Hello Bridge Year Friends & Family!
Just wanted to share the “before” pictures of each group captured upon Day 1 landing in-country! And also to invite you to share in the regional adventures of all the other Bridge Year country groups. You can navigate to their Yak boards via the links above, or you can bookmark the hyperlinked boards below. Enjoy!
When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s
they could not decipher the meanings of the quipu,
systems of strings that the Inka used to record information,
documenting history and knowledge in the knots like suspended brail.
Unable to speak the tethered language of this place,
the Spanish made fire and ash of the quipu.
I am here in Peru with my fluent Spanish and beard as thick as Pizarro’s
realizing I’m still lost in translation.
“You didn’t buy a ticket, nobody gets in free. Laws exist for a reason,
we Peruvians can’t just break them.”
The Wayna Picchu ticket clerk scolds our friend and local guide, Fabian.
Two hours earlier we were on the main platform outside the Machu Picchu entrance amidst a fog of tourists. I asked Fabian what he thought of all “this”, my hands spelling ‘locura’—craziness.
“My mind is not with all the people, it’s with the mountains,” he said,
gesturing toward the Apu, the gods in this peaks,
his eyes circling the sky like two condors climbing the spiral staircase of the wind.
But his stance was a twisted quipu, a tangle of body language
I couldn’t quite read,
the linguist in me frustrated.
I wondered if he was thinking of Q’eros, of his community in the mountains first settled 500 years ago by four of his ancestors fleeing
deep into the Andes to escape the Conquistadors.
They planted potatoes and built houses out of stone and straw. In Quechua, Q’eros means drinking vessel, this place despite its climate and terrain
could hold life, quench a longing to guard the prayers of ancestors.
400 years later, an American explorer named Bingham was shown Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu by Peruvians living on them.
He then told the world he had discovered the site and wrongly declared it
“The Lost City of the Incas”, where they had made their last stand before final defeat by the Spanish.
That was 1911, and potatoes were still growing in Q’eros.
In 1981 Macchu Picchu was declared a “historical sanctuary”
by the Peruvian government.
In Q’eros, potatoes were growing eyes
in the mountains earthen womb,
and Machu Picchu was also growing eyes—blue ones, and green ones, and brown ones, and new walls made of brick,
roads with screeching buses, rails for howling trains,
and the moan of cappuccino machines.
And today at the Wayna Picchu ticket booth,
the clerks eyes grow wide and swell with judgment
as Fabian exits. There is no place to put his signature in the registry,
his name was not recorded, we had snuck him in earlier.
“This is a crime sir, I should call the police on you. Your name isn’t on the list because you don’t have a ticket.”
Here, the Apus require routers and routing numbers,
“Everyone knows you can only buy tickets online, we don’t sell them here,” she berates.
And as I watch how humbly he receives her words,
how a bouquet of bilingual apologies wilts on his tongue
as she calls him thief, and stupid, and shameful
in ways only her name-badge permits,
I am filled with righteous rage at this woman
with skin light enough to be mestiza, to assimilate,
to melt into the city’s arms, to always answer in Spanish
when spoken to in Quechua,
to slip on her heritage like an alpaca scarf when a tourist asks about the Inka.
I want to tell her that he could have written ‘Fabian’ in her little registration book
and it still wouldn’t be his name,
that his mother called him Siwar Q’ente, Sparkling Violetear, turquoise hummingbird, before his face first touched the sun
and her eyes turned away from it forever.
That this book reminds him of the first time he carried his name down to Cuzco,
wrote it in a little registration book and men in uniforms not unlike hers
made him Fabian instead.
I want to tell her about the registered guide I heard speaking
in the ruins’ grassy center, his hands pointing over rows of roofless houses.
“We believe this place was sacred for the Inka,
this here was a temple, that there was a field where they used to grow potatoes. They believed the mountains were Gods called Apu.”
His use of the past tense is formaldehyde soaking over the stone,
making this more cemetery than sanctuary.
I want to tell her that the tiger alive is too much fang and claw,
but once dead its striped beauty is a simple story of bravery,
its ferocity cold and comfortable to admire.
I want to tell this ticket clerk that this place is not dead to everyone,
but is flesh and spirit, that the gale of tourism turns the mountains here to darkening lanterns, leaky vessels, empty piles of rock.
I want to tell her that in Q’eros the mountains feel alive,
and the houses have roofs made of thatched straw,
they keep out the rain, the snow. They are woven tightly,
but every few years they require the miracle of human hands
to patch the holes, replace the leaves.
I want to tell her that 24 hours from now a hostel owner
will accuse Fabian, a 46 year-old amidst a group of 13 young travelers,
of stealing her money and cell phone,
calling him “The Man in the Hat.”
I want to tell her that Fabian, or Siwar, has been here before,
was invited even, by the Ministry of Culture to conduct a ceremony
at Machu Picchu, “Old Peak”, Wayna Picchu, “Young Peak,
land of roofless houses haunted by Bingham’s ghost.
Land of stolen ruins and foreign credit cards,
land of surrendered Inka.
I want to tell her that in Qu’eros they haven’t surrendered yet,
that Fabian is leader there, was President,
I want to tell her how he stood guard and rallied the people
when mining companies came
with all of the wires and routers and bank accounts,
thought they could buy a ticket.
I want to call her traitor , tell her “you don’t know this man!”
who’s laugh has crawled from graves, bathed in sickness,
who’s lived 6 bloody yesterdays and a wounded tomorrow
and still plays his flute every day of the week, every step of the trail
who’s lived enough hell to earn entrance into this place
where his ancestors prayed, where the Apus still speak to him in
You, pompous employee, condescending clerk,
YOU! You, you
might not be so different
from him. The two of you, both gatekeepers, fierce and unyielding.
Perhaps if history, if the human story, in all of its terror and beauty, had turned out
You would be fist-raised
shaming the mining empresario at the spot
where the dirt carretera meets the gaze of Kiku Grande,
where the mountains rise like dragon spines piercing through the earth,
maybe boys with spinning tops and mountain legs
and women with wooden looms would watch you
from in front of stone houses with thatched roofs
and laugh at the fear in the face of the man in the uniform
standing before you. Perhaps his eyes, filled with gilded conspiracies,
would blink and walk away at your words.
I was angry with you and could not
forgive your shaming of our friend
You, with skin dark enough to be mestiza,
or chola, or even indígena,
too dark to pass for Español, or European,
to pass through customs in my country without
questions or visas or green cards or
My skin, too light to fully understand what
it all means in your body or his,
even though I want to,
want to understand enough to be loved
in an ancient language,
a frayed quipu dying to be read.
Dear family and friends,
Yesterday we departed Indonesia, beginning the long journey home to you. Thank you for sharing your child/sibling/friend/loved one with us. As an instructor, it’s an incredible gift to travel and learn alongside students who are so spirited, curious, and wholehearted as these.
We have spent the last few days celebrating and reflecting together at a beautiful spot by the beach, discussing how we’ve learned and grown through this experience – and how to carry it back into our lives at home. Be ready to ask questions and to listen; we are returning full of new stories, questions, and ideas. In the meantime, we wanted to share some glimpses of the place that has held, challenged, and inspired us over the last 6 weeks.
I am Indonesia
I am betelnut-stained grins and crimson spit splashing Langa’s sidewalks.
I am the Milky Way, a shimmering brushstroke across the night sky.
I am eucalyptus, bamboo, and mangrove in a thousand shades of green.
I am the burst of a firework against the sky – at any hour of the day or night – set into orbit by crowds of giggling kids.
I am the silhouette of Sampela’s stilted huts, grey against the citrus hues of early sunset.
I am peppery ginger tea and silky, sweet kelapa dug from the shell.
I am briny sea cucumber, served raw off the edge of Taimba’s blade.
I am cookfire smoke in a cozy kitchen, the earthy spice of sambal, and salty sea air.
I am the sweet, strong pull of a tiny hand, leading you along Sampela’s winding boardwalks.
I am the pitch and sway of the waves in your legs, long after you’ve stepped from the boat.
I am Mama Rosa’s dry, calloused hand, cupping your cheek the day you arrived in her home.
I am the creak of a bamboo floor and the lapping of the waves beneath it.
I am 80’s power ballads blaring from mini-buses, masking the rattle of rusty doors.
I am greetings called from all directions in the sing-song lilt of Bahasa Indonesian.
I am shrill roosters and shrieking children, waking you from sleep.
I am the call to prayer, carried on the wind.
I am evolution and adaptation and resilience.
I am proud tradition and rapid change.
I am the clash and blend of countless customs and beliefs.
I am life’s vibrancy in all its forms.
I am Indonesia.
I am Indonesia.
I am the deep pink that bleeds into the water in Sampela—the backdrop for the silhouettes of the bamboo houses standing on top of the ocean;
the fiery orange that is painted across the peaceful rice fields in Kedungmiri, with only mountains and mountains in the distance;
the deep purple that borders the starry sky and full moon in Langa.
I am the surreal layers of stars into galaxies in Sampela’s night sky.
I am the first sight of the volcano up-close—it’s threatening yet peaceful stature within the hills.
I am the single file line of us hiking up the mountains and into the clouds.
I am the beautiful and intricate patterns of Ikat and Batik.
I am the first bite into Roti-O;
the crunchiness of salty tempeh and peanuts;
the discovery of sticky rice crepes wrapped in leaves.
I am the slightly moldy but comforting damp smell of my room in Langa.
I am the squat toilets and bucket showers that scare me a little less now.
I am the smell of chicken in our packable lunches when we are famished on travel days.
I am the fermented coffee berry peels.
I am fresh laundry that smell like perfume and happiness.
I am Fania’s curly hair and dimples.
I am the rough stone carvings at Borburdor.
I am the snake-skin fruit.
I am the wise, wrinkled, and determined faces.
I am the crashing waves;
the cat fights;
the Indonesian language;
the whistling wind at night.
I am each other’s comforting voices;
the sound of wind brushing through my hair on fast rides;
Fania’s voice yelling “Della! Della!” as I make my way home on the fourth day in Langa.
I am hundreds of dialects, tribes and traditions, with differences from clothing to religion, but all with the same warm smiles.
I am biodiversity.
I am discomfort yet feelings of safety and content.
I am laughter, sweat, music, patterns, colors, the feeling of being alive.
I am cities and rural farms—land and water.
I am Indonesia.
I am Indonesia
I am never knowing whether it will be a bucket shower or not
I am never knowing whether it will be a squatty potty or not
I am the beach from where I have been journaling at the resort. The amazing view of where sky meets water and becomes an eternal horizon
I am Roti’O. The snack I’ve craved since day one and will miss everyday once I leave.
I am the smell of salt water and sweat in Sampela.
I am the Fresh coffee roasting over the flames in Langa.
I am myself in Langa; after not being able to shower for four days…
I am the calloused hands of fishermen and mothers alike, stroking my cheek and elbows as I pass.
I am one set of hands holding that of four children’s in Sampela.
I am my aching butt on the three day bike trip.
I am the ice cold water of the dreaded bucket shower.
I am music in Kadungmiri.
I am Firecrackers in Sampela.
I am the coffee machine in Langa.
And I am roosters everywhere.
I am Indonesia.
Dangerously beautiful and vibrant. Full of kind and inviting people eager to learn and have new experiences just like ourselves.
I am Indonesia.
I am watching mountain peaks revealed and covered by clouds.
I am sky-blue-pink.
I am the first plate of mie goreng for which I’d been waiting four years.
I am Saipa’s krupuk.
I am Edel’s tempe.
I am the sweet but sour smell of freshly crushed coffee berries, after the machine has separated the beans
I am tiny hands of children I hardly know in mine (or of two children fighting over the same hand).
I am the ever present call to prayer—loud, annoying, and beautiful
I am Ibu’s sing-song “Hallo Emma”
I am speaking to someone in their own language so that it is heard in their heart, not just their head.
I am Indonesia.
I am Indonesia.
I am the waves crashing and curving into an aqua tube encased with sea foam, that then tumbles into water droplets, chasing each other to the sea shore.
I am the sweet crunch as teeth sink into a fresh Roti, melting into a fluffy mold of warm buttery sweetness with a hint of coffee.
I am the salty, sultry, warm air filling your lungs with moistened air, refreshing your soul through each inhale.
I am the smell of the jumbling city of Jogya, the faint smell of dirt, street food, gasoline, and humans, riding through the streets in swarms of motor bikes.
I am the savory smell of onions being fried in oil, five seconds after they hit the pan, caramelizing into a salty, savory, amber goodness.
I am the sound of a village awakening at the early dawn hours.
I am a rooster crowing, waking the other roosters who soon join in the sonorous cocka-doodle-doing.
I am the first of the family to wake, shuffling bare feet on bamboo boards.
I am the hollow knock-knock as a hammer hits wood.
I am the warm equatorial air, kissing my feet and face with wisps of nourishing ocean air.
I am the fisherman’s hand; dark, worn, and calloused through years of handling fish and untangling nets.
I am a warm cup of coffee, the brown sweetness filling my nose, greeting me with the dark, mouth-watering smell, that then gives my insides a warm hug as I take my first sip.
I am the constant orchestra of noise, rushing, roaring, or crowing in the background.
I am beauty for the eyes to gorge themselves on in wonder.
I am organized chaos.
I am a warm smile calling our: “Halo Misses!”
I am living in the present, flowing from moment to moment.
I am existing.
I am colorful.
I am vibrant.
I am Indonesia.
I am Indonesia
I am clean cold floors under bare feet, the wind running over you, and rough stony hands holding mine.
I am burnt tofu, gingery sweet teas, the oily taste of krupuk, milky coconut.
I am the sound of howling high pitched roosters, “Hallo! Siapa Nama?!”, soaring wind in Sampela, I am Lenni’s gorgeous, irresistible laugh.
I am the 5 coloured sunsets, the sky full of stars shooting and shooting, the big stoned rings worn on every street, rows and rows of motorbikes, buckets in the bathroom, I am glazed deep eyes.
I am batik pants.
I am the salty taste and rubbery feel of a sea urchin being fed to me by the worn hands of my father after he just picked it up out of the sea.
I am a majestic bus with pegasus imprinted on it: the vomit comet.
I am the sound of 14 voices yelling in a karaoke room, and Dunkin Donuts afterward please. And then neon bike cars.
I am shadow puppets in a smoky theater.
I am the image of a boy with john lenon sunglasses, a space hat, a white scarf, a stuffed animal sticking out of his backpack: Carl, Captain Makasar. Captain of all Captains. My Captain. He won the Jackpot and got hundreds of mints with it.
I am Sarah dropping hundreds of jokes in a car, keeping us all bright while riding for hours in a stuffy car in the middle of the night.
I am “welp” and “transparency”.
I am the smell of orangy cigarettes
I am the beautiful 15 minutes, beautiful lives.
I am red, beetle-nut-stained mouths. A mouth like the devil held in a weathered, deep, beautiful face.
I am a ripped mosquito net on the first day.
I am the sound of many mouths breaking the fast at night, a community of devoted people.
I am Rita wrapped up in her huge cloak like a little peanut.
I am Jesse time.
I am the positives and Negatives.
I am farmers working hard out in the fields to harvest the grain.
I am Sadie’s ponytail bouncing and bobbing when she talks.
I am Kenzie the ungraceful mermaid.
I am wooden boardwalks.
I am the song “one love “reverberating from our hearts and out our mouths, and all of us shamelessly dancing to it in the night as a crowd of people stared. Or us dancing to it and yelling the words at some random couples wedding
I am the Makasar music channel playing in everyone’s rooms.
I am Emma frantically running through the airport to try and get everyone on the plane in our 5 minute layovers.
I am Della the leader. In all her humble, beautiful glory.
I am pruney hands and toes after hours in the hot springs.
I am the wonderful smell of Cara and Jamie after their constant, big hugs.
I am Ben and his adrenaline addiction, and Jamie explaining to him why it is not safe to cliff jump into a small pool.
I am Jake trying to bargain in the airport, I am Jake and his constant unfortunate experiences in massage parlors.
I am the sound of 14 beating hearts all sitting together in the night and day.
14 beating hearts all of whom I love.
I am flowers and flowers, breezy nights, and more flowers.
I am Indonesia.
I am Indonesia
I am the sun setting in Kedungmiri, the colors melting together
I am the warm buttery sweetness of a Roti
I am the sharp smell of coffee being laid out
I am cushy grass under my feet on my way to the pool at night
I am ocean waves crashing during the night
I am warm breezes and beautiful sunsets; clouds twisting over mountain tops.
I am Indonesia
I am Indonesia
I am watching shooting stars from Sampela
I am the taste of Saipa’s noodles
I am the smell of coffee each morning
I am touching my mosquito net in the middle of the night
I am the sound of roosters and prayers
I am happiness
I am no envy
I am Indonesia
I am Indonesia.
I am the blitzing, hallucinogenic, vertigo-inducing sight of Sampela’s stars, or a volcano turned magnet of clouds.
I am the simply pleasuring taste of hot, sugary tea made with love from my homestay mother.
I am the melt-in-your-mouth krupuck of ramen noodles turned into a five-star quality meal by one of the most beautiful women alive, Saipa.
I am the smell of a freshly fried chicken thigh covered with crusty baby coconut shavings.
I am the everlasting smell of a squat toilet, a smell which does not deserve to be described.
I am the feel of rough, worn skin and sticky rice plants.
I am the sound of a stubborn rooster.
I am the sound of “Hello Siapa Nama” or “Thank you for flying Wings Air.”
I am the sound of Monster by Kanye West.
I am Makassar.
I am the kind of busy that can’t be contained.
I am the mecca of rubber time.
I am and always will be Indonesia.
I am Indonesia
I am the sunset in the valley of Kedungmiri. The trip has just begun and this blissful sight encourages my heart and mind to open, full of curiosity and excitement for how this journey with transform me.
I am the freshly cooked fish after a long day biking. The authenticity, knowing the fish has just been caught, transforms my mouth into a delightful smile. Fresh, organic fish emphasizes the rich new experience.
I am the shrieking pig squealing after it is sacrificed. Terror echoes through the village of Langa after a living spirit is taken as a gift for their ancestors.
I am the small hands of the countless kids in Sampela, as they share their warmth in their smiles, homes, and hearts.
I am a freshly cooked meal from my homestay family. The sembal piercing my senses as I challenge myself to embrace this new culture.
I am subsistence living, love of thy neighbor, and trust that community will solve the problems of loneliness.
I am Indonesia
I am Indonesia.
I am the relaxed chaos of a morning in Sampela.
I am the breeze blowing through the rice fields and palm trees urging you to close your eyes and listen.
I am the energized laughs from a night of karaoke and the peacefulness a secluded beach surrounds you with.
I am the subtly sweet taste and burst of refreshment the young coconut holds within.
I am the shining brown eyes of my host-father, giving you a peak into the story I’m apart of.
I am the enticement of various spices as they’re melded together into a warm and inviting blend.
I am the Bajau children—hair full of salt and sand, baggy t-shirts, and faces lit up by joy and fireworks.
I am Indonesia.
I am the kaleidoscopic shapes and colors of coral gardens alive with swaying anemones, brazen clownfish, giant clams and shimmering reef fish.
I am the pungent, smoky taste of sambal chili paste seared on my tongue like a memory in my conscious.
I am the sing-song cadence of the call to prayer puncturing the still, pre-dawn darkness of Kedungmiri village during Ramadan.
I am the feel of powdery, midnight black sand rubbing between my toes, washed clean by the cool caress of the surf with each step.
I am the delicious earthy aroma of freshly brewed Kopi Manis steaming in the cool mountain air of my Langa homestay families kitchen.
I am Indonesia: a melting pot of diverse peoples, cultures, landscapes and life straddling the equator at the crossroads of two mighty continents.
As we prepare for the journey home, leaving this place that we all have come to love deeply, Micah, Sidonie, and Christy challenged students to start thinking about how they plan to share this experience with folks back at home. Students each gave one word, one sentence, and one paragraph answers that start to answer the ubiquitous question we’re sure they will face frequently in the coming days and weeks: “How was Madagascar?” Here’s a sneak preview (plus a photograph of Ambatomanga, one of the communities that we came to love!)
How was Madagascar? In one word:
In one sentence:
Madagascar was really…something else.
The indescribable inspiring qualities of Madagascar have been eye-opening.
Madagascar altered the way that I view all aspects of myself and my life.
Madagascar was an incredible adventure that led me to a new home.
It was the best thing that I’ve ever done in my life.
It was probably the craziest, eye-opening, amazing six weeks of my life.
I cannot describe how amazing it was; it changed my life./There are lemurs there.
In a paragraph:
Madagascar was an indescribable experience; however, if I had to describe it I would say it was beautiful. Beautiful not only because of the scenery or landscape, but also because of what it had to offer. The Red Island blessed me with love, family, opportunity, inspiration, and a new home. I don’t believe I can ever repay this country for what it has given me, but I’ll start by returning as soon as I possibly can.
Madagascar was an eye opening experience that introduced me to all the amazing and real things that happen every day in a country 10,000 miles away from my own. It taught me how to look at really hard things and find a way to break them down and try to understand them. I will always remember the amazing experience I had here.
Madagascar was a better experience than I ever could have imagined. It changed my view of the world, and changed the view of my future. It was full of wonderful wildlife and wonderful people that have inspired me to want to return.
It was so cool. I mean, I wasn’t so sure about it at first but it definitely brought me out of my comfort zone. It’s such a beautiful place with incredible people who made me realize how possible it was to find joy with so little. It’s a second home to me.
Madagascar was an insane experience that I will look back on in ten years with a huge smile spread across my face. I have been fortunate enough to travel to this wonderful country where the memories that were made here will consume most of my thoughts back home.
Madagascar was truly life changing. I spent six weeks learning and speaking a new language, tasting new foods, finding a new home and growing to love three new families. You wouldn’t think that being in such a foreign place would help you understand yourself more, but I’m going home with a new found confidence and understanding of who I am along with a new home.
It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Actually, because my poop scale was always a 5, it was only the best of times. It made me a more mature and more patient person, which isn’t saying much because I’ve never been either and 0 x 0 is, well… you get it. Nonetheless, it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I am a different, if not better person because of it.
This trip can best be described as transformative. The travel itself is not what leads to the transformative experience however. I have traveled frequently throughout my life, but going to China to watch the Olympics, or going to Thailand to party in its touristy clubs does not lead to a transformation. Experience defines one’s education and character; and, therefore, in order to master one’s education it needs to be full of experience.
America is a nation that has an evident exposure problem. Other countries constantly criticize our citizens for their lack of travel experience and their lack of geographic knowledge. Exposure to experiences that are outside of our comfort zones opposes our culture, which has come to value are close minded approach of idolizing the American dream and refusing to contemplate that America is subsiding as a role model to other nations. Racism is still present in our culture and the media consistently does not expose us to truth. As a nation – we need truth; as individuals – we need exposure.
At first I didn’t understand why this program didn’t include a visit to the coveted travel hub, Bali. In between traveling from the Bajau community in Sampela to the Bajawa community in Flores, we had a short layover in the Bali airport. The airport was engulfed with touristy shops trying to appeal to a western audience. These tourist appeals are almost identical in other places, such as Cancun, or Punta Cana. Seeing similar attractions in places so different from eachother does give us authentic exposure, rather it simplifies travel in a way that diminishes a location’s uniqueness and distinct personality. However, once in Flores we are now exposing ourselves to a unique culture. On the first day, I witnessed a pig sacrifice, that made me re-think my views of eating meat. I have witnessed the way a village solely lives off the land and doesn’t rely on materialistic imports as a supplement for happiness. I have exposed myself to the beauty behind communal living and love of thy neighbor; and, magnificently, in my exposure I have been astounded by the similarities in our character’s and have been able to connect. An Indonesia village is no longer a mystified thought or a simplistic stereotype, for now I have been exposed, and that is the backbone of my education and character.
America has long glorified an utter lie that we are global leaders in education. How can we possibly even contemplate superiority in our education system when are citizens are deprived of exposure? Some of us search for exposure, but our cultural methods of exposure fail to truly educate us. Turning on the television and watching the news simply manipulates our beliefs in effort to shift our values. We read the newspaper and though we absorb the knowledge, we lack the education that experience leads to. We must take a day trip to the pre-conceived “bad” neighborhoods, or visit a farm where our food supply is produced. Some may laugh at these adventures, but in authentic exposure, we find truth, and that is where the most essential education lies.