It was already dark outside, and the air was fresh. I was relieved to know I was going to be able to rest a little after a long working week full of activities at Legislative Museum of the Mexican House of Representatives (http://museolegislativo.diputados.gob.mx/) although my plans had changed since I originally had planned to spend that Friday night with some friends and co-workers at a salsa dancing club.
The Uber driver told me we were only five minutes away from the destination. That was when I got the notification that somebody had sent a message to the museum’s official WhatsApp group: “Due to the world’s current situation, the authorities of the Mexican House of Representatives have decided to postpone all the activities and the employees must stay at home”. It was the Director of the Museum who confirmed our suspicious, Covid was now a pandemic. I thanked the driver and opened my home’s gate. As I walked into the living room, I realised my family were watching the news.
At first it was hard for me to imagine what the word “pandemic” meant. As a historian I had read about the black death and the Spanish flu (https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/) but I never imagined I was going to live a moment in humankind that would mark an important milestone in our history.
I guess the first weeks were like holidays for me, I had time to finish some chores at home and I could finally spend quality time with my siblings. Little did we know this pandemic would soon knock at our door. My whole neighbourhood turned into a “ghost town”, nobody dared to go outside except to buy groceries and some others to go to work. Weeks later news about our eldest neighbours getting sick and eventually losing the battle against this new virus were something common.
At a personal level, the sombre environment started affecting my mental health. My close friends and I described this feeling as “a moment where you are trapped with your demons, past and present”.
I want to make a pause in the narrative to point out this is not a tragic tale but the story of an incredible and fabulous journey that I started almost two years ago which involves that little crazy thing called social media.
English Poet John Donne (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/john-donne) once wrote “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. These days I believe it more than ever.
Contrary to what most people think, working at a museum means being in contact with lots of different people such as artists, curators, tour guides, mediators, researchers, authorities, museums and galleries’ directors, Representatives and public; sometimes it can be chaotic and others very harmonious. I am part of that community and when our activities stopped, when I couldn’t have access to that energy and to those people, I felt isolated or rather, I believed I was the only one struggling with this pandemic at an emotional and mental level, so I isolated myself.
This made me try to find ways to distract myself, and I found the podcast Café Ácido (https://cafeacido.com.mx/podcast) where young people talked about different topics with a twist: the Mexican sense of humour. I became a fan of this project. A month later I was part of their Facebook fan page. Eventually I became friends with one of the presenters, the funny part of this moment of my life is that I started meeting people that were not even living in my city.
Thursdays with you are better than coffee
My first long-distance friend lives in a city called Guadalajara. I must admit that being a museum curator helps you to break the ice and start a not very conventional conversation. The first time my now “partner in crime” and I spoke via Zoom we connected instantly, although our conversation was more about me working at a cultural institution and him pausing his theatre studies and joining the podcast. We started having chats every now and then. Within two months we decided to talk about our feelings, hopes and dreams at least once a week, we called it “Thursdays of coffee, tea or whatever you are drinking these days”.
In a sense, knowing there was somebody else who was feeling rather odd because of everything that was happening and ending every Zoom call with a smile or feeling inspired gave us the feeling of “being together apart”. In this scenario we both were amazed by the fact that thanks to technology we were able to connect. To this day we are still planning to meet in person here in Mexico City, where I live.
Helo! = ¡hola! = hello!
My second and third long-distance friendships were a consequence of my willingness to continue my English studies. I started seeing this long pause in my life to go back to old goals, like getting a certificate. I joined a web site where you can make pen pal friends from all over the world. I sent some virtual smiles to people from United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Luckily for me the first pen pal I made was from the United Kingdom, because I have been to that country before and I have friends there (we do not speak that often though), so it was easy to start a conversation via text. We eventually decided to text through WhatsApp and later we to started practising our speaking skills on Zoom. My Welsh pen pal friend is studying Spanish and we are always comparing our grammar and vocabulary. Sometimes even Welsh is involved (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7lV7xIz0wk&list=PLrE_JbPiNxXYxsd7uVL4kUbc6fMNDKi6i&index=5).
At this moment of my journey, I realised how a different outlook can always help and how no matter where you are from, in the end we are all human beings, and you are never alone really. To this day I keep that friendship.
Of sunsets and poetry…
My third pen pal friend is a mathematician and a poet. He loves museums and whenever I am not sure about how I am developing a project, he always shares with me a personal experience or something he saw at a museum in the United States, and he is always a good virtual shoulder to cry on since we both are very sensitive and not very sensible sometimes. This last friendship was challenging for me because of the difficult history and stories our countries have, especially when talking about immigrants (https://americanhistory.si.edu/america-on-the-move/essays/latino-stories). Ironically our different backgrounds brought us together. Not only in terms of culture but also speaking about social media. I used to spend hours on Instagram, however he taught me it is always nice to stop for a moment and go back to real life, to live the present and enjoy a sunset. It is the little details that build a great story.
I thought I was an island, but my old and new friends showed me no matter how far away you are, you are always part of a community. These people are always there for you despite the distance or the time difference. Without a doubt, this pandemic also taught me it is never late to start a new journey in life but that is another long story…