Tea, 2, 3, 4

[an animation made from tea leaves]

“Tea Tuesdays: Kenyan Farmers See Green in the Color Purple”

Across the picturesque highlands of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, fields of tea shimmer in shades of emerald, lime and moss under the equatorial sky.

Some of these fields, though, are now darkened with patches of purple. The purple comes from leaves with high levels of anthocyanins, natural pigments that also give cranberries, blueberries and grapes their color.

These purple leaves are Africa’s newest—and most intriguing—tea.

At the moment, they are being made into a handful of different styles. . . .

As pleasing as the unique flavors might be, [purple tea] was never developed for its taste.

Instead, [state-run Tea Research Institute] breeders were most interested in creating “a high-value medicinal tea product.” A number of scientific studies done inside and outside Kenya on purple tea suggest that its anthocyanins may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

“Anthocyanins have capacity to scavenge for free radicals and thus are good antioxidants,” says Stephen Karori Mbuthia, a biochemist at Egerton University, Kenya’s premier agricultural public university, and lead author of a recent study.

Jeff Koehler, Tea Tuesdays, NPR, March 3, 2015


Farewell to “The Story,” with Listening Lessons from Mr. Gordon and Some Maasai Visitors


On October 11, Dick Gordon recorded his last episode of The Story. He’s moving back to Canada to be closer to family, and so ends the radio show’s 8-year run.

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of Gordon’s interviewing and listening skills, and I’ll miss catching his new installments from time to time.

After his last segment, Gordon recorded about 4 minutes on his philosophy of getting people to share their stories. The piece is entitled “Goodbye.” In it he talks about listening with patience:

There is a natural pause after the first part of an answer to a question. I ask you what it was like going for a walk with your grandfather, and you say, “It was nice. Not too cold. We had a good talk.” And if I wait, and if I don’t feel like I have to fill that pause and jump in with something else, that’s when you’re most likely to say, “He told me this story that I’d never heard before.”

“So that’s my conclusion,” he says, “after more than 36 years of talking on the radio, that the best thing I can do is not talk but listen. That’s when you hear the best stories.”

In another short audio post for The Story, this one from December 11 of last year, radio producer Marika Partridge talks about what she learned from a group of Maasai performers. As a child, she had spent a month camping with her family among the Maasai on the plains of Kenya. Years later, she was asked to interrupt her harried routine and host a group of Maasai singers and dancers coming to her home town of Takoma Park, Maryland. She consented and was glad she did. The experience broke through the busyness of her daily life and taught her about “conversation and caring”:

“Our way of life is really very strong on adhering to the word of mouth,” says the leader of the performing group. “When we speak to one another, we say we feed each other. We nourish each other spiritually.”

In “Saying Yes to Visitors,” Partridge shares the new perspective she gained:

Do I connect with the people I meet every day? Most of the time, other people seem like stumbling blocks, preventing me from getting to my next appointment. If I slowed things down and connected in this Maasai way maybe I could rediscover how to experience humanity as more than a series of interruptions.

Goodbye to The Story.

Goodbye Mr. Gordon. Enjoy your long conversations with family and friends—old and new—in Canada.

The Story is dead. Long live the stories.

[photo: “Listen,” by Jay Morrison, used under a Creative Commons license]

Is This the Africa You Know?

“What do you know about Africa?”

That’s the question that the producers of My Africa Is asked pedestrians on the streets of New York. Not surprisingly, the answers they received showed a lack of knowledge mixed with an abundance of stereotypes. But there was also a desire to learn more about the continent.

To help us all in our education, here are five videos that creatively take on the task of tearing down common misconceptions about Africa and replacing them with a more complete picture:

The first video is from the Kickstarter campaign of My Africa Is, a proposed documentary series. (The campaign ended in July of last year, without reaching its goal.)

My Africa Is Kickstarter Video

“We know what you’ve seen and heard about Africa—what they think is happening, what they think she needs, what they think she is. The four things that come to mind when people think of Africa are population, problems, poverty, and promise unfulfilled . . . but that’s not the whole story.”

The next two come from Mama Hope, part of its video campaign “Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential.”

African Men. Hollywood Stereotypes

“If people believed only what they saw in movies, they would think we are all warlords who love violence.”

Call Me Hope

“It is only when people are no longer seen through the stereotypes of poverty that we can begin to see we are not so different from each other.”

The following video is from Radi-Aid, inspired by the Live Aid concerts of the mid 1980s.

Africa for Norway

“Imagine if every person in Africa saw the ‘Africa for Norway’-video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?”

And finally, here’s a clip from the documentary This Is My Africa, in which interviewees imagine the Africa of the future.

This Is My Africa—Excerpt—Africa 2060

“Created to reveal a more personal vision of the continent  by weaving together the personal memories, tastes and experiences of 21 Africans and Africaphiles, This Is My Africa has been described as a 50-minute crash course in African culture.”

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T-Shirts Redux

Chris Jodan’s Art Helps Us “Feel” Some “Enormous Statistics”

Chris Jordan produces some really big artwork to represent some really big numbers. For example, this first piece below “depicts 92,500 agricultural plant seeds, equal to one hundredth of one percent of the number of people in the world today who suffer from malnutrition.”

This next one “depicts 240,000 plastic bags, equal to the estimated number of plastic bags consumed around the world every ten seconds.”

And this one “depicts 270,000 fossilized shark teeth, equal to the estimated number of sharks of all species killed around the world every day for their fins.”

All are part of the collection “Running the Numbers II: Portraits of Global Mass Culture.” Click on the thumbnails above and you’ll go to Jordan’s site, where you can see what makes these images so interesting. By clicking on the selected photos there, you’ll zoom all the way in to see the tiny parts—the seeds, the plastic bags, the shark teeth—that make up the larger whole.

In the TED Talk below, Jordan discusses the motivation behind his work, as he talks specifically about his earlier “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait,” which looks at excesses and issues in US culture, such as personal bankruptcy, deaths caused by smoking, and the country’s high rate of incarceration.

“Now I want to emphasize that these are just examples,” Jordan tells the TED audience. “I’m not holding these out as being the biggest issues. They’re just examples. And the reason that I do this . . . it’s because I have this fear that we aren’t feeling enough as a culture right now. There’s this kind of anesthesia in America at the moment.”

Using his creative talents, Jordan’s goal is, as he says, to take “gigantic numbers” and “enormous statistics” and “translate them into a more universal visual language that can be felt.”

It makes me think about what numbers I’d like to see shown in this way, such as those representing worldwide refugees and displaced people, abortions, human trafficking, and child soldiers, to name a few. I’m sure that we each have our own list of statistics that we believe need to be heard, seen . . . and felt.

And finally, we can see Jordan’s ability to challenge and educate using more traditional images in Ushirikiano: Building a Sustainable Future in Kenya’s Northern Rangelands. This book chronicles, in words and photographs, “the Nakuprat-Gotu Conservancy in Northern Kenya, an initiative led by tribal Elders, which aims to bring peace and prosperity to a region ravaged by violence and climate change.” Go here to see over 70 stunning photos from the collection, including many beautiful portraits of Kenya’s Turkana, Samburu, Borana, and Meru people.

[all images are by Chris Jordan, used under a Creative Commons license]