This is a post-Africa interview with the filmmakers, Ashli Sims and Jonathan Wooley. They share some of their favorite moments and images from their trip.
How often do you sit alone in the dark and watch our video from Tanzania? :)
Wooley and Sims on the Plane
JW: Not as often anymore since you took all the footage!! But I’ll admit. I used to. I used to spend sad, lonely hours in front of that computer screen watching and rewatching the footage of the girls giving us “awards” (which was construction paper, stickers, and a thank you from the girls, in other words, the best present I’ve ever received). The simple fact is that I miss those girls. As we start putting more and more footage up for our translator, I am forced to re-watch the hours and hours of interviews that we got for this doc. And sometimes, I just can’t take it. It’s easy to distance yourself from someone or something you have grown so close to, but when you see them on video, all their mannerisms, so quickly forgotten, their voice inflections… them, the distance between becomes unbearable. And on many occasions, I’ve had to exit the room because I just miss those girls too much to put myself through something like that.
AS: LOL! Ok, so I do have all of the footage, because I’m logging and attempting the Herculean task of spinning all of our amazing video into a cohesive, compelling storyline. Basically, I watch it every day. But the amazing thing is that when I’m feeling a little down, a little overwhelmed, a little weary of the world, I pull up any of the 17 days worth of video and I can smile. Seeing these girls, just being girls, consistently and without fail brightens my day. They are so full of light that it’s hard to wallow in the darkness. Sometimes I forget how gorgeous our video is and I have text Wooley and praise him yet again. Just listening to the two of us in the background, some times we’re strategizing, but often we’re just laughing, tickled by Chris or whatever the girls were doing in the moment. It’s an uplifting experience and I hope to be able to translate that into the final product, right along with some of the tough things these girls have been through in their young lives. When I transfer custody of the video to Wooley, I do tend to pout. Here’s my secret weapon when I need a little pick me up from TZ.
JBFC Girls Singing
This is an audio clip from our last night in Tanzania, when the girls prayed for our safe travels, thanked us for coming, and told us how much they would miss us. I recorded their songs on my iPhone so it can’t do the real thing justice. Words can’t describe how that little room in the African countryside swelled with love when these girls lifted their voices in unison. I can be in my royal blue, windowless newsroom stewing over some wrong done to me or someone else and dial up this song and be transported back to that place of tranquility and love. That is the enduring gift that these girls gave me that I will never be able to repay.
What made the biggest impact on you from our Tanzania trip?
JW: That’s not an easy question to answer. I think, if you want a metaphor, if I were a car, you could consider Haiti like my new paint job and Africa like a tune up. One is pretty easy to see, glamorous, etc, the other is behind the scenes, not easily explained, and deeper. What Haiti taught me, Africa re-enforced. But it was more than that. If anything, it’s shown me strength. Not just strength to survive, but the strength of joy. That joy can persist wherever humans persist. And I have no reason to constantly be seeking, or showing, my true joy… just for being alive.
Sims with one of the many babies she wanted to take home in a suitcase.
AS: Um, I echo Wooley’s statement that this is a hard question to answer. As you can tell from my first answer, this experience has profoundly touched me and changed who I am and how I run my life. And I guess that all came down to the girls, the girls and matrons like Mama Grace, teachers like China. I find myself running out of superlatives to describe these women. And when they do what they do, despite all they’ve been through, how can I not be my best self?
What do you miss the most about TZ?
JW: Pili. (AS:You’re not supposed to have favorites, Wooley!)
AS: The girls; Mama G; China; Christopher; Nephews; Kayci; Sitting on the back porch, watching the sunset turn Lake Victoria pretty colors, drinking lemonade; Star-spangled night skies; Concerts on the commute from the city; Ok, basically everything.
What’d you miss the most about the States when you were in TZ?
JW: Um… I dunno. Reliable internet? But then again, making special trips for good internet access became something I really enjoyed. I try not to miss things when I’m not around them, you know, be happy with where you are. Pili is a special case though. =)
AS: Well, I brought my Starbucks with me (thank God for Starbucks VIA), so I didn’t miss that. I’d say hot water, but lukewarm showers weren’t so bad. Maybe easy access to lemonade stands (inside joke).
Here’s a throwback… This is what you said back in December:
JW: Shooting: I’m a little bit nervous about, because I’m not sure how accepting Tanzanian culture is of having their picture taken. That was one of the things they warned us about in Haiti is that it was considered rude to take pictures of people. And I try to be conscious of cultural and social morays.
You were concerned about shooting in Tanzania, were those fears warranted? Were you surprised by the reaction of Tanzanians to the camera?
JW: Hmm… Well, the girls loved the camera… sometimes too much. And some of the villagers were shy and I didn’t want to force the shot. So I basically had to do the same thing in both cases: Be. Very. Sneaky. There was one girl that had a sixth sense about that camera and even when I was half way in the bushes with my lens fully zoomed, she would see me and run, run, run. She would come just as fast as she could move. It’s a beautiful notion, but totally ruined my shot. Of course some people still really don’t like being photographed, in the market for instance or at the “goat center” where a guy accosted us and accused us of taking his picture without his permission so we could sell his beautiful body overseas.
He couldn’t have been more wrong about any part of that sentence.
Here’s what Sims said:
AS: I am pretty much intimidated by everything! I am a certified city girl. I’ve never traveled to a Third World country. And I’m very concerned about being tens of thousands of miles away from a Starbucks (don’t judge – it’s an addiction!).
So, Sims, how’d you do in a rural area of a 3rd World country?
AS: Well, we addressed Starbucks earlier in this post. And even Wooley said I handled the cold showers pretty well for a city girl. I’ve told people there are a couple of things that happened at the end of our trip that I was glad came at the end and not the beginning. For example, I didn’t have a truly African restroom experience until we were leaving Tanzania. To give you a mental picture… an African toilet is basically a porcelain hole in the ground. By the time I had to deal with this I was already in love with this country, so this minor bathroom inconvenience didn’t bother me so much.
Chris’ massive dogs tend to keep most wild life on campus at bay. But I did hear the girls screaming early one morning. Turns out this was trying to swallow a goat (Warning: If you’re squeamish – close your eyes and scroll down to the next question).
This sucker was massive! I wasn’t there when the workers found it and killed it…
but if I was, I probably would have been screaming like a 12-year-old African orphan too!
Again, this happened pretty far into our trip. I didn’t see the snake with my own eyes, so I was cool. If this had happened in the first week, I don’t think I would have been able to sleep!
One of the “pleasures” of travelling abroad to a Third World country is the health concerns. How did you handle that, the change in diet, and of course those trippy Malaria meds?
Change in diet? What change in diet. I eat rice most days here. I got rice AND beans over there. The corn mash was really cool, like a more edible playdough. But really, I was expecting there to be some stomach “issues” but none occurred. And it might be cliché but home cooked food really does taste better.
AND OMG THE TOMATOES!!!!
I though I knew tomatoes growing up in Oklahoma, but I was wrong. I don’t know what it is but TZ has the best tomatoes I have ever eaten, by far. And that chicken we had that one night.
Oh my. And the tea… oh goodness the tea. It was like heaven filtered through a box of fruit loops.
Wait, what were we talking about again?
AS: I will admit I got a little bored with rice and beans. But I would walk over hot coals right now for some Kisomvu. Kisomvu is this variety of greens that has kind of a peanutty flavor. It’s served in this creamy sauce with rice and it’s delicious!!! They also had another kind of greens that reminded me of collard greens, but even tastier with a great smoky flavor.
Basically, the produce is just amazing. The pineapples and mangoes make you not want to eat those fruits ever again Stateside. I probably stopped taking my Malaria meds halfway through the trip… and I’m still healthy (don’t try this at home kids). I got sick once, but it was more dehydration, than the food. It seems there was never enough water… but it is Africa (and we were working A LOT!)
Do you have a favorite image? If so, what is it?
JW: So far it would have to be that one of Miriam dancing with us outside her house. It was one of those special kinds of pictures where everything just fell into place. Sims’ iPhone flash right as I was taking my time lapse shop of the night-time festivities. The flash lit Miriam up like an angel.
That picture just reminds me of that night. Good food, amazing community, and such gracious hosts. I think it was a turning point night for me as well, before, we didn’t really leave campus that much.When we went to market, we followed Chris and didn’t stray. After that night, I felt fully at home outside the JBFC campus and began to wander. Same with the market, one of the greatest juxtapositions was me and Sims in the market on the first day, wide-eyed as frightened does, and on the second day, wielding our elementary Swahili like pros, finding our way, bargaining, the whole deal. Sadly, that day at the market was our last day in TZ but better late than never, right?
AS: Ok, I am a video of girl. So I am cheating and claiming a sequence of images as my favorite. Truth be told, I have too many favorites to count. Many of them have already been featured on this blog and some are in posts yet to come.
But these frames of Zai are very special to me. Wooley and I were getting some video early in the morning of Zai doing her chores, which involved sweeping the walkway outside of her dorm.
Now Zai is an incredibly bright, precocious, joyful little girl. She loves school. So it was no surprise to us that in the middle of sweeping, she kneeled down and started practicing her writing in the sandy ground.
She’d diligently write a sentence look up at me and smile. I’d write a sentence and grin. This went on for long enough for Wooley to yell at me that I was messing up his video.
It’s heart-stopping to imagine that this little girl was shuffled from house to house as a toddler and probably wouldn’t have been able to go to school at all without JBFC.