Beyond Borders Storytelling

Stories for Wanderlusting Adventurers.


Craig Berger: The Hippos in and Around the Mono River
Will Spargur
Craig Berger
Click to watch to Craig Berger: The Hippos in and Around the Mono River

BBS: How did you hear about the storytelling program?

CB: I heard about it from a Peace Corps Response email blast.  They send occasional email updates and include links at the bottom of local events.

BBS: Where and when did you serve?

CB: I served in Togo from 1990 to 1992.

BBS: Why did you want to learn about storytelling?

CB: I wanted to work on my communication skills because I had an experience at work where I was telling a narrative of something that had happened to me.  It was somewhat traumatic but the feedback I was getting from my colleagues was that they were having trouble understanding my point of view and how I felt about what had happened.   I had trouble telling them about the true experience.  That triggered something in me that I had a communication deficit that I wanted to work on. 

BBS: How did you pick the story you told at the story jam?

CB: This was a story that me and my friends, who I served in Togo with, will tell over and over whenever we get together.  We tell it to each other, share it with family and friends.  It was this big life changing experience within the Peace Corps which is its own life changing experience.  I knew we had a good story. 

BBS: How has the storytelling process helped you?

CB: You [Will Spargur] have been a main driver of this, when I am telling a story to have a point to why I am telling it.  Have a theme, a reason why you are telling this story instead of just retelling a series of events or facts that occurred.

CB: When I first started with the hippo story, I told it like all of these bad things happened and that was it.  It’s reasonably interesting because what happened was so unusual, but there wasn’t a true point.  I had to ask myself what is the point? What is important?  With the hippo story, I realized the lesson was “listen to the locals.”  When people know more than you, heed their warning.  Don’t be arrogant about it. 

BBS: How did you prepare for the performance?

CB: I went to the Beyond Borders workshops and practices.  I also went to a Peace Corps recruiting event at the Oakland Library and retold it there.  I prepared note cards plotting out key moments of the story, and then I added details.  I checked my words and changed the sentence structures to add variety.  I practiced a whole bunch to friends, my daughters and by myself.  I practiced it about 20 times until it was so ingrained in my head that even if I was nervous I’d still be able to tell my story.

BBS: What did you think about the practices?

CB: The practices were very helpful.   That process was so necessary.  I have could have used even more.  The one-on-one mentoring you gave me was really important and helpful.  In Oakland, you pulled me aside and said, ‘Okay, You have to do X, Y and Z.’  That made it immediately plain.   I would have hated to go up on stage not having things as refined as they were.  I have a strong faith in the process now.

BBS: Did you invite any friends to your first performance?

CB: No.  For my first time I honestly didn’t want anyone from my circle to come.  I know I was being a bad member, but I didn’t know how it would turn out.  Next time I’ll bring some friends.  My friends and family have seen the video, and I got a lot of good feedback.  It’s kicking around a Facebook group or two. I posted it on the early 90s Togo Facebook page so it’s being spread.

BBS: Were you nervous?

CB: I was very nervous.  The nervousness built up to where ten minutes before my performance I was plotting ways to get out.  But I recognized that was just crazy talk.  I can’t not tell the story because I know it so well.  That calmed me down a little bit.   And when I went up and got started, once I oriented myself to being on stage, the lights, the microphone then I felt comfortable.  I just let the story tell itself.

BBS: What was it like when you finished?

CB: I was elated.  I felt a strong sense of accomplishment.  Then I regretted not having all my friends and family there.

BBS: What recommendations would you give someone thinking about telling a story?

CB: Come start the process.  You don’t need a great, amazing story.  It’s simpler than you think and more complicated than you think.  But you get the support you need to craft your story, develop your voice and share your experience.  Developing my voice, sharing my experience and hearing other people’s experiences that’s the joy I had.