This past August, economist and storyteller Abbas Mousa joined two storytellers and writers, Emma John and David Farley, at AFAR Travel Tales, a special event series. Mousa’s route to storytelling was an unconventional one. He emigrated to the United States in 2009 from Iraq, through the Special Immigrant Program for translators, before attending his first story slam with a friend from the military.
After the AFAR Travel Tales event, Mousa shared how he became involved with The Moth, why he is drawn to storytelling, and details of some of his other projects.
What first drew you to the world of storytelling and, specifically, The Moth?
Sarah, a friend from the military who I worked with in Iraq invited me to The Moth StorySLAM in Milwaukee. I had no idea what it was about but a woman at the theater lobby explained to me what it is and said that I should put my name in the hat and tell a five-minute story. With Sarah encouraging me I agreed and after telling my first story about my life in Iraq I got a lot of good feedback from the audience, then The Moth HQ in New York City heard the recording and contacted me and started touring me around to tell a longer version of the story.
What drew me to The Moth and storytelling in general is that I get to share personal stories with strangers and I get to live in the shoes of other storytellers as I listen to their stories, it’s a priceless experience and a privilege.
What are some ingredients of a compelling spoken story? Are they different from the elements of a compelling written one?
A story told raw without an agenda or political bias is an example of a compelling story, with that, it has to have beginning, middle, and end with a conflict with high stakes. The storyteller will need to focus on what matters to paint a complete picture for the audience to live the experience with him or her while listening to the story. As for the written story, the reader will need to use their own imagination more.
Why do you think there has been such an explosion of interest in podcasts in recent years?
People are struggling to find free time, many work two jobs, and I think listening to a podcast gives them some of the satisfaction they get from reading a book, and with today’s technologies we can link our smartphones to our cars and just listen to podcast while driving which is what I usually do.
What podcasts do you find most exciting or interesting?
“The Moth” is my top podcast, but I also like “Snap Judgment,” “Ted Talk,” “Story Collider,” and “What’s Ray Saying.” I’ve only been on The Moth Podcast and the Story Collider.
They are all different. “Story Collider” is about science, “Snap Judgment” is self-explanatory and “What’s Ray Saying” is about the history of Black Americans which I really appreciate because I didn’t grow up here and I appreciate the informative perspective that Ray presents to us in his podcast.
Do you think there are ways in which travel stories are especially suited to being told aloud, in The Moth format?
Just like a moth (the insect) travels from one farm to another, The Moth presents storytellers from all walks of lives, and that’s the beauty of it. Most people in the United States have never traveled outside North America and so there are people they never meet and places they have never been to. I’m sure they appreciate listening to travel stories because they don’t only enjoy the story but they also learn something about other people and the place of where the story is set.
What current projects are you working on?
Besides being an economist (full time) and a soldier (part time), I’m writing my memoir and creating a podcast which will include many different series to cover a variety of topics and reach a unique audience. It’s like a number of podcasts within a podcast, and each can have its own audience but they are all under the main title of “Society Wonders.” For example, “The Immigrant” will be a series of stories about immigrants to the United States or Americans living abroad. “Story Hour” will be a series about raw storytelling that can be of any theme.
Where did you travel on your latest trip? Where are you headed next?
Last November, I spent 20 days in Europe. My brother who is Iraqi and an Argentinean citizen is still waiting for his family immigration visa to join the family here in America and I haven’t seen him since 2009 so we met in Rome then went to Pisa and Venice then flew to Frankfurt and took the train to Paris. It was a great trip with some funny stories about how people were confused about us being brothers while having different nationalities and living in different countries with our unusual backgrounds (Iraqi, Lebanese and Argentinean).
My next trip will be this November. I plan to fly to Santiago, Chile and meet my brother there and then we will rent a car and drive to Mendoza in Argentina through the Andes mountains then start exploring Argentina, a country I never been to before, and visit the house where my mom was born and raised in Buenos Aires. I’m really looking forward to it.
Listen to more first-person accounts of life-changing travel experiences in a travel podcast series by The Moth at afar.com/traveltales.