Story three & acts of kindness

Blogging can fulfill a lot of purposes—cataloging events, marking down memories, venting frustrations, complaining about annoyances and reflecting on our trip thus far. The past couple days have been filled with a lot of kind acts, big and small, and for this blog post, I wanted to highlight some of them.

The first big act of kindness came two days ago, when Anna Stamou, head of marketing for the Muslim Association of Greece, invited Isaac and me to her home within a day of us contacting her. Isaac and I have been working on a story about the planned construction of the first mosque in Athens (that’s right, Greece’s capital city, with a population of more than 300,000 Muslim people, has no official Islamic house of worship).

Anna is married to Naim Elghandour, the president of the Muslim Association of Greece. They’ve been married for 14 years, have two young children together and are nothing short of an incredible power couple.

Having sources, especially two people as invaluable to our story as Anna and Naim, open up their home to us was a blessing that I’ll never lose sight of. We talked around a dinner table as Naim prepared a salad, with them acting as interested in us—two journalism students from Boston—as we were in them.

Isaac interviewing Anna Stamou, marketing director of the Muslim Association of Greece, in her home in the Athens suburb of Ilioupoli. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Later on, Anna and Naim, along with their 10-year-old son and three dinner guests, were getting ready to pray in their garage-turned-prayer-room. Praying is something deeply personal, and while I knew that filming the prayers would be great visually for our project, I feared intruding on their sacred time (feeling intrusive or unwanted is often the worst part of journalism).

However, those feelings barely had time to fester because Anna encouraged us to set up our cameras in their prayer room ahead of time. Having Anna welcome us there during their prayers was a relief, and an extraordinary act of kindness as well.

Anna and Naim both gave wonderful interviews, and they also invited us to sit down and eat with them during their iftar dinner (the meal after sunset during Ramadan in which Muslims break their fast). Though we were invaders in their home, they treated us with the utmost hospitality, with Naim pushing us to eat more and more (a cultural norm for Egyptians like Naim, Anna told us). We had other warm moments with their son Ishmael, who wanted to help us film (which probably wasn’t a bad idea, considering he has as much experience with camera equipment as Isaac and I do).

Ishmael Elghandour, 10, monitoring the audio during his father Naim’s interview. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Just as we were leaving, after a fulfilling day of reporting, I felt something dripping from my nose. When I instinctively raised my hand up to it, I saw that my nose was bleeding. We were walking toward our Uber, camera equipment in tow, and I asked Isaac if he had a tissue.

“My nose is bleeding, and I don’t have anything,” I told him.

“I have something you can use,” he said, as we loaded our tripod into the trunk of the car.

When we got in the car, it was dark and Isaac reached down into the floor as if fishing for something out of a bag. Instead, he came back with his own sock, which he had just taken off, and said, “Here, you can use this.”

This story has garnered a range of reactions, from “Aw, that’s so sweet!” (Paxtyn/Suma) to “Oh my god that’s so gross I’m going to throw up” (Hsiang-Yu). But in the moment it felt very sweet, because Isaac was willing to let me wipe my gross bloody nose all over his perfectly good sock, and he didn’t even hesitate before handing it over. It felt like a manifestation of that saying about how a selfless person is someone who would give you the shirt off his/her back.

That concluded our first day of successful video reporting on our third and final story. I think the story topic is very important, and it’s just an added bonus that I get to undergo this new challenge with my best friend.

This blog post also appeared on the Northeastern University School of Journalism website.