parts a whole lot more. Like, um…it’s been awhile since I heard it so forgive me if I get it wrong…but the way she says "a-MERRR-E-ca" instead of "A-MARE-ICKA" the way the rest of us do. To me, that was what made her conversion into a different sort of American so much more convincing.

    Like I said, been some time since I heard it, but good job. Keep it up.

  • Jay Allison

    1.12.02

    Reply
    Edit

    I’ve been working with Jake and John Hoult from Savvy Traveler and Barrett Golding from HearingVoices to create a 20-minute version to air next weekend. This meant cutting over 10 minutes, and I think we’ve done a really fine job.

    But you be the judge. We’ll post a link when it’s up.

  • Jake Warga

    1.12.02

    Reply
    Weekends make me sleepy

    b Criticisms are compliments with a blunt edge.

    Naunette, you make me blush. My modisty is usually acute. Gems came into my life when I realized I can choose my friends. When I opened my eyes not just to the world, but how I see it–to accept my unique perspective (which, oddly enough, is usually dry, sometimes morbid, but dry–not Sara Vowell dry, I don’t like wearing black). Finding and creating things is something just fluttering awake in me, it took just one person to flip the light on, who said to me, not ‘you can do it,’ but: ‘do it.’

    Encouragement. No criticism can take away from the tickle I get knowing people are hearing what I created. The last thing I will say about it: criticisms are gifts for the self-taught person.

    Since dropping "Brian’s Story" in along with "Street Dogs" to Transom, nothing I ever do will be as heavy as that move. Maybe it’s toughened me, but nothing will compare with the stress of that moment.

    Transom has been a great source of encouragement and recognition. I had never been in a radio station till last year when I dropped promos for "Street Dogs" off at KUOW in Seattle. Before I left town, I was either having coffee (Seattle, it’s what we do) with the station director, or just strolling in and rummaging for a free T-shirt or hat. I’ve got 3 transom shirts now, I hear that’s almost a record. They/you need to make hats, and I’ll pick-up my little recorder again. I’m in it for the clothing.

    Community, like Larry addressed in his discussion, is the greatest part (am I an Anarchist producer Larry?) To make a shift from consumer to producer is neat. I used to listen to old-time radio shows from 9-10pm each night of highschool (yes, I had few friends). I now get messages from strangers about my stories–then they become friends. Friends I might never meet in person, but would quickly welcome me in. Community.

  • Jay Allison

    1.12.02

    Reply
    shift from consumer to producer

    that’s our motto.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    1.13.02

    Reply
    blushing is good for you

    Once upon a time I was trying to figure out what the heck was so special about living abroad. I was probably trying to figure out why I could only rarely connect romantically with men unless they were living outside their native country. With a graduate school paper as an excuse, I tried to identify the international, but not materialistic, element.
    At least back then, the cross-cultural literature was nearly all about refugees and immigrant assimilation. i thought, "great, my lightweight subject will be somewhere next to studies on the effects of country club membership. I’ll never find anything!"
    But then I stumbled on the unacademic sounding concept of ‘culture shock,’ and the claim that the process is like mourning: mourning for your culture and then, upon re-entry, mourning for the second culture.
    Having lived abroad, I thought I could only relate to others who’d done the same, but maybe I needn’t have worried. Eventually, nearly everyone experiences something like culture shock through a move or divorce or even an illness. Perhaps eventually nearly everyone could be an anthropologist, journalist, artist or at least the teller of his or her story, a gem.
    (My organized collection of related literature was reduced to a charred mess when an electrical fire totalled our barn a few weeks ago. So I wanted to pipe up about it.)

    I liked the part when Jenafir has a comfortable sing-song exchange with a neighbor. That’s hard to bottle and bring home to show others, that evidence that you ‘ve learned enough to fit into the local rhythm and humor. You’ve danced in the language intimately enough to experience the people as being as valuable as those at home. After doing that and after sweeping her dirt floor, how can Jenafir not look back over the distance and see American behavior as gluttonous –just for a moment?

  • Jenafir

    1.14.02

    Reply

    Hello, everyone. I am Jenafir, the subject of "Home from Africa". Jake has requested that I make an appearance here on the discussion board and answer some of the questions posed to me.

    First let me thank everyone for their wonderful comments and lively discussion…though somewhat exposing, it is also invigorating to finally hear the polished "Home from Africa" broadcast from this site. The emotional response (and strong memories) many of you describe after hearing the piece is also very validating for me; I have had a strong emotional reaction after listening to the piece since the day I heard Jake’s first cut. There is still a raw space for me around remembering my departure from Benin (now two years ago), and in remembering all I left behind there.

    I have to admit that during Peace Corps, I’d convinced myself that all of my tapes and correspondence with Jake would never really make it to the editing table. I suppose part of me was hoping that they would sit on a shelf for many years until their emotional impact lessened for me– but this was not the case. Jake, despite my initial fears about the tapes’ ability to convey my complicated feelings on this topic (as well as my mixed feelings about hearing myself on tape!) I want to thank you publicly on this discussion board for the amazing amount of time, effort and care you have put into creating this documentary. Thank you, my friend. And thank you again for all of your correspondence, and good energy from the States to help get me through the rougher spots in Benin. It meant more than I can express here.

    With this said, let me try to answer a few of your questions…

    To Viki, who asked me about what was up now: I still feel the nostalgia you mentioned, and the desire to return to the “developing” world to live. I still live by many of the values I learned there, and they continue to inform my life and my decisions about the future. But I see that I have had to sublimate much of my “village perspective” in order to adapt to and survive in this world. Can you imagine getting upset everytime you see a single passenger in a new gas-guzzling off-road SUV on a well-maintained street in San Francisco? (Which is constantly–everyday, for those outside the area.) Or to really think about the amount of wealth and waste that surrounds me every time I walk past the glittery 5th and Market Nordstrom’s/Macy’s/Abercrombie and Fitch Shopping Center at the Powell BART station on my way to work? I feel as if I would be unable to survive emotionally in the US if I lived with my eyes that wide open.

    So, yes. To be that conscious of the disparity between those two worlds would make it difficult for me to negotiate my daily life here in the U.S. at any level. But I continue to recognize my village side in other, quieter aspects of my consciousness. And for that, I am very grateful.

    To John B, I think it would be great to send your friend the recording of “Home from Africa”—especially with some added commentary from you. I know that I loved getting any correspondence from home while I was in Peace Corps, especially personal stuff from people I cared about. And if he’s leaving in August, he’ll probably be starting to think about making the transition back to the States. Good timing.

    Take care, everyone, and thank you so much for listening and sharing your thoughts.

    Jenafir

    PS
    And I’m afraid that I can’t apologize for the potential "political statements" implied in my tape from the doc or here in this posting. The line between such "political statements" and guiding life principles/personal beliefs is too thin for me. Especially after the two years I spent being able to enjoy sweeping the dirt outside my house there in Zoungbodji, Benin.

  • larry massett

    1.14.02

    Reply
    weekdays make everyone sleep

    Jake, rather than admit you can’t be pigeon-holed, I’d say you’re an Anarchist posing as a Communist. Like Trotsky.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    1.15.02

    Reply

    Jenafir,
    are you in touch with other former peace corps volunteers? does that help?
    do peace corps alumni have a website or something? I bet some others would love to hear this and respond… and I’d love to listen in…

  • scott carrier

    1.15.02

    Reply
    Good Work

    What a good radio story! There’s nothing wrong with it and everything right with it. I’m sorry it had to be cut for The Savvy Traveler, I think that’s a mistake on their part. Maybe when they start getting responses from their listeners they’ll rethink what they’re doing.

  • Viki Merrick

    1.15.02

    Reply
    editing, politics and epilogues

    I’ve heard the Savvy edit several times now and think no one will be disturbed – on the contrary. Jay has sharp tools for precision fat-trimming which he wields gracefully. The rhythm is intact – it is still Jake’s production. This is important.
    Obviously some hard choices have to be made when editing for time- which brings me to the political issue that Jonathan (Paco) mentions. In order to honestly leave the mother country behind, in order to fully immerse oneself in the other life, you have to stop looking at the mother life, stop keeping it with you. Not much different from leaving your parents. When you do come back, you have a window of objectivity which is where the canned-corn-variety nervous breakdown comes from (mine was cereal and pickles); where the blank incredulous stare at gluttony and consumption comes from. It is very real, not dishonest and not even political. I think leaving out this element in Jenafir’s thoughts and experience would have kept the story too simple. Jay had to cut one bit of it – but wisely kept most of it. It is not only the Africa experience but that brief window of objectivity that changes a person when they "come back" – no longer an innocent citizen, a full-fledged anything, except maybe a citizen of the world. You get used to the 136 kinds of cereal, even figure out a favorite, just like you develop your own technique for sweeping dirt. But every now and then, no matter how much time has passed, you find yourself quietly shaking your head.
    In fact, for me, the ending was almost too tidy. I wanted an epilogue I guess. It is why i asked Jenafir what was going on now. I wish she’d had the recorder for another year…
    Still, the piece stays with me- very much so.
    Longing for Africa – V

  • Jake Warga

    1.16.02

    Reply
    Trotsky in Africa

    i Larry Wrote: Jake, rather than admit you can’t be pigeon-holed, I’d say you’re an Anarchist posing as a Communist. Like Trotsky.

    Actually, I did have the Trotskys in Africa–great weight loss program. Wrote a 12pg story about it, one of Jen’s and my favorites called "Travelers Trots" You’ll explode with laughter. Can e-mail to anyone upon request.

  • beedge

    1.16.02

    Reply
    i’m definitely gonna…

    …need a copy of your Trots Treatise.

  • Jake Warga

    1.18.02

    Reply
    National Broadcast

    "Home from Africa" aka: "Jenafir’s Story" will be up on the satellite this weekend by "the Savvy Traveler" http://www.savtrav.org

    Thank you all at Transom and Hearing Voices for your work and admiration… and the T-shirts.

    Your biggest fan, Jake.

  • Jay Allison

    1.18.02

    Reply
    airing

    We’ll post a link when it’s up.

    Jenafir, it’s good to see you here. One thing I like about the piece, and you in it, is how it’s all political, but in a non-polemical, grounded (literally) sort of way. It works best for me when we are forced, by your witness, to point a finger at ourselves. On the other hand, there are times when your own finger must point. Here’s a quote for artists from Arundhati Roy’s "Power Politics".

    "I’m all for being circumspect. I’m all for discrection, prudence, tentativeness, subtlety, ambiguity, complexity. I love the unanswered question, the unresolved story, the unclimbed mountain, the tender shard of an incomplete dream. Most of the time."

  • jonathan menjivar

    1.19.02

    Reply
    watch me fumble

    Leave it to Jay Allison to say something when you want it said right. Jay said exactly what I was feeling but couldn’t articulate. Jenafir/Jake, it was the moments when I felt those politics coming out in an indirect way that I was convinced. When the statements were made without ever being made…like the sweeping scene which everyone understandably loves. Looking forward to the Savvy Traveler version.

  • Joel Daniel Harris

    1.20.02

    Reply
    Reflections of a kitchen snacker

    This afternoon as I munched a seemingly(at least at the start) quick snack, I tuned in to the Savvy Traveler for some background noise. Finishing up the last few crumbs as Jake and Jenafir started their magic, I found myself glued to my seat…needing to do other things, but not caring. Returning this fall from a year of travel in and out of the US, including three and a half months overseas, I felt to the core what was expressed during that short 20 minute span. Jenafir’s ability to put words to what is so often to me the unspeakable was profound and left me in deep thought. The flow was beautiful and I ached for any place outside of the US. Not knowing there was a longer version, but wanting to find a copy and give it to everyone I know, I heard the host mumble something about transom.org and quickly jumped online. Half an hour ago, I found myself paging through all 34 posts…and while my prose may not approach many of the previous messengers, my message is the same. Thank you for entrancing me for 20 minutes and flying me away. To a place where so many wouldn’t even know what to do with the computer I’m typing this on. Sometimes I feel guilty for my abundance, and when I do, I just thank God for His blessings and search my heart again for how I can serve others. America is a blessing and a curse…and we each choose which one to portray to others.

  • Mark Cirlin

    1.21.02

    Reply
    Home From Africa – great show, how can i get a tape of it.

    Home From Africa was one of the best radio shows I have listened to in many years. It was a touching and interesting story which even had wonderful music. Jennifer is a very special person.

    How can I get a tape copy of the show so that I can hear it again?

  • william warner

    1.21.02

    Reply

    Mark,

    There’s a longer version which was published on this web site before it aired on savvy traveler

    http://www.transom.org/shows/2001/200112.shows.africa.warga.html

    But yeah, i still want to hear the edited version. KUOW doesn’t air savvy traveler anymore, (according to the web site, anyway) so i couldn’t listen to the broadcast. Does anyone know if that’ll ever be posted?

    ww

  • Jay Allison

    1.21.02

    Reply
    soon

    Savvy Traveler should have the edited version in place very soon on their website savtrav.com

    In the meantime, we have it here on Transom but with no intro or outro.

  • ben

    1.21.02

    Reply
    soon? well …

    Hi everyone, my name is Ben, I work on Savvy and I’ve just had a discussion with our webguy and apparently the cold in Minnesota has frozen out the Savvy website update. He tells me that it will "probably be up tomorrow morning." So, well. I’ll update y’all later.

    Thanks for your patience, and Jake, Jenafir, and Jay, thanks for such a great piece. I will tell you that we’ve gotten a lot of very positive listener feedback and that always makes us happy. You know, when it, um, happens.

    bye,
    Ben

  • Jake Warga

    1.21.02

    Reply
    Ice fishing

    Ben: That’s really funny. Your confession of the internet freezing in MN really enhances some wonderful stereotypes, sounds like a Lake Woebegone story–so cold it froze the web. Glad you’ve been getting lots of responses, when KUOW broadcasted the story for the first time, they were hit with a lot of calls and comments, inspiring them to air it again as a holiday special. It’s all wonderful news. Thank YOU for giving it a home, guess it will be preserved there for a while…till spring thaw? (ha!sorry)

    ST Version vs. the original: Thoughts?
    I understood the reduction of length, and Jay did a great job at not killing all my editing babies, the structure stayed the same. I didn’t think cutting it down to 20min was anymore cruel than me cutting 2+ years of Jenafir’s life down to 35min really. I have hours of original tape, but had to scrap a lot of it due to my own inexperience: don’t record on a busy street or outside an airport, don’t use a hand-held mic, and ALWAYS press ‘end search’ on the frekin’ MD recorder.

    For the fans of Jenafir’s life, I’ve allowed the tables to be turned by getting her a MD recorder and mic–we now swap stories, as I tell her about my life in London. Maybe she’ll take revenge and cut a story about me…though likely not half as interesting.

  • Tad Hutton

    1.22.02

    Reply
    The Road Less Traveled

    When I got home I kissed the airport tarmac. Of course, the day before, when I left Colombia, I felt that I was leaving the planet earth. Thank you, Jenafir and Jake, for sending me down the road again.

  • ben

    1.22.02

    Reply
    meltdown

    I heard on NPR this morning that the weather in Minnesota has been unseasonably warm. Thus, our website must be working …

    http://savvy.mpr.org/show/features/2002/20020118/feature1.shtml

    Hooray!

    Ben

  • dave grytness

    1.22.02

    Reply
    realaudio

    is there any possibility in the future, or maybe you could let me know if im just missing it. but im one of the stubborns who refuses to infect my computer with the crassly commercial "real audio" whats the chance of hearing this stuff on a "free" format like mp3/winamp?
    dave

  • Andy Knight

    1.22.02

    Reply

    You can always go to Audible.com and you can pay to listen to it in a "free" format like mp3. I’m sure it isn’t the answer you want, but there it is. I was fine with RA myself until this whole "RealOne" nonsense…

  • Jay Allison

    1.22.02

    Reply
    Real Free

    whats the chance of hearing this stuff on a "free" format

    Real has a free player. That’s what I use. Go to their site (http://www.real.com), look for the tiny print where it says "free" Real Player and download it.

    I’ll find it for you, wait a minute…

    Okay, Click here.

  • beedge

    1.23.02

    Reply
    mp3 not free

    "free" format like mp3

    mp3 is not free. every maker of encoder software must pay licensing fees to the german team who developed the codecs (frankhoffer-something-or other). whereas RealNetworks has always offered free versions of both player and encoder.

  • beedge

    1.23.02

    Reply
    ?s 4 J

    transom is a place for support, praise, and comradery, but not so much for the type of stark, unfiltered honesty without which an artist cannot grow. and jake is an artist. he has instincts for what make a great story, what is great tape, and how to make that great tape into a great story, playing with form while preserving function.

    but, it seems to me, in all 3 of his transom shows, he is not yet comfortable with walking that razor’s edge between telling too much and not telling enuf. so here’s some questions for jay, who took that razor’s edge to jake’s work, and lopped off about a third of the original. jay, what is your honest assessment of:

    1) Is your cut version better than jake’s original?
    a) if not, why did you cut it, or feel it should be cut, instead of arguing with the series execs to run the long, or a longer version.
    b) if so, what makes your cut better than jake’s orig, and why do you think jake did not see where the cuts could be made?

    and please do not answer that each version is great in its own way. one version is obviously better. (aka, one is a really fine piece, and one is fuqn masterpiece.)

  • Jake Warga

    1.23.02

    Reply
    Whose better?

    It seems like going to your parents with brother or sister in tow and asking them: who do you like better? I don’t know if it’s an issue of better. Making something ‘better’ implies adding things, subtraction is a cut-down, an edit. Cliff notes vs. Book. Nothing changed thematically, no new thoughts or words were added. Chopping my intro and outro was a blessing, it was only a guide track. They asked for 20min, Jay trimmed the fat, stretched the music. I saw the fat, but liked the full meal. Long moments of talking can hold fewer attention spans now, and I understand the trimming–but in a logistical way, to get the message out, it was abbreviated.

    How did "Brian" not fall off the razor’s edge? "This American Life" asked me for the longer version, the one no one has heard, it only ads a section on religion beliefs. Would that have pushed it over? Maybe more about me, my reactions? "Brian" push the ‘edge’ farther than I will ever dare push again. But I’m thinking the edge is a stylistic definition more than a shock issue.

    My parents always said they liked me better, but I’m an only child.

  • Jay Allison

    1.23.02

    Reply
    cutting

    Sure, I like my edit a lot. When I finished, I put my arms in the air and bowed my head in the manner of Olympic Champions.

    But that experience was less exhilarating than when I heard Jake’s piece the first time. Jenafir’s personality and her story, Jake’s care with her and his structuring of her experience are much more at the heart of this than the trimming I did.

    They’re the poodle. I’m the clippers.

    I will, however, improvise some notes about any useful principles involved in the clipping that I can think of at this moment. The rest of it Jake can tell you.

    First, cutting down a long story is less important to those listeners who: 1) have time to spare for peaceful listening, or 2) are already interested in the subject. A relaxed listener interested in the Peace Corps would be entirely happy with the first cut, I think. In fact, it was really made as a present for Jenafir, wasn’t it, Jake?

    In approaching the edit, I was thinking mainly of myself, a distracted but hookable listener with a generally curious mind. For that listener, I felt Jake’s piece could be tighter, more driven, less repetitive. But it also had to retain the pace of the original, where Jenafir’s musings in Africa exist at the pace at which she was existing. Tightening her pauses would have ruined the subjective impression of time as she was living it.

    Jake’s choice of using the "13 Symptoms" was terrific. It created a methodical theme-based forward movement, which permitted jumping about in time and space, which the story needed. It was a countdown, a clock. You knew you were moving along toward 13. It was also a home-base, a touchpoint. This is very handy in a story out loud. So, the first decision was not to lose that.

    The other vital element of the piece was music. So I left that right up front and all the way through, making it clear that the cultural/musical identity of the piece was part of the point.

    I thought the piece needed a clearer road sign near the top to direct you. Jenafir’s first bite was a very hard-to-understand technically rough piece of tape with a voodoo ceremony in the background. I moved that to near the end. I think you need to earn the listener’s willingness to listen to ragged tape. This was too ragged, too early. But, more than that, the cut I moved into its place really puts you in Africa and stakes out the dichotomy of the piece, the two cultures existing in one person. I think it’s a signpost that tells you the rough direction you’re headed and sets you on the right course. This was probably the most subtle and significant change I made. I pulled that cut from near the end and put it at the beginning.

    After that, it was all undergrowth removal. A clear path through the forest. I cut one or two long stories. I eliminated repetition. I did some compression by bringing elements together and overlapping or weaving them when it felt right. This preserved content, but reduced time. There were a few bites that sounded too summary or analytical or even preachy, which I removed. I took out some on-location scenes that didn’t move the story, but had a nice sonic quality. They fit well in Jake’s longer version, which had a relaxed, wander-y pace, but the edited piece had a more directed flow. Once that flow was established, it was intolerant of eddies. Jake’s version could admit eddies.

    That’s what I can think of sitting here now. When you’re actively cutting, you’re not really thinking. It’s more a musical exercise, done by feel. Or like a tailor, snipping, bits falling away that you just KNOW you can lose without looking at the pattern or the chalk marks. Feel. Jake had beautiful material and had already given it a lovely shape. It was a pleasure to work on and the process gave me the kind of glow that is one of the reasons to do this sort of work.

  • Kim

    1.24.02

    Reply
    Togo RPCV 94-96

    Jenafir,

    Thank you so much for a quick trip back to the village. The only thing missing was the sound of the palm branches sweeping the dirt at dawn. How I miss that sound! Was that an Eve greeting I caught in there? You left me wanting more and wishing to God that I had made tapes of my own.

    I have been home for five years now. Listening to your words, I could relate with your views and I was surprised how much my own have drifted back toward a "typical" American mindset these past few years. Not so long ago I was unable to go out to dinner with friends without insisting upon gathering up any leftover food to take home, happy to eat wilted salad for breakfast to avoid throwing it out. But what you say is true, living in outrage of every indulgence you see in a normal day in America will make you unable to survive emotionally (actually, I guess it would just turn you into a fou).

    The links I maintain between village life and my life in America are odd and random. Of course, batiks decorate the walls of my apartment. But I still wear a pagne after a shower at the gym. I refuse to give up my pagne pants, no matter how ridiculous they look. Right now I am wearing the little 25 frank silver circle earrings you buy in the market. And just for nostalgia, I occasionally treat myself to a round box of Vache Qui Rie.

    I hope I never forget the lessons village life taught me. I have a feeling the really important ones are embedded too deep within me to wash off completely. Once again I thank you for this most wonderful trip back in my memory and a glimpse of who I was just five years ago. Good luck with your transition, may it never be complete.

    Akpekaka. Byebyelooo,
    Kim

  • larry massett

    1.24.02

    Reply
    shortest version

    Just as an experiment Jake, I cut your show down to 30 seconds, while maintaining the original structure. You can hear it on my wesite in the Solomon Islands- oh wait…..I hear it just melted.

  • beedge

    1.24.02

    Reply
    quite a coincidence…

    …since i am now worker on the 6hr vers. in this one Jen gets tried in a military tribunal for conspiracy to sweep dirt.

  • Abner Serd

    1.24.02

    Reply
    clip-on mics

    Jake (and anybody else), I’m curious about your experience with clip-on mics. How’s the sound? Can you move around, or do you get too much mic noise? Do they stand up to use in the out-of-doors?

    I would love to be able to record while walking, using a clip-on mic. It would keep my hands free, and it would be so much lighter than a hand-held mic. But I worry that so much movement would inevitably get picked up by the cable, and that a more fragile mic wouldn’t last long on, say, an extended backpacking trip. Also that it wouldn’t pick up enough of the background sounds – birds singing, diesel trucks bearing down on you from behind, etc.

    Abner

  • beedge

    1.24.02

    Reply

    you might read the discussion on clip-on (lavalier, or lavs) mics in the "Microphones & MiniDiscs" section here (at Transom Talk>Tools>Tips and Opportunities>Field Work & Recording). try starting with:
    Barbara Bernstein "Microphones and MiniDiscs" June 13, 2001 01:34am

    in sum, Transom Tools Editor, Jeff Towne, says they suck, but Transom Jefe Jay A. sez they only suck most of the time.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    1.24.02

    Reply
    beedge is the best email name

    Jake, maybe the mic question was prompted by your comment that you’ve learned to not use a hand held microphone !?? (Did you write that here? I didn’t find it just now; maybe I dreamed it. If not,) what are you using? a stand? did you have handling noise?

  • Jake Warga

    1.24.02

    Reply
    How is Beedge a good name?

    Yea, a technical discussion! Us radio-shack geeks love it. You did read it here, I used a contriversial clip-on (PSC-professional sound corp) for all of jen. It helps being in a quite place, and not playing with jewelry (that’s you Jen!). I also did all the field recording with it in Africa, it was my only mic. I love it. There was a lot of handling noise, so I tried not to handle it. In the field, I had it clipped outside my fanny-pack, it attracted no attention. All the actualities were therefor in mono.

    I also used the same one with "Brian" It’s great because they forget it’s there–that’s the key–and just talk to ME, not the mic.

    Mind when they cough if you have headphones on!

  • Susan Jenkins

    1.25.02

    Reply
    Barrett Golding = "B G" say it a few times

    I like the lav-handheld combo Jay recommends so you get environment and the person you are interviewing can kind of be in their own space. But some interviews I find the person wants to be in your space. Or that they drop some wall to let you into theirs a little. Everybody’s different.

  • ben

    1.25.02

    Reply
    excuse me, what about "badair"?

    Yeah, but Jake, I’m wondering what you think about the ethical issues of recording people and them not knowing it. In California, you could be put in jail for that.

    I think after hearing all the audio you’ve recorded in this story, I’d still agree with Jay’s assessment of lav mics. Listen to some of Barrett’s sound from the Lewis and Clark pieces and you’ll see a huge, huge difference (granted, you won’t hear it over crappy realaudio, however). I think actually, that this piece would have much better had the audio been up to snuff. That’s its weakest point for me. Your audio in the suicide piece was also pretty bad, but what he was saying was compelling enough that I didn’t notice it.

    Ben

  • Jake Warga

    1.26.02

    Reply
    What about heebeegeebee

    Ben-
    Ah, the sacrifice of message over medium. As most people are in their cars, stuck in traffic, chewing gun stuck on the left speaker, the right one not working, or on RealAudio which is essentially the left back speaker in the car with laundry on top…all you have left is the message. But that’s a lame excuse for poor audio. I was certainly not professional at the time, maybe I am now after ST? I should be able to answer for low quality from here on.

    The person wearing the mic has implied consent. A lot of the rules in California are even further than Africa geographically. I hear you can’t drive and talk on the cell phone in CA anymore. Benin: cell phone? I have discretion in editing, and would never conceal recording in the West. Jen asked that it not be known I was recording. I’ll happily sacrifice quality for content…plus my arm gets tired holding a mic for hours. I would prefer the higher quality also, and do so with the projects I’m playing around with now–not to fear. I’d really like a directional mic next…I think. I do need mic help (please privately e-mail me your favorites).

    The problem with "Brian" too was I imported the audio too hot into the computer…plus being on a park bench off of a busy road…I’m just grateful for what I got and wonder what how it would have been different if I held a mic to him instead.

  • beedge

    1.26.02

    Reply
    balls

        As most people are in their cars, stuck in traffic, chewing gun stuck on the left speaker

    a great argument for hi-quality sound. the extra hi&lo end, and lower noise level, of quality mics is precisely what makes sound easier to hear in less-than-optimum listening conditions. in general, the crisper (higher-Q) the sound, the greater the apparent loudness of the sound (aka, it’s got more balls). the more muffled (lo-Q) the sound, the less likely it is to be heard, in same sitch at same volume level compared to hi-Q sound. (aka, it’s can’t cut thru cars, chewing gum, and other distractions.)

  • ben

    1.26.02

    Reply
    west vs. east

    jake, seems to me (please, correct me if I’m wrong) like Jen didn’t want people to know you were recording because they wouldn’t want to be recorded. And it also seems to me that if that’s the case, recording covertly isn’t the answer. Part of the reason *to* use big mics is so that people know exactly what you’re doing — the implied consent thing you’re talking about. And nervous people need extra time. Apprehensive people need extra time. Strangers need extra time. Everybody’s got to get comfortable with the microphones and the idea of being recorded. Producers, too. (I still need extra time myself, not whenever I go out, but a lot of the time.) Scott Carrier wrote an interesting thing on this very issue in his comments about doing his first radio piece. Something like, *you’ve* got to forget about the microphone in order for *them* to forget about the microphone because only after that happens will they (and you) turn back from interviewer/interviewee to regular humans. I guess that’s a pretty good argument for you lavs. But. There’s something else. Also, and this is more important than the rest of it. There’s something that happens when you record someone really well. They really come alive through the radio. The difference between a good recording and a great recording is sometimes a matter of inches and I don’t know why this is. I want to say it has something to do with physics — the frequencies being recorded, or the resonance in the chest and throat or something like that. But the fact of the matter is if you record someone with the mic ten to 14 inches away from their mouth, it sounds good. It’s a good recording. BUT, if you put that same mic about six inches from their mouth, oh man. The person is talking *to you*. To the listener. It stops being a radio interview and becomes a conversation. Just like regular people. It’s really amazing and I have no idea why this is the case. You stories are really good. The bad audio doesn’t really detract. But better audio — if Brian had been actually talking TO ME, instead of to you — man, that would have been something absolutely incredible. Anyway, that’s just something I was thinking about instead of what I’m supposed to be doing. hee hee.

  • Jake Warga

    1.27.02

    Reply
    I put cream in my tea

    Ben: Quite right about the intimacy, I’ve been trying to find it with the mic, but get popping instead. Tried it with the narration in "Brian" Then I was told about a pop-filter. Cool thing. I would like to go to mic boot camp, run around point it at people, bonk them on the head and run away, what ever it takes.

    The reason, as I see it, that Jen didn’t want notice taken of us was because her years there were spent trying to fit in to a place where she stood out. If I recorded people with obviousness, then that would draw attention to Jen, making her stand out even more–maybe defeat a lot of her efforts in becoming a part of the community. She fought for acceptance and membership, and didn’t want to BE that different, that special. I let my little camera, filtered water bottle, alcohol wipes take care of my alienation. You can see with the photos that I made no effort to conceal the lens. When I took it out, so many kids would clamor around to get in the shot, that we went through elaborate distractions to get one alone. I didn’t want that attention to a mic all the time. Though now I do wish I had a better one, and did intentional interviews with people in Jen’s life. I’ll put it in the overflowing bucket of regrets.

  • larry massett

    1.27.02

    Reply
    mic problems

    When I was in Papua New Guinea noone paid much attention to my mics, though they knew what they were; sometimes people would come up and ask to be taped when they were working on a new song, so they could check out their performance. The culture, I guess, was so isolated that taping was no stranger than any of the other strange things I did. You could say people "consented" to being taped. There was no way, however, to explain what a radio was, or a radio program. It would have been like asking "so, how ’bout if we fribigated your atolimetericky, would that be okay?" Medical researchers tell me this is big ethical problem when they want to get "informed consent" for a research project……

  • Jake Warga

    1.27.02

    Reply
    fribigated flibbertigibbet

    Now to fall off the 10sec of discrete mic actually used in the story…

    Is there a next step for "Africa"? I trust the last resting place is not the frozen tundra of MN. All you professionals, what is to become of the ‘peace’? Where do all these special moments I’ve heard in radio go to? I was walking around Greenwich today listening to Jay’s "Life Stories" again, and was touched by them still (I don’t have a TV here, would have been Simpson’s night back home).

    Basically, What do I do with 500mb of someone’s life? Keep capturing more? Other lives? Turn the mic inside? I really like radio–for one thing, it’s a medium where you can make funny faces and get away with it (there’s a quote for transom).

  • Thomas Marzahl

    1.27.02

    Reply
    still recovering from the 32 min. version

    It’s nearly three in the morning where I am, and I’m still wiping my eyes and recovering from "13 symptoms." I finally got up the nerve to listen to it – for personal reasons I’d been avoiding it – but Jake and Jen really blew me away.

    A close friend of mine is a returned PCV (back from the Gambia 14 months ago, and still very much adjusting) – and this reminded me so much of her, her tales, her songs, her culture shock, and her big heart.

    At times, I felt like I was right there, looking over Jen’s shoulder, as she carried on a series of snippet-like conversations with someone in her village, or danced to Aisha. If this has been on the radio, and I’d been driving my non-existent car (non-existent SUV), it would have turned into a hell of a long driveway moment. I probably would have looked suspicious, waiting in my car for tje end.

    The gluttony metaphor/story was right on the money. In the near future I will listen to it again, to this version, and to SavTrav and Jay’s edited version – and then have some more comments, perhaps more of the helpful/constructive kind.

    For now I can only offer effusive praise and say that I was moved, mesmerized and captivated. Thank you, Jake, you are a gem.

  • Viki Merrick

    1.28.02

    Reply
    mic snobbery

    ok I work with a mic snob, many of you pride yourselves on the same…but SOMETIMES fuzziness works. Some phonecall sounds, if it’s not too fuzzy, are more intimate, it feels like the deepest part of the night. I know that it was often difficult to hear Jen, but I didn’t mind, didn’t mind ducking down for a closer "look", didn’t mind not moving a muscle – it made the listening more intense. Like Carmen’s Off the Bus, or some of her other recordings – the grittiness isn’t professional, at all. Sometimes that’s a good thing. So Jake, I think you can leave this one out of your bucket of regrets.

  • larry massett

    1.28.02

    Reply
    special moments

    "Where do all these special moments I’ve heard in radio go to?" Jake wonders.

    Some are sprinkled around the web here and there; some are traded back and forth, like baseball cards, among afficiandos. Some have disappeared for good.

    Obviously someone (and you know who you are, don’t you?) needs to get a humongeous grant from the National Endowment for Excellent Things and start an archival collection that would really mean something to producers.

  • brian anderson

    1.28.02

    Reply
    gratitude and welcome home to jenafir

    I was a peace corps volunteer in Kenya 10 years ago. Thanks for the wonderous imagery. Welcome home to Jenafir and thanks for the piece. The music, her allusions to a world so initimately familiar even ten years out, sent shivers up my nostalgic self. All the best to Jenafir and cheers to the evocative power of radio.

  • helen woodward

    1.28.02

    Reply
    sorry if Im stating the obvious but….

    Larry says: "….someone (and you know who you are, don’t you?) needs to get a humongeous grant from the National Endowment for Excellent Things and start an archival collection that would really mean something to producers."

    isn’t this the radio exchange? see http://www.radioexchange.org

  • larry massett

    1.29.02

    Reply
    radioexcahnge

    Yeah, Helen, could be- thanks for point this out

  • ben

    1.29.02

    Reply
    preservation

    I had a colleague at a job once — it was a live nightly news broadcast — who everyday after the show was over would turn to me and say, "Well, it’s on its way to Mars now." Meaning, despite all that’s happened, despite all the good or all the bad, everything was over and the signals were now headed for Parts Unknown. Sometimes that sucks. But then other times you’re pretty grateful. Alternatively, you could try turning the story around for print …..

  • Viki Merrick

    1.30.02

    Reply
    Mars today – Earth tomorrow

    the nature of the radio work – kind of like making an incomparably splendid meal – gone, in a burp. Except not, because you can put the tape back on, you can share the cd.

    So we all need to beat the drum for the Radio Exchange – radio hounds, producers and programmers alike.
    I lived oversees for about 15 years of public radio and since I came back am bit by bit stumbling upon works that I missed and many of them timeless and still engaging.

    ANYBODY visiting this site that works with or somehow connected to a radio station needs to hammer the idea of weekly wildcat programming. Offer to help raise funds for an hour or two a week. Be a revolutionary. Be the host and producer if you have to. By the time you achieve this, the radio exchange ought to be alive. Gods willing.

    It’s a dual good thing. Spread the good work and give it a long life.

  • Phyllis Spence

    2.08.02

    Reply
    Fellow Benin volunteer 96′-98′

    I was moved by Jenafir’s realistic description of life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin. Having returned to America in 1998 after serving my own two year stint in Benin, I realized that I have spent alot of time NOT remembering the small details of my experience. Hearing this piece, brought it all back. I am grateful. Is there anyway I can get a copy of the tape?

  • benjamin.m.h

    2.21.02

    Reply
    good thoughts

    I was listening to jenny story about Africa. It was beuatifull the recordings of the crickets and the sounds of the night. sometimes I am so caught up with work and everyday activities that I forget about the rest of the world. it is amazing that people who live so far away are so similar to us. thank you for sharing you’re experience.

  • Mark Keller

    3.18.02

    Reply
    Wonderful

    This show was played on a college radio station in VA. I heard it and was transported back to teaching school in Africa and Asia. The sounds and thoughts are so real to the experience of what it is like to get outside of USA and to experience life from a totally different focus. You are never the same. I loved hearing another person describing it so well. Thanks. Mark

  • Jake Warga

    7.18.02

    Reply
    Clarion Award

    If anyone happens on this message, ‘Africa’ has won the ‘Assoc for Women in Communications’ best one-time public radio award…Jen: ‘you go girl!’

    http://www.womcom.org/clarionwin2002.html#Radio

  • Jay Allison

    7.18.02

    Reply
    Bravo

    Utterly deserved.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    7.18.02

    Reply

    it’s So nice when the nice guys win.

    I’m glad more people will be able to hear it and its messages.

    are you still in England Jake? Did it get on the air there?

  • Dane Smith

    9.12.02

    Reply
    I Enjoyed Home from Africa

    I found your story and photos in Peace Corps newsclips from July 19. Great shots and terrific publicity for Benin and the Peace Corps.

    I am President of the National Peace Corps Association, which represents RPCVs, former Staff and other friends of the Peace Corps. We do programs of global education, service, advocacy, and conflict reconciliation. We are always looking for RPCVs with special talents.

    Could you provide me with your e-mail, address, phone number and years of service in Benin? Good luck and many thanks. Dane

    Dane Smith
    Ethiopia-Eritrea 1963-65
    President
    National Peace Corps Association
    1900 L Street N.W. #205
    Washington DC 20036
    http://www.rpcv.org
    202-293-7728 x19

  • Trek

    12.05.02

    Reply
    UC Davis Strikes back

    Drop me a line, I am feeling nostalgic.

    Trent

  • Robert Wright

    3.02.03

    Reply
    impressed

    I just heard it on KQED in San Francisco at 1 AM.

    Very nice.

    I am now a Jake Warga fan.

    What a great piece.

  • In Awe

    3.06.03

    Reply
    Great Segment

    That was the most interesting thing I’ve heard on the radio in a long time. Thank you so much for producing such an excellent piece (and Jen for the captivating descriptions of her experiences!).

  • KristinD

    3.20.03

    Reply
    What NPR is all about…

    I heard this March 19 on 89.5 in Norfolk, VA. It kept me captivated! Rarely do I hear something so interesting on the radio (or the television, for that matter). I contacted NPR to find out where I could hear it again and they had no idea what I was talking about. I was so excited to find this website. Jake and Jen, you did a wonderful job.

  • sara edelman

    5.25.03

    Reply
    Breathless

    I really was breathless at a few points in Home from Africa which I just heard today. I have a friend who did a couple of years of anthro grad research in Africa. I felt many times his alienation and pain on abandoning the people he loved there, his guilt, confusion…but mostly the emptiness he felt in life here where things are far too easy, greedy, fat…

    Also I want to say that my own life, in the past few years, has come closer to the life of poor Aficans (or anyone) than most Americans of my class. This is due to my severe chemical and electromagnetic sensitivities…which have gotten a bit less drastic, and now (outdoors only) I can be near a laptop for a while, hence this note.
    Hearing about Jen’s love of sweeping the dirt yard…god, I laughed and laughed into tears…I do almost everything outside too…the land means so much more to you when you do…

    There were several other moments in that piece that had me near tears, and this was far and away the best program I’ve heard in a long time (Her Stories). Thank you Jake for a terrific, wonderful piece.

  • Maureen Rothenberg

    9.19.03

    Reply
    Thanks

    I love this program. I came across it while exploring links from the This American Life Web page. Every little while I come back and listen to it again. I’ve never had a similar experience, or known anyone who has, and I’m not sure why this story captivates me, but it just does. Thanks so much for making it available.

  • Chris Starace

    1.24.04

    Reply
    This is fantastic! (from a fellow Alladanu) —Kud’azo!

    Hi Jen,
    I just stumbled upon this wonderful radio piece you and Jake put together. I absolutely loved it! I knew you when you were in training in Allada. I was a SBD volunteer in Allada from 95-97 and I remember hanging out with you a bit at Jame’s place. You may not remember me as I COS’d shortly after you arrived.

    I don’t know why this piece has been out for over 2 years and I’m just finding it now. Everything you said resonated with me and I cried listening to it. I was so ready to come home at the end of my two years but when the Peace Corps vehicle came to pick me up, while I was standing there with all my Beninese friends, a tidal wave of tears welled up inside of me starting from my toes. I never cried so hard in my life. It has been 7 years since I left and your radio piece made me feel like I was there again. It also made me miss it tremendously.

    Luckily I’m planning on going back for a visit this summer. I’m anticapting a lot of strong emotions when I get there but I’m not sure what exactly they will be.
    I have put a website together dedicated to my PC experiences and teaching people Fon. It is http://www.geocities.com/fon_is_fun . Drop me a line.

    Chris Starace

  • Erin

    1.23.06

    Reply
    Off to Benin too

    While searching for information on Benin, I came across this wonderful montage. Like the star of this story, I am off to Benin to serve with the Peace Corps in June. Thanks to Jen and Jake for putting into words the reasons I’m driven to return to Africa.

  • rebecca schultz

    3.13.08

    Reply
    unexpected joy

    hi,

    i just thought i’d say something in the hopes that jen would read this. i just happened to hear your story, caught the end of it… and just had to say that i found it incredibly moving and had the effect of, at least momentarily, opening my eyes.

    /rebecca

  • Christopher Henze

    3.15.08

    Reply
    Jen Got It

    As an RPCV from up-country Ivory Coast ’64-’66,I was very impressed with Jen’s story and insights. To this day, 44 years later, I am overwhelmed and freak out in the cereal aisle of American supermarkets, perhaps that’s why I have settled in France after a Foreign Service career,

    I am sorry,Jen,you got so sick over there despite the Peace Corps’s great health program.

    Your exchange of greetings in the local language was OUTSTANDING and brought it all back.

    The experience really did change us, didn’t it?

    Thank you.

    Chris Henze

  • Sophia

    3.02.17

    Reply

    This moved me to my core. I stopped my morning (a busy one) to listen to this piece on kgnu in Boulder. I found myself both laughing and crying at the same time. I was not in the peace corps. I was not in Africa. I did spend 4 years in developing countries as a white woman and have struggled with some of the symptoms I have felt after returning a little more than two years ago. The dichotomies of missing a place that tries to grow batería, fungus and parasite on every part of you while holding the true nature of human interaction with the environment and each other. I cannot express how much this moved me. Thank you!

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