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The Dragons Journal

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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_154948" align="alignnone" width="1318"] Photo by CHELSEA FERRELL, BHUTAN: A farm and house built in traditional Bhutanese architecture located outside of the UWICER environmental institute and research station outside Jakar, Bhutan.[/caption]

 

WORDS & IMAGE CHELSEA FERRELL, INSTRUCTOR

LOCATION: BHUTAN

If you say you’re going to Bhutan, be prepared for a wide range of reactions. From the skeptical bank-teller (“Hold on, let me make sure that’s a country before I authorize your credit card.”) to the confused listener (“Oh, that’s in Africa, right?”) to the awestruck fan (“Isn’t that the happiest country in the world?!”). While you can’t anticipate others’ reactions, one thing is certain: Once introduced to the country, the people, and the concepts of Bhutan, your perspective won’t be the same.
By virtue of merely being in the country, you are incorporated into the community and your presence alone makes you a valued member.
In June 2018, after months of planning and relationship building, Dragons launched its inaugural summer program in Bhutan. For someone familiar with the country, it’s impossible to miss the many ways Bhutan and Dragons are alike. Both are small. (Bhutan only has a population of 750,000 people!) They are both decidedly independent and not afraid to be different. And both Bhutan and Dragons are loyal to their principles, regardless of the climate among peers. While many countries focus solely on capitalism and generating wealth, Bhutan uses Buddhist ethics in its governance and economic policies. As one of the world’s newer democracies, Bhutan is often cited as an example of a country that is doing development differently. Bhutan has managed to adapt to modern life even while preserving its heritage and remaining faithful to core values. But my favorite similarity between Bhutan and Dragons is the informal, dependable, tight-knit communities entwined throughout each. Bhutan often feels like a neighborhood block party that might take place on a street in the US suburbs. You meet people you’ve never seen but somehow, they seem to know all about you. By virtue of merely being in the country, you are incorporated into the community and your presence alone makes you a valued member. I’ve felt this same way about the Dragons community. No matter where I go in the world, I can be sure of one thing: I’ll likely run into a Dragons instructor, student, or alum.

CHALLENGING DEFINITIONS OF HAPPINESS

My personal journey in understanding happiness in a Bhutanese context began in 2012, when, as a graduate student of Social Anthropology and Tibetan language, I spent a month traversing the country. At that point in my life, I’d lived in several countries and was slipping towards the feeling like I had nothing new to learn or experience in another culture.
The remoteness of the country and the lack of Western ideologies enforced a need to unplug...
A few days in Bhutan, however, was enough to jerk me out of the cocoon that I’d formed around myself. The remoteness of the country and the lack of Western ideologies enforced a need to unplug and naturally created an environment that led me to re-evaluate what I thought I knew.

Bhutan called into question some of the core assumptions in the West so fundamental to our thinking that many of us no longer recognize them as value tradeoffs, such as, “bigger is better” and “nature should be commodified.” My time in Bhutan also led to a recognition of the values of silence, slowness, and a lack of instantaneous gratification. It led me to see the value of technology should not be blindly assumed, but evaluated in this context.

BUILDING THE PROGRAM IN BHUTAN

In planning the Dragons program in Bhutan, we incorporated Bhutanese and Dragons ideals not only into program themes, but into the methodology of how we set up the program. During each step of program development, we were conscious of our impact, securing local input through joint brainstorming sessions and attempts to find service activities that would provide value to the communities with whom we worked.
Our FOI allowed us to explore the factors that contribute to happiness, including the use and value of natural space, community life, and the ways that happiness is embedded in and practiced through spiritual philosophies and traditions.
Seeking an alternative way to chart the country’s progress, Bhutan became famous for coining the idea of Gross National Happiness as an alternative measurement to Gross National Product. The country is especially unique because of its variety of public policies related to environmental conservation and cultural preservation. The Focus of Inquiry (FOI) for each trip is designed to look at themes that will be woven through all program activities and experiences. As we formed the program, we also discussed possible program themes, both with one another and with Bhutanese friends and former colleagues. These conversations often circled back to the idea of happiness because with Bhutanese and Buddhist lens, happiness is often viewed differently than it is in the US. Our FOI allowed us to explore the factors that contribute to happiness, including the use and value of natural space, community life, and the ways that happiness is embedded in and practiced through spiritual philosophies and traditions. The FOI was designed to encourage students to look closely at their own lives and experiences, and to explore their tacit assumptions about happiness.

COMMUNITY IS EVERYTHING

In Bhutan, connections stretch out like long games of telephone, particularly as families move between regions with seasonal change. Visualizing how community connections are fostered is best illustrated by picturing a road trip across Bhutan during the summer. Monsoon rains, landslides, and mud on the national highway might cause roadblocks that can last anywhere from hours to days. In the West, this time might be written off as “wasted,” a detriment to productivity. However, in Bhutan, these roadblocks often become social gatherings, a time to meet new people and sip hot butter tea together while watching bulldozers lift massive stones and level out dirt. What seems an annoyance can morph into the best part of the trip. Bhutan is remarkable in this way: It’s a country so small and unplugged that social interactions naturally arise from an unavoidably interwoven community.
What seems an annoyance can morph into the best part of the trip.
With all this in mind, what could be more fitting than Dragons offering a program in a country whose name in the native language literally translates to the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”?

MAYBE THE BEST WAY TO SUM IT ALL UP IS WITH QUOTES FROM THE SUMMER 2018 BHUTAN PROGRAM YAK BOARD:

“Life is very different here. The day starts just before 6:00am in the morning. Everyone works together to make breakfast. It is very much unlike the United States. Back home we usually wake up, eat, and go about our day on our own. Here, they all eat together and get along extremely well. There is a sense that even when they are not talking, they are having a conversation." –Jake Zivkovic, Student

“Bhutan is a small country, but it contains such a vast wealth of history and culture—its diverse peoples, geography, religious traditions, and cuisine are all so colorful and full of spice! Traveling in places like this is difficult, surreal, heavenly, overwhelming, and everything in between all at once.” –Nick Gredin, Instructor

“Some of the first icebreakers my homestay brother had in store for us: ‘Have you been following the World Cup?’ and ‘What is your favorite soccer league team?’ When I went to play later with the Bhutanese teenagers and young adults, they seemed to be shocked when I could barely dribble without tripping over myself.” –Jack Holmgren, Student

“I’m convinced of how special this country is and would like to proclaim myself as Bhutan’s official biggest fan. Why am I so confident about that statement? Almost anybody would feel the same if they could come smell the air and listen to the birds. As I sit in the back of the farmhouse where we are taking residency, I can’t help but stop writing to look at the vast rice fields and clouds gently rolling over the mountains.[...] This may be the quietest place I’ve ever experienced...” –Raif Wexler, Student

“Every meal that we have had at our homestay has concluded the same way; with our homestay mother and grandmother commenting on how little we eat. While attempting to plop more food on our plates, they say that if we don’t eat we will get thin and also point out that we don’t want an empty stomach because that will make us miss our parents.” –Delaney Bashaw, Student

CHELSEA FERRELL works in Global Operations at Tufts University. She received her MA in Social Anthropology from the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) and her BA in Political Science from Swarthmore College. She has led academic and service programs in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Colorado and presented at national and regional conferences on topics of Himalayan Studies and University Risk Management. She believes that intercultural community experiences are powerful sites of personal transformation.
 

P.S. Head over to see the itinerary and details of our new Gap Year Bhutan Semester!

(This essay was featured in the 2019 issue of The Dragons Journal. We encourage you to visit our archive of issues and essays or even submit a piece for publication in the next issue!)
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THE DRAGONS JOURNAL

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

The Dragons Journal Mission & Description: The Dragons Journal is a compilation of stories, ideas, and experiences of our participants, alum, educators and international colleagues, and communities. It is a publication of Where There Be Dragons, an experiential education organization dedicated to nurturing meaningful intercultural relations through immersive travel. The Dragons Journal has a circulation of about 12k copies and is mailed out to alum, schools, counselors, new participants, and more. Content is often recirculated by blog and social media. The Journal is also tied directly into Dragons values of exploring the full spectrum of human experiences, amplifying marginalized perspectives,  and planting the seeds of a more just, compassionate, and equitable society and future. Example: Here's a digital version of the 2019 issue. What We’re Seeking:  In each publication we try to represent all of Dragons programming (Student, Adult, Educator/Partnership), a range of regional areas, and a diversity of voices. We invite anyone from within Dragons community (alumni, staff, participants, community hosts, admin, etc.)  to submit all forms of literary essays and sub-genres of creative nonfiction. This includes:
  • personal essays
  • Interviews
  • co-authored essays
  • lyrical essays
  • flash (super short) essays
  • research-based essays
  • literary journalism
  • travelogues
  • poems  & lyrics
  • photo essays
  • true stories
  • experimental forms:  lists, step-by-steps, re-definitions, and hermit crab essays
  • Submission or nomination of Yaks also encouraged!
What We’re Especially Seeking: Co-authored pieces that demonstrate a collaborative approach to sharing multiple perspectives;  stories that feature voices and perspectives not often heard or that don’t normally have access to being heard; value-based essays. Examples:
  • A collaborative essay that tackles one issue/subject from the perspective of student, hosting community member, instructor and/or other.
  • A student interview of her homestay sister and/or vice versa.
  • A homestay mother conversation with a student’s mother at home.  
  • A photo essay documenting the day of an NGO worker or ISP mentor.
  • An essay written on any subject in tandem between  instructors of different citizenships.
  • ANYTHING! We’re simply encourage creative thinking and collaboration!
Submission Guidelines: The Dragons Journal typically features 1-pg and 2-pages essays between roughly 600-1500 words.  We sometimes publish one longer essay of up to 2,500 words. Typically the editorial process involves cutting copy, so it’s okay to submit essays between 600-3,000 words. If selected for publication, there will be an editorial revision process and a request for a writer byline and supplemental hi-resolution photos (if existing). The Dragons Journal Committee will finalize the selection for each print issue. Timeline: Essays submitted by June 1st  will get priority consideration for publication in the next year’s issue. But we accept submissions all year long and might also publish essays on Dragons Blog, via our Social Channels, or elsewhere. How to Submit:  Questions, proposals, nominations, and submissions can be emailed to [email protected]. [post_title] => The Dragons Journal: CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS [post_excerpt] => We invite anyone from within Dragons community (alumni, staff, participants, community hosts, admin, etc.) to submit all forms of literary essays and sub-genres of creative nonfiction... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-dragons-journal-call-for-submissions [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-04-11 12:11:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-04-11 18:11:21 [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] => 675 [name] => The Dragons Journal [slug] => thedragonsjournal [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [parent] => 0 [count] => 14 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 14 [category_description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [cat_name] => The Dragons Journal [category_nicename] => thedragonsjournal [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/thedragonsjournal/ ) [1] => 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] => 60 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 14 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 60 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/announcements/ ) ) [category_links] => The Dragons Journal, Announcements )
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    [post_content] => If you did not get your 2019 issue of The Dragons Journal in the mail, we've got a digital version for you!

The Dragons Journal

Community I Stories I Perspectives

The Dragons Journal is a compilation of stories and images that reflect the perspectives, ideas, and experiences of our participants, educators, and international colleagues and communities. It’s a publication of Where There Be Dragons, an experiential education organization dedicated to nurturing meaningful intercultural relationships through immersive travel.

Excerpts are below, or feel free to jump fully in....

Page Six | 6 |
 SENEGAL
-------
Princeton Bridge Year: I'm (not) Writing About My Family
BY FERNANDA ROMO, STUDENT
"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? 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."
Page Seven | 7 |
 GLOBAL
-------
Dealing with Being a Privileged Foreigner
BY DANIELA PAPI-THORNTON & CLAIRE BENNETT,
INSTRUCTORS
"Volunteers must avoid assuming that a stint as a volunteer learning from and supporting the communities in which they work enables them to truly understand the challenges faced by people in those communities. You may be able to gain awareness, get angry about the root causes of poverty, and cultivate empathy, but that umbilical cord, which acts as a safety net, means you will not be able to experience the effects of such problems in the same way. Andrea Foster, who volunteered in Guyana says, "Our economic background makes it hard for us to understand the degree of financial struggle most people in developing nations endure. Volunteers eventually come to realize how fortunate we are and usually how spoiled we are." The most important advice we have about the umbilical cord of privilege is to be aware it exists and realize others can see it, even when you cannot."
Page Twenty | 20 |
 CHINA
-------
When Things Go Wrong
BY JODY SEGAR, CHINA PROGRAM DIRECTOR
"Kiri also had concrete survival skills as a result of the time he spent escaping war in the wilderness. One day, Kiri came with my family for a walk in the woods and he and I went down to a stream below the path. I watched him pull a live fish, about six inches long, out of the stream with his bare hands. From that moment on, I did everything I could to emulate Kiri. Kiri had a habit of carrying photos around with him inside his t-shirt, "close to the heart." One was of his parents. Another was of a tank. After he showed me the photos, I asked my parents for some photos to put inside my t-shirt."
Page Twenty Four | 24 |
 NEPAL
-------
How to: Walk
BY AUSTIN SCHMIDT, STUDENT
"THE SUSPENSION BRIDGE: Some of the bridges here contribute to moments of intense stress. You take the first step onto the wooden planks, alone because the bridge can support only one person (or maybe you're just the group guinea pig). The bridge is long and narrow and hundreds of feet above a river rushing down valley. The bridge swings with every step and the wooden planks creak and seem just about ready to collapse. You grasp the side of the bridge, knuckles turning white, and walk slowly, hoping your feet don't slip off the side. You wonder how it seems that you have been on this bridge forever yet you aren't even halfway across. For a second, you look up and all the fear leaves. In its place, comes amazement of your small presence among the tallest mountains in the world."

You can read more essays from past issues of the The Dragons Journal (formerly known as The Map's Edge) or even submit a piece to be featured in our next issue by sending an email to [email protected].

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WORDS by MOHAMED ARGUINE

IMAGES by SHINO YOSHEN

Years ago, when I was approached to lead Dragons first summer course in Morocco, I found myself considering who should join us on our trek in the High Atlas mountains. I contacted five local guides, all of whom were very fit and had years of experience. Among them was a man named Ben M’barek, and from all I had heard, I was hoping he would accept the invitation. I was looking for one of the guides to provide more than just loading his mule from one campsite to another, setting up tents, and serving food. I was hoping to find someone who would reflect the cultural traditions, ethnic diversity, and character of Morocco—someone who would embody the spirit of our mission and our values.

THE EARLY LIFE OF BEN M’BAREK

Ben M’barek was born in the village of Boutaghrar, a tiny hamlet at the northern edge of the Valley of Roses, on October 1948. His father was one of the first men in the village to immigrate to France in the late 1940s, and he ultimately married 15 women and fathered 33 children, leaving Ben to live with his mother.
Long days of solitude on the mountain slopes appealed to his restless nature. He would come back home tired and reflective, but brimming with his love for poetry and local music.
M’barek’s mother, Touda Hmad Ait El Qaseh, was as committed to her children as she was connected to nature. As a single mother, she would leave home early in the morning to help wealthy families from the village and neighbors in their fields—anyone who needed help collecting grass for their animals and irrigating their crops—for a few vegetables in return. On the best days, she would return home with a cone of sugar for the family. Ben M’barek never forgot the sacrifices his mother made and, as she grew older, he insisted that she live with him and his family. She lived with her son until 2008 when she passed, having lost her sight three years earlier. Ben M’barek never went to school, nor did any of his eight kids. He considered school a luxury reserved for fortunate families, so when he was young he worked in the fields like his mother and found side jobs on construction crews. Later on, he worked on and off as a sheep herder for fourteen years and found it to be more to his liking. Long days of solitude on the mountain slopes appealed to his restless nature. He would come back home tired and reflective, but brimming with his love for poetry and local music.

BEN M’BAREK AS AN ARTIST

Ben M’barek first discovered his passion for poetry and music at the age of seven. He found no greater joy than attending weddings in the village, particularly because he was allowed to perform ahidous, a traditional Berber folk dance from Morocco’s Middle and High Atlas Mountains. Ahidous is, in fact, the only dance or musical style performed at village weddings across the region. People sit in a large square—women on one side and men on another—leaving the center of the square open like a dance floor for anyone who wants to perform. Male drummers sit in rows singing while women repeat the lyrics, and there is a master of ceremony to manage the floor and organize the groups who wish to perform.
word of his talent had spread across the region and it was said that any wedding Ben M’barek attended was likely to be a great success and attract hundreds of people
It was during celebrations like these that Ben M’barek’s skills in poetry, dancing and drumming found a stage. Even at a young age, his remarkable range made him a complete artist in the eyes of many and he started to attract the attention of people in the village. He had a very lively imagination that enabled him to excel in a number of genres—from romance, religion and humor to history and social criticism. Before long, word of his talent had spread across the region and it was said that any wedding Ben M’barek attended was likely to be a great success and attract hundreds of people. In time, Ben M’barek became one of the most famous ahidous performers in the region of Imgoun. He and his band started to receive special invitations to weddings and local gatherings, where they became known by local authorities, who then invited them to perform at national concerts and religious celebrations. These would mark the first time M’barek accepted compensation for his music; until then he had typically refused money because he considered adihous a performance emanating from the pureness of his heart. Music and poetry were what kept him alive and young. In 1986, Hassan II, King of Morocco, made a trip to the remote southeast of the country and passed through Kelaat M’Gouna, the Valley of Roses, and Ben M’barek’s home. His visit was a major event in the region. Local authorities went from village to village searching for the best folk dancers to perform for King Hassan II. Ben M’barek was chosen as a member of a group of eight men and women and told to prepare them for the event. He entertained the king and his retinue throughout the week and the performances were very well received. Afterwards, M’Barek became even more respected among local authorities and they began requesting him for more events. Ben M’barek’s life changed dramatically, and he soon found himself performing at large gatherings and weddings across Ouarzazate province. Invitations started flowing in from other places, much further away, some even from non-Berber speaking regions like Casablanca, Marrakesh and Tangier. Although audiences could not have understood his lyrics or comprehended more than a few words of his language, they were nevertheless drawn to the authenticity and traditional movements of his dances. During these concerts, he would instruct his band to play handmade drums and ask that performers respect a traditional dress code that reflected their Berber identity. In 2009, after the death of his best friend and companion of over three decades, Ben M’barek decided to retire from ahidous. His friend’s name was Ahmed ou Daoud and, next to Ben M’barek, he was considered the second best drummer in the region. Some even considered him more talented in the genres of love and romance. Neither Ben nor Ahmed ever showed any inclination toward competition; on the contrary, they performed together in a harmonious way that was noted and respected by everyone. Whenever they performed together, the event would attract masses of people. Ahmed ou Daoud’s death left Ben M’barek in such despair that he did not perform for over a year. And it took considerable persuasion from supporters before he agreed to perform again. When he returned, he made changes to the group and brought in new performers, incorporating several young male and female dancers. He also decided to be more organized, and Ben began acting as their manager.

BEN M’BAREK AS A MOUNTAIN GUIDE

Boutaghrar, Ben M’barek’s village, is a picturesque canyon-oasis situated at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, where a maze of herders’ paths lead up toward the higher peaks. Working as a trekking guide was a source of income for some in the community, but at the time Ben M’barek had never considered doing such a job. He was blessed with knowledge of the mountain trails and a pleasant personality, but he never attended school nor did he speak any language other than Tamazight, the ancient language of the Berber. Until then, he had spent his days working in the fields, herding and performing poetry and ahidous in the evenings. He wasn’t a mountain guide.
he enjoyed the curiosity of the hikers and their interest to learn more about him
Ben M’barek was approached by a friend who was preparing to take a group of French hikers on a week-long trek through the High Atlas Mountains. Ben M’barek did not know all the little hamlets nor had he memorized the winding paths or best places to camp, but he knew the way and the trip was a life-changing experience. He felt appreciated by the tourists, physically challenged, at peace out in nature and, on a deeper level, he enjoyed the curiosity of the hikers and their interest to learn more about him. Every day after hours of trekking, Ben M’barek would take out his drum, sit on a rock and start playing whatever came to mind. He never thought his songs would attract the attention of tourists who didn’t understand a word of the Tamazight language. But they asked him what the lyrics meant and to teach them how to dance. With the help of one of the main guides, Ben M’barek explained the themes of his poetry. The guide explained that M’Barek was singing about his love for the High Atlas Mountains and that he hoped not to see what might be hiding behind them. The oxygen of his life, its meaning, flows down from the peak of the highest mountain to his soul through the drops of rain and flakes of snow—pure and white as his heart, and imbued with love for this region, which to him is heaven on earth. He also sang about his mother and how he missed her on the days when he was away from the mountains. He wondered how some people who leave Morocco for Europe or the United States deal with homesickness and being absent from their loved ones.

BEN M’BAREK AND HIS DRAGONS LOVE STORY

Dragons first Morocco course in 2007 included a five-day trek starting in Tabant in the Azilal region and to Boutaghrar, my small village at the very northern opening of the Valley of Roses winding around 4,071 meter M’goun, the third tallest mountain in Morocco. Upon the finalizing the itinerary, I called Ben M’barek hoping he would be available to accompany us on Dragons’ first trek in the High Atlas.
He knows the paths and water springs and nomadic herders.
“You’re the first person from Boutaghrar to bring a group of tourists and they aren’t even French!” he said. “I have other offers but since you reached out to me personally, and we are from the same village, I will be happy to go with you. I danced at your mother’s wedding and I know your family very well, so we’ll not talk about compensation. My team and I will help the first international guide from Boutaghrar!” Over the years, Ben M’Barek has become one of the most experienced guides in the region. He knows the paths and water springs and nomadic herders. He is also a committed educator. He has taught Dragons students Berber folk dances. He has taught them poetry. He has shared the essence of his imagination with great love, energy and ambition and became an integral part of the Dragons experience in Morocco. From 2007 through 2010, he led trips with unfailing energy, ingenuity and affection. And when Dragons reopened the Morocco summer course in 2017, Ben M’barek was ready to come back and join us again. After discussing the idea of interviewing him for an article in Dragons newsletter, Ben M’barek opened his heart and house to me, and introduced me to his family with same generosity he has always offered. It was a great honor to be welcomed into his modest home and meet his wonderful family. As lunch was being prepared, Ben M’barek introduced me to his wife, Zahra Alili, who is around 65 years old. He told me that leading Dragons trips has helped him build a better house, buy new furniture and feed his children and grandchildren. His family feels indebted to Dragons for their better life. But I assured him that it is Dragons, and myself, who are indebted to M’Barek for wisdom and hospitality he has provided us.
MOHAMED ARGUINE is a longtime Dragons instructor having worked the first Morocco summer course in 2007. After moving to the US where he received his Master’s from Brandeis in Sustainable International Development, he worked for the Peace Corps and then the United Nations Development Program both in New York City and globally. Mohamed recently led Dragons inaugural Madagascar semester program.
[post_title] => The Beat of a Different Drum: An Interview With an Amazigh (Berber) Poet — A MAP’S EDGE FEATURED STORY [post_excerpt] => When I lead Dragons first summer course in Morocco, I found myself considering who should join us on our trek in the High Atlas mountains. [...] I was hoping to find someone who would reflect the cultural traditions, ethnic diversity, and character of Morocco—someone who would embody the spirit of our mission... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-beat-of-a-different-drum-an-interview-with-a-berber-poet-a-maps-edge-featured-story [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-02 10:16:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-02 16:16:15 [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] => 75 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 75 [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] => 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] => 46 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 46 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/global_community/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 675 [name] => The Dragons Journal [slug] => thedragonsjournal [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [parent] => 0 [count] => 14 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 14 [category_description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [cat_name] => The Dragons Journal [category_nicename] => thedragonsjournal [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community ... )
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Why don’t we live out our own hero’s journey? Why is the unknown looked upon as a place of defeat and something to be avoided? [...] We live in a culture that has tried to clinicalize, euthanize and sterilize the innate rawness out of life. Ironically, shadow is an essential element that inspires human connection...
If I had fully entertained the thoroughness of the unknown, I never would have boarded that first plane to India. On the other hand, I couldn’t stay home and leave the world up to my imagination. I was encouraged to ponder the dangers, all the reasons why a 21-year-old female should not embark on such a foolish journey. I was cautioned, “It is not safe.” And then warned, “There is so much that can happen out there that is beyond your control! The rawness of it all will kill you.” And yet, I had to get on that plane. When I looked in the mirror to question whether there was an inkling of insanity informing my decision to leave, I knew there was no going back. There was a look in my eyes that told me I had made some sort of bargain with myself and was taking a blind leap into my own shadow territory. Webster’s defines shadow as “a dark area or shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and surface.” Culturally, we are taught that light is good. It is our friend. It is predictable. In light-filled spaces we can see clearly. We know where we stand and whom we are standing next to. We are confident in saying, “I know.” But in shadow territories our “I know” quickly morphs into an “I don’t know,” or an “I can’t see, I don’t understand.” This inability to see, to place, to cognitively compartmentalize makes us frustrated and apprehensive. We are less capable of making immediate assumptions. We become vulnerable and exposed to discomfort. We are made to think that this is bad.
The point of this embarkation is to become disoriented, to make a descent into the dark underworld, to grow uncomfortable and humbled, and to then formulate a personal understanding of one’s own resiliency.
With a little bit of probing, we find examples the world over of the hero’s journey. In this voyage, whether it be explored through myth, art, storytelling, or performed ritual, the hero is encouraged, forced or willingly embarks on a crossing into an unknown landscape. The point of this embarkation is to become disoriented, to make a descent into the dark underworld, to grow uncomfortable and humbled, and to then formulate a personal understanding of one’s own resiliency. So why do the majority of the people we know feel exempt from this process? Why does it feel unattainable? Why don’t we live out our own hero’s journey? Why is the unknown looked upon as a place of defeat and something to be avoided? Unfortunately for us, we live in a culture that has tried to clinicalize, euthanize and sterilize the innate rawness out of life. We have bought into the argument that things are supposed to feel good, not scary. Life ought to feel controlled, predictable and agreeable. We have perpetuated this assumption to the point where living things are not even supposed to die. Instead of honest exchanges that reveal the complexity of our humanness and give voice to the internal impulses that beg for a proper descent, we are reminded to stay safe, to only seek, or dig, or journey so far. Ironically, shadow is an essential element that inspires human connection. It is the reason we can walk into a rural fishing village in Indonesia or Senegal and look strangers in the eye and feel a sense of compassion. “I too am searching,” we say. “I too have suffered and asked big questions and sometimes come up short.” Through a willingness to sit in the unknown, in the dark, we demonstrate a level of both vulnerability and courage that promotes compassion and acceptance for those around us. Daniel Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist from UCLA, uses nature as a way to teach us about our own personal resiliency. He argues that organisms that are skilled at integrating a complexity of experiences and outside influences into their core function have the most robust and vital systems. Through exposure to a combination of both challenging and supportive stimulants and experiences, one sees an advancement of flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energy and stability in an organism. It’s interesting to apply this to the hero’s journey. For one could contend that personal vitality and resiliency are actually dependent upon and fed off of a conversation with the “shadow.” A turning towards indigestible or uncomfortable encounters might actually make each of us more of a hero, both physiologically and emotionally.
Travel is not the only way to take this journey, but it is, inarguably, a potent path.
Travel is not the only way to take this journey, but it is, inarguably, a potent path. In getting on that plane to India in my 21st year, I had to agree to sit in a place of foreignness and lose all of my internal points of reference. By eating unidentifiable food, working in the midst of stomach-churning and heartrending poverty, traveling on long 72-hour train rides, I slowly began peeling back the layers of what I knew to be “me” and losing myself to a new and eventually more fortified identity of “I.” I felt small and out of control and rocked by answerless questions, and I realized that I needed to become a new incarnation in order to understand myself and life and integrate many irreconcilable moments into the core and unfolding story before me. The hero’s challenge is to be humbled and disassembled and bewildered enough that we can relinquish the attachments or self-imposed limitations that hold us back from our evolved and resilient selves. Through the journey, the hero learns to find trust in, and the necessity of, conversation with the shadow sides of life. The hero knows that fear and discomfort are part of the digging, of the seeking and our eventual materialization into a more balanced and world-wise version of self. Our own resiliency and the integrity of our current culture depend upon people saying yes to this journey. Without it, in the end, we remain only euthanized versions of our most compelling selves.

ELIZABETH JOHNSON is a longtime Dragons instructor (Andes & Amazon` ‘07, Visions of India ‘12 & ’13). She is currently based in Bend, OR, where she coordinates Dragons Princeton Bridge Year partnership programs.

This article was featured in the Spring 2015 edition of Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map's Edge. Each newsletter explores a subject of interest to the Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, Parents and our International Staff and contacts. Feel free to view our archive of editions of The Map's Edge or even submit a piece to be featured in our next issue by sending an email to [email protected]. [post_title] => On Engaging the Unknown through Travel -- A Map's Edge Featured Story [post_excerpt] => Why don’t we live out our own hero’s journey? Why is the unknown looked upon as a place of defeat and something to be avoided?[...] We live in a culture that has tried to clinicalize, euthanize and sterilize the innate rawness out of life. Ironically, shadow is an essential element that inspires human connection... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => engaging-unknown-travel-maps-edge-featured-story [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-14 08:48:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-14 14:48:42 [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] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 25 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 2 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 25 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 675 [name] => The Dragons Journal [slug] => thedragonsjournal [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [parent] => 0 [count] => 14 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 14 [category_description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [cat_name] => The Dragons Journal [category_nicename] => thedragonsjournal [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/thedragonsjournal/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, The Dragons Journal )
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Dragons School Partnership Programs offer much more than an itinerary or the management of ground logistics; In our collaboration with a school, we are dedicated to an aim of fostering a more interconnected, aware, and empathetic student body, faculty, and parent community. The two voices in the following essays speak to the transformative potential that immersive international educational experiences can offer.

[caption id="attachment_152434" align="alignnone" width="1186"] The streets of Amman.[/caption]

Milton in Jordan: Transcending Limitations of the Classroom -- A Map's Edge Newsletter Feature

WORDS JOSHUA EMMOTT

THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EDUCATOR

One of the challenges teaching Middle East history to high school students is how to immerse them in a foreign culture, especially one they only know through the media depictions of war in Iraq and Syria or terrorist attacks in Europe. In our classroom at Milton Academy Massachusetts I have struggled to use texts, videos and Skype interviews with people in the region to move beyond a superficial understanding of culture, gender, religion and how modern day Middle Eastern societies work. Having lived and traveled in the Middle East, I am able to bring personal anecdotes to our studies. But I have felt that even though my students can converse intelligently about the politics and history of the region, they still leave my class feeling that Islam and Muslim culture are opaque and impenetrable topics that they do not really understand, and so they are left with little understanding of the diverse voices that are active and vibrant in the region. This frustration and inability to provide students with a holistic understanding of the Middle East led me to explore alternative ways to connect my classroom to the Middle East. This is how I found myself in Madaba, Jordan in March 2016 with nine other American teachers learning about experiential education for the first time. Having been a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan and having traveled extensively in the region, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Jordan, only to discover that I was quite mistaken. In March 2017, I returned to Jordan with eight of my Milton Academy students for a ten-day cultural immersion into Jordanian society. None of my students had traveled to the Middle East before and one of them had never left the United States. From the moment we stepped out of the Queen Alia Airport into the hot desert air until our return home ten days later, all of our assumptions about what Jordan represented, who we were, and what it meant to be a citizen of the world were constantly being challenged, tested and affirmed. Our Dragons partnership course was deliberately designed to take everyone out of their comfort zone and provide time for each member of the group to process at their own pace. In Amman, my students would gather every night on the rooftop terrace of our hotel to passionately discuss and debate for hours the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on the stability of Jordan; what it means to be Jordanian; the role of Islam in Jordanian society; whether the tribal structure is a force for regime stability or an obstacle to democratic reform; and how to understand the role of women in Jordan. Questions abound in the moment, but for some, our ten days in Jordan also resulted in an overwhelming encounter with ‘the world’ that left them still processing the experience weeks after we had returned to Milton. To start our exploration of Jordanian culture and gender, our group was invited to lunch by a remarkable woman named Khaloud. The students and I spent an entire afternoon in Khaloud’s apartment with her two college-aged children and her elderly parents. Over the course of an hours-long feast, the students practiced their recently-acquired Arabic language skills; learned what it was like to be a young women studying science at a Jordanian college; and from Khaloud’s father, what it is like to be a Palestinian who lived in Saudi Arabia and now resided with his divorced daughter in Amman, Jordan. In our discussions over a mountain of kebabs, bread and grilled vegetables, the students shared their family stories and the role of elderly family members in their lives. We were all challenged to think about how the elderly are treated in the United States versus the Jordanian approach of having your elders move into your house when they become too frail to live on their own. After tea was poured—a sweet, sugary, aromatic mint tea that is the mainstay of all social interactions in Jordan—we all gathered around the family table while Khaloud shared her life story with us. Khaloud’s father arranged for Khaloud to be married to a Saudi man twenty years her senior when she was a young teenager. After her second child, Khaloud resolved that she was going to challenge the patriarchal structure of Saudi Arabia and run away to Jordan to get divorced, as there exists no such option to escape an oppressive marriage for a woman in Saudi Arabia. Khaloud then shared her story of building a new life in Jordan, and how difficult it is to be a divorced woman in a society where marriage is the norm. This powerful and personal experience of sitting in Khaloud’s apartment with her family as she shared her life story raised more questions than answers. After two hours listening intently to Khaloud’s story, the students paid respects to the family and we departed. We regrouped at Al Jadal café in Amman to digest and process Khaloud’s journey and better understand what this revealed about the role of women in Jordanian society. The power of our Dragon’s course in Jordan was that we never knew where the conversation was going to take us. Our visit to Al Jadal was meant to be a fun break from the heady discussions of the morning and an opportunity to learn the debkhe (traditional Jordanian dance). For over an hour, our group tried to follow the lead of our female instructor as we attempted to replicate the debkhe, which looks like a simple line dance, yet is deceptively complicated. After an hour of going right instead of left, we took a break to have a traditional Jordanian dinner cooked by Syrian refugee women working with an NGO associated with Al Jadal. After dinner the owner of Al Jadal sat down for tea and explained how his café was opened after the Arab Spring as a forum to debate the future of Jordanian politics and society. During our discussions, one of my students asked the owner of the café to explain an aside that he had made about the role of Islam in Jordanian society. Our discussion of politics suddenly took a turn and we found ourselves challenged to think about what the role of religion should be in society. Moreover, we were challenged to consider our individual role in creating a more equitable society. When should one engage in political protest or support the status quo? Is democracy the best form of government? This unexpected turn in our dinner discussion led to another late night on the rooftop of our hotel as my students developed a reading list of books they planned to read post-trip in order to better understand what was possible if one wanted to create a better world. From Amman, we crammed into a small Jordanian bus and traveled south to Wadi Rum and our four-day homestay in the desert town of ad-Disah. This was the first time we had left Amman and traveled into rural, conservative Jordan. After four hours driving passed flat sandy expanses, highway rest stops, and small settlements with twenty houses surrounded by endless brown landscape we passed through ad-Disah in the dark and arrived at Salah’s Bedouin camp at the entrance to Wadi Rum. Stepping out of our small bus into the darkness and silence of the desert, surrounded by the stone cliff formations of Wadi Rum, my group fell silent and nearly paralyzed in awe of the lunar-like surrounding where we would be spending the night. Sitting on the floor of the Bedouin tent we were treated to a traditional feast. As we ate, we again engaged in a discussion with our host Salah, this time on the role of tourism in Jordan and its impact on traditional Bedouin societies like that of ad-Disah, where each of us would live with a host family for the following four days. As we ate breakfast at Salah’s camp, the group was noticeably quiet and visibly nervous about the prospect of living alone with an unknown family in an unknown place. During our debrief before the homestay it was clear that everyone was very apprehensive about how they would spend four days with a family that did not speak English: How would they know what to do? How would they know what the cultural cues were? What if someone made a cultural faux pas? Our two Dragons leaders, Cate Brown and Elley Cannon explained how the homestay would work and patiently answered everyone’s questions. When the clock struck 10AM we all piled into the back of a pickup truck and headed into ad-Disah to drop the students off at their new home for the next four days. The truck ride into ad-Disah was the quietest I have ever seen my students. After a night in our homestays, we all congregated in the diwan (living room) of my host family’s house and debriefed our first twenty-four hours in ad-Disah. Two of the boys arrived in traditional Bedouin dress as their host families had taken them shopping in town. The two girls in our group were dressed in traditional Bedouin dress of head scarves and long robes as within this conservative society the female dress code is prerequisite for an immersive homestay experience. Right away it was clear that some of the students were having a great time and were forming bonds with their host families, and that there were other students who were completely overwhelmed, questioning whether they could spend another day in ad-Disah. The two female students in our group were struggling with the gender roles and how to reconcile their personal views with communal norms of ad-Disah.

On day two of our homestay there was a wedding in the village, which created a lot of excitement among the students. Jordanian weddings are multi-day affairs where men and women celebrate in separate locations. For the men, the weddings are all-day affairs in which they sit under long tents and drink rounds of tea and discuss family and politics for hours on end. For my students, sitting for hours with a limited ability to speak Arabic, and having to politely drink dozens of cups of sugary tea, not understanding what the hundreds of men in the tent were discussing, turned into an endurance contest and a real challenge to embrace a way of life that moves at a glacial pace compared to Milton. During one of our many discussions under the tent, the students observed that all of the younger men in ad- Disah had cellphones and spent hours upon hours transfixed by the screens. This ultimately led the students to start discussing the role that cellphones played in their own lives, and how the absence of a cellphone in Jordan had made them rethink the role that technology plays in their lives back at Milton. Transference, in a way, had begun.

Our last night in Jordan was a magical evening spent out in the middle of Wadi Rum sitting in a circle under the stars discussing ways in which we could bring our experience in Jordan back to Milton. As it turned out, one of the female students in our group, Mollie, spent her final month of school volunteering at a local mosque helping with Ramadan preparations and furthering her understanding of Islam. One of the six boys in our group, Matt, returned to Jordan this past summer to teach English at a local school in Zarqa in far eastern Jordan. The rest of the students have all expressed a sincere desire to pursue Arabic and Middle East History this fall as they start college.

The most fulfilling part of this experience for me was during our final night in Jordan, as I sat under a blanket of stars in Wadi Rum listening to each member of the group articulate the ways in which he or she had been challenged on this course and the ways in which they had grown both as a person and in their understanding of Jordan. Back at Milton, in our final month of the course, I took immense satisfaction in listening to the eight students who went to Jordan help their peers to better understand the cultural complexity of the kingdom. My goal is to bring my entire Middle East History class to Jordan every March. The impact of this trip on their understanding of local culture and society proved that experiential education is not only measurable, it is transformative.

JOSHUA EMMOTT was a participant on Dragons 2016 Jordan Educator course. Following the Educator Course, Joshua helped formalize the first Dragons-Milton Partnership Course in Jordan the spring of 2017. He and his students are headed back to Jordan with Dragons again in 2018. Joshua first traveled to Jordan in 1997 as a member of Peace Corps. Later, he and his wife Anne started a business importing olive oil soap from Syria and carpets and jewelry from Yemen and Pakistan. Since 2003, Josh has lived and taught Middle East History at Milton Academy.

[caption id="attachment_152435" align="alignnone" width="1186"] Herds of sheep coexist with
upscale apartments and embassies in Jebel Amman, a neighborhood of the capital.[/caption]

Milton in Jordan: Discovering the Middle East -- A Map's Edge Newsletter Feature

WORDS & IMAGES MATTHEW MAGANN

THROUGH THE EYES OF A STUDENT

“ISN’T IT DANGEROUS?” That’s the main question I heard when I told people I was traveling to Jordan. By and large, the West’s conception of the Middle East centers around terror, and mentioning the region calls to mind the horrors of September 11th and Islamic State.

That isn’t the picture I got in Jordan. Fear never crossed my mind as I walked through the bustling alleyways of Amman. A mixture of people, shops and traffic filled the streets of the capital city, whose electronics vendors and cafés melded together with ancient souks and Roman ruins. I witnessed a dynamic and rapidly changing society, albeit one deeply impacted by regional events. Massive, repeated inflows of refugees have heavily taxed Jordan’s limited natural resources. Despite that, it remains a stable and vibrant nation, one of the most successful in the Middle East. I spent ten days this past March in Jordan as part of a Dragons Partnership program with my high school, Milton Academy. We flew into Amman, where we stayed for a few days before driving down to ad-Disah, a Bedouin village in the southern deserts near Saudi Arabia. Although I had studied the Middle East both in class and independently, I had never left the Western world before and little prepared me for the experience I had in Jordan. I saw scars borne of the conflict and turmoil that continues to plague the region, but I also found an audacity and an authenticity unlike anything I had previously experienced. As a tall, white, blue-eyed American, I clearly stood out on the streets of Amman. So I quickly learned that in Jordan nearly everyone bids you welcome. Whether alone or with our student group, people would spontaneously call out “Hello!” in English or “Ahlaan wa sahlaan!” (welcome) in Arabic. In possession of only the name of a restaurant and the Jordanian Arabic term wa’in (where), I managed to navigate through the labyrinth of Amman’s streets, each person I asked immediately pointing out the next few turns like a personal guide. I spent the most time immersed in Jordanian culture while staying with a Bedouin host family. They spoke little English, and I no Arabic, yet I felt immediately welcomed into their home. The children in my family weren’t quite sure why I didn’t understand Arabic, but they took me around the village, introducing me to their friends and cousins and inviting me to play soccer. For a region so often stigmatized as hostile and violent towards the West, I found Jordan unusually friendly and welcoming. I certainly met Jordanians who held political disagreements with America, but I never felt those tensions shifted onto me as an individual. Perhaps in a region where states are often artificial and leaders frequently lack the popular mandate, separating the individual from the nation comes more naturally. Or, as I suspect, the welcoming culture I experienced in Jordan extends to everyone, regardless of language or nation. Although the Middle East may not fit the violent stereotypes of the West, it has undoubtedly suffered through some of the worst atrocities of modern times. Jordan, despite its own stability, has had to deal with the impacts of the conflicts surrounding it. Most of the population is not native Jordanian. A majority have Palestinian ancestry, and the recent conflict in Syria has brought in nearly 1.5 million new refugees. A massive influx of Palestinians arrived in the wake of the 1948 war, and with some obstacles, Jordan has managed to successfully integrate them into society. The current Queen Rania of Jordan is Palestinian-Jordanian, for example. Unlike neighboring Lebanon, Palestinian refugees and their descendants can adopt Jordanian citizenship. Issues still exist surrounding Palestinian-Jordanians, but considering the sheer number of people involved, Jordan has had remarkable success in integrating refugees. In recent years, the Syrian refugee crisis has presented a new challenge. I met with multiple NGO workers helping the Palestinian-Jordanians, but considering the sheer number of people involved, Jordan has had remarkable success in integrating refugees. In recent years, the Syrian refugee crisis has presented a new challenge. I met with multiple NGO workers helping the Jordanian government to handle Syrian refugees. The refugees have created tension within Jordan, which accepted them on the premise that they would return to Syria at the close of the conflict. Unfortunately, the current situation does not lend itself to any sort of peaceful resolution. The tide of the war seems to have turned in Assad’s favor. While some refugees would contemplate returning to a state under his rule, for those refugees who had any involvement with the opposition return could mean death. The mass migration of Syrians has put a strain on Jordan’s social services, and many Jordanians dislike the prospect of permanently settling refugees in Jordan. Although the government welcomes material aid, relief agencies often come up against opposition when they try to integrate refugees into society. Like many others, I had read about the crisis in the Mediterranean and the controversies surrounding Syrian refugees, but the issue still seemed distant and detached from my experience. Visiting Jordan and speaking with both refugees and those helping them gave me a better grasp of the problem. It also humanized the crisis for me. These people were not faceless, helpless masses nor were they fanatical Islamists determined to bring down America. They were people not very different from myself. I met one man who had been a lawyer in Deraa, a rebel-occupied city in southern Syria and the scene of intense fighting. His life had not been that different from my own. He studied at the university and lived a comfortable life with his family. Then one day his home was bombed by Assad’s forces and he was forced to flee across the border to Jordan, where he now lives as a refugee, separated from his wife and children. Despite that, he volunteers his time helping less fortunate Syrians adapt to life in Jordan. His audacity in continuing to advocate for refugees was not unusual. I spoke with a woman who had fled an abusive arranged marriage, risking her life to do so. I met one young man who did not believe in god, putting his social standing and even his life in danger in order to stand for what he believed in. Even on a small level, I saw acts of courage, like the young Bedouin father who bottle-fed his baby son, cutting against traditional gender roles. We often rationalize the suffering of those in other cultures as divorced from our own reality, as not our issue. Spending time in Jordan broke down those barriers of culture and geography, revealing to me how fundamentally familiar and how fundamentally human the seemingly distant Arab world is. I still haven’t quite processed my time in Jordan. It’s been eight months now, but I still think about my time there. I’m now beginning college, and I’ve decided to study Arabic this year. I hope to return back to Jordan, perhaps this summer, to build on the experience I had. Something about the streets of Amman, with their traffic and little DVD stands and restaurants and car horns and the smell of tobacco and the long nights spent up on rooftop balconies talking through meaning and purpose and direction, impacted me deeply. My time in Jordan drastically changed the way I think, and it continues to challenge me, both as an individual and as a citizen of the planet.

MATTHEW MAGANN attended a 2016 Dragons Partnership program with Milton Academy in Jordan. Originally from the Boston area, he currently studies at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he is a writer for The Dartmouth and an active member of the Dartmouth Outing Club. He also works at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton, MA, has volunteered at a number of archaeological digs, and has recently begun work at a Dartmouth ice core lab.

This article was featured in the Winter 2018 Edition of Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map's Edge. Each newsletter explores perspectives from Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, Parents and our International Staff and contacts. Feel free to view our archive of editions of The Map's Edge or even submit a piece to be featured in our next issue by sending an email to [email protected]. [post_title] => Jordan: Through the Eyes of An Educator & Student—A Map's Edge Newsletter Feature [post_excerpt] => Please enjoy these two essays -- from the perspective of a teacher and a student -- on Dragons-Milton Partnership Course in Jordan. This article was featured in the Winter 2018 Edition of Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map's Edge. Each newsletter explores perspectives from Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, Parents and our International Staff and contacts. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => jordan-eyes-educator-student [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-20 08:56:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-20 14:56:02 [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] => 75 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 75 [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] => 675 [name] => The Dragons Journal [slug] => thedragonsjournal [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [parent] => 0 [count] => 14 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 14 [category_description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [cat_name] => The Dragons Journal [category_nicename] => thedragonsjournal [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/thedragonsjournal/ ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, The Dragons Journal )
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