I am Anthony E. Savvides. This is my blog.

Reflections & adventures of a writer at heart, a journalist by trade and a waiter by night.

The No Year

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It almost feels as though 2014 didn’t happen at all. Though it was a tumultuous year around the globe, with the return of Ebola and the continuing epidemic, the unjust killings of innocent American citizens by unpunished American police officers, natural disasters and the bizarre disappearance of two airplanes, my world seemed to stand still. So much was happening all over the world, but as I observed my immediate surroundings, it felt as though things were happening in slow motion to the point where I witnessed decay rather than progress. In the movie of my life, I was the one character caught standing still, almost frozen, as the rest of the picture moved around me, colors swirling and whooshing and encircling me while violins played over the picture. I haven’t been able to breathe comfortably in more than a year, struggling to tread the waters and stay afloat in a house filled with all of my earthly possessions. I have been drowning.


 

I had plans to move to Beirut in September 2013 to begin working with Transterra Media, but quickly nixed those plans when I faced the reality of becoming a homeowner, a recent college graduate with mounting debt and having accepted a position within a company that wasn’t willing to offer me a salary, or even a position beyond an internship.

Those post-graduation plans began in Boston, while I was still enrolled as an undergraduate student at Northeastern University. Then I returned to New York from Boston in the middle of the summer of 2013, and the house I came home to has been in a constant state of disorder since then. My brother and I began a major renovation due to water damage and moldy beams shortly after my father relocated back to Europe, and shortly after my return to New York. All of my belongings from five collective years at university in Boston packed away in boxes for a year and a half, three suitcases filled with clothing I haven’t worn in almost two years, and boxes of books I haven’t been able to access, let alone read, occupy most of the area that used to be my bedroom. Compounding all of my shit into my bedroom at the end of the hallway are all of my brother and father’s things, including two dining room sets, three couches, two full bedroom sets, two sets of kitchenware and appliances, etc.  It was a struggle living that way, without any order, not too dissimilar than a season of A&E’s Hoarders. I managed to reach the end of 2013 hopeful that, in 2014, I would be able to achieve all of the things I had to put on hold in 2013, and that I would see the end result of the renovation early on in the year.

Well, unfortunately for me, 2014 came and went, just like that.

In the blink of an eye, twelve months somehow managed to elapse. I now find myself cooped up with my dog and my brother, living in my Aunt Andrea and Uncle Jimmy’s house somewhat uncomfortably for almost three months now, still waiting for my home to be livable again. Somehow, our house is actually in worse condition than it was at the beginning of the year. Since returning home, all I have done is wait for incompetent people to do jobs they are incapable of doing well. It began with one asshole contractor in 2013 and now involves three separate teams of contractors, all equally irritating in their own right. Over the course of the last twelve months, I have been jerked around by a number of people, offered too many platitudes and false promises, and treated like shit. Honestly, the time since August 2013 feels like it has been one dark, long, inescapable nightmare. It’s fitting, then, that I spent the final hours of the NO YEAR that was 2014 in bed sweating out a nasty virus and plowing through a box of tissues alone and with only a bottle of Vicks Vaporub and a mug of hot tea on my bedside table. The virus is seemingly the direct result of a rough year. As I sweat in bed through four blankets and two sweatshirts, waiting for the imminent end of the year, it feels as though my body is ridding itself of more than just a virus; my body is fervently fighting to endure the virus and the end of the nightmare.

I have lost, effectively, a year and a half of my life. I have a lot to catch up on in 2015. Thank God I had my brother by my side to suffer through the bullshit year with me, for if anyone knows what a shitty year it has been, it’s him. Thank God 2014 is over. I’ll always looks back on the past year as one of the worst of my life, for nothing seemed to go the way I hoped it would. As a matter of fact, nothing seemed to happen at all.

It was nice to wake up this morning, on the first day of a new year. I rolled out of bed, popped two more Tylenol capsules, and took a look outside. The sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky, the wind moving the barren arms of the trees and the few brown leaves left rustle up and down the roads. It’s a fresh start.

Happy new year, everybody. Here’s to making shit happen this year.

 

Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere,

and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere,

you find yourself.

A look back at 2012, and looking forward to 2013.

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The WordPress.com stats “helper monkeys” (WordPress’ words, not mine) prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

I thought I would share the information with my readers and with all of you who are following my adventures, reading my posts, and the cause for the fireworks below. I never thought this blog would reach such heights. There is much, much more writing to come in 2013, when I will finally finish telling the tale of 2012. I will be honest, I slacked during this year. That is partly due to my return to a handwritten journal, which took me a few steps back from the blogosphere and from my pages here.

I promise you all, though, that more is coming soon. For now, I wish everyone a happy and a healthy new year!! I can’t wait to realize the promise of 2013, and to see what’s in store. Even more, I can’t wait to share the many wonderful things that have shaped 2012. And these tales will be told about the eight months I spent living outside of North America, away from home, with almost two months in Jordan and six in Italy.

2012: what a whirlwind year it has been. On Friday morning, my journey back home, via London’s Heathrow Airport from Rome Fiumicino Airport, kicked off in Germany. On Saturday night in London, I boarded my fourth transatlantic flight, and 21st flight overall, of the year. I landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport at 9pm EST on Saturday night, a mere three hours after I took off from London, according to my watch and thanks to the time zones. It was a long, exhausting, 54-hour trek, during which I was either seated 40,000+ feet up in the air or slouched in some of the most uncomfortable seating known to man, the airport waiting lounge at Rome Fiumicino Airport. What a way to draw the year to a close. On January 5th, I will move back to Boston to begin my final semester at Northeastern University. Bring it on, 2013!

See below for this blog’s biggest hits, popular themes, and what you all enjoyed reading the most. Again, I thank you for following, and I hope you’ve been enjoying it. I know I have.

Cheers, to 2012, and to you all.

-Anthony Savvides

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012, and that’s a lot.

My blog got about 5,100 hits in 2012.

If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Thank you again, to all of my readers.

Click here to see the complete report.

A new chapter begins, with many stories still to be told.

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Today was my second day of a new job in a new city in a (relatively) new country. I have three new roommates, other college students who have just arrived to study at the Umbra Institute in the fall semester in Perugia.

I’ve been living and learning in this Medieval city for more than two months now, and it feels good to turn a new leaf, both in this Italian chapter of my life as well as in my academic and professional career.

Everyday, I have the incredible chance to ride on the open railways through the Umbrian countryside, and I promise you, the trip is a treat each and every time. Even at 6:42 a.m. L’Italia è un paese molto bello, e mi piace vivere in Umbria.

It’s currently 2:36 a.m. in Perugia, so I am going to turn in for the night. A busy day awaits me in the morning in Spoleto.

I will be back soon, though, with tales of my studies atl’Università per Stranieri di Perugia as well as other tales from the summer of 2012. Keep an eye out for a fresh batch of photos via my newly acquired Photobucket account, as well as a new look for the blog.

Ciao for now, e buonanotte a tutti!

Written by AESavvides

September 5, 2012 at 12:42 am

Another sleepless night in Perugia.

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I arrived in Italy on Sunday morning. American Airlines flight 1585 landed in Rome around 10:20 a.m. after eight and a half hours above the Atlantic and western Europe.

I lingered at the airport in Rome for about two hours, waiting for the bus to Perugia, where I am now living for the summer. While I sat in the airport, cigarette smoke filling the wide corridors, I fished a pair of shorts of my suitcase and changed out of my sweatpants. It was still the morning, but Rome’s temperature had already risen to 30 degrees Centigrade.

From the restroom, I went to a little cafe in the airport and had a sandwich with prosciutto, tomato and fresh basil. Now that I’ve been here in Perugia for almost two days, I realize how overpriced that sandwich was. It had to be, though, right? I was at Rome’s international airport, after all.

The Sulga bus arrived promptly at 12:30 p.m., and after about 20 people boarded, we began the journey north. After a tonsillitis diagnosis, a two-day sprint to finish preparing for my trip, and an overnight flight that I couldn’t fall asleep on for the life of me,  I was exhausted, to say the least. Completely worn out. I fell asleep soon after paying the driver my 22 euro fare. The couple of times that I woke up, I noticed a beautiful landscape all around me. I’ll be here for six months, I told myself. There’s no need to fight to keep my eyes open now. After a convincing argument with my inner photographer, I slept the rest of the way to Perugia.

I arrived and was escorted to my apartment by 5 p.m.

That night, all I wanted to do was sleep, but I only managed 4 hours. Last night, all I wanted to do was sleep. I thought I would be more successful this time. I had a full day of Italian instruction at the university and had dinner prepared by 7:30 p.m. At 8:30, I was laying down, and fell asleep within minutes. Then, I woke up. I felt around the night stand and found my watch. It was almost 2:30 a.m. Fuckhere we go again. Another sleepless night, I thought, angrily dropping my watch and rolling over.

Here I am, five hours later, still awake. I suppose the three-way impromptu google video chat with Matt, Melissa and Kristina back in Boston didn’t help my attempt to fall asleep again. But we laughed, and it was nice to see some friendly faces and to catch up. I gave them a virtual tour of my apartment, and invited them all to come visit me here in Italy.

As the clock ticks towards 8 a.m., I’ll stop my rambling here and head to the university for day two of Italian. Class begins at 8, but not promptly. Nothing is prompt here, and in that way, this place reminds me of Amman.

Ciao, for now.

Written by AESavvides

July 10, 2012 at 5:36 am

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“The art of writing

         

                                  is the art of discovering

                     

                                        what you believe.

Gustave Flaubert

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July 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Sorry if this is confusing…

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…But, I am still posting blogs that I wrote while in Jordan, between May 10 and June 13. I am also waiting on my professor, the boss, to edit, finalize and publish my third story from Jordan. That should be coming soon, so stay tuned.

In the midst of this, however, I’m preparing for another journey. Tomorrow night, in less than 36 hours, I will board a flight to Rome, Italy. For the remainder of 2012, I will be based in Perugia, Italy. This half-year experience will serve as my final co-op through Northeastern University. I will be working at TuttOggi, and learning the language of the land at the Stranieri (Università per Stranieri), through the Umbra Institute. Coincidentally, as I am preparing for yet another international reporting experience, I noticed that the Umbra Institute is beginning its very own co-operative education program. Northeastern University, always inspiring other higher education institutions to rethink the traditional four-year study program. (Jeez, that just sounds like a commercial. Northeastern is good, far from great. I didn’t mean to sound like a snob, or to imply that Northeastern is the best of the best and leading the way in the field of higher education.) In the spring (read: dead of winter) I will return to Boston for my final semester of coursework.

So, this is a preview of what’s to come, and a warning to you, my readers: in the next few weeks you will see posts here from Jordan, dated, as well as more current, timely posts from my travels in Italy.

I hope you’re ready! It’s ok if your answer is no. Join the club. I’m still packing after a very positive and productive all-nighter.

Written by AESavvides

July 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Sources, in Jordan, aren’t hard to come by. Because I’m always looking for them. Always.

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Note: this post was written on June 6, as I was wrapping up the reporting of my second story.

Everyone I meet here, I expect to become a source, one way or another. Whether they can directly help me with a comment for a story or put me in touch with another person who can, everyone eventually becomes a source, to some degree. It’s the first time I have really felt like a journalist in that sense.

I’m pretty friendly, and outgoing, but people I meet at home in the states, I don’t perceive them in this way. Maybe they’ll become friends of mine, and I’ll share a beer with one or watch a movie or something of that sort, but I rarely perceive people back home to be sources. Maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe there’s a reason though; in the states, I don’t have steady work. I don’t write news stories on a regular basis. Here in Jordan, both last year and now, I’m always constantly thinking about my stories. There are nights that I wake up sweating, freaking out that I missed an interview.

I have a completely different mindset here. I’m always on the lookout, on the hunt for sources, hoping to get that next great quote, the one that will make the story. Cab drivers, lay people in the city streets, my host family, my friends’ host families, guest lecturers at SIT. When I say always hunting for sources, I mean it. And it pays off. A cab driver I met last night works during the day as a nurse at a hospital here in Amman. Today, I gave his number to Christina, who is working on a story about mental healthcare and treatment in Jordanian asylums, as they’re still called here. And many others I have met and networked with have assisted me, somehow, either directly or indirectly. I think I need to take this mindset back to the states with me. Hopefully, I won’t have to tell US customs about it…

And maybe I need to find a place I can freelance on a regular basis, first, before I can hunt for sources stateside. I guess only time will tell how this new attitude plays out for me and my career.

Written by AESavvides

June 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm

There isn’t enough Salt. Or, a place called Salt, part II.

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Note: this post was written on Saturday, May 19, after our group traveled to Salt, an ancient city in Jordan that was once destined to be the kingdom’s capital.

Last year, while I was studying in Jordan for two weeks, I was fortunate enough to be one of the eight members of our group of 32 to travel on a more intimate excursion to the city of Salt, about 20 km northwest of Amman.

Big Rob, our photography professor, rented a small blue van for the day and hired a driver to take us into the ancient city for the afternoon. You can read more about that trip here.

This year, since our group of about 50 is going to be in Jordan for the entirety of the five-week program, everyone went. Taking a trip with a group that size into a smaller, more conservative Jordanian city was…an interesting experience, to say the least. I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to experience Salt on a more personal level last year, because this year, we were herded around like an American zoo, in Salt for a special showing. People wore jeans that were far too tight. Others wore low-cut shirts, and summery dresses. The whole scene was very strange; there we were, an obnoxious group of 50 loud Americans at a lovely cafe under a tent, enjoying tea and Arabic coffee and ice cream and sheesha and whatnot. Someone decided to plug their iPod into the speaker system at said cafe.

I have never seen cultural imperialism first-hand before, but there we were, dancing along to terrible, awful, American pop music as locals glared with disgust. Instead of enjoying the Jordanian culture, someone felt the need to turn us into a spectacle. Well, I can’t say too many bad things, because I did nothing to change the situation. I was right there with my peers, dancing. Granted, before this happened, we were dancing to traditional Jordanian music, even a song dedicated to the city of Salt.

I won’t write much more to describe our day at the zoo, because I feel that my photographs tell a better story than my words can. Before our pitstop at the tented cafe, we visited the ancient Greek Orthodox Church of St. George (Al Khader Church), which was erected in the 17th century, which was, for me, a highlight of the excursion to Salt this year. During our time there, I was given two things from the priest: the first, a bottle of holy oil, and the second, a green cloth. I was told it was “for wishes.” You are supposed to tie it around your wrist as you make a wish, whatever that may be. And when it comes off, either naturally over time or at your own will, your wish will be granted. While most of my peers and professors tied the strips of green cloth around their wrists, I rolled mine up and placed it in my pocket. I had the feeling that, someday soon, I would need it. (I’ll let you all know when I do…)

We also sat in the city square, under the shade of many trees, sitting among locals as they played mancala. We visited one of the first schools in Jordan, a boys’ secondary school. We visited a lovely, family-run restaurant for lunch. We went to the archeological and historical museum of Salt.

After our tea and coffee break, we drove our big yellow bus up to the highest point in the city to watch the sunset. After sunset, I got to see the tomb of the prophet Elijah in a large, elegant mosque. It was quite incredible. Unfortunately, my camera had died at that point, and all the photos I took are currently being held captive on other cameras and memory sticks. Oh well. Maybe someday, they’ll be returned to me via email. (Jonathon, Caroline: if you’re reading this, I’m talking to you!!) See below for the shots I was able to get.

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Written by AESavvides

June 22, 2012 at 11:38 am

The pinnacle of our reporting from Jordan. An incredible, important story, told by two of my best friends.

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My colleagues, Matt Kauffman and Melissa Tabeek, really outdid the rest of us with their final piece from Jordan; sorry, to the rest of the gang, but it’s true. Their story, below, is so moving, so raw, so powerful, it touched me to my very core. I am close with both of the reporters, and I heard about this story throughout their reporting. Matt, my roommate, would often tell me of the people he and Melissa met in the course of a day. Melissa and I would share a cigarette break, and I could see that something was weighing on her soul; I would try to pull it out of her, but many times she would bottle it up as the tears filled her eyes. I knew that it was difficult for both of them, but I also knew that what they were doing, the story they were telling, was so important.

To Matt and Melissa: I’m so proud of both of you, and glad to be your friend and your colleague. To Carlene: thank you for guiding them and encouraging them throughout this process. I sat next to Melissa in the lobby of the Imperial Palace Hotel all those weeks ago, the morning after we arrived, when she received your email regarding the story pitch. You wanted her and Matt to report about Syria, and I think everyone can be proud of what they produced.

Journey to Jordan: By the thousands, Syrians are risking their lives to find refuge across the border

Story by Matt Kauffman and Melissa Tabeek

Photos by Matt Kauffman // Video production by Melissa Tabeek

Editor’s note: Reporters Kauffman and Tabeek put together a multi-media presentation of video and photography to show another dimension of what displaced families from Syria have been through on their journey to Jordan. 

AMMAN, Jordan – Sameer Ahmed Darraj thanks God that his family of six made it safely to Jordan after suffering a siege in his hometown of Homs. He’s also grateful he found an apartment in Madaba, a small village southwest of Amman, to shelter his wife, two young children, mother and nephew.

But the trip to their second-floor flat is a struggle for this former Syrian chef-turned-rebel fighter. His legs were blown off by a rocket in April as he fought against President Bashar al-Assad’s army.

Derraj wages a battle still, but now it’s from the flat’s only bed where he recovers from the loss of his legs, severed above the knees and marred with deep, rough, vertical scars.

“When we were crossing the border, we couldn’t speak, we couldn’t make any sounds. When our daughter cried, we had to cover her mouth,” said Sammer, Derraj’s 39-year-old wife, of their escape. “We gave the other [daughter] medicine to make her sleep.”

“We try to remain strong and try to have a very strong heart,” says Sameer Ahmed Derraj. Despite the horrors they’ve witnessed, the Darraj family finds solace in each other’s company.

As Derraj talks about the four-day journey to Jordan carried by comrades across the border, about how his wife kept falling as she lugged their youngest child, about the death of his friend by that same rocket, he speaks for thousands like him. Together, he and they form a new sort of army: Syrians who have fled to fight for their safety and their lives.

Since March of last year, the number of Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan has increased at an exponential rate. What started as a trickle has turned into a flood; in the past two months the amount of “persons of concern” registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, has leapt from 13,933 to about 24,000 – an increase of about 70 percent. But the real number, including Derraj’s six who came illegally, is closer to 120,000, experts say.

While Jordan has long been a safe haven for refugees throughout the Arab world – some estimates say that there are already 2 million Palestinian, Iraqi and Libyan refugees in this country of 6.5 million Jordanians – the situation with Syrians is special. The influx from the north poses a dilemma. The Jordanian government has not officially recognized them as refugees, but rather “guests” of the country.

Unlike neighboring Turkey – which is harboring Syrian refugees in traditional tented camps – Syrians in Jordan are finding safety in cities and villages scattered throughout the kingdom, stretching already limited resources in a country that depends on outside aid. Safety does not always spell decency though; Syrian families sometimes numbering in the double digits are confined to a few small rooms inside overrun apartments.

“There are many cases of two to three families in one apartment and they could have seven or eight kids each. It’s pretty dismal,” says Aoife McDonnell, an assistant external relations officer at UNHCR.

Jawad Anani, a former government official and now private economic consultant, worries about what a continuing onslaught of Syrians will do to the strained resources of this struggling country.

“Jordan’s ability to put up with Syrians is limited. The private sector is paying for it now, but soon the bills will be mounting. We will feel it in the labor market with people looking for jobs. … Time will tell elsewhere where the pressure mounts and where the shoe pinches.”

Darraj, like so many who have come here, feels that pinch. Unable to work, he relies on the generosity of Jordanian strangers to pay his rent. These sympathizers also bring him food and supplies, such as clothes and blankets. He’s clearly grateful, but still, to him, Jordan is just a safe place to heal. He will not stay here.

His mother Salma sits quietly in the corner of the tiny room, emotionless, looking over at her disfigured son. In another corner, on their mother’s lap, are his two young daughters, both in pink tank tops and leggings. They too are staring at him, waiting.

“I am against the evil Bashar,” he says. “If they fix my fingers, then I will go back,” says Darraj.

His wife looks at his mother, a glance Darraj notices. To them, to everyone, he says again: “I want to fight again with the Free Army.”

THE SPARK THAT BECAME A REVOLUTION

The Syrian massacres that started in March were, at the time, the latest government response to the uprisings across the Middle East. Those protests started in December 2010 with one desperate Tunisian man who set himself on fire to protest what he felt was a corrupt and unjust government. His singular act launched a movement that became known as the Arab Spring. This fire has scorched its way across the region, resulting so far in tens of thousands of lives lost and the toppling of four governments.

>>Click here to continue reading.

Second story from Amman is up on the main site.

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Jordanians to Obama: You broke your promise and did nothing for us

Story by Anthony Savvides // Photo by Matt Kauffman

AMMAN, Jordan – This November, the United States will elect a president, and while many American pundits believe Obama will remain in the White House for a second term, some in the Middle East would welcome a change.

Many here believe that Obama has been a disappointment, failing to deliver on early promises to push for a policy shift in the region.

“The Arabs have been very disappointed with him because when he [became] president, the first thing he said when he was sworn in was that he was going to set up a Palestinian state,” said Rana Sabbagh, executive director of Amman-based Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism. “Then he had the Cairo declaration, and we all thought he was going to make a difference, but nothing happened.”

In Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo, entitled “A New Beginning,” he tried to reestablish strong ties between the American and Arab worlds. Many in the region were hopeful – for change, a new attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict and, indeed, a new beginning. But people here wonder why that “new” approach never seemed to become a reality.

Prince El Hassan bin Talal spoke to a group of students during a press conference about Jordanian politics and social issues. He touched on the problems in Jordan concerning the influx of refugees and the Palestinian issue, as well as President Obama’s position toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.

As the years passed, the tide shifted back to mistrust. Obama famously said in his Cairo address that the US would not “turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.” But, Arab observers say that Obama never followed through, and policies in the region have remained as they always have been: pro-Israeli.

“I don’t believe in liberal theories of the person as president,” said Sara Ababneh, professor of political and international relations in the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. “The US is an imperial power, and that’s how they act [in the region]. As a superpower, [the US] does what it needs to do.”

Distrust of the US has deep roots: The American government supported the establishment of the Israeli state and, over the years, offered its support with billions of dollars and political muscle. There have been efforts to mediate peace, some more dramatic than others. In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton coaxed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yassar Arafat to shake hands during a ceremony. The moment, hailed at the time, is now considered no more than a symbolic snapshot of an unrealized hope for prolonged peace.

>>Click here to continue reading.