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'Nine Parts of Desire': Actress Brings to Life Stories of Iraqi Women

Heather Raffo plays all nine parts in stage performance. Also: a question about OK, and music by TV on the Radio. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We answer a question about the American word “OK” …

Play some music from a group called TV on the Radio…

And report about a new play called “Nine Parts of Desire”.

Nine Parts of Desire


A new play is being performed at Arena Stage, a theater in Washington, D.C. The play is about the lives of Iraqi women. Barbara Klein has more.


An Iraqi-American woman named Heather Raffo wrote “Nine Parts of Desire.” She also is the only performer. She acts the parts of nine Iraqi women. They are of different ages, education, religious and political beliefs.

They include an old woman in Baghdad, a doctor, a young Iraqi girl, a political refugee living in London and a young Iraqi-American woman in New York City. All of them tell how their lives have been affected by repression, violence and war. Heather Raffo brings each part to life with small changes in her voice and clothing. The stories of the women are separated by music and the sounds of gunfire and bombings.

Heather Raffo says the play is a celebration of women searching for personal freedom. Critics and other people alike have praised the play as powerful and emotionally moving. The name of the play comes from the teachings of an ancient Muslim religious leader. He wrote: ”God created sexual desire in ten parts; then, he gave nine parts to women and one part to men.”

Heather Raffo is the daughter of an Iraqi man and an American woman. As a child, she had visited family members in Iraq. She was a student at the University of Michigan in nineteen ninety-one during the Gulf War. She was angry about the war and concerned about her family members in Iraq.

In nineteen ninety-three, Miz Raffo visited her family in that country. She says what she discovered there had a powerful effect on her. The visit helped her understand her culture and celebrate the women in her family. She collected the stories of family members and other Iraqi women.

Later, she used some of these experiences to write her play, “Nine Parts of Desire.” She wanted people to know more about the Iraqi people than what the news media showed. The first version of the play was performed three years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland. It later was performed in London and New York City.

Heather Raffo changed the version playing in Washington to include the current war in Iraq. She says she believes strongly in performing this play in Washington. She says the play unites people in considering the humanity of the Iraqi people at a time when important decisions are being made about their country.



Our VOA listener question this week comes from France. Herve Acard asks about the American word “okay”. Where did the word come from and how did it become part of the language?

“OK” means “all right” or “acceptable.” It expresses agreement or approval. Millions of people all over the world use the word “okay.” In fact, some people say the word is used more often than any other word in the world. Still, language experts do not agree about where it came from.

Some say it came from the native American Indian tribe known as the Choctaws. The Choctaw word “okeh” means the same as the American word “OK.” Experts say early explorers in the American West spoke the Choctaw language in the nineteenth century. The language spread across the country.

But many people dispute this. Language expert Allen Walker Read wrote about the word “OK” in articles published in the nineteen sixties. He said the word began as a short way of writing a different spelling of the words “all correct.” Old stories say some foreign-born people would write all correct as o-l-l k-o-r-r-e-c-t but speak it as “OK."

Others say “OK” was a way to shorten Greek words that mean everything is fine. Still others say a railroad worker named Obadiah Kelly invented the word. They say he put the first letters of his names -- O and K -- on each object people gave him to place on the train.

Another explanation is that “OK” was invented by a political organization that supported Martin Van Buren for president in the eighteen hundreds. They called their organization the OK Club. The letters O and K were taken from the name of the town where Martin Van Buren was born — Old Kinderhook, New York.

Not everyone agrees with this explanation either. But experts do agree that the word is purely American and has spread to almost every country on Earth. Yet in the United States, it is used mostly in speech, not in writing. Serious writers would rather use such words as “agree,” “approve” or “confirm” instead.

We hope this is OK with you!

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio makes music filled with energetic beats and dissident sounds. This art-rock band of five men is based in Brooklyn, New York. Their new album, "Return to Cookie Mountain," is full of experimental energy. Critics say it might be one of the most strangely beautiful records of the year. Faith Lapidus has more.



"I Was a Lover" is a song with unusual and poetic words. Like many of TV on the Radio’s songs, it describes a world of destruction and change. The song has many sounds. You can hear two voices above layers of guitar, piano, drum, and machine noises.

TV on the Radio’s music is not easy to define. The group combines many kinds of music. Each song is very different from the next. And this album is very different from their past albums. The band members like being free to try new sounds. Here is the song “Hours.”


The members of the band say the feeling they want to express is connection. They see their music as expressing emotions that other people can identify with. Some songs express their unhappiness with current politics in the United States. For example, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the band immediately wrote a song. It told about working together for a better future with wiser leaders.

We leave you with “Province”. If you listen carefully, you can hear the voice of famous singer David Bowie. The song talks about bravely loving someone in a dark, changing world.



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Dana Demange, Shelley Gollust and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.