And…cut!

I’m writing this blog post from my apartment in Rome, Italy with my mom in the next room packing for our next stop, Florence. I am ecstatic to travel across Italy and yet, it’s weird not packing next to Isabelle in my Thessaloniki apartment. It’s even stranger to be taking a train rather than the 20-person-full Greyhound bus. The weirdest part of all…I even miss the whole journalism part too (don’t tell Carlene šŸ˜‰ )

Right now, aside from the aforementioned feelings of weird, I don’t think I have even begun to process what I just did during these past five weeks. To tide my loyal fans over (and to satisfy the required posting of blogs) I have put together a 7ish min montage of my time in Greece. I would like to pre-apologize to Mike, for I have used zero tripods in the making of this clip, BUT I did include audio fades and one transition.

Enjoy.

If you have been reading this blog, then you know of my roller coaster of emotions in my “On…” series. While those feelings were true to their core, while on this trip, those represent just a small snapshot of all the moods, feelings and thoughts I’ve had in this short period of time. I hope that I can someday put all of them into writing, either on this blog or elsewhere, but honestly I don’t see that ever being possible. Anger from this trip will fade into melancholy and acceptance, sadness into a tiny fraction of what it was and sadly, even the extreme happiness found in Greece will turn a less vibrant shade of yellow as the small details slip away.

However, this trip should not be looked at as fragments of a whole but as a huge, amazing, extraordinarily-hard-to-describe-no-matter-how-much-I-want-to experience of a lifetime that I will forever cherish and remember as something that has helped me to grow as a journalist, a friend and an overall person.

Thanks for reading.

Now, onto pizza, pasta, gelato and a well deserved break from reporting.

On Support

On my walk back home from the subway this evening with Asia, (a walk that deserves another blog post itself, stay tuned), there was a short lull in our seemingly never-ending conversation and in that temporary pause between inside jokes and echoing laughter, I realized something. I had only really met Asia five weeks ago and yet we have grown so close and shared so much during this emotional, rewarding, stressful, fun and challenging trip.

This dialogue has taught me many things. One major take away from this trip has been learning just what an amazing support system can do and why I very much need the kind of system this group of 18 individuals has given me. Throughout this post I am going to give a few shoutouts, but truly, every student on this trip has taught me something for which I am forever grateful. I appreciate you all more than you will ever know.

To start, I have learned to believe myself. No, I did not forget to write the word “in” here. I have learned that my truth is my truth and I need to believe it. After Olivia read through a work of mine she told me not to believe that it didn’t hold up and that it could not only stand on its own but should. I started out thinking it was worthy, and when I faltered in that thinking, I needed her reminder to believe in my gut and in my work.

I have also learned to share, hopefully not for the first time as I hope Kindergarten also taught me the basics of that. I don’t mean share as in the sharing of work, credit or praise. I mean share as in sharing my feelings with those I trust and not worry if I am burdening them or dragging them down. My roommate Isabelle can attest to this, as can Asia and most likely Paxtyn (freshmen have to stick together), but I have had talks/cries/rants with them more on this trip than in my entire first year of college and most likely longer than that. In those moments, they encourage me to let it all out, wanting to help not because they have to but because that is what a friendship is all about. In turn, I have done the same with no negative feelings or negative energy surrounding myself afterward, but it’s harder I suppose when it’s you that needs the support. I used to think I was infecting them with my sadness or anger, but now, after much assurance from Isabelle, I know that I am not and we can (and did) all go out an hour later to enjoy the town we have right outside our hotel doors.

I have learned that my work should reflect myself in it and I have to be proud of everything that leaves my workspace and is published on another with my name on it. David, while reporting on the protests of Thessaloniki, reminded me of that, while trying to get each word right on our long story. I have always loved to write and loved it almost as much when I see my name published in bold next to anything I have had a part in working on. A once self-proclaimed “slut for bylines” I have now fully realized just how much my work means to me and don’t just want a byline but want a byline I am proud of having above an article I fully support. While writing a story (yet to be published, stay tuned maybe) in Athens, I was proud of how it read, beginning to end. When I later found out that some of it would be scrapped, and not just in simple edits, I realized how deeply I connect to my work. I was reminded by Asia that loving what one has produced and standing by its quality is to be applauded, no matter the consequence. I am no stranger to edits, but I am also not one to have her voice snuffed out nor produce half-assed work for the world (or anyone who Googles my name) to see. Another thank you goes to Cody for helping me in getting my stories out there and hopefully onto the pages of Google, offering to help me pitch stories to the real world after the trip. (If you decide to move to Minneapolis, HMU for a tour.)

Most of all, I have realized that I am not alone here. I have always had someone to go to dinner with. I have never sat alone on a rooftop bar or at a beach or even in a taxi. More importantly, when I am feeling a certain way, there is always someone who is feeling that way too that I can talk to. When I have had frustrations on this trip there has always been a hotel bed to sit and rant on, everyone exchanging similar tales of grievances or annoyance. When I have good days reporting, Isaac is always there with a bottle of wine and everyone else is there to drink it and celebrate too. We trade stories, complaints, laughter, edits, suggestions and most likely germs too (thanks Brandon + the grads for getting me sick), and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Support is not easily come by in a world (and profession) riddled with rejection and harsh criticism. When you find those people who support you but also don’t sugar coat the truth, cherish them, spend five weeks with them in a high stress environment, and please try and keep them around for as long as you can.

Here’s to the last three days, lets make them count and I’ll (inevitably) see you all on the rooftop bar in a bit.

Scrambling the Patriarchy

As the title of this blog hopefully suggests, this post is about eggs.

Last night, after working in the hotel for the past few days (check out my latest story here and stay tuned for my next one coming soon), I decided it was about time to check out the night life in Athens.

Thessaloniki, despite being criticized by some of my friends here, provided some of the best nights out. Sure, there were some nights that we didn’t find a good club and ended up at a smoke-filled bar, they were still fun, safe and for the sake of this post, egg-free.

Back to last night, after leaving a cool underground bar with an amazing bar tender, Olivia, Luke, Isaac, Paxtyn, Gwen and I were walking around the neighborhood when all of a sudden…

**CRACK*

An egg flew from the open window of a car full of hoodlum boys racing past us. The egg in question rocketed straight into my ribcage, leaving an oblong-shaped bruise and more importantly, putting a rotten mood on my night. (Rotten egg, get it?)

It’s not the egg itself that bothered me. It’s the fact that I no longer felt safe in a neighborhood that I was here to explore and make my own. We continued on our path, determined to barhop, but the whole time I felt uneasy (or over easy…? Can’t help but make a few egg puns. They crack me up.)

The next day, Asia and I took the subway down to the marketplace to scope out some street art and find a new angle for her story. On the way back, not only did I get stared at and was the unfortunate recipient of once-over glances from a very creepy 60+ year old man, the eggs made another appearance.

Standing in front of a convenience store of all places, on our way home from our night of graffiti and chocolate cake, the now familiar sound of boys yelping and the deafening *CRACK* of, yes, another egg, came whizzing towards us, crashing into the pavement by our feet and splattering our shoes with yoke.

This time, all we could do was crack up (sorry, did it again).

Since I have been here, I have definitely noticed the apparent sexism and creepiness of the men here after about 7 p.m.. Sadly, sexism is something that all women, no matter the country, deal with daily. In the field of journalism, that may mean that a interviewee may not talk to you or speak in a demeaning way. It means only going out in groups, preferably with a man and not a group of two girls. It means returning by sundown and not wearing shorts, despite the 85 degree weather.

Here, I guess it means getting an unwanted omelette pitched at you at 50 mph from a car full of immature boys.

I can laugh about it now. (Come on Greece, you are in an economic crisis and you are wasting perfectly good breakfast food?!) But in all seriousness, it can feel pretty gross sometimes to be a target of anything from catcalls on the streets (so far its been about 20+ times) to the fear of being egged every time I leave the hotel.

Boys, didn’t your mom ever tell you not to play with your food? Calm down, make an omelette and take a break from being obnoxious. I’m egghausted.

Just a Small Town Girl…?

I have always been one for big cities, having grown up in one way too small for my liking. Boston called my name last year, a welcome escape from the suburbia of Edina, Minnesota.

Leaving Thessaloniki behind for the bigger and more well know Athens, I did not experience the same longing to be in the big city. Instead I felt a pang of sadness and a sense of nostalgia for the city I had only come to know in three weeks time.

Thessaloniki was not amazing because of its grandeur. Its skinny streets with half-closed shops and street cats did not shimmer with the foreign luster I desired when I first came to Greece. Instead, warn shop signs and tobacco scented air became the sights and smells of home. I knew the man at the gyro place down the street and the lady who worked at the deli counter who never once poked fun at my weekly visit for turkey and cheese (to pack school lunches for Asia and I).

As many of my friends here have mentioned, the boardwalk along the Aegean sea captured my heart from the very first (sweaty) stroll down its length. Serving as the compass rose for our small city, I always came back to the sea. While abroad in a new place, the moment I feel at home is the moment I realize that I know where I am and can make my way home from wherever that may be. On the boardwalk, eating a chocolate cake with Asia and Isabelle, I could turn to the left and remember when I chased protests with David and Bradley, to the right is where we took midnight boat rides and straight ahead is the old city, perched on the hill extending up into the horizon.

I am writing this blog post from Athens, in a humid hotel room with Paxtyn by my side, doing the same. I do not long for Thessaloniki, Alexandrias 124 or even the boardwalk, but they will forever hold a place in my heart. The three weeks spent there sounds like an arbitrary amount of time, but when you are dropped into a city and made to find stories, you learn the city quickly and soon after that, falling in love is inevitable.

While it is sad to say, I will most likely not return to Thessaloniki. I have a dream to travel the world, and that does not allow any time for do-overs. It is time for Athens now, a full two weeks to learn, map, explore and write about a new city. Athens is bigger and busier for sure, but after exploring for just four hours today with Theo (our guide of sorts) and Asia, I can tell my heart will be bruised when I must leave, just the same as it was when I left our first city.

Here’s to you Thessaloniki. Thank you for hosting me and helping me acclimate into Greece.

And to you Athens, here I am.

On Limits

I’m sitting halfway up Mt. Olympus, currently feeling far from godlike.

I had tried to push my limits and decided to hike the mountain, something I used to be able to do with (somewhat) ease. About 3 years ago, I had the worst year of my life, resulting in a paralyzed left leg and now, a very weak and finicky one. You can ask me for the full story later, but long story short, I am limited and I hate it.

I was never the most fit kid, but I have always loved nature and exploring. Growing up at a summer camp in the forests of Wisconsin and having a nature trail in my back yard, falling in love with trees and green was inevitable.

Since my (botched) surgery, my love for nature has frustratingly not diminished. The five-hour hikes have turned into one-hour, harder trails into easy and less beautiful strolls. And today, the four-hour hike to see the Gods of Olympus has turned into a $25 cab ride and a $1.50 beer in a taverna not even Hades would want to be at, the rain putting out his fiery blue hair.

Knowing ones limit is something I still have not come completely to terms with. I am not good at saying no, holding anyone back or turning down a group activity. Coined, “FOMO” or “fear of missing out,” I push my limits, medical and mental, to match those around me, and in this case, it is not such a good thing. While I know no one on this trip would say anything mean about me, the fear of missing a great hike, an inside joke or worse, being the butt of the joke is worse than the ache in my leg.

Ever since the first twitch of my big toe, signaling that I wouldn’t be paralyzed forever, I have pushed myself to embrace everything. I shoved my bandaged foot into my heels for the Homecoming dance, bound my ankle to my calf in order to make it to my first day of school and hiked up and down Masada (in Israel) not once but twice.

On bad days like these, on the side of the road in nowhere-Greece alone and waiting for a cab in the rain, I try and remember how far i’ve come and how many limits I have pushed with a positive outcome. Today was not one of those days…maybe tomorrow.

Juxtaposition

I was sitting in a beautiful apartment, in an old looking building that smelled of must and some cooking that had been left for quite some time.

I was admiring photographs of four generations of people, while hearing of the destruction of not just families but an entire population.

I was served strawberry and vanilla ice cream in a glass bowl with a tiny silver spoon, while listening to the story of starvation and a hunger not even just physical but a mental hunger as well that touches one’s bones.

Cars playing pop music roll by and screams of happy children echo up, through the open balcony windows and into the house of Heinz Kounio, a Holocaust survivor, telling us his story.

Heinz is a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a death camp in Poland. His family of four, including two parents and a sister, all miraculously survived, used as translators for the Germans, being moved from the death camp Birkenau into the administrative side of the camp, Auschwitz I.

I am not going to retell his story, as Brandon will be doing that in his article to come. I felt the need to blog about this experience for two reasons.

1. I had the fortune of being able to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau two years ago, along with many other camps in Poland. I have still not fully processed it all, and so for selfish reasons, I am blogging to get closer to truly understanding what I saw.

2. We are the last generation to see and hear a Holocaust survivor in the flesh. My children will never see the inked forearm of my brother’s grandmother, nor hear the aged laugh of my childhood best friend’s Bubby, slowly slipping back into solely speaking Yiddish. The survivors stories are so important, and while we have museums to document them (and I am currently writing about a new one in Thessaloniki) the generation of the strongest yet most vulnerable people on the earth are slowly leaving it behind, one by one.

Below are some photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau that I took while there. While listening to Heinz speak, I was transported back there, but in a new way. I was not holding my friend’s hand as we silently walked through the empty barracks, listening to ghosts. I was shoulder to shoulder with Heinz, being pressed up against theĀ bunk’s walls, trying to squeeze through the hoards of people to get through to the other side of the camp.

The famous sign that hangs above the camp. The “B” was placed upside down by the Jews who built the sign for the Nazis, as a warning that this was the end.
One of five chimneys attached to the crematoriums. The photo does not do the height of this tower justice, nor does the blue sky behind it.
One of many gas chambers in the camps, the walls tinted green from the chemical zyklon b.
An oven inside one of the smaller crematoriums.
A watch tower, once housing SS guards armed with machine guns.

These photos document what is left of the camps, and will remain in Poland for the foreseeable future. They will remind the next generations of what happened, a long time ago in history.

These photos, coupled with the live stories of survivors, will not remain. Only in my memory, which will too fade, will the voices of Heinz, Mary, Susan, and countless others of whom I have had the honor to meet live on after their time.

 

 

“It was a night that even Dante did not describe. It was a night of Hell,” HeinzĀ Kounio

Humans (?) of Greece: Part 2

“Bark,” – first day doggo who followed our group on our first tour of the city.

 

“Sniff,” – big dog.

“Sniff, sniff (in affirmation),” -small dog, now most likely married to big dog.

 

“I am the cutest thing you will see all day,” – this pug, probably.

 

*most likely some anarchist or communist propaganda* – protest pupper, napping after a long day of social activism.

 

“Who is this human? Is she mocking me? At least I’m getting pet for this…” – boardwalk dog. Not pictured, his three other pals watching me take this photo.

 

*will update with more dogs as I see fit, stay tuned*