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Spore’s Delhi desk

Vincent started working as Spore's French editor in April 2017 - from New Delhi - where he had moved with his family a few months earlier. In this blog, he tells us how it is to work with a 5h 30 time difference with the team in the UK.

Our French editor Vincent tries to discreetly buy some pottery in a village in Rajasthan, northern India

New Delhi, April 2017. The street vendor’s hoarse voice gets louder as he approaches my apartment. The man on his old bicycle is doing his best, but is losing the decibels contest to the unmistakable purr of an auto-rickshaw decelerating to avoid crashing into a taxi. This music – let’s call it that – has punctuated my mornings for over four months now. I love it.

We moved to India as a family at the end of 2016 after over five years in Ethiopia. A sharp contrast, believe me: the internet works at the speed of light, power cuts are rare in this neighbourhood, and food can be delivered to your door at any time of the day or night.


So here I was, testing the limits of my noise tolerance on a bright morning in the Indian capital city, as I put a cup of coffee on my desk and turned on my laptop. After having worked as a reporter for nearly 15 years – for French language publications and as a communications professional for several international organisations, I was craving a new challenge. That is why, shortly after landing in Delhi, I emailed my CV to friends, acquaintances and former colleagues, letting them know that them know that I was ready to take my career down a new path.


Shortly after, as the street vendor’s voice was fading away on a not-yet-too-warm April morning, I read an email sent by a certain Susanna Cartmell-Thorp, director of a communications company called WRENmedia, based in the UK. She was looking for a French editor – it now occurred to me that my resume had traversed three different continents before landing in her inbox – and she had heard that I had some experience in the field.


In addition to creating communication strategies and offering training, WRENmedia produces Spore, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation’s flagship magazine on agriculture in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, Susanna explained to me.

Agriculture? I am neither a farmer nor an agronomist, but I have written numerous stories related to agriculture in East and West Africa, and have worked as a science reporter communicating complex and technical issues to more general audiences. Africa? Well, I have lived and worked on the continent.

Deal!

“Working on Spore is a steep learning curve”, Susanna warned.


New Delhi, February 2019. The street vendor’s voice still sets the pace of my mornings. Even though my tolerance to noise has significantly decreased, I haven’t tired of hearing his song every day – it’s now part of my routine.


Three days a week – sometimes more when the workload and deadlines require it – I virtually depart from the shores of India and wander in (mostly) African lands, as Spore’s French editor. It has not gone without some hiccups. I knew from experience about farmers’ difficulties to grow food in poor rural areas and the lack of adequate infrastructures to allow them to bring their products to markets. However, I had pretty much everything to learn about the use of digital technologies in the fields and the ins and outs of agricultural value chains. ‘Climate-smart agriculture,’ ‘agri-finance’ and ‘e-agribusiness’ were foreign concepts to me. Moreover, Spore’s readership expects facts, figures, expertise. So this was the “steep learning curve” I had to face.


When one works from home, routine is key. In another blog post, Stephanie said that she would drive herself mad if she had to work from home and had no one to talk to the whole day. I admit to being on the edge of madness sometimes, but I reckon working part-time keeps me from talking to myself.


In the morning, I edit and write articles – commissioning some to our network of Francophone correspondents – and reply to emails sent late in the evening by the team in the UK, with India being 5.5 hours ahead. Ensuring that the French and English content matches has certainly taught me how to juggle the two languages simultaneously; mind you, the French language often requires 10 words to express an idea that English wraps up within half that number.


After the quiet morning comes the afternoon flood of emails. About 7,600 km away, my colleagues arrive at the WRENmedia office in Suffolk, or sit at their desk in London. We then have a 4–5 hour window to communicate, exchange ideas and agree on who does what. We have learned how to turn the time difference to our advantage – I know that I can do most of my research and editing in the morning, while the team knows that they can email me queries, reminders or not-so-urgent deadlines in the evening for me to work on the day after.


The same goes with correspondents, particularly for those based in West Africa, who are in the same time zone as the UK. Though working remotely can be a challenge, one of the most interesting aspects of collaborating with correspondents around the world is to adapt to their working environments and professional standards. One day, our correspondent in Madagascar couldn’t file his article on time because the telecommunications were down – a hurricane had hit the country. The next, the correspondent in Burkina Faso was sending texts by the dozen at 10 pm because he couldn’t get hold of an interviewee.


Almost two years on and I think the team and I have found our cruising speed. Spore has just launched its new website, I have attended three editorial meetings at the CTA headquarters in the Netherlands and the magazine’s social media presence is growing by the day. What a nice journey it has been so far.


It is almost the end of the day here in Delhi. It will soon be time to return, virtually, to India. Beyond the window, I can hear the city’s traffic roaring louder. In the UK, my colleagues will have their lunch break before coming back to their desk. Somewhere, Spore’s newsroom is always on.


Vincent Defait

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