This Story May Be Recorded… To Save Your Life

Listen to “This Story May Be Recorded… To Save Your Life”

Yowei Shaw amassed 325 pages of transcripts after she completed logging her tape for a recent This American Life story. Yowei had help from TAL producer Brian Reed and Eritrean reporter Bealfan Hailey. But still, 325? That’s a lot!

The transcripts were for Yowei’s piece “This Story May Be Recorded… To Save Your Life,” which aired on This American Life in August of 2013. Yowei tells the story of reporter Meron Estefenos and the Eritrean hostages in the Sinai Desert that she’s attempting to rescue through her reporting and a public campaign.

In some respects, logging the recordings was the easy part for Yowei. First, she had to get all the audio files from Meron — hours and hours and hours of it. Then it had to be translated — all the calls were in Tigrinya, a language spoken in Eritrea. On top of that, Yowei along with Brian and Bealfan, had to figure out the story as they sifted through hundreds of phone calls with some 200 people!

And then there’s the content of the recordings. The hostages describe torture and beatings and their longing to be free — their begging to be free. The tape is brutal to listen to.

On this HowSound, Yowei describes her behind-the-scenes process and how the grueling effort to assemble this story took its toll on her.

Be forewarned. This program has descriptions of graphic violence.

Some time ago, This American Life published a comic book on audio storytelling. It’s genius. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

Clarification: The translation of Meren’s phone call recordings took place in both Silver Springs, Maryland and New York City, not just Silver Springs. And, Meren Estefanos is not a freelance reporter but, rather, works for Radio Erena.


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  • Glen Morrow



    Hi Rob,
    This story is incredible. Its so sad that this even goes on and we hear very little of it in the media. Thanks for sharing this story and how it was put together. I am thoroughly enjoying listening to HowSound.

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