Even online, spontaneous creative work is possible!
In Covid times, we are all having to spend more time online, and this often feels like we are all further apart. But being online can also open up new experiences that are completed unexpected, and bring us together in other ways.
This was the case for Salma Peter, an AMID student trainee at iCRA this year. She lives in Wageningen, but comes from Tanzania, and so it was natural that she should become involved in iCRA’s Rikolto agribusiness training project in Tanzania. The project has iCRA staff developing training modules and training coaches of farmers in agribusiness skills. The materials are available in English. At one point, Salma was asked to work on translating one of the videos, Rising Rice, into Swahili which is the main language spoken by farmers in Tanzania. So Salma got to work on transcribing the English text into simple Swahili to make it easier for farmers to understand.
There were a few problems with the subtitles, though. Swahili tends to use more words than English to express the same idea, and so a lot of words had to be squeezed into the frames, to coincide with the dialogue on screen. After the training, feedback came back that the coaches had difficulty reading all the subtitles in time to be able to follow the storyline. This would be even harder for the farmers as they watched the video in their turn. Wouldn’t it be better to have a voice-over to be able to get the message across properly? No a simple matter however, as the video included dialogues between a number of characters, female and some. Salma could not seriously do all of these voices!
That evening, Salma chatted with her brother Danny, who lives in Mwanza Tanzania, over the phone. As with all their calls, they talked openly about what they were up to. When it got to Salma’s turn, she told him about wishing she could make a voice-over track for the video. Her brother started joking around and pretended to be a farmer with the Sukuma accent of Northern Tanzania.
Salma continued the joke and got her brother to read one of the farmer’s lines that she had transcribed. He read it in a bored way, so Salma egged him on. Soon they were playing around with the different voices, and she was pleasantly surprised about how well Danny could enact the farmer voice. So Salma sent him all the lines corresponding to male characters and asked him to record the voices. It was completely spontaneous and fun, and they did not really take it seriously.
As she was preparing supper, Salma kept getting recordings from her brother over Whatsapp, in 1-2 minute chunks, and she also recorded herself reading the female voices. One of Salma’s hobbies happens to include making videos of herself instructing people in cooking and crocheting. Sometimes she needs to add instructions in the final version. So she had a simple video editing programme already at hand – one that comes free in the Windows package. After supper, Salma then went to work bringing together the various recorded Whatsapp files into the video, arranging them to coincide with the players’ speaking, with sub-titles below. It was ready in thirty minutes!
Salma then shared it with the iCRA trainers and asked them what they thought of this funny video she and her brother had made. To her surprise, they actually liked the voiced-over video – and are now using it to train the farmers. In fact, although her brother used the local accent, the Tanzanian Swahili is very pure, and this video can be used in other places where Swahili is spoken – like in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.
So what started as a joke between siblings far apart, ended up becoming a very creative and useful product. Salma’s brother was tickled by the idea: “Now you owe me a tea”, he joked. Salma agreed, but they will have to wait until they are in the same place to do that!