#VoicesOfIndia- Going unscripted with Bettina and Ninorah

Bettina and Ninorah, two beautiful and passionate NRI women, share their podcasting journey, the inspiration behind, and more.

Harshita Jain
The Storiyoh Gazette

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Ninorah (L) and Bettina (R). Picture Courtesy: Winnow Network

NRI Woman podcast is all about stories - stories of, and by phenomenal women. Stories that need to be heard. Stories of love, struggle, depression, travel, marriage and everything in between.

Bettina Tauro and Ninorah Fernandes-Brookshire, two women united by a beautiful bond of friendship, felt the need to give a voice to all other women out there. They feel that there are millions of women out there who have stories to tell — stories that bond them with other women. And they set out to bring these stories to us.

In this interview, Bettina and Ninorah share with us their podcasting journey, their vision with the podcast, some beautiful stories, and a lot more. Excerpts from the interview-

Let’s begin with knowing your story. How did you two meet each other?

Bettina: So, we got to know each other somewhere in the 90s through common friends. But I wouldn’t say that we were really good friends, back then. We were acquaintances at that point.

Sometime in the 90s, I moved out. I think Nino was in Brussels, then. There was something that had happened in my life, which was quite traumatic. And I still remember Nino had posted me a card. She found my address, wrote a personalized note with a really nice message and that kind of always stayed with me.

It wasn’t just a card, the effort she made was beautiful. Back then, there was no email, there was no telephone, mobile, whatever. She had to go through all of this stuff. And that just stayed with me — something about that moment.

I always say, you know,

“I think it was our acts of kindness towards each other that made us good friends.”

Then almost 10 years later from that point, Nino came to Dubai with her family and, and we just started chatting on MSN.

Ninorah: This is the time when my mom had passed away.

I had no place to stay when I was coming back to Dubai. And on MSN with Bettina, she was messaging me to console me about my mom and one conversation led to another. And I mentioned that I didn’t have a place to stay in Dubai. And before you know it, she graciously opened up her home, her heart, her family, her husband at the time whom we had never met.

My children were really little at the time. Like it’s where I think my son was two years old and my daughter was three and a half, and somehow it just all fell in place and the rest is history.

Yeah. So that’s how we became really good friends.

So, how did podcasting happen?

Bettina: We started off NRI women when we moved to Dubai and we were kind of mulling over things to do.

I thought that there’s nothing that really brings people together. And while discussing it with each other, we thought of starting some community on Facebook. So we just started like a community.

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But we were busy in our lives. Our kids were still young and mine was still really young and Nino was settling in. So we didn’t really focus on it. Without putting in any kind of effort, we had about 2000 members as part of it, which is not a big number, but the thing is we hadn’t done anything, to get those people.

So we decided to do something with the community because there were way more women we wished to bring on board. And so we were looking at different ideas. Every time we met so many women, they all had interesting stories to share. We wanted to give a voice to these stories, make them visible. But both of us didn’t have a lot of experience with writing. What we were good at was conversing with people.

I listened to a lot of podcasts at that point. I mean, I was already listening by then for almost two years.

In one of our conversations, we decided to go with a podcast and see how it works out. And we didn’t really think too much about it. You know, we knew two or three interesting people and some topics that would be of interest. So we just kind of tried it out.

But once we started doing it to the point where we actually released the first episode, I think it was almost a seven to eight-month period. It took that long because the first thing that we recorded, to be honest, after the edit, when we listened to it, we weren’t interested in listening to it ourselves. And this was quite the reverse of what we expected because the conversations we had were so interesting.

Picture Courtesy: NRI Woman Podcast

It took a little while, you know, to sort of find the tune. We realized that people that we were talking to weren’t trained guests who could actually articulate and come to the point and make it interesting. They were raw. So sometimes it would go all over the place before it came to the point that they wanted to make or the point that will be of interest for the listeners.

So, that’s how the podcast happened. We just tried it in different formats, different styles for a period of six to seven, eight months. And once we thought we had a product or a style and we were happy with, that’s when we released it.

If we weren’t happy, we probably wouldn’t have gone ahead with it, to be honest.

How’s the relationship between the two of you around podcasting?

Ninorah- I think the thing is that we’re very similar, the two of us are very similar in a lot of ways. I’ll go back just one step. When Bettina came up to me and said let’s start a podcast, in all honesty, I had no clue what a podcast was. She was listening to them for the last two years but I had no clue. So, of course, I came home and I googled it and I was like, okay, let me see what a podcast is.

And now, of course, I listen to a lot of podcasts, but back then I did not. Going back to how we podcast and in two different ways where one lives in Dubai, one lives in Miami, and then we interview women who sometimes don’t live anywhere close to where we are.

It has been a year of progress, I’d put it that way. If there’s a disagreement, we come together and we discuss this is how we should do it and this is how we shouldn’t do it. But for the most, we are usually hand in glove with each other. You know, transition I think is never easy for anybody. But I think, it’s how we manage it. That speaks volumes. I’ve always said we’re two versions of the same person in many respects. So when we’re talking about the podcast, when we are talking about the team or when we are talking about the person or whatever it may be, we always eventually come down to thinking on the same level.

It’s pretty much science for us now. Sure there are things that hinder us. But it’s how we handle it. The two of us are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. We talk almost every day. So even though we talk about our personal lives, the talk about the podcast always comes in.

Bettina- I’d just like to add to what she said. When we started the podcast, it was a transition for us as well because it went from a personal relationship to a professional relationship in a way.

In personal life, we always got along really well. We never had any disagreements. And when we started working together, I think it was the first time when we started having disagreements all over the course of it. We also learned from each other how to handle them.

But those are aspects of each other that we hadn’t seen enough. So all those things have worked up over a period of time. We reached a place where we distinguished between our personal lives and work lives. We are mindful of where we’re not treading over each other.

Each of us has our responsibilities defined and we offer an opinion and the other person has the independence to do how they want to do their job. Because if two people are doing the same thing, nobody’s going to do it exactly the same way. And while we give our opinion on the other person’s part, the person who’s handling it is responsible for all, still gets to pick that call and what they want to do with it. So that’s a bit about the working relations.

Ninorah- I’d also say that we decided that

“Whenever we have any issues, we will always remember that our friendship comes first and podcasting, second.”

Transitions can be tricky when co-hosting. How do you feel about that?

Bettina- Initially, when we started off, we started off with a very structured format where we would decide the framework and the set of questions. It broadly just lets us see what the story is going to be like. And it serves also a guideline, more for us than it is for the guest.

So, when we started off, I think the first few interviews would be where both of us would literally, you know, take off the list thing. But over a period of time as we started interviewing more guests, it just became more natural. What would happen is sometimes the guest said something and the question that we wanted to ask would become redundant so we would just go with the flow.

So now we broadly follow the framework that we have but keep it authentic too. And sometimes we go back and say, listen, you know, we didn’t ask you this question, can you tell us this one? We just go with the flow based on what the guest is saying.

Earlier, it was much easier for us to make the transition because we used to be in the same room. Often the guest was with us or you know, we’ve sat in the same room interviewing another person in another place. But now with three of us in three different places, sometimes because of technology, there is a long pause. So, a lot of times we can’t judge who’s going to ask next and what and we just go with the flow.

Now when it comes to the final nuances, I think it just gets better as you get along with each episode and each season and each guest.

Ninorah: I agree with what she said. We used to plan it all out initially. But now because she’s in Dubai and I’m in Miami and we have time differences, things have changed.

So if there’s anybody she’s interviewing in Dubai, it’s just become the norm that she tells me she’s going to interview this person and I just step in. I cannot be in the interviews where she meets with guests one-to-one. But when it’s done, she’ll pick up the phone, she’ll message me or she’ll call me and she’ll share the conversation with me, keeping me in the loop.

Sometimes, I’ll be very honest, it’s hard for me to connect with the person I haven’t interviewed because I have not met them face to face or I have not been on that interview with them. But nonetheless, as I said, she calls and she’ll let me know what she said and what they said and all of that.

So like I said earlier, we’d be kidding ourselves if we just want to sit here and say, well, everything is fantastic and everything is great and life is so hunky-dory, but it’s not, not all the time, but it’s how we make it happen.

So, NRI Woman is all about beautiful stories. What are some of the stories that must be heard?

Bettina: We have had so many inspiring and beautiful stories that it’s difficult to choose.

But if we have to, it would be the interview with a mom who lost her young son at 21. And you know, firstly she agreed to come onto our show. She hadn’t met us. She didn’t know about us. She didn’t even know what a podcast is and she agreed to come and share her story with us.

So, when she said yes, we were surprised because it was such a personal thing to be willing to talk about. And when we interviewed her, it was really long. It was like almost two and a half hours because it was overwhelming for her and for us.

But in the course of that interview, two things happened.

One, it gave her the opportunity to actually talk to two people who weren’t related to her. So she felt sort of cathartic at the end of it. She said this made her feel lighter which is really strange because we were strangers. Just the fact that she got to narrate the story and was able to structure it. made her feel a lot better. I think she was struggling to tell her story. And when the episode was out and we listened back to it, we still get goosebumps at the thought of it.

Even she listened back to it called us back to tell that it was the best version of her story that has been told so far. She was covered in the media, in articles and everywhere. It was quite a proud moment for us to cover something so sensitive, with which we had no experience. It was overwhelming. The way it turned out, but more importantly, her reaction to it was something that, made us feel that whatever we’re doing has something bigger to it than just a podcast or telling a story. So I think that was one of the episodes.

Even Sharon’s episode in season one.

The amazing thing was that she got in touch with us and she wanted to talk about depression and anxiety, something that we don’t talk about as a culture, especially Indian women. Her entire family lives in India and she lives in South Africa and they didn’t even know about it. But she still found the courage to come onto the show and talk about it publicly, which we thought was wonderful.

So, there are many little things that come out from different people. So one of, one of the guests we interviewed, I won’t name her, but she’s absolutely beautiful, which is, you know, great to look at on the outside. She has a wonderful family and I mean everything that one sees and says yes, this is wonderful. And well we were talking to her, we were talking about her story and once we finished the podcast, she said that she’d been suffering from depression for over 15 years and one would never have thought her to be that person.

And both of us were shocked. And having interviewed so many women, now we can tell you that it’s far more common than one can think or imagine. So yes, in terms of recommendations, we’d say that Sheetal is one person whose story must be heard.

Another one that we really like is this one with Aashna Mulgaonkar. Her episode is the one with the most number of downloads as well.

She was raised in a family, in a joint family of 150 people. She comes from one of the largest joint families in India. And when she was growing up, there were about 80 people living in a house together. You know she’s really warm.

The episode, it’s just something different and it’s great. It’s something that even as Indians, you know, we don’t consider. I mean, it’s one thing to live with our extended family but living with 80 people in a house is something else and I can not even imagine it.

So yes, each and every episode that we’ve done this far has a story of its own, a life of its own. But these two, three really stand out for us.

You see, women face a whole spectrum of issues, ranging from inequality to safety. What do you think are the most prominent issues women face on a broader level?

Bettina: On a broader level, I think one of the things that exist is that women have self-doubt, a lot of self- doubt. A lot of it comes from raising them, you know, being raised in a culture, which starts to put that in quite separately from the very beginning. And an example of that is an episode that we did.

So she was this girl who was raised in Hong Kong and it’s about incest. She and her brother were treated really differently even though they lived in Hong Kong, which is forward thinking and fast paced. They still lived in this little bubble.

In fact, that’s with a lot of Indians living abroad. You know, in a funny way, a lot of us live in our local Indian bubbles outside except a few things. And unfortunately, many of us are not conscious about the fact we are raising our kids with self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

I think that’s something we need to work on ourselves to be able to pass it on to the next generation of children or anyone around us.

Ninorah: I agree, we do. Even though we have such amazing ladies that come forward and talk, there are so many other topics we can touch. But it’s very difficult for people to open up and she’s absolutely right.

We have so many friends who can come out and give us some fabulous stories, you know, be it living about living with their in-laws or whatever. There’s so many, but people are so afraid. Women are afraid because our culture doesn’t call for openness. So when we do bring out this podcast, people are shocked that some of these women come out to talk to us about their stories.

We love your idea of conversing with like-minded women across the world on one platform, but what is it that inspired you to begin something like this?

Ninorah: I think for us it began with kindness.

I have always said it and people who know us know it, that we are similar — when it comes to kindness, when it comes to other people, when it comes to mindfulness, that’s what we are about. And maybe this is why we’re so close as well because we understand each other, we read the same page from the same book.

So when Bettina came up with this, with this idea about having this group for the South Asian Community in Dubai, the podcasting, we wanted the podcast to standout. And like I said earlier, I had no clue what a podcast was about. And she had been listening to them for the last two years. So she knew all the genres that were out there.

So when she came up with the whole idea of the podcast, she had done her homework. She knew what genres were out there, she knew what podcasts were out there. And so when we talked about it, we said, how can we be different? And that’s when this idea came up from her and she said, you know, we should interview women with stories because every woman has a story to tell. And what better way than to do it with the Indians because we are Indians, NRIs.

Ninorah and Bettina, in an interview to Gulf News

Bettina: Yeah, absolutely. The idea was to actually connect women’s stories. All of us had similar things that we have been through.

Like in Nino’s case, she got married and moved out and she had redefined her identity in a new place, which is the most common thing that happens to most Indian women become NRI. And so our first episode was actually about that, your love for career and moving out. And the interesting thing is that nobody gives it much thought. And that was a common thread which we came across everyone that we’ve met.

There was one story we covered who was about this woman who had a masters in India. But when she went to the US, she had to start with cleaning in the hospital cafeteria because her Masters wasn’t recognized. But that is not something she thought about before getting married.

So, it was about finding these smaller things, connecting women through these stories and letting them know that they’re not alone. And the other part of it is to open people’s minds to words, concepts that they haven’t heard of or they haven’t come across like.

A simple example is an episode on sustainable travel. And that’s not something that ever crossed my mind, to be honest. But here is somebody we interviewed and suddenly it makes you think that we all want to travel, we all want to do this, but what is the impact on the environment? Everything from benefiting the locals there to helping them with their social development, all those kinds of things.

So, yes, it connects women and at the same time, we hope to open people’s minds too.

How do you find all these wonderful women and bring them onboard for the podcast?

Ninorah: When we first started our podcast, we tapped into people we knew because like I said, we know so many women that have phenomenal stories. So for the first season, we tapped people we knew or people we knew of. So we would send them a message and say, “Hey, would you like to come on our podcast?”

We now have people coming to us because people have heard of us, through friends or friends of friends or family. Also when we’re reading the newspaper or reading an article or on Twitter or Insta or whatever, and we come across like somebody who we feel has a story to tell, we approach them. We send them a message and we’ll say, listen would you like to come on our podcast? This is what we do.

And in all honesty, as far as I know, I don’t think anybody has turned us down. Right, Bettina? Everybody, from small scale to a big scale, pretty much people have come on board.

What are your plans going ahead with the podcast?

Bettina: So for the near future, we want to continue increasing our listenership.

I think the biggest challenge is the discovery of podcast because there are so many out there. And there is a kind of a dichotomy in the kind of listeners. Either one is a podcast listener or one is not. There is no in between, you know?

Unlike TV or any other medium where you don’t watch regularly, but occasionally you do. I think with podcasts, you listen or you don’t. And if you do listen, there is just so much content and so we’re working actively on increasing our listener base. That is the number one priority.

Second is we’re looking at ways to monetize it because right now both of us are funding it and we have enough and we have a lovely editor who works with us who also puts in her time. At the moment she doesn’t get paid, but she’s adding value to it by editing and helping us out in this.

But to continue it in the long term, we have to find a way to monetize it, but we’re looking at ways of monetizing it outside of the podcast, not necessarily just sponsorship. So we are ideating aspects because we’re not big enough to get the kind of sponsors and if you get the sponsors, we don’t want to be in a position where we have to be answerable to them for the content.

Ninorah: The long term plan is to

Eat dimsums out of the money we make from the podcast and not from the money that we put into it.

So that’s an interesting long term plan I want to materialize.

While we are on monetization, what do you think about the subscription-based model for podcasts?

Bettina: I think it is a skewed model because it could work well for somebody like a Tim Ferriss or Gary Vaynerchuk who already have a large following. And so out of the zillion listeners, if they got even 2000–3000, there’s the revenue generated from those people as opposed to having a million people and no revenue generated if you take the advertising model.

But for Indie podcasters, it’s not sustainable because, you know, if you don’t have the numbers and if it’s not a big thing, so people are not going to pay for something.

I mean, demand has to be created for something and one has to build something before other people buy into it. They have to see the value. You know, what I mean? Netflix also has reached where it is like, after some 20 odd years, nobody would’ve paid for it at that point.

So for the subscription model, I think eventually if it goes on, it will be skewed towards the heavyweights already. So they are the ones who benefit from it and the smaller ones may benefit from it if they get bought out by the larger networks. Which then means that as opposed to subscribing to a show, you subscribe to a network, say NPR, so you get access to all their content.

What’s your advice for someone starting an interview based podcast?

Bettina: I would say that first, to anyone starting a podcast, the person needs to ask himself or herself, why do you want to podcast? Because it is a lot of work. You have to be passionate about the subject, about the people or the process. And if that is not there, then it’s not going to be sustainable.

So one needs to find, you know, what that thing is — is it about telling stories or about connecting at some other levels, whatever it is. Some people I know, I’ve come across a few podcasts where people took on anchor. I mean, because it’s the easiest one to produce and it’s basically just personal rants about different topics.

With more access, you will find more people joining the bandwagon of podcasting. Because it’s got a much lower threshold to entry. The barriers of entry are low but in terms of sustainability, it’s only going to be the ones that have are passionate about it and see the bigger picture and are willing to put in the work.

Ninorah:

Go for it! Join in the madness of podcasting.

How would you see podcasting shaping up across the US, UAE, and India?

Ninorah: Having moved back to the, to the US, I can definitely see that podcasting is the IN thing here. There’s a podcast for everything, I mean.

So my son is into Fortnite.

This one day, I was actually sitting in the car and my son was with me in the car waiting for his game to start. He was bored and he wanted my phone to play a game on my phone and I said, no, I’m sure there’s a podcast for Fortnite. And right enough, I kid you not, I googled and right enough, there was a podcast for Fortnite.

So, podcasting is the new black 😉. In the US it’s the norm. Everybody from Oprah to teenagers run a podcast. And I’m sure India and Dubai are not too far from catching up.

I’m constantly on Twitter and I see the Indian podcasters, all the other big names and I’m in constant touch with them on Twitter. And it’s definitely getting more momentum back in India as well.

Bettina: I think in the Middle East, it is a little bit different because here when you say, do you listen to a podcast, people ask- oh, podcast, what is that? Is it on Youtube?

So there is still a bit of catching up to do for people to know what a podcast is, how to access it, but it’s only a matter of time before it catches up. I think India is probably ahead of the Middle East. I think the only way to go is increasing the number of, people podcasting, number of listeners as well as the amount of content that’s been produced.4

Is there something that you want to convey to our readers?

Bettina: You know, our tagline is keep learning, keep inspiring and be kind. And we always encourage everyone we come across, every day, to either inspire or be inspired, to try and learn something. And if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, then every day there is an opportunity for you to be kind. So do that.

If you liked this story, 👏 and help more people see it.

You can subscribe to the NRI Woman Podcast and listen to each new episode by following this link 👇

You can connect with Bettina Tauro and Ninorah Fernandes-Brookshire on Medium, and follow their podcast handle on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

If you’re an Indian podcaster and you’ll like us to feature you in the #VoicesOfIndia column on The Storiyoh Gazette, drop us a comment here or tweet us.

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Harshita Jain
The Storiyoh Gazette

I believe that everyone has a powerful story to tell the world. I just help them put it across in the right narrative, to the right people.