Photo by Camille Albouy.

Posts Categorized:

From the Field

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    [post_date] => 2019-12-05 14:16:43
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    [post_content] => 

“Move. Away from wooden rice sifters and thick soil walls. Away from those rice cakes that finished baking on your palette as they steamed and collapsed in your mouth. Away from those sunken paddies and rich landscapes- freckled with cobalt windows and flush with bougainvillea. Move, because you’re in the mountains now. The deep, steep columns that flake under your rubber sole as you climb. Remember to look up- don’t dwell on the shards of Isalo you’re leaving behind. The magisterial pillars you bruise won’t shed off you like flint. Sigh the moment as you climb in the distracted line that is your group because soon you’ll leave it. Just as you left your family in Ambatomanga, and the pousy-pousy drivers before that. Because the more you dip the glorious memories into developer- the more you saturate and remember- the fainter they become. So be careful. Because it’s easy to think Madagascar is a dream. Easy to get swept away by the harsh winds and sparkling oasis’s of Isalo National Park. Easy to lust after campfire nights where the moon winks you to sleep in bug huts as your guides murmur quietly about the group of tents. If ignorance is bliss then ignorance is a shimmering waterfall nestled in rocks and drowned by sandbanks. Ignorance is also, then, a break from our longest hiking day and an exhilarating swim in the sapphire pools of the south. Ignorance is hopping back to camp barefoot to settle for the night and enjoy the laughs of the guides that were now our family. Ignorance is beautiful- until you climb back down. Back the cracked wooden beds of the hotel. Back the debrief we had with our instructor about our head guide’s story- and how he ended up working in Isalo. “He lived in hell.” he said coarsely as he toggled with his hunting knife, “was paid nothing, had to mine ore in nightmare conditions, and was exploited every second he stayed there.” At this point he started flicking bits of wood off the table. “You want to know what they call it? The place where human rights and morality are buried in the same holes Malagasy people are forced to mine? The gemstone village. Pretty name isn’t it.” Move, what’s beautiful isn’t always what’s right.”

- Lula Zeid @lulazeid

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[post_title] => Featured Student Ambassador Reflection [post_excerpt] => “Move. Away from wooden rice sifters and thick soil walls. Away from those rice cakes that finished baking on your palette as they steamed and collapsed in your mouth. Away from those sunken paddies and rich landscapes- freckled with cobalt windows and flush with bougainvillea. Move..." [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => featured-student-ambassador-reflection-by-lula-zeid-madagascar-summer-19-alum [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-12-05 14:20:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-12-05 21:20:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 54 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 54 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/from_the_field/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 37 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 37 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/alumni_spotlight/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 669 [name] => Engage [slug] => engage [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 669 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Activism, Advocacy, Leadership & Organizing. [parent] => 0 [count] => 17 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 13 [cat_ID] => 669 [category_count] => 17 [category_description] => Activism, Advocacy, Leadership & Organizing. [cat_name] => Engage [category_nicename] => engage [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Alumni Spotlight ... )
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    [post_date] => 2019-10-01 09:01:47
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-01 15:01:47
    [post_content] => 

It was extremely hard for the committee to choose, but we’ve selected our three top Dragons Visual Story contest winners:

1-minute Visual Story by Tom of Dragons Guatemala, 6-week Summer Program 2019.

 

1-minute visual story video by Isabelle of Dragons Peru Summer Program 2019.

 

1-minute visual story video by Samantha of Dragons China Summer Program 2019.

 

CONGRATULATIONS TOM, SAMANTHA, and ISABELLE!

And thank you to ALL those who put love into their beautiful video contest submissions. They were an honor to watch!

Sincerely,

Dragons HQ

 
Ps. Want Dragons blog updates sent directly to your inbox? One email a week. Nothing markety. Unsubscribe any time. Subscribe to Dragons Blog and stay connected to the community. ❤️
[post_title] => ANNOUNCING OUR THREE 1-MINUTE “VISUAL STORY” VIDEO CONTEST WINNERS! [post_excerpt] => It was extremely hard for the committee to choose, but we’ve selected our three top Dragons Visual Story contest winners... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => announcing-our-three-1-minute-visual-story-video-contest-winners-2 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-17 14:24:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-17 20:24:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 54 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 54 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/from_the_field/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 37 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 37 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/alumni_spotlight/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 50 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 14 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 50 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Alumni Spotlight ... )
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    [post_date] => 2019-09-12 12:45:55
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-09-12 18:45:55
    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_155381" align="alignnone" width="4512"] PHOTO: Fernanda and her homestay mom, Ouleye; dad, Ibou; and brothers, Sidikh, Rassoul, and baby Mame Cheikh.[/caption]

WORDS by FERNANDA ROMO

SENEGAL PRINCETON BRIDGE YEAR PROGRAM ALUMNI

Mungi 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?
“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 writing it.”
Regrettably, as appealing as that piece might sound, I’m not writing it. Mainly, because I can’t. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that the chances of me being able to provide a fair analysis of this family’s dynamics are about as high as those of snowfall in Dakar. The mere idea of scrutinizing the way these people behave within their family, just to arrive to the conclusion that it surprisingly “works,” feels foolish at best and condescending at worst. However, my impending erroneousness is not the only thing holding me back from writing about the people 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 turning the people I consider family into the subjects of my writing, especially when said writing is directed to Western audiences. I remember once, I considered blogging about Mame Maty, my instructor Babacar’s 10-year-old daughter, who I love like crazy and who is definitely one of the people closest to my heart here. I ended up deciding against it, because something about it wasn’t sitting right with me. And even though I didn’t entirely understand why, one thought kept popping up in my mind: she’s my friend. That’s also what I feel today when trying to make myself produce some insightful conclusions or lessons gathered from analyzing my homestay family. I don’t want to “report back” on what Senegalese families are like, both because it’s not possible to do so accurately, and because these people are, first of all, my family. Not subjects of study, not sources of all-encompassing revelations, but people who treat me like a daughter, a sister, a friend. And just as I wouldn’t write up a couple pages about my best friend back in Mexico and send it to an audience of people who she will never meet and who will form their entire perception of who she is based on my words, I don’t particularly feel inclined to do that here. And maybe that’s a good thing. After all, I think the main reason why the Bridge Year Program works, and is so incredibly meaningful, is because of relationships. The moments when I have felt that my time here has the greatest value have all been centered around having strong bonds, familiarity, and overall friendship with people. It’s really beautiful to think about how my Senegalese family and I genuinely care about each other, and how our lives have been enriched as a result. So I guess if you asked me, “Does it work to put a random toubab1 in the middle of a household in Dakar, Senegal, and have her be a part of this family for a few months?” I’d say yeah, mungi dox.

FERNANDA ROMO left 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 student 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.

Ps. Want Dragons blog updates sent directly to your inbox? One email a week. Nothing markety. Unsubscribe any time. Subscribe to Dragons Blog and stay connected to the community. ❤️
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    [post_author] => 21
    [post_date] => 2019-08-22 14:41:20
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-08-22 20:41:20
    [post_content] => Hey Summer Alumni,

Don't forget that Dragons annual 1-minute visual story contest is officially open! See below for contest details, and check out this lovely submission by Lula Alhussein from the Madagascar Summer 2019 Program for inspiration!



******

Hello Summer Students!

Just wanted to share with you the details of our annual “1-Minute Visual Story” Contest…

The goals of Dragons Visual-Story contest are to:
  • Share visual story through student and in-the-field perspectives.
  • Highlight & offer gratitude/awareness to issues, stories, and people in our community.
  • Encourage more diversity in the perspectives represented by Dragons social media.
  • Offer insight into the Dragons program experience, culture, and character.
  • Encourage tools for story-telling the experience with ethical media creation guidelines.
Parameters:
  • “Visual-Story” can be interpreted as video, photo collage, or anyway you’d like. (Video examples at: wtbdragons.com/ytv)
  • Contest submissions should be no longer than 60 seconds, (but see the next bullet…)
  • You CAN submit multiple entries to the competition. As many as you’d like! (Though you can only “win” once.)
  • Ensure that all content in your film/video/collage (including footage, music, images, props, etc.) is your own or that you have explicit permission to use it (audio/video recorded or written permission).
  • For video, minimum 1080p resolution. If you’d like an official/branded opening graphic/title from Dragons, email us.  Personally created graphic overlays and captions are okay. Entries may be in any language or have no dialogue at all. Closing credits not required.
  • Contest is open to anyone with Dragons Summer 2019 Program Affiliation(Students, Staff, In-Country Community Members)
  • Contest questions? Send an email.
Prizes:
  • There will be 3 winners in total. All three winners will receive a Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket with Dragons Logo and promotion of your submission/video with your credits.
  • The creator of ONE entry will be chosen by Dragons to receive a coupon for 50% off a Dragons program tuition that can be used either by themselves or transferred to a friend (Max Coupon Value: $4,000USD)
  • Winners will be announced on October 1st on Dragons Blog and shared via Dragons social media channels.
Ways to submit: You must submit your entry by September 1st at 12pm MST. Submit your visual-story to the contest by emailing the entry to [email protected] with the subject line: “1-Min Visual Story Contest Submission.”  You may email:
    1. A YouTube URL (subscribe to our YouTube channel while you’re there!)
    2. A Vimeo URL
    3. A link to your video on Instagram . Use the tags: #dragonsvisualstory and @wheretherebedragons.
    4. A link to your video on Facebook. Use the tags: #dragonsvisualstory and @wheretherebedragons.
    5. An actual video file or a link to a Google Drive folder where you’ve uploaded the video.
Video/Visual Making Tips:
  • Consider bringing a travel tripod & make sure your camera has enough storage space for footage.
  • Plan your shoot or gather as a group and come up with creative ways to collaborate meaningfully with communities
  • Throughout a project, seek patterns and sets of images that build cohesion.
  • Take the time to set up your shots, removing logos, water bottles, other distracting objects.
  • Choose landscape or portrait mode and stay in one mode. (Landscape is generally the preferred mode.)
  • Clean your lens! Drop solution onto cloth, not on lens, use damp cloth in circular motion, center to edges.
  • Try to optimize natural lighting. Avoid flash. Use tripods in low light. When shooting outdoors, keep the sun behind you.
  • Avoid background noise (wind, crowds, etc.) but also consider recording novel sounds.
  • Frame shots in interesting ways. Fill the frame, consider putting subjects slightly off-center, use angles to point attention.
  • If you move while filming, make sure it’s subtle and slow so your camera has time to focus on each scene as you move.
  • Take several shots of the same scene, from several different angles and distances; wide, medium, close-up, and details.
  • Hold your shots for at least 10-15 seconds after you have stopped adjusting the composition.
  • Time-lapses are great for scenes of prolonged time over an area that’s constantly changing.
  • Keep it simple:  Still shots with moving elements are often the best. If you move the camera, slow pans and tilts are best.
  • Never enable digital zooms; it makes videos blurry.
  • Take your time!  Steady. Calm. Connect with your subjects. Appreciate the beauty!
  • Use IMovie or other software or apps to edit, add sound/captions, adjust filters.
  • Use the audiovisual Release Form on the back of this flyer if/as needed.
Ethical Media Making Guidelines: People have the right to determine how they are represented. If you are taking video of people, seek to collaborate and establish informed consent. Video stories that don’t have people in them are entirely fine and encouraged! If you are taking video of people, consider the following guidelines and speak to your instructors for further advice:
  • Introduce yourself and your intentions to anyone represented in your video. Permission/consent should be free, prior and informed and should not happen until after a non-electronics-based relationship has been established. Consider showing another photo/video and telling them what it’s for, who will see it and why you want to share this image/sound.
  • Ensure the media cultivates a respectful, kind, reciprocal, relationship that is sensitive to local customs and traditions. Consult with instructors for advice on navigating the pitfalls of stereotype-reinforcing, exaggerating, or exoticizing media. Do no harm. Be accountable. Film with integrity. Offer gratitude.
  • Consider co-creation projects/elements by handing camera to others/locals — or even having them interview you! People love to be seen and heard if the exchange/listening comes with respect, equality, and the intention to honor. Offer others the mic and stage. And share the product with them!
  • A lens can help illuminate an experience or story. But it can also act as an unhealthy barrier or shield to hide behind. Seek guidance from instructors on establishing healthy boundaries and practices in your relationship with the lens.
  • “The quality of your product will be equal to the quality of the relationships that make it possible.” -Producer Vanessa Ragone
[post_title] => DRAGONS 1-MINUTE VISUAL-STORY CONTEST [post_excerpt] => Hey Summer Alumni: Don't forget that Dragons annual 1-minute visual story contest is officially open. Check out this lovely video submission by Lula Alhussein from the Madagascar Summer 2019 Program for inspiration... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => dragons-1-minute-visual-story-contest [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-22 14:43:37 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-22 20:43:37 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 54 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 54 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/from_the_field/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 37 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 37 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/alumni_spotlight/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 654 [name] => Mixed Media [slug] => mixed_media [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 654 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [parent] => 0 [count] => 40 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 654 [category_count] => 40 [category_description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [cat_name] => Mixed Media [category_nicename] => mixed_media [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Alumni Spotlight ... )
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    [post_date] => 2019-06-17 18:21:28
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-06-18 00:21:28
    [post_content] =>  

[caption id="attachment_155057" align="aligncenter" width="555"] Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Andes & Amazon Semester.[/caption]

Overheard on the Yak Board (Bolivia Educator Course):

“The trip challenged my life, my choices, and cemented my commitment to teach my students and make relevant their own dependence on this world of ours, help them realize their privilege, and help them feel empowered to take action for the health of our environment. During my trip to Bolivia, climate change and its effects was not an abstract idea people talked about, it was a lived reality that people had to respond and adapt to. Bolivians are living with the effects of climate change now. They are well aware of how their lives are constantly changing to adapt to new weather patterns. My host “mom”, Rosa told me of smaller crop sizes, and lower yields which directly impact her ability to provide for her son. Pablo, a glaciologist shared his research with us and told us about glacier melts and retreats, and the fact that some communities that depend on the glaciers for their water will fail to survive if the melting rates continue. I learned that a country that relies on mining so heavily as Bolivia does, has irrevocable impact both socially and environmentally. With such tangible evidence of the impact of climate change on real people’s lives, it was hard not to be despairing. I learned that societies are complex and inextricably linked to the place they live in, and how we go about caring for our little piece of the world matters.”

- WORDS by MARIA ELENA DERRIEN, in her essay, Here Are My Thoughts

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Loving this group reflection from Dragons Spring 2019 Nepal Study Abroad Students....

As our study-abroad program comes to a close, the group wanted to anonymously share some thoughts about that which we experienced, observed, and learned over these many months:

In Nepal I experienced love. Not the eros kind but the philia, philautia and the storge types for sure. When I came here I wasn’t very sure of what to expect, I wasn’t sure of how to feel. However amidst all the discomfort, the pain, the hardship, the cognitive dissonance at times and the deep loneliness that I experienced; what I hold most dear are the times when I truly felt love. I felt belonging, comfort and acceptance and those times are what I remember most.  Maya Angelo once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Those times when I felt love are what got me through.

So I guess this is to everyone: to the friends I’ve made in this group, to the homestay families that I stayed with that are like family now, to the strangers I met in the streets or on ISP, to my instructors who were who held our hands along the way, to myself for making this decision to embark on this journey, thank you and I love you all!

In Nepal, I experienced an intense group experience and significant challenges. I stepped outside my comfort zone in various ways and consequently, experienced many different ways of thinking, viewing the world, and living. We met a diverse range of Nepalis: Tami farmers, permaculture practitioners, young urbanites striving for change, Newari artisans, Kagyu Karmapa Tibetan Buddhist lamas, hiking guides, influential fixers and liaisons, and travelers. That access allowed us to problematize and nuance our understandings of this country that is increasingly connected with the global community and navigating its way through complex questions of modernity and tradition, a democratic transition, rule of law and rule of people and corruption, and industrialization and various developmental paths.

I experienced a supportive, inclusive, and compassionate group culture. I got chances to step up as a leader, take on significant autonomy, independence, and decision-making responsibility. I experienced life in a Buddhist Monastary, hiked in Gaurishankar Conservation Area, lived in Patan in the Kathmandu valley, solo traveled, and much else. I connected with many local people, and hopefully, made some lifelong friends!

In Nepal, I experienced earth-shaking thunderstorms, bruised hips from terrible jeep rides, and countless red rhododendron bushes, growing smaller as the altitude increased. I experienced sharp pain followed by instant relief as I washed my aching feet in frigid opalescent pools, and stifling silence when we awoke to a fresh blanket of snow covering the small Tibetan ethnicity village we were staying in. I experienced wonder as I craned my neck to look at the stars, which reminded me of bioluminescent plankton floating in the sky, and when I watched old women carry impossibly heavy loads on their heads. I experienced sadness as I learned how fast the aquamarine glaciers overhead were receding, and when I sat with women, tears streaming down their faces as they relayed their life’s unimaginable hardships. I experienced gratitude upon receiving endless cups of dudh chyaa, and comfort as I fell asleep next to my sister and her nursing baby, listening to the deafening hail bounce off the tin roof above us.

In Nepal, I witnessed my host father in Patan make 19 silver rings. On the first day, he cut the raw silver stock into thin strips and bent them into little circles, using a blowtorch to solder the ends together. On the second day, he cut little triangles out of the edges and used a hammer to smooth out the surfaces of the rings. On the third day, he used a hammer and curved chisel to carve his designs into the face of the ring. On these rings he carved an endless knot, an auspicious symbol in Buddhism that represents the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. On the fourth day, he polished the rings and they were finished.

In Nepal, I experienced so much that it is hard to pin-point any one single moment. But I can talk about the overall emotional experience that I had. When I first met the group in Patan we were unsure of each other, but by the time we began orientation our group culture began to form. We were immediately open with each other and willing to be vulnerable in order to bridge the gap of our differences. This culture of open-mindedness allowed us to relate to each other in ways that we could not have imagined if we took each other at face value. Despite our different backgrounds and virtues we began to see connections and similarities in very intimate parts of our life. Struggles and fears that had previously been kept locked away, were divulged to each other. We found commonalities in our group and once we established this among us we applied this attitude to the rest of the trip. During homestays and outings I was able to relate to the many individuals we met despite our geographical and lifestyle differences. My Patan family felt so familiar to me after staying there for a month that it felt as if I was staying at a longtime friend’s house. This is not to say that our lives were analogous but we were able to bridge the gap with small stories and experiences that brought us closer. Even in the more foreign space of Chokati, I was able to feel a strong sense of connectivity with my host family. Our communication was limited but this made what was understood even more meaningful. Not one meal was quietly as we laughed with each other over my sloppy Nepali and obtuse use of my hands while eating. This approach to my surroundings was forged by our group culture which was established during our early orientation. If it was not for this, my trip would have been immensely more shallow and my take-a-ways greatly limited.

In Nepal, I witnessed:
  • Stray puppies huddled together on sheets of cardboard in the middle of the street.
  • Trash burning in piles along the side of the road.
  • Traffic intersections clogged with motorbikes and taxis and clouds of dust; women pulling the edges of their scarves over their mouths and noses.
  • Fruit vendors on bicycles selling oranges and grapes from the Terai.
  • Cows wandering the streets, sometimes crouching right in the middle of a busy road, so traffic parted around them like the water of a river parts around a stone.
  • Women in bright red saris, smudging the foreheads of their children with vermillion powder.
  • My aama burning incense and spreading rice on the stone markings on the roof.
  • Dishes of spices; yellow turmeric; burnt orange cumin.
  • The white peaks of the  mountains peeking out from behind the clouds.
  • The golden carvings of temples half destroyed by the earthquake.
  • Children in soiled clothes,  following tourists down alleys, begging with open hands for spare rupees.
  • Boudhanath Stupa at dusk, ringed by prayer flags and hundreds of people prostrating at its base.
  • Yaks with bells tied around their necks on the high mountain trails near the border of Tibet.
  • A dead daphey, the national bird of Nepal, lying limp at the river bank.
  • A storm rushing in through the valley, enveloping us in cold mist.
  • My aama washing laundry on the roof by hand, crouching over the buckets of soap water, her hands plunged elbow deep.

In Nepal, I experienced:

  • Getting lost in the streets of Patan and asking a shopkeeper if I could use his phone to call my host family; my host dad arriving on his motorcycle with my sister on his back, laughing at me because I was only ten minutes away the whole time.
  • How it feels to sit in the middle of a room of people and not understand what anyone is saying and smile and sit and eat the food that is given, and to be content with that.
  • Singing karaoke with my host family in their living room.
  • Sitting on the front porch of my home in Chakoti, staring out at the valley as the sun rises.
  • Early morning tea so sweet it stings my tongue.
  • Arriving in the shelter of a tea house in the Himalayas, after a long day of trekking through ice and rock, pouring thermoses of hot duhd chiya into cups that we pass around the table and drink with such pleasure, it’s like the tea is no longer tea, it’s a magic brew imbibed with the power to revive us from the stupor of cold and tiredness.
  • The reality of development; unpaved roads; tangled lines of wires; limited water.
  • Being ignored or looked down upon by men because I am a woman
  • Learning about the dharma from a Tibetan Buddhist Lama; meditating for the wellbeing and liberation of all sentient beings; hanging prayer flags for our loved ones on the hill.
  • Getting dragged down the road by a group of little girls in the village on Holi to play with balloons.
  • Eatings so much dal bhat for dinner I think I’ll be sick if I ever eat another bite of dal bhat again – and then eating more dal bhat for breakfast.
  • Walking down the narrow streets of Boudha in the midst of a mob of monks, sandwiched so close together we can smell each other’s breath.
  • Haggling with taxi drivers; getting ripped off.
  • Getting scolded by my host family for coming home past 8pm.
  • The strength of the women of this country; how they wake up and cook and work, carrying loads of stones in baskets on their backs they secure around their heads, and still manage to smile and laugh and welcome me into their homes, offering tea and biscuits. How grateful I am.

In Nepal, I experienced what it feels like to stand in the presence of a receding glacier and be immersed in its beauty, knowing that what I see in front of me will no longer exist in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, as it exists today. I experienced family and compassion. I experienced the earthy scent of homemade fertilizers and the gift of growing food. I experienced confusion, anger, tears, joy, excitement, and more confusion about the human experience.

In Nepal, I experienced what it is like to be a part of a true community. Everyone addresses each other as “brother” or “sister” even if they are complete strangers, and they will not hesitate to go way out of their way to help each other out. The communal mentality reminded me how important it is to be connected to others, and it was refreshing to see that there really are people out there who are selfless, caring, and altruistic.

In Nepal, a poem:

The sun is setting.

The sky is a shade somewhere between grey and blue. The breeze is cool, as is the grass, and speckled with violet petals falling from the large tree in the yard. Behind me is Kathmandu, sprawling and smoky. It is behind me in more ways than one.

The sun is setting on our time here. It sets in shades of vermillion and saffron, like dried tika smearing across a forehead. It fades like the clang of a brass bell hanging in a temple, echoing in the air. But there’s still light left- enough to see the page- enough for me to write and rewrite everything I want to say about this place. To try and find the words for that which I have only ever found wordless.

Nepal is a sensory country. It presents itself in sights and sounds, touches, tastes and smells. It is alive in a way I have not experienced before. It’s this spark I struggle to name. But it is surely there, and, because of it, I have learned many things I wasn’t aware I didn’t know.

I have learned that the pagoda was first designed by a twenty-year old artist brought from the valley to the court of a grandson of Genghis Khan.

I have learned that goddess Annapurna is not a woman but an overflowing pot of grain, symbolizing prosperity and success. And it is a stunning snow-covered massif that dominates the pale sky.

I have learned that if you’re too loud, too cocky, too bold– the mountain spirits will come for you. I still have not learned why they came for me.

I learned how to braid momos, how to cut tiny tomatoes with a very dull knife, and how to walk along the edges of a terraced bean field, holding up the hem of a scarlet sari.

I have learned that “Namaste” means “I recognize the divine in you”, and I have learned to recognize the divine in the worn faces of millions of gods I have met here.

I have also learned to recognize the divine in the only god I knew before.

I have learned that I am a very accommodating person. That I will eat anything you serve me, however you serve it. Against my better judgement, I’ll finish the whole plate and I’ll even try to eat with my hands until someone takes pity and gives me a spoon.

I have learned how to accept help.

I have learned that culture exists in the grit and grime. In the dust created by civilizations. Its in the magenta and bright coral smeared across my hair playing Holi. In the cracks between stones of a temple, in the carved hands a goddess on a roof strut. It’s in the crimson, auburn, and ocher spices thrown over chopped potatoes frying in a pan of sunflower oil. It’s even in the dust over Kathmandu, a specter so vast and omniscient and sentient that it has become its own character in the story.

I have learned to search for that which makes this place so alive and I have found it wherever I have looked.

It’s in the spread of rhododendron petals, the glow of a marigold. The pound of a mandal to the repeating versus of a song I do not understand. In the braids of school girls and the sparks showering a boy cutting metal in the streets. In the cry of a rooster hours after dawn. In the flutter of prayer flags, and the long, steady ring of a bell.

But ringing bells is for the morning and night is falling. With night comes stars, and in stars, constellations. Memories. Images that will always glimmer. A tiny goat jumping onto the table. The mist over a sacred mountain. My sister sliding a dozen silver bracelets onto my narrow wrists. A crinkled old woman, crouched in hazy, silvery darkness, smoke from her cigarette unfurling around her head, the rain on the tin roof so loud her mouth seems to move silently. And her friends, wrapped in patterned scarves and wreathed in a gentle light, sitting around her, listening and replying. They hear what she is saying. I can forever only wonder.

In these moments I will carry what I have learned– just as I have carried cookie crumbs and tattered rupees all across these hills- back to where I came from. Because, most importantly, I have learned that wise men say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love- in love with this country, this once forbidden kingdom, a place of great history and great promise.

The navigators of old used the stars as maps, and someday I hope the constellations I have will guide me back. Back to the gentle, cerulean mist of morning on the side of mountain. Back to the vivid burn of midday in narrow back-alleys and bricked squares. And back to the pitch darkness, just past midnight, standing outside in the high, snow-bound village of Naa. When I looked up at the diamond-crusted sky and breathed slowly to make the time last. When I knew here, I wasn’t alone. Here, I could never really be cold. And here, I was alive.

—-

In Nepal, I learned:

  • That if I think I understand something, that I have gotten to the bottom of it and reached a sound conclusion, then I have most likely missed the point entirely.
  • That people’s lives are not postcards; villages are not rarefied or isolated places that exist solely for my desire to help, or my scrapbook album of exotic places I’ve been, and just because a culture is unfamiliar to me, doesn’t mean it’s a product meant solely for my consumption.
  • That development can look different depending on what a society values and what they need.
  • That it is far better to stop and ask questions, than to act without listening.
  • That the people of Nepal are incredibly kind and generous!
  • That learning the language of another country not only opens up doors of communication, but is also an act of great respect – that humbling yourself in the face of things you don’t understand is a vital part of growing as a human being.
  • That dal bhat is delicious.
  • That everything I’ve bought, sold or thrown away is still on this planet, somewhere.
  • That everything has a cause and an effect, and my actions are never isolated incidents.
  • That I am incredibly grateful for everything I’ve had the chance to experience in my life; for my parents; my education; the abundance of resources in my country. That despite everything, I appreciate my country more now than I did in the beginning of this trip.
  • That I want to be more involved in the world; in politics; in my community; that even though everything feels very vast and convoluted and confusing, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make a difference.
  • That people are people wherever you go; that everyone laughs and cries, and shits, and dreams.

In Nepal, I learned that there are many different ways of looking at the world, and many different life paths. I learned about Nepali history, politics, economics, language, religion, society, development, women’s issues, and much else. We got access to speak with many, many different folks from here and so we learned about their lives and their issues and their thoughts. I learned how to navigate the sometime chaotic streets of the bustling capital, and also how to graciously accept countless offers of milk tea. I came to learn that simple dal bhat meals are what my body needs.

I learned to design curriculum and to teach. I learned how to balance my own needs with group needs in order to stay present, engaged, supportive and positive. I learned how to interact successfully in a different cultural context, from the small daily interactions to the complex conversations and events that make up our lives as human beings.

From my students I learned many things. I learned about yoga, and building with bamboo, and permaculture, and reggae and other music genres in Nepal. I learned about the tensions between tourism and conservation and the challenges of different perspectives on holy peaks and places, I learned about women’s issues, healthcare, and pregnancy and birth in rural areas, and about traditional Poubha painting and its history in the valley.

I learned about development issues and social justice issues. I learned about the problems of service tourism and “do-goodery”. I learned about the hard decisions that Nepali young people are having to make in order to make ends meet. I learned about challenges in doing heritage conservation while continuing to develop and strive towards “modernity”, whatever that word means. I learned how to get around the city (which isn’t easy!). I learned about different ecosystems and environments in Nepal and the diverse flora and fauna here. I learned about different class and caste issues here. I learned so much!

In Nepal, I learned how to weave a basket from long wet strips of green bamboo. I learned how to fill that basket with rice or flour or bricks and load it onto my back, wrapping the sling around my head and supporting the weight with my strained neck muscles. I tried to learn the grace with which my host mother carried her load up the steep terraced hillsides, but my steps were clumsy on the bumpy footpaths and my basket wobbled precariously on my back. I learned that my mother’s grace was the product of decades of practice, carrying her baskets up the hill day after day, month after month, year after year.

In Nepal, I learned to approach life with empathy and open-mindedness. There is so much time dedicated on the differences in this world, because people are too entrenched in their “way”. To live this way is to live your life with limits. When someone’s perspective is challenged it often causes them to become frightful as if their world is ending. What I have learned throughout my life and over the course of this trip is that gaining a perspective is broadening your world and it will expose you to so many new, and wonderful experiences and relationships. I was blessed to be a part of a group that felt the same way, which is why this trip was so enriching. I hope I am able to bring home this mindset and spread it to just a fraction of people, because a world of empathy is a world without hate.

In Nepal, I learned that you can never get tired of dal bhat.

In Nepal, I learned a lot about a lot. From Nepali language, culture, history, norms and religious practices to development issues, colonialism and consumerism  as well as class, caste and the injustices surrounding that. We also dabbled in some outdoor education and learned about and discussed environmentalism; the list goes on and on.

The more I learned, the more I realized that there was more to know. In fact, there will be always more to know. The quest for knowledge has always been exciting to me, the process of gaining new knowledge and getting a greater understanding of the world around me has always been thrilling. The knowledge I gained on this trip  has undoubtedly impacted me greatly and has caused me to reconsider a lot of my previously held-beliefs and views. The more I learned on this trip the more I realized I knew little about my own history and my leaning here has ignited a desire to learn more about that.

In Nepal, I learned that bar-headed geese can fly at higher altitudes than any other animal and that red pandas poop the equivalent of their own body weight every week.

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