Before we even left for Cape Town, Erna, our USC faculty adviser for the program, asked me to help lead a radio workshop in Paarl, a beautiful mountain town in the wine country surrounding Cape Town. I agreed months ago, not fully aware what I’d be getting myself into.
Now that the long weekend in Paarl has come and gone, I’m still processing the experiences, lessons, and surprising discoveries that came out of the workshop.
On a Thursday morning, our whole group piled into Gavin’s van for the trip out to Paarl. We spent the afternoon getting to know the young adults we’d be working with and becoming familiar with the recording and editing equipment. When we gathered into the small computer lab, over 20 people in all, and everyone suddenly turned to me, and it hit me. Holy shit, I’ve got to lead this thing. So I took a deep breath, had everyone pick up their Tascam recorders and press the “on” button. You’ve gotta start somewhere, right?
If you’d have asked me then if we’d have produced 20 minute radio show three days later, I’d have said heck no.
But here we go.
Hours of interviewing, logging tape, scripting, tracking and editing yielding something meaningful, unique, and most importantly, entirely youth-produced. I’ve gotta give mad props to my fellow Annenberg students, who were patient and gracious facilitators the entire weekend. A special shout out goes to radio guru Sarah Golden for helping with instruction and final editing. But the most praise has to go the young adults from Paarl. They embraced the idea of a community radio show with gusto, and took us into the neighborhoods and homes of their friends and family members to perform some of the boldest interviews I’ve ever witnessed.
I initially fell in love with radio because it opened this window to other worlds and lives that I’d have never encountered otherwise. And in that exposure there was a kind of intimacy that, for me, comes through in radio more than other mediums.
But this weekend felt like a leap. Sitting in a backyard as three teenagers interviewed a woman who lives with her husband and eight children in a two-room shack about the significance of dependable housing, I had one of those moments where you mentally step back and have about 16 competing thoughts. Three of those thoughts were how did I get here, the world messed up beyond belief or repair, and I am so blessed.
We worked in small groups for most of the weekend, and when I was time to leave on Sunday, I realized how attached I had become to Eldeano, Jesney, and Siphe. Eldeano, especially, shared a lot of deep and thoughtful insights about his neighborhood and was an absolute natural at interviewing and talking for radio. Jesney was quieter, but when it came time to do our tracking, her precision in her writing and scripting and desire to express exactly what she wanted to say in the best way possible showed the makings of an aspiring journalist for sure. And Siphe was an editing master. He worked on the computer for hours at a time without a complaint, stopping only for the occasional cup of tea.
And we weren’t working the entire weekend, of course.
Other highlights include–
- The entire experience of staying at The Lofted B&B. Michelle was the greatest host imaginable—clean, comfy beds, delicious and never ending meals, and a constantly roaring fire on a porch with mountain views. They even had Wifi! But before we discovered that, there was lots of piano playing and singing along to tunes from a book from about 1992 called “50 Contemporary Classics.
- A trip to see the house where Nelson Mandela was held after his release from Robben Island. As it turned out, the tour guide who was supposed to meet us there never showed up, so we spent an hour hanging outside a locked house in the rain. This wasn’t actually that great, but I loved that no one was particularly surprised by the turn of events. Everyone just kind of shrugged and chalked it up to “Africa time.
- Drumming lessons that ended in a “battle of the bands” with the American and Africans performing for each other. The Americans went first, and let’s just say our drumming skills left something to be desired. We ended up belting out and beating along to our national anthem. The Africans returned with a rousing rendition of their national anthem, which is really a combination of two songs and includes five languages and a major key change. They won, unquestionably. There was something very cool in the exchange though.
The last night, we went out for drinks, dinner, and dancing at a place called Chippa’s. It was like this butcher shop, pool hall, dance floor combo, encased entirely in cinder blocks and plastic sheeting. After a few rounds of cider (you could buy a six pack at the bar for about 8 US dollars—the equivalent of one glass of wine at El Prado in Echo Park) and a dinner consisting mostly of various types of meat (like many meals here), everyone was in especially good spirits. The dancing went on for hours. It could have just been the endorphin-induced buzz, but by the end of the night everybody seemed to have the sense of hey, something happened here. Connections were made. Ideas exchanged. Friendships forged.
I don’t think any of us are naïve or idealistic to think that we’ll ever get to spend a serious amount of time with our Paarl friends again, but I don’t think the weekend was merely a one-off event either. Everyone involved had their world expanded just a little bit and saw this sliver of potential for how journalism can manifest real change in a community.
About a week after we got back, I got a message from Eldeano on Facebook. I don’t think he’d mind me sharing.
I just want to tell you that me and a few friends of mine is going to start a youth organisation i am so excited about it geez i’m going to make a change!