Disclaimer: Radio Workshop is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. The official record for Radio Workshop’s podcast stories is the audio.
Lesedi: Hi all. I’m Lesedi Mogoatlhe, the host of Radio Workshop. If you haven’t listened before, our podcast tells the stories of young people living across the African continent. And for the most part, we find these stories by reaching out to producers and young reporters. Basically, we ask them, do you have any stories where you live that you’d like to report?
The brave ones open up to tell personal stories from their own lives, but sometimes it goes the other way. Radio and podcast makers reach out to us and pitch a story. I’ll make sure to tell you more about that later, but there is one other way we find stories for this podcast. Our workshops! Where we invite young producers to come and learn how to make a narrative audio story from beginning to end.
One of these workshops took place in Cape Town in early 2023. It was a 10-day workshop called ‘Level Up Your Audio Storytelling’, and it was led by audio documentary teacher and editor Rob Rosenthal. He has taught hundreds and hundreds of. People from different parts of the world how to make high-quality podcasts and radio.
And he taught the workshop alongside journalist and independent radio producer, Sam Broun. They were such a power-team. They were incredible, and they challenged students to improve their audio skills. So we had nine producers from five different countries, including the Radio Workshop staff, and we were tasked to show up with a great story idea and a character in mind.
Then, in just days, we learned how to interview, how to write and mix those stories, which were then showcased at a public listening event.
I mean, what can I say? It was epic and we made good friends, and we want to share some of those stories with you.
These next two stories were made by two new producers from South Africa and Tanzania. First up is a story produced by Naomi Grewan. Naomi attended the workshop as a new graduate with a journalism degree from Rhodes University. She’d produced audio stories before, but Rob and Sam encouraged her to try an approach that was more creative. More artistic. Here is, ‘I’m Just a Wes’.
Naomi: Wesley Leal has three cats and when he opens the gate for me, I meet the cats too.
Wes: Ah, my cats, I love them dearly. They don’t see me as a man or a woman, and I just, I really – I appreciate that.
Naomi: He has his hair tucked behind his ears. A baby pink Von Dutch top on and chunky Doc Martens. Wesley is an artist, or in his words, a maker, and he’s been making things for almost as long as he can remember.
Wes: It’s always been the easiest way for me to express myself. Um, I remember my sister got a little pack of plasticine, that modelling clay, for her birthday once as a kid, and she didn’t care about it. But I, I was obsessed.
Naomi: From plasticine to pencil to pen. Wes continued to make art all through school. Paintings, drawings, sculptures… But high school was difficult. Wes attended a Christian all-girls school. That meant he couldn’t live authentically as a young trans man.
Wes: It was very isolating and scary, and I felt very alone and my major hangup was not wanting to disappoint my family.
Naomi: In high school, Wes took fine art as a subject and when he realized he was trans, he tried to communicate the questions he had about his gender through art first. With four portraits in black pen.
Wes: Uhm, where to begin? So the four images are of two separate trans children. One being an MTF, male-to-female trans person, and the other being an FTM, female-to-male trans person, and they’ve got pink watercolour over their eyes.
Naomi: That’s what stood out to me. A stroke of colour over their eyes, almost like a pink blindfold.
Wes: I think that to me just symbolized this feeling of being trapped. You know, I could look at myself in the mirror and know that I was a boy, but that that pink veil was still there.
Naomi: For Wes, the permanence of the pen was symbolic too. You can’t erase ink, and at the time, that’s how he felt about his body. It couldn’t be changed.
Wes: I think that this was obviously a first major step at hinting, like,”You know, guys, maybe there’s something different about me and I’m trying to tell you, but I, I don’t wanna like say it just yet.”
Naomi: Wes says his life started when he moved to Cape Town. That’s where our second chapter takes place. Here, he could express himself however he wanted without fear of disappointing anyone.
Wes: Everything was new and bright and shiny, and I was just happy.
Naomi: In a photograph from that time, Wes poses on a grassy hill. You can see his socks have got triangles on them. His hair is short and blonde, but his dark roots are growing out. He’s looking directly into the camera. Expressionless.
Wes: I see a very young boy who has been given a really incredible opportunity, but is absolutely terrified and has been given this scary platform that I don’t think he’s old enough for.
Naomi: At this point, Wes was in college studying art. He was also doing photo shoots. Many photo shoots – and short films, and it was here that he started a deeper exploration of gender. Of his gender.
Wes: I went sort of full binary, full boy. You know, I just sort of thought it’d be so much easier if I could just be a man.
Naomi: But where Wes thought he’d find ease, he only found more obstacles.
Naomi: Wes just wanted things to be simple, but he felt pressured to be a specific kind of trans man, one who wasn’t androgynous or fluid, but hyper-masculine. So he looked into a medical transition. But that wasn’t quite right for him and he couldn’t go back to who he was because that wasn’t right either.
Wes: It was just like fog all around me and I didn’t know where I was going, and I wasn’t particularly happy and things were just gloomy. Or more, I just wanted the world to see who I had been inside the whole time.
Naomi: So what now? For Wes, the answer came from looking at the projects he’d been a part of in the past. The short films, the photo shoots, the art. In everything he did, he tried to prove he was trans enough. His work had always been a reflection of what he thought was expected of him. And when he realized that things changed.
Wes: My sort of reflection coming out of that is, I wanna live for me, not for other people.
Naomi: That’s when the fog cleared and the grey went away. He was free from the weight of expectation.
Wes: I then realized I’m not a man and I’m definitely not a woman.
Naomi: Before, Pink represented the part of Wes’ gender that felt forced. Now he circles back to pink for a very different reason.
Wes: Ultimately, pink has always been my favourite colour. It just took me some time to get round to it.
Naomi: In a recent photograph, Wes is looking at a sunset. His hair is back to its natural brown.
He looks peaceful, relaxed, unposed. You can see he’s comfortable in his identity.
Wes: My gender is, it’s never been fixed, it never will be. So I’m just a Wes.
Naomi: I’m looking at one of Wes’ illustrations now. It’s a person with long purple hair. They’re wearing massive Doc Martens. They’re walking crouched under what looks like a pink flower they’re using as an umbrella. Their hands are twice the size of their face, and they’re smiling. Their eyes are closed. They’re happy, and wherever they’re going, they’re having fun on the way.
Naomi: For Radio Workshop in Cape Town, I’m Naomi Grewan.
Lesedi: Naomi says, the reason she chose to tell this particular story is because trans stories rarely talk about trans joy. That often artists who are trans are expected to only be activists in their art. But that’s not the only path. Sometimes they can just be artists.
Next up is a story that contains sensitive subject matter, which includes sexual abuse, violence, and bodily harm. Please take this into account before you listen.
Munira Kaoneka produced the next story. She is the host and producer of the Kaya Sessions, an interview podcast that focuses on everyday lives in the place that Munira calls home: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This was Munira’s first time telling a narrative story, and she blew us away with her thoughtful and empathetic reporting on trauma.
This is ‘Embracing Your Scars’ by Munira Kaoneka.
Thina: Every scar tells a story and they may be your only source of encouragement, because there’s actually true beauty behind our scars, that we survived throughout the worst and became the best of ourselves. Each and every scar that you have endured…
Munira: When Thina Khambi was young, you couldn’t stop her. To say she was active is an understatement.
Thina: I used to play netball. I used to do traditional dance. Um, I used to play marimba. I used to play djembe and then I used to do music, like choral music, and then I used to paint and draw. Yeah.
Munira: You said you used to?
Thina: I used to. [Now…] Now I stopped.
Munira: Back in 2017, when Thina was 14 years old, her house burned to the ground. She and her father were caught inside. They both suffered severe burns. Thina survived, but two months later, her father passed away. His death wasn’t just the death of a parent, it was the death of a man who had caused her scars that ran deeper than the ones on the surface.
Thina: They’re just scars. They mustn’t determine our destiny to be the signs of where we have been. They are the proof that you were stronger than anything which tried to tear you apart. There is actually power behind our scars. Hence there’s a story to tell…
Munira: Thina and her siblings grew up in Gugulethu Township in Western Cape. She was raised primarily by her grandmother, but when she was 14, she made the decision to move in with her parents.
Thina: I wanted to experience like living with both my parents, because I always grew up living with my grandmother and I never like experienced that love like from both my parents and also my little sister. Like, she actually wanted me to stay there with them.
Munira: But the reality was far from what she imagined. She says her father was a jealous, insecure man who resorted to violence and abuse. There were fights in their house all the time. On a February afternoon, Thina had returned home from school. Her little sister was playing outside. Her mother was chatting away at a neighbour’s – cooling down after another fight with her husband. Leaving Thina alone at home. Her father returned carrying a gallon of petrol and dowsed their house with it.
Their home went up in flames.
Thina: I did manage to escape, but after, like, being trapped there for a long time, because like the floor was wet, was wet and slippery from the petrol. [Uh-huh] So I kept, I kept on falling while trying to escape, but I managed to grab the door handle and run away. And then when I ran out, I remember that he was inside.
Munira: Thina swears that her father saw her, that he knew his daughter was in the house, but when the paths crossed in the hospital emergency room, he claimed otherwise.
Thina: He said to me that, “Oh, you also got burned.” Like he was shocked that I was burned. As if he didn’t, he didn’t see me in the fire, so that also came as a shock to me that how, how can you ask me that while you saw me in the fire? And then he was shocked. And then he said to me, “I’d rather die than seeing you like this.”
Munira: That was the last conversation they ever had.
Thina: I don’t wanna lie. I, I felt free when I heard that he died, because like, home was something else. He made our lives miserable and like, I always wished for him, like, I don’t know, just to be away from us, because, like, home, like, felt like something else.
Munira: Surprisingly, the fire and her father’s death brought Thina and her mother closer together. She felt safer. Thina could talk more freely with her mother about the other scars she carried from her father.
Thina: My father. My father also, like, abused me. But my mother didn’t know about that. I told her when we were in the hospital, that my father tried to, like, to rape me.
Munira: While her mother was a safe space, the rest of the world wasn’t. For about a year after being discharged, Thina secluded herself from the world in her grandmother’s house. Her injuries excused her from school, and she stayed inside. Away from the questions, away from the whispers and away from the stares.
Thina: I was still not used to myself being like that because like my skin colour changed and also like I lost my hair and then like I was completely different. So like I couldn’t even look myself into the mirror. I used to hate a mirror. I remember at home I used to cover my mirror with a blanket.
Munira: In her seclusion, she turned to writing.
Thina: I made sure that every day I do write, even if it takes like one paragraph. So I used to write maybe a poem or one paragraph a day.
Munira: But eventually, she had to go back to school. Kids were harsh. They made fun of her appearance. She dressed in hoodies, long sleeves, anything to hide her scars.
Thina: I looked like more like a stranger. Like a stranger, because like I was not comfortable enough, like to show people my scars. Even myself. I was not like even more comfortable with myself.
Munira: Years went by. She’d write and write and write. Writing became her refuge. Ultimately, she realized she had a book. She published it in 2020.
Thina: Accept Those Scars, by Thina Khambi.
Thina: My life used to have no value because of how it got changed. I felt like I was in a cage, filled with fear and surrounded by trauma, but I got to help myself and became a better person. I learned to accept what I couldn’t change and embrace my scars.
Munira: Now Thina sits with me, decked in a short sleeve white crop-top and loose-fitting black pants. She looks great and happy. Her smile stretching through the scars on her face.
Thina: Now, a mirror is my friend. I would say it’s my best friend. Now, I love to stare in the mirror. Like I would just go in the mirror and stand there just to watch myself, even if I’m waking up or just going to a mirror. And I love to do affirmation whenever I’m standing in front of the mirror. I would just talk to myself in the mirror and that, “You know what? You’re beautiful, you’re strong, intelligent,” and all those things that will fill me up and post my self-confidence.
Munira: But I questioned whether writing was enough to heal from the severe trauma that was inflicted upon Thina. She said it wasn’t. She had God, and for quite a while she saw a therapist.
Munira: Do you still attend the sessions?
Thina: No, I stopped.
Thina: Because I feel like, I feel…
Munira: You think?
Thina: I think, but I’m not…
Munira: You are or you’re not?
Thina: I just think, but I know I’m not.
Munira: Thina’s not finished healing. She may never be, but she is optimistic.
Thina: I see myself being a professional writer. I see myself, like, being a clinical psychologist. I see myself, like, having my own orphanage. I see myself, like, being a motivational speaker. Like, I want everything. I want everything.
Munira: These days people call Thina a warrior. I’m inclined to believe it. A warrior covered in tattoos depicting her battles.
Thina: My scars, like they’re part of me. I’ve, I’ve made peace with that, that they’ll always be there because now I take them as lifetime tattoos. They’ll always be there. And they’re also a reminder to me that I survived. So without these scars, there’s no story to tell.
I’ll die with them.
Munira: For Radio Workshop in Cape Town. This is Munira Kaoneka.
Lesedi: When Munira attended the workshop, she was completing a master’s in environmental engineering at Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology. She says that she was drawn to Thina’s story because of their common passion for writing and because she’d never seen anyone who’d endured such hardship come out with such a positive outlook on life.
She believes that as storytellers people let us into their lives and it’s our responsibility to treat their stories with care.
Make sure to follow Munira and the Kaya Sessions podcast on Instagram @TheKayaSessions.
We’d like to thank all the participants who were part of the Level Up Workshop. That’s Freddie Boswell, Melissa Mbugua, Aggie Namara, and Munira Kaoneka, as well as the Radio Workshop podcast team: Jo Jackson, Naomi Grewan, Dhashen Moodley and Clement Petit-Perrot. Thank you to Bertha House and Villa Bed and Breakfast in Cape Town for hosting our workshop.
And of course a big thank you to the workshop conveners, Sam Broun and Rob Rosenthal.
We are always looking for new stories, so pitch us! We are interested in collaborating with reporters and storytellers from across Africa. We’re really open to any story idea that explores the lives of young people on the continent between the ages of 18 and 35. We are willing to consider any story that is personal, powerful, and memorable. You can find all the details on our website radioworkshop.org.
This episode was produced by the Radio Workshop. Rob Rosenthal and I produced this episode. Jo Jackson is our managing producer. Music by Qhamani Sambo at Edible Audio in Cape Town. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. Sound Engineering by Naomi Grewan and Mike Rahfaldt. Thank you for listening.