Noisy jobs: a Dareemo producer records an actress playing the character Hawa, who makes doughnuts for a living.

One of the worst things I often come across in dramas that aim to improve lives by changing people's behaviour is the sense that the characters are spending all day, every day, hanging about waiting to have conversations about whatever issue the drama is aimed at.

If it's HIV, they're waiting for conversations about condoms. If it's mother and child health, their whole existence is taken up with discussion about diarrhoea.

When I developed BBC Media Action's drama in Somalia, Dareemo, with the team in Hargeisa, I was very anxious to avoid this. So the team concentrated on working out fully-rounded characters who have lives outside of breastfeeding and hand washing.

Noisy jobs

At an early stage, we gave each main character a job. As Dareemo is a soap opera on the radio, I also wanted the jobs to make a noise. Listeners find it much easier to believe a character in a drama is doing something if they can hear it.

For the character who will address the behaviour of breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, we'd already decided some basic details. She would be an older woman. An older woman is almost always going to be heavily involved in decisions straight after the birth, as the mother is likely to be exhausted.

She was also to come from the Puntland area in northern Somalia because it’s important in a drama that characters come from different regions of the country to attract the widest possible audience.

Frankincense work song

The team first came up with a character who was a dynamic woman, running a frankincense export business. Frankincense is a big export from Puntland, and, the team told me, in frankincense cleaning factories, the workforce sings in rhythm with the cleaning. So, a noisy occupation.

I pointed out, though, that any character in our soap needs to be in difficult circumstances, like most of the population. Otherwise, she'd have the money to solve her problems.

So the team changed her into a small-time frankincense cleaner and trader. But then, they decided that, in reality, no such people exist.

Djinns

Finally, the character became a fortune teller who uses frankincense. Somali fortune tellers claim they get their knowledge of the future from their 'djinns' or spirits. When they're in touch with their djinns, they like to appear to be possessed, so, our character makes an array of bizarre noises when she's working. Perfect for radio.

The choice of a fortune teller, though, was controversial. Many people in Somalia think these women are unIslamic, and they don't like it known that they exist. We were told we should change her, but we didn't.

Now, Ebla, the fortune-teller, is one of the most popular characters in Dareemo.

Related links:

From the BBC Media Action blog:

Drama Queen

A gift from Allah

From BBC Media Action:

Behind the scenes of radio soap Dareemo

BBC Media Action's work in Somalia

BBC Media Action's work on health

Go back to BBC Media Action

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