where there be dragons

Yak Yak | Yak of the week

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Spring 2015

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2015 Spring_YakYakBanner_China

2015 Spring_YakYakBanner_CentralAmerica

2015 Spring_YakYakBanner_HimalayaA

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Snapshots from the Journey this far:

Central America, Yak of the Week
by: Emma Newman
Nude children run through the untamed grasses growing in the shade of a matagalpa tree.  Their bodies kissed by sunshine, their dark hair lifted by the breeze.
Men and cows wade through dark waters, above their knees, above their waists.  Pieces of garbage floating downstream like shooting stars.
White clouds manifest like spirits on the horizon.  Motionless.  Does the breeze at my back not touch them?  The grasses are touched, as they dance hesitant at first, then wild.  Does it challenge the flight of la mariposa, hovering above the lake, silhouetted against the clouds?
He pulls the grass from the parched earth with swift jerks of his muscular neck, his tail swishing.  Playful. A contented sigh.
The goats appear from behind the rusted fence.  The man appears behind them, like always.
The calls rise on the back of the wind, rising, rising to reach the overlook in La Garnacha where we’ve gathered.  Twelve figures sitting in quiet admiration for the vast landscape before us.  “Do you think it could be the baseball game?” I ask Crisula who sits on the bench beside me.
“It could be,” she replies, but already my thoughts are elsewhere.  My head has filled with imagined rhythmic chants, songs, echoes reborn from the first peoples who settled this mountain-land.  In front of me I see the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua, their bodies dark and shadowed in the fading light.
The benches we sit on are not new, but neither are they as ancient as the movement before us.  The volcano deep on the horizon, a billow of smoke rising from it’s peak.  The clouds lustrous and lavender, the mountains blue and tired below the setting sun.
The Metaphorical and Literal Worms Inside
Red shirt, striped skirt.  Short blonde hair, flip flops, painted toe nails.  Light blue undershirt, aching tummy, worms.  There are worms inside of my body.
How did they get there?
They were born when the scent of pine trees in La Garnacha filled my nose and smelled like home.  They grew when the sunset whispered your name and a small valley in California crept into my every dream.  I began to understand them when los instructores told us that of a quote explaining that often times, when we travel, our bodies move faster than our souls.  The worms were thriving on the distance, loving the weakness of my body separated from my soul.
In Esteli the doctors called them E Coli, a separate bacteria, and another amoeba with a complicated name, all feeding on my exhaustion from searching for myself.  But there’s good news: Time heals everything, the medicine is working.  The abdominal pain has dissipated and the rumbling of my erupting bowels has calmed.  The volcano that has been my body is settling.  My soul is catching up.  Each day is clearer and more full of learning, understanding, and experience than the last, and from day one, this trip has been incredible- the most unbelievable adventure I’ve ever embarked upon.  Perhaps that is why my soul has been taking so long… perhaps, in all of the most awe-struck, appreciative and lovely ways, I still can’t believe I’m truly here.
Someone pinch me, please.


Home away from home

Indonesia, Yak of the Week
by: Bea Schaver

When I used to contemplate where home is for me, I never thought that I could find it in Turi village, Sleman district, Java, Indonesia. On Ash Wednesday (celebrated on the Tuesday instead) our host mother took six of us to mass. Even though I only know a few words of Bahasa Indonesian, I felt right at home. The entire congregation sang along and took me right back to my church in Madrid, Spain. If I closed my eyes, I was standing with my family singing along. I thoroughly enjoyed knowing my cues to pray in Spanish while everyone else around me recited their own in Bahasa. As I was taking in the beautiful church and watching my fellow students experience the celebration, I slowly, and all at once, fell in love with Indonesia.

My new home is slowly forming around me. Every day I take in a new part of this experience as the country slowly takes me in as one of its own. Some people say, “Home is where the heart is,” and they could not be more right. My heart is in Spain, in the U.S.A, in Costa Rica, and now in Indonesia. Sure, I have only been in the country for less than two weeks, but I have never felt more at home.

Addie’s Yak

Central America, Yak of the Week
by: Addie Gilson
I’m sitting in a rocking chair at Cayo Verde–my legs are tired in the best way and my stomach is full of fresh fruit, vegetables and lemongrass tea. The Nicaraguan sun beats down on my face, leaving freckles as it sets as if to say “I was here.” The breeze rustles my unkempt hair, still damp from our earlier swim in a waterfall hidden among trees, rocks and unpaved trails. Cows graze on the glowing grass in front of me, chickens with burning ember crowns cluck along and birds sing out from every direction. Silently in the background stand the bold, smiling mountains by which I’ve come to know this country.
Nicaragua embraces simplicity and reveres nature. It is a country with a heartbreaking history, yet a present defined by resilient, kind, and passionate people that loved their land too much to let it go.
I have found in every person I have met thus far a profound connection to the outside world and an enduring sense of pride for the natural beauty that rules this country. Lolo, a farmer we met at La Garnacha, explained to us the story of the carpintero (woodpecker) and gave us insight into the way he and most Nicaraguans feel about their surroundings:
The tan man’s fingers tap against his beige shorts and his lips curl into an eager smile as we approach the madrono tree. He begins explaining that the woodpeckers use their beaks to create small holes in the tree for storing seeds.  These seeds, in time, produce insects that nourish the birds later on. He pauses and speaks the next words slowly: “no hole and no seed belong to one individual, they work in groups and they plan for the future. It’s like what we try to do here at La Garnacha.” He mutters this last sentence shyly, humble in comparing himself to such a wise, sacred creature.
The admiration for nature I first saw in Lolo I found time and time again as we made our way to El Lagartillo: our trekking guide as he explained the value of the fallen tree for teaching children about conservation, Dona maribel when she told us of her desire to produce everything she eats, and Henry as he recounted the Mayans who ate coffee beans and dropped the seeds as they walked, laying the foundation for Nicaragua’s rich plantations.
The sun has fully set now, and the mountains have disappeared with the light. Stars begin to populate the sky until I feel small. Not small as in insignificant or unimportant, but small as in another part of the puzzle — like the carpintero, like the serendipitous coffee seeds — that uniquely creates, inspires and contributes to this world.


Lessons from Yeye

China, Yak of the Week
by: Bryn Huxley-Reicher

After another delicious lunch on our third day at the Jixiangcun artist colony I am sitting on a low bench next to the kitchen/dining room, basking in the warm sun. I’m sitting behind our instructor, Jacky, listening to him speak to the grandfather (Yeye) of the family that lives here, farms the land, and takes care of the buildings. He is in his seventies, small, thin, deeply tanned and wrinkled. His cheeks are sunken, his mouth small, his hands heavily calloused from years of work. He smokes like a chimney. As they speak quickly, I catch a few words here and there: gaigekaifang (the Reform and Opening Up policy of 1978), Mao Zedong, chifan (to eat), dadi (to take a taxi), but for the most part I let the conversation, in speedy and accented mandarin (Yeye’s), wash over me, trying to absorb language through osmosis.

I can tell when the conversation changes topics, as Yeye starts to gesture to me and to Zack, my classmate who is standing nearby also listening. Yeye gently taps Jacky’s knee, urging him to translate for us. Jacky tells us that Yeye has said that he thinks that it is yuanfen (karma or destiny) that we have all come to his home and met him. He says that though he is in his seventies, he is happy to take care of us now, and to wait for even twenty years for us to come back to visit. He then tells us that this period of our lives is the golden time to study and to learn, because just as Archimedes said about levers, if we put enough effort into our education now, we will get out so much later that we can change both our lives and the world around us for the better. This is what I imagine he has said to his nineteen year old grandson Haji, who is studying tourism management at the Agricultural school in Kunming.

Yeye’s words are incredibly sweet, and though it is incredibly difficult for me to understand his accent despite a few years of studying Chinese, he communicates his appreciation of our presence in silence – smiling and nodding hello, and even admiring the amazing painting Annya has whipped up in a few short hours. But it’s not as simple as he makes it sound. Haji – the first family member to go to college in many generations, is unhappy, forced to study something he doesn’t like because of his grade on the gaokao, the test that determines Chinese students’ fates. That possibility – the possibility of doing something you aren’t passionate about – seems to be at least a partial motivation for all of us students to come to China: we are here not only to learn about this huge and diverse country, but also to learn about ourselves and what we want to do with our lives.

Yeye would understand this, if I could explain it in my crude and broken mandarin. As Jacky told me after I asked about the few words of his conversation with Yeye I understood, after the Communist revolution Yeye had traveled around the country, working every job he could find, until he realized that he really wanted to be here, in Lijiang, farming. Haji seems to feel the same way.

I can sympathize. In the morning, when I wake up to see the sun rising behind the Yulongxueshan (jade dragon snowy mountains) and see the sun shining on the mountains on the other side of the lake from the bathroom window, eat meals made from the vegetables grown on the farm, and see how friendly the people in the village are, I can imagine how peaceful and pleasant life here is. This family is as attached to their home and their farm as I am to my small apartment in New York, but if Yeye is right, this adventure, this short period of learning and self-growth will make us happier as adults and help us to shape our environments, even if we always fly back to our nests in the end.


Himalaya A, Yak of the Week
by: Meg Chandler

Our rooftop for the last few days has been a magical place; from morning tea at 6:30 am to Nepali classes, group discussions and personal reflection. However, it provides a lookout post to admire and observe the bustling city beyond the walls of Happiness Guest House. When taking in my surroundings in the early morning light, or the afternoon sun, a few things are hard to miss. For one, the second largest Stupa in the world takes up much of your view. The prayer flags are overwhelmingly beautiful and everywhere. Another aspect of the landscape from the roof is all noticing all the other roofs. They too have prayer flags and people. I have enjoyed observing Nepali’s from afar in their natural habitat. Some encounters are just conversations or cleaning.

Yesterday, I observed a funny situation. I was sitting and admiring the rooftops, the mountains off in the distance, and the smog. First I heard the sounds of children playing. Then a little boy appeared on a roof near by. He was yelling to his sister, I believe, and climbing around on what I think are water tanks. It did not look too safe, but he seemed fine. Soon after, his sister followed. She was older and a bit more cautious. They exchanged words that I did not understand. After, their mother appeared. She scolded the boy for going somewhere he shouldn’t (under the water tank) and smacked him on the head in a firm but gentle manner. She sent the kids off the roof to play elsewhere. She then began cleaning the roof and scrubbing the floors, but noticed I was watching. She stopped and laughed a little, said hi, waved and smiled. I smiled and waved back. Then she returned to her chores.

This interaction incorporates many aspects of Nepal that I have encountered thus far. 1. Nepali’s are incredibly kind and happy. They will smile and wave, greet you and listen to you try to speak in very broken Nepali. 2. They are very clean. Every surface is swept multiple times a day, even if it is a dirt, hard packed floor. They care very deeply for their things and themselves. 3. Children who are cared for have an adventurous, happy and fearless spirit. They explore, but are careful of the rough edges around them. 4. Lastly, children are everywhere.

All of these aspects of Nepali culture were observed from the rooftops. I can only imagine what the mountains, the people, and the city will teach us.

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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!