THE DRAGONS JOURNAL Community | Stories | Perspectives
Summer Programs 2018 Photo Contest FIRST PLACE: PHOEBE WONG, Eastern Himalayas (Top Left) “My homestay mother wanted to show me her morning worship. I took this photo in front of the shrine in her bedroom. Our first night, she gave me a Nepali name, Samjana, meaning good memory. She chose it because she said she would remember me. I know I will always remember her.” SECOND PLACE: TESSA DENISON, Thailand (Top Right) “We pulled to the side of the road and walked over a bridge to the sanctuary. I looked down and saw this beautiful elephant getting a bath. I watched with tears in my eyes.” THIRD PLACE: ELLIOTT BLOOM, North India (Right) “Prayer flags sending Buddhist mantras off into the wind.” RUNNERS-UP (Bottom 6 images, clockwise from top left): LAILA SKRAMSTAD, Guatemala; PENELOPE THORNTON, North India; JAMES BIRDWELL, China; TEVA CORWIN, Peru; SOPHIA ORTEGA, Peru; RACHEL HORNE, Cambodia
THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
What’s In This Issue and Why it Matters... WORDS & IMAGEREED HARWOOD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF WHERE THERE BE DRAGONS
y son recently began kindergarten. I went through the classic parental “firsts” of packing his knapsack and lunch, walking him to the bus stop, and choking up as the bus pulled up to
the corner. He leapt onto it and was whisked away. I’m excited for him and his new life chapter, and yet, I also believe that our most profound learning doesn’t happen in the classroom. It comes from meandering up a creek bed, peeking under stones, digging through the muck. It comes from getting into environments that surprise, challenge, and divert us from our everyday context. There’s a story embedded in the name Where There Be Dragons. It’s the story of traveling to our own edges, looking under those unturned stones, and listening carefully. Dragons values the narratives found in the margins, where unlikely relationships and understandings are built. We listen to divergent, challenging, and often marginalized stories as the first step to engaging responsibly and respectfully with the diverse perspectives of our shared world. Therein lies the wisdom of learning beyond the classroom. I want my children, and all children, to hear those stories. To listen and weave them into their own life narratives. In this journal you’ll find a collection of stories from members of our community as they journey into those subjects that are stirred up and reflected back in the mirror of travel. We hope you enjoy meandering up the creek bed with us.
IN EVERY ISSUE
ESSAYS & STORIES
The Dragons Journal is a compilation
4–5 FESTIVAL DE SANTA MARIA
of stories and images that reflect the
Reed Harwood, Colorado
Rose Fitzgerald, Guatemala
8–13 PHOTO EXHIBIT
6 I’M (not) WRITING ABOUT MY FAMILY
Caleb Brooks, India
Fernanda Romo, Senegal
16–19 OVERHEARD ON
7 DEALING WITH BEING A PRIVILEGED
THE YAK BOARD
FOREIGNER (Learning Service Excerpt)
meaningful intercultural relationships
24 HOW TO: WALK
14–15 EMBRACE THE DETOURS
through immersive travel.
Austin Schmidt, Nepal
Mark Bauhaus, Nepal
20–22 WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
MAFÉ GERTE RECIPE
Jody Segar, China
perspectives, ideas, and experiences of our participants, educators, and international colleagues and communities. It’s a publication of Where There Be Dragons, an experiential education organization dedicated to nurturing
ON THE COVER “Nepal nightscape.”
Megan Fettig, Senegal 30–31 COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT
23 HOMESTAY AT MY VILLAGE Thavry Thon, Cambodia 26–27 BHUTAN: CHALLENGING DEFINITIONS OF HAPPINESS Chelsea Ferrell, Bhutan 28–29 LEARNING SPIRALS
IMAGE BY AMRIT ALE, Dragons Nepal
Program Coordinator and Instructor
Sara Van Horn, Guatemala
Festival De Santa Maria WORDSROSE FITZGERALD, STUDENT IMAGESPARKER PFLAUM, INSTRUCTOR GUATEMALA SPANISH LANGUAGE INTENSIVE PROGRAM
hen I return to my homestay, I am surprised to find the kitchen packed with people. Women are lighting candles and stirring an enormous pot. A man with a mullet uncovers an electric piano. My host mother waves me inside and ushers me towards a plastic
stool near the stairs. She explains to me that this is a celebration, the Festival de Virgen, de Santa Maria. I nod. This explains the people, the statues and crucifixes around the house, the altar full of lights and flowers that has filled the living room for the past two days.
THE CHATTER WINDS DOWN AND THE
house, and spills out like light onto the street.
challah, reciting generous interpretations of a
We sit and pray and sing for the better part
Hebrew chant as they give thanks.
The women cover their hair with shawls and
of two hours, a dozen worn hands working
kneel before the altar. The mulleted man and
their way through rosaries.
the lights of the city serving as my only
two boys settle down in front of the piano, a bass guitar, and an electronic drum set. They
WHEN IT’S OVER, THE HOUSE FEELS
cross themselves, kiss their palms, and lower
I am not a religious person. My loosely
through the dark, bearing lights and incense
candles. Below me, the procession weaves slowly
Jewish family never sent me to Synagogue
and an enormous illuminated statue of Santa
voice is a low monotone, soft and reverent
or Hebrew school, never insisted on more
Maria herself. Their songs carry up to the
as she reads from her worn, gold-embossed
than holidays and Sabbath dinners.
rooftops, humming in my ear before they are
The woman in front begins to pray. Her
bible. I am suddenly aware that what I am witnessing is something holy.
But as I watch guests talk and laugh as they file from the house, the flicker of
swept away by the wind. I perch myself on a ledge facing the lake
candles cupped in gloved palms, and the
and take the bread from my pocket, shaking
interrupted as the band strikes up a catchy
slow winding of a parade through cobbled
crumbs from my clothes. The city is silver
song, a hymn, at volumes that reverberate in
streets, I feel oddly lonely.
and shadow below me, and I begin to pray.
Every few passages, her prayer is
my chest. Everyone knows the hymns—even the kids—and the harmony fills the room, the 4
I stand alone on a rooftop in Guatemala, a piece of bread from the kitchen in my pocket,
THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
It’s Friday, I remember. At home, my family will be praying over candles and
Normally I am reluctant, too embarrassed to sing on the Sabbath. I rush through the
“EVERYONE KNOWS THE HYMNS, EVEN THE KIDS, AND THE HARMONY FILLS THE ROOM, THE HOUSE, AND SPILLS OUT LIKE LIGHT ONTO THE STREET.”
words, butcher the Hebrew, finish as quickly as humanly possible. Tonight I am not rushing. My words lift up, backlit by starlight, accompanied by an enthusiastic rendition of “La Bamba” from the band playing on the hill.
BARUCH ATAH ADONAI… I have never felt so lonely and alive at the
“La Bamba” is still playing up on the mountain. “Why? We just did.” She rolls her doe eyes. “For like two hours.” She skips over to join me on the edge,
Then, “Can I pray with you?” “¿Puedo rezar contigo?” On a rooftop in San Juan la Laguna, I teach a little girl prayers and we giggle over her pronunciation. I attempt to translate
her eight-year-old legs struggling to hop
Hebrew to Spanish, not really knowing the
up with me. She settles for her tiptoes and
actual translation at all. She recites her
giggles like we’re sharing a secret.
Sunday school prayers. I parrot her words.
I glance at the still unbroken bread in
She tries to teach me to cross myself, which I
same time. I turn from the water, swing
my hands. How do you explain to a kid
somehow mess up every time. We laugh and
back onto the roof, and a tiny figure stands
who’s known nothing but Church that you’re
laugh and can’t stop laughing.
illuminated by the doorway.
praying for something entirely different?
“What are you doing?”
“Because…” I stumble. Because I’m
My host sister Hely looks up at me with
Jewish, because it’s the Sabbath, because I
the biggest pair of brown eyes I’ve ever seen.
miss home so much it’s an ache in my chest.
She blinks once, twice, before I realize I’m
“Because I just need to…”
supposed to respond.
A small hand presses into mine. “Okay.
“I’m praying,” I tell her.
We split the bread—one half each—and say Sabbath prayers over the lights of the city below.
ROSE FITZGERALDis a student living in Ithaca, New York with a sister, several mothers, and a collection of loud cats. She is a writer, actor,
martial artist, and compulsive baker who would like a motorcycle but she can’t drive yet and her mom says, “no.” PHOTOFestival de Virgen de Santa Maria
I’m (not) Writing About My Family WORDS & IMAGEFERNANDA ROMO, STUDENT SENEGAL PRINCETON BRIDGE YEAR PROGRAM
ungi dox literally translates to, “it walks.” In conversation, however, one might use it to mean “it’s going,” “it’s fine,” or “it works.” When I set out to write this piece, with the prompt of mungi dox in mind, I immediately thought about my family. After all, I’m living in a
homestay with a total of nineteen people (I think), including three married couples and twelve kids of various ages. This is naturally bound to be a bit chaotic and might seem like a headache for people more habituated to smaller “nuclear family” living arrangements. For this reason, writing about how my household functions, how everyone pitches in, and how living in these big families actually works was sure to be a crowd pleaser. Wouldn’t everyone love to hear the conclusions I’d drawn about African family structures from my experience living with the Mbayes? Regrettably, as appealing as that piece might sound, I’m not
analyzing my homestay family. I don’t want to “report back” on
writing it. Mainly, because I can’t. The more I’ve thought about it, the
what Senegalese families are like, both because it’s not possible
more I’ve realized that the chances of me being able to provide a
to do so accurately, and because these people are, first of all,
fair analysis of this
my family. Not
subjects of study,
are about as
not sources of
high as those of
snowfall in Dakar.
The mere idea of
treat me like a
way these people
daughter, a sister,
a friend. And just
their family, just
as I wouldn’t write
to arrive to the
up a couple pages
about my best
friend back in
Mexico and send
foolish at best and
it to an audience
of people who
she will never meet and who will
form their entire
perception of who
erroneousness is not the only thing holding me back from writing about the people
she is based on my words, I don’t particularly feel inclined to do
in Senegal who are so dear to me. For a long time I couldn’t exactly
pinpoint why I felt a tinge of discomfort every time I thought about
And maybe that’s a good thing. After all, I think the main
turning the people I consider family into the subjects of my writing,
reason why the Bridge Year Program works, and is so incredibly
especially when said writing is directed to Western audiences.
meaningful, is because of relationships. The moments when I have
I remember once, I considered blogging about Mame Maty, my
felt that my time here has the greatest value have all been centered
instructor Babacar’s 10-year-old daughter, who I love like crazy and
around having strong bonds, familiarity, and overall friendship with
who is definitely one of the people closest to my heart here. I ended
people. It’s really beautiful to think about how my Senegalese family
up deciding against it, because something about it wasn’t sitting
and I genuinely care about each other, and how our lives have been
right with me. And even though I didn’t entirely understand why,
enriched as a result. So I guess if you asked me, “Does it work to put
one thought kept popping up in my mind: she’s my friend.
a random toubab1 in the middle of a household in Dakar, Senegal,
That’s also what I feel today when trying to make myself produce some insightful conclusions or lessons gathered from
and have her be a part of this family for a few months?” I’d say yeah, mungi dox.
FERNANDA ROMOleft her home in Mexico in 2017 to travel to Senegal for nine months as part of Dragons Princeton Bridge Year Program. She
is currently a freshman at Princeton University, where she spends her days looking at pictures of her time in Dakar at 3am, facetiming her five dogs, and going on rants about the fake Mexican food in the dining halls. PHOTOFernanda and her homestay mom, Ouleye; dad, Ibou; and brothers, Sidikh, Rassoul, and baby Mame Cheikh.
Toubab is a word widely used in Senegal and other West African countries to refer to foreigners.
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Dealing with Being a Privileged Foreigner WORDS & IMAGEDANIELA PAPI-THORNTON & CLAIRE BENNETT, INSTRUCTORS
THIS EXCERPT IS FROM A NEWLY RELEASED BOOK ON INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEERING: LEARNING SERVICE: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO VOLUNTEERING ABROAD.
hen you are abroad, the first thing that almost everyone you meet will know about you is that you are a foreigner. There will be many assumptions tied to your foreign status, which are different in different countries, but in most places the very fact that you have the
ability to have traveled so far implies wealth and privilege. “Everyone assumed I was rich just because I am from the UK,” said volunteer Katy Vidler. “Although I recognize that I am wealthy in some ways, I have student loans I need to pay each month and less money in my bank account than many of the local staff!” Many foreign volunteers, especially those who saved up their own money or took out loans to be able to go abroad, might resonate
different proposition than for the locals.” Recognize that, even though you may be living at a level that
with Katy’s comments, as it can be frustrating when people have
would be well below the poverty line at home, you will most likely still
expectations of your financial capacity. However, if you look at your
be living far above the level of working families in the place where
opportunities in a different light, you can start to understand how
you are volunteering. You may
they might be perceived by others. As she recognized, although Katy
be asked for money by someone
had fewer financial resources at her immediate disposal than her local
you know just because you are a
peers, her wealth is not just measured by her possessions but also by
friend, not because they thought
her contacts and freedoms. Her ability to use her credit card or bank
you were rich. Such experiences
overdraft, her university degree that gives her future earning potential,
can be disheartening but the
her access to supportive and relatively wealthy family and friends, all
wider inequality is a reality that
open up opportunities many of her colleagues would not have had.
must be faced. In fact, some host
Even her British passport was a major factor in her ability to volunteer
organizations see that as a major
overseas in the first place, as it meant she could choose from nearly
benefit of volunteer travel. One
every country in the world, with little hassle getting a visa.
host told us: “It is important for
Merely having the time and resources to travel, and not having
(typically) financially privileged
to work to meet your family’s basic needs, is a luxury some of your
westerners to explore the world
local colleagues may never have the opportunity to enjoy. As Rani
in order to better understand the
Deshpande, who volunteered in West Africa, commented, “The very
factors contributing to the major
ability to take a few months or years of one’s life, usually unpaid, to
misdistribution of resources
work supporting social change outside of one’s own community must
across the globe.”
be recognized as a form of privilege.” Volunteers often think this kind of privilege is invisible. But their
Volunteers must avoid assuming that a stint as a volunteer learning from and supporting the communities in which they work
possessions, food, and clothes, as well as the vacations and short
enables them to truly understand the challenges faced by people in
excursions they take, are all part of the “umbilical cord of privilege,”
those communities. You may be able to gain awareness, get angry
a term coined by Kelly Reineke, who volunteered in Brazil. Even if
about the root causes of poverty, and cultivate empathy, but that
you live simply and in a local style you have this umbilical cord, and
umbilical cord, which acts as a safety net, means you will not be able
at a moment’s notice can meet your desires for comfort, healthcare,
to experience the effects of such problems in the same way. Andrea
and entertainment: an option the majority of your local friends
Foster, who volunteered in Guyana says, “Our economic background
and colleagues will not have. This umbilical cord also provides you
makes it hard for us to understand the degree of financial struggle
with an escape route if things get uncomfortable, overwhelming,
most people in developing nations endure. Volunteers eventually
or dangerous—you can always pull on the cord and bounce back
come to realize how fortunate we are and usually how spoiled we
to life at home. A volunteer who spent two years in Kyrgyzstan had
are.” The most important advice we have about the umbilical cord
this important reminder, “Even as volunteers, we are just long-term
of privilege is to be aware it exists and realize others can see it, even
tourists. Do not lose sight of that. For us to leave is a significantly
when you cannot.
CLAIRE BENNETTlives in Kathmandu, where she owns her own training company. She works freelance in development and education, and is an
instructor for Dragons Adult, Educator, and Student programs. DANIELA PAPI-THORNTONworks in education and leadership development and has taught university courses at Oxford, Yale, and Watson Institute. Daniela helped design and run Dragon’s first Educator courses and is still very invested in the Dragons community in Boulder, Colorado. READ MORE about Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad at www.learningservice.info. Or you can order the book from Amazon: https://amzn.to/2NMXZor.
Fathoming One Another WORDS & IMAGES CALEB BROOKS, INSTRUCTOR INDIA
was well into adulthood with a growing collection of passport stamps before I
owned a camera. For a lot of that time I feared photography might sap my motivation to write about what I was seeing and experiencing, the written word inhabiting some higher plane in my mind. When I finally decided that notebooks full of scribbled observations didn’t quite capture the fullness of my experiences, I picked up a Canon point-and-shoot from an electronics vendor outside Phnom Penh’s Central Market. For whatever reason, I decided early on that pictures were better without people in them. I remember spending most of a morning perched above one of the sandstone parapets of Angkor Wat’s inner chamber with all of my 8-megapixels pointed toward a certain pattern of shadows being cast across the floor. With the inverted patience of a birdwatcher, I finally caught a break in the ebb of tourists just long enough to frame the sudsy dawn light sans tourists. When I moved to India with Dragons in 2014, I took with me a slightly more sophisticated camera but with ideas for its use that hadn’t evolved. I still held high the purity of capturing the lines of places without the interruption of human forms, unpredictable and prone to irregularity as they can be. Those of you who have spent even a day in an Indian city will know that the effort to point your camera in any direction and not frame a person is an act of futility. Stymied by the sheer volume and pace of life, the Indian subcontinent, as it is wont to do, forced me to rethink my way of being/seeing/thinking. Did that alley with crumbling bricks and the faded remains of an advertisement for a cement manufacturer look exactly the way your heart felt sometimes at sunset? Of course it did. Was it possible to take a picture of it without a goat, or a cow, or a child, or a chai walla, or a monkey, or a religious pilgrim, or all of the above, in it? Absolutely not.
THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
A guard at Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort caught in a moment of contemplation.
A Ladakhi mother feels shy in front of the lens while her daughter experiments with echoes in a disconnected water pipe.
A fisherman organizes his nets with the help of a trusted sidekick along the Ganges in morning fog. This work takes patience, dexterity, and occasionally fluorescent orange horns.
Saris blossom in afternoon light at Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort. Our group got an exclusive tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site through the connections of a local program mentor and before we knew it we were sitting along the field at the Maharaja of Jodhpur’s exclusive polo match.
“NOTHING HAS EVER FELT SO IMPORTANT, OR SO URGENT, AS HUMANIZING THE PLACES WE ARE SO PRIVILEGED TO GO.” I had to adjust. Rather than just tolerate all these figures in my pictures, I began to think of them as subjects. I was forced to embrace the presence of all these beautiful, unpredictable living things. I especially like that word embrace in this context, because when you’re taking a photograph you really are wrapping your subject in something, in this case a rectangular box lapping with light. That word embrace also resonates because at one point in its history it was used interchangeably with the word fathom, which just meant “the length of an outstretched arm.” Once a unit of measure, we now mostly think of it as getting to the bottom of something. And isn’t that what we all we really hope to do, after all? To understand one another, to understand ourselves, to take soundings in the bewilderment of existence and feel something discernible bounce back? To
In the heart of the Blue City this man decided to zig (with his bright red doorway) while
embrace the world around us with a spirit
everyone else zagged. I’ve never felt as charmed by the use of color as I was in the many
of mutuality, tolerance, and equality. That
alleys of India’s ancient cities.
same desire to know and be known, to 10 THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
The walking stick, the flannel, the vest, the beard, the boiled peanuts, the swagger. This Banarsi man came down to the ghats on Diwali to take in the holiday with style.
Two old friends don their technicolor bathing robes after an early morning dip in the sacred Ganga Ji.
A sun-drenched flower-seller at Kolkata’s famous market waits to balance more blossoms.
understand deep down, is why I started traveling. It’s why, I suspect, many of you reading this did also. As an international educator, nothing has ever felt so important, or so urgent, as humanizing the places we are so privileged to go. It has been a joy to look back through pictures and choose a few that might fit well in these pages. It was an honor to photograph the strangers, friends, and pilgrims of various stripes found here, to fathom them for a moment in all their asymmetry and wonder and perfection. Their faces tell the story of those days better than I ever could. CALEB BROOKSspent the better part of a
decade taking the poetry of Jack Gilbert very seriously before he was introduced to Dragons in 2012. Over several years he led courses in Cambodia, Laos, China, Indonesia, India, and Brazil. He used to speak Khmer exactly like a rice farmer from Kandal province. He’s now back in his hometown learning about generational urban poverty firsthand and working as the Director of the
One learns quickly that cricket can be played anytime and anywhere. These boys set up an
International Service Learning Program at
uneven pitch on Varanasi’s Chet Singh Ghat in winter fog thick as daal.
the University of Louisville. 12
THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
Security forces are ubiquitous in the holy city of Varanasi. This troop of female soldiers were brought in to provide extra support during a time of increased pilgrimage to the city’s infamous ghats. They took their jobs seriously.
A trusted tailor works on a custom kurta in Varanasi’s Assi Ghat.
Embrace The Detours WORDS & IMAGEMARK BAUHAUS, PARTICIPANT NEPAL: ASHRAMS & ARTISANS PROGRAM FOR ADULTS
e arrived jet-lagged and in darkness. Through our bouncy taxi windows we spied piles of rubble and toppled buildings erupting into the narrow alleys of Bhaktapur, Nepal. The ancient Newari city in the east corner of the Kathmandu Valley was still ravaged two years
after the 2015 earthquake. What have we gotten ourselves into?, I thought in arrival-shock as we climbed four steep ladders, ducked into three-foot tall doorways, crossed the roof, clambered down another ladder, and closed ancient wood-latticed windows against mosquitoes. What is this version of hot, muggy, and under-developed Nepal going to do for us? Why again did we choose this?
“OUR HOST FAMILIES THOUGHT IT WAS HILARIOUS THAT A MARRIED COUPLE WAS GOING TO BE LIVING WITH SEPARATE FAMILIES. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THIS HUMOR BROKE THE ICE ALL AROUND.”
Caroline and I had spontaneously opted
announced a personalized act of devotion.
into an adventure to bridge “otherness” on
Goats, birds, motorcycles, Chinese diesel
an adult Dragons course called, Ashrams
2-stroke tractors, and the chatter of people
and Artisans of Nepal. It wasn’t our first
all mingled in sensory waves that washed
time to the Kathmandu Valley. We had done
a “walkabout” in Nepal just after college in 1986. But this was 2017, and in the half
dissipated. Our group motto became
millennium-old Hindu sadhu roadhouse, we
“Embrace The Detours” as unexpected
tumbled into fitful sleep as our brains caught
adventures yielded fodder for insight and
up with our traveled bodies.
connection. Soon it was time for the acid
Dawn emerged from an unfamiliar
THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
test of bridging archetypal “otherness” by
cacophony of gongs, prayer wheels spinning,
way of homestays with Newari families.
bells ringing, and metal ding-ing. Each sound
With nervousness that’s surely the same for
seemed like a call to the heavens, a prayer
20-somethings as 50-year olds, we met our
to gods who were intimate with everyone
new host families.
here but us. Each ringer’s pattern and style 14
A few days later, the initial shock
Thunder clapped outside as we sat on the
floor joking uneasily. I was finally introduced
humans can thrive as newfound brothers if
to my host “father,” Rajendra Shakya. He
we let that spirit dwell.
immediately declared himself to be my Dai (big brother). I bid a laughing, goodbye,
namaste to Caroline for the next few days.
Rajendra was born in the same house as his
Our host families thought it was hilarious
father. He played marbles on the ground,
that a married couple was going to be living
joined his family for daily offerings to an
with separate families. The universality of this
ancient Buddhist statue, and ran around with
humor broke the ice all around.
his friends to temples nearby.
As we walked away through the rain,
Rajendra and his wife were married right
“WE FOUND SYNCHRONICITY AND FORGED A RAPID AND HEARTFELT CONNECTION. IT ALL SERVED AS IN-MY-FACE PROOF THAT WILDLY DIVERSE HUMANS CAN THRIVE AS NEWFOUND BROTHERS IF WE LET THAT SPIRIT DWELL.” My mind drifted to my own children’s
drizzle and mud, I wondered how we would
in his own brick courtyard the exact same
lives and how modern conveniences will
traverse the rickety bridge of awkward
summer I married Caroline in California
again shift and change ways of living in
silences. But it didn’t take long for me to
thirty-five years ago. When Caroline and I
unforeseeable ways a generation from now.
forget that concern. We passed the school
had cycled into the town of Patan as 20-
where Ramilla, my host “mother” worked as
year olds, unbeknownst to us, my extended
CARRYING CONNECTION HOME
the principal. We visited Rajendra’s social
host family was living but a block away
These deeply human encounters lit my
impact business, Third Eye Group, and met
in their 450-year family brick house. But
journey like unexpected campfires on an
the collectives’ knitters of hats, scarves, and
their newlywed daily life was quite different
icy night. As I delighted in the warmth
sweaters. We arrived at Rajendra’s house
from ours. They cooked food every day
of genuine smiles, welcoming hosts, and
where he lived with his two daughters, a son,
over an open fire with wood carried up four
light humor, the cold chasm of “otherness”
and his mother. This building, I would learn,
flights of ladders. They carried all bath,
melted. Thirty-one years after my first visit
was his ancestral family home, where he
washing, cooking, and drinking water for
to Nepal, I still feel like an apprentice to this
and past generations were born. It was also
the extended family from a public water
place and people. My homestay experience
where Rajendra lived a surprisingly parallel
grotto across the street that was shared
anchored a visceral truth: Mountains and
universe to mine.
by hundreds. The neighborhood toilet was
cameras don’t do Nepal justice. On this
down the street. Ramilla spent one day of
journey, I embraced our detours and returned
every week exclusively washing clothes.
home determined to bring the warmth of
Rajendra and I discovered many shared
Rajendra’s father wrote Buddhist scholarly
Nepali human spirit back to help thaw the
touch points: We were nearly the same age,
texts upstairs, by an open window, entirely
roiling divides and otherness frosting my
both businessmen, both married 35 years
own home land lately.
ago, both had two daughters, both worked
Just a couple decades later, Rajendra
on social impact enterprises. And our wives
and his family are still known to everyone on
were both educators. Who knew?
the street. They still live with their extended
Rajendra showed me six ancient Newari
family. They still offer the same greetings as
Buddhist temples on the five-minute walk to
they make daily rounds to Buddhist temples
the Dragons program house. He brought me
just like their ancestors did centuries ago.
to hidden tears by lighting a yak butter lamp
But now there’s electricity, indoor plumbing,
at the altar in offering—and then lighting
filtered water, and gas-cooking. Now there’s
mine in turn. Bells tinkling, we passed on
a refrigerator, rice cooker, washing machine,
the light from one to another with mutual
a car, stereos, and Internet. These innovations
prayers for good luck between newfound
enabled Rajendra’s wife to have the time to
brothers standing side by side before the
become a school principal, raise kids, and
solar-dry lemon slices to serve with tea for
We found synchronicity and forged a
Dragons students. They enabled Rajendra to
rapid and heartfelt connection. It all served
build a business and send all three children
as in-my-face proof that wildly diverse
to college with smartphones in their pockets.
MARK BAUHAUSand his wife Caroline visited Kathmandu Valley, Nepal on Dragons inaugural program for adult participants, “Ashrams &
Artisans,” in the Fall 2017. They live in California where he’s a former Silicon Valley technology executive and now a Thought Leader to for-profit ventures that bring dignity to people and the planet. PHOTOA reflective moment from the third floor of a 500-year old Newari house. Mark says, “From this seat, pre-sunrise to post-sunset, I could
watch villagers and families attending both Buddhist and Hindu temples on the 14th Century Newari Square below.”
Overheard on the Yak Board THE FOLLOWING ARE ALL EXCERPTS FROM THE DRAGONS YAK BOARD WHERE STUDENTS AND STAFF SHARE PHOTOS, STORIES, REFLECTIONS, AND GROUP UPDATES WHILE ON COURSE. TO THE ITALIAN MAN SITTING NEXT TO ME ON THE PLANE
the experience. Sometimes it feels like the
YOU CAN BECOME FAMILY FAST
engine’s broken and I’m not going anywhere;
WORDSSEAN DOHERTY, STUDENT
WORDSELLIOTT BLOOM, STUDENT
like I’ve lost the anchor and I’m drifting
INDONESIA SUMMER PROGRAM
NORTH INDIA SUMMER PROGRAM
through open water with no direction and no
idea how to get back to land. But I’ve learned
I will explain how the beginning of a
On my flight home, I cried about 15 times. And
that it’s okay not to have all the answers and
homestay usually goes down. You arrive in a
the poor middle-aged Italian businessman
that sometimes the best outcomes come
community. You and the rest of the group are
sitting next to me could not understand why
from drifting and letting the current carry me
taken to one of the houses in the village. You
the young teen girl near him was sobbing.
to a place I’d never expected.
are picked up by your host family and taken to their home. You are sitting in their house
Didn’t know of a way to ask. So to the Italian man who sat next to me on the plane: I cried
with them, trying to carry a conversation, and
because I miss home. And I cried because
WORDSMICHAEL BROWN, PARTICIPANT
the thought creeps up on you that you are
NEPAL EDUCATOR COURSE
I just left a home. I cried because, after a because I just left 14 people who I loved, a
thousands of miles away from home with
month, I would see my family. And I cried
complete strangers in an unfamiliar place.
As I’ve gotten older, my motivation to travel
You get a little worried that you won’t be able
different family. I cried because I missed
and what I notice have shifted a bit. Instead of
to connect at all over the next week with the
coffee in the morning. And I cried because
seeking out the deepest, wildest jungle with
people sitting in front of you. You are starting
I would not drink milk tea every hour of
all its complexity and menace, I look for the
to get a little anxious, but then your homestay
the day anymore. I cried because my home
complicated relationships between people,
sister Refa throws a playful jape at you that
has changed while I was away. And I cried
culture, and economics. Instead of climbing
everyone laughs at, and then you smile.
because Ladakh will continue to change
mountains, I settle in more deeply to see how
without me. I cried because I just finished a
people live their lives. Of course, I have always
journey. And I cried because another one lies
done these “new” things, but they have taken
WORDSERICK TORRES, INSTRUCTOR
ahead. I cried because I missed who I once
on a deeper resonance now that I am a hus-
was. And I cried because I finally found who I
band and a father, creating a home and family
am. And finally, I cried because, as one of my
of my own. The rhythms of work and food in
Guatemala has great opportunities to explore
instructors said, “It’s better to be affected by
the house, the gentle touch of a mother to her
nature, it has the most beautiful lake in the
son, a whispered word by a father, the little
world (according to Nat Geo last year, and
girl running to catch her brother; there seem
to Guatemalans since forever) called Atitlan
the world than indifferent to it.
NEW HORIZONS WORDSJIWON YUN, STUDENT
GUATEMALA SUMMER PROGRAM
to be a whole class of experiences that I can
Lake, or T’zunun Ya’ in Maya T’zutujil lan-
understand and relate to more deeply.
guage, which means: “House of Birds.” There
INDONESIA PRINCETON BRIDGE YEAR
are three volcanoes that are active every day
in Guatemala and it’s incredible to see them
Sitting in a small wooden boat in the middle of
HOSTING OUR HOMESTAY FAMILY
the ocean, we lost the anchor and the engine
WORDSSAURABH PANDEY, INSTRUCTOR
whole country. A lot of green mountains, riv-
in action. There are about 32 volcanoes in the
NORTH INDIA SUMMER PROGRAM
suddenly stopped working. We began to drift
ers, and wildlife are also part of this beautiful
into deeper water, the rocking movement
country. Guatemala has some of the largest
of the boat slowly becoming more frantic.
indigenous populations in the American Con-
Powerless in nature’s hands, I learned that
relationship with our job—they are what we
tinent which makes it a very special and pow-
sometimes the only way to have control is to
do and why we do it. They open their doors
erful place, you will be able to experience and
give it up. To just trust in the process. Using
for students who they never have met, and
constantly interact and learn from the Mayan
long bamboo poles to pull ourselves against
give them their time and teach them about
people and culture every day. There are about
the current and working together to restart
their lives and culture. The work they do, they
23 Mayan languages around the country and
the broken engine, which finally sputtered
never get to see, but they are the ones who
every Mayan community has its own tradi-
to life after half an hour of drifting, we were
bring the knowledge of the lotus flower into
tional clothes, their own special dishes and
able to return home. In a way, this adventure
our students’ lives. So we just want to say
celebrations throughout the year. With all that
reminds me a lot of Bridge Year. Thrust into
thank you to them and show our gratitude
diversity, cultural richness, beautiful people,
a situation so far outside of my comfort
to them for the work they do. Thank you to
and nature also comes different realities and
zone, it’s easy to become disillusioned with
each of our homestay families!
ways to see and understand life.
THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
RED P H
DECONSTRUCTION TO RECONSTRUCT IMAGE ARVIN SINGH UZUNOV-DANG WORDSTHE NEPAL SEMESTER INSTRUCTOR TEAM FALL 2018 NEPAL SEMESTER
we have followed. We began our time together settled around candlelight, where we expressed our fears: of not being as present as we could be, of not expressing adequate gratitude to those we care about, of not trusting our inner voices, of being too controlling of outcomes, of not being enough. Our voices filled up the darkness and shed light on the commonalities of our apprehensions. It was a powerful way to introduce ourselves to one another; by exposing our vulnerabilities and sharing our questions, we found connection…
ALLILLANCHU MIS DRAGONES!
WORDSARWYN DREW, STUDENT
WORDSKYLIE BLITZER, STUDENT
WORDSVANESSA LUNA, INSTRUCTOR
THAILAND SUMMER PROGRAM
CAMBODIA SUMMER PROGRAM
PERU SUMMER PROGRAM
We have been asked to sit on paper thin,
I left as someone perfectly happy in my self-
As a scientist, one of my biggest pleasures
brown cushions in rows of 15 while we direct
created comfort zone. Floating around in a
is to explore and answer questions, to
our gazes at three giant gold buddhas. He
default setting, not always aware of decisions
which those responses arise more and more
stares right back at us. It feels as though his
I was making. Daring to step outside of that
questions. The Amazon, where I have spent
eyes peel each and everyone of us, like an
comfort zone and becoming more conscious
much time over the past few years has
onion, not stopping until reaching the raw
in my actions has helped me to see the world
sparked my interest in ecology research. I
fleshy core within us all. We wear clothes of
from more angles, not just the perspective that
have done studies relating to the dynamic
white and some lavender. Women’s hair must
my umbilical cord of privilege took me to. This
populations of large mammals like the
be tied in a knot at the base of our head
is not to say that now I have completed this
spectacled bear and Amazonian monkeys.
while no voices are allowed above a whisper.
course I have become enlightened about the
That was only the beginning. While studying
I was awoken this morning by Willow. She
world outside of the bubble I often find myself
the various species of mammals, I fell in
told me it was time to start the day. It was
in. In fact, I’m left more confused than ever. I’m
love with the Amazon. Then, I became more
5am. We walked in a straight line with our
scared that I won’t be able to implement the
and more interested in learning about the
umbrellas in hand to the Dhamma Hall. There
beliefs that I have gathered into my life—or
various mechanisms that exist to preserve
we started our meditation. I felt as though,
that I will, until I decide that my priorities lie in
this highly diverse and vulnerable ecosystem.
when I closed my eyes and stopped thinking,
the short term future, such as school, college,
By being willing to understand the cultural
I was going mad.[...] During our break time
friends, etc. But I am going to try my hardest
issues of the ecosystems we wanted to
we gathered at a rocky overhanging to do
to change that mold, not to fit into that Kylie-
preserve, myself and my colleagues were
our usual check-in. Still in a trance, I listened
shaped hole that everyone expects me to slot
able to participate in conservation projects
to the words fall from mouths and I couldn’t
right back into. I believe that I, in this moment,
more effectively. From there I learned about
help but cry. I buried my face into my knees
at 2:50am in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on our
the importance of approaching other worlds
and felt a hand in mine. It was Teresa. My
last night, feel different, and I’m going to do
with open eyes and with a curious heart to
other hand was taken by Kate.
whatever it takes to make that feeling stay.
explore what is different with great respect.
HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS
to my experience as the excitement and the
AT THE END OF IT ALL
WORDSMARIA ELENA DERRIEN, EDUCATOR
thrills. These things teach me about who I
WORDSROSE FITZGERALD, STUDENT
BOLIVIA EDUCATOR COURSE
wtbdragons.com/djy11 The trip challenged my life, my choices,
am, and challenge me to find a version of myself independent of everything I’ve ever known.
wtbdragons.com/djy14 There are new scars on my body: long thin
and cemented my commitment to teach
scrapes up my leg from a fall while swimming,
my students and make relevant their own
HOW TO WRAP A SARI
permanent rub marks on my ankle from when
dependence on this world of ours, help them
WORDSJANE MENTZINGER, STUDENT
I was too stubborn to tie my boot right, a sin-
realize their privilege, and help them feel empowered to take action for the health of
INDIA PRINCETON BRIDGE YEAR
gle line on my right arm burned from an iron the first night in the Miami airport. Along my
our environment. During my trip to Bolivia,
I began walking towards the stairs, figuring
stomach, thighs, and back, hundreds of fad-
climate change and its effects was not an
I would need to ask my homestay mother
ing bites dot my skin and I grimace, remem-
abstract idea people talked about, it was a
for help, when a Banaras Hindu University
bering the flea fiasco in Cotzal. And all over
lived reality that people had to respond and
student named Kanchan, called out to me
my body is the patchy, uneven tan that comes
adapt to. Bolivians are living with the effects
as I passed her room. I had hardly spoken to
with wearing a strange mixture of swimsuits
of climate change now. They are well aware
her at all before this. She spoke Hindi, with
and hiking pants every day. The final thing I
of how their lives are constantly changing
a little English. Unsurprisingly, she looked at
notice is the way I hold myself has changed. I
to adapt to new weather patterns. My host
me in confusion, given that I was wearing
can picture the me of a month ago, stooped
“mom,” Rosa, told me of smaller crop sizes,
the sari blouse, which looks like a crop
beneath the weight of a bag, wringing her
and lower yields which directly impact
top, the petticoat, a long skirt that goes
hands, and talking everyone’s ear off from
her ability to provide for her son. Pablo, a
under the sari, and the sari itself, which was
nerves. Now, my back is straight, and when
glaciologist shared his research with us and
only half tucked into the petticoat. I was
I squeeze my thigh I feel muscle, most like-
told us about glacier melts and retreats, and
carrying the rest of it in my arms. “Ye sari
ly from carrying that same heavy bag every
the fact that some communities that depend
hai,” I said, which translates to “This is a
single day. I feel stronger than I’ve ever been.
on the glaciers for their water will fail to
sari.” She looked at me with a smile. It was
survive if the melting rates continue. I learned
pretty obvious that it was a sari but I didn’t
A WRINKLE IN TIME
that a country that relies on mining so heavily
know how else to explain that I needed help
as Bolivia does, has left irrevocable impact
wrapping it. “You wear?” she responded. “Ha,
NEPAL ADULT PROGRAM
both socially and environmentally. With such
lekin mujhe nahin aatee hai,” I responded,
tangible evidence of the impact of climate
which meant “Yes but I don’t know.” She
I’ve been trying to describe to friends and
change on real people’s lives, it was hard not
understood what I was asking and pulled
family the time spent with a Buddhist lama,
to be despairing. I learned that societies are
me into her room to begin wrapping my sari.
three reclusive Hindu sadhus, a swami on
complex and inextricably linked to the place
[...] As I hurried to catch a rickshaw to the
an ashram and each other talking deeply,
they live in, and how we go about caring for
event, I couldn’t help but feel surprised at
curiously, respectfully and lightly, too, about
our little piece of the world matters.
how much she had worked to help me. She
the spirituality of Nepal. I’ve been sharing
had offered to wrap my sari even though
photos of my homestay with the family of
THE THINGS YOU DON’T DO
we never talked. She kept working to
Paubha master painter, Lok Chitrakar, who
WORDSNOAH DANIEL, STUDENT
make it perfect even when she could have
taught me about the spiritual foundation
PRINCETON BRIDGE YEAR BOLIVIA
GUATEMALA SUMMER PROGRAM
just stopped. She was excited to help me
for his work and whose family warmly
even though we could barely communicate.
welcomed me, including me in the festival
When my friends and family tell me how
Recently we have been talking about gift
of Ganesh and dressing me in a sari and
excited they are and how much fun I’ll have,
culture in our group. In a gift culture, people
bling for the final celebration dinner. I can
they aren’t picturing the tears I’ve shed
give without expecting anything in return.
still feel the warmth of the sun that rose
during the days I sit in my room, playing
It’s very present around India. Strangers will
as we met for yoga in the mornings at the
guitar and missing home. They aren’t
invite you in for a cup of chai, workshops
foot of a beautiful mountain, and am still
picturing the days when I’m not sure why
will ask that you pay what you can give,
resonating with all the facets of our hike up
I would ever embark on an experience
and people will help you with anything
to Chandragiri temple: the difficult climb, the
which holds such gravity, which takes
whenever you need it. I’ve found that both
steady support and encouragement of the
such a staggering mental toll. They aren’t
wonderful and nerve racking. I’m not used
group, the gorgeous views, a moment in the
picturing the regular days: days when I’m
to being given things without expectations
clouds of true presence, the surreal arrival at
not ecstatic or depressed, but am just
of reciprocation. Though I continue to feel
a Disney-like park around the ancient temple,
average. Days when I just go to work, eat
awkward at times, I’ve started to embrace
and the descent in a Swiss-worthy gondola;
three meals, read a little, and sleep. Yet
a perfect metaphor for the many co-existing
these things are as integral and formative
P.S. I finally learned to wrap a sari.
truths we discovered during our travels.
THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
India is where that journey slowed down,
WORDSJENNY BATTYE, STUDENT
and I am oh-so thankful for every light and
WORDSMARK BAUHAUS, PARTICIPANT
serendipitous stumble that led me here. As we walk on this land and move among those
NEPAL ADULT PROGRAM
A small orangutan baby leaps from its
who keep the memory of ancient wisdom
Out our window on this last morning in Nepal,
mother’s back to dangle from a thin branch.
alive today in their cultures, languages,
life in the 700-year old square starts about
It munches berries as it eyes our deet-
practices, and traditions, it behooves us
4:30am. Bells ring, chants start, drums and
slathered, leech-socked troop. The morning
to pay attention to these different ways of
symbols clang, and the murmur of neighbors
sun illuminates the baby from behind, so
being and living. The young traveler who
chatting rises up inside and outside the
it looks like a furry little angel with gaping
encounters cultural difference with intention
ancient temple. [...] Women bring offerings
black eyes. With a giant leap, it hurdles itself
may see beyond culture as decorative and
of rice, flowers, fruit, and yak butter lamps
to the branch above us to peer down and
may use that experience (in the words of
to give and receive the abundance of life.
mimic our motions. It looks like a human. In
one of my anthropological foremothers), “to
Incense wafts about. Old women anoint the
fact, orang hutan means “jungle person” in
make the world safe for human differences.”
ground, the temples, their foreheads. Flames
Indonesian language. The local guides treat
The urgent challenges of the 21st Century
are lit to remove impediments to happiness.
these gentle creatures with respect, unlike
are stubborn and extremely divisive. It is my
[...] Maybe sometimes we Westerners dismiss
the rest of the world. Gunung Leuser is one of
hope that on this journey you will become
such activity as out of date, old fashioned,
the last habitats on earth for the orangutan.
inspired and empowered to find your agency
or superstitious. But these daily rituals also
Mass deforestation and the palm oil industry
in the narrative of global citizenship.
connect the trials and suffering of life to
have destroyed most primary rainforests
timeless human values of respect, mutual
like this one, and left the orangutan an
A CRITICAL EYE
care, gratitude, and aspiration to be the best
endangered species. These precious forests
WORDSSAM COHN, STUDENT
(people or incarnations or manifestations)
and all of their diverse, beautiful wildlife are burned, poached, and illegally logged.
SENEGAL SUMMER PROGRAM
that we can be. They tend to be social, historic, and looking upward. I wonder where
Chainsaws are cheaper than ever, and with
Developing a critical eye and anger towards
my pattern leads when I rush daily to run,
little governmental protection, the rainforest
a place I have called home my whole life after
coffee, traffic, maybe even meditation, and
is in critical condition, with a pack of local
being away for just 29 days was one of the
focus on just DOING things.
guides as its only advocate. It’s easy to
hardest mental struggles I’ve faced. After
blame Indonesia, for “allowing” their natural
learning so many incredible aspects of a
treasures to be stripped away and destroyed,
culture that had been largely unfamiliar, I had
but as Romi’s father reminded us, America is
a whole new outlook on the world. There was
one of the world’s largest consumers of palm
a pool of new knowledge in the palm of my
CHINA PRINCETON BRIDGE YEAR
oil. I challenge you to go to your own local
hand; the question became, what would I do
It has now been almost three days since
grocery store and take a peek at the shelves.
with it? Azar Nafisi said it best, that “you get
the power first went out, and I can’t help
How many of your favorite products contain
a stranger feeling when you leave a place...like
but reflect on how little the villagers rely
you’ll not only miss the people you love but
on electricity in their daily lives. While I
you’ll miss the person you are now at this time
mourned the death of my phone battery, Ayi
HELLO, JULLEY, NAMASTE!
and place because you’ll never be this way
and Shushu adjusted to life without power
WORDSMARIJA (MJ) UZUNOVA-DANG,
again.” The stories I returned with are what
with ease. They simply reverted back to how
keep me connected to that version of me.
things were done before power was installed
INSTRUCTOR INDIA SEMESTER
wtbdragons.com/djy17 The banks of Ganga and the peaks of Ladakh are a long way from the small corner in the south of Macedonia where I spent my
in the village a short 20 years ago. Growing
ON THIS COURSE I WITNESSED WORDSANONYMOUS STUDENT EASTERN HIMALAYAS SUMMER PROGRAM
childhood. A few days after my 15th birthday,
On this course I witnessed two sides of life.
up in such an electronically-dependent world, it is refreshing to be in a place that so highly values interacting with others and staying present rather than Instagram posts and Facebook updates. I am frightened to
I left home in a cargo van carrying my piano
The side of life in which you recognize you
think about how easy access to electricity
and little else, blasting a mixtape my sisters
are really lucky in the life you live. And the
controls my daily life and how often I use
had made, and interchangeably holding
other side in which you realize you are not
technology as a distraction from the world
back tears and massively grinning. I have
always grateful for all things in your life. I
spent the past 15 years in relentless pursuit
have seen a lot of beautiful things and sad
of an education and adventure across four
things, but these sad things make my mind
continents (the piano did not come with),
work and think about what I want to do
leaning into the delights and discomforts.
differently in my life.
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Board for the most up-to-date field posts: yak.wheretherebedragons.com
When Things Go Wrong WORDS & IMAGESJODY SEGAR, CHINA PROGRAM DIRECTOR CHINA
wenty-two years ago I walked into a small town in southwestern China near dusk and realized I was in trouble. I had the equivalent of just a few dollars left in my wallet and the only bank in town was closed (there weren’t any ATMs). I had no place to stay for the night,
no ticket onward, and knew no one in the area. Like most people at that time, I didn’t have a cell phone—even if I had, I’m not sure who I would have called. I stood on the steps of the (closed) bank, one of the larger buildings in town, and watched the warm, late spring sun sinking lower in the sky, considering my options and feeling angry with myself. I was also exhausted and hungry after walking all day. This wasn’t my first brush with the consequences of failing to think ahead (nor would it be my last!) but in a completely unfamiliar place, in a country then still very new to me, with Chinese language skills that might be generously described as “intermediate”, traveling solo… I was feeling both stuck and stupid. The days and weeks leading up to this moment had been some of the happiest and most exciting of my life. I’d taken a year off from college and worked all fall so that I could join a study program in China in the spring. This kind of travel, which was never in the cards for my family growing up, was something I’d always dreamed of. To explain why, I have to tell another story first…
WHEN I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD...
So, many years later, when Chinese was introduced as a language
The town where I grew up sponsored a group of Cambodian refugees
option at my high school (a rare opportunity at a public high school
who had fled the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge. One of
in 1991), I jumped at the opportunity. I loved languages, but even
these refugees, a boy a couple of years older than me, named Kiri,
more so, I loved the idea of being able to communicate with people
became my friend, and something like an idol. Kiri’s life experiences
whose lives and cultures were profoundly different from mine.
were different from mine in pretty much every way. I grew up in
Eventually, in the spring of my junior year in college, I landed in
small college towns in New England where life was mostly quiet and
China’s Yunnan Province—a place that felt to me like a wonderland:
peaceful. Kiri’s family had all been killed in the chaos that enveloped
more than 30 different ethnic groups, biodiversity with ecosystems
Cambodia at that time and he fled with other children through the
ranging from snowy mountains higher than any I’d ever seen to
jungle, arriving eventually in a refugee camp before coming to the US.
dense tropical rainforests, a long list of religious traditions, foods as
Kiri’s childhood experiences left him with scars I couldn’t see, but had some sense of, even as a kid. His experiences also left him with great survival skills—including what, to my seven-year old ears,
familiar as fried potatoes and as unfamiliar as roasted cicadas. I was in paradise. The culmination of my semester was a month-long “independent
was a knockout sense of humor. Kiri was still learning English, and
project.” Working with my program advisor, I set out to follow
one day when he was over at my house, he discovered the power of
the Mekong River along its entire path through Yunnan, from the
the phrase, “never mind.” From that moment on, every time Kiri and
Tibetan region of Kham in the northwestern corner of the province,
I needed a boost of extra entertainment as we played upstairs, Kiri
downstream and south through ethnically Hui, Lisu, Pumi, Yi, Naxi,
would call to my mother downstairs.
Bai, Wa, Dai (and the list goes on) areas to Xishuangbanna, bordering
Myanmar and Laos. Carrying letters of introduction that I hoped
“Yes, Kiri?” my mom would answer knowingly.
would allow me to enter many counties then closed to foreign
“Never mind!” (cue cascade of two boys laughing).
travelers, and cartons of cigarettes needed to win over skeptical local
My mom was very patient.
officials, I set out with the goal of covering as much of the route as I
Kiri also had concrete survival skills as a result of the time he
could by foot—a goal I soon realized was totally unrealistic given the
spent escaping war in the wilderness. One day, Kiri came with my family for a walk in the woods and he and I went down to a stream
distance I had to cover and the month I had available. Walking is still my favorite mode of transport. It’s the only way to
below the path. I watched him pull a live fish, about six inches long,
move from one place to another slowly enough to really see things.
out of the stream with his bare hands. From that moment on, I did
It’s also the only way to move that leaves you with no choice but to
everything I could to emulate Kiri. Kiri had a habit of carrying photos
stop and talk with people along the way. I discovered quickly how
around with him inside his t-shirt, “close to the heart.” One was of
friendly, hospitable, and curious the people of rural Yunnan were,
his parents. Another was of a tank. After he showed me the photos, I
often stopping to offer me rides, and inviting me into their homes for
asked my parents for some photos to put inside my t-shirt.
meals. In the Meili Snow Mountains of northwestern Yunnan, a family
Through Kiri, I got to know other kids and families in the
pulled me into their shack near the road to offer me a small piece of
Cambodian refugee community in our town. Although I wouldn’t have
fried fat and a plastic cup of orange soda—the most luxurious things
been able to explain it quite this way at the time, I began to fall in love
they had to offer. In another town, I asked a girl on the street how to
with people and things that were different from those I knew. I began
get to the post office. She looked at the items I wanted to mail back
to wonder about life in places far away from home. I began to dream
to my advisor’s home in Kunming and told me I’d need to have a
about seeing the world.
container to mail them in. She then brought me back to her family’s
20 THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
“KIRI HAD A HABIT OF CARRYING PHOTOS AROUND WITH HIM INSIDE HIS T-SHIRT, “CLOSE TO THE HEART.” ONE WAS OF HIS PARENTS. ANOTHER WAS OF A TANK. AFTER HE SHOWED ME THE PHOTOS, I ASKED MY PARENTS FOR SOME PHOTOS TO PUT INSIDE MY T-SHIRT.” home for lunch, found an empty grain sack, and carefully packed all
from another country. I know you would help me if I were a visitor to
of my things in it. I repeated all of the ways I knew to say “thank you”
as she stitched up the sack and walked with me to the post office.
I wondered if that last part was true. I hoped so. I wasn’t sure.
When we arrived, she helped me navigate the maze of counters, fees,
Unfortunately, I didn’t think too many foreign young men in small
forms, and surly officers with red stamps that run the engine of the
towns in the US were approached by strangers offering assistance
world’s oldest bureaucracy. Again and again, I was stunned by the
level of hospitality and generosity I was shown.
Then, the stranger spoke a Chinese phrase that was, by then, starting to become familiar to me.
WHICH BRINGS ME BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THIS STORY...
“It’s what I should do,” he said.
As I arrived in a small town, at the end of a long day’s walk with no
I was tired, stress had been building, and I was choked up as he
money, not even enough for a meal, and no place to stay. As I stood
handed me the 100 kuai bill. I asked him to write down his address
there on the steps of the bank, a man walked over to me.
and promised (though he said it wasn’t necessary) to send him
“Hello, can I help you with something?” he asked, “Are you lost?”
the money he’d given me once I could get to a bank. I thanked him
Startled out of my own thoughts of how foolish I’d been, I
profusely. I imagined how much better things might be for people
explained I was looking for a bank.
everywhere if we all did what we should do.
“This is the only bank around. It’s closed now.” “Too bad,” I said, then, thinking of another priority, “Can you recommend any very cheap places to eat nearby?” The stranger asked me more questions and I eventually began to explain my predicament, but before I had even finished, he opened his wallet and pulled out 100 kuai—at the time equal to about twelve
WHAT’S THE MORAL OF THIS STORY? I suppose the obvious answer might be: plan in advance and be prepared. Yawn. You’ve heard that before. If I hadn’t set out to “walk the Mekong in a month” (I mean, come
US dollars, and more than enough for a room and a meal. He insisted
on, really, kid?) I might not have been gifted the realization of my own
I take the money.
incompetence and lack of knowledge, or the truth of my reliance on
“Chinese people are hospitable,” he said, “and you are our guest
others. I never would have met that stranger who showed me such
“IT’S MY WISH THAT THEY’LL TRULY CHALLENGE THEMSELVES, AND THAT SOMETIMES THINGS WILL GO WRONG, AND THAT WHEN THINGS DO GO WRONG, THEY MAY LEARN SOMETHING POWERFUL AND UNEXPECTED.” pure generosity, or been faced with the uncomfortable question:
town in New England when I was seven years old. As I wrote out this story,
Would this ever happen where I’m from?
I had the inclination to do something that wasn’t an option back then:
If I hadn’t overshot in what I thought I could do, I wouldn’t have
I Googled Kiri. Kiri is not his real name. His real name is unique enough
felt what I did in the moment that stranger said, “It’s what I should do.”
that on my first search, to my astonishment, I found a news story about
And that’s a moment that I have always remembered. I remembered it
him. It turns out life got complicated for Kiri as he got older and he
through what turned into eleven years of living in China, and a lifetime
became involved in criminal activities. His actions weren’t violent, but
of involvement with China and with Chinese people. I remember it,
drug-related crimes led to years in jail. As a result of changing policies and
sometimes, when I send groups of students to the high mountains
more hostile attitudes towards immigration in the US, Kiri was deported.
and deep river valleys of Yunnan Province, and to live with homestay
After growing up, marrying, and having children in this country, he was
families in villages just a short distance away from that small town
sent back to the country from which he had originally fled as a refugee.
and the steps of its only bank (no doubt, there are many banks and
I felt tears come to my eyes as I read about Kiri being separated
ATMs there by now!). These days, it’s my job to help those students
from his children in the US, and sent back to a place where he had no
and their instructors prepare, and plan, and manage budgets, and risk,
living family members, a place now as unfamiliar to him as the US had
and logistics. But it’s my wish that they’ll truly challenge themselves,
been when he first arrived.
and that sometimes things will go wrong, and that when things do go wrong, they may learn something powerful and unexpected.
Because of what I learned, the process of writing this story down took a different turn for me. Since I learned about Kiri’s deportation, I’ve been trying to get more information, and to contact Kiri, trying
AND WITH THAT IN MIND...
to find out if there’s anything I can do to help. In short, I’m trying to
I want to turn this story back in a circle. It has been many, many years
return some of the favors the world has granted me and to figure out
since I lost touch with my friend Kiri. My family moved away from that
what I should do.
JODY SEGARis China Program Director at Where There Be Dragons. He wants readers to know that he did get around to mailing that stranger’s
money back, plus extra. PHOTOSNorthwestern Yunnan, 1996
22 THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
Homestay at my Village WORDSTHAVRY THON, INSTRUCTOR IMAGE PISITH YEEN CAMBODIA
hen I first arrived at my village with the mission of organizing student homestays, I felt excited and nervous at the same time. My hometown is called Koh Ksach Tunlea and is located in the middle of the Bassac River. It is just one of many remote islands in
Cambodia. Upon arrival, I was anxious because I was not so sure if bringing Western people to stay with the villagers would be good or bad. Especially as this group would stay longer than any other group I had brought. I sometimes question whether our local traditions and the culture will change if there are too many foreign people coming and going in my village. I have to be careful with this and balance the relationship I play in the role of the middle person. However, when the students arrived at the ferry I already felt
excited about how much they were going to learn and how they would experience a completely different culture and lifestyle. The host families all came to my house with big smiles to pick up their potential “daughter” or “son.” After I matched the students to their new “parents,” they all went off to their homestays. I was still anxious about how they would settle in and adapt to things like eating rice most of the time—all while being able to speak so little Khmer and sleeping in a foreign house. How would the students overcome those challenges? It worried me. But it worked out better than I expected. After a week with their host families, the students were challenged to try harder at speaking Khmer, so that they could communicate with the local community and children. Both students and host families used body language in order to learn more from each other and share different aspects of culture, foods, experiences, and memories. The students were able to see first hand, and learn so much from experiencing a real Cambodian lifestyle. Most of the host families had never hosted any foreigners before. It is more than just money we contribute to the host families, but also friendship. I found it sweet when Fiona’s host mum called me asking, “Can she eat this?” just to make sure it is safe for her. Flora also did a family tree for her host family in Khmer. At Harry’s homestay, his brother and sister had taught him Khmer and were practicing Khmer conversation. At Ava’s house, on the fifth day of the homestay, her neighbors were already saying, “We are going to miss you!” When I passed by Izzy’s house, I often saw her hanging out with Khmer people and children, sharing stories about her family at home or practicing her Khmer. And whenever I met Noe, he reported, “My
together. Although I am looking forward to the party, I don’t want the
family’s food is just amazing and I love my family.” I have a strong
homestay to end. I have been enjoying watching the students learn
feeling that all of them have been doing so well with the homestay.
and grow. We had a lesson on the theme of “power and privilege”
I know the families are going to miss the students after they are
with the students today. And I see how all these experiences
gone. Especially after sharing their homes and daily lives. Tomorrow,
somehow tie into these themes. The students have so many more
we are going to have a party at the program house. All the host
privileges than the kids in my village. And I hope they reflect on how
families are invited. We are going to eat, share the moment, and dance
lucky they are to live with such high standards of living and freedom.
THAVRY THON(pictured above) was born into a farming family. She graduated from high school in 2007 and continued her university studies
in Phnom Penh until 2009, when she received a scholarship to study in the Czech Republic and earned her Bachelor’s degree. Her dream of being an author came true in 2009 when her very first children’s book was published. She now has four published books. She most recently published a Khmer novel, “A Captain of Life” which is semi-autobiographical and combines real life stories of women in her life. One of her books, A Proper Woman: The Story of One Woman’s Struggle to Live Her Dreams, is available on Amazon at: http://a.co/d/5XyfaDc. You can learn more about Thavry and find all her books at www.thavry.com.
How to: Walk WORDS & IMAGEAUSTIN SCHMIDT, STUDENT NEPAL: HIMALAYAN STUDIES SEMESTER
ver the past few weeks, we have done a lot of walking. Walking is the most basic form of human transportation and there is something so unique about relying only on our own legs to take us places. We have walked from elevations as low as 1100m and as high as
5000m. We have walked up mountains, down valleys, across landslides, over suspension bridges, across rivers, and through villages. We have crossed over mountain passes and walked through the jungle, forest, and the high alpine climates of northern Nepal. One thing that I’ve noticed in particular is some of the different types of walking that have characterized this trek.
THE “I CAN SEE CAMP” WALK
THE STEEP DOWNHILL
At the end of the long day, even our group
As they say, what goes up must come
has a drop in energy. Backpacks feel
down, and our group is no exception. This
heavier and the designated “stokenator”
type of walk is mostly characterized by
struggles to crack jokes during breaks.
intense knee pain and thoughts of just rolling
But with that first glimpse of the blue
down the mountain instead. This walk is
dining room tent, the big red tarp or the
done fast, in an attempt to minimize the time
smiling porters, suddenly it is possible to
each knee bears weight, but slow enough
skip, dance, prance, sing (mostly just the
THE SUSPENSION BRIDGE
Wii theme song) and maybe run the next
Some of the bridges here contribute
few meters as thoughts of tea and warm
to moments of intense stress. You
clothes fill our minds.
take the first step onto the wooden
not to tumble 1000m into the valley below.
planks, alone because the bridge can support only one person (or maybe
THE MIDNIGHT PEE
you’re just the group guinea pig).
It’s freezing in your tent. It’s even colder
The bridge is long and narrow and
outside. You are wearing every layer you
THE 5000m “WALK”
hundreds of feet above a river rushing
own and wishing the sun would come up
When you are above 5000m, walking is a
down valley. The bridge swings with
already. Then it hits you—you have to pee.
little bit different, and it goes something
every step and the wooden planks
Everything in you is telling you to just stay
like this: walk five steps, stop, gasp for air,
creak and seem just about ready to
in your sleeping bag and hold out until
take a sip of water, repeat. This is what
collapse. You grasp the side of the
morning. The toilet tent is too far away
the Instructor team calls Type 2 Fun: it
bridge, knuckles turning white, and
and you regret drinking so much water.
sucks at the moment but as soon as it’s
walk slowly, hoping your feet don’t
But there is no other option. You stumble
over and you’re at the top of a mountain
slip off the side. You wonder how it
out of your tent and walk quickly. Leaving
with a 360-degree view of the Himalayas,
seems that you have been on this
the toilet tent, however, is different. A
it’s worth it. However, in classic Nepali
bridge forever yet you aren’t even
quick glance up reveals thousands of stars
fashion, reaching 5000m really just means
halfway across. For a second, you
and a full moon illuminating the snow
you’re at the base camp of another much
look up and all the fear leaves. In its
covered mountains. You stop for a few
taller mountain. But you accept your
place, comes amazement of your
minutes and just look. In a rare moment of
accomplishment for the day and head
small presence among the tallest
total silence and awe, the cold
downhill in search of sufficient oxygen.
mountains in the world.
doesn’t seem too bad.
AUSTIN SCHMIDTsplit her 2017-18 Gap Year between a semester with Dragons in Nepal, shadowing doctors in Bolivia, and working on a
research project in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is currently a freshman at Johns Hopkins University studying Public Health. She loves skiing, hiking, The Office, and Dave Matthews. 24 THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
Recipe for Senegalese Peanut Sauce Mafé Gerte WORDSMEGAN FETTIG, CO-DIRECTOR OF ADULT PROGRAMS IMAGESELKE SCHMIDT, INSTRUCTOR SENEGAL
s a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, I grew quite fond of mealtime. Each afternoon and evening, my host family and I would gather around a large silver bowl placed upon a plastic mat. Squatting in the shade of the wide green arms of a mango tree, we scooped
delicious fistfuls of savory sauces and white rice into our hungry mouths. Meals were completely satisfying. In my reflections, I realize that I was being nourished not only by the food, but also by the company I kept. Meals were a communal pause in our day, often followed by napping, drinking sweet mint tea, and braiding hair. Upon returning to the States, I processed my experience in Senegal by attending West African cultural events, printing a myriad of black and white photographs, and cooking Senegalese food for friends. One of my favorite dishes to make was mafé gerte, or Senegalese peanut sauce. Simple yet scrumptious, this dish has served as one of the bridges between my Colorado mountain life and the years I resided in a round, earthen hut, gathering each day for the ageless ritual of sharing a meal.
MAFÉ GERTE SERVINGS4 PEOPLE TOTAL TIME45 MINUTES
1 onion (large white)
Cook rice while preparing sauce.
1 sweet potato (medium sized) 2 carrots (medium sized)
1–2 white potatoes (medium sized)
Sauté onion (and goat meat if desired)
3 cups cabbage (chopped)
in oil on medium heat until golden. Add vegetables and sauté for about 5 minutes.
SPICES & SEASONING
1 Habanero pepper (leave whole)
1–2 garlic cloves
Add 4–8 cups of water or broth (depend-
2–3 tsps. oil of your choice
ing on how thick you like your sauce). Once
1/2 tsp. cayenne
water is boiling, add peanut butter, tomato
Black pepper (Lots of it! A few tsps.)
paste, and spices. Turn to a low simmer and
Salt and pepper (to taste)
cook until sauce is reduced and vegetables
1 cup peanut butter
are cooked (10–20 minutes).
2 tsps. tomato paste (cuts the sweetness)
Serve over rice and enjoy! Make sure to
4–8 cups water or broth
remove the habanero pepper so someone
Rice (4 servings)
doesn’t get a hot surprise In the village, the pepper is passed around and dabbed on
each person’s portion (yes...it’s that hot!)
This dish is traditionally made with goat meat, which can be added with the onions
if you prefer meat in your sauce.
MEGAN FETTIGco-created and guided Dragons first program on the African continent in 2005, bringing students to her Peace Corps village in
southern Senegal. The holistic, community centered, and off-the-beaten-path style of Dragons captured Megan’s heart. In the past dozen years, she has continued her involvement in several capacities, the most recent as Co-Director of Adult Programs.
Bhutan: Challenging Definitions of Happiness WORDS & IMAGECHELSEA FERRELL, INSTRUCTOR BHUTAN
f you say you’re going to Bhutan, be prepared for a wide range of
each. Bhutan often feels like a neighborhood block party that might
reactions. From the skeptical bank-teller (“Hold on, let me make sure
take place on a street in the US suburbs. You meet people you’ve
that’s a country before I authorize your credit card.”) to the confused
never seen but somehow, they seem to know all about you. By
listener (“Oh, that’s in Africa, right?”) to the awestruck fan (“Isn’t
virtue of merely being in the country, you are incorporated into the
that the happiest country in the world?!”). While you can’t anticipate
community and your presence alone makes you a valued member.
others’ reactions, one thing is certain: Once introduced to the country,
I’ve felt this same way about the Dragons community. No matter
the people, and the concepts of Bhutan, your perspective won’t be
where I go in the world, I can be sure of one thing: I’ll likely run into a
Dragons instructor, student, or alum.
In June 2018, after months of planning and relationship building, Dragons launched its inaugural summer program in Bhutan. For
CHALLENGING DEFINITIONS OF HAPPINESS
someone familiar with the country, it’s impossible to miss the many
My personal journey in understanding happiness in a Bhutanese
ways Bhutan and Dragons are alike. Both are small. (Bhutan only has a
context began in 2012, when, as a graduate student of Social
population of 750,000 people!) They are both decidedly independent
Anthropology and Tibetan language, I spent a month traversing the
and not afraid to be different. And both Bhutan and Dragons are loyal
country. At that point in my life, I’d lived in several countries and
to their principles, regardless of the climate among peers.
was slipping towards the feeling like I had nothing new to learn or
While many countries focus solely on capitalism and generating wealth, Bhutan uses Buddhist ethics in its governance and economic
experience in another culture. A few days in Bhutan, however, was enough to jerk me out of the
policies. As one of the world’s newer democracies, Bhutan is
cocoon that I’d formed around myself. The remoteness of the country
often cited as an example of a country that is doing development
and the lack of Western ideologies enforced a need to unplug and
differently. Bhutan has managed to adapt to modern life even while
naturally created an environment that led me to re-evaluate what I
preserving its heritage and remaining faithful to core values.
thought I knew.
But my favorite similarity between Bhutan and Dragons is the informal, dependable, tight-knit communities entwined throughout 26 THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
Bhutan called into question some of the core assumptions in the West so fundamental to our thinking that many of us no longer
recognize them as value tradeoffs, such as, “bigger is better”
unplugged that social interactions naturally arise from an unavoidably
and “nature should be commodified.” My time in Bhutan also led
to a recognition of the values of silence, slowness, and a lack of
With all this in mind, what could be more fitting than Dragons
instantaneous gratification. It led me to see the value of technology
offering a program in a country whose name in the native language
should not be blindly assumed, but evaluated in this context.
literally translates to the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”?
BUILDING THE PROGRAM IN BHUTAN
MAYBE THE BEST WAY TO SUM IT ALL UP IS WITH QUOTES
In planning the Dragons program in Bhutan, we incorporated
FROM THE SUMMER 2018 BHUTAN PROGRAM YAK BOARD:
Bhutanese and Dragons ideals not only into program themes, but into the methodology of how we set up the program. During each step
“Life is very different here. The day starts just before 6:00am in the
of program development, we were conscious of our impact, securing
morning. Everyone works together to make breakfast. It is very much
local input through joint brainstorming sessions and attempts to find
unlike the United States. Back home we usually wake up, eat, and go
service activities that would provide value to the communities with
about our day on our own. Here, they all eat together and get along
whom we worked.
extremely well. There is a sense that even when they are not talking,
Seeking an alternative way to chart the country’s progress, Bhutan became famous for coining the idea of Gross National Happiness as
they are having a conversation. “ –Jake Zivkovic, Student
an alternative measurement to Gross National Product. The country is especially unique because of its variety of public policies related to
“Bhutan is a small country, but it contains such a vast wealth of history
environmental conservation and cultural preservation.
and culture—its diverse peoples, geography, religious traditions, and
The Focus of Inquiry (FOI) for each trip is designed to look
cuisine are all so colorful and full of spice! Traveling in places like
at themes that will be woven through all program activities and
this is difficult, surreal, heavenly, overwhelming, and everything in
experiences. As we formed the program, we also discussed possible
between all at once.”
program themes, both with one another and with Bhutanese friends
–Nick Gredin, Instructor
and former colleagues. These conversations often circled back to the idea of happiness because with Bhutanese and Buddhist lens,
“Some of the first icebreakers my homestay brother had in store
happiness is often viewed differently than it is in the US.
for us: ‘Have you been following the World Cup?’ and ‘What is your
Our FOI allowed us to explore the factors that contribute to
favorite soccer league team?’ When I went to play later with the
happiness, including the use and value of natural space, community
Bhutanese teenagers and young adults, they seemed to be shocked
life, and the ways that happiness is embedded in and practiced
when I could barely dribble without tripping over myself.”
through spiritual philosophies and traditions. The FOI was designed
–Jack Holmgren, Student
to encourage students to look closely at their own lives and experiences, and to explore their tacit assumptions about happiness.
“I’m convinced of how special this country is and would like to proclaim myself as Bhutan’s official biggest fan. Why am I so confident
COMMUNITY IS EVERYTHING
about that statement? Almost anybody would feel the same if they
In Bhutan, connections stretch out like long games of telephone,
could come smell the air and listen to the birds. As I sit in the back of
particularly as families move between regions with seasonal change.
the farmhouse where we are taking residency, I can’t help but stop
Visualizing how community connections are fostered is best
writing to look at the vast rice fields and clouds gently rolling over the
illustrated by picturing a road trip across Bhutan during the summer.
mountains.[...] This may be the quietest place I’ve ever experienced...”
Monsoon rains, landslides, and mud on the national highway might
–Raif Wexler, Student
cause roadblocks that can last anywhere from hours to days. In the West, this time might be written off as “wasted,” a detriment to
“Every meal that we have had at our homestay has concluded the
productivity. However, in Bhutan, these roadblocks often become
same way; with our homestay mother and grandmother commenting
social gatherings, a time to meet new people and sip hot butter tea
on how little we eat. While attempting to plop more food on our
together while watching bulldozers lift massive stones and level out
plates, they say that if we don’t eat we will get thin and also point out
dirt. What seems an annoyance can morph into the best part of the
that we don’t want an empty stomach because that will make us miss
trip. Bhutan is remarkable in this way: It’s a country so small and
our parents.” –Delaney Bashaw, Student
CHELSEA FERRELLworks in Global Operations at Tufts University. She received her MA in Social Anthropology from the School of African
and Oriental Studies (SOAS) and her BA in Political Science from Swarthmore College. She has led academic and service programs in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Colorado and presented at national and regional conferences on topics of the Himalayan Studies and University Risk Management. She believes that intercultural community experiences are powerful sites of personal transformation. PHOTOA farm and house built in traditional Bhutanese architecture located outside of the UWICER environmental institute and research
station outside Jakar, Bhutan. P.S.Dragons is now building and running a Bhutan Semester! Visit our website to see the itinerary and details of our newest Gap Year program.
Learning Spirals WORDS & IMAGESARA VAN HORN, STUDENT GUATEMALA
SARA VAN HORN PARTICIPATED IN THE DRAGONS 2016 CENTRAL AMERICA SEMESTER AND RETURNED TO GUATEMALA THE FOLLOWING SPRING TO STUDY SPANISH, GUATEMALAN HISTORY, AND TZ’UTUJIL.
They say that they say that they said that the caracol
tortilla, and the word for fish. But in my grandmother’s kitchen, for
represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very
hours and hours, I sit and cannot understand. My eyes memorize
first ones called knowledge.
the order and texture of the wooden slats. I play with the folds of my factory-made skirt. I focus on her expressions, on the familiar
A teacher asks me to draw—with magic marker on scrap
emotions that pattern my mother’s face; I imagine what stories she
paper—my culture’s conception of time. We sit cross-legged
tells. I am excluded from the source of their laughter, their wide eyes,
on the terrace, sheltered by lemon trees, warmed periodically by
their groans. But this is as it should be. I have been here only a few
a hesitant Guatemalan sun. My answer rises through me quickly;
months: at least, this way, I cannot pretend to understand.
I lean down and draw one swift stroke: a diagonal, upward line, increasingly positive and perfectly straight. After a week, I leave the town of San Juan, crossing a lake filled
I am trying to write what I have learned from this past year. In my walks through town, I feel the deep-stomach shock of nonchalant guns: a whole truckload of them, held by uniformed men with hard
with soft light and slender fish in the hush of early morning. I am aware,
mouths, on street corner after street corner. Every time, my eyes
suddenly, of how much I could miss the handheld walk-skip-run-rest-
drop to my feet, panicked and fluttering. The state hasn’t removed its
run with my host sister on the way to the mill, holding the soaked corn.
soldiers from the streets of these indigenous towns. As my teacher
talks of this injustice, I imagine the sickening trauma birthed again
I return to my host mother’s kitchen. She is making tortillas over
and again at the glimpse of these men on the street corner, holding
the wood stove, clapping and flipping the dough between her
the tools of an asesino, wearing the legacy of violación, some of
palms, and chatting rapidly to her sister-in-law. She greets me in
them, perhaps, the same men—The Unites States supported an
Tz’utujil, bathed in slight smoke, and smiles at my stumbling reply.
Internal Armed Conflict that lasted from 1960 to 1996.
I am trying to write what I have learned from the past year: the
Think of the Mayan calendar system, my teacher tells me, think of
United States supported an Internal Armed Conflict that lasted
all those cycles. The solar calendar has 365 days, one full rotation of
from 1960 to 1996. My teacher stands in front of paragraphs and
the earth around the sun, and within it, the lunar calendar cycles, with
paragraphs of notes written in magic marker on scrap paper; I learn
260 days, and both of these turn within the long count calendar. It is
the names and dates from these 36 years; I learn about NAFTA, about
like the simultaneous circling of three different gears.
US-backed coups, about genocide. My teacher leans down and draws a slow spiral on the paper
And think of the Zapatistas, she reminds me and I remember our conversations about the revolutionary movement in southern Mexico,
between us. She is Colombian, but spent most of her adolescence by
think of their communities. They built them in spirals, like snail-shells,
this same Guatemalan lake. She wants me to understand the varying
caracoles. The leader of this movement once told a story that he
cultural conceptions of time, something that is, ironically, seemingly
attributed to indigenous lore: “The wise ones of olden times say that
so fixed. Time, my teacher tells me, pointing to her drawing, can be
the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol. They
understood as spiraling outward. It is an idea intimately tied to nature,
say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering
to the cycles of the sun, moon, and seasons. And it is tied to the
into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge.
importance of ancestors, to the idea of inherited wisdom.
They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents
After a month, I leave early in the morning and cross the lake, thinking of fluorescent light conversations over rice dinners and the tender hesitation before my father gets up, thanks us, and clears his plate.
I return to my host grandmother’s kitchen, to my mother spinning long monologues to her sisters as she makes tortillas
over the wood stove. Hers is a task done so often—many times daily for years upon years upon years—that this clapping and flipping feels
exiting from the heart to walk the world.” After six months, I leave early in the morning and cross the lake, thinking of spitting jocote pits into the backyard and watching the closed-eyed, patient face in the mountains, dreaming skyward, caressed by kites.
I return to the kitchen of the women’s weaving cooperative. My mother has long since shown me how to pull the lump
of dough from the basin, how to flatten it, how to rotate it, where
woven into the fabric of our meals. A woman making tortillas by the
to place it on the hot metal, when to flip it. My tortillas come out
stove feels as normal and crucial as breathing. My young cousins,
misshapen and crude, too small or too thin or too full of holes. My
laughing irreverently in sweatshirts and sandals, come in from
joke is that I make my tortillas into squares. They laugh. No one’s
outside. A white moon bleeds slowly through the wooden slats. I am
dinner depends on my ability to master this skill.
made to wait, eyelids fluttering, for my mother to finish her story. I have learned greetings in Tz’utujil, basic verbs, the word for 28 THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
I am trying to write what I have learned this past year. In the women’s weaving cooperative, I listen to two women speak of the death squads
in the early ‘80s. They talk in Ixil, another Mayan language, and I can only
incredible amount of indigenous land. The “third invasion,” then, was
watch their expressions, their visible unclenching of memory, and the
the genocide and scorched-earth campaigns of the Internal Armed
trauma written into the hardened lines of their faces. Their stories are then
Conflict. She looks back down at the spiral. Last year, Rigoberto Juarez
translated into Spanish. To learn Spanish here is to learn the weight of
was jailed for protesting the mining projects of US and Canadian
asesinado, of violencia, of violación. I have not grown up with these words.
companies. He calls these corporate projects the “fourth invasion.”
They carry little context. But these are the words that are used and I must
I can hear a pot of tea begin to whistle in the kitchen. Think
feel them. Guerra, guerra, guerra. The women talk of how they made tor-
of your host uncle, she says, I remember the afternoons I spent
tillas for the guerilla fighters in the mountains, how the military came for
in his backyard under his colored umbrella. Think of his anger.
their husbands. They talk of how their husbands died, and their brothers.
Political history, political anger, and political suffering are integral
They talk of how, marched in mourning down the streets, they were
to his teaching of Mayan cosmovision. It is a Western idea to divide
forced to be silent, how they were shot if they cried. The United States
another’s culture from its politics, its spirituality from its struggle.
supported an Internal Armed Conflict that lasted from 1960 to 1996.
She looks back down at her spiral. It’s not ethical to learn Mayan time
My teacher and I sit cross-legged on the terrace, facing each other under lemon trees and fractured sunlight and a heaviness I cannot shake. She waits for my questions, searching my face with quiet eyes,
without learning Mayan history. It’s not ethical to learn about Mayan culture without also fighting against the exploitation of their land. She pauses, sensing the thread of doubt rising through me, and
idly tracing the inked spiral on the paper between us. The United
waits for my question. So then how is it ethical, I say, that I am going
States supported an Internal Armed Conflict that lasted from 1960 to
to leave? She looks up at me. Sara, the United States supported an
1996. I look down at the paper, thinking of soldiers on street corners
Internal Armed Conflict that lasted from 1960 to 1996.
and street corners and street corners, then back up at her. Why?
After a year, I leave all my memorized things: the reluctance of these
Let me tell you, she says, about Rigoberto Juarez, an indigenous
clouds, the texture of this language, my mother’s golden teeth. I leave my
activist who, last year, was arrested by the Guatemalan government
sister sleeping under fleece blankets, raw dawn in the coffee trees, the
and jailed without trial. He calls the Spanish conquest in the 15th and
embers still smoldering in the wood stove. I leave early in the morning and
16th centuries the “first invasion.” The “second invasion” was the cre-
cross the lake. The United States supported an Internal Armed Conflict
ation of plantations in the 19th century where US corporations stole an
that lasted from 1960 to 1996. I am trying to learn what I have written.
SARA VAN HORNis a sophomore at Brown University studying American Studies and Literary Arts and focusing on corporate exploitation in Central
America. This piece is a product of the wisdom of Irene Platarrueda, Richard Brown, Viviana Mendoza, and Javier Mendez, among many others.
CO M M UN I T Y S P OTLIGHT JEFF WAGNER South Asia & Latin America Instructor
ALUMNI REUNION Madagascar/Senegal Semester Fall 2017
Teaching To The Environment: In col-
Jennie Adler sent us this photo in which seven of the original nine students in her
Dragons program were able to meet up in Amsterdam for a 10-day reunion.
instructors, Jeff is developing resources for educators to learn and teach about environmental issues including readings, lesson plans, articles, guided reflections, online courses, and book/film recommendations. The project is just getting started, and more will be added each week. Check it out at www.layinggroundwork.org
FEATURED NGO: DHARTIMATA & THE HER TURN INITIATIVE Dragons Community Grant Awardee Dragons awarded Dhartimata a grant to support workshops that teach Nepali women in Chokati how to hand-stitch reusable sanitary pads in order to promote healthy menstruation attitudes and practices. Follow their impressive initiative at: www.facebook. com/loveladypads or learn more about Dragons Community Grant Fund at: www. wtbdragons.com/cgf
“When we said goodbye in the airport no one anticipated that we were just seven weeks
DANIELA PAPI & CLAIRE BENNETT Southeast Asia & South Asia Instructors
from meeting again! In the Netherlands, our celebration increased each time one more
Learning Service is an introduction to
highlight of our trip was not the museums or the canals, but just being able to go to sleep
international volunteering. (Sample excerpt,
and wake up to each others faces again like we did on our Dragons trip. Our time was
of us walked through the gates and into our arms. Amsterdam is a great city, but the
page 7). Purchase the book on Amazon
filled with smiles and laughter, as though no time had passed. This isn’t our last reunion,
or through Dragons for $20 (email: info@
and I can’t wait to all be together again by a fire laughing and keeping our stories alive!”
through Dragons, proceeds will be donated to the Dragons Global Education Fund.
P.S. If you’d like to have your group reunion featured, tag your photo and caption on Instagram with: #DRAGONSREUNIONS so we can find and re-share it!
NEW PROGRAMS IN 2019 SEMESTER: BHUTAN
ALUMNI: ANDES LEADERSHIP SEMESTER
Bhutan has long been inaccessible, but
This new program carves its way through
An advanced level course for alumni of
Dragons has newly forged partnerships
the Tibetan Plateau, past the steamy
expedition, leadership, and international
that allow us to bring students into this
jungles of northern Laos, and into the
experiences. This course includes
secluded Buddhist kingdom. The new
heartland of mainland Southeast Asia.
wilderness exploration, the study of
semester highlights the country’s rich
The program features captivating
Andean culture, Spanish language
cultural heritage, incredible biodiversity,
landscapes, homestays with traditional
immersion, rock climbing, and an outdoor
and explores the Bhutanese-coined term
ethnic communities, and a study of the
leadership curriculum. The semester was
modern political and environmental
created in partnership with the High
“gross national happiness” as an indicator of development.
challenges of the Mekong River.
Mountain Institute. More details at:
30 THE DRAGONS JOURNAL 2019
WHAT’S NEW AT W H E R E T H E R E B E D R AG O N S
GLOBAL SPEAKER SERIES
Did you know you can bring a Dragons
DRAGONS GLOBAL EDUCATION FUND
instructor right into your classroom to spark
The Dragons Global Education Fund, a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity of the Common
engaging conversations on critical global
Foundation, awards need-based scholarships to help students participate on our
issues? Topics include: The Forces Behind
programs, ensuring that all people have access to a global education. Dragons then further reduces tuition, lessening economic barriers to global travel. To learn more visit dragonsglobaleducationfund.org
Migration from Central America; Introduction to Islam; Feminism: Bettering the Lives of All. We call it our Global Speaker Series and best of all, it’s free! More details: wtbdragons.com/gss_topics
NEW DRAGONS HEADQUARTERS
In August, Dragons relocated its HQ office to a three-story Victorian home in downtown Boulder. Built in 1896, The Montgomery House sits right between the Pearl Street walking mall and the open space marking the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. Like the Dragons community, the space is funky, spirited, and has many stories to tell. Our new address is: 741 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO 80302
DRAGONS INSTRUCTORS ARE IN YOUR AREA Meeting a Dragons instructor is often the best way to learn more about our program opportunities. We place a premium on human connection, both at home and in the field, by sending instructors across the country each year to meet with prospective students and their families. If you would like to learn what it means to go “Where There Be Dragons,” invite us over.
DRAGONS REGIONAL TRAININGS IN CROSS-CULTURAL
EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION Each year, Dragons holds trainings for educators exploring the critical skills related to student group management, risk management, and ethical community engagement. These workshops are designed for all teachers and administrators working in cross-cultural programming environments and, particularly, for leadership teams who work together on student programming. Look for upcoming regional trainings in your area or be in touch to learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org
10% OFF ALL PROGRAMS FOR ALUMNI Ready for another Dragons experience? Did you know we also offer College Study Abroad Courses, adventures for adult travelers, and professional development programs for educators? All Alumni receive 10% OFF future
WHERE YOU CAN FIND
programs. Just mention you are alumni during the application process.
@ W H E R E T H E R E B E D R AG O N S Don’t forget to tag your reunions, inspired projects, international photos, and travel reflections with #WHERETHEREBEDRAGONS on social media. We’re always looking for news of your continued adventures!
SUBMIT TO THE DRAGONS JOURNAL Do you have an essay, poem, photo gallery, reunion update, Yak, or anything you’d like to submit for possible publication in The Dragons Journal? We’d love to see your contributions. Email: email@example.com
741 Pearl Street Boulder, CO 80302
t: 303.413.0822 e: firstname.lastname@example.org
wtbdragons.com/videos facebook.com/WhereThereBeDragons instagram.com/WhereThereBeDragons
MEANINGFUL JOURNEYS FOR ADULT TRAVELERS 2019 OFFERINGS: Cambodia | Guatemala | Nepal | India | Peru | Senegal
These deeply human encounters lit my journey like unexpected yet welcome campfires on an icy night. As I wallowed in the warmth of genuine smiles, welcoming hosts, and light humor, the cold chasm of “otherness” melted. Thirty-one years after my first visit to Nepal, I still feel like an apprentice to this place and people. My homestay experience anchored a visceral truth: Mountains and cameras don’t do Nepal justice.” MARK BAUHAUS, DRAGONS PARTICIPANT Read more of Mark Bauhaus’ reflection on his trip to Nepal with Dragons, inside, on Pages 14–15.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ADULT PROGRAMS, CONTACT MEGAN@WHERETHEREBEDRAGONS.COM FOLLOW OUR ADULT PROGRAMS ON INSTAGRAM @DRAGONSADULTTRAVEL