The Lasting Impact of Maathai’s Song in a Minnesota Winter
Colleen Scheck, Producer
It’s a sticky, stifling day here in St. Paul — “Africa hot,” an old friend always used to say when intense summer heat made its brief annual stop in Minnesota. That recollection reminded me of my deadline for Trent’s request to write about our interview with Wangari Maathai.
The day we interviewed the Nobel Peace Prize winner, over three years ago now, was about as opposite as possible from today. Eight inches of slushy snow greeted us that morning as we drove to the Holiday Inn in Minneapolis where Maathai was staying. We still managed to arrive early enough to soundproof the room, set up mics and laptops, test levels, and make sure Krista had some breakfast.
The hotel space we’d reserved — a dark, bland, deflated suite on an upper floor (to avoid traffic noise seeping in) — was sadly the best, most convenient option given Maathai’s tight schedule. That drab room was brought to life, though, the moment she entered in a vibrant red-blue-gold dress and headwrap, her simultaneously gracious and powerful person filling the space.
During the interview, I sat in the bedroom area on the floor transcribing on my laptop. My fingers were tired by the time we started to wrap up, 90 minutes later, and then one of my favorite SOF moments happened.
Krista concluded the interview, and Mitch asked Maathai for music recommendations, specifically songs she remembered singing during her environmental activism in Kenya, that we could maybe include in the program. Her reply:
“I would have to ask them (laughs). Because we do sing sometimes, but those are very local songs. Like, one song I always sing when we are together with the women — here comes my faith — because there is a lot of our — people are still very religious, and so quite often when I’m talking to them I use religious songs. And one song that we always sing is one that says ‘there is no other god, there is no other god but Him, there is no other power but Him.’ It is like a chorus. You want me to sing for you?” After drinking a sip of cold, bad hotel coffee, she continued, “And this kind of song would be appropriate because when we are singing, when we are moving, we always want it to be peaceful, non-violent, so singing religious songs was very common…. We go?”
She cleared her throat, and off she went (her song is included in this video).
I’ve listened to this song so many times in the past three years. I remembered Trent saying he’d sing it to his young boys, and now I do the same with my 6-month old son when rocking him to sleep. I don’t get the words right, but I don’t care. It reminds me of strength, wisdom, compassion — things I hope to inspire in him.
Repossessing Virtue: Majora Carter on Being More Deliberately Joyful
» download (mp3, 8:46)
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
A few weeks ago, I sat in while Kate interviewed urban strategist Majora Carter. Three of us crowded into a tiny editing booth. There weren’t enough headphones to go around so I could only pick up Kate’s side of the conversation as the interview unfolded.
Even though I couldn’t hear her, I remember the moment when Majora Carter told Kate about being inspired by the quote: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Kate smiled and nodded her head and Shiraz, who was engineering the interview that day, also seemed visibly stirred by Carter’s words.
Carter goes on to share how she’s actively trying to be more joyful and appreciative in her every day life. During this time when so many of us are consumed by fear and uncertainty, she says it helps to be reminded that we’ve all got something to offer. Knowing this — and digesting it truly and deeply in our guts — can transform a perceived sense of scarcity into a trusty foundation of personal power.
I’ll admit that while my brain agrees with Majora Carter my nervous system does not. I’m seeing so many layoffs around me and a middle-grade anxiety seems to be wafting through the ventilation system. Recently I woke up from a fitful sleep and noticed myself tense and ill at ease. I wonder how I could flip the script on this creeping malaise. What are you doing to stay grounded and positive during these difficult days? Do you agree that a crisis is really an opportunity in disguise?
Tesfaye = “My Hope”
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
It’s late afternoon. The SOF quadrant is deserted since most of the staff are working the Minnesota State Fair. And as I was uploading videos, I watched this inspirational story of Tesfaye, an Ethiopian man who watched the deforestation of his home, did nothing, and is reclaiming his land and his memories.
How many other efforts similar to Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement are happening on the African continent that hear little about?
YERT, Sustainability, and the Value of Beauty
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
We recently had the folks from YERT visit to ask Krista a few questions about environmentalism and sustainability. YERT (an acronym for “Your Environmental Road Trip”) is an “eco-expedition to explore and personalize environmental sustainability.” Prompted by Trent and Colleen’s suggestion, I grabbed a video camera and headed up to get some footage of their interview with Krista, and asked them a few questions about their project.
You’ll see YERT’s Mark, Ben, and Erica talk about their mission, and a bit of Krista discussing what she learned from Majora Carter. You can also hear Krista’s conversation with Majora in our program “Discovering Where We Live: Reimagining Environmentalism.”I definitely took something from YERT’s visit as well: Mark seemed to be pretty excited about vermicompost (he mentioned composting with worms a few times), so I did a little research and found some plans to make my own little worm farm. I took some time over Memorial Day weekend to set up the compost bin, now I’m just missing one (rather important) ingredient — anybody know where I can find some good worms?
Welcome to Alabama
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
We arrived in Greensboro on Tuesday afternoon and headed straight up to Antioch Baptist Church (see image below) to see if there was any information on services during the week. We were hoping to gather sound of the church’s congregation, perhaps speaking to members who had seen the previous incarnation. Cruising down the 1.5 lane highway at a healthy speed, we eyed this tiny sign pointing down a gravel road (driveway) “Antioch Baptist Church.” The grass between the tire tracks was quite tall, giving me the impression that this church might not get used at all. As we walked up to the structure we knew immediately that this was a Rural Studio project, it was like no other church in the area (except for the other RS chapels).
Alongside the church is an elevated graveyard with headstones dating back to the early 1800’s. The juxtaposition of these old tombs looking upon the modern chapel below was striking, as was the fact that the only windows along the long walls of the church were the narrow strip which looked directly out at the graves.
As we walked along the grounds, which were surrounded by thick forests of pines, you could hear an old hound dog howling in the distance interspersed with long stretches of eerie silence. This combination seemed to say, Welcome to rural Alabama!
We left Antioch to head back to Greensboro and again, at highway speed this dog seemed to come out of nowhere. At least, it seemed like a dog, minus one ear. This German Shepherd was standing next to the side of the road waiting for us to pass, standing alert with its one good ear. Sorry, it was just too strange for us to want to get out and snap a photo.
Just Give It a Little Gas…
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
Amid a day full of interviews and site visits, our tour guide Dan Splaingard took us over to his former landlady’s place so he could deliver a delicious Icee fresh from the gas station. Theresa’s two dogs, whose names I cannot recall, came running out to greet us as Dan went inside. These dogs were very sweet and all I can say is that I am glad this car was a rental. It was as we were leaving that we learned the “game” these dogs love to play: Car Chase the Dogs! We had the hardest time getting out of the driveway, these dogs were right behind us, when we drove out to the main street they ran right in front of us. Dan said, just give it a little gas and they’ll get out of the way. Here’s a pic of one of them, having just gotten out of the way…
Establishing Roots to the Past
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
The foundation has been laid and now the heavy lifting begins for second-year students at the Rural Studio. They completely dismantled St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (circa 1854) last year and cataloged all its elements — from mortise & tenon beams to cut nails. Then, they loaded up the truck and relocated the structure near its original location in Cahawba, the first capital of Alabama.
The effort is painstaking, but history teaches lessons. And Jason Coomes, the instructor for this project, says it awakens the eyes of his young students and town citizens alike. The quality of craftsmanship and ingenuity of construction contributed to its longevity.
Beams used for floor joists weren’t nailed to the foundation. Taboo nowadays perhaps, but a feature that allowed the building to move enough so that it didn’t collapse under stress and strain. Now that they’re assembling the salvaged floor, they’ll date-stamp the contemporary substitutions to provide a legacy for the next generation trying to figure out how the church was built and rebuilt.
In so doing, they preserve our cultural legacy, teach the next generation of architects what it means to design buildings that last, salvage wood that most likely would have deteriorated or been scrapped, and sustain the geography of place that was once washed away by the floodplain of the Cahawba River. This seems like sensible sustainability, one that sates the curiosity of generations to come.