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    [post_date] => 2014-03-25 08:47:28
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    [post_content] => The civil war in Nepal may have ended but conflict has not. Last Thursday Ram Bhandari spoke to our group on the topic of people in conflict. During the civil war there was a total of approximately 1,600 disappearances, including disappearances on both sides of the conflict. Since then, there has not been a mechanism created to address the victims. Many families still do not know what happened to their loved ones; if they are alive or if they are still imprisoned after all of these years without reason. The Nepali government has suppressed the voice of the victims in hopes that the situation will eventually wear to silence.

Their voice is often lost among the commotion of writing a new constitution. Ramdai is working to have the people of conflicts' agenda met, but it is no easy task as he is working to create a voice for 1,600 and their families along side Nepal's 22 dalit, 69 madhesi, 60 indigenous, and 104 caste groups. Aside from the potential of their agenda being lost against the mass, they have the added challenge that the government is reluctant to acknowledge their agenda.

The people of conflict are looking for a right to truth. They want to know what happened to their family members and they are advocating for the government and individuals to take accountability of what has happened. The lack of knowledge and accountability has left many with feelings of revenge which is a dangerous feeling to have brewing when reestablishing a government.

Because they are a relatively small group in this time where every "group" in Nepal is working to have their voice heard, does this mean they can be marginalized? What about their hurt and their quality of life?

    [post_title] => People in Conflict
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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2014, Focus of Inquiry, Survey of Development Issues

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People in Conflict

Mamta (Madeline Martin),Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2014, Focus of Inquiry, Survey of Development Issues

Description

The civil war in Nepal may have ended but conflict has not. Last Thursday Ram Bhandari spoke to our group on the topic of people in conflict. During the civil war there was a total of approximately 1,600 disappearances, including disappearances on both sides of the conflict. Since then, there has not been a mechanism […]

Posted On

03/25/14

Author

Mamta (Madeline Martin)

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    [post_date] => 2014-03-24 08:00:11
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    [post_content] => ¨Growing up¨ means a lot of things, and it can mean different things to different people. It can mean having more freedom, or having more responsibility. Maybe it means getting to vote. Moving out of your parents´ house. Acquiring new interests and friends. Financial independence. Every person experiences the transition from child to adult differently, with various challenges and rewards. It´s not a definite, one time event but rather an ongoing progress that may last a lifetime. For me, one of the biggest challenges of ¨growing up¨is learning to see gray.

As a young kid, life was pretty separated into black and white. There were rules and authority figures, and as long as you followed them you were in the clear. ¨No fighting.¨¨Wait in line, don´t cut.¨ ¨Share.¨ These simple classroom rules divided childhood life pretty clearly into good and bad. Eating your vegetables was good, throwing rocks on the playground was bad, and whatever the teacher said was law and came from a higher, wiser power. This sort of power structure translates to the bigger picture too, where class rules are changed into laws and socially accepted moral values, and teachers are replaced by governments, police and society. I was raised to respect the rules and people in authority, and I´ve always been a pretty rule abiding kid. No big bursts of rebellion or troublemaking for me.

But then you reach an age where you begin to question things. In many ways, this questioning is actively encouraged. We had debates in class over laws regarding marijuana and same-sex marriage, or about USA foreign policy. Suddenly things which used to be beyond doubt as a child, laike laws and social beliefs, become questionable. What do I believe? What are my opinions on laws and policies? Where do morals come from? Who has the right to impose their own morals, beliefs or ways of life on others?

These questions are hard to answer, and not necessarily fun. Life in the land of gray is stressful. There are less consistent answers, and no set rules that are easy to follow. My gap year has been full of these graay questions and thoughts, and I´m still struggling to define what I believe and what is important to me. This Dragons trip to Peru and Bolivia has been a continuation of the process. If anything, this trip has amped up the intensity of my reflections. Our instructors encourage us to really dive into our experiences here, to push ourselves to stretch our minds and challenge our preconceived notions. By taking ourselves so far away from our day-to-day situation back home and learning about a new culture and way of life, we help sharpen our lenses to then turn around and look at our own lives with a different viewpoint. One of the ways in which we do this is by having ¨charlas¨(discussions) with various speakers.

When we were in La Paz, having just arrived back from Peru, we had a charla with Tanya Kerssen, a self proclaimed activist in the issue of food sovereignty. The discussion was supposed to be about quinoa, the traditional crop of the Andes that has boomed into global popularity, with mixed results for its countries of origin (Bolivia being the biggest). But instead the conversation took on a different focus, which was the more general topic of food sovereignty. Tanya was a passionate and compelling speaker, who really knew her stuff. She spoke about how ¨peasants¨ are feeding the majority of the world, not large scale producers. I struggle with the use of the word peasant, and for me it continues to hold derogatory, feudal implication, but Tanya said that it is a word being reclaimed by the food sovereignty movement. I´m not capable of giving a good explanation of food sovereignty, as it has a long history and complicated background, but I highly recommend anyone interested to look into the topic. It has to do with small scale, local farmers, herders, hunters, fishers and gatherers being able to make a living providing food for their own countries. Sounds reasonable, right?

Where food sovereignty gets complicated is when you start looking at what is preventing it from happening. In our discussion, we talked at length about neoliberal, globalized policies and how they have destroyed food sovereignty. Things like NAFTA, WTO, foreign aid, U.N. policies and many more are criticized as damaging the livelihoods of peasants. Free trade and open policies allow outsider, international companies to enter Bolivia when Bolivians aren´t yet able to compete. USA foreign aid brings heavily subsidized wheat into Bolivia, with prices local quinoa farmers can´t beat and therefor changing the traditional, non-wheat heavy diet into being more imported wheat reliant.

The talk was energetic, educational and interesting. But as Tanya said farewell, I was left feeling despondent and desolate. I was overwhelmed by the grayness of life. In a short charla, Tanya had brought up so many issues that had seem simple and revealed how incredibly intricate and complicated they are. I was left unsure of what to think, let alone what to do. It was clear that issues of global food sources are incredibly important and need to be focused on, but where do you even start when something is so layered? Things that I had considered basically simple and good, like bringing in cheaper food to impoverished countries, are actually questionable actions that have large ripples of effects I´ve never thought about. Even the whole concept of ¨impoverished¨ is being questioned on this trip, as ¨poverty¨is often judged against Western standards and we talk at length about seeing cultures on their own terms. Education, aid, NGOs, etc. were all things that used to seem pretty obviously ¨good¨. But now, after talking about how much damage can be done despite good intentions, I´m not so sure.

That´s not to say I´ve done a 180 degree turn. Despite all the criticisms I´ve heard of formal education and outside help, I still think that there is good that can be done. However, now more than ever I´m seeing how these shades of gray are everywhere in life. Nothing is simply ¨good¨or ¨bad.¨ Everything that I´ve seen and heard and learned so far on this journey is swirling around in my head, and it will be months after this trip is finished that I´m still processing it. Even though I don´t know exactly what to make of it at the moment, just the act of questioning, challenging and pushing oneself to look at things with fresh eyes has been an incredibly growth-inducing experience.
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Andes and Amazon Semester, Spring 2014, Focus of Inquiry

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The Gray of Growing Up

Danielle Strasburger,Andes and Amazon Semester, Spring 2014, Focus of Inquiry

Description

¨Growing up¨ means a lot of things, and it can mean different things to different people. It can mean having more freedom, or having more responsibility. Maybe it means getting to vote. Moving out of your parents´ house. Acquiring new interests and friends. Financial independence. Every person experiences the transition from child to adult differently, […]

Posted On

03/24/14

Author

Danielle Strasburger

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    [post_date] => 2014-03-20 07:18:45
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-03-20 13:18:45
    [post_content] => Heading toward Bolivia land stretches out around us. Unfinished roofless houses line the roads and women sit on heaps of dirt piled by the side of the road, colorful trash scattered about them as if fragments of their traditional dress clashing with modern times and new challenges. Machupicchu didn´t feel like a ruin in its grandeur and polished nature and yet the communities in Queros didn´t seem like decendents of royalty either, at least not in the way they lived. But perhaps that´s because of a hard life more than anything else, because of the need to sustain themselves. But in the simplicity of how they lived in the way of the Inca day to day, there was an ingeniousness found in it. Of a bent pipe to blow through to strengthen the fire or the flat stones that sat within every house to rock another against to grind chuño. There is such beautility in it, in how we connect with the world.

We sit on colorful blankets in the shade with late golden light stretching out around us and a breeze that raises goosebumps. Valentina talks of land needs, cultural needs really, to sustain the land. Her children play somewhere in the Chakra among the trees, happy and free, wise connected to their roots. She talks of the land with the same verb one uses to raise children, because it is understood that land needs to be nurtured and that those who care for it are in turn cared for. As she speaks of the divides education creates here, I cannot help but think of Queros and of Quinoa. The obligations education creates to find a ¨better¨more modern way of life. What is important changes and to protect the old ways of life, the traditions you need to be able to understand how the world of the city and lawyers and laws work. But to do this first you must leave to learn it. And as fewer people return to Queros to defend and live that way it is slowly degraded. Just like the Quinoa fields that are planted by city dwellers who still hold onto their land for its security, but leave it to grow on its own, uncared for. These places are being degraded as people are no longer a part of the land, no longer connected in the same ways. Because we have found that we can buy food instead of growing it ourselves. But we forget that 70 percent of the worlds food is grown by peasants, people of the countryside. In this way as quinoa comes into the spotlight its profitability further divides people, and makes it easier for the government to justify supplying farmers with tractors. However in the vertical environment of the mountains here, we must be careful of this modernization. For as Valentina says, ït is not that tecnology is bad, the Incas had amazing tecnology, but its about how we use it. Everything is connected, every action is part of something greater. ¨

As we enter El Alto, Bolivia, colorful words are sprayed across the walls saying ¨mi ciudad esta cambiando¨ (my city is changing). Mateo says it´s for the better. I hope somewhere in the middle between past and present, Machu Picchu and Queros, the mountains of plastic bottles in Aguas calientes and the sign in front about reducing, reusing and recycling there is a middle ground. Like what I saw in the magic of the balck and white photos in the museums of the first encounter with Machupicchu, overgrown, preserved but worn.
    [post_title] => Reflecting on Peru
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Andes and Amazon Semester, Spring 2014, Survey of Development Issues, Focus of Inquiry

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Reflecting on Peru

Emma Rollins,Andes and Amazon Semester, Spring 2014, Survey of Development Issues, Focus of Inquiry

Description

Heading toward Bolivia land stretches out around us. Unfinished roofless houses line the roads and women sit on heaps of dirt piled by the side of the road, colorful trash scattered about them as if fragments of their traditional dress clashing with modern times and new challenges. Machupicchu didn´t feel like a ruin in its […]

Posted On

03/20/14

Author

Emma Rollins

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    [post_date] => 2014-03-10 14:50:28
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    [post_content] => How can one yak even begin to sum up my impressions of Peru, or any of my experiences for that matter? But as I think back on the past month, four images wrought with irony and contrast stand out to me.

The first is of a taxi driver who drove a group of us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and his pouring a sip of his Fanta on the ground as an offering to the Pachamama before drinking from the bottle. The second is of my homestay mama in the town of Japu in Nacion Q'eros, who pulled a cellphone out of her pocket the night we were there. When I asked her if there was reception, she shyly shook her head no. The third is of a young university music teacher, who presented to Emma and I an entire table of Incan and Pre-Incan instruments at the Inka Museum in Cusco; among them included panpipes made from condor feathers, flutes made from llama bones, and ceremonial whistles in the shape of a hummingbird. He was initially wearing a 'The North Face' sports jacket, but halfway through donned an indigenous poncho and wool hat 'in case we wanted to take photos.' The final one is of reading in the Machu Picchu museum that the terraces at the ancient Incan city were now covered with a type of African weed, because it appeals more to the 'Western aesthetic.'

These four images remind me of the complicated dynamic between traditional culture and development. It is interesting to see a taxi driver remain loyal to his ancestors' beliefs, but it is ironic that he did so with a soda produced by a Western company. It was bittersweet to see my homestay mama with a cellphone, because I didn't know how often she had use for it, or how much modern technology had touched the people of Q'eros, who still seemed very attached to their land and traditional lifestyles. It was funny to see the young music teacher drape his poncho over his Western-branded jacket, as if doing so would give us a more authentic experience. It was sad to see a site as mystic as Machu Picchu so touched by tourism, and confusing to realize that tourism is probably also what sustains the preservation and continued excavation of the city.

What these impressions have taught me though, is that development is not black or white, nor good or bad. The struggle between preservation and development is rea , albeit unconscious, as I've seen with my very own eyes. I can still remember Fabian, our local guide in Q'eros, who had been the president of the five local communities, sitting in the grass telling us about his wish to preserve the culture and practices of the indigenous people, but acknowledging that he had moved his family to Cusco so that his children could get a better education.

The most important lesson I've learned in the past month is to feel as equally with my heart as with my mind, so although much of what I've seen still confuses me, I know that at least these impressions will stay with me long into the future.
    [post_title] => A Month of Contrasts
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Andes and Amazon Semester, Spring 2014, Survey of Development Issues, Focus of Inquiry

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A Month of Contrasts

Cindy Liu,Andes and Amazon Semester, Spring 2014, Survey of Development Issues, Focus of Inquiry

Description

How can one yak even begin to sum up my impressions of Peru, or any of my experiences for that matter? But as I think back on the past month, four images wrought with irony and contrast stand out to me. The first is of a taxi driver who drove a group of us from […]

Posted On

03/10/14

Author

Cindy Liu

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    [post_date] => 2013-12-03 13:32:41
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    [post_content] => Too often in our world we can become entrenched in what seem like unapproachable problems.  We all hear about them all the time; climate change, war, economic downturns.  These issues affect us all and at the same time they feel so large and distant that its hard to know how to begin to unwind them.  How do we start to reclaim our lives and our world when problems are presented to us as unsolvable?  Over the course of the last three months we’ve been trying to transform these overwhelming feelings into positive action through the study and practice of permaculture.

Permaculture is a social movement with two main components, a set of ethics and a set of design principles which together form a basis for transforming our surroundings.  The three ethics which form the foundation of permaculture are the following: care for the earth, care for people and equitable distribution of surplus yields.  These ideas may sound straightforward but putting them into practice in our daily lives can definitely be a challenge.  The design principles of permaculture give us a set of guidelines which help us to effectively evaluate our daily actions and bring them more in line with the ethics.  Our course has been structured around teaching one of these principles each week and then looking for how it plays out in the course of our work.  For example, one of the permaculture principles is “integrate rather than segregate,” we presented this idea upon entering our first homestay where students could see the importance of integrating with a new culture and a new family.  Another principle instructs us to “apply self-regulation and accept feedback.”  We presented this principle at midcourse when the group was in a phase of collective and individual feedback processes.  These principles have been a compass for us on over the past three months. However the true test of these theories lies in the practice.

Guatemala has been a strong place of both learning and practice for us in this regard.  Our second week here was spent partnering with the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in the community of San Lucas Toliman.  We were able to see how all the permaculture principles were present in the construction of a composting latrine in the kaqchiquel community of Quixaya.   The facilitators at IMAP guided us through the process of constructing a latrine which will convert human waste into organic fertilizer, a valuable product.  Students took careful notes and studied the process because they knew that the following week we would be building one on our own in the community of San Juan Cotzal.  We finished the latrine in five days and left San Lucas with a greater sense of permaculture in practice and accomplishment.

The following week we traveled to the Ixil community of San Juan Cotzal deep in the Cuchumatanes mountains.  Cotzal is a community that was heavily affected by Guatemala’s 36 year civil war.  An international consensus has ruled that the crimes committed against the Ixil people amount to genocide.  In the area surrounding Cotzal over 260 indigenous communities were targeted and wiped off the map during the 80’s.  Dragons has a long standing relationship with a cooperative of widows who survived the war.  These women have dedicated themselves to healing through their traditional art, backstrap loom weaving.  Recently the cooperative has purchased a piece of land and constructed a community center.  Their vision for this center is that visitors can come and learn about the traditions of the Ixil people.  They also envision that their center will serve as a school for young girls from their community to learn to weave.  These women are a beacon of resilience.  They have stood up in the face of problems that are unimaginable to most of us and together they are working for a better future.  In conversations with them we found out that one thing the center needed in order to function was a latrine.  As a group we went to Cotzal with our new knowledge and the desire to collaborate.

The opportunity to do a permaculture installation in Cotzal was special because it gave us the chance to see, experience and implement all of the principles.  One of the permaculture principles we studied this semester instructs us to “design from patterns to details.”  We began our project in Cotzal by taking the pattern of the latrine learned how to construct in Quixaya and adapting it to the setting in Cotzal.  While we had the general idea, the community had the building skill and the knowledge to make the vision a reality.  Everyday we went to the center and worked with community members to co-create the vision.  Over the course of the week the project expanded to include the installation of a small orchard and path around the latrine.  We planted avocados, peaches, plums, lemons and flowers in the area in front of the latrine.  This creates a closed loop system where the fertilizer produced by the community that comes out of the latrine can be used on site to produce food and flowers.

We completed the latrine in seven days.  The sense of accomplishment and collaboration was even stronger than the first time around.  Not only had we created strong bonds with the community and built something lasting with them, but we had also  learned a lot about service.  We learned that in order to serve we need to learn first, and that the product of our service, in this case the latrine, is most importantly a symbol of the relationships we formed in Cotzal.

The problems of the world will most likely endure.  What we can change is our attitude and response towards them.  Rather than feeling overwhelmed and being drawn into apathy and inaction we can put our energy into creating the world we want to live in, one step at a time.
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One Step at a Time

Luis,Central America Fall 2013 Semester, Service Learning, Focus of Inquiry

Description

Too often in our world we can become entrenched in what seem like unapproachable problems.  We all hear about them all the time; climate change, war, economic downturns.  These issues affect us all and at the same time they feel so large and distant that its hard to know how to begin to unwind them.  […]

Posted On

12/3/13

Author

Luis

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    [post_content] => Sampela, Sulawesi, Indonesia

I’ve been thinking a lot about knowledge, and what I know, and what information is actually relevant in life. A few weeks ago, we were sitting by the water in Sawai and Peter began explaining a theory about knowledge.

He held up a black wooden pawn and said, “See this chess piece? This represents everything that you know.” It looked so small in his hand. Next, he reached for an empty plate from lunch. “Now, this dish is everything that you know is still unknown, or are aware of being unknown- like, how the universe got here- questions that have been asked, but that no one really has the answers to.”

He put the plate down and said, “Now imagine the entire planet, planet Earth, but bigger- bigger than anything, ever- that’s how much information exists, how much knowledge is out there- but you don’t know any of it- you don’t even know you don’t know it.”

Jump to yesterday. I picked up a book in Hoga that someone left behind, a cheesy romance about a woman torn between three dashing young men during the Spanish Civil War. Most of it is nonsense, but one line stood out to me, as I was reading on my front porch:

“…the most exquisite kiss imaginable; not that she could have imagined it, it was like trying to imagine heaven, you could only use the things you knew, like harps and clouds and choirs, as ciphers for the things you couldn’t know, until you got there.”

This is how I think I viewed Indonesia, sort of- not as the most exquisite kiss imaginable, but having used only what I knew from previous experiences and previous knowledge to understand my surroundings. In reality, all of the knowledge I brought with me was, like the harps and clouds, just a cipher, a placeholder, for the things I couldn’t understand before arriving. All of my knowledge was and is in that tiny metaphorical chess piece of knowns.

If you asked me what I did today, here in Sampela, the Bajau community, I would say, “Oh, we ‘jalan-jalan’-ed (walked around) for a bit, sat on the porch, and I put some local sunscreen on my face, turning it gold-orange”. If you had told this to me before arriving, I would be both surprised and ready to resign myself to boredom. What do people do all day- do they just sit around? I want to learn! I want to go somewhere! I want to do something! This idea, of doing nothing, would be interpreted, in my mind, with how I would feel at home- restless and looking for something to entertain myself. But that’s a sort of cipher, I guess- using one idea to determine another. It’s one of those parts of life that I couldn’t understand with previous experience. To understand, it must be experienced in real time.

Being here, as a part of the community, I see how life flows differently than at home. If we sit on the porch, we don’t have to be doing anything- not reading, or eating, or even talking. We sit. In the States, ‘doing nothing’ is seen as counterproductive, lazy,  indulgent, whereas here, over the ocean, it makes so much sense to just sit and be- maybe greeting the people who stroll by, or rocking the baby in the bungee-cord net, but mostly sitting. I think that being silent, with just your own thoughts, can make people (including myself) terribly uncomfortable. I haven’t quite got the hang of it, yet- or maybe I haven’t yet fully understood it- but I know that it’s very different from home, and that, in relation to Peter’s theory, it’s part of the metaphorical dish- a known unknown.

Jump to when I was maybe six years old, watching Disney’s Pocahontas for the first time. I was enchanted by the bright colors and smooth movements of the animated people, the lilting voice of the Native American princess as she ran over the hills, singing about the colors of the wind, advising:

“…but if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew…”

The things you never knew you never knew. What do you not know that you don’t know you don’t know? So far, I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing here in Indonesia- learning things I didn’t even know I was ignorant of. For example, we talked for an hour about GMOs one day, before which I didn’t even know what GMOs were. We talked for an hour about what it really means to be masculine or feminine. We talked for an hour about strange facial hair. I went spearfishing in the sea, I chopped down a sago tree (traditional source of food) in the jungle, I’ve had full conversations in Bahasa Indonesia - all examples of unknowns that are now knowns, for me.

Jump to my last day in Louisville. In-between packing and eating, I was reminded by a friend that I still had to make my senior page for the yearbook, as I would be in Indonesia when the deadline ended. I hurriedly looked for a quote to display next to my photo, and quickly chose one which had been given to me last summer. As an afterthought, I wrote it in my journal to carry with me on this trip. It’s by Rilke:

“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I always think of this quote, and how it’s saying that the answers aren’t really important- or even guaranteed. The thing that matters, that’s relevant, is that you have questions to begin with. So far on my trip, I think I’ve gained more questions than I have answers; the further off the map we go, the more alien life seems, the more known unknowns begin to form in my mind.  I guess it’s about being comfortable with that greater unknown unknown that is represented by planet Earth, that somehow, Indonesia as a whole represents, too.
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Known Unknowns

Tess Thompson,Best Notes From The Field, Indonesia Fall 2013 Semester, Homestay, Focus of Inquiry

Description

Sampela, Sulawesi, Indonesia I’ve been thinking a lot about knowledge, and what I know, and what information is actually relevant in life. A few weeks ago, we were sitting by the water in Sawai and Peter began explaining a theory about knowledge. He held up a black wooden pawn and said, “See this chess piece? […]

Posted On

11/11/13

Author

Tess Thompson

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    [post_content] => 1:00 PM November 1, 2013

“Run, run! Jess, you need to run! Let out the string! No, no, no more string! Aghh...” I sighed as I watched our kite plummet to the earth yet again. We continued to try and fly our barrilete, switching roles between runner and starter each time, with little to no success. What had once seemed a very simple child's game had turned into a hopeless battle against ourselves and the wind. It felt so strange, however, because as I looked up at the sky, I could see it speckled with kites of all shapes and sizes that were soaring in the wind. Jess and I looked at each other, perplexed as to why our kite, which was the same as half the other ones up there, continually failed to take flight. Clearly, we were doing something wrong.

July 18, 1982

After years of battle, the devastation of the Guatemalan war was at its worst during the presidency of Ríos Montt. Through strengthening the presence of the military and continuing civilian massacres, the freedoms and basic rights of all Guatemalans were close to nonexistent. What had once been a Guatemala speckled with peaceful Mayan communities had turned into a nation struggling to survive. It didn't seem right that indigenous groups were faced with the reality, “If you are with [the military], we'll feed you; if you aren't, we'll kill you” (New York Times, 1982). Just as a kite may struggle to take flight, the Guatemalan people were struggling to regain their basic rights because of the war that was in the name of anti-insurgency, stabilization and anticommunism. Clearly, something needed to change for the well being of the Guatemalan people, and Ríos Montt wasn't making those changes.

1:30 November 1, 2013

While untangling our thread from the latest collision we had caused, Jess and I noticed we had picked up a little friend. Whether he pitied our kite flying skills or was just trying to help out I'm not quite sure, but Cristian had decided to lend a hand to our desperate cause. We did seem to be getting better with each try as our kite was flying with the smaller ones for at least thirty seconds before it came crashing to the ground. Now, however, we had Cristian who would scurry off to find it and help us start the whole process again. Suddenly, what seemed like just another attempt at flight was changing into a great success. “Dale mas hilo! Mas, mas, mas!” Cristain was yelling with excitement. As Jess and I fumbled to let out more and more thread, we gazed up and started to realize we were doing it, we were actually flying our kite! It got to the point where we couldn't follow the string all the way up, and then we started to not be able to identify which was our kite because it was so lost in the clouds. After our few minutes of glory, Cristian inevitably had to chase down the kite, but we did end up giving him the kite as a thank you. We recognized not only his love for flying kites, but also that we most likely would have lost confidence in our kite flying abilities had he not been at our sides.

1992

As the war continued, guerilla groups continued to fight back as people were fleeing the crossfire. One woman in particular, Rigoberta Menchu, had lost her brothers, mother, and father, and then fled to Mexico for some sort of safety. While there, however, her efforts to help those back at home continued in the form of a book of interviews that expressed her experiences in the war. While most people got involved by joining the guerilla movement, Menchu lent a hand to the cause by using her voice. Her book eventually gained so much popularity that Menchu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. She was then able to form a foundation that which continues to work for conflict resolution and human rights in Guatemala and internationally. Although this victory did not bring an end to the war in Guatemala, it did give Guatemalan's the confidence they needed to continue fighting for their rights.

Certainly, there are many differences between Jess and I's kite flying experiences and this small part of Guatemala's history; however, the simple pattern of one individual believing in their cause and making a change for the better is evident in both. Maybe Jess and I would have been able successfully fly the kite without Cristian, but his presence definitely made a positive difference. Maybe the 1996 Guatemalan Peace Accords would have happened without Rigoberta Menchu, but her work certainly made a positive impact on Guatemala's course of history. So, instead of the clique saying “One grain of sand can change the tide,” I challenge that it should say, “One grain of sand will change the tide.” Whether it be a tide as small as a kite or a tide as big as a nation's history, we all are impacting one another in some way, shape, or form.
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Best Notes From The Field, Central America Fall 2013 Semester, Focus of Inquiry

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Our Kite Runner

Kristy Allen,Best Notes From The Field, Central America Fall 2013 Semester, Focus of Inquiry

Description

1:00 PM November 1, 2013 “Run, run! Jess, you need to run! Let out the string! No, no, no more string! Aghh…” I sighed as I watched our kite plummet to the earth yet again. We continued to try and fly our barrilete, switching roles between runner and starter each time, with little to no […]

Posted On

11/7/13

Author

Kristy Allen

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    [post_content] => When I left the International Buddhist Academy about two weeks ago, my initial reaction was a sigh of relief. While I had greatly enjoyed my time there, the constraints, structures, and closed in climate of the monastery had begun to wear on me. I craved the regular freedoms and responsibilities that come along with my day to day life back in the Kath.

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, my friends and I have returned several times to visit and play basketball with the monks who we befriended during our short stay. What I find surprising about every visit, is that I find myself missing it more and more every time I go back. Just getting a brief glimpse back into the monastery is enough to remind me about the simpler lifestyle, free from stress, and all of the many distractions most of us face every day.

When I first came to Nepal, I really had no idea why anyone would ever willingly choose the monastic lifestyle. While I respected the men and women who devoted their lives to studying the Dharma, and while I understood the appeal of the intellectual and introspective climate the monastery provides, I always believed on some root level that it was really just a waste of time. I thought, 'whats the point in living if you are spending all of your years staring at the same stone, wood, or cement walls, never truly seeing the world?' Since then, however, my view has drastically changed, as I both realized the appeal of this seclusion, but also the realities of monastic life.

While many of the monks will spend most of their lives within the monastery, on some level I think they are getting more out of this life than most laypeople. They are able to entirely devote their time, free of distraction or worry, to understanding the nature of the mind, life, death, and all of the other incredibly vast questions Buddhism raises. I'm sure most of them will find a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that I can only hope to achieve by the end of my short life.

As my friend and I were talking by the side of the basketball court today, watching the monks play a truly friendly game of basketball- laughing and smiling all the while, I realized what kind of atmosphere the monastery is able to create through its seemingly strict and rigid system of rules. It is an environment largely free of the dishonesty, aggression, and competition that plagues and controls our day to day lives.

As I watched the monks playfully tossing the ball, I totally understood the appeal of monastic life. It is a life in which you are totally supported in your pursuit of freedom from suffering. It is a life in which you are free from the normal responsibilities attributed to a living being, a life in which you can totally devote yourself to internal discovery, and learning about the nature of the world around you. And while in some ways the monastic life is one which is constrained and regulated, in another sense, it is the most free way in which you could live.
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Himalaya Kathmandu Fall 2013 Semester, Introduction to Philosophy/Comparative Religion, Focus of Inquiry

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Kickin it in the Kath- The monastic life

Zach Lewis,Himalaya Kathmandu Fall 2013 Semester, Introduction to Philosophy/Comparative Religion, Focus of Inquiry

Description

When I left the International Buddhist Academy about two weeks ago, my initial reaction was a sigh of relief. While I had greatly enjoyed my time there, the constraints, structures, and closed in climate of the monastery had begun to wear on me. I craved the regular freedoms and responsibilities that come along with my […]

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    [post_date] => 2013-10-30 16:02:21
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    [post_content] => "It wasn´t me"
"It is not my fault"
"it was your idea"
"you started it"
"why are you blaming me?!"

Sound familiar!? If you know me at home in the US, probably. I have grown up with a certain attitude: everything that I do, say, and know is right (or atleast I think that it is). I have never really wanted to take responsibility for anything, whether it be doing chores or having a fight with my sisters and or parents. At the same time, I have big plans! I have basically thought that I was an adult since my 13th birthday. Now, 2 weeks after my 18th birthday, my view of myself and the world has been flipped upside down.

From the moment that we arrived in Nicaragua (El Lagartillo in particular) I have been put on the other "side" of being right. My country, the United States, has been very wrong throughout history. Our country is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nicaraguans. Now I am not saying that our friends in El Lagartillo wished for us jovenes to take responsibility for a war and a president that happend 10 years before we were born. THey never blamed us. We cannot control where we were born, how we were raised, or what we were taught in school. No. What we can take responsibility for is the future and our current mindsets. I will never forget when we were saying goodbye to Alceides and his parting words were something along the lines of: "I have faith in the world again because you guys are our future, and you want to make a change". I do want to make a change, a big one.

When we were in El Salvador, we learned about 2 main themes. First, the civil war that resulted in 30,000 civilian deaths and second the food and land problems in El Salvador. We heard testimonials from two women who saw thier brothers die. Who fought against an army that was backed by the US and who watched that same army commit genocide against thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Did they expect us to take responsibility for the actions of our country? No. They expect us to take responsibility right now, with what we have learned here. Are we able to end the land exploitation problems in El Salvador? Can we go up against giant mining companies who are taking away land from a country that is already struggling to feed its own people? No. But we can take responsibility for our own lives. What products we buy, where our food comes from, who we support.

This idea of responsibility came together for me a few nights ago, here in Pachaj, Guatemala. All 13 of us dragones, along with Jessie, Huicho, Juancho, and Zack joined togtether with Armando and his family for a Mayan ceremony. These past few days we have been learning about Mayan Cosmovision, the Mayan Calendar, and Mayan Medicine, while working alongside Armando on the Chico Mendes Reforestation project. We planted 3,000 cyprus seedlings in one afternoon! Armando guided us through the ceremony, first in Spanish, and then in his native language of K´iche. With every offering that we put in the fire, we focused on first apologizing and acknowledging the damage that our very existence brings to earth and nature. As the smoke of the fire billowed up into the night sky, we asked for guidance. Each offering that we made corresponded with a day of the Mayan calendar. Invoking the power of that day, we asked for guidance as we navigate through life. We asked that the government does not continue privatizing water.. that the US does not keep sending arms all over the world.. That our family back home has knowledge and health.. that each of us individually find a path and are able to truly make a difference in our world.

Last night, as I offered candles, sugar, sesame seeds, and more to the fire, I felt for the first time in my life that my future is in my hands, all I have to do is take some responsibility for it.
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester, Focus of Inquiry

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Taking Responsibility

Lydia Emerson,Central America Fall 2013 Semester, Focus of Inquiry

Description

“It wasn´t me” “It is not my fault” “it was your idea” “you started it” “why are you blaming me?!” Sound familiar!? If you know me at home in the US, probably. I have grown up with a certain attitude: everything that I do, say, and know is right (or atleast I think that it […]

Posted On

10/30/13

Author

Lydia Emerson

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    [post_content] => Guns, Germs, and Steel written by Jared Diamond and 1491 written by Charless Mann offer two different approaches to the fall of the Inkan Empire. As Charles Mann indicates is his chapter, Land of the Four Quarters, Runi Simi (Quechua, to the Spanish) is the language of all Inka names, including "Inka." Mann uses the standard Runa Simi romanization, which means he does us the Spanish "Inca," as I will throughout the response. At the heart of this debate is the meeting between Pizarro and Atawalpa at Cajamarca in 1532 that marked the crushing Spanish victory over Incan civilization. While Diamond focuses on the events at Cajamarca as a means of proving European superiority in conquest and colonization, Charles Mann asks the more critical question, “Why did the Inka lose?”
In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on Earth. The Inka empire was bigger than the Ming Dynasty in China, larger than Ivan the Great´s expanison of Russia and by far larger than any European State. The Inkan goal was to unifiy different groups in Western South America, into a single bureaucratic framework under the direct rule of the emperor. This unity was not merely political; it was culturally fascinating to the see the Inka meld together areas of religion, economics, and art. Their methods were fearless, enterprising, brutal yet efficient. They removed entire populations from their homelands, shuttled them around the largest road system known to man on the planet, stone paved roads totaling as much as 25,000 miles. To monitor this cyclopean enterprise, the Inka had a form of writing unlike any other, a sequence of knots and strings that formed a binary code, which is similar to today´s computer languages.
Highland Peru is as extraordinary as the Inka themselves. The Inka were living at 10,000 to 15,000 feet above sea level. The resilience of the Inkan community was unparalleled. Living at geographical locations where crops won´t grow, earthquakes and landslides are a frequent phenomenon, and where extreme weather is simply the norm. An occurring theme, is how technologically advanced the Inka were at such great heights, sustaining their long-lasting civilizations within their homeland. Ecologists affirm, the first large-scale human societies tended to arise, where as Jared Diamond of the University of California Los Angeles puts it, "geography provided a wide-range of altitudes and topographies within such a short distance." In turn, to survive in this steep, narrow hodgepodge of ecosystems, Andean communities usually sent out representatives and colonies to live up or downslope in places with resources unavailable at home. Sustainability played a huge role in the ability to live in the Andean ecosystems. Fish and shellfish from the ocean; beans, squash, and cotton from coastal river valleys; maize, potatoes, and the Andean grain quinoa from the footballs; llamas and alpacas for wool and meat in the heights--each area had something to contribute. The Inkan Empire revolutionized trade amongst their provinces, combining the fruits of ecosystems.
The Inkan empire, the greatest state the Andes has ever seen, was also short lived. Archeological evidence suggests the Inka gradually became more powerful. Their apparent turning point occurred when they somehow made enemies with another group, the Chanka, who eventually attacked them. This provincial squabble had momentous consequences. And aside from the momentous rise of the Inkan empire, their was the significant downfall to this populous, rich, and well organized territory.
Throughout 1491, In the Land of Four Quarters, Mann argues that the Americas were immensely busier, more diverse, and more populous than researchers had previously imagined. While Diamond examines the events at Cajamarca through the context of Eurasian advantage. Both claims from the authors share an objective view to the downfall of the Inkan Empire.
Fransico Pizarro had only 168 men and 62 horses. Researchers have often wondered wondered whether the Inkan collapse betokens a major historical lesson. Yes, but the answer to the lesson was not grasped until recently. So, why did the Inkan lose? The most common answer is that Spanish had two advantages, steel and horses, as both Mann and Diamond assert. They also lacked the wheel and arch. The Inka kept fighting and even though they out-numbered the Spaniards by a hundred to one they always lost. "No amount of the heroism or discipline by a Inkan army," Hemmingway wrote, "could match the military superiority of the Spaniards. But just as guns did not determine the outcome of conflict in New England, as the revolution began after the infamous Bloody Massacre in the streets of Boston, steel was not the decisive factor in Peru. The Inka were not defeated by steel or horses, but simply by disease and factionalism.
Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, this pattern occurred again and again in the Americas. On contrary to popular belief, Europeans routinely lost when they could not take advantage of disease. The smallpox virus is thought to have evolved from a cattle virus that causes cowpox. People who survive the disease become immune to it. In Europe, the virus was such a constant presence, that most adults were immune to it. But because the western hemisphere had no cows, horses, or camels, smallpox had no chance to evolve there. Inkans and Indians (Native Americans), had never been exposed and stood no chance. European conquerors would have never stood a chance during their conquests, without bringing disease and famine to the Native Americas.
While Diamond asserts that the geographical aspects of Eurasia gave its populations certain advantages over other cultures is undeniably evident. He fails to incorporate some of the innovations and advancements of other civilizations as Mann projects. Mann demonstrates a more holistic approach and innovates the cultural advancements of the Inkan Empire. The presence of widespread disease prior to European arrival, internal political and social factionalism, and significant cultural distance was to blame for the Spanish victory over the Inka.

Work Cited

Mann, Charles C. "1491 by Charles C. Mann : Uncertain Principles."

Diamond, J. M. (1999). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York: Norton.
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Andes & Amazon "A" Fall 2013 Semester, Focus of Inquiry

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In the Land of Four Quarters/Collison at Cajamarca–Charles Mann vs Jared Diamond

Daniel Louis Trongale,Andes & Amazon "A" Fall 2013 Semester, Focus of Inquiry

Description

Guns, Germs, and Steel written by Jared Diamond and 1491 written by Charless Mann offer two different approaches to the fall of the Inkan Empire. As Charles Mann indicates is his chapter, Land of the Four Quarters, Runi Simi (Quechua, to the Spanish) is the language of all Inka names, including “Inka.” Mann uses the […]

Posted On

09/22/13

Author

Daniel Louis Trongale

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