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What do I hear?


Elders from the village of Tin listen to the story of Creation in Siamou.

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Norm Nicolson, Mennonite Church Canada worker in Burkina Faso, at work in his sound studio.

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March 18, 2011
- Lillian Nicolson

Tin, Burkina Faso — Norm sat down in the kitchen and turned on his computer. “Do you want to hear what I recorded today?” he asked.

“Sure.” I said as I cleared the supper dishes off the table. He had started recording the story of Adam and Eve in Siamou that day.

Solo’s voice spoke out of the computer. “Díry..´brê funkp. ´ ``gbâr ye, J.n.s. ri j.n.kpár nì .áan bré.... ”(Translation: In the creation of the world beginning time, God the sky and earth created.)

Zacob, a young boy from the courtyard sitting next to Norm turned quickly to the computer with big eyes. Then the door opened and Seybou and Amidou who had been studying on the porch slid into the house and parked themselves in front of the computer to listen. Soon all of the five children who had been ‘studying’ on the porch gathered around Norm, avidly listening to the story of creation told in Siamou. They sat completely silently, soaking in every word—something I have never seen them do before.

A week later Norm played the completed recording to the elders of our courtyard. They also sat for the entire twenty minutes, heads down in concentration, not moving a muscle except for an occasional tongue click signaling understanding.

When the story was over I explained that five stories – Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph – were ready to be printed.

One elder said, “I can’t read. Those books are useless to me. You need to record all those stories so I can listen to them on cassette tape.” And so the rest of Norm’s work began.

Moussa, from the translation committee, and Solo sat in the studio as Norm set up the recording equipment. Solo adjusted the microphone and Moussa practised reading the story they were about to record. When Norm was ready to start he gave a hand signal and Moussa read a phrase while Solo listened. Solo then repeated the phrase into the microphone. After several verses they stopped and listened to what they recorded to check for hesitations or errors. When Norm finished editing, they returned to their reading, repeating, recording.

This process seems more complicated and time consuming than simply recording one person reading the story. It requires training in team work and an understanding of how editing works with computers. It requires communication between all members of the recording team. But, the final product, as Solo noted excitedly on the phone to our fellow mission worker, Paul Thiessen, is well worth it.

“The recording is crystal clear! There is no background noise and my voice is easy to understand! And it sounds like I am talking naturally! Like I am telling a real story and not slow like when I am reading!”

Norm and Lillian Nicolson are Mennonite Church Canada workers in Burkina Faso, West Africa.