Home From Africa – 13 Symptoms of Peace Corps Withdrawal
A Note 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…
From Jake Warga
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.
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.
Hanging out in Jen’s village, near Allada.
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
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.
Ominous view from outside Jen’s house, a tropical storm opened soon after. A shower in the
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 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.
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.
Hand-carved boat in Grand Popo. The same
beaches where slave ships landed, taking people mainly
to the Caribbean.
A view from the beach of Grand Popo where I
lost my glasses… maybe this why it’s a Radio story?
One of many happy faces in Jen’s village eager
to have their photo taken.
Patrishia, one of Jen’s village kids.
Minding the road from Allada, these boys use a
dead bird wrapped to a stick as a toy.
Jenafir’s brooms on the wall outside her
house, the ones she loved to sweep the yard with.
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.
From a craft shop in Ganvie.
Taken by Jen, one of the children she worked
with and tried to find services for.
Culture shock: Jenafir outside a huge
clothing store in Paris on her way home… caught
Jake in Africa
About Jake Warga
Jake Warga is currently in graduate school for
Anthropology…for reasons unknown to him. His
careers have included: photographer, feature film
focus-puller, traveler, writer and, recently, radio
producer. His next? He’s not sure. But hopes to
focus on his writing. When not dissentary-struck,
limply chasing his friends around with a microphone,
Jake can be found surfing the internet while taking
breaks to study or watch The Simpsons and pondering
what he should do tonight.
Jake’s Other Works on Transom