The World Is Cool AF

As I sit here, praying my laptop doesn’t crash once again as I try to export my latest video stories (hitting the site tomorrow!), I’m trying to capture the enormity of today’s excursion to hike Mount Olympus. On the bus, I let my excitement about the mountain get the best of me and started just spewing facts about various aspects of nature and how cool the world is. 

Take a second and just think about this: you, due to all the genetic miracles and impeccable timing and all the beauty of the universe, exist. How cool is that? It’s cool that coniferous trees exist in Greece and in California. And of all the coniferous trees of California, the Giant Sequoias are probably some of the oldest trees on earth, reproducing under extreme heat. That they can withstand huge forest fires, that they in turn need the flames to survive. 

But don’t stop thinking about pine trees and their relatives just yet. Because wrap your head around this: the forests we hiked today are not so profoundly different from the ones we see in Massachusetts or New Jersey, where I hiked regularly. 

Mist rises off Mount Olympus. // Ellie Williams
If only we had more time to wander the forest. // Ellie Williams

These same photos could easily have come from the forests I know and love. And if I’m doing my conversions correctly, it was in the forties today while we hiked, and raining too. Not so different than the last time I went hiking in Reading, MA. But what was different was the truly profound experience of walking on ground that hold so much lore. 

Forests are ancient, beautiful things. And this isn’t to say that American forests aren’t as old. But perhaps it’s because we are such a young nation that ignores the history of those who lived on this land before us, I feel very small watching a stream rush past me that has been rushing past this spot for millennia. Very small and very young. 

Luke made a small friend! // Ellie Williams
Feeling very young next to a cliff. // Ellie Williams

Everything is relative I suppose. Compared to this grass hopper, our life span seems practically infinite. (They have a lifespan of about a year.) But next to these cliffs? We are but grasshoppers. Which isn’t to say that what we do doesn’t matter. I used to feel that way, that the universe is so large, our actions cannot have any true meaning. But I don’t think that’s the case any more. Everything we do has a ripple effect, no matter how small, no matter how much we think no one notices. And in a world marked with so much turmoil and injustice, I think it’s pretty incredible that our actions can make a difference. 

En Route To Chios

Currently sitting in the airport again, this time waiting for a quick flight to the island of Chios. Mike, Suma, Olivia and I will be on the island for almost 24 hours to shoot a story on Leslie Schick, a Boston local who does humanitarian work in the refugee camps here. 

I’m excited, but nervous. This is my first time being in the camps proper and this is the sort of situation you can’t blow. It’s people’s lives, you know? Not fun and games. 

It’s times like this that I’m so grateful for my past experiences with MSNBC and News12. MSNBC gave me the experience of high intensity, fast-paced work; it taught me that I love breaking news. But News12 gave me a more relaxed environment to build these skills, to get those rejections, to fail safely.

I’m fairly confident there will be no failure on this trip. This is a good team of experienced and competent journalists. But I want, I need, to get this right. 

SOS: There’s No Dunks in Frankfurt

Landed around 1 a.m. EST in the Frankfurt Airport, so about 7 a.m. local time. Despite being a New York snob, I found myself wanting nothing more than a medium iced mocha coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts…of which there are exactly zero in the Frankfurt Airport. It’s funny, but I haven’t been to Europe since I was in middle school and for some reason in my head, I thought there would be tourism police like in South Korea. (There isn’t, to my knowledge.) But there is way more English than I remember there being in either the Tokyo or Seoul airports, so that’s a plus.

Immediate observations:

  • None of the foreigners can figure out the hand dryers here, myself included.
  • I’m really glad I listened to Carlene (and my mom) and exchanged currency before arriving, as I watched an American girl pay for a $9 coffee and pastry with a $100 bill.
  • I’m gonna crash so hard when I arrive in Greece and can’t wait for these scratchy sheets everyone’s been talking about in their blogs.
  • I’m really so glad my brother is on the West Coast (and thus still awake at this hour) and able to chat with me because most of our childhood vacations comprised of the two of us playing make believe games upon a backdrop of European museums and cultural sights.
    Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 8.25.28 AM
    Caleb and I in Italy, circa 2000

    It’s going to be weird not traveling with my family, my consistent travel partners for every major trip I’ve been on. I’m excited to be on my own more or less, but it is a little sad to not be with them.

  • I think I hit my limit of watching CNN panel conversations hash out and re-hash Trump’s interview with Lester Holt. Which is to say, about 5 hours straight of it.

Anyhow, I’ll most likely post again tonight when I get settled into my room with Bridget and can take some photos of Thessaloniki.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Agora

“Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life.” –Promises

So uh…despite the pre-departure post, I never actually made it on the plane. Continue reading “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Agora”

Black captain, are you ready? 


It’s not a great photo, and I swear the ones I take for this trip will be better, but I just wanted to post something as I sit, waiting for the rest of the team in Logan Airport. It’s the first time I’ve been here (Newark Liberty or die) and I’m nauseous as anything. I don’t mind flying, thankfully I got well acclimated with being in the air as a kid (thanks Mom and Dad!) and I spend a fair amount of time in it now (here’s to you, LeiLei and Mo!). No, it’s mostly adrenaline. I’m intimate with this feeling, it’s the same as the kind I get before the first hit of a rugby match, that sort of electrifying anxiety that opens a gaping pit in your stomach. You get that first solid hit in and you’re golden, the rest of the game will be fine. But until you get that first hit in, you’re sick and jittery. 

So here I am, waiting for the ref to ask “Black captain, are you ready?” Waiting for my professor to say, “Yes sir!” Waiting for our kicker to boot the ball deep into the forward pack, waiting to blitz off the kick off, straight into the challenges that lie ahead and land that first clean tackle of the trip. Connect, wrap, drive. After that, everything will be fine. 

My Shot

Tomorrow marks a week from departure. It also marks four days from donning a cap and gown and putting a lei on and walking through TD Garden to graduate from Northeastern. Me graduating was never a guarantee, let alone jetting off to Greece. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty big week.

Molly helped me go shopping this weekend for all the things I’ll need–somehow I didn’t own a single baseball cap or pair of sunglasses before yesterday. The cashier asked me what I was doing post-graduation (I still hate making small talk at the checkout, but Molly’s been wearing me down in that aspect) and when I told him about the reporting trip, he thanked me for doing it. He thanked me, as if I’ve done anything worth thanking for being privileged enough to have this chance. I thanked him, and again he thanked me for doing what I can to tell more people here about what’s happening to the refugees in Greece.

I keep making and re-making detailed packing lists as if the repetition could somehow prepare me for what we’ll see in the camps. I’ve wanted this since the Arab Spring began; in high school, my sister gave me a number of books written by revolutionaries including Demanding Dignity, a series of essays by Arab Youth involved in the uprisings. To see the ramifications up close wasn’t ever something I thought possible. To say that this experience will be helping me build my reel, my resumé, and profoundly change me is an understatement.

Of course, the counterbalance of this is that what is “an amazing opportunity” for me and my career is the suffering and terror for others. In his piece for Newsweek, Winston Ross puts it far more eloquently,

When I do this kind of piece—when any of us does this kind of piece—we are still hyenas, no matter what good comes out of it. We can comfort ourselves by rationalizing our actions, proclaiming that we’re writing the first draft of history. But we’re also jabbing our snouts into freshly dug graves, gnashing through coffins and munching on broken bones. It’s our nature.

And maybe this is our curse as journalists–we are tasked with acting as a megaphone, elevating the pained voices of those we speak with, while at the same time, we’re probing into fresh wounds trying to elicit the best cry.

Tragedies in particular stick with me. I can’t look away, I obsess over them, collecting as much information as I can about them. Memoirs of those caught in the crossfire are ideal: Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Burma. Maybe it’s because through those stories, I can make abstract history lessons real.

I’m leaving in 8 days and I have more questions than ever, about this trip, about myself, and about the state of the world. I try to smile every time a well meaning stranger tells me how lucky I am to be going to Greece, how much fun I’ll have. Fun isn’t my biggest priority, but I know that this is my chance to make my mark. I’m nervous, but I will not throw away my shot.