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