19,534 Words

That’s how many words I’ve written since coming to Greece.

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Outside a bookstore I visited today. I feel like I’ve written enough words to fill all of these books, but my math tells me that’s not the case. 

Forgive me if the number’s not exact. I copied and pasted the text from every blog post, then added up the words for my two published stories and two yet-to-be-published. I’m accounting for about half of the story Paxtyn and I are writing together, the first draft of which clocks in around 3,500 words. I estimated 1,000 words for rewrites and 1,000 for emails, though both of those estimates are conservative.

Handwritten notes, of course, don’t make up part of this number, though I’ve nearly filled three reporter’s notebooks taking down observations and logging interviews. Nor do Facebook messages, though my friends and I have conferred many times about where to go to dinner. I’m not counting the words I wrote in my journal, since most of those were either posted on this blog or said aloud. And I’m obviously not counting  the words I’m typing now.

We’ve been in Greece for approximately 30 days now, so my estimate suggests about 650 words per day. Honestly, that number seems low. I feel like aside from eating and reporting, all I do is write here. Fortunately, I usually enjoy all three of those activities, so it’s not a bad lifestyle.

I’m the kind of person who goes over the word count. It’s not hard for me to come up with a lot of words to tell a story or describe a situation. Of course, using more words doesn’t always mean I’m using the right words. Nor are words necessarily the most effective tool for telling a story, as many of our resident videographers will attest to.

I think that for me, words will always be the medium in which I feel most comfortable expressing myself. However, I’m getting better at shooting video every time I pick up a camera, and my photography skills are also improving. These tools are essential in an era where our collective attention span is becoming increasingly shorter, and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to continue to develop them over the past few weeks.

Still, there’s something to be said for having words to document this experience. In a way, it’s like an uber-overachieving version of writing “Gwen was here” on a random street corner.

Hopefully, though, it’s also something bigger. I know the words I have written on this trip will be valuable to me. But I also hope they will provide value to others who read them. The ongoing ethical question we have dealt with on this trip is whether it is worth it to write about something, and especially to force people to relive difficult experiences, if the result may not reach a large audience or have a long-term impact.

As journalists, it is necessary to believe that what we are doing is inherently worthwhile. I think that I have managed to keep up that belief throughout the trip, but I am not entirely certain that it is valid. I really hope the words I have written will mean something to someone other than myself, whether that’s my family, one of the many volunteers at the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre, a bookseller in Thessaloniki, or a refugee family whose story has not yet been fully told.

I have no way of knowing the impact my work will have. But I hope that these 19,534 words create something beyond personal documentation. I hope that they create dialogue, or news, or evoke emotion. I hope that they have been worthwhile.

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Blue Skies and Gorgeous Sunsets

Yesterday was our third full day in Athens. So far, my impression of the city is that it’s much larger and more bustling than Thessaloniki, but in a good way. Every time I turn a corner I see a cute coffee shop I want to try.

I have really enjoyed my time in Athens so far, but very little of it has been spent in the city. On Friday, I took the tram one hour from the downtown area to Glyfada, where the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre is located. During the very crowded tram ride, I listened to music as we passed by some lovely beaches that hopefully I will get to before the end of the trip.

The reason for my trip to Glyfada was to film and take notes on the release of a sea turtle, Angelliki (Greek word for “angel”), back into the ocean. Angelliki was found with a head injury and rehabilitated for about seven months at the rescue center before she was declared ready to resume her life in the ocean. The release was amazing to watch, and I also really enjoyed talking to some of the volunteers at the rescue center – who come from countries all over the world – about their experience so far. Stay tuned for my upcoming story about sea turtle research and conservation in Greece.

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Two of the volunteers at ARCHELON just before releasing sea turtle Angelliki into the ocean.

The trip to Glyfada was also a great opportunity to see a couple of different beaches here in Athens. The release of the sea turtle took place in collaboration with the Aqua Divers Club, which is about a 45-minute drive from Glyfada. I’m really glad I had the chance to visit such a beautiful place, and the drive there was absolutely breathtaking. Not to mention the brief but exhilarating boat ride.

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The beach at the Aqua Divers Club.

My ocean tour continued yesterday when we took a group field trip to Aegina, one of the closest islands to the mainland. We took cabs across the island to visit the Marina Beach, one of the largest beaches on the island. Lying on the beach and swimming in the ocean provided some much-needed relaxation, and by the time we left around 6p.m., everyone looked sun-kissed and happy. I also got to try some of Aegina’s famous pistachio ice cream!

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Enjoying the ferry ride on the way to Aegina.
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Marina beach on the island of Aegina.
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Aegina is known for its delicious pistachios, as Pavlos Tsaros, rescue network coordinator at ARCHELON, told me during our car ride to the Aqua Divers’ Club on Friday. I’d say the pistachio ice cream lives up to the hype.

The best part of the day, though, was the ferry ride back to the port of Piraeus. Our timing on the 7:30 ferry was perfect, and we got to witness one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Watching the sun set over the Aegean Sea is an experience I will never forget.

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Not pictured: dolphins also enjoying the sunset in the distance.
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Pure happiness. Photo by Suma Hussien

I know we only have about a week remaining in Athens, and I think that by then, I will be ready for a vacation. But moments like the sunset last night help remind me just how lucky I am to be here.