Develop multi-sensory experiences inspired by a story recorded by StoryCorps. The goal is to evoke emotions and personal memories in the viewer that mirror or complement your assigned story by stimulating multiple senses.
The story that I was assigned for this project is about Fatuma Abdullahi, Annie Johnson, and Maryan Osman. The story’s is about Annie’s relationship with her adopted daughters Fatuma and Maryan, two Somalian sisters that lost their parents at a very young age. They were shuffled between family members for a while before being brought to the US by the Catholic Community Services of Utah. The transcript for the story is below.
Annie Johnson (AJ): Not a lot of people become a mom at 28 to teenage daughters. So, the learning curve has been steep.
Maryan Osman (MO): Yeah. (laughs) What do you remember most about meeting me?
AJ: You just walked up to me with all of the confidence in the world, stuck your hand out there and you’re like ’Hi, I’m Maryan.’
AJ: ’How old are you? Are you old enough to be a mom?’ You kind of, like, looked me up and down and sized me up a little bit.
And I remember, Fatuma, when you just so shy, and quiet. Which was okay, because we were so nervous.
Fatuma Abdullahi (FA): Yeah.
AJ: What’s it like to live in a family that has such a different culture?
MO: Here the neighbors, so quiet, you feel like you’re living by yourself.
MO: Even in the jungle … (laughs) … animals made sounds, but here the sounds you heard is only the cars.
AJ: The funniest thing is teaching you guys weird American sayings. Like, ’beating a dead horse.’…
MO: Yeah (laughs)
AJ: That’s a fun one.
MO: Why would you beat a dead horse?
MO: It’s already dead!
AJ: That’s the whole point.
MO: Also, it’s funny when you’re learning Somali.
AJ: I can say I love you, which is … Waan ku jeclahay.
MO: I love how when you say, “What’s your name?”
AJ: Magacaa (laughs)
MO: It reminds me of when I was learning English, when I would speak in funny ways.
MO: Hey mom, have you ever got scared for me?
AJ: Uh, yeah. Last year around your birthday, when you had some panic attacks. I went to the school and there were firemen there, and all the teachers were surrounding you. I was scared for you, because you were really struggling at that time.
MO: I kind of got overwhelmed about my past. And, uh, I remember, that you told me that, ’I am always there to talk to you.’ And you hugged me a lot. That was awesome.
AJ: Yeah, you like to be hugged.
MO: Yeah. The best thing I love about you guys is no matter what I do, you still forgive me and give me chance to move on.
AJ: It’s hard being a mom, you doubt yourself a lot. You don’t know if you’re doing things right. I’ve learned a lot about patience. And I’ve learned a lot about love. You guys have just given so much joy and meaning to my life.
FA: Thank you.
AJ: I love you so much. So happy that you are my daughters.
My first reaction to the story was quite strong- I almost cried listening to it. To start off with there are so many underlying themes within this story, each of which is incredibly strong. The main themes that I identified were motherhood, adoption , and cultural differences. I think for my experience I need to figure out a way to tie those themes together throughout the experience.
Concept #1 — A Look into Motherhood
- Experience meant for one person
- Put the user into the shoes of the mother, focus on the emotions that the mother feels through the entire process
- Linear experience, from stressed to happy and meaningful
Concept #2 — Connection Across Cultural Differences
- Experience meant for two people
- One person takes on the mother’s emotions/thoughts and the other takes on the emotions and thoughts of the daughter, the middle part is the connection between the two across the cultures
Both of these concepts left a somewhat bad taste in my mouth though. My internal struggle with this story still centers around the underlying white savior complex that is inherent in adoption of children through religious organizations.
After talking to Daphne I realized my problem was my experience focused far too much on Annie Johnson, the mother. Rather I should think about the daughters — the amount of struggle and pain they have experienced throughout their life. I want this experience to tell their story.
Concept #3 — Telling the story of Fatuma Abdullahi and Maryan Osman
With this concept, I will be thinking more about the adoption and cultural differences theme, somewhat cutting out the motherhood aspect of it, just to shift focus away from Annie Johnson a little bit. With this experience I want the user to be put into the shoes of Fatuma and Maryan, feel the emotions they felt through stimulating their senses.
The senses I will be using are limited sight, heading, smell, and feeling.
Sight: For sight, the room will use lighting of different colors, like looking through the world through tracing paper. Mix of actual images and colors (?). Pushes the user to use their own imagination to fill in the story, put themselves into the girls’ shoes.
Feeling: The user stands in the center of the room on a platform. This platform will move throughout the experience reminiscent of the instability the girls feel through their lives.
Smell: Use of smell will be jarring, part of the transition from one place to the next
Hearing: Maybe the most focused on sense (?) Mix of using recorded sound of story corps, recording my own sound to fill the parts that were not included, and addition of place-based sounds.
The second concept for this part has the user move through the space to simulate walking through their lives. Each section represents a different time of their lives, from living in Somalia, losing their parents, being moved around, coming to the US and the struggle within the US. The main difference from this concept and the previous is just the manner in which the user “walks through” the story and the feeling sense.
Feeling: Focus on ground, makes user feel stable walking on the path for stable sections, rocky sections for parts of their lives in which they really felt instability.
Flushing out Experience 2
After thinking more about the two options, I settled on developing out experience 2, I like the idea of the user moving, time passing that way, them triggering events in the space through their movement. I wrote out the script for the experience, I want the user to hear the story through a first person perspective. I used the text not specifically in the transcript to create out a first person story, dividing the text into sections, the sections I want within the space.
The Full Story Script
(Section 1) I remember living in Somalia, it was me, my sister, my parents. It was beautiful there, in the jungle the animals always made sounds, we were surrounded by that all of the time. (Layer forest sounds)
(Section 2) But…the noise changed. That noise took my parents from me and my sister. (Layer war sounds)
(Section 3) Eventually, we resettled, found a new home with my grandmother. But that changed too, when she moved to Australia. They closed their world to us. Passed from one family to another for a while, we could never settle. And then, we were left alone on our own again. (silent background)
(Section 4) We moved again, this time to the United States, to a new family. This family, this place was different. Here, the neighbors are so quiet, you feel like you are living by yourself. The only sound you’ll hear is the cars. (layer silence alongside beeping of cars)
(Section 5) The change has been hard. I get overwhelmed thinking about my past, last year I had panic attacks at school. I remember … Everyone surrounded me, teachers, firemen, I was struggling at that time. (Layer a mix of silence and fire alarms/panic sounds to silence)
(Section 6) It isn’t easy, but I do appreciate this new chance I have been given, a chance to move on.
An Overall Sense of Scale
Before dividing the space into sections I wanted to understand how the space felt as a whole. I originally kept the ceiling height at 10 ft, but I realized that they would feel quite overwhelming at the size in which the rooms are. I used my physical model to understand the relation of a person to the room as a whole. I then used SketchUp to divide the room into my different sections.
Section 1 — Life in Somalia
Space Dimensions — 6 x 11 ft
Visuals — For the visual part of this section, I want to put the users into a village in Somalia, using the audio descriptions providing in the transcript. For visuals, I want to stick with my concept of looking at the world through tracing paper, blurred visuals with the light being the more important feature in the space. I want the users to fill in the visual fidelity themselves, putting them more into their head.
Sounds — Once the user walks into the space, they will trigger the sound starting when the reach a 1 foot into the space. *Gradual introduction of forest noises* “I remember living in Somalia, it was me, my sister, my parents. It was beautiful there, in my village. In the jungle, the animals always made sounds, we were surrounded by that all of the time.” I also want to layer animals/forest/nature sounds on top of this script to supplement what they say.
Feeling — This space is the largest within the experience because it feels the most free, when the girls were the most in control of their own lives. The ground here will be either completely flat, and stable to walk on.
Smell — The purpose of smell is to accentuate the feeling of being in place, the smell in this space would be one of the forests of Somalia/jungle feeling.
Section 2 — Civil War/Loss of Parents
Space Dimensions — 4 x 4 ft
Visuals —Black very chaotic visuals, rubble, very dark, with some flashes of light, mimicking war. Potential image to put below the lighting/hazy image.
Sounds —Start with whooshing/rockets/war sounds. “But…the noise changed. That noise took my parents from me and my sister.” Very abrupt, meant to be jarring.
Feeling — Space itself is quite small, only 4x4 meant to be claustrophobic/ overwhelming. For the ground texture, …
Smell — Smell of smoke/gas mimicking war, puts you more in the place again
Section 3 — Being Passed Around
Space Dimensions — 4 x 11 ft
Visuals — Light then dark, hope then once again loneliness
Sound — *Silence* “Eventually, we resettled, found a new home with my grandmother. But that changed too, when she moved to Australia. They closed their world to us. Passed from one family to another for a while, we could never settle. Eventually, we were left alone on our own again.” *Silence” (darkness)
Feeling — Long narrow space, feels endless. Ground slows you down, need to talk each step slowly.
Smell — Nothing distinct for this space.
Section 4 — Moving to the US
Space Dimensions — 7 ft x 5.5. ft
Visuals — Image of the US, classic suburb in the US. Shows a good juxtaposition between the homes/environment in Somalia.
Sounds — “We moved again, this time to the United States, to a new family. This family, this place was different. Here, the neighbors are so quiet, you feel like you are living by yourself. The only sound you’ll hear is the cars.” (layer silence alongside beeping of cars)
Feeling — Slightly more open, a little more room to breathe, but still smaller than Somalia space. Ground is slightly bumpy/raised. Less difficult to navigate than section 2.
Smell — Nothing, or the smell of the US, I don’t know what that could be.
Section 5 — Struggles within the US
Space Dimensions — 7 ft x 3.5 ft
Visuals — Light to suddenly dark with siren/police lights, triggered once the user steps onto it, after a bit of the audio
Sounds — “The change has been hard. I get overwhelmed thinking about my past, last year I had panic attacks at school. (start visuals) I remember … Everyone surrounded me, teachers, firemen, I was struggling at that time. (Layer a mix of silence and fire alarms/panic sounds to silence)”
Feeling — Very enclosed space, ground goes back to the same instability she felt when she lost her parents
Smell — Hospital Smell, or smoke smell
Section 6 — Moving On
Visuals — Very light based, no image, just white with glow, representative of moving towards a better “brighter” future.
Sounds — “It isn’t easy, but I do appreciate this new chance I have been given, a chance to move on.” *Silence* other than the voice carrying
Feeling — Long open hallway. Ground is soft. somewhat malleable. Maybe similar to carpet, representative of their ability to make their own path.
Smell — Flowers? Something relaxing/hopeful for the future.
Revision on Plan
After thinking through the whole experience, I realized that the integration of changing floors would make the experience very overwhelming. I want to focus more on the size of the rooms and the visuals to create the feeling of the space being overwhelming. I also lowered the heights of all the ceilings to 8 ft tall, making the rooms feel more comfortable.
Also, I wanted to think more about the thresholds, from one space into the next. I don’t want to user to be able to tell what the next section holds, so each section will be blocked off with a color curtain in each section.
I also want to add some sort of takeaway for the end of the experience. I want the ending to remind the user that this is just one experience of a refugee. It’s not ideal that refugees have to be brought to the US and we need to remember and empathize with how hard their lives have been. The least we can do is make their lives somewhat comfortable here, NOT give them a hard time and treat them as outsiders. The ending will all be writing on the wall, not audio, because the only voice that I want the user to remember is the daughter’s voice.
Section 7 — The Takeaway
Visual — Text on the wall, a QR code that they can scan to donate to refugee survivors?
Sound — Quiet nature sounds, put the user back in the beginning of the story, crickets, nighttime.
Feeling — Still part of section 6 in terms of space, but the audio stops once you get halfway through it, I didn’t want this space to feel very closed off.
Specific Text on Wall —
This is the story of Maryan Osman, a Somalian refugee. The struggles in her story resonate across thousands of refugees that end up in the United States in search of a safe place. We hope you can empathize with burdens of their past lives.
In 2013, there were about 4,500 refugees resettled into the Pittsburgh area. Organizations like AJAPO exist to help refugees become self-sufficient and integrated into the Greater Pittsburgh Community and Allegheny County. Consider donating either your time or money to this organization. The least we can do is make their journeys comfortable as they seek a new life.
Final Concept Video
3rd Person Views of the Spaces
- Use senses to create personal associations that allow user to relate to story on a deeper level
- Senses combined with one another at varying levels create variable experiences. We need to create a balance so that the experience is encompassing but not overwhelming
- This also shows us the power of using all senses to create a fully holistic experience.