Photo by Camille Albouy.

Posts Categorized:

From the Field

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    [post_content] => While we're not fully out of the pandemic quite yet, we are still able to find meaningful ways to travel. How do we ensure that we are running safe, meaningful, and responsible travel programs in the current climate? Read on to find out how and why we've returned to travel and where we go from here.

[caption id="attachment_158289" align="aligncenter" width="638"] Mario and Celestino, community leaders in the Parque de la Papa community in Peru.[/caption]

Para nosotros es como nuestros hijos y bueno hermano, tú nos enviaste tus hijos para cuidar y para compartir nuestra cultura de parque de la papa y nuestros ancestros de todo lo que vivencias de nuestra comunidad. Las puertas están abiertas y cuando usted puede enviarnos los hijos, estamos a la espera. 

For us, it's like our own children and well, brother, you sent us your children to care for and to share in our culture from Parque de la Papa, from our ancestors, and all the ways of life here in our community. Our doors are open and when you can send us your children, we are eagerly waiting. – Mario, Parque de la Papa, Perú.


On a Sunday afternoon in July 2021, my phone beeped with a video message from Luis Reyes, our Latin America Program Director, who was visiting a Dragons student group in the Peruvian Andes. Like a nervous parent answering a call in the middle of the night, I held my breath until I could be sure all was well. As soon as I opened this message though, two familiar faces reassuringly greeted me. 

Mario and Celestino, longstanding homestay parents and community leaders in Parque de la Papa, were dressed in their technicolored traditional ponchos and chullos (beaded hats). It had been a year and a half since Dragons students had been able to visit their community and even longer since I’d been there in-person. 

After so many months of navigating mercurial pandemic conditions, of meticulously mapping a responsible return to international travel, of thinking through the myriad ethical and safety questions, the sincerity and simplicity of Mario and Celestino’s message finally brought it all home: we can travel again. And, we can do it with integrity.

While no one needs a detailed play-by-play of the pandemic, we can all stand to learn from the unique challenges of the past two years and what they can teach us about creating safe, responsible, engaging, and original travel experiences in this new global reality. What I hope to offer to you is two fold:
  1. How did we get here? Let’s briefly revisit the sudden shutdown and incremental reopening of international travel so we can better understand what the future holds.
  2. How can we travel again with integrity? As an organization, Dragons has tried to intentionally learn from our successes and failures over the past three decades. Let us share some of what we’ve learned firsthand over this pandemic.  

How did we get here?

In February 2020, Dragons had student groups traveling in 14 countries across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. As COVID-19 rapidly escalated from a regional epidemic to a global pandemic, we worked around the clock to safely bring our students home as international borders and flights shut down with unprecedented haste. If you, or anyone you know was involved with international travel during that time, I offer you a heartfelt handshake and hug! Those were stressful times to navigate and perhaps a story for another day! By the end of March 2020, we had officially entered a new global reality in which once easily passable international borders had hardened into a seemingly ever-growing wall of COVID travel restrictions. By May, the US State Department would change the entire basis of its travel advisory system due to COVID concerns, essentially throwing 80% of countries into an alarming red “Do Not Travel” category. The cliché that the ‘only certainty is uncertainty’ had never felt so true. As the pandemic tragically surged at home in the US, remote work and virtual learning became the new norm. An emergent mental health epidemic swept across the nation, particularly affecting our youth, with dramatic increases in anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. The Dragons mission to “cultivate meaningful connections through immersive and responsible travel” felt impossible to embody amidst a global pandemic. The virtual classroom was embraced out of necessity. While it's nothing short of a technological miracle, in the long run, we all know that screens can never substitute for real face-to-face human connection, especially when it comes to travel and experiential learning.

How can we travel again with integrity?

Dragons spent the summer months of 2020 collaborating with other travel providers and educational institutions to develop program protocols in-line with public health guidance. With the unpredictability of international travel, as well as the ethical responsibility to the places we visit, Dragons first focused our energies on developing US domestic programming rather than rushing to return to travel abroad. Over Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, Dragons was able to safely bring together student groups for our new Rio Grande and Colorado River Basin Gap Semesters In order to return to in-person programming at a time when nearly all school campuses still remained closed, we took extensive precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID while allowing for genuine community engagement and values based education. To highlight a few of the risk mitigation tools we initially implemented:
  • Students kept a daily health log prior to arrival, submitted a pre-travel PCR test, and agreed to adhere to our COVID Participant Agreement that outlined our expectations and best practices for prevention.
  • We offered pre-travel webinars openly sharing the risks, protocols, and need for adaptability under changing circumstances.
  • We designed COVID conscious itineraries to mitigate exposure risks by prioritizing outdoor spaces, minimizing time in urban areas, and considering COVID risks for each activity. 
  • Once together, student groups went through a multi-day “Pod Formation” phase before undergoing additional PCR testing and finally being able to relax protocols amongst group members.  
  • Throughout the program, our instructors were trained to uphold our detailed COVID In-Field Protocols & Management Manual, which in addition to common sense safety measures outlined a plethora of contingency plans.
For Dragons, the innovation of these US domestic programs were an unexpected silver lining in the ongoing pandemic thunderstorm. At a time when experiential education seemed like only a remote possibility, we were able to safely bring together students, turn off our screens, and dive into an immersive travel experience.

Returning to International Student Travel

A successful return to travel closer to home was also an important step for honing our COVID safety practices for the reopening of international student travel, which would happen in July 2021. As public health guidance and global travel restrictions evolved, we were able to adapt our extensive domestic travel protocols and response plans to the international context. For example, we added regular in-field testing throughout the program, extensive COVID safety briefings for local community contacts and host families, and protocols specific to each cultural context.  We also went through a rigorous country-by-country assessment for each of our destinations, developing a COVID Country Risk Assessment Matrix that accounted for the following key considerations:
  • COVID case numbers, testing capacities, vaccination rates, and trends 
  • Travel restrictions and COVID specific entry requirements such as arrival testing, quarantine measures, etc. 
  • Availability and access to general medical care as impacted by potential increases in hospitalizations 
  • Local restrictions and community norms related to social distancing, mask wearing, perceptions of foreigners, and public health practices
  • Activity limitations and modifications to program components such as homestays, transportation, independent time, etc. 
Drawing on a variety of resources--both objective metrics and more informal conversations with people on the ground--we grouped our travel destinations into Red, Yellow, and Green tiers. Importantly, we continued to revisit those assessments as travel start dates approached, and due to changing conditions in certain regions, even had to downgrade or cancel some programs based on new or unpredictable information. Having solid evaluative criteria and the adaptability to respond to regional circumstances have proven key to a safe and responsible return to international travel. 

Planning on Traveling Without the Support of Dragons?

The above is a very brief summary of how Dragons navigated a return to travel during the pandemic. You may now be asking, what questions should I be asking for my own independent travels? Here are some questions you should ask before departing on an international trip of your own. There is a lot to consider, but here are a 4 important questions and to get you started:

1. What are the current travel restrictions and COVID conditions in my desired destination?

In addition to the country specific factors outlined above, be sure to consider how often those restrictions and conditions have changed; knowing the history of how a country has closed borders or mandated lockdowns in the past is an important indicator of what could happen in the future. Limiting unpredictability as much as you can is very helpful!

2.   What risks do I pose to the people and places I plan to visit?

We require vaccination for all of our travelers and believe that perhaps even more significant than the risk of you contracting COVID is the possibility that you contribute to community transmission, particularly amongst vulnerable populations. Remember to always consider how you are mitigating your risk to others, not just to yourself, and travel accordingly.

3.  Are travelers welcomed right now in the places I want to go?

Some communities may be welcoming of visitors, while others are fearful of foreigners right now. It is important that you tune into local perceptions of travelers and receive informed consent before entering a community as a guest, especially outside of well-trodden tourist zones.

4.  What are my contingency plans should the unexpected happen on my trip?

Whether it be needing to quarantine abroad because of a positive COVID test or change your itinerary on the fly due to travel restrictions, we’ve learned to not only expect the unexpected, but to be well prepared for it too. Make sure you’ve thought through the possible scenarios and have at least a rough plan of what you’d do should things go wrong.

In Conclusion

Based on our most recent country assessments, we are able to now bring Dragons students to Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Senegal, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Morocco, and Indonesia. We've come along way since 2020! You can read more about how our recent Dragons trips have gone in the words of students and instructors on our Yak Board. While we’re not fully out of the pandemic just yet, we are continuing to monitor program destinations based on the criteria outlined above and informed by a multitude of information channels. We’re excited to return to the communities that we’ve known so well for decades and once again introduce our travelers to the people and places we hold close to our hearts. 


Aaron Slosberg has been working with Where There Be Dragons since 2008 and is the current Director of Programming. 

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    [post_content] => After years of whizzing through Spanish classes in school, acing quizzes and learning vocabulary like a pro, you feel confident in your skills. Except when that person who stopped to ask you a couple of questions (in Spanish) on the street, you freeze. All of those vocab words seem useless now because you're forgetting how to string together a sentence or conjugate the correct tense of the verb (preterite or imperfect? Do I need to use subjunctive...ahhh). When you get home, you open your laptop and quickly google "Where is the best place to learn Spanish?"

[caption id="attachment_126156" align="aligncenter" width="1673"] Students take language classes in Bolivia (divided into small groups based on language level)[/caption]

The first thing you're sure to find is lists of countries or cities where we're promised to learn "the most authentic Spanish", or “the Spanish that does not have an accent". However, after having accompanied first hand the learning process of many students who have become fluent in Spanish, I have a confession. The best place to learn a language is not necessarily a place. It is, first of all, an environment.

[caption id="attachment_126064" align="aligncenter" width="1695"] A student learns how to weave from a Bolivian man.[/caption]

What's the best environment for learning Spanish?

The best environment for learning Spanish is one that gives you the opportunity to learn and practice in a classroom environment, and then practice what you learned with the local people — in the same day. This structure gives you the possibility “to learn how to learn” from a local point of view. That is to say, an environment in which, through the cultivation of deep and respectful relationships with the communities you visit, the doors are opened for you to critically reflect on your learning process. Thus, stop being docile receivers of information and become co-protagonists in the production of knowledge. [caption id="attachment_130717" align="aligncenter" width="1695"]Summer Travel Abroad Peru Where There Be Dragons Photo by Ryan Kost, Instructor.[/caption]

How does Dragons structure language learning? 

And it is precisely this type of environment that we seek to promote (foster) in our Dragons programs in Peru, Guatemala and Bolivia, the three most indigenous countries in Latin America. Whether in semesters such as Andes & Amazon or Guatemala Language Immersion, or in the summer programs, we seek to combine personalized Spanish instruction with extended homestay and community engagement in which you have the opportunity not only to learn Spanish in an abstract way but from the ways of existence of the place that welcomes you. It is through these experiences that you will develop better understanding of how to respond to your environment. It will also deepen your comprehension of why people use the words they use, or why they chose to say things the way they do.   [caption id="attachment_155513" align="aligncenter" width="1440"] Students celebrate with host families in Peru.[/caption] Whether it is talking in a market with the lady who sells fruit, at home with your homestay father, or in an indigenous community learning about the use of medicinal plants, you'll be learning Spanish.  You will be encouraged from the moment you land to the last day of the trip (and beyond!) to learn and to question what we have learned, in a profound way. This will not be a trip to learn Spanish in Peru, Guatemala or Bolivia, but a journey through which you will learn how to learn Spanish through the profound and meaningful relationship you will establish with Peruvians, Guatemalans, and Bolivians, and the breathtaking landscapes they inhabit. Click here to learn more about our immersive language learning programs in Latin America. [post_title] => Where's the Best Place to Learn Spanish [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => wheres-the-best-place-to-learn-spanish [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-06-21 20:06:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-06-22 02:06:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 28 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 28 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => 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] => 36 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 36 [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] => ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 43 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 43 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 ) [3] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, From the Field ... )
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As you walk down the street in Senegal, people greet you with 'peace' and strangers invite you into their homes for a cup of tea.
On a recent trip to Senegal, Director of Student Programming, Aaron Slosberg visited the West Africa Gap Semester program. He reflects on his time in Temento Samba — of the warm hospitality he received and centuries-old traditions he experienced.

Gratitude for Temento Samba

On this Thanksgiving day, I’d like to share my deepest gratitude to the community of Temento Samba, the students of the Fall 2021 Senegal Semester, and their wonderful instructors, all of whom welcomed me with open arms during my recent visit to Senegal. I spent 5 days with the group during the end of their homestay in Temento Samba. Right from the start, I was in learner’s mode as students taught me about the local Pular greetings, customs, food, and inner workings of village life. It was so fun to be in the role of student and to have Jackson, Shreya, Hayden, Ace, Anna, Ethan, Isa, Jamie, Owen, and Willow as my teachers. Despite the tranquility of life in Temento, our days quickly overflowed with learning and activities. We hiked to the border of Guinea-Bissau and listened to a community leader talk about the history of conflict stemming from the colonial past. We camped out in our bug huts under a full moon and awoke to a magical sunrise silhouetting the surreal outlines of baobab trees. We plucked fresh peanuts from the ground and roasted them in bonfires discovering how different their flavor could be from a grocery store shelf back home. We drank carefully brewed ataya (mint tea) in community circles under the shade of the mango trees. [caption id="attachment_158447" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Mamadou strumming the harp-like kora[/caption] We were serenaded by Mamadou strumming the harp-like kora while baby goats added their hilarious array of background vocals. We ate meals of faro, millet, rice, and bissap leaves all gathered from the surrounding fields. We donned our homemade Senegalese outfits surreptitiously commissioned by each host family from the local tailor. We gathered as a community on our penultimate day to celebrate each other in a party that saturated the senses in drumming, singing, dancing, and even wrestling. Each of these sentences contains a multitude of stories that evade easy description; to do so feels like trying to convey the magic of the ocean with a thimble of salt water. What I can say with clarity, is that I am forever grateful for my time in Temento Samba. And, I’m grateful for you, dear family and friends, for trusting us with your children and allowing them this opportunity to become a part of a very special community in ways that will reverberate well beyond their stay in Senegal. I will be posting a series of photos in the spirit of a ‘picture is worth a thousand words,’ although I think we’d need about a million to do it all justice here.

Photos from Temento Samba

[caption id="attachment_158452" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Students seated at the start of an epic farewell party in Temento Samba[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158450" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] The “konkoran” are fascinating figures who come to ward off evil, and playfully scare children[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158449" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] A group discussion in the shade of the trees[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158448" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Student amidst X-phase planning[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158446" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Hiking through the forests of Temento[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158445" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Samba trading his instructor hat for his peanut farmer hat[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158444" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Jackson breaking down his tent at dawn[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158443" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Student getting ready to camp under the moonlight[/caption] [caption id="attachment_158440" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Students planning their X-phase adventures[/caption] [post_title] => Reflections from Visiting the Fall Gap Semester in Senegal [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => gratitude-from-temento-samba [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-05-10 14:44:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-05-10 20:44:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [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] => 36 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 36 [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] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field )
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Finding Connection in a World of Digital Malaise 

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” — Zen Kōan [caption id="attachment_158399" align="aligncenter" width="970"] Camping on the north end of Madeline Island[/caption] This morning my cat, Amazae, was in the bathtub chasing his tail. Ever faster he spun in frantic circles seeking his prize, not knowing that his success would ultimately end in self-harm. Perhaps, I thought, this isn’t so different from us humans, frantically pursuing greater control of the world around us, seeking to “develop” and not knowing that this too will end in self-harm. For me, and many others I think, the global pandemic presented a unique opportunity to ask the question, “What am I chasing? What are we chasing?” It offered an invitation to reconsider our pathway forward as individuals, and as a collective species. Do we continue to chase our tail in pursuit of ever greater technological prowess and development? What if we choose to stop? What if we choose to answer a deep yearning for reconnection to self and to the world around us?  Charles Mann describes this dichotomy as that of the Wizard and the Prophet. “The conflict”, he writes, “between these visions is not between good and evil, but between different ideas of the good life, between ethical orders that give priority to personal liberty and those that give priority to what might be called connection.”   

The Good Life 

This summer I had the great fortune of working with a group of Dragons students on the South Shore of Lake Superior. The course explored notions of “The Good Life” as defined by farmers, professors, ecologists and artists of both indigenous and white descent in the area. After a year and a half confined to four walls, forced to interact with friends and family through the cold glass window of a zoom call, our collective longing for meaningful connection was palpable. We had experienced an acute and collective sense of disconnection and isolation as a result of living life virtually. But this phenomenon goes well beyond pandemic times to a longer trajectory of increased human isolation, isolation from our non-human community. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her seminal work “Braiding Sweetgrass,” “Philosophers call this state of isolation and disconnection ‘species loneliness’—a deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation, from the loss of relationship. As our human dominance of the world has grown, we have become more isolated, more lonely when we can no longer call out to our neighbors. It’s no wonder that naming was the first job the Creator gave Nanabozho.”  

Basket Weaving on the Shores of Lake Superior 

[caption id="attachment_158401" align="aligncenter" width="1620"] April Stone weaving a black ash basket on the shores of Lake Superior[/caption] “I’m not really into basket weaving,” one of our students mentioned in their entrance interview. Perhaps they associated the art form to a Michael’s department store, or a Martha Stewart magazine. Perhaps they didn’t realize that by ‘basket weaving’ we meant entering into communion with a fifty year-old being through ceremonial harvest, the intimate and sensual intermingling of blood and tree sap as we slice through end grain and accidentally cut ourselves. The two-million year old ‘thud’ of an axe on wood flesh, and the meditative processing of weaving the raw material of a living being into a 12,000 year-old vessel that changed the course of human history. Basket weaving can mean a lot of things depending on how we approach it. And so, we set out this past July to find a deeper connection through the harvest of a black ash tree. Through sunshine dappled forest we walked, slowly, with Joan Elias at the head pointing out the names of plants, narrating the recent history of this 190 acres of forest in recovery.   

Stewarding the Land Back to Health

Joan is our host for these five days, allowing our group to camp in an old hay field alongside a century-old barn, and her vibrant vegetable garden. She has been stewarding this land back to health for the past 31 years alongside her late husband, also an ecologist. In the early 1900s the entire Chequamegon Bay area was logged to a tree, leaving a scarred landscape that is still in the early phases of healing.  At her side is April Stone, a traditional black ash basket weaver, educator and Bad River Tribal member. April has agreed to work with our group for six days, leading us through a live harvest, the processing of raw material, and the weaving of baskets into a finished product. Today, we are here for the harvest. We are here to take a life from this forest, to remove a member of the community.  

Asking for Permission  

[caption id="attachment_158397" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Dragons students with Joan Elias and April Stone preparing to harvest a black ash tree[/caption] When we arrive at the adolescent black ash tree, spontaneous silence spreads through the group. April lights sage and speaks to the tree, asking permission for a harvest. Without invitation, students begin to step forward and place their hands on the tree, to talk to it, to whisper words that I do not hear on the outside of our small circle. In turn, we each step forward to acknowledge the tree, and the significance of our coming to take it.  I found myself speaking to the tree in Spanish, which seems absurd now. Perhaps it was my attempt to create a “special” connection with the tree, as we all had. I think we all wanted to show that in these last moments of its sacred life, we were willing to do what we could to extend ourselves and meet the tree on some kind of middle ground. Is this what a relationship looks like? How do we talk to trees? How do we love them? How do they want to be loved by us?   

The Black Ash 

‘Thud’... the first swing of the axe biting deep into the intricately patterned bark. Our violence would continue, with respect, reverence, vigor and also joy, satisfaction, and fear at each blow, moving ever deeper into the layers of the flesh, each student taking their turn at the axe. As the tree is slowly hewn away we spot dark rot within. “Oh no!” Our collective response to the concern that we had slain this tree for naught.  In a moment we felt wasteful, clumsy, wanton in our destruction. Next, we were reminded by our teacher that even if the tree would not serve for making a basket, it would be composted back into the earth, that it was already in the process of dying, and would lay on the forest floor, nourishing its kin.  The moment passes and we see that the tree will indeed serve our purpose. As we boisterously depart the forest, our trophy hoisted high on our shoulders, the abundance and emotion of our harvest takes me back to Kimmerer who writes, “Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”  

Learning to Weave Baskets

[caption id="attachment_158402" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] After strips of new wood are removed from the trunk students work in the shade, learning to weave their raw material into different shapes and patterns[/caption] In the shade of a century-old dairy barn, students take turns pounding along the trunk of the tree—collapsing the weaker earlywood, and liberating the latewood to be peeled off in strips. Surrounded by raspberries and flowers, and sitting in small circles sharing stories of life back home, they apprentice April through the process of cutting and weaving the strips into small receptacles.  The smell of freshly harvested black ash fills the nostrils, and the time passes without warning. Over the next five days we become intimately familiar with the tree, the texture of the strips, the way the material plies and shapes.  On our final day with April, we head out to Mooningwanekaaning, or Madeline Island. We set up our small camp looking east across 200 miles of open fresh water and settled in to finish our baskets. As dinner is prepared by a group of students, others head into the woods and return with an abundance of wintergreen leaves and berries, wild blueberries and service berries.   

Connection to Each Other and the Earth 

[caption id="attachment_158400" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] April and Cricket return from a harvest of wild blueberries, service berries and wintergreen along Lake Superior.[/caption] The web of relations is strong. One harvest has led to another, and now we know the names of a few more plants, have put their fruit to our lips, have tasted the forest, seen how it grows together in a tightly knit community. We are a part of that community and are compelled to ask ourselves all the questions related to what it means to be in community, to be a part of the exchange of energy and life.  That night, we sat together around the fire sharing our life stories, allowing our personal identities, struggles, values, and experiences to weave together like so many strands of a basket. These connections we feel to each other and the earth are born of the intermingling of sap and blood, the physical, carnal, emotional exchange we share through the thud of the axe, the silent moment of whispers in the forest, or the stories we share as we weave on the beach. These are precisely the "connections" that Charles Mann speaks of when describing the way of the Prophet. And in these simple tasks—chopping wood, carrying water, (weaving baskets)—we experience interconnectedness and belonging. To experience a slice of the good life, wild harvests, starry nights on the beach, and the power of basket weaving while connecting to the land, check out our Summer Course Lake Superior: The Good Life here. This course runs from July 5 - 30, 2022.  [post_title] => Reconnecting to the Earth and Ourselves on Dragons Lake Superior Summer Program [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => basket-weaving-on-lake-superior [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-06-21 20:04:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-06-22 02:04:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [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] => 36 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 36 [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] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field )
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    [post_content] => This story is from the field and written by Jacquelyn Kovarik, a Dragons instructor who is currently leading a group of students from Tufts University through a semester in the Southwest (USA). Jac shares her story of the group's time in New Mexico, celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day. Her reflection speaks to the importance of traveling and seeking out lesser known realities in the United States.

Monday, October 11th, 2021 was an eventful day for the Southwest Tufts Civics Semester. It was our last day in northern New Mexico, which had been our program base for the first half of the semester. It was also Indigenous Peoples Day 2021, and the first year this day had been federally recognized by the so-called United States. As we began to say our goodbyes to the dramatic and recently snow-capped Tewa Kusempi peaks (the so-called Truchas Peaks), it felt fitting to head to a Tewa-led community celebration of Indigenous excellence in O’ga P’ogeh (so-called Santa Fe). We spent all day Sunday cleaning and packing so we could pile into the van and Jeep on Monday morning to head an hour south for the celebration. 

“Indigenous Peoples Day: Back to Our Roots - Celebrating Indigenous Excellence” was a community celebration put on by the Three Sisters Collective (3SC), a collective of Pueblo, Tewa, Diné, and other native women. Dr. Christine Castro, who also goes by “Dr. X”, is a founding member of the collective and first let us know about the celebration five weeks prior, when we met with her in so-called Santa Fe during our orientation week for a native-centered tour of the city. Dr. X is a tribal member of two Tewa Pueblos and has dedicated her life to educating her communities and the greater Santa Fe community about Tewa culture and the ongoing fight against neo-colonization and neo-colonialism. Seeing Dr. X that Monday afternoon, completely in her element and often being trailed by laughing native children, was so joyous—she was surrounded by her community of native and non-native friends and loved ones, and the day’s activities were dedicated to celebrating Indigenous excellence. This was radical joy in the face of colonization and violence. It was tangible and so so sweet. 

The celebration was hosted by Reunity Resources, a farm and community center in Agua Fría, Santa Fe. This was not our first time at Reunity—we had come first with Dr. X on that Sunday five weeks prior and had also returned in mid-September for their Fall Festival. Returning again for Indigenous Peoples Day really felt like we had become a part of the northern New Mexico community in a meaningful way, despite five weeks having flown by. The sun was shining and native vendors were selling their art and work in rows along the rows of corn and wildflowers. Solange Aguilar, a queer Apache/Yo’eme/Kalnga/Kapampangan artist, sold us stickers that said “My Queerness is Ancestral” and “Protect the Land with Me.” Students bought jewelry and handicrafts for their friends and loved ones back home. Sticky sweet paletas dripped down our forearms as we gathered in the performance space to listen to the Indigenous open mic. Everything felt so abundant, immediate, vital. 

Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms

[caption id="attachment_158251" align="alignnone" width="2049"] The student group attends an open mic for Indigenous Peoples' Day[/caption] The performances started off with a young native Japanese girl named Ishi. Her voice was breathtakingly beautiful and carried over the vendors and blooming crops: You cannot eat money, when the rivers are poisoned and the fields are barren you cannot eat money. What if we lived in a world that valued the earth and sustenance over monetary gain and capitalism? These are Indigenous futurisms and Ishi was generously giving us a taste.  Israel F. Haros Lopez was sitting nearby, beside his pregnant spouse. About a month prior we had gathered on this same farm with Israel to make art and commune with the earth. Israel is the founder and director of Alas de Agua, a grassroots art collective in so-called Santa Fe run by and for Chicanx, Latinx, Indigenous, queer/trans, immigrant, and BIPOC artists. I was surprised to see that Israel’s spouse had not yet given birth - when we met with him nearly a month prior he had said the baby was coming any day now. “Alas de Agua” translates to “Wings of Water” in English. Israel jumped up and walked to the open mic, a water glass in hand. He grabbed the mic: “Together we are going to call forth the names of our baby - multiple names because we have not decided on one yet. He is overdue and we so badly want him here with us.” His voice cracked and there were tears in his eyes, and he looked directly at his spouse and began to perform spoken word, calling on Water to deliver their baby. Water is our blood. Water is our bodies. The water we shared the first time we made love. The water that is holding our son now. The water that is our love. Water is our baby. Water is life. Let the Water break now. Israel was calling on Water to deliver their baby, sharing the glass of water with his spouse at the end. What if we lived in a world that valued water as our teacher, our lover, our elder? What if we lived in a world that revered water as a sentient being with personhood and rights? These are Indigenous futurisms and Israel was generously giving us a taste.  To the left of the stage were a group of people sitting in a circle and harvesting amaranth seed as they listened to the performances. Two people stood up, brushed the amaranth seeds off their laps, and headed to the mic - Beata Tsosie-Peña and Frayer of Tewa Women United. TWU is a collective based in Española that works to build the Tewa community and end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Mother Earth. We had met Beata and Frayer a few weeks prior in Española, when we met with them for an afternoon at the Española Healing Gardens Oasis and learned about the intersections between seed sovereignty, Indigenous sovereignty, and reproductive/gender justice. In addition to working as the Environmental Health and Justice Coordinator at TWU, Beata also works as a doula and is a Pueblo representative for the New Mexico Governor’s task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. That day we harvested beautiful purple and pink colored beans in the field, laughing with our hands in the dirt. Beata and Frayer took the mic for a spoken word duet: The elm tree did not ask to be planted along our Río Bravo shores. They were brought over without their consent, by white men who knew nothing about their seeds, their branches, their root systems. What if we lived in a world that treated seeds and plants as our elders? What would it mean to ask a plant for consent, to form a loving relationship with the ecologies around us? And what if we lived in a world where native women could give birth the way they wanted, and lived without fear of violence? These are Indigenous futurisms and Beata and Frayer were generously giving us a taste.  As the open mic came to a close, a DJ started mixing The Bee Gees and a dance party broke out. We hopped and stomped and spun around in the late afternoon sun with everyone else who had just witnessed all the beautiful wisdom of the Indigenous open mic, and as we moved our bodies there was an undeniable wave of irresistible joy.  The site and organizational visits we have been doing on this program are often heavy. From nuclear colonialism and the effect of Los Alamos and the Trinity Test Site atomic bomb testing on the immediate surrounding Indigenous communities and on the whole planet; to environmental racism and the incarceration of Black and Brown youth in underserved Albuquerque neighborhoods; to the struggles of immigrants to obtain legal protections in our country’s broken immigration system; to the violence that trans, non-binary and femmes migrants face while trying to cross the border for a better life - liberation for all often feels far from our current reality. Beata herself shared with us that the reason she got involved in environmental health and justice work was due to the daily realities of living next to a nuclear weapons complex. There is much healing to be done.  The celebration at Reunity Resources this Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a reminder of the power of radical hope and joy—the need for this in the healing process. Despite ongoing colonization and violence, we danced. We danced together, and together we witnessed —with our own eyes and ears and bodies—what Indigenous futurisms hold, for us all, if we are willing to listen and learn.

Hear what students had to say about the celebration

[caption id="attachment_158247" align="aligncenter" width="2049"] Students from the Tufts Civic Semester celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day in New Mexico[/caption] Lily Feng, 18, Farmington, Connecticut: “There was a moment where we were in the courtyard listening to the open mic, and I looked around and saw all the diversity of people there, and it struck me that we were taking part in something revolutionary. It was the first time Indigenous People’s Day had been recognized by the Biden administration, and it was the first time the Three Sisters Collective had put on this celebration, and it felt powerful. It also felt like our first portion of the trip had come full circle - all the Indigenous people who we had met while in northern New Mexico were there, and it felt like we had created longterm and meaningful relationships. We were able to participate in these radical Indigenous futurisms, as Dr. X said, and that is powerful.”  Caroline Bewley, 18, Willamette, Illinois: “What made this day particularly memorable was that it was our last day in northern New Mexico so it was a day that was already filled with so much emotion. We got to go for an Indigenous People's Day celebration at the farm that we went to on our first day, so going back really was a full circle moment and felt like the perfect way to end this chapter of the program. We also got to listen to spoken word poetry, music, and singing from Indigenous creatives which I really enjoyed. Additionally, at the celebration we got to say goodbye to some of the people that had taken the time to meet with us and teach us more about what they do and how they are contributing to the betterment of their communities.”  Biani Ebie, 18, Lagos, Nigeria and Boston, Massachusetts: “I really enjoyed the celebration. Just being able to witness Indigenous excellence was something special. Seeing Dr. X and Israel and Beata and Frayer again, it felt like a full circle moment and felt like the best way to end our time in northern New Mexico. It felt cyclical in the best way possible.”  Ben Chisam, 18, Atlanta, Georgia: “It was really powerful because Dr. X shared about how the particular Indigenous community that was coming together for the day’s celebration was a new community. It was powerful to see that space being created. We witnessed a lot of the colonialism of Santa Fe as a city during our time in northern New Mexico, and it felt powerful to see a decolonial space created by Indigenous people and for Indigenous people. It was also a testament to the fact that Indigenous people are not just a figment of the past, but are very much a force of the present and will be in the future as well. It was a safe and radically inclusive space to be in.”  Learn more about our domestic Summer Programs and Gap Year Semesters for the 2022 season. The program most closely related to this story is the Rio Grande Semester, offered next in Fall 2022.  [post_title] => Indigenous People's Day in O'ga P'ogeh: Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms  [post_excerpt] => Learn how the Dragons - Tufts Civic Semester group celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day in northern New Mexico. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => indigenous-peoples-day-in-oga-pogeh-celebrating-indigenous-futurisms [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-06-21 19:44:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-06-22 01:44:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [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] => 36 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 36 [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] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community )
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    [post_content] => This webinar is brought to you by the Dragons Global Speaker Series – a program where our global educators share lessons in critical thinking related to current world events.
On October 18, 2020 Evo Morales's leftwing party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas), celebrated a stunning comeback with the progressive candidate, Luis Arce winning Bolivia's presidential election in what could be considered a landslide victory (about 20 points according to exit polls.)

It’s a remarkable turn of events, especially considering that just under a year ago, Morales—the longtime indigenous president and incumbent—was overthrown in a police-military coup who then installed the right wing evangelical Jeanine Áñez as president.

In this webinar recorded in May of 2020, Julianne Chandler, Dragons Latin America Program Director, shares her experience of living in Bolivia as the Coronavirus pandemic collided with the fallout from an already devastating political crisis.


The Fall of Evo Morales and Political Transformation in Bolivia


The Plurinational State of Bolivia was already in crisis when the global pandemic took hold, after contested elections in October of 2019 incited national protests and the sudden ousting of longtime indigenous president and incumbent Evo Morales. A highly controversial debate about whether or not Morales was victim to a right-wing coup has been overshadowed by draconian quarantine measures and increasing restrictions on civil liberties being implemented by the interim government of Jeanine Añez, no friend to Bolivia’s indigenous majority. As a new round of national elections in Bolivia continue to be delayed indefinitely in the face of the public health emergency, serious questions remain unanswered about Evo’s hurried departure, what constitutes a coup d’etat, and the politics of pandemic under a de facto government in South America’s diverse and often misunderstood Andean nation. This session will provide an outline and assessment of recent events in Bolivia from Julianne’s personal experience living through the political crisis and pandemic.

Presented by:

Julianne Chandler, M.A. Poverty and Development, The Institute of Development Studies. B.A. Anthropology and Latin American Studies, New York University. Julianne is the Latin America Program Director with Dragons and lives in Tiquipaya, Bolivia with her husband and two daughters.


Interested in developing your own in-field perspective of Bolivia through cultural immersion, wilderness exploration, and language study? Learn more about our unfiltered and immersive Summer and Gap Year programs here.

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