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Jul 29, 2016
Originally published on July 31, 2016 2:19 pm
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

HANNA ROSIN, HOST:

When he was in college, the thing that annoyed Brett Cohen the most was celebrity culture.

BRETT COHEN: There are so many people who are famous nowadays for doing absolutely nothing, just for living and driving cars and wearing clothes, showing up at events, walking the red carpet, putting out a sex tape.

ROSIN: Plenty of us have felt this way. But one day, noting the intensity of worship a single reality star could get...

COHEN: Thirty million followers on Instagram.

ROSIN: Brett had a devious idea.

COHEN: (Laughter).

ROSIN: A way he thought would prove to us all just what celebrity-worshipping suckers we all are.

COHEN: I said, well, what if we just created like a fake celebrity entourage?

ROSIN: What if he and his friends just manufactured all the trappings of celebrity and then just stuck Brett in the middle of it?

COHEN: And eventually that evolved into let's do that and walk through Times Square on a, you know - a busy Friday night, and let's just see how many people actually will think I'm famous. Let me see if I could instantly manufacture fame.

ROSIN: So a few days later, Brett goes onto Craigslist and finds a whole bunch of big guys who are willing to play his bodyguards. He gets a friend to play his assistant and a whole swarm of people to play the paparazzi.

COHEN: Basically anyone who owned a camera with a flash was qualified to be a paparazzi.

ROSIN: And then the day came. It was a very hot day, and Brett who's normally kind of schlubby (ph) in sweatpants and a T-shirt - he cleaned himself up.

COHEN: I got a pair of really tight jeans.

ROSIN: Big sunglasses.

COHEN: An Italian button-down shirt that I would absolutely never wear elsewhere.

ROSIN: Spiked hair.

COHEN: My mom put a little bit of makeup on me.

ROSIN: And then he and his entourage headed to midtown Manhattan. They slipped into the NBC building, headed right back out the revolving doors...

COHEN: As though I just maybe got off of "Jimmy Fallon," maybe I was just a guest on the show.

ROSIN: And...

(CHEERING)

ROSIN: People go crazy. This is actual tape from the day. His friend Edward filmed it. In it, you can see Brett trying to walk down the block, but circles of fans keep surrounding him. In fact, he can't get half a block without a mob forming around him. Edward stands next to him interviewing people.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

EDWARD STURM: Do you know Brett Cohen?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah.

STURM: Where do you know him from?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He's Spider-Man.

STURM: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah.

STURM: Yeah, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Very, very good actor.

STURM: So you liked him then?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, yeah.

ROSIN: And then there were the groupies, the adoring and very attractive groupies.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STURM: Guys, what was it like meeting Brett?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, my God. Best day of my life. I love him.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Can I just say that he's beautiful?

COHEN: You know, not to say anything about those girls, but I definitely think I could have gotten any of their numbers or, you know, hung out with them. I'm not saying anything else would've happened, but, like, I think I definitely had a little bit more pull there than I normally would.

ROSIN: And then a few hours into the night, something unexpected happened to Brett. It happened at a Walgreens in midtown. It was a humid day. And Brett and his crew needed some water, so they walked into the store. And they're waiting in line.

COHEN: And two security guards came up to me. They said, sir, is everything OK? I said, yes. He said is there a problem? Like, what's going on? I said I'm just buying some water. What do you mean? And then he just pointed. And about 50 to 60 people followed me in and were taking pictures of me waiting in line.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMERA SNAPPING PHOTOS)

COHEN: Me.

ROSIN: And Brett says seeing all those people - something cracked open inside him.

COHEN: It was just really crazy. All these complete strangers were just completely fawning over me, and...

ROSIN: He knew he was supposed to feel disgust and contempt but...

COHEN: I was loving it.

ROSIN: Staring into the eyes of all those adoring strangers, a new question floated into his mind.

COHEN: How do I now shed this?

ROSIN: How could he shake this off? He'd started out faking it, but now you really wanted it.

COHEN: Yeah.

ROSIN: At some point in the night, this role he'd been playing - it had become him.

COHEN: It's sort of an irreversible thing. How do you go from being the center of attention of all these people to just like, all right, well, I want to just go home. Like, walking away from it was the hard part.

ROSIN: And the switch that happened to Brett - that's what we're talking about today, when you take on the trappings of something, like just step into a role. Can it change you more deeply on the inside? This is an idea that's really trendy right now - fake it 'til you make it, power-posing - that thing where you just step into a confident position and somehow that's supposed to make you feel more confident, smile therapy, just turn your lips upwards, and you'll feel more happy or, you know, surround yourself with an entourage, and you'll go from being a celebrity skeptic to being a wannabe.

COHEN: I was just on cloud nine. I was just so happy. How ironic is that?

ROSIN: In Brett's case, the taste for celebrity hasn't left him. After the video of his experiment went viral, an LA production company approached him to see if he wanted to host his own reality show. That show never got off the ground, but four years later, he still wants his moment of fame.

COHEN: Do I think it would be awesome? Yeah, I mean, I would love to give that a shot (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I love him.

COHEN: How could I say no to that?

ROSIN: Yeah.

COHEN: How could I say no to that?

ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

ALIX SPIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Alix Spiegel. INVISIBILIA is a show about all of the invisible things that shape human behavior - our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and today we ask this question - can change happen in this way from the outside in? If you just rearrange something on the surface, does the inside follow? We look at the first all-female debate team in Rwanda. We have an app that inserts itself into a 40-year relationship between two twins. And finally...

ROSIN: We take you to the beach because what better way to end our season than at the beach?

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

ROSIN: So let's get started.

SPIEGEL: OK. So for our first piece, we are going big.

ROSIN: As in, an entire country big. We are going to tell the story of Rwanda.

SPIEGEL: Specifically whether that country can change itself from the outside in. To look at that question, here's NPR's Gregory Warner.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: This is the story of a college debate team that basically had to argue against its own existence.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Our story begins in a crowded classroom in Rwanda. It's filled with spectators and judges and lots of excited college students.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Good morning, judges, opposers, proposers...

WARNER: Up at the front is the first all-women debate team in Rwanda.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: And we're here to support the motion that states that...

WARNER: They're all students at another first - Rwanda's first women-only college. It's called the Akilah Institute. Samiah Millycent is an English teacher and the coach of the team.

SAMIAH MILLYCENT: OK. The debate team was actually established in the month of March.

WARNER: March of 2015.

MILLYCENT: So within the same week...

WARNER: And no sooner did they form the club than they're invited to participate in a national competition against the best teams in the country.

MILLYCENT: And we were only given two weeks.

WARNER: Two weeks?

MILLYCENT: Yes.

WARNER: OK.

So Samiah races around to recruit students who are good enough at English and want to debate.

MILLYCENT: We actually picked out a few students whom we talked to and asked them if they'd be willing to participate in the debate and represent Akilah.

ALAINE INGARIRI: Yeah. My name is Alaine Ingariri (ph).

FRANCOISE NYIRATUNGA: My name is Francoise Nyiratunga.

SONIA RUGWIRO: Sonia Rugwiro.

PHYLIS KABANO: Phylis Kabano.

MIREILLE UMUTONI SEKAMANA: My name is Mireille Umutoni Sekamana.

WARNER: Mireille Umutoni agrees to be the team captain. She'd actually done a little debate in high school, but she was nervous because they were the first all-female team.

SEKAMANA: They were saying that you're going to be meeting boys, boys, boys.

WARNER: So they head into that first debate.

MILLYCENT: The first team that we met in March was the Kigali Institute College of Science and Technology.

WARNER: Or KIST for short.

NYIRATUNGA: And they told us we're going to debate with KIST.

WARNER: Which you can kind of think of as Rwanda's version of MIT.

NYIRATUNGA: The champion.

MILLYCENT: So...

WARNER: They arrive at 8 a.m.

MILLYCENT: And by a quarter to 9, we were out of the competition.

WARNER: It's over by 8:45.

MILLYCENT: We call it a disaster, so most of the girls cried.

SEKAMANA: Some of our team members cried.

WARNER: Part of the reason they lost is 'cause they hadn't mastered the rules. But the other reason they lost is because they were acting like girls.

MARTINE DUSHIME: I've been debating since my senior four in high school.

WARNER: This acting like girls line - I actually heard it from the one woman on the opposing team. Her name is Martine Dushime.

DUSHIME: I love debating. That is who I am.

WARNER: And when I asked her how was it that you were the only woman on the boys team...

Why is that?

DUSHIME: Why is it that I was the only girl?

WARNER: She says...

DUSHIME: Whenever you're choosing a team, it always has to be you sending in your best players.

WARNER: Well, they chose the best students to represent, and I was chosen.

DUSHIME: So I went, as simple as that.

WARNER: But Martine is the one who looked at the Akilah team and thought...

DUSHIME: They were just women - they are acting like women - shy, quiet - and the voice does not go high - too much high. That is the Rwandan lady culture. You have to be humble, speak slowly and all that. And that does not match with the debate seriously.

WARNER: Even the Akilah team captain Mireille Umutoni said she felt this. It was like to win a debate, her teammates needed to sound more like Martine - brash and confident, but they didn't. Instead, they sounded like the old stereotype of a traditional Rwandan woman - soft-spoken, submissive, even shy.

SEKAMANA: Some of my teammates were shy like - as if, like, they are holding something back.

WARNER: Now, to be fair, this team of all-women debaters are not the only women in Rwanda who have been thrust into a position which they are completely unprepared for. Many of the women in Rwanda have had to take on new roles.

JUSTINE UVUZA: Hello?

WARNER: Justine, can hear me?

UVUZA: Yeah, nice to meet you.

WARNER: So I call up someone who saw this firsthand.

Let me just start by having you, you know, introduce yourself.

UVUZA: OK, I'm Dr. Justine Uvuza. I'm 42.

WARNER: This is Justine. She's Rwandan.

UVUZA: Yeah, I was born in Rwanda, but...

WARNER: She spent her childhood in Uganda.

UVUZA: And then returned to Rwanda after '94.

WARNER: Wow, so you came back in 1994, and you came back to this Rwanda that was devastated.

UVUZA: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The almost unimaginable killing continued today in this central African nation of Rwanda.

WARNER: So it's safe to say that if you know any story about Rwanda, it is likely this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The carnage was getting even worse.

WARNER: In the span of about 100 days back in the spring of 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: I think I can say that what I saw was probably about the most horrific sights I have ever come across.

WARNER: There was a genocide against one ethnic group.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Soldiers from the Hutu tribe are hacking women and children to death.

WARNER: And by the end of it...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...Corpses litter the roads.

WARNER: ...More than 10 percent of Rwanda's population was dead.

UVUZA: Yeah, including my father, my siblings, aunties and uncles and other relatives.

WARNER: So Justine, she shows up after the genocide.

UVUZA: I was - actually, I think I was 20.

WARNER: Her family's just been killed and her country is just broken.

UVUZA: You can imagine the situation was just horrible, sickness, hunger, homelessness, guilt of what their relatives have done.

WARNER: But then...

UVUZA: ...When I returned to Rwanda...

WARNER: She discovers something.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: She walks into the butcher shop. It's a woman cutting the meat.

UVUZA: Yeah.

WARNER: That's weird. So then she walks into a public office and it's a woman doing the accounting, and that's odd.

UVUZA: Also the legal system.

WARNER: And then she walks into a court of law, which is such a male space, and there's a woman who's handling cases, a young woman.

UVUZA: Yeah, all types of jobs.

WARNER: Justine says the reason why is...

UVUZA: It's the men mostly who perpetuated the genocide...

WARNER: The men have been killed or arrested or fled.

UVUZA: ...Leaving back big number of women. The records show that there was 70 percent women in Rwanda. And a big number...

WARNER: Seventy - 70 percent, yeah.

UVUZA: Yeah, 70, or even more.

WARNER: And, you know, these women weren't raised to work in courthouses or butcheries.

UVUZA: Most of whom were not empowered in any way or education wise or business wise.

WARNER: Because back before the genocide, Rwanda was a traditional patriarchy. Not only were women not educated, it was almost unknown for them to own land or get a job.

UVUZA: And now they had to step in to survive.

WARNER: And this part of the story, where a big war means the men are gone and women fill those jobs, that's a story we have heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSIE THE RIVETER")

FOUR VAGABONDS: (Singing) She's making history, working for victory, Rosie the Riveter...

WARNER: Remember, the Second World War brought women in America out of the home into the workplace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFED MAN #3: How do you like it?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: I love it.

WARNER: But it would take decades more for women to compare experiences with each other and, you know, do consciousness-raising groups and kind of work out in their mind what a different life might look like and then launch this huge movement demanding women's liberation.

And that is how the advancement of women usually goes. It's a pretty incremental, psychological evolution where women come to see themselves differently and then demand that the rest of society do the same...

UVUZA: Yeah.

WARNER: ...Except...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: ...In Rwanda, that's not what happened.

PAUL KAGAME: The General Assembly, excellences, distinguished ladies and gentleman...

WARNER: Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, he and his government literally rewrote the constitution.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAGAME: Women have to be involved at all levels and in all activities meant for the development of our country.

WARNER: Rwanda was so demolished, remember, so broken, it just couldn't rebuild with men's labor alone. And so Kagame stepped forward with this grand vision of a new Rwanda, one that would not only play catch up to the West but actually leapfrog it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAGAME: To make sure that women are given their rightful place in our society.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Kagame and his government decreed that from now on, 30 percent of parliamentarians must be women. And they pledged that girls' education would be specifically encouraged, that women would be appointed as ministers and police chiefs. And Kagame could get away with this hugely ambitious plan to remake Rwandan society both because he had this popular mandate from heroically ending the genocide and because he is a strongman military leader who hardly allows any dissent or free speech. In Rwanda, his vision is the command.

UVUZA: Women's promotion is largely top down in Rwanda. It's not from activism or as a movement, like we have in the West, where we have had the different stages of feminism.

WARNER: And also unlike the Western version of this history, in Rwanda, women's empowerment was not about equal rights for women. It actually wasn't a battle for women at all.

UVUZA: This is not a battle for women. This is a battle for men and women.

WARNER: It was about what's good for Rwanda. The cause was always the country, not the women.

UVUZA: We have to help each other to develop this country.

WARNER: And today, 64 percent of the people in Parliament are women. That's a global record.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Last year, in a ranking of countries by how they'd squared the gender gap, Rwanda came in sixth. That's sixth in the world after being a total patriarchy just 20 years ago. While the United States - with its many decades of women's movements, the United States ranked 28th.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: And the success of Rwanda kind of begs this question, like, is it possible for a country to wake up one morning and decree that there will be a dramatic social change, to say, we're just going to leapfrog all that messy civil conflict and go straight to the progressive policies? We're going to be a new nation from now on. And then that dramatic change just happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Or does change not really work that way? Well, that brings us back to our team of women debaters.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: Now women have skills.

WARNER: They were all born after the genocide...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: Women are creating their own businesses.

WARNER: ...Into this new Rwanda that was clearly very different from the country their mothers were born into.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: Educate a girl, inspire a community, transform a nation.

(APPLAUSE)

WARNER: Still, there were ghosts to grapple with.

SEKAMANA: I enjoy debating, yeah. From my childhood, like...

WARNER: This again is Mireille Umutoni, the captain of the Akilah team. Talking to her you can see that she really embraces this idea that she was born to debate.

SEKAMANA: I ask a lot of questions.

WARNER: But in high school clubs, she always felt kind of sidelined by the boys in her class.

SEKAMANA: Yeah, like, when you - for example, when you are choosing leaders for clubs...

WARNER: Mireille says she would try to be the head of her club.

SEKAMANA: It was always expected that the head should be a boy.

UVUZA: And she would stand up in front of her whole class, and she would say...

SEKAMANA: Why can't the chief and then assistant be all girls? And they would say that - that's for Americans.

WARNER: That's for Americans.

SEKAMANA: You are trying to be Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: In the new Rwanda, that was the shorthand for too selfish, too liberated. It translated into, you're doing this for yourself, not for the good of the country.

SEKAMANA: You know, you are trying to rule us. For you don't deserve to be in Rwanda. You don't even deserve to be in Africa.

WARNER: In fact, that is a big part of the reason why Mireille decided to go to an all-girls school in the first place. She wanted to find a place where girls could lead clubs and ask tough questions and debate without worrying about seeming too selfish. But, well, you saw how that turned out.

MILLYCENT: By quarter to 9, we were out of the competition.

Call it a disaster.

WARNER: And so after the catastrophe at the first debate, all the girls on the team got together and they decided that they needed to do something to really transform themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLYCENT: So we had to sit down and make sure that our girls feel powerful enough to take on anybody.

WARNER: Samiah Millycent, debate team coach, says she had to make the debaters feel like winners, even though the entire debating community of Rwanda thought of them as losers. So first, they learned all the rules of this style of debate. They practiced and they practiced, and each time they practiced they played this game.

MILLYCENT: So there is a little game that we'd play every day when we'd meet, and we used to call it the power game.

WARNER: And Samiah turned for help to an idea, an idea from a very, very popular TED talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

AMY CUDDY: So I want to start by offering you a free no-tech life hack. And all it requires of you is this - that you change your posture for two minutes.

WARNER: This is a clip from that talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

CUDDY: ...Two minutes, two minutes, two minutes.

WARNER: It's been viewed, like, 35 million times. But in case you missed it, this is Amy Cuddy. She's a professor at Harvard Business School, and she argues that you can radically change your inner state by taking on these brief poses.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

CUDDY: Two minutes and you get these changes.

WARNER: Like, say you're in the bathroom right before a job interview, you stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes - so legs apart, hands on hips - you will feel more confident, more relaxed, more in control. You will do better on that interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

CUDDY: So we know that our minds change our bodies. But is it also true that our bodies change our minds?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: In other words, can you change from the outside in? Now, in psychology, there is a lot of dispute about this, specifically Amy Cuddy's work is fairly controversial because people have not been able to replicate it. But the girls didn't know that. All they knew is that they needed some kind of strategy to change who they were on that debating stage.

MILLYCENT: Yeah. So we'd all move to the back of the room.

WARNER: And so one by one, they would confidently say something to remind everyone there that they are powerful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEKAMANA: Hey, people, are you ready for the debate today?

WARNER: Saying out loud...

NYIRATUNGA: I'm a debater, and I'm the winner today.

WARNER: And week after week they repeated this.

SEKAMANA: Come on. Know that we are going to win this debate.

WARNER: Willing themselves to believe that it was true.

NYIRATUNGA: I'm a debater, and I'm the winner today.

WARNER: In a way, the girls were just doing what their country had done. They were taking on this new pose, looking in the mirror and declaring themselves to be new and better and hopefully more successful.

MILLYCENT: The daily message was that the next time we step on the podium, we are going to prove to people that we are not what they think we are. We are much more than what they see.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: How that plan worked out, we'll find out when INVISIBILIA returns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Here's a great way to listen to INVISIBILIA. The NPR One app, it's kind of like Pandora but for public radio. It's full of news and podcasts, including INVISIBILIA. Whenever you're ready to listen, NPR One has something great just for you. Find it in your app store - NPR O-N-E.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And Alix Spiegel. Today, we have a story about the first all-female debate team in Rwanda and their quest to remake themselves, a story, which, in important ways, mirrors what happened more generally with women in Rwanda. In the wake of the genocide, Rwanda has become, at least in terms of its official ranking, one of the most progressive countries in terms of gender. Sixty-four percent of the parliament is female - more than any other place in the world - and that happened very quickly. So almost overnight, women in Rwanda had to be very different people than they were raised to be. So the question is, when you take an aggressive shortcut like that, how deep does the change truly go? NPR's Gregory Warner continues his story.

WARNER: So when we left off our story, the debate team of Akilah was turning to power posing to transform themselves. But for the mothers of these girls, and really the whole older generation of women in Rwanda, there was no system, no scientific method, to tell them how to live these new lives that had been decreed upon them from up high. So in 2009, Justine Uvuza, the woman you heard from before who returned to Rwanda after the genocide, she was getting her Ph.D. and she got curious about her generation. What happened when her peers were going out into the workplace, getting seats in parliament but also getting married and starting families. What had that changed inside?

UVUZA: Their lives, the ways that this is lived in their homes, in the private.

WARNER: And she sat down with some of the most powerful women politicians in Rwanda.

UVUZA: And I'm interviewing them on issues that relate to their personal lives, of balancing politics and family.

WARNER: And when she conducted her research, what she found with rare exception was that no matter how powerful these women were in public, that power seemed not to pass the front door of their own home.

UVUZA: One told me how her husband expected her to make sure that his shoes were polished, the water put in the bathroom for him, his clothes were ironed.

WARNER: And he wanted not only his shoes laid out in the morning but his socks to be put on top of the shoes. And he wanted it done by his wife. And this is a woman who is a member of parliament.

UVUZA: Most of them talked about stories like that.

WARNER: It almost seemed like the more powerful a woman became the more she was expected to do these ceremonial domestic duties. And Justine says it was not an option to outsource it to a maid or get your husband to do more.

UVUZA: I think in my research I term it as being a good woman, what the Rwandan culture perceives as a good woman.

WARNER: Because to be a good Rwandan woman meant being patriotic, going out into the workforce, serving your country. It also meant being docile and serving your husband.

UVUZA: Yeah. These women are still expected to be very good traditional women and be also very good political women.

WARNER: And so you could have the situation where a woman stands up in parliament, advocates for issues like stronger penalties for sexual violence and subsidized maxi pads for the poor, that same politician could find herself scared to speak out about what's going on in her own home.

UVUZA: There's this feeling of loneliness and isolation. One of my respondents didn't talk about her own experience, but she said that she had had several cases of women in politics who were talking about being physically abused by their husbands. And because they are public figures, they can't even pursue justice because once they try to pursue justice, then the media and everybody is going to take up - it up and then it's going to rebuttal on the woman's career.

WARNER: There was even this one woman.

UVUZA: She said I think I'm committing suicide. Why should we put women in that situation?

WARNER: And so Justine would end each interview asking what seemed to her like kind of an obvious question. Would these women support a Rwandan women's movement? Didn't have to look exactly like the Western version but some way in which Rwandan women could challenge the gender stereotypes. And all of them said no.

UVUZA: They couldn't take that step because women's promotion was still very fragile.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: And Justine thinks that it is because of the way that women's promotion came, you know, so rapidly to Rwanda from the top down, from the outside in, that it made it harder to complain about it without feeling like a traitor.

UVUZA: I think it's the debate I wish that can be engaged with in Rwanda.

WARNER: It's the debate she's been waiting for.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8: Good morning, judges.

WARNER: So let's go back to our team of debaters. For months, they've been practicing power poses, doing mock debates, and they show up for another countrywide competition.

SEKAMANA: I was so nervous, yeah.

NYIRATUNGA: And in the morning we came.

MILLYCENT: So we get there and they just look at us like look at these people. Do they even know why they're here?

WARNER: She says the people were literally pointing, laughing, saying really? They're back?

Do you remember any of that, people saying that?

DUSHIME: I was among the ones that said that (laughter). Don't tell them.

WARNER: This is Martine from the KIST team again, who of course was laughing, too.

DUSHIME: Yeah, I felt very confident with Akilah.

MILLYCENT: Then, before we know it, the emcee takes over and starts introducing the schools.

WARNER: The emcee is introducing the schools, saying here we have the debaters from KIST and here we have the debaters from Kepler. And then...

MILLYCENT: And when he gets to Akilah, he says...

SEKAMANA: The ladies from Akilah.

WARNER: The ladies from Akilah.

SEKAMANA: (Laughter) Yeah.

MILLYCENT: And it was being said in a sarcastic way and we're like, God.

WARNER: And one of the guys apparently...

SEKAMANA: At some point, like...

WARNER: Either another contestant or a member of the audience said...

SEKAMANA: He was saying something like...

WARNER: I feel feminism in the air.

SEKAMANA: Yeah, I can just sense feminism here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLYCENT: So we're like, God, why do people just have to look at us and feel like, you know, we don't deserve to be standing on the same podium with them? So I told the girls, girls, the task that we have today is to show these people that we didn't come to just grace the occasion. We came to take the trophy with us. So with that they got into the brainstorming sessions.

WARNER: And so then it's time for each team to send up a representative to choose their first opponent and...

MILLYCENT: To make it worse, they go to the ballot and the team they pick is the College of Science and Technology.

WARNER: Martine's team, you know, MIT.

MILLYCENT: The very team that beat Akilah in the March competitions is the very team that Akilah had to meet first.

DUSHIME: I was so confident. Like, I knew I debated with these people, and they were so much poor. Like, just women, girls.

WARNER: Next the judges have to choose which topic they're going to debate. And there are eight possible topics, all announced the night before. The one topic that the Akilah team wants, the topic they know they're going to rock, is the one that says this house believes that developing countries should adopt Western feminism. And they want it because this phrase Western feminism is a symbol for all the ways that they hope to change their relationships with men, demanding real equality at home. And so the judges get up on stage. They take the mic, and they say, the topic that the Akilah team will debate is...

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

MILLYCENT: This house believes that developing countries should adopt Western feminism.

WARNER: Yes. They are so excited, and now they go off to choose the piece of paper that will tell them which side of this debate position they will be arguing.

MILLYCENT: We go to the ballot again. And we are on the opposing side.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: They have chosen at random that they have to argue against.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9: First, scream, oh, God, please help me, like...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9: What are we going to say, like...

WARNER: So just to be clear, to win this debate, they basically have to argue against their team's whole existence.

NYIRATUNGA: How am I going to say that actually this is something that is not good?

WARNER: Just think about that for a minute. What a catch-22 this is. To win, you have to convincingly argue that you are less than the men. If you fail to convince anyone of that argument and you lose, then you show by losing that you are less than the men.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: So the first team to speak is not Akilah, but the side arguing for Western feminism - KIST, the KIST School. And Martine, the only woman on that team, gets on stage and makes this argument, that Western feminism - it's really...

DUSHIME: Women standing on their ground and saying, we want this and fighting for it.

WARNER: It's Rwandan women getting involved in their own movement.

DUSHIME: Not hiding behind the government policies.

WARNER: And that is the natural next step in Rwanda's cultural evolution.

DUSHIME: Yeah, I told them so.

WARNER: But in the minutes before the Akilah team took their place onstage, Mireille and the team dug down deep, deep into their past. For Mireille specifically, she recalled this song. It's a Rwandan pop song from the 1980s and it's got this line in it.

SEKAMANA: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: The man is the boss. The woman is his servant.

SEKAMANA: Yeah, it's like the man is the head. It's like the man is the leader of the home.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

WARNER: And Mireille and the other girls start think of all these other phrases that they've heard over the years, phrases that are flung even today at women who stand up for themselves.

SEKAMANA: That's for Americans. You are trying to be Americans.

WARNER: Phrases they'd heard from their uncles, their teachers.

NYIRATUNGA: Women are no longer taking care of the families.

WARNER: Phrases meant to make women feel like putting their own interests first was egotistical, unpatriotic.

SEKAMANA: They're wasting a lot of money.

WARNER: Or scandalous and attention-seeking.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: Rihanna, Beyonce walking half-naked.

WARNER: And so the team pulls this kind of ninja move where they go up on stage and they start channeling all of these things that they have heard throughout their entire lives.

SEKAMANA: That's for Americans.

WARNER: And kind of boldly, confidently say all of these things that are said to women to make them feel small.

NYIRATUNGA: Women are no longer taking care of the families.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #11: Just women.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #12: The head should be...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #13: ...Quiet, shy.

MILLYCENT: The man is always the head. There is nobody that is controlled by two heads. You can only work as a neck to help the head turn in whatever direction you want.

WARNER: And Mireille says she had this moment there on stage, looking out over the sea of mostly men's faces, knowing that there were government officials there in the audience. And she could tell that what her team was saying, it was striking a chord. And she had this moment of thinking like, oh, no.

SEKAMANA: Is it that this can't change?

WARNER: Was this argument that she herself didn't at all believe...

SEKAMANA: The man is the head.

WARNER: ...Was it actually true? Was it true that being a good Rwandan would always be at odds with being an outspoken Rwandan woman?

MILLYCENT: So the girls really put up a spirited fight.

NYIRATUNGA: We debated, we debated.

WARNER: And they won (laughter).

(APPLAUSE)

WARNER: At this point, they honestly did not know - did they win because they were superior debaters and they had this newfound confidence or because they were so confidently arguing for the status quo? When I raised this with the Akilah team in our interview about four months later, they had decided they didn't care how they won because they won.

NYIRATUNGA: It feels good when you actually convince the judge so that the judge says you know, you are the winners.

WARNER: And because of the confidence boost they got from arguing what they totally did not believe...

NYIRATUNGA: Like to say a shoe is not a shoe, and you convince someone that a shoe is actually not a shoe. So you feel more confident.

WARNER: ...That confidence carried them to victory in the next room, debating a totally different topic not about women at all.

(APPLAUSE)

WARNER: And they won the round after that. They took home the trophy.

(APPLAUSE)

WARNER: And since then, as the team has continued to compete, they've gained a substantial following of fans made up of young women - some of whom have joined the debate club, others who have launched their own all-women's teams at other schools.

SEKAMANA: Because, like, when we won - yeah, it was like a motivation to even other girls.

WARNER: So can a country change from the outside in? The answer Justine gave me is that real change always takes time. And taking a shortcut - it can get you somewhere fast, but leave the next generation to have to circle back and pick up what was left behind.

UVUZA: It's those young generations now who have to stand up and say, yeah we are challenging this, these power dynamics and the relations within the family.

WARNER: She told me that after all her interviews with the women politicians, she had to destroy the transcripts of those conversations. It was part of the rules of her research. But for some of the women, it was the only way she could get them to talk to her, if they knew it was secret. And so after all these conversations, she erased the tapes. And then she took the typed transcripts and, page by page, set them on fire.

UVUZA: Like, completely burnt.

WARNER: Did you watch them being burned?

UVUZA: I did burn them myself.

WARNER: She hopes that one day the stories that were on those pages will be able to be heard in Rwanda. And then the whole country will have that debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: That was Gregory Warner. He's working on a new international podcast for NPR. Keep an ear out for him.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA will be back in a minute.

Hey, you guys. If you enjoyed Gregory Warner's story about the Rwandan girls' debate team, then check this out. NPR's global health blog, called Goats and Soda, wants to know what does being a feminist mean in your country? What are the invisible forces, the belief systems, ideas, assumptions and emotions that shape that definition? Tell us your stories and your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #feminisminmycountry. The Goats and Soda blog will share a few of your responses in a post next week. You can find links to all of this and much more npr.org/invisibilia.

ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: All right, so we just heard a story about change from the outside in that stopped at the family door. And now we're going to go behind the family door.

SPIEGEL: We have a story about twins and a piece of technology which comes in from the outside and inserts itself between these two people at this really critical time in their lives, when one of them is really, really sick. P.J. Vogt of the awesome show "Reply All," a show about technology - but it's actually about a lot more than technology - is telling the story, a very personal story about his mom and her twin sister and how an app changed their relationship.

P J VOGT: My mom, Nancy, is an identical twin. She and her sister, Kim, have the same face, the same voice. They both own tiny poodles for some reason. But the one big difference between them is that Kim has Type 1 diabetes, and she's had a lot of complications from it.

KIM: Honestly, I thank god I got diabetes because I couldn't stand to watch to watch this in Nancy. And I'm glad I'm the one who goes first, who will die first, because I would die if Nancy died. That's how I really feel.

VOGT: When they were kids, my mom and Kim were inseparable. They slept in the same bed. They shared everything. They were like one person in two bodies. And then Kim got sick. They were at camp. They were 10 years old. They'd been put in different bunks, and Kim started feeling mysteriously ill. Here's my aunt Kim.

KIM: In the middle of the night, I would go walk across the campus and get in her bed, and I would cry.

VOGT: Here's my mom, Nancy.

NANCY: Crying because her stomach hurt. I mean, she really felt bad. And also she was eating, like, three huge, six huge meals a day. She was eating more than we ever eat, and she was getting really skinny.

KIM: And she wrote mom and dad a letter and said, Kim's not OK. Kim's not OK. There's something wrong. There's something wrong.

NANCY: And the camp director called me in and said, what's this about? And she would not send that postcard and she would not let me call my parents.

VOGT: When they got home, Kim immediately went to a doctor and she got her diagnosis. They kept her in the hospital for two weeks. It was literally the first time they've been apart apart. And Kim says she remembers the day that my mom was finally allowed to visit.

KIM: Nancy came to the hospital with a mouse in her pocket. Our mouse.

VOGT: You guys had a mouse?

NANCY: A gerbil.

KIM: I just remember that I wasn't supposed to go beyond these doors. And whoever Nancy was with took my hand and led me out those doors. And then Nancy got in my clothes so that she could go see what my room looked like.

(LAUGHTER)

KIM: I can't remember whether we kept the gerbil in her pocket when she went in there.

VOGT: Kim and my mom both say that when Kim got home from the hospital, the grown-ups didn't really show up.

NANCY: My mother, like, never learned how to give her a shot, never learned how to take care of her diabetes.

KIM: Dad used to say, Kim, eat that cake, live a little.

VOGT: That summer, this pit of despair started to grow inside my mom. She would watch as her sister collapsed and went into convulsions, and she had no idea if Kim was about to die, if the next collapse would hit in five minutes or later that afternoon or tomorrow. Kim, like her parents, wanted to ignore the problem. It made her feel bad to think about diabetes. She definitely did not want to talk to my mom about it. But for my mom, it was all she could focus on.

NANCY: I was always worried about Kim, all the time. And I would just always be ready to drop things and go help her when I needed to help her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VOGT: And so for the past five decades, they have basically been locked in the dynamic that got set that summer. My mom tries to fix everything. Kim ends up feeling like she can never get away from being the patient, like she's a problem child.

KIM: Like, no, no, you're taking care of me again. Stop taking care of me. You know, being seen as the person who can't take care of herself or needs help, you know, that's a - that's a bad feeling. I want to be me and that I have a life outside of this. Can we talk on that level? Can we be at that level?

VOGT: Kim probably gets it worse than anybody, but my mom is an Olympic gold medal level worrier. She's that way with all the people she loves to some extent. And the best strategy I found for dealing with this is just to stay off her radar. With varying levels of success, I've hidden a motorcycle from my mom, a trip to Cuba, an H1N1 diagnosis.

Avoidance seems to work, and that's why I was so shocked to learn about this choice that Kim had made. Kim had decided to put herself on my mom's radar in a huge way. She decided to give her unrestricted 24-hour a day access to her body and her vital signs. This didn't seem like a great idea. So this whole crazy plan involves a device and an app that goes with it, and Kim showed me both of them.

KIM: There's a little needle that goes into my body.

VOGT: It's a medical device. It's a monitor which plugs into Kim's body into her stomach and then it connects to her phone.

KIM: I think it blew tubes with...

VOGT: Bluetooth.

KIM: Bluetooth with the receiver.

VOGT: This is, like, the world that I understand and the world you understand suddenly overlapping.

KIM: (Laughter).

VOGT: Kim's phone can broadcast her glucose number, the number that more than anything tells you about her moment-to-moment health as a diabetic to anybody in the world - her husband, her doctor. And as soon as she got it, of course she knew that my mom would want in.

KIM: When I first got this, PJ, for the first year I had it, I didn't say anything to Nancy...

VOGT: (Laughter).

KIM: ...That we could share, you know, that I could share this information. I did not want to be monitored. I didn't want my life to be monitored. It was like, holy [expletive]. No.

VOGT: But Kim made a mistake. She was visiting my mom and she happened to check the app in front of her.

KIM: She said, I want to do that (laughter). And I said no.

(LAUGHTER)

KIM: And she said, Kim, I'm going to be a lot less anxious with that thing on my phone than I am with that thing off my phone. OK. We'll try it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VOGT: And pretty much immediately this worsened the dynamic between my mom and Kim. Kim says that my mom was checking the app three or four times an hour.

KIM: She'll wake up in the middle of the night and look at the CGM. She'll look at my numbers on her cellphone, and a couple of times she called when my sugar was high and then I...

VOGT: There were weeks of this, weeks where, depending on who you believe, either Kim was having a near-death experience every single night that only my mom was noticing and so my mom had to wake her up or my mom's normal level of worry had kicked into overdrive. In any case, nobody slept. But after those first few weeks, Kim says things changed. Before the app, they'd have a lot of conversations where Kim would have visibly gotten sick in some way, gone into convulsions or gotten manic. And my mom would ask her a bunch of questions that amounted to basically, what did you do wrong? And so maybe without them noticing, this story started to develop that Kim was just not doing a good job at diabetes. She was failing the test, and she felt horrible about it.

KIM: If I got a high level of sugar, I'd want to hurt myself. I just felt I'm bad.

VOGT: But with this technology probing inside of her body, measuring her blood sugar every second of every day, they now have a record of all of it, her highs, her lows, her just rights. And one of the things it shows them is just how complex and confounding diabetes is.

KIM: She more clearly sees and I more clearly see - maybe more importantly I clearly see you can do the same things day after day and the blood sugar results will be different.

NANCY: Kim blames everything on herself, and none of this is her fault.

VOGT: So now my mom can see the good days and she can talk to Kim about those.

KIM: Nancy will say, Kim, Kim, Kim, you had a good day today, objectively. Look at it.

VOGT: The irony is that they're noticing these good days as these good days are actually getting rarer. Kim's much sicker than she's been in the past. She has gastroparesis, hypoglycemia unawareness. Basically, a lot of the instruments her body had for telling her when a crisis was nearing have failed. When they talk to me, they both talk about Kim dying as, like, a thing in the visible future that they take for granted. But when they talk to each other, the conversations they're having are really different. They're less about death or about diabetes. They're about this thing that Kim always wanted.

KIM: I want to be me and that I have a life outside of this. Can we talk on that level? Can we be on that level?

VOGT: My mom says she uses her phone to check up on Kim six to eight times over the course of the day. But many of those times are through the app without ever having to bother her. So when they do get on the phone, talking on the phone, they can talk about whatever they want. The other weekend, my sister was staying with my mom. And I asked her to just hit record on her iPhone when she saw my mom pick up the phone with Kim.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIM: Is it really - is the humidity just horrible?

NANCY: No, right now it's really nice. I rode this morning.

KIM: Wow, Nanny (ph).

VOGT: They talked about the stuff any two sisters would talk about.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY: There's a ton of algae and seaweed and stuff in the water, so it's really - because it's been so hot, we haven't had a lot of rain so it makes it hard to row.

KIM: 'Cause it gets tangled in the row.

NANCY: It gets tangled in the oar and pulls you over, right. What's going on with your polenta?

KIM: Really good.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Hanna.

ROSIN: Yeah.

SPIEGEL: Do you think that an app could change our relationship?

ROSIN: Yeah.

SPIEGEL: What would it be?

ROSIN: It would be, like, an app that continually transmits the truth to you, which is Hanna's right and you are wrong. And it just reminds you of that eternal truth.

SPIEGEL: Speaking of eternal truth, we turn now to a perversion of the eternal truth that you can redeem yourself by going into nature. It's a story from our producer Yowei Shaw. She found this man who tried to change himself from the outside in through this kind of classic tried and true American way of going out into nature.

ROSIN: But it really doesn't work out the way you'd expect.

YOWEI SHAW, BYLINE: Jim Verhagen was one of the very first people consumed by the internet, a pioneer in a way. In the early '90s, before building websites was really a thing, he started a website building company. And he says almost immediately the web took its toll.

JIM VERHAGEN: I was skinny my whole life. I could eat anything I want and never gain a pound. And six months after starting my first company, I blew up like a balloon, absolutely blew up. And everybody was shocked. You know, I was definitely a workaholic. I would work from 7 to midnight every day.

SHAW: For how many years?

VERHAGEN: Fifteen years.

SHAW: The guy even worked on his honeymoon. Here's his wife Carolyn.

CAROLYN: We couldn't take a trip anywhere really. Like, it was always a problem.

VERHAGEN: The internet doesn't sleep. Nobody's willing to sit around while their website's down.

SHAW: Now, to be clear, Jim was a success, but still, the anxiety of living this way was constant. It felt overpowering.

VERHAGEN: What wasn't I worried about? Pick the day. We going to lose this big customer? Am I going to get hit by a bus? Is my wife going to wind up falling out of love with me? Is my daughter going to be a disaster when she turns into a teenager?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: And then, one summer, Jim and his family are at their vacation home on the Jersey Shore. And he meets someone standing in the hot sand who opens the door to a world he's never seen.

VERHAGEN: Oh, yeah, Mac Daddy without a doubt.

SHAW: Mac Daddy. Mac Daddy is not a cult leader or a hip-hop artist. He's a seagull.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAGULL CHIRPING)

VERHAGEN: (Laughter) At first, any seagull that looked like crap we called Mac Daddy. All the other seagulls have nice preen, smooth feathers, and his are always sticking out. He always looks like he had a rough night. His eyes look bloodshot.

SHAW: But after a while, Jim and his family begin to think that the same grizzled seagull is showing up every day.

VERHAGEN: And we realized that he foraged differently than the other birds. He actually would sit and watch the whole beach. And when somebody went into the water, he would run all the way across the beach to their camp and raid their food. He also seemed to know who had food and who didn't, who had easy food and who had hard food.

SHAW: Doritos in a bag - easy food. Cheez-Its in a box - hard food.

VERHAGEN: It was uncanny, and it was obvious that it was the same animal.

SHAW: And for some reason, focusing in on this one animal changes the way Jim looks at the entire beach, this place he's been coming his whole life. What previously had been a background scene with interchangeable parts suddenly becomes very specific.

VERHAGEN: I never looked at the animals on the beach that way. Oh, there are some gulls. Not there's these six gulls. Once you see that, it's very hard to unsee it.

SHAW: Just think about what that means. That squirrel you passed on the sidewalk, that rat in the subway tunnel - all at once, those were not just random animals to Jim.

SHAW: They were individuals, and in Mac Daddy's case an individual Jim wanted to know better and stalk with a fancy camera.

VERHAGEN: Yes, absolutely (laughter).

SHAW: He gets a shot of the little guy strolling alone at sunset, a picture of him puking up crab for his kids and shots of him sparring with another seagull.

VERHAGEN: He came back, and he got beat out.

SHAW: How did - you saw that happen? You saw that battle happen?

VERHAGEN: I saw that battle happen.

SHAW: The photos begin to weave together a clear sense not just of Mac Daddy's personality and life, but of a whole bunch of lives that had been invisible to Jim before.

VERHAGEN: Osprey, least terns, black skimmers, piping plover, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, snowy owls, of course.

SHAW: Now, this should be the point in the story where nature comforts the screen-obsessed workaholic, where a charismatic seagull magically transforms a man. And then he writes a book and goes on a speaking tour or something. But in Jim's case, that's not what happened exactly.

VERHAGEN: OK, you ready?

SHAW: What happens is the stressed out Internet guy, he takes this newfound feeling of connection with his brethren creatures at the beach and he gets on the Internet again and posts photos to his personal blog.

VERHAGEN: This is my website, Readings From The Northside.

SHAW: This is not your average isn't Mother Earth amazing - photography blog. No, what Jim does is essentially create the TMZ or Perez Hilton version of a nature blog because alongside shockingly clear and intimate shots of Mac Daddy and the other animals on the beach, Jim is writing these really kind of gossipy reports.

VERHAGEN: Stewart's nemesis is estimated to be a 4-year-old female named Marjorie, street name Madge.

SHAW: There's Mr. Hambersome, the snowy owl.

Does he have a story, a personality?

VERHAGEN: He's a dick.

SHAW: And Jack and Wendy, the osprey couple, who OMG, seem to be headed for splitsville.

VERHAGEN: Turns out Jack was selfish. He's like a gorilla. He would bring his fish home that he's supposed to share, but he'd be like (imitating gorilla) he'd, like, hover over it.

SHAW: And of course, there are sex pics.

VERHAGEN: What appeared to be a battle for LBI turned out to probably be some sweet and incredibly violent eagle dating maneuvers.

SHAW: In other words, Jim is basically bringing the filthiest parts of the Internet to marine ornithology.

VERHAGEN: July 9 - LBI cribs, osprey edition.

SHAW: And just through word of mouth, Jim's humble little blog goes from just his family and friends reading it to a couple thousand subscribers.

TERESA HAGAN: I belong to the garden club, and everybody follows him. Everybody follows him.

SHAW: All these people reading gossip about birds that most people don't pay attention to or even like. Take Tacey and Tufters - or Taceters - an endangered piping plover version of Brangelina. They're animals that historically get a lot of flak because the beach areas where they nest get closed off for their protection. But on Jim's blog, they're stars.

HAGAN: They are incredibly good parents, even the father.

VERHAGEN: Tufters is very laid back.

JANICE YATES: Trying to please her and make the nest perfect.

VERHAGEN: Tacey is so uptight.

HAGAN: You know, until they get together again, you know everybody's, oh, where's Tacey, where's Tacey?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: Are you making up their lives, or are you describing their lives?

VERHAGEN: I'm going to say half and half or maybe 60-40 with 60 favoring the reality.

SHAW: How many hours do you think you spent shooting these animals and working on the blog by now?

VERHAGEN: I don't know. I guess I'd have to get a calculator and try to figure out - it's a lot. It's a ridiculous amount.

SHAW: Since starting the blog in 2009, Jim works less at his company now. But that hasn't translated into more R and R are with his family. In fact, his obsessive workaholism seems to just have transferred from the Internet to birds.

CAROLYN: Yeah, I would think - I think last year, he was gone almost half a year.

SHAW: At the Jersey Shore, 300 miles away from his family in Ithaca. His wife says it didn't used to be like this when Jim worked long hours but remotely from home.

CAROLYN: Yeah, no, we hardly ever did anything separately.

SHAW: Yeah, it seems a little - it seems a little, you know, crazy.

VERHAGEN: Yeah, to an outsider it doesn't add up.

CAROLYN: I'll be honest in saying that at times I had wished he was home or I was mad because I thought there was a skunk, a dead skunk underneath the porch. And I was like, oh, I wish he was here to deal with this. I need someone else to help me with this.

VERHAGEN: They're everything. I'm worthless without them. I mean, they are - they're everything. So being away was - yeah, it's painful.

SHAW: Did you ever have any doubts about what you're doing?

VERHAGEN: Absolutely. I had a lot of people telling me, like, you should go home and be with your family. You're staying here to take pictures of the be - like, this is stupid.

SHAW: And what did you say to those people?

VERHAGEN: I said, do you really think so? I wanted to know was I doing the wrong thing? Was I crazy?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: So the question is what is this all about then? I checked with readers of Jim's blog, including scientists and wildlife officials. And they say despite the rampant anthropomorphizing and maybe even because, the blog has actually done a lot of good through fundraising for conservation efforts and education. But Jim says that helping the animals, that's not what this is about, and it's not like he's making money either.

VERHAGEN: You have to throw away the photos and you have to throw away the blog. Those have nothing to do with it.

SHAW: Like, what is it about? Like, why are you doing this?

VERHAGEN: There's the dog. All right, that bodes very poorly for us.

SHAW: Jim took me to the beach to find Tufters and see for myself.

VERHAGEN: I thought I just heard a peeplo (ph), which is a piping plover call. They sound like this (imitating piping plover).

SHAW: We walk to the end of this wide shelly beach, and I've just given up hope when all of a sudden, a helicopter flies overhead.

VERHAGEN: There he is. He hates helicopters. Oh, he just made his cute face. He's making his cute face. Do you see him?

SHAW: Uhh...

VERHAGEN: If you want to see him through my lens, you're welcome to.

SHAW: Oh, my gosh, can I?

I look into Jim's camera and see a small bird with trembling white feathers. Cute, but I get bored of this pretty quickly. Jim, on the other hand, he sees himself.

VERHAGEN: See, when you see it in animals, when you see the kind of constant anxiety as we'd describe it that they have to live with, you realize that it's natural, that that's - that that state of constantly being kind of alert and a little concerned and watching your back...

Is my wife going to wind up falling out love with me? Am I going to lose this big customer? Constantly putting out fires. That's actually the natural state for a lot of animals. And so in a way it is for us.

SHAW: I followed up on this, and it's unclear if birds actually experience anxiety. But what is undeniable is that Jim has changed by not changing. The way nature stories usually go, you're disconnected from nature, then you unplug, then you lose yourself in the wilderness and let the peace and tranquility from the outside in. But what Jim did was find the same frenzy in the world outside him. And seeing it bare allowed him to accept the chaos inside himself. Like, the outside was the same as the inside.

VERHAGEN: Anyway, that's Tufters. I love you buddy.

SHAW: And probably the most surprising thing to me, I talked to his wife and daughter for a while, and they genuinely seem not to mind him being away so much. They're OK with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THEODORA ROSE: Well, of course, I miss him. I mean, he's my dad, and he really livens up our lives. He makes a lot of funny jokes, almost to the point where it's annoying.

CAROLYN: But we understand that that's what he needs to do.

THEODORA ROSE: I know that he's doing something that he really, really loves. And that makes me really happy, and I want him to be where he is happiest.

VERHAGEN: Oh, I love you, Tuffies. You see him?

SHAW: I do not see him.

VERHAGEN: Just kind of scan directly in front of us just very lightly. Don't focus on anything. Can you see him now? You can see...

SHAW: Oh, I see him, I see him, I see him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: And there you have season two.

LULU MILLER, HOST:

Only one last thing to do.

SPIEGEL: My favorite outside-in therapy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSIDE OUT")

CHIEFS AND NICK ACQUROFF: (Singing) La da, da, da, da...

SPIEGEL: I only dance by bending my knees.

MILLER: I noticed that.

SPIEGEL: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSIDE OUT")

CHIEFS AND NICK ACQUROFF: (Singing) All the way out from the inside.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is hosted by me, Alix Spiegel...

ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin.

MILLER: And me, Lulu Miller.

SPIEGEL: Our senior editor is Anne Gudenkauf.

ROSIN: Our executive producer is Jeff Rogers.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is produced by Yowei Shaw and Abby Wendle.

MILLER: With a large assist this week from the fabulous Andy Mills, who worked on Gregory Warner's piece about Rwanda.

ROSIN: With help from Liana Simons, Mathilde Piard, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Linda Nyakundi, Jay Sisk (ph).

SPIEGEL: Do you guys ever get sad that your name isn't Jay Sisk?

MILLER: Andy Huether, Meghan Keane, Karen Duffin, Nancy Shute, Meredith Rizzo...

ROSIN: Ramtim Arablouei, Mark Memmott, Rolando Arrieta, Michael May, Lowell Brower (ph), Maya Dukmasova and our vice president of programming, Anya Grundmann.

SPIEGEL: Special thanks to Chiefs and Nick Acquroff for letting us use their awesome song "Inside Out" to close out our show. There's more information about it on our website npr.org/invisibilia.

MILLER: If you want to keep in touch with what we're up to between now and season three, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSIDE OUT")

CHIEFS AND NICK ACQUROFF: (Singing) We're always stuck on the inside out. Have those schemes...

ROSIN: And now for a moment of non-zen.

SPIEGEL: Join us next week - don't, 'cause this is our last thing of the season.

ROSIN: No...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSIDE OUT")

CHIEFS AND NICK ACQUROFF: (Singing) On the inside out...

SPIEGEL: OK, so don't join us next week, but thank you, thank you, thank you for listening and for all of the support and love that you have sent to us. We are going to the beach and then we will be back hard at work to bring you Season 3. So stay tuned for more...

MILLER: (Whispering) INVISIBILIA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.