On my knees and blindfolded, my ankle was starting to give out. So was my knee (an ongoing issue for me lately). I kept my head down, calm and deferential. I had been “kidnapped”.
The thing is, I signed up for this. All the International Women’s Media Fund (IWMF) Adelante fellows would go through four days of Hostile Environment and First Aid Training (HEFAT) outside of Mexico City. I knew that at some point we would be randomly taken somewhere, but I didn’t know when or how. I wondered how rough and vulgar the actors playing the kidnappers would be. I tried to imagine how I might react if this were a real kidnapping. Would I be shaking violently? Would I feel pangs of regret for what I had done to get there, or what I had failed to do so far in life? I decided I needed to treat the situation as realistically as possible. Fighting back or trying to escape from a violent cartel in an unfamiliar place would probably be ill advised, at least for the moment.
A tear started running down my face. In that moment I realized I have a quiet way of going with the flow, whatever it may be. I wondered in that moment, “how much do I actually care for my life?” The past 19 years might tell you many different things.
The following day in HEFAT class, we talked about self-care. Since graduating high school and trying to get a foot into the working world, and into the middle class, one thing has been consistent – I’ve been all in. Whatever the request, whatever the hour, whatever it takes. I have learned throughout my life that the moment rarely cares what I feel. So why should I? Being fully present in a situation and staying calm has generally been my super power.
Hunger, sleep, exercise, spontaneous gestures of dance, reading or whatever small pleasures in life have generally come last. And when they do come, it is in awkward doses. Feast or famine.
Later in the trip I caught a bad stomach bug and spent a day slipping in and out of consciousness. This may have been the best thing that could have happened for me, as it put me back in my body and forced me to seriously contemplate my own needs. I was relieved to discover that I care a lot more than I am often willing to acknowledge.
In the media business, we often take pride in nights without sleep, days of work without pause, risky interactions. A well rested woman, a healthy woman, a woman who won’t cancel plans with loved ones… maybe she is not serious about her job. I too have mistaken people’s instinct to go home at the end of the work day as a lack of dedication.
These days of training and reflection with my brilliant compañeras and thoughtful trainers have helped me carve out a new goal for the coming year. I’m going to be a well-rested woman, I’m going to be a “frivolous” woman, I’m going to take breaks to enjoy life outside of my paid (and often unpaid) work. All our dedication to the job doesn’t guarantee that someone will pay for our care if our health falls apart, and employers and clients won’t always be understanding if burnout leads us to be foggy or hopeless. In this capricious and often unforgiving industry, perhaps our greatest asset is longevity.
Dagna Gallinger, 2019 Honduras Fellow