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Traveling Diary Connects Women Around The World During Pandemic Isolation

The Traveling Diary Tour (Courtesy of Kyra Peralte)
The Traveling Diary Tour (Courtesy of Kyra Peralte)

2005 gave moviegoers “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Fast forward: 2020 gave women across the globe a traveling diary.

Kyra Peralte of Montclair, New Jersey, used a traveling notebook to connect women around the world during the deep isolation of the pandemic. She started keeping a journal about the challenges of COVID-19 and then began sending it to strangers, inviting other women to fill in the remaining lined pages of her black and white marbled composition notebook with their own stories.

Now the Traveling Diary Tour has more than 700 members worldwide in places such as London, Australia, Portugal and Hong Kong.

“Connecting women around storytelling was something that I’ve always had on my heart and mind,” she says.

One of the women who received the diary was Chanda Leigh in Atlanta. Leigh is the lead singer of 3D The Boss, a health and fitness pop band that puts on cardio concerts where people come to dance and sweat it out.

“So you can imagine, when COVID hit, how we had to just completely shift gears,” she says.

Her career is about bringing people together, so she says she felt despondent that social distancing was becoming the norm. But around that time, Peralte reached out to Leigh through a mutual friend about the traveling diary.

Peralte says she was overjoyed to find in her mailbox a “physical journal diary that I could hold in my hand and write in with a pen, like old school.”

The first thing the singer did upon opening the package was get a whiff of the notebook.

“I smelled it because I have this thing about the scent of books, like that smell of the newspaper or the magazine or that old book that grandpa left,” she says. “That stuff really pulls memories out for me.”

Then instantly, the tears started to flow.

“I immediately felt like I was connected to the people who I, of course, never met, but whose stories were already in the book,” Leigh says.

She sat down and penned the notebook’s fourth entry.

Within its pages, Leigh describes the harrowing moment when she believes COVID-19 spread through her family even before the virus was seen as a pandemic.

She was visiting her foster sister, who had prematurely delivered a baby. Her sister swore she quit smoking, drinking and doing anything that could harm the baby during pregnancy, Leigh writes in her entry. But as she entered her sister’s house, the smell of cigarette smoke hit her — Leigh wanted to deny it, but she couldn’t, she writes.

Legih woke up the following morning with a cough that soon turned into chest pain and a fever.

“This illness lasted two to three weeks, and in that time, my beautiful niece, she died of respiratory failure,” she writes in the diary. “My whole family was broken hearted and we mourned for a long time. I’ve never seen a casket so small.”

This experience, as she writes in the journal, reminded her to continue to lead a life of love in spite of fear. She still chokes up when re-reading her diary entry from a year ago.

For Leigh, Peralte and many others, pain and isolation during the pandemic served as a reminder of the importance of human connection, relationships and personal health. Discussing those values with strangers in a diary “feels cathartic,” Peralte says.

Just because the pandemic is turning a corner with vaccinations underway doesn’t mean the diary is going to stop making its way around the world.

Storytelling “always been here, it isn’t going anywhere,” Peralte says. “And as the traveling diary community continues to grow and connect, women are finding connections that are authentic in a space that feels safe and real.”

Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.