Weeknotes 36

Last sprints, gratitude and resilience

Hera Hussain
14 min readApr 6, 2022

As soon as my eyes laid on this tree, I knew it had to be the image for this blog but then so much more happened. This week is like pushing the car from the back as its wheels are stuck in the mud, and you just know once you can get them unstuck — the car will propel forward slowly but surely. Except that in my case, the car is the troubled project and I’m not pushing the car alone. I’ve got Aiman with me!

It was a pretty intense week and just seeing how all the team pulled together to help each other makes me so proud. Sharing everything in quite a lot of detail so you can get an idea of the group effort.

This is going to be a long read so I’m peppering it with lots of pictures.

What I did

Before the podcast recording

I’ve been working an extra 1–2 days every week since January through project management, scripting, creative direction, research and admin. So I’ve been grinding down my rest reserves to get this project to the finish line and fight through all the obstacles. Remember how the podcast was supposed to be 8 episodes and then 2 weeks before recording, I said something major happened that was completely out of our control so we had to rework everything into a 3 episode special? Keep that in mind. I told the rest of the team to take me out of meetings and only ask me to do things if it’s urgent because I really needed to only focus on the podcast. They were so obliging but I had to still attend some things that were unavoidable.

  • On Sunday, we held a full, 2.5 hours session with our volunteer team on checking the last two episodes of the new podcast version. Aiman and I ended up working way after midnights (hers in Pakistan, and mine in UK) to get it ready for Monday’s first rehearsal. Our collaborator wanted to re-do the structure for Episode 2 and was only able to share it with us around 3.40pm. Our volunteer call was at 3.30pm. Aiman and I couldn’t work on that because we had to prepare Episode 1.
  • On Monday, we held our first rehearsal of Episode 1 and figured out how to break up the text between three presenters. We were able to resolve some creative disagreements as well. Right after the two hour call in which we were not even able to finish Episode 1, Aiman and I jumped into a task list which meant she was going to re-work everything from Episode 2, while I worked on Episode 1. This is because we had two back-to-back rehearsals on Tuesday at 11AM so we had to finish it before then. We had also received late comments on Episode 3 from our collaborator who was busy preparing Episode 2. Aiman stopped working after midnight her time, which meant by the time I finished dinner around 9pm, I could review what she had done. And then I jumped on Episode 2 and 3. I had to read what was there, edit it and also write new sections where I felt it was needed. I finished around 2AM. This meant when Aiman would wake up in Pakistan, she would have my edits to review on Episode 2 before our rehearsal. Throughout the day I re-watched I May Destroy You to find references that could fit into the narrative.
  • On Tuesday, I woke up at 6.30AM and could not manage my usual nap because there was so much to do before the rehearsal. Aiman had already been up reviewing my work on Episode 1, writing parts for all three episodes and resolving comments on Episode 3. By 9AM, we were in a position to close Episode 1 and then start resolving comments on Episode 2. By this time, I felt like I was suffocating and my eyes were watering from exhaustion so I decided to make a daring decision to take my usual walk. Felt a bit guilty as poor Aiman had to work while I got my cappuccino and pastry but it did give me a whole new lease of life. Took an exact 1 hour. Got back and jumped on to Episode 3, before tackling unresolved comments on Episode 2. Aiman was working on Episode 2. By 11 AM, we did what we could. And then we jumped into the longest rehearsal call! We started at 11AM and finished at 2.45PM. It was a tough call because we had a difference of opinion at a few points of the scripts. We recorded these calls so we can remind ourselves what the reason for edits were in case our google comments weren’t clear enough. When we finished at 2.45PM, Aiman and I had to de-brief until 3PM to decide what to do for the rest of the day. By 3PM, I was expected in another call and it was already 7PM for Aiman! She took a break for dinner and then wrapped up some tasks on keeping our survivor interviewees informed about the process and asking them a few more questions. Aiman went to sleep. I had a few calls for other projects. By my 8PM, I could not work much and ended up sleeping before midnight.
  • Wednesday. I woke up late around 6.45AM and could not make breakfast for my husband. He left without it and I felt bad. I was still so sleepy. I was determined to make the day productive because I was travelling on Thursday for Bristol where we were recording so this was my final day of work. I left Ara at home (yes, I can do that now!) to be picked up by the dog sitter and headed to the coworking space. Got there by 9AM. Within 60 mins of being in the space and having a coffee, I had completely finished the major rewrites and comments on Episode 2. We had to keep going back and forth to the episodes because we were getting comments from an editor and a collaborator so often we couldn’t really close an episode because something else would pop up. Then I had a beautiful exit interview with an employee who said the nicest things about their time at Chayn. She’s leaving to pursue painting. By 1PM, I had finished the comments I could resolve on Episode 3. All this time, Aiman was doing research and writing up sections in all episodes. I had to take a break of 2 hours to travel back home and settle in Ara. Then at 5.45pm, our collaborator shared a re-structure for Episode 3. Aiman and I had a few moments of panic because we had been making lots of changes to the original version of the script and there was no time now to cross-reference two scripts, and look at the restructuring as well as new editions. It was already 10pm for her, and I was so exhausted that my eyes were watering. Aiman was also squinting. The new sections were really good so we decided to power through including them. I was going to take the night shift and do what I could on the episode while Aiman slept and she was going to start working early on Thursday. I ordered food because I could not move my limbs. My husband and I ate dinner. I begged him to wake me up in 1 hour as I wanted to nap. I took the nap, and it completely transformed me. I made tea and checked the new script. Worked on it for an hour or so. I had been planning to help Aiman finish up the scripts in my morning, but I had forgotten I had a 2.5 hours call with Ara’s behavioural vet, and I always send her a briefing the night before. This includes a photo and video update of Ara as well as a narrative on how things have been going. It took me two hours to do that. Around midnight, I could not work more. Left Aiman some comments and then went to sleep.
  • Thursday. Woke up, had breakfast and then spoke to Aiman. We made a plan for what she needed to accomplish on Thursday and Friday (recording day). Thanks to Nooreen’s astute assessment, she had already organised a call with our volunteers to help Aiman at 9AM with remaining tasks. There was so much to do. During the volunteer call, the team helped Aiman with descriptions for our different interviewees, cross-checked pop culture references to make sure we’d given accurate explanations with them, and came up with episode content-warnings. All of the fact-checking also still had to be done, especially because of having a brand new episode re-structure which had to be fact-checked. Aiman and I were clear that no line would be recorded without it being fact-checked because we were uncovering many factual errors in our scripts. They were minor but they mattered. Things like getting the year of a report wrong or making a correlation where the evidence wasn’t clear. One volunteer shared with Aiman that she had time during Thursday for this work, and she became a massive source of support for fact-checking. She left comments wherever there were discrepancies in the first episode and Aiman was then able to research and fix them. Aiman also had a call with our editor who had not checked Episode 3. After our call and my promise of doing whatever I could on the train, I left Aiman to it. Aiman and the editor focused on resolving issues with the first two episodes. I had the call with the vet. Then had 1 hour to run to the post office and back, and pack for my trip to Bristol. We had a vicarious trauma session that was mandatory for the hosts of the podcast to attend. Attended that. Then had one hour to pack up, organise things for when Ara returned from her daycare to an empty house (I’ve left her alone in the morning but not after her walks so she expects Mom to greet her at the door). Left for the town to meet Ellie and Jo from Catalyst, who happened to be in Manchester for their strategy meeting. It began snowing! It was so amazing to see them after two years and catch up. We had the best vegan KFC burger you can find in the country. Then ran to get my train. My journey ended up being quite the nightmare. There was a 1.5 hours delay at Birmingham. I did a lot on the train to help Aiman but felt so bad because she ended up working until past 2AM on her time. I reached Bristol at 9PM instead of 6.30PM, where I met up with a shivering Dina at the station, and we headed to a bar and restaurant on a ship (So Bristol, right?) to meet Kim and a potential new volunteer/collaborator who 3 people in Chayn just happened to talk with the same day and she was in Bristol so we just invited her to meet us. Went back to Kim’s place where Dina and I were crashing and ended up chatting till 1.20AM before drifting off to a blissful sleep.

Podcast recording

  • Friday. We started off early by having some coffee in Harbourside (always the highlight of any trip Dina and I take — good coffee) and then made our way to the recording studio. The studio was next to a scrap metal yard and a car motor repair shop. We had a moment of “Is this where we get killed?” but were greeted by our cheerful, and not-at-all terrified sound engineer. The sound in our recording room was amazing, as we spent more time in it, I grew to appreciate the quirky nature of the room. It was a long day. We started recording at 10AM and didn’t finish until 7.30PM. We had planned an hour’s lunch outside but had to ask Chayn people to bring it back because we were falling behind schedule. Different Chayn people filtered in throughout the day to record bits of the episodes at the end but also because this was a good chance for many of us to meet in one place. Dina and Kim were there from the morning. Zoë, Nadine and Rehaab arrived at lunchtime. Chloe got in at 3PM. I was meeting all of them for the first time in the flesh. Hard to describe how special it was. There was a lot of squealing and laughter.
  • We recorded the episodes in a chronological order. So while we were doing the first episode, Aiman was fact-checking episode 2 and 3. Two volunteers also supported her. Then Aiman worked with the rest of the team to come up with promos, which we also wanted to record before the end of day. We’d also created two versions of some of the sections of the episodes, which were also separately recorded. She literally sent us the promo document just as we had wrapped up the recording and were running late for our dinner reservation so Kim called them to delay. We recorded the promos, and then headed to dinner.

After recording

  • Friday night, we all went to dinner after the long day of recording and it was great to reflect on the crazy journey this podcast has been. We had lots of laughs and ate at Pieminister (it was founded in Bristol!).
  • My train journey back on Saturday became a nightmare too. It ended up being delayed by 1 hour and I didn’t get home until 8.30pm. I ordered take-out, watched “Death On the Nile” with my husband and then slept.
  • On Sunday, all I did was walk, sleep, eat, watch TV, hug Ara and Dori and sleep some more.

What I learned

This week really tested me physically and mentally because of the long hours, and short deadline but was also so rewarding.

Firstly, I have so much gratitude for Chayn’s volunteer community because the volunteers worked across mornings, evenings and nights to help Aiman finish the scripts. They did fact checking. They hunted down scenes from TV shows and movies for our references. They gave us emotional support. They were critical when they needed to be, and validating when we needed it.

Secondly, I have so much respect and admiration for the hard work Aiman put into this and the diligence with which she led the writing, consent and fact-checking process.

I also want to thank one of the external journalists we worked with. We had many creative differences but she worked really hard to re-structure our scripts, do interviews and write new content often working long days and nights to do the same.

We always joke in Chayn that since most of us never meet in real life, we have no idea what each of us look like below the torso. Or how tall we are. So meeting four members of the Chayn team that I had never met before was such a special moment for them and me! We got to see how tall everyone is! We got to see legs moving (the part we never see on video calls). We got to feel what it was like to be in their company. Not just their online energy, but in person too. We had so much fun together that, to quote Kim, “I’ve not laughed so much in ages!”.

I got to meet Chloe, our lovely Welsh volunteer who I have been working with since 2 years and had not met! In this time, she became part of and led many of our projects and left her job and joined the VAWG sector. I gave her a big hug (which for those who know me, is only reserved for people I am really happy to meet!).

I met Rehaab, who joined our team last September to help with PR and outreach. She’s so lovely and creative!

I met Nadine, everyone’s favourite at Chayn! She is British but lives in Barcelona so though she has become invaluable to Chayn since joining in October, no one had ever met her! It was so nice to see her. She’s just like she is on video calls, and I don’t know what else I was expecting.

Andd I met Zoë! She’s been the backbone of Chayn’s Bloom project ever since she first started volunteering in March 2020. She is now the Project Lead of the service, and there’s not a single Chayn project right now that she hasn’t supported in some way. Even though she’s only in London, I had not met her because of the pandemic. It was very special getting to spend time with her. We had a slumber party at Kim’s flat and ended up talking till 4am.

I’m Zoë and Nadine’s line manager so it was really nice to “put a 3D body” to their faces!

I also spent a lot of time with Kim, who I have met once before, but it was just really nice to spend two days with her. She was a gracious host, and took such great care of everyone during the recording. Kim has an infectious optimism and it’s impossible to not catch it!

Kim, Dina and I were up until 1AM one night chatting, and Zoe and Kim broke that record the following night until 4AM. My soul was so full after that.

We also go to meet the external collaborators we have been working with since April 2020 on the podcast. It was nice to celebrate in person the end of a project, especially since the last three weeks where we had that major last-minute change.

Living depiction of survivors

I could write a thesis on things I’ve learned from the podcast project but something came up this week which really rattled me, and showed me some professionals still do not understand storytelling around trauma. We had a disagreement with an external collaborator about how to describe survivors. Their opinion was that the narrative details are irrelevant to the story and can come across as passing judgement on them. I disagree with that. It is my view and that of Chayn’s team that: People are more than their traumas.

A one-dimensional representation of a person, with the only narrative about them being the most painful parts of their life, reduces that person to the wisp of a memory of trauma in the reader’s mind.

The reason why we love shows like Maid, I May Destroy You and Dirty John is because the victims are living, breathing human beings with a personality. They have interests. They have annoying habits. They have dark sides. They have pain. They have joy. Their trauma doesn’t make everything else about them invisible. And it shouldn’t.

I have a lot more to say about this, so I’ll be writing a seperate blog.

Okay, lecture over.

Here’s a picture of Ara enjoying the flowers.

Something else

I absolutely adore this piece I got to do about the maternal influences in my life. Please do read it.

I also did a thread about it on twitter!

I returned to Bristol for the first time after 2012. I had briefly lived there. And I got to take Zoë and Kim to the bench where I would dream up the future of Chayn!



Hera Hussain

Building communities. Feminist. Pakistani. Founder @chaynHQ & CEO fighting gender-based violence with tech. Championing openness. Forbes & MIT Under 30/35.