Essay Winner: The Pulse of a Heavy Drumbeat

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Thank you for all of the superb submissions. This week’s winning story is below.

The next top essay will appear May 5. The submission window opens today and closes midnight, April 28. Winners take home $50 and bragging rights.

-Essays must be travel in nature.
-Stories must be nonfiction.
-Pieces cannot exceed 500 words.
-Paste freelancers and employees are not eligible.
-Submissions must be original works and not previously published.

Please submit your essay to We look forward to reading about your adventures and wish you the best of luck.


The Pulse of a Heavy Drumbeat

Josalin Saffer

On a misty October night in Athens, there is a celebration at Monastiraki Square. It’s lavish, chaotic, purely Dionysian in spirit and I’m invited. Shop owners linger in doorways and street vendors crowd the narrow alleys tempting us with hearty food and strong booze and miniature clay replicas of Grecian urns and the Acropolis. The people are brimming, seeming to want nothing more than to fill us up with their joy. The Greeks, I quickly learn, are proud, overflowing, and unable to stop giving.

Every corner reveals another surprise: a glass of wine, a kofta kebab, a potter throwing clay amphorae, an opera signer belting out from a balcony, people expanding accordions and strumming bouzoukis. Busy hands at work everywhere performing and creating.

I put my camera down and surrender to the scene. A woman with sunny blonde hair waves me down and motions me to her shop doorway. A teenage boy, her son, runs inside to replenish the crystal clear liquid that’s disappeared from their table. He returns swiftly, arms loaded with sticky water bottles—liters of raki from their personal stash.

His mother grabs a bottle and without hesitation tops off her own drink and fills the other thirteen shot glasses on the table. The boy’s face is beaming as he passes me the first shot and then hands out the rest to any takers on the street. I clank glasses with the mother, accept my gift, and toast strangers. Stin Iyiamas! The raki is potent and lights my throat afire, my spirit along with it.

There are few things I love more than the pulse of a heavy drumbeat. And over the commotion, I hear it, growing louder with crescendo and rhythm. The rhythm! The rhythm! It underlies everything in Greece. In a frenzy, I follow it down dark streets. The culprits are in the courtyard, conducting an African drum circle. I watch with childish glee as break dancers and bold acrobats imbued with the fiery feeling of the music let their bodies flail in every direction.

And then, another rumble, and this time it’s moving. A samba-reggae drumline is roaring through the streets. Men with dredlocks and women with shaved heads are banging into their drums like they are exorcising demons. The sound resonates off the walls of the tiny alleyways and inside the hearts of everyone around. Soon a crowd is gathered behind them, dancing, jumping, smiling, feeling like a Greek, myself among them. It is raw and savage and so satisfying.

Locals and tourists, musicians and men in suits, barefoot children and old women—all sweaty and rubbing shoulders. Diligent journalists are taking photos and recording videos and briefly I feel like I should be one of them, preserving this sacred moment. But the dance, the drum, the collective feeling of pure, carnal being held me captive in a trance. There is nowhere else I’ve been that has made me feel this way, and yet this place feels so familiar.