"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Monday, January 15, 2007

Peace to the Heart: How Stories Calm the World

Everyone has a story. For people we hate or dislike, it seems easy to ignore their stories so that we can continue our feelings of disdain.

A story leads to another story and then to another story until you have a bridge of understanding.

When I came upon an Iraqi folktale “The Sparrow and His Wife”, I discovered three ways that have helped me to be at peace with others:

  1. Learn the Language
  2. Learn the Culture
  3. Find Similarities

Learn the Language
On television I often hear Arabic yelled by those who burn the American flag. Yet, in the poems within the Iraqi folktale, I found the beauty of the language even before I understood how to pronounce the words.

Being that it was a beautiful love story, I learned a little Arabic for the poems. The National Middle East Language Resource Center (NMELRC) at Brigham Young University was kind enough to guide my pronunciation by telephone as well as to send a mp3 recording attached in email so I could practice on my own.

Besides the NMELRC, there are over three-dozen languages regularly taught at BYU. Another 30 languages are taught when there is enough student interest. Feel free to contact the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies to help in your research.

Beyond foreign languages, sometimes we need to understand the way a person or group of people talk, even if we share the same language such as English.

Learn the Culture
As was important to understand for “The Sparrow and His Wife”, divorce rarely occurs among the Middle Eastern culture for marriage status is honored among men. Yet, men are frequently absent from the home to care for business (Lovejoy, 1964). The sparrow was away from home longer than the usual time so the wife ate the corn that triggered the divorce. If a man desires a legal divorce, he must have witnesses and his wife in the same room and say three times “Woman, I divorce you.”(Lovejoy, 1964; Stevens, 1971). The sparrow performed this same action. At this point, the woman finds it difficult to remarry and rejoins her family (Lovejoy, 1964). In the story, the sparrow wife flies to her father’s tree and it is here that the husband calls to her.

Upon the story’s ending, the belief of the Evil Eye and the consequences of pride are revealed. Only when the sparrow presents five colored threads to his wife does the wife agree to return. She weaves the colored threads in the nest, one of the many ways to avoid the curses of the Evil Eye such as failure in the home and death. A glance through the bazaar among the narrow streets shows whole areas dedicated to items to repel these curses (Marks, 1999; Patterson & Aghayeva, 2000; Stevens, 1971).

Find Similarities
Throughout the country, people strive to care for their families. Despite what your personal views may be of the war, enlightenment can be found in all cultures and beliefs such as sanctity of marriage. The Arabic poems within the story demonstrate tender words, which may surprise people who are used to angry words broadcast on television.

I learned much about the Evil Eye and admire how the Arabs treasure the trait of humility. Below is the introduction I give for “The Sparrow and His Wife” so that the tale is more meaningful and that similarities can be found--

From your seat, you may notice I have blue eyes. If I were to travel to the Middle East, some people would run from me or look down to avoid my glance because I have blue eyes. Why? I may cause the Evil Eye and place curses such as headaches, fatigue, or death. Many of those locally born into the Arab lands have brown eyes so blue eyes are suspicious. I could be in danger from your eyes if you were envious of what I have or own. You may not mean to curse me. Pride brings upon the Evil Eye and so humility is a trait treasured among the Arabs. I could bring about the curse upon myself if I don’t watch my pride. You can be protected. You can go down the narrow streets that sometimes will not let two donkeys pass each other and on to the bazaar, the souk. Whole areas would be dedicated to items for sale to keep away the Evil Eye. You’d find blue-eyed amulets to confuse any other blue eyes that stare at you. Or you can buy certain seeds to burn or woven fabric to hang outside your home. For now, let us cast our kind eyes to the story told by an unknown Moslem woman of Mosul, northern Iraq, entitled “The Sparrow and His Wife”.

From learning the language to learning to culture to finding similarities, I feel a bond to the Iraqi people. Any storyteller who follows these steps will find hatred disappear while peace takes its place in the heart.

For another article about peaceful storytelling, click here.


Lovejoy, B. (1964). The Land and People of Iraq. New York: J.B. Lippincott.

Marks, S. L. (1999). Mashallah: The Evil Eye in Contemporary Sephardic Culture. Retrieved June 21, 2006, from http://www.sefarad.org/publication/lm/038/13.html

Patterson, J. & Aghayeva, A. (2000, Autumn). “The Evil Eye—Staving Off Harm—With a Visit to the Open Market” [Electronic version]. Azerbaijan International, 8.3, 55.

Stevens, E. S. (1971). Folktales of Iraq. New York: Benjamin Blom.

Taylor, A. (Ed.). (1971). Focus on the Middle East. New York: Praeger.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tick Tock: Right-on-Time Telling and You

Father Time can be a wonderful friend to the storyteller. As with all friendships, time can be nurtured or abused. Being under-time or over-time for a storytelling program can be detrimental. To build trust with your sponsors and audience, make a goal this year to be a “right-on-time” teller.

There may be times when you wish that the sands would fall faster in Father Time’s capsule. You had promised a program to be so long and you have three minutes, five minutes, or even ten minutes left to fill.

Three Ways to Fill Time:

1. Prepare 1-3-minute Tales

2. Sing Songs

3. Invite Audience Participation/Impromptu Stories

Prepare 1-3-minute Tales
One resource of short stories would be Margaret Read MacDonald’s “Three Minute Tales” published by August House. She admitted to being a fast talker. Her 30-second tale may last five minutes for the slow-paced teller.

Sing Songs
I have used songs within stories as well as transitions in the program. Songs bring the audience together, especially if the teller invites people to sing a chorus or two. Length of songs can be as short as one word or as long as a ballad lasting several minutes. You could always create your own songs to familiar tunes. If your program focuses on a theme, you can search the Internet by typing theme keywords and “song”. Please consider if the songs are in the public domain or if you need to receive permission.

Invite Audience Participation/Impromptu Stories
My eyes dance with glee when I see the audience clap and say “POP” as fox’s tail comes off. It takes time to give directions to what the audience must do, then time to practice the action/sound, and finally to include the action/sound in the story. By using participation in every story, some people, especially adults, will think of it as “work.” If your first two stories involve participation, the audience may expect participation during the whole program, which is fine as long as that’s the expectation you want to build.

As for impromptu, this can be a short stand-up comedy bit or a story developed by the audience. You can call out for ideas from the audience in regards to the place, plot, and characters. Creating a story at the program’s end may show the audience that stories are inside them, too. Regardless if and when you use impromptu, expect the unexpected and you and your audience may be rolling with laughter.

Even when the performance is a hit, the audience has an internal clock that can gage when a performance is supposed to be done. Some storytellers ignore or forget this fact as they jump on stage and tell as many stories as they can before someone kicks them from the spotlight. We live in a polite society and oftentimes the audience fidgets while glancing at their watches, praying that the emcee would do something to take control.

Three Ways to Shave Time:

1. Buy a Clock

2. Time your Stories

3. Chat with Emcee/Other Storytellers

Buy a Clock
You may say that you have a watch and have no need for such a huge time-telling device. Do not be deceived. When all your energy is focused on that story, you will be looking at your audience, not your wrist. The emcee can hold the clock in their lap so that when you glance at the clock it will appear that you are looking at the audience. My clock has big numbers, thick hands, and a bright red outer facing. I cheer when I end with the hands in the right places.

Time your Stories
I do not expect you to know how long your story is to the millisecond. I would expect you to know the time range such as knowing if it is 6-8 minutes, 8-10 minutes, etc. Carol Esterreicher tells a Spoonerism story of Cinderella called “Rindercella”, which can be a 10-minute version to a 30-minute version. As long as Rindercella makes it to the ball by a certain time, Carol knows she will meet the requested program length.

Chat with Emcee/Other Storytellers
Before the lights are dimmed for the storytelling concert, have a meeting with the emcee and any other storytellers/performers who share the time slot.

Discuss important questions—

What if the program starts late? Does the emcee/audience expect to end at the agreed time or does the program countdown start as soon as you are on stage?

What if a storyteller/performer goes too short? Too long?

Many other items could be discussed, though what is most important is that everyone is aware of the expectations. You may agree on cues. Perhaps the emcee has the ability to lower the lights when someone goes too long. Perhaps the emcee will use hand signals. Reduce the emcee’s stress by being the right-on-time teller.


Ironically, a right-on-time teller should arrive early and stay late to best serve the sponsor and the audience for time goes beyond the length of the program. Reserve time to set-up, talk with the emcee, and welcome the audience as they find their seats. Afterwards, listen as audience members share the wonderful experiences you gave them. Scheduling a storytelling event too close to another event will lose spirit-strengthening moments.

Smile at the clock and know that Father Time is your friend.

You are welcome to share your ideas to be a right-on-time teller.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799