The Aegean

Erin Worden Athens Internship Program, Greece


February 24, 2016

This past month, I’ve stared at the sea quite a bit. I saw the starting point of the Aegean Sea at Cape Sounion at Attica’s southernmost point. I climbed the rocks of Crete’s shores to swim in Chania’s clear water. And – perhaps most powerfully – I felt the Aegean in Rhodes.

Watching from the shores of Rhodes, the sea gave me an overwhelming feeling of immensity – a sense of power and wrath and relentlessness. The sound of the wind became indistinguishable from the noise of breaking waves. Sea spray spat on my glasses.

As I stared at the sea, Turkey stared back. A country that always felt distant in my life (except in its closeness to refugees) was suddenly brought near – just 20 kilometers across this narrow stretch of the Aegean.

I found myself looking for boats on the horizon for the next few days, keeping my eyes peeled for orange and black dinghies packed with refugees braving the waters that howled in front of me, clinging to uncertain hopes of stability and dignity. These boats never came. Which brought me a sense of relief. And also a profound, somewhat paralyzing sense of privilege that I’ve befriended this year.

Here I was, marveling at a sea that impressed me with its blue and beauty and seemingly endless stretch. For millions of people, this sea doesn’t contain beauty. The Aegean is yet another border, a threshold between certain fear at home and an uncertain future abroad. It’s an ocean of infinite outcomes – few of which end well.

Later that day, I read that 44 refugees drowned just a few islands north of Rhodes. In the same sea.

I have been lucky enough in these past few weeks to be in some big places. I stood on the notoriously steep mountains of Delphi. I climbed Mount Lycabettus, a hill in the middle of Athens where it felt like the city unfolded in front of me. I’ve watched mountain ranges and islands and villages pass under me as I spectate from 30,000 feet.

While it’s easy to feel that the world is incomprehensibly big, these places leave me with a humbling feeling of insignificance – a message from the world about my own smallness in it. And to make that smallness count for something.