Sunsetting the dialogue

Tomorrow we leave. Today we are busy.

Many of us are still tying up our last stories, making final minute edits, having food delivered to whichever location we are collectively holed up in working over our computers. As much work as I have to do, I feel very at ease and content surrounded by everyone. I will miss this.

I am proud to be a part of all the work we have done here and it is so satisfying seeing all of our stories filling up the online magazine.

There have been many moments where I have felt like this; leaving interviews where I really connected to the person, putting together video for the first time (thank you for your patience and Final Cut expertise, Danny) for Brandon’s amazing story and seeing it go up on the site, sitting at dinner with the friends I have made here reflecting on a long day’s work.

Even the days where I spent almost 10 hours in the hotel writing and editing photos, it felt like it was all amounting to something. And now we are all seeing the fruits of the labor we have put in.

Plus, Ellie was always there in those (eternally long) moments to cheer me up with snacks and motivation  because she’s the best of all time ever.

I will hold onto these experiences always. This dialogue has been one of the most, if not the most, fulfilling, challenging and teaching thing I have ever done.

This place is beautiful, the people are welcoming and genuine and I am so grateful to have seen it.

The other day a few of us went to Carlene’s apartment where she has the most beautiful rooftop patio with a gorgeous view of the Acropolis. As the sun was setting, Mike suggested making a time-lapse of the lights coming on around the Parthenon and the sky slowing fading into night.

I took him up on that. It’s here:

I hope you enjoy it.

 

Value

For every time that I missed home in the beginning of our dialogue I’m now wishing I had more time here. I cannot believe I will have to say goodbye to Athens in seven short days. And that realization elevates the urgency of the work I have to do this week as I finish my stories. It is even more critical that I remain focused.

Throughout the trip, I have been trying to stay mindful of why I came here. Yes to see Greece, yes to get experience reporting in a foreign country but also to push myself out of my comfort zone. My goal was take in and understand a place very different (in many, many ways) than where I am from and to share what I learned.

Ellie and I grabbed lunch the other day at one of our favorite new spots for a quick, delicious bite: Etnico. If you’re looking for good atmosphere and variety (Mexican, Indian, Arabian) this is the place.

We had a long conversation about what it means to us to be reporters covering a country in crisis. Of course, the things we all have experienced here have shaped our ideas on how to do that.

If this trip has taught me anything, it is that there are people who want their stories to be told. It is important work to record people’s lives and experiences and it is equally important to acknowledge their space and what they have been through after they let us in. And regardless of what medium we choose to tell it through – photography, video, print – we owe it to them, and to everyone, to tell the truth and to tell it with respect. It is not always easy, but that is our job as journalists.

It was this conversation with Ellie that kept popping back into my mind as we listened to our guest speaker today, Dimitrios Bouras. Bouras is a war photographer who has covered conflict and the effects of war for many years. And the way that he approaches his work resonated with me. He places himself wherever he is shooting, not just physically but mentally and emotionally, as well. And that is what shines through in his photographs. His subjects are people first, not just numbers, not just nameless faces.

“There is power in this piece of metal in my hand,” he said, talking about the point in his life when he decided to commit to this line of work. And it couldn’t be more true. A single photograph has the power to shape public opinion and to spur incredible, impactful action.

“Our job is simple. We have to carry the message,” Bouras said. This is how I view the work we have done on this dialogue. We are carrying the message of what we have seen here and sending it to our audience at home.

At the risk of repeating myself, it is not easy work but it is important work. We are no experts. We are students. But we came here to put ourselves out there and to learn what it takes to report on stories that matter. And if we can do that while staying true to our inner moral compass then there is infinite value in that. There is value in it for us to develop as storytellers and there is value in it for those who wish to be heard.

There are projects I have been a part of on this dialogue that I did not imagine myself working on. And it’s made me a better journalist, a better human and even more motivated to give a voice to people who could not share their story in the same way on their own. And it doesn’t matter if 100 people see it or 100,000. If it affects one person, starts one discussion, than it is worth it. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to contribute that.

Athens is…

This city is alive at all hours of the day, loud and bustling. Every street you walk down there is a car or motorbike you end up having to jump out of the way of. There are yellow cabs – not white and blue, like Thessaolinki – that race down every street once the light flashes green. Most of them do not slow down for crosswalks. The subway is deep underground. Its cars are covered in graffiti and screech over the metal rails in a way that makes you cringe like it were nails on a chalkboard. The car windows remain open, allowing a rush of air to cut through the stifling heat in between stops. The sidewalks are crowded with people, especially at night, especially in the squares.

And I love all of it.

Athens is unlike any city I have ever visited. Every corner you turn, there is something new to take in. There is graffiti that lives next to beautiful street art, there are hundreds (more likely thousands) of restaurants alongside small cafes, as many alley markets as there are brandname store fronts that all operate at odd hours. And mixed in with all of that are the ancient sites. From far away the Parthenon is beautiful, up close it is spectacular.

This is far.
This is near.

We had the opportunity to visit island of Aegina over the weekend. The water was crystal clear and dotted with boats that floated just off the shore.

Ag Marina Beach.

We were lucky enough to catch the most beautiful sunset on the last ferry ride back to the port Piraeus.

I’m the captain now.

And even still, there is so much of the city left to explore. I plan on making the most of it.

 

 

 

 

On to Athens

We departed from Thessaloniki for Meteora early yesterday morning. On both sides of our bus, the mountain range that Mt. Olympus is part of zipped by. Towering above, the snow topped peaks would suddenly disappear as we passed through a series of tunnels only a few months old. Some are up to 5 miles long and cut through gorges and ravines, allowing easy, high speed passage for traveling motorists. The mountains made way for the plains, open fields that stretched out on both sides of the road – some of it farmed, some not.

Beautiful, gorgeous Meteora.

We stopped in gorgeous Meteora for a day to see the monasteries in the sky. Colorful, beautiful depictions lined the walls in every direction you looked inside some of the rooms. After spending the night, it was back on the bus for a scenic drive through the countryside. I have never seen mountains so tall.

Beautiful, gorgeous town of Delphi.

We landed here in Athens hours ago and I cannot wait to get to know this city. Every street is filled with shops, restaurants, live music. It has so much life. But I should say, our long bus ride left me with plenty of time to think. It made me realize how quickly our three weeks in Thessaloniki flew by. Home feels like forever away and I do miss my family and friends but I have to put that aside for now. I still have some work to do in Athens for the next 12 days.

As I have been finding out, photography has become the main focus of my work in Greece. Yes, I will be writing two stories which will finish up in Athens but it is the photography work I have been doing that I am enjoying the most. It has given me the opportunity to play a little part in other stories people are working on, to see this country in more unique ways than if I had only worked on my own. It has been a bit tough trying to balance time on all of these but it has been more than worth it.

I wish I could tell you how many miles Cody and I walked to get photos for his anarchist story. We have probably walked the city three times over. But in doing so, we stumbled across little parts of the city we would have never have otherwise.

And with Asia’s antiquities story, I got see a column that has existed in the city since 323 B.C., among other things. Unfortunately, the column hasn’t been kept in the best condition and is not given the proper attention it deserves. No one seemed to know where it was and we basically walked by it the first time, only going by coordinates. But what a mind-bending thing to mull over, stumbling upon something that old.

I had the opportunity to assist Brandon with a few stories, one of which turned me into an Aris Ultra fan. Seeing how passionate the fans were, regardless of how their team was playing, was truly something I’ve never experienced before. And now I have the sweetest jersey ever.

Then there was the Syrian refugee family Paxtyn, Gwen, Danny and I spent time with this week. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to photograph. But I was, and still am, moved by the kindness and warmth of that family. They had gone through so much but were so incredibly open and hopeful.

It’s been a true pleasure exploring Thessaloniki in its many facets. While I am sad to bid it farewell, I am excited to see what new adventures – and photo ops – Athens has in store.

 

There are moments Pt. 1

Inspired by Suma’s latest post, I put together a few photos that I’ve taken in moments between happenings on this trip. We could be taking a break while on a tour, grabbing a bite to eat, or just walking to and from sites. When these moments arise, I like to take photos of the group… without them knowing. Creepy? Maybe. Nice to have? Again, maybe.

For which ever side you fall on:

Sorry or… You’re welcome.

 

This week’s visit

I have stayed away from the blog this week. Not from the lack of things to write about but for the lack of how to say them. It’s been the hardest week so far when it comes to wearing my journalist hat.

I knew the kind of work we would be doing here when I signed up for this. The title of the dialogue did, after all, have the word “crisis” in it. But I wasn’t expecting it to affect me in the way that it did. In fact, I think the different experiences we have had these last few days have affected all of us on this dialogue in ways we weren’t anticipating.

On Tuesday, I went with Paxtyn, Gwen and Danny on a visit to the home of a Syrian refugee family. A family of eight, miraculously all still together, had been living in a one bedroom apartment for the last three months. For a few hours that day, we listened while the father took us through their experiences over the last few years. They had been in multiple camps in two different countries before landing in Greece. All the while, the father tried to find some way to provide for his wife and their six children, whose ages ranged from 3 months to 10 years old. Here in Greece, there had been a push to get families out of the camps and into better living arrangements.

But the apartment they were in now also came with a different set of troubles. The ceiling had holes in it where rainwater fell through, the wall outlets had exposed wires that could shock you if you touched them, mice were not an uncommon sight, there was one bed (with no sheets) for them all to share.

Despite all of this and all they had been through, they were welcoming and amazingly open. They made us tea, offered to cook for us, and gave us their entire afternoon. They wanted to tell their story. They wanted someone who would listen. And all of this is incredible. I am moved that a family that has been through so much trauma still has so much hope for the future. What stays with me the most is the happiness that emanated from the kids. The father sat with Paxtyn, Gwen, Danny and the translator, Alix, for the first few hours of our visit. I followed the children with my camera into another room after they had gotten restless.

As with all kids, the energy that they had was boundless. They ran to and from showing me different things in the apartment (which really was not all that much), pictures they had drawn and games that they played. They posed for photos making silly faces and then immediately tugged on my pant leg to see what I had taken. The little boy, who spoke no english, went to the bathroom to tidy up his hair at one point; he slicked it back with water like he was in Grease. When we all took a break from the interview, the children invited us to kick around a ball outside. We played catch and monkey in the middle as they run around in the small courtyard, laughing and smiling.

I have to admit, I struggled with photographing them for the story. In a few weeks time, I will be home in the US, going about my daily life, while the future is uncertain for this family. It was difficult to accept that we were dropping in and asking so much from them only to have to move on so quickly. But as hard as it can be to cover something like this, it is just as important. Their story, and the many others that have been told to us on this trip, deserve to be known. And if they are willing to open up and share these painful moments in their lives so that they do not go unnoticed, no matter the size of the audience, then we have a responsibility to write them.

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My favortie photo ever taken by Danny Mortimer

How do you like them olives

On a walk back from an interview, I stumbled upon one of the open markets that occur throughout the city. They typically happen on weekends so I was surprised to see one on a Friday afternoon. These markets take up a whole street and stretch for a couple of blocks. You can find almost anything: from brand name sneakers to purses, fruits and vegetables to fresh fish. Books, clothing, apples, wine, honey – if you have a desire for something, you will find it here.

Get ’em while they’re hot.

I tried to barter for a bracelet. I was unsuccessful.

There is so much to take in. People perusing about getting their grocery shopping done for the week; farmers shouting out prices from under their umbrellas, trying to get any buyers attention.  I sort of stuck out like a sore thumb trying to take pictures of all that was going on. One young man yelled “tourista!” as I walked by.

To that Greek youth: I am a traveler, not a tourist.

About half way down the street I stopped next to a stand where two men were selling olives. One of them held one out to me to try as I was filming. Olives are not exactly my thing but he had a lot of them and I was not about to be rude.

World’s Best Olive Stand

And wow! I have had olives back home that I did not particularly care for but these were delicious. I wanted to buy a few of each kind so that I could try them all. However, language barriers are a very real thing. One gentleman spoke Greek, the other spoke French, and I speak neither of those well enough.

Though I thought I made it semi-clear what I wished to purchase, I don’t think they understood. Happily, what ended up happening was I got a bag of one kind of olive (and a peach) for … wait for it… free! I tried to pay but they just smiled and waved me goodbye. Truth be told, they were probably just trying to get rid of the weird American.

In any case, I think I like olives now.