In this episode of Inherited, storyteller Neil Luczai invites us to join him in an experimental, embodied environmental movement meditation. Then, storyteller Tife Sanusi interviews young African activists who have been excluded from the climate conversation as they witness its consequences play out at home. Plus, a special treat at the end.
About the Storytellers: Neil Luczai (he/him) is a recent graduate based in New England making audio work around the threads that connect the arts, culture, and the environment.
Tife Sanusi (she/her) is a Nigerian journalist and organizer whose work has been published in Teen Vogue, Huck, VICE, and more. She is also a BeyGOOD x Global Citizen fellow.
GEORGIA WRIGHT: Hey, welcome back to Inherited. Georgia here.
For most of us, the last couple years have been a time of extreme isolation. Personally, I’ve spent more of that time than I’d like to admit looking at screens.
These hours staring at glowing pixels make me feel disembodied and disoriented, even though technology has been a literal lifesaver during the pandemic. But sometimes, at the end of a long workday, I just feel resentful that I haven’t spent more time outside. It’s sad to feel so disconnected from nature at a time when nature is in such peril.
But even in the darkest, shortest, most covid-lockdowny days of winter, we can still connect to something much greater than ourselves, without powering up our laptops or putting anyone else in danger. Our next storyteller reminds us that nature’s splendor lives inside each of us, and it takes just a few moments of mindfulness and a little imagination to explore.
This is Nature in Anatomy, by Neil Luczai.
NEIL LUCZAI: “Natural” is a word we hear a lot these days. We see it on labels, clothing, medicine, soap, and food. We’re told that we can even taste its quality at all-natural farm to table gastropubs, and in gas station iced teas. We get ads for plane tickets that tell us to “get away, go somewhere remote”.
It’s always something we don't yet have, a place we must go, a thing we must buy. As if there's anything natural about flying thousands of miles or paying 23 dollars for a ramp flatbread. It’s like we are told, in all kinds of ways, that there is a wall between us and “nature,” and we must overcome it or buy our way through it, but it’s always getting further away and harder to find.
But the body itself is a site of nature. You know, that thing you are inside of right now?
It is nature, a whole ecosystem, really. Appreciating this fact, I believe, is radical.
Because being aware of all the wrongs we commit against the earth, can feel like a burden. Like a cynical filter, imposed on the world in front of us.
[cello sounds, slowly intensifying]
And thinking about all those walls, and all those pits of trash, swirling in the ocean, which is slowly acidifying, and getting louder, and harming whales, and and and
It all gets to be too much.
All that sh#t, it’s not what I want to think about when I’m with nature. And I don't want to be told it’s something I need to buy. I am nature. That’s why building this relationship– with myself – is the ultimate act of resistance. I’d like to invite you to join me.
[music fades back in]
Find a space, wherever you are, and let this time be one for consideration, for slowing down, and for feeling out our connections to the natural world. You can do this anywhere. Breathe, look inward, recognize how you feel, from the top to the bottom. Where you hold pressure, where you relax. Keep your focus here, in yourself, and leave everything else behind.
Consider the hand. Its five paths. Bring it close, and observe the history carved across its palm, all the lines that make up its past, its movement. Move your hand again. Movement can be quick-sudden, an osprey piercing the water's surface – that moment between recognition and retrieval. Or it can be slow, glacial.
[Ice cracking, siding under the water. A glossy, muffled melody plays.]
The hand is the blossomed flower of the arm, it is the point, like a branch diverged- when the joints of the body multiply, first in the wrist, then palm, then fingers. Unfurl them into the world like spring leaves.
Like the endless variety of curves in a tree's canopy, so too is the number of possible compositions incalculable. How does your hand touch light? How do your fingers sway in the breeze?
Explore a variation, then a variation of that variation. See how far you can take an idea, and punctuate it with your hand. Like a school of fish, your fingers may yearn to move as a unit, but like the fish, can, in a flash, divide as mind and as body. How do your fingers behave?
In as many ways there is to compose one's hand, there are as many ways to reach out, graze, and grasp. Your hands are drawn to nature, to smooth pebbles and soft moss. Your hands know each feeling like memory. In the hand, nature becomes our partner. Find a piece of it, a twig or handful of sand, or a memory – of that flower, anything that brings your senses joy. But consider it in relation to your hand. How does it connect with this fraction of nature?
[Water fades in, gentle, lapping]
As long as you hear the water, keep it in your hands.
Now, consider your foot.
[plucky drippy music, like stalactites in a cave]
Feel free to stand up, or sit down for this exercise. Feel free to run an inch or walk lying down. However you move, the feet are our roots. They are the furthest point from which our mind extends into the body. Wiggle your toes, feel the intention flow from your brain and pool at your feet. Now feel your weight as it travels to your feet.
Where does your weight go? Where in your feet does it land? Your feet are your tethers to the earth, but only ever for a second. A tree may reach half of itself into the depths of the earth, but our roots can only graze the surface. Take a walk, or imagine a path.
[Foot steps, against soil, sand and rock]
Keep walking. Do you walk straight? What invisible lines do you draw into the ground below you? Do you keep to those lines, or deviate? Which part of your foot leads the charge? See where you move, turn, pivot. Let your feet guide you. They know the way. Let them be a river
[coursing river, babbling brook]
– its flow ever changing, responding, warped by the ecosystem around it, and the burden of chance, fallen fauna, and derelict debris can change the course of a river, much can- if it is only given the time. Give yourself the time to let the environment talk to you.
Our gait is our natural rhythm, it can synchronize with the chorus of nature or the beat of the city, or fight against it. Listen to the rhythm of nature until it stops.
[bird sounds fade in, then out.]
Face. Your portal to the world. Your face is where many of our most intimate moments with nature occur, where you smell the flowers, the crisp air, the midsummer moisture, where your eyes open to morning light and the moon’s shine, where your nose takes in the oxygen that gives everything life.
Turn your head, guide your senses around the space, and let all that information rushing into your head sift downward into your body. What is your nose telling you? Your eyes? Each sense converses with nature in its own language. It is up to you and your body to translate. Does that smell, that noise, make your arm twitch or toes curl? Or does it only make you more still? Slowly widen your eyes, then bring them to a close. Let your body take in that image, and express.
But the natural world is not just outside yourself. Clench your jaw, swallow, hear and feel the inner workings of your own body. It is an ecosystem of its own.
[faint nature soundscape]
In a moment, pause, take your earbuds out, and open yourself to the world. Become its scribe. Come back when you are ready.
GEORGIA: That was Nature in Anatomy, written and read by Neil Luczai. Neil is a recent graduate based in New England making audio work around the threads that connect the arts, culture, and the environment.
[percussive music fades in]
GEORGIA: The devastating effects of the climate crisis on our bodies and minds are well-documented by doctors and scientists. And for some, especially those living in the global south, these effects hit pretty close to home. Yet climate activists from the global south are often left unheard. Our next storyteller comes to us from Lagos, Nigeria, where she talked to several such activists calling for change.
This is Changing Cultures, Changing Communities, by Tife Sanusi.
RASEEAH NOOR-MAHOMED: Temperatures are going to rise in places where they should not be rising and fall in places where they should not be falling. And there's gonna be droughts in some places and floods in some places and things are going to get extreme and people are already dying and more people are going to die and there's going to be food shortages and water shortages… [fades out]
[watery music and keys fade in]
TIFE SANUSI: My grandmother used to be a very successful farmer. Like her mother and grandmother before her, she grew cocoa, coffee, yam and atare.
When I was growing up in Nigeria, I heard a lot about the farm from her and other family members who worked on it. At first it was stories about how well it was doing despite droughts that were affecting other farms. Recently, we’re hearing about how her trees are “disappearing” because there’s very little rainfall.
I am not the only young African person who has been affected by this crisis. In fact there are many of us who have stories to share. Gabriel Klassen is one.
[bouncy music comes in]
TIFE: While living in Cape Town, he experienced three consecutive years of drought, resulting in Day Zero, a period of time in Cape Town when every water tap was dry. As the Youth Coordinator at African Climate Alliance, Gabriel now works hands-on with communities and young people facing the effects of climate change.
GABRIEL KLASSEN: I grew up in a household with a mother and a father, three brothers, including myself, and that's four siblings, in one house. It was my eldest brother and two younger brothers. We grew up with my grandmother, also living with us and my uncle living with us at one point. So it was quite a community of people that helped raise me to be the person that I am today. But definitely I think it's because of that community that I find myself reluctant to completely give up this journey, because I am where I am partly because of them.
[bouncy music fades back in]
GABRIEL: Because of them continuing to push me, continuing to kind of believe in me… my communities have been spaces for vibrant change, but unable to reach that potential.
TIFE: In their final year of high school, Raeesah Noor-Mahomed led a school boycott to demand that South Africa’s environmental department declare a climate emergency. Raeesah, who has lived in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, has seen firsthand the changes in spaces they lived in when they were younger. They now organize with Stage For Change and 65.
RASEEAH: South African Indians in general, like we have our own subculture. Those things very much had an influence on who I am. And then growing up Muslim as well had a lot of impact on who I am because every day after school, we would go to madrassa, which is like school but for Islamic things, and they taught us history and stuff and how to pray and all of that, they taught us how to be clean and how to treat people. They taught us that we have to be kind, and they taught us that we have to respect everyone and everything and have this respect for
our surroundings and for the environment.
[synthy music plays]
RASEEAH: My parents and the community had a very big emphasis on being a good person and doing good and being good and kind and caring.
TIFE: Africa is responsible for just 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and yet, the continent is projected to be the most affected by the climate crisis. From floods in South Africa to extreme droughts in Kenya, people all around Africa are feeling the real life effects of climate change. Unfortunately no one is listening to climate activists in Africa, including western companies that contribute the most to greenhouse gasses and other activists from the global south. This was particularly obvious at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow.
RASEEAH: Going to Glasgow and being around so many activists from all around the world was such an interesting experience for me because – I don't know, I could see the difference in the way we perceived the climate crisis. So one of the things that really stuck out for me – and it might not seem significant – the people from the global south never prepared our speeches. I never prepare before I talk, I just speak.
And I was asking my friends from Africa, what they do. And they all said, they speak from the heart. They all said that they don't prepare. And for me that was such an interesting distinction because…
[Synths fade in]
RASEEAH: I can hear when they talk that the climate crisis is something that they're constantly facing. I don't know the people from the global north, it seems to be a theory to them. It seems to be something that they learn about that they know about, but they haven't yet lived through it. There’s just a difference in the way things are perceived. It seems like people in the global south understand it on a different level because it's what they face every day. It's what they've experienced. It's what they've had to go through.
TIFE: For me, one of the worst parts of climate change is how so many parts of our culture and communities are changing. Places that our parents, and their parents, used to go to are changed forever.
Adenike Oladosu saw the drought-driven clashes between farmers and herdsmen when she was in university in Benue.
ADENIKE OLADOSU: It’s canceling history and at the same time it could mean erasing our story. It’s really going to affect everything. It could mean loss and damages for our cultural sites, the damage of our ancestral homes and different things that could happen, both irreversible and reversible and the ones I fear most is the one that are not reversible.
RASEEAH: It's weird. How, as you get older, the world around you just changes so much.
GABRIEL: Day Zero was our countdown basically from when we had water to when we wouldn’t have any more drinkable water. It was literally the entirety of Cape Town and the broader Western Cape that were counting down the days until the day that we didn’t have access. And that was because of a massive drought that hit South Africa and Western Cape. And yes we’re coming out of it now, but a big thing that really kind of shook me was standing in the lines to collect water, watching people fight and get aggressive with one another. And that's still something that happens, you know, even in South Africa where it's not as rural.
TIFE: The effects of climate change in some parts of Africa feels dystopian. The depletion of resources means non-state armed groups and military forces are fighting over arable land and food, and people are trading their children for what’s left. A great example is Lake Chad, a body of water that spreads over 8 countries in West and Central Africa.
[slow, sad music]
TIFE: Over 30 million people in these countries depend on Lake Chad for water and food. But the lake has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s. Now over 5 million people are starving because they can’t grow food leading to a rise in terrorist groups who are taking advantage of the situation. One of those groups, Boko Haram, was responsible for the kidnapping of 265 school girls in 2014.
GABRIEL: I'm watching my government not care. I'm watching them continue to want coal investment, to continue to rely on gas, to continue to push for non-renewables, for fossil fuels, just because they're captured sadly by big industry. And so watching it all unfold and feeling completely hopeless is what terrifies me about the climate crisis. It's always been profit over people, but the time is now for it to be people over profit. For it to be planet over profit.
So sometimes I'll wake up and I'll feel very selfish. I'll be like, wow, today I woke up and I wasn't completely engulfed in water. How can I feel happy this morning? [laughs wryly] But actually the thing that helps me to keep pushing and, you know, hoping for the best is watching the movement swell from the ground up.
RASEEAH: It does get difficult, you know, because I do have clinical anxiety and depression. And so these things can be really overwhelming and scary. And sometimes you lie and think, what's the point of all of this? Like… all of this, going to university and studying and all of that, it seems so pointless knowing what is coming, knowing that things are going to be so bad.
[maraca music starts]
RASEEAH: But I think what gets me out of bed is being able to be part of activism and taking part and learning about it and trying and being part of finding solutions. I want to be part of making that change and making some people's lives better and making things more manageable for some people. Because obviously I can't change the whole world, but you know, if, even if I make a small difference, it will have all been worth it.
TIFE: Sometimes I think about the climate crisis in Africa and feel a crushing sense of hopelessness. There are so many urgent indicators that the climate crisis is going to be devastating here, but it feels like there are a lot of other pressing issues distracting people from climate, issues like corruption and education and high unemployment rates.
In spite of this, young climate activists all around the continent continue to advocate and organize and fight for a better world, one where corporations are held accountable for the harm they’ve caused and governments are committed to taking climate action. For many young people, imagining this world is the first step towards creating it.
GEORGIA: Again, that was Changing Cultures, Changing Communities, by Tife Sanusi.
[percussive music starts]
GEORGIA: Tife is a Nigerian journalist and organizer whose work has been published in Huck, VICE, Teen Vogue, and more. She is also the recipient of a BeyGOOD and Global Citizen fellowship.
We’re coming to a close here, but before I let you go, I wanted to share one last treat with you all. It’s a poem, written and read by episode 2 storyteller and poet Maggie Wang. This is After the Flood.
after the flood
after the flood
we lay in the muddied garden, not minding
if the grass left stains on our backs,
watching a trio of leaves
push the earth apart from itself.
downtown, two attorneys stood
on opposite sides of a courtroom,
arguing about where you belonged.
we didn’t care. the neighbors
came out to watch us from their
balcony. we didn’t blink. the sky
shrank smaller and smaller above us
but still spat out pink streaks
at sunset. a stalk of green
nestled against my shoulder,
[bubbly music starts]
the hollow inside ringing
with the sound of your heartbeat.
you told me about a couple who got
trapped walking in a rhododendron
forest. across the country, eucalyptus
burned, dry bark scattering the odor
of perfume into the sea. after the flood,
a patch of cells buried itself beneath
my fingernail, where it sprouted a forest
and pinned us to the ground.
GEORGIA: Maggie Wang’s debut poetry pamphlet, The Sun on the Tip of a Snail’s Shell, was published by Hazel Press earlier this fall. And if you haven’t yet, please go listen to her Inherited story, The Remains of Silence, which aired back in episode 2 of this season.
Inherited is brought to you by YR Media, a national network of young journalists and artists creating content for this generation. We’re distributed by Critical Frequency, a women-run podcast network founded by journalists.
[theme music starts]
GEORGIA: Nature in Anatomy was written by Neil Luczai and sound designed by Jules Bradley. Special thanks to Maura Gahan, Dana Reitz, and David Eisenhauer.
Changing Cultures, Changing Communities was written and reported by Tife Sanusi and sound designed by Georgia Wright. Special thanks to Azeez Abubakar and Tito Sanusi.
Our co-creators and senior producers are Jules Bradley and Georgia Wright. Our Executive Producer is Amy Westervelt, and our sound engineer is James Riley. Our Director of Podcasting is Ray Archie, and our interns are Ichtaca Lira and Chaitanya Dendekar. Special thanks to Rebecca Martin and Kyra Kyles.
Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR: Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza. Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler.
Art for this episode created by YR’s Ariam Michael. Art direction by Brigido Bautista and Marjerrie Masicat.
If you like our show, please rate or review us on the Apple Podcast app. It honestly makes a difference. You can also follow us on Instagram and Twitter @inheritedpod.
If you want to learn more about our show and this season’s cohort of storytellers, head to our website at yr.media/inherited.
Thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next week for the fifth and final installment of the season.
[music fades out]