Three things I learned or loved this month
Everything feels different or disjointed: the air oppressively warm; my knowledge of Spanish buried too many years ago to find the words I need; and it should be afternoon, but I’m the first to order breakfast. Eggs with tomatoes and onion, fruit, black coffee to shake off a six-hour time difference.
Last week an overnight flight took me to Cartagena de Indias, a city of around 1 million on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where men push carts piled high with mangoes through busy streets, where horse-drawn carts join traffic jams, where friends pose for selfies amid flags or pink umbrellas or street art. A dark history – a one-time slave trade hub, and one of three seats of the Catholic Inquisition in the Americas — but the city has since become a UNESCO heritage site, and tourists come nowadays for the colour, the nightlife, the nearby islands, the easy stroll along thick fortress walls.
I had travelled to Cartagena for a conference, but there was some time to see more than the inside of a conference room. Time too, to feel the familiar/unfamiliar pang of nerves – it’s been a while – of heading off somewhere new, your heightened sensors to danger kicking in because you’re a woman travelling alone, your observation of detail sharpened in a way that rarely happens at home. The way the days lengthen, and one week feels like three, because almost everything is new.
A few of years ago we selected, trained and mentored a group of 14 young journalists from four continents, guiding them in solutions journalism and helping them to report on social and cultural entrepreneurship, over the course of about 18 months. We got in touch recently to find out how they were doing, and I loved reading all their responses, and seeing how pleased they all were to still be in touch with this far-flung community. Many of them have moved on to other careers – some related to journalism (digital marketing, research, fact-checking) and some less so (psychology). Some are still working as journalists, and one of them in Brazil, Yael Berman, has since created her own programme, Vozes de Floresta, to train young indigenous people to get their stories published – I love her initiative, and that I’ve been a tiny part of encouraging that to happen.
Every Sunday morning for the past few months, a few of us have been meeting online to write for an hour. It may well be petering out now, as summer begins and lives refill with the things that Covid-19 stopped. But either way, I’ve realised how much you can gain from a fixed routine, from knowing that this time each week is held for you, that someone will be waiting on the other end for you to show up and to stay for at least 60 minutes. This is hardly groundbreaking – every productivity expert and many creatives will tell you about the value of habit or consistency – but it’s been a good reminder of how you can create space and time for something, even (or maybe especially) if you start small. With a little help from others, of course, to get you going.