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Spring 2015

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Transformation Sunday

Himalaya B, Internships and Independent Study Projects, Introduction to Philosophy/Comparative Religion, Picture of the Week, Yak of the Week
by: Lauren, Louisa, Mel
Yak 5

Before this Sunday evening, we would never have guessed a paunch, 60 year old, grey-haired male could dance with the grace and finesse of a ballerina.
Rewind two hours and the three of us, accompanied by Lauren’s host dad and Louisa’s host brother, were headed to Hotel Vajra in Kathmandu to watch a Buddhist tantric dance performance. Lauren’s ISP mentor, Raju, was one of the two performers.
Hotel Vajra is located on a barren side road, but once you walk through its gates, the serene courtyard immediately transports you to a completely different world. There is a bubbling fountain, lush trees, and a grand brick building that resembles a palace. Before the performance started, we enjoyed a cup of tea on the rooftop. Earlier that day we had visited Swayambhu (Monkey Temple), but now we were amazed to see it from afar, glowing on the horizon and illuminating all that was around it. We literally saw it in a new light! ;-)
As soon as the doors opened, we moved into the Great Pagoda Hall, where the dance would take place. The inside of the hall was as ornate as a monastery. The ceiling was adorned with brilliant colors and intricately designed lanterns that cast a warm spotlight on the intimate room. In one of the corners there were three musicians tuning their instruments. Chairs and cushions were lined up against a wall for the audience. Being Dragons students, we naturally chose the cushions and seated ourselves in a meditative position.
Before the performance, an old Nepali man, who we assumed was the host, told us not to clap between acts because it would disrupt the powerful energy created by the dance. He also told us not to record the dance because tantric dance is not a form of entertainment, but a spiritual practice. In order to generate energy in the room and to open our minds for the dance, he led us in a short, guided meditation. When we opened our eyes, we discovered that this man was now standing in the middle of the floor, posed and ready to dance. As the music started, his graceful hands began to unfold like a lotus flower. We watched in awe as he seemed to float across the stage. His hands, legs, and expressions worked together to tell a story. Each step was precise and intentional, yet looked effortless.
Tantric dancing is unique because every minuscule motion has significance. When performing a tantric dance, one embodies a certain deity. Over the course of the evening, six dances were performed each with their own music and mood depending on which deity was being represented. The dances ranged from soft and dainty to fierce and thunderous. With each act, the costumes became increasingly complex. By the final act, Raju entered completely transformed. He was shirtless, but his chest was layered with chains and a skull garland. A tiger patterned skirt draped around his waist and a string of bells was latched beneath his knees. His face was covered with a mask resembling Vajrapani, the Protector of the Dharma. With every stomp of his foot rattling the floor, energy pulsed through the room. His hands and body shook with power, setting his various bells into a rhythmic rumble. While he was dancing, it seemed as if we were no longer looking at Raju, but at the Bodhisattva he was embodying.
After the performance ended, in classic Nepali style, we returned to the roof for a cup of tea. The night was quiet, but the intense experience of the tantric dance emanated out of the Great Pagoda Hall through the darkness and all the way to the heart of Swayambhu.
As we looked out on the peaceful Sunday evening, we couldn’t help but think that even though it wasn’t Tuesday, it was certainly a day of transformations.

Day 13

Guatemala Appleby College, Yak of the Week
by: Michael + Sara

Day 13 scribe

Today it was really hard for me to wake up, not only because I felt tired, but also the fact that it was going to be my last day at Pachaj with my homestay family. It seemed like the weather knew my sad feelings, so it stayed overcast for a long time. Today’s routine went as followed: 8:00 am morning meeting, 9:00-12:00pm continue with the work from yesterday (nursery bags, trash bottles, and trenches), 12pm-1pm lunch, 1pm-3pm finish up the work. After we left to head back to our homestays to pack and return later for a large going away party. I was so happy to know yesterday that every member of the Flores family will show up to the party, but also very sad because it might be the last time to see them together. So I was completely not in my zone for working today, all I ever thought about was to spend as much time as possible with my family today when I get back from working. I was really disappointed by myself because my intention yesterday was to work hard on the last day which I failed to do. So, thanks to everyone’s hard work we finally completed the whole trench.

I still remember how sad I was when I got the news that the Morocco trip was cancelled because of Ebola, the teacher from the global education office switched me to the Guatemala trip. Without the persistence of my mother, I likely would not have been on this trip (thank God I didn’t make this decision, which might have made me regretful for the rest of my life). I completely hated this trip at the beginning, but somehow it changed miraculously. I also remember how negative I was on the first day of working and the first night I arrived at my homestay. As the time passed, somehow I started to like them. Instead of complaining about the long and hard work and the bad conditions of the homestay (I used to be a very picky person who likes to complain a lot!), I focused on the positive side like helping the community and make a strong bond with my homestay family, so I got used to wearing dirty clothes, working under the intense sunlight for hours, dirty bedrooms, long distance walking and smaller doors. So I became more dedicated and motivated every day here at Pachaj.

I barely feel tired here because of my passion for the Chico Mendes project and the community. I feel like this place is also my home and that these lovely people are my family members. My heart belongs to this place. Back in Canada, I’ve always had a more stable schedule, so I lost motivation every day because there’s barely any surprises. I wake up at 7:30/8:30 am and get ready for school, come back after club and co-curricular at 5:30/6:30pm, and then I start to do my homework for about 4 hours, and then I go to bed and get ready for the next day. So basically, my life in Canada during the weekdays are like this: eat, study, sport, sleep and repeat. I lost passion in my life and I felt numb, instead of a living energetic person, I was more like waking dead. So, thank you Guatemala for re-energizing me and making me feel alive again! I will definitely bring back this phenomenal experience and share it with my family and friends. From now on, I will definitely love my life, be humble, be positive, and appreciative in life even though there’s no surprises. Right now, all I remember about Guatemala are the awesome project, Doña Flore, Armando, Neal, Ronnie, and Carloina. These people make my life complete and make me realize the fact that as long as you have a passion you will never be numb. Every day might seem normal and boring for other people, but to you, every day means something special, motivating, something totally worth fighting for.

Oh yeah, I forgot to talk about what happened during the party. My journal has been deep and meaningful so far so it’s time for a break! We had lots of fun during the party. Everyone was enjoying themselves. My family and I had lots of snacks and drinks. We read off our appreciation letter to our family and I saw big smiles on their faces. We sang and danced and played cards. I guess everybody wanted to enjoy their last night, just like Maroon 5 says “when the daylight comes I’ll have to go, but tonight I’m gonna hold you so close.” As always there were crying faces. I didn’t cry because I knew for sure sooner or later I will come here again. I imagine what will happen tomorrow morning. I am going to give gifts and say goodbye to my family and get on the bus to Antigua. But this time, I will be stronger, tougher, and more enthusiastic than ever thanks to the homestay experience. Life is a short journey so if you want to achieve something you have to be decisive or you will be regretful for the rest of your life because you achieved nothing at all.

Everything is so quiet right now, so calm and peaceful. The perfect bedtime is waiting for me. Goodbye Pachaj, this is not an ending, this is the start of something new. I will definitely come back someday. Good night. ~Michael


Today was such an amazing day, and a great one to end our stay in Pachaj. We are leaving in the morning, so today we did service work until 3 pm and then went back to our home stays to get ready for the party at 7. After another good morning meeting we did a big cheer before we headed off in groups to get some good work done. The first station of service work that my group was in was filling dirt bags. Then we switched out into the trenches where we made some good progress. The trench was around 80 meters long and we had to dig 85 cm deep. Everyone took turns using the shovels and the hoes. It was a great workout. Next, my group was sent to the garbage station where we filled plastic bottles with trash that we found to make eco bricks. We continued to work at the trench station after a delicious lunch break until three pm. Back at our homestays we had dinner with our families, got ready for the party, and prepared speeches and cards to give to our families. My roommate Arisa, Jade, and I each made a card and wrote a speech that we split into three parts. For our last dinner our homestay mother Doña Salvadora prepared an amazing spaghetti dinner with sausage and corn tea. It was insanely good I am definitely going to miss her cooking, especially the corn tea!

We weren’t exactly sure who in our family was coming, but Salvadora said she would meet us there so we headed up the street to Armando’s house for the party. I was super excited and couldn’t stop squealing the whole way there and I really hoped that our family would show up. When we got there we saw that everyone was just arriving and there were three cakes laid out and lots and juice. There was a big circle of chairs and we had lots of fun introducing ourselves to the other families. After about 15 minutes Salvadora and her grandson, Danny, arrived and a little later Dan’s two brothers his mother and his father arrived. I was so excited to see them and pleasantly surprised to see that Danny’s father Sebastian had brought flutes and a guitar so that they could play for everyone. Then it was time to say our speeches and Arisa, Jade, and I volunteered to go first. It went really well and our family appreciated what we said. We then sang to everyone “We are family, all my Guatemalans and me.” Sebastian and his sons then played the titanic theme song for them. Sebastian played the guitar and Danny and his brothers played the flute. Everyone enjoyed it and some people even got really emotional. The rest of the party was full of meaningful speeches, music, dancing, games, and cake. Everyone was having lots of fun and the atmosphere was full of warmth and happiness.

Although I felt sad that it was the last night, I was also overcome with pure joy and love for everyone around me, especially my family. It will always be a night that I will never forget. And something that will make me smile whenever I remember it. I can’t believe how comfortable and close I feel towards my family now and how much I love them even though it has only been a small number of days. It will be very hard and sad to leave them but I will never regret this amazing experience. See you in a few days Canada! ~Sarah


Everything Happens for a Reason

Himalaya A, Yak of the Week
by: Kira Martin
DSC00719 (Medium)

I don’t believe in coincidences nor do I believe in luck, sometimes to make something easier to understand I may pretend that I do. Although, personally i believe that everything happens for a reason. In the Buddhist religion, that phenomena is something they strongly believe in. Everything happens because of interdependent arising, because of causes & conditions, because of previous karmic connections, there is always a reason why. Many people may spend their whole lives asking why, trying to figure things out. Sometimes, they may find an answer, but sometimes the specific answer they are searching for is beyond their reach. Just because you can’t find a reason, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

If another person stepped in my shoes today and experienced all of my past, they may be very confused as to how I am and who I am today. Although I feel that my past not only shaped who I am today, but it also paved part of my future past (even though I am not aware of it now). Personally, I feel that I learned the specific things that I did from Sherapla this week. Now for the duration of this trip and for when I return home, I can help others to the best of my abilities.

This week I learned a specific type of meditation  called compassion meditation. This was something I realized that I practiced everyday of my life without realizing I did or realizing it’s effects. I am always trying to do as much as I can for others, even when I know there is nothing I can do, I still try. This meditation allows me to feel like I did a lot when it may just seem like a little to others. It helps me to remember specific people in my life who either have suffering, have caused me suffering, have a lack of compassion, or who have shown me compassion. I take this time to forgive, appreciate, send support, send positive feelings, gain an understanding of others suffering and feel all of the compassion in the world. It helps me learn from my own past and from others pasts, and understand why certain things happen. I may not understand or know the exact reason why I chose to come to Nepal for my gap year, but I do know that it was no accident. I don’t think it was by chance or luck that the thirteen of us were brought together on this journey. Nor do I think it is due to luck or chance that Danny, Chris, and Jo Lynn are our leaders on this journey. There were reasons why the sixteen of us were the first ever group of people to do something this special with Sherapla. He has planted a seed in each and every one of us. One that will grow in many different ways. Each person was effected by either his teachings, his stories, his joyfulness, his kindness, his friendliness, or even just his company alone. And now each person will carry along with them what they gained and will share it with others. Whether they intend to or not. Therefor, letting everything continue to happen for a reason.

Thoughts of Time

Himalaya B, Yak of the Week
by: Jessica Bush


Each morning at 6:15 am, you wake up to something new. On Tuesday it was the chanting of Buddhists at a nearby monastery. The melodious kirtan sends vibrations through your window, as the sun peers out from behind the curtains. On Wednesday it was the coughing, hacking, and heaving of a neighbor. He regurgitates pollution and dust of the streets from the back of his throat– a common Nepalese noise. On Thursday, it is the high pitched squeals and laughter; the pitter-patter of little children, eager for the festivities of Holi to commence.

At 7:00 am, Mackenzie, Kyle, and I meet in the heart of Durbar Square. We were responsible for making breakfast for the group this past week. So much to see and take in as we weave our way in and out of motorcycles, trash, and people. The city of Patan is already wide awake and bustling with energy. We search for fresh fruit a midst the crowd of abundant buyers and sellers. We manage to barter the cost of pomegranates (1 kilo) from 400 rupees to 300.

At 4:25 pm I come home from school and ISP.  My host sister Diya and I drink our afternoon chiya with biscuits.  We doodle our names on a scrap sheet of paper. Cursive. Bubble letters. Block letters. She shows me my name in Nepali with a soft smile: “Jess-eee-ka,” she says. We discuss our favorite words in Nepali. Rangi Changi and bholi. We go downstairs and watch the Newari channel. Then a Bollywood film. Then Cartoon Network. I fishtail-braid her hair. She offers me popcorn and roasted nuts.

At 6:30 pm I like to go to the roof. Do some thinking and watch the sun nestle its golden rays behind the mountains. Just over a week ago, we were there. In the mountains, above the clouds. Hearts and minds racing. Trail-blazing in two feet of snow. So juxtaposed to where we are and what we are doing now.

Makes me miss trekking, even at 3:00 in the morning to Ama Yangri. The thrill, the challenge, the camaraderie of the intimate group– it never leaves you feeling empty. Trekking isn’t easy, but that’s exactly why it’s fun (as paradoxical as it sounds). You learn how strong you are–internally. Sometimes though, it can feel like too much. All at once your feelings growing rapidly like the flames of a forest fire. They appear to be holding you back. But you keep going because so many others have made it to the top, so why not you? You remember what Kristin said about the weathered plants, crooked trees, and frozen rhododendron bushes still being there despite years of anguish. They have remained resilient through their adversity, and you can too. Nature, in its purest form is right beside you, cheering you on. Its all around you: In the crunch of the leaves beneath your hiking boots and the vigorous flow of the waterfall; alive and strong. So when you make it to the highest peak way up in the sky, you feel grateful. You swallow fresh mountain air on top of the world. You feel what it’s like to truly live, not just exist.

You experience it here too, in Patan. What it’s like to live. To feel the cool breeze creeping through your window at 9:00 in the evening. To wander and get lost in the identically similar alleyways. To embrace a culture and speak a language so different from your own. To be cared for by total strangers who aren’t really strangers anymore, just after one week.

When you go to sleep at 9:45 pm, you reflect on all that has happened in the day. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years.  You ponder life’s meaning, the significance of your existence, and time. Your feelings are a tornado; accumulating and swirling into a thick cloud of thoughts and memories. But you take a breath, stop, and listen. Hoking in the distance. Dogs whimpering. Catchy Newari music. All outside your window. So you close your eyes and put the past to the side. To dream of what new things, tomorrow will bring.


Old Green Cars and Giant Slides

Andes & Amazon, Homestay, Yak of the Week
Please Select
by: Makena Masterson
bolivia thumbnail

The other day I was sitting in the back of my host father´s car with my “sisters” and my “mother” and I had absolutely no idea where we were going. This sort of thing seems to happen when you are in Bolivia and you do not speak very much Spanish.

Earlier that day my mom had asked me something in Spanish. She seemed to indicate hills and since it was Sunday and I had more free time I assumed she meant we could go on a walk as a family. This sounded great so I enthusiastically agreed. Later when she told me to change from my shorts into pants I just assumed that this was to protect me from bushes or thorns. She was always looking out for me in this way, offering sun hats and such to protect me. Yet when she started fixing my sisters hair to look nicer I got a little confused. Why have pretty hair if we are just going for a hike? Also why did my father go to take a shower now if we were just going to get sweaty and need another one after this?

Then when we got in the car and started to drive into Cochabamba I knew I was clueless. The middle of the city was NOT where one went for a hike. Then I jumped to the assumption that we must be going to church or something since it was Sunday. Maybe that was why I needed pants? To look nicer?

I was still so confused but at the same time it was fine. This was new and something a little bit unexpected but I knew that no matter what was happening that it would all work out. Anyways I did not really seem to have any control over the situation so I may as well enjoy it.

The car we were in was an older one with a pale green body. While I do not know anything about cars I do know how this one made me feel. The dashboard and everything else was old and no one was wearing seat belts. The only connection I could make to this unfamiliar situation was that it felt just like my grandfather´s old orange truck. A truck that also had rust spots and while a good portion was held together with bungee cords I still loved it more than any other car. That truck had stalled out on me on more than one occasion and so when this little green car I was in started to make weird noises I wasn’t really worried honestly. It was the only familiar thing that I could hold onto in that moment.

When we finally seemed to arrive at our destination I was greeted by these giant slides. This was completly unlike anything in the U.S.A. but now everything clicked in my head. Everything was painted bright colors and you could slide down with a whole line of at least 6 people across. It wasn´t just kids here though, adults were sliding too and everyone was laughing. The slides were faster than I anticipated and the near collisions between people were hilarious. We ate ice cream and laughed as kids rolled down and knocked each other over. Then my mom and I would go up to the top and do the same thing with my young host sisters. We laughed so much that my stomache hurt. I realized then that my host mom had a great laugh just like my real mom back home also had. One that filled the air and made me want to smile even more.

That day was one of my favorites so far here and maybe that is because it was so unexpected. I had no control and that was fine with me. It was so unfamiliar yet at the base of it I could still find things that reminded me of home. Those little things make me miss the people far away but also they make me love the place I am in.

I do not understand Bolivia but I love it still.

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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!