Interview with Kathryn Werntz, producer of Sahel Calling, a film project for action in Mali and the Sahel. Kathryn currently resides in Berlin, Germany. See my Huffington Post blog for more information on the film.
Q: How did you get interested personally in Mali?
A: My passion for doing something for the people in Mali and the Sahel comes from a confluence of events and a coagulation of experiences, connections, faces, names, songs and gratitude. I would say it was my experience there in 2006 that perhaps gave me the “African Sickness” of the Malian variety (I had already been infected with the Sénégalese strain in 2003 – this is a common sickness among non-Africans. Basically, once you have been there, you are never again at peace or well back where you came from – the heart, head, body and soul always long to get back to the dark continent…).
In 2006 while living in Sénégal, I went a foolish ride across Mali on a 600 Ténéré motorcycle. The plan was roughly Dakar – Agadez. Persuading the “driver” (my partner at the time) to venture off into the northern Malian desert so I could look for the last migrating herd of West African elephants, we found ourselves lost and pretty much up shit’s creek – in the literal sense that when we did orient ourselves, we were met with endless small rivers which were uncrossable with such a heavy piece of machinery. As we got deeper into our quandary, the minimal common language I had with the locals became non-existent…and to make a 3-day story short, we ultimately got lost in the scrub desert and then led out by locals whom we mostly couldn’t even communicate with….. Read full response.
Q: Many people want to create change but don’t know how to begin in the face of either adversity or immensity of need. What would you advise them on how to take the first step?
A: I would say, let your emotions ride, then step back and ask yourself first if, and then how, it is appropriate to get involved. Then, think gigantically and act minutely. Consider what you are good at.
For me, it was writing. I was not a published author, and have had no training in writing, but I do blog occasionally – and enjoy it. So I thought, I could try. So, driven nuts by reading these emails from folks in the north and then calling all the major international news sources who I could think of who had no interest in the topic (Al Qaeda in Mali? mass starvation and drought? Syria and Sudan were sexier news topics I was told…)…well, I thought: what kind of writing could I reasonably pull off, to just do even the smallest action?
I had to keep what in mind what a good friend of mine always calls “the ripple effect”. Whatever small action you do, it is sure to have an impact. And speaking to the immensity of need, I say, consider what questions or angles are burning you the most…and why. Then, match your skills or inclinations to concrete actions.
I share this as an example of how the Sahel Calling Project got launched: ….. Read full response.
Q: You don’t have a background in film-making. How were you able to pull this off? What guides your work?
A: Yeah, I know, it’s funny! I still laugh about it every day. “Hi, I’m Kap and I’m making a film.” Hahaha. In fact, when I first started reaching out to folks to advise me on this zany idea I had, I would start off emails saying, “Hi, I’m Kap. I’m really no one, and I have never made a film, but I have this idea…” I have stopped saying this now. I think what helps me pull this off is three-fold:
1) passion (mixed with anger, worry and love)
2) repeating two mantras I love: “Thought become things, so think the good ones.” (credits to Mike at The Universe) and “Knowing you are nothing, that is wisdom. Knowing you are everything, that is love. And life happens in between.” (Ghanaian proverb)
3) the generosity and passion of others – not only my friends and cheerleaders (and the solid granite boyfriend I happen to have right now!), but the generosity and passion of every person who shares information, who says they will help. This includes the small team of paid and unpaid folks all working on the project! ….. Read full response.
Q: What feeds your soul?
A: Hm…I could rattle off a generic, general list like music, nature, my friends, my cats, my surrogate kids around the world, being on my bike…but I think the reality is, wherever I am, I find something or someone to feed my soul. If I am hunkered down at my friend’s house in the forest, then the woods feed my soul for a few days. If I am in Sénégal, then dancing with “my” kids and hearing the late night call to prayer. If I am at the ocean, then the waves. If I am in a new land, then it’s learning the bits of a new language and the foreign contours of the people’s faces. Maybe the question for me is more, what opens up my soul to being fed – then I could give a few stand-bys like dark chocolate, nagchampa (incense), west african music, playing Bach chorales on my trombone, avocado with methi (a dried herb), the swings in Mauerpark in Berlin, and well, my cats or any other creature lacking a human alphabet.
Q: Favorite Berlin foods?
A: This one is easy – as a finicky eater, I find the goods and stick to them. Of course, Berlin is known for currywurst. And well, vegan food…mostly, locally-grown, organic, to boot! So with this crazy juxtaposition, I sit out at my favorite joint called Imbiss W in former East Berlin, watching the trams, the cyclists, and the “others” shoveling slobbery currywursts into their mouths…while I salivate over my vegan, Sri Lankan style curries, soups, pizzas and naans…all with a classy soundtrack. Nothing beats this combo. When I need to vary my eat-out diet, then it’s some Roman pizza joint…with an Italian punk soundtrack and a view unto a church famous for its roll in hosting groups who eventually helped take down the wall. Then comes dessert, endless vegan ice creams and pies. And then the late-night options, hummus sandwiches for 2.50 euros. Berlin is a dangerous place for a foodie, vegans included.
Q: Favorite Berlin haunts?
A: Ooh, where to begin. There is something alluring about Mauerpark. It’s not pretty, it’s constantly under threat of being taken over for luxury condos, and one must watch one’s step for broken glass, dog poop, guitar strings, string bikinis and a myriad of other remnants of human life. But knowing that is was once a “death strip” between the two walls, the fact that it has a hill in an otherwise fairly flat city, the glorious swings upon that hill and the graffiti artists painting the wall behind them, the karaoke on Sundays, the crowds of locals and tourists as diverse as the second hand crap offered in the market and the beats blared by all of the street musicians who busk there…well, Mauerpark = Life.
Beyond Mauerpark, the city is full of green spaces and small seas which I roam, as well as endless cafes full of other aspiring aspirers. One of my haunts happens to be the most hipster place I have ever stepped foot in, but it’s a cafe full of folks working away on their projects and lives, and willing to watch your stuff while you run pee (while also surely peeking at your work), willing to chat it up a bit, willing to let themselves be eavesdropped on. Plus, St. Oberholz runs a blog on their website which I find hilarious – lost items. You gotta check it out. (though you may need Google translator).