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Selling Ducks in the Market

Andes and Amazon Semester, Spring 2014, Yak of the Week
by: Martina Hildreth

Looking back, it seems a decent amount of my time here has been spent in bafflement, not knowing how to react to obvious, every day situations, which to me are completely foreign. The first time a truffi I was riding, of which I was the only passenger, pulled into a gas station I remained seated inside, oblivious to the fact that all passengers are required to leave the vehicle before its tank can be filled. The driver waited in confusion for at least a minute before informing me of the rule. I keep getting overcharged trying to buy single bananas and peaches when the custom is to stock up for the whole week, but I still can’t figure out how much a “libra” actually is. I accidently say “Buenos dias” well after 12 o’clock and “Buenas noches” when it is decidedly still la tarde. I fear for my life every time I cross the street and have caused a significant number of rushed taxi drivers to honk in surprise. Basically, I often resemble a small child or an idiot.

Watching my host mom navigate such situations with complete ease and familiarity evokes much admiration and awe. Every evening, she guides six cows effortlessly back to our yard, using only a special click of the tongue. Meanwhile, I tug hopelessly at the rope around my single one’s neck to keep it from trampling the neighbor’s corn. One of the most incredible and exciting thing I have witnessed was my mom selling baby ducks at the concha, Cochabamba’s enormous, labrynth-like central market. Early in the morning we plucked our 18 fuzzy, flailing patitos from their swampy corral, plopped them into bags, and boarded crowded public transport into the city.

(“Open the window Martina, we don’t want the whole truffi to smell like duck”

“Oh, right, of course”)

Upon arriving at the market we beelined for the area apparently dedicated to unofficials vendors of farm animals. The entire street was packed as over a hundred women displayed their bags, squirming and squacking with every sort of animal. I imitated those around me in completely ignoring the group of police officers shoving the crowd, shouting “Move along ladies! You can’t sell here, you need a stand! Come on, move!”. My job was to hold open the bags as countless people peered inside, poking, prodding, inspecting the ducklings and offering prices. My mom’s job was to firmly reject them and makes sure in the chaos no one stealthily transferred a patito from our bags to theirs.

(“No senora, lo siento, 30 pesitos, son grandes, sanos, no van a morir, 30 pesitos”)

Still, it wasn’t more than ten minutes before someone came along with the right price. Our little animals were grabbed hastily by the necks and tossed from our bags to lady’s. Now our job became to rush around the market, buying as much as we could with our newly acquired dinero. My host mom moved swiftly through the packed isles and despite being twice her size, I had to jog and skip to avoid being lost in the endless blocks of identical stalls. Some rope, rat poison, veggies, oats, and a box of baby chickens later

(“Do you think I should get these chicks? Look they seem healthy, what do you think?”

“I have no idea… what about a kitten?”)

we’re back in the truffi, heading home. The whole excursion has taken no more than an hour but I’m exhausted. Surely she has been buying and selling in that market all her life, making it second nature. Still, I can’t help but be impressed by her ease and savvy in that overwhelming, indecipherable place.

Later, a dinner conversation about northern Sweden’s endless winter nights and sleepless summers leads me to realize my h0st mom has never heard of the equator. This and her conviction that elephants inhabit the Amazon leave me pondering different types of knowledge and their relevence. Never having had the luxury (or misfortune, depending on your perspective) of attending the 12 years of school I did, she lacks awareness some things I would consider common knowledge. Instead she has learned skills essential to her life and livelihood, something I feel painfully lacking in. She speaks three languages, can calculate the price of eggs in an instant, and knows how to feed her cows in order to produce milk of exact ideal fat content. I prefer not to draw conclusions about her type of education and its impact on her life and happiness. Instead, I rejoice in the fact that our different backgrounds give us endless opportunities to learn and teach.

A Yak

Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2014, The Best Notes From The Field, Yak of the Week
by: Saqrah Houck

You say write a yak. Make it thoughtful; make it sincere. Put a little heart into it and give a precious glimpse of my current overseas life to loved ones back home, future students, and passionate professionals. But what is there to write about? I could write pages about minutes; I could write sentences about days. Every passing moment I spend here in Nepal leaves an everlasting mark upon me. I could attempt to express the profoundness of a simple, everyday moment. I could try to eloquently paint my words into a beautifully clear image of my experience. Yet, the reader would never know that experience. They would not know all the subtleties that occurred before and during it, making it unique. They would not know how my background in America caused me to perceive the event in my own individual way. Conversely, I could relate a strikingly, obviously, powerful moment. Anyone reading it would be wowed, and it would be a much more tangible experience to describe. Yet, the grandness is all the reader would focus on. The depth so crucial to that event would be lost, and all the smaller changes which occurred within me would be overshadowed by the one greater one.

So, I can’t say that I know what to write about. My drum teacher’s smile, the woman who cooks ears of corn on my street corner, the hazy mountain views, the struggles I’ve overcome while learning so many new things, the books I’ve read, the books I haven’t read, the dust-hurling wind, the dogs on the streets, the markets- big and small, the restaurants, the home-made meals, watching the other students grow around me, the conversations, half a century of Western influence in millennia of Nepali tradition, and so many more topics deserve this spotlight. I feel like I’m continually learning and experiencing so much during my time here in Nepal that to romanticize one particular event carelessly tosses other ones into an artificial shadow. Although we all fall prey to doing so sometimes, I particularly dislike wasting words. My words here could not possibly accurately describe a single emotion I’ve faced on this trip. We place so much emphasis on vernacular and semantics when really perspective proves most important. No two people could interpret these words precisely the same.

Do you want to know what it’s like in Nepal? Come here. Walked the trails I’ve walked, see the sights I’ve seen, share all the ups and downs of the experience along the way. Yet, even then, you would never come close to realizing what my personal experience is here. Have your own experience. Write a “yak” about the daily life you lead in whatever Western town or city that you call home. Students are posting all over this board their own incredible stories. They may make you feel happy for the students, or maybe they spark a twinge of jealousy. Maybe you’re just checking up on your son or daughter because you’re concerned and want to make sure they’re well. But who is checking up on you? Who is asking you to dissect the profound from the superficial, inspire new perspective-taking, and share your own personal experiences with the world wide web? Learning from others can be a very effective tool, but at the heart of it all, you have to learn from yourself. So stop staring at your screen and go enjoy your life. I’m going to enjoy Nepal.

Mathaji, female Sadhu

Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2014, Introduction to Philosophy/Comparative Religion, The Best Notes From The Field, Yak of the Week
by: Amalya King
I was not raised in a religious family. Though both of my parents come from large, loud Catholic families in the Midwest, after years of Catholic School and  Sunday Church - the typical late 50s/early 60s childhood experience- I think they’d had enough of organized religion in their lives. My sister and I were not baptized  because my parents wanted to give me and my sister a choice. Raised with an openness but general lack of exposure to different faiths, I often feel lost when it comes to my own beliefs. This lack of exposure to religion I see as a beautiful freedom as well as a cause for great personal confusion.
For this reason, I am fascinated by strong, firm believers in any faith. In Hinduism, there are those who have renounced themselves from the normal way of life and live in seclusion. They live lives of simplicity, devoted entirely to their God or Deity. One such devotee, is MaThaji. MaThaji is a Saddhu, or renunciate, who lives in the protected forests of Kathmandu. She sleeps only 3 or 4 hours a night, and in those hours is acutely aware of her surroundings and dreams, dreams through which she receives guidance from her serpant guru. A skeptic much like myself, Mathaji was at first doubtful of the messages she received in her dreams, but has since established a life of practice that accommodates her undying faith. She meditates for hours a day, from 2 till 7 in the morning, and then again when visitors like Dragons come to visit her. Some sadhus are gifted with special powers or characteristics, a further distinguishment of their spiritual purpose in life. Mathaji was gifted with the power to heal. From her hands stem cold water and heated energy. In her presence, I had the unique opportunity to be blessed by her. As she laid her palms against my forehead, I felt heat emanating from her hands and a sense of calm energy running through my body. Ironically, though, while Mathaji was talking with us, her cell phone rang. And when she brought us downstairs to her meditation room, we meditated with music playing off out of speakers.
In a world of skeptics, it is hard to know what to believe.
With her hands on my forehead I wanted so bad to feel her powers, but when her cellphone rang doubt and judgment pervaded my mind. But who am I, a westerner from California, to say what a sadhu should or should not do, behave, or even look like? At the same time, I don’t want my ignorance and intrigue to be something taken advantage of. Though Mathaji is not like the sadhus in touristy areas like Pashupathinath who cover themselves in paint and beckon to tourists to take pictures with them, for a small price of course. She is clearly devoted to her beliefs through her daily meditation and reclusive lifestyle. She has two students which she passes her guru’s teachings on to, and she supports local devotee orphans through an education. She is a good woman, that much is clear, and as long as she believes in her purpose, I trust that. As one of the few female sadhus, Mathaji faces her own world of skeptics. And for that, I have much respect. Though where my belief lays? I am still unsure. It may be a process I never quite accomplish. But that I see that as a purpose, a challenge, for this life.

Message from a Jogja homestay family.

Homestay, Indonesia Semester, Spring 2014, Yak of the Week
by: Lutfi (Taylor's homestay sister)


Joining part of the program from Where There Be Dragons was a really great experience. We are the host family from the past two semesters of the program in Yogyakarta.

We always call the students who lived with us “Ragil”. In Javanese, it means the youngest child in the family. All those two students were the youngest in the family, so we always call them Ragil.

What the best thing we had by becoming the host family is we have a new family member. As a family in the common neigborhood in Kampung, everyone knows about our new family member because we always introduce them as family.

Our first family was Peter, and the second one was Taylor. Both of them are very nice. We did something together like Karaoke (that is the “must” thing to do), sport things (badminton, futsal) family picnic, and some special occasion events in the big family member. Sometimes we did those things together with the other host families because we have good relationship.

Some family members have difficulties in communicate with them, but that was also nice thing because both side can learn language. Some funny things happen when we or they mispronounce the words.

We taught them what to say before they leave the house, we call it “pamit/berpamitan (Indonesia)” because that is our tradition. So, before they leave, they will say “Bapak, Ibu saya mau berangkat sekolah” (Dad, Mom, I will go to school).

In our family, we like to say what we like or we dont about food, but sometimes they’re too shy to say that so we need to figure out what they like or they dont.

One thing that we feel a bit sorry was we couldn’t take them to the program house because we don’t have a car. They should go there by themselves by bicycle or taxi most of the time.

We will always welcome to our new members to our family in the future! :)

Keluarga Sugiyo, from Yogyakarta

I Packed My Bags for Mandalay

Asia Expedition, Spring 2014, Yak of the Week
by: Lydia Emerson

When I was a small child, my grandmother, Tish, taught me a simple memory game that we would play for hours. We would pretend that we were “packing our bags” for a trip to an exotic place and we would take turns  choosing items in alphabetical order. Each round, before adding a new object to the list, we had to remember all of the previous items. The exotic place that we chose was a place that I had never heard of before: Mandalay. So, a young Lydia would say “I packed my bag for Mandalay and with me I brought: an Ardvark, a Basketball, a Candle, etc etc.” We would alternate back and forth until someone messed up or until we got all the way through the alphabet.

I had long forgotten the frequency with which I played this game with Tish until the night before my departure to Sri Lanka. I was about to spend 2 and a half more months traveling and my grandmother, and avid traveler herself, was spending the night at our house. Tish was sitting in the family room with me as I expressed my excitements and fears about this culmination of my travels. Knowing that I was headed to Myanmar as the final destination of my 5 months of Dragons-related travel, Tish said “Don’t you remember? We played the game I pack my bag for Mandalay and now you are actually going to Mandalay!”

I sat for a moment and processed the fact that I would actually be going to a place that, though I had initially thought to be fake, I had fantasized about going to my whole life. I did not think much more of it until Sunday morning, when I was literally packing my bags for a flight to Mandalay. I felt a bit sentimental. Myanmar is the 6th and final country that I will travel to with Dragons.

I truly believe that my journey through Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Thailand has prepared me for this final destination. Though I will continue to travel for a weeks weeks with a friend after the course ends, our arrival in Mandalay was very significant because it was our final passport stamp with our Dragons group. We will be based in Mandalay for over half of our time in Myanmar.

The more that I reflect, the more that I realize: I have been “packing” my bags for Mandalay through out my whole life, and particularly in the last 6 months. Now that I am finally here, I can reflect on what it took me to get here, that is, what i had to “pack” in order to be prepared for my final month as a Dragons student.

So, here is my list of things that I have “packed” this year…

(In no particular order)

I packed my bags for Mandalay, and with me I brought:

an appreciation for the earth, trees, plants, water, and air around me

an acute awareness for myself and others

the ability to do the Cat Daddy where ever I go in the world

dreams and aspirations

love of learning

the ability to puke/poop and rally (this is an important one)

Global citizenship

total relaxation

flexibility (to certain situations and also while doing yoga)

the ability to pick up basics in other languages (even Burmese!)

culturally appropriate clothing

and finally, an openness and desire to learn and grow in the world around me

So, thank you Tish, for teaching me that I have always been packing my bags for Mandalay. And, Thank you dragons, for providing me with the most amazing gap year that I could have imagined (though it is not over yet!)


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Welcome to Yak Yak, Dragons’ student travel blog. The thoughtful reflections, inspiring text, and open-hearted wisdom of Dragons’ students are among the most moving student travel writings to be found on the web. In an age of media overload and cryptic tweets, these writings stand out as contemplative, often profound, and once in a while magical insights into students’ overseas travel experiences. Yak Yak consists of over 11,000 posts that have been uploaded since 2007, when the word "blog" was a scarcely known term. The history of our work and the soul of Dragons lives in these pages. Enjoy!