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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011


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As I sit at the computer in our Chengdu hostel to write of the week our group spent in Hongpo village, I already feel a million miles away. Much of that, I'm sure, stems from just how difficult it is to get to Hongpo. From Kunming, the closest major city, it was a twelve hour bus ride to the touristic city of Shangri-la, where the cobblestoned streets of Old Town teem with handicraft shops and western cafes. It was in Shangri-la that we were briefed on the impending homestay: a week in a village that had never hosted foreigners, where we would be building the first toilet. I had no idea what to expect, and as we bounced along the under-construction roads for twelve hours from Shangri-la, nearly flying off cliffs at hairpin turns, my anticipation deepened.

We might have expected to each be alone in a yak-hair tent, but instead, the girls all gathered in the shrine room of a beautiful two-story house, while the boys slept on the roof of another. Their host, who we nicknamed "Chief" because of his role in the village, was full of advice. Each morning, he would gesture to an elaborate setup of soaps with the command "dongche!", Hongpo Tibetan for "wash your face!" Valid advice, since we were working construction, and were all getting quite grimy. We all ate dinner together at the girls' house, the courtyard of which served as headquarters of our construction operation, and Chief would remind us, through our translator, to "be back before dark. Don't fall off the path and break your ankle."

The path between houses threaded through the cornfields that surrounded them, which were joined by bright yellow sunflowers to stretch nearly to the snow-capped mountains that marked the downhill boundary of our line of sight. In Hongpo, it's hard to think of North and South; instead, key is Up and Down, as the village stretches up a green mountain towards and past a beautiful monastery (I've been in Tibet for 6 weeks and still can't confidently spell that word). Running through it is the river, the lifeblood of the village and the centerplace of our experience. The river turns the traditional stone mill, where the wheat and corn grown becomes grain to feed the countless cows we encountered- usually when trying to move a wheelbarrow of cinderblocks. It was to the river that we hiked after work each afternoon, dunking our heads and attempting to rinse the cement from our clothes and bodies, but also simply glorying in the frigid water.

Despite the natural beauty surrounding us, we all spent time inside as well, one or two students at a time racing for the chance to spend an hour in the kitchen helping and learning to prepare food. At the cast-iron stove that filled the room with eye-stinging smoke, we poured batter for corncakes and fried eggs for breakfast, and sauteed cabbage and lettuce, egg and tomato, and dried pig for lunches and dinners. Cooking brought us all closer to the family hosting us, but becoming close to the village happened quite naturally. Despite the language barrier,the smiles of the people we passed and spoke to conveyed a thousand words.

As our homestay father told a few students on the last night: "we may all be different religions, but we're all one world."

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Homestay in Hongpo

Courtney Hodrick,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

As I sit at the computer in our Chengdu hostel to write of the week our group spent in Hongpo village, I already feel a million miles away. Much of that, I’m sure, stems from just how difficult it is to get to Hongpo. From Kunming, the closest major city, it was a twelve hour […]

Posted On

08/5/11

Author

Courtney Hodrick

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For my ISP I looked into altitude sickness, an imparement which has affected me in the past. When I went to Peru a few years back I got bad altitude headaches, and as a remedy I was given coca tea, coca leaves, coca candy, and pretty much coca everything else you can think of. Amazingly, it worked like a charm, and since then I've been intrigued with altitude sickness and how to combat it, so I took this opportunity to look into it.

In the Himalayas they don't have coca leaves obviously, but they do have their own natural remedy; garlic. Apparently it works just as well as coca, if not better. The cool part however is that modern science can't determine why these remedies work; they just do.

A lot of my research went into the actual illness rather than the remedies. I even had the chance to do some monitoring of signs in symptoms of mild altitude sickness when we trekked up high and some people started feeling the altitude. The symptoms you see a lot at the altitude of our trek were headaches, shortness of breath, naucea, etc etc etc. Fun stuff! Luckily I didn't have to do any monitoring of sever altitude sickness. That would've been unpleasant.

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Altitude Sickness

Nate Jaffe,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

For my ISP I looked into altitude sickness, an imparement which has affected me in the past. When I went to Peru a few years back I got bad altitude headaches, and as a remedy I was given coca tea, coca leaves, coca candy, and pretty much coca everything else you can think of. Amazingly, […]

Posted On

08/5/11

Author

Nate Jaffe

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Hello Friends and Families,

We receieved an update from the Tibet group this morning. There last homestay and service project was a huge success and they are now leaving on a 5 day trek. The group is happy, healthy, and excited for the upcoming trek. Yak Yaks will be posted again after they return from trek on August 4th.

Hope all is well!

Dragons

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Team Tibet on Trek

Dragons,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

Hello Friends and Families, We receieved an update from the Tibet group this morning. There last homestay and service project was a huge success and they are now leaving on a 5 day trek. The group is happy, healthy, and excited for the upcoming trek. Yak Yaks will be posted again after they return from […]

Posted On

07/31/11

Author

Dragons

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Parents of students on the Tibet program,

You have amazing children who have embraced their Tibetan homestay with open, and after this service project, very dirty arms.

I was fortunate to have 2 days with the group, in which they took on daily chores in Tibetan homes, started work on a toilet block with gusto, and showed love and compassion for all around them.

I can't do justice to the village in writing, so I've included a few pictures.

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Homestay Photos

Matt Burton,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

Parents of students on the Tibet program, You have amazing children who have embraced their Tibetan homestay with open, and after this service project, very dirty arms. I was fortunate to have 2 days with the group, in which they took on daily chores in Tibetan homes, started work on a toilet block with gusto, […]

Posted On

07/26/11

Author

Matt Burton

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Dear Family and Friends of Tibet: Culturally Odyssey,
We are in day three of our one-week homestay in the idyllic village of Hongpo, Dechen County, Yunnan Province. Hongpo is a small village of approximately 1000 Tibetan residents. It is located on the sloping hillsides around a beautiful clear alpine river, and surrounded by pine-forested mountains. The sacred Tibetan Buddhist mountain, Khawa Kharpo, is in our direct view from the roof of the girls' home.
We are generously hosted by the family of our ground operator, Lobsang Dolma, as well as the chief of the village (who is also teaching our morning Tibetan language lessons). The group is working fantastically together for long hours each day, building the first toilet and shower for the village, which has involved seemingly endless hours of hauling sandbags and cinder blocks down a hillside to our host family's home. The group has totally embraced the service learning experience; villagers have commented on how hardworking and generous the foreigners are!
Since we re-routed our itinerary, this is our first opportunity to stop and stay in one place for seven days. Despite the long hours of hard work, everyone is really enjoying the slower pace of life here: checking out the local corn mill, watching mist roll up the mountain sides, taking refreshingly frigid river showers, peeling potatoes for lunch, getting good amounts of sleep after long days of physical labor.
From an instructor team perspective, the group is solidly performing together: they are working brilliantly as a team, rotating leadership roles, keeping their attitudes positive and their focus on the big picture of their cultural experience.
Most recently, we have been working with students on their Independent Study Projects (ISPs). At the end of the program, students each will present to one another on a topic of personal interest. We have made a few notes about each student, his/her contributions to the program, and his/ her ISP topic, below.
LYDIE ABOOD keeps the group laughing with her calm yet humorous presence. She has an impressive goal of working in international relations in the future, and she has lived her Dragons experience in light of this goal. Just yesterday, while chopping vegetables in the kitchen, our host aunt gave Lydie a beautiful turquoise and coral necklace. Her ISP topic is political culture and civil society.
HENRY BLOOD is a "knowledge sponge" and has taken great initiative in learning Chinese: studying characters on the train, reciting numbers from license plates on the road, practicing and asking questions whenever possible! He keeps life in balance by running each day, even on treks. For his ISP, Henry is studying the modernization of Tibetan culture as it is experienced in everyday life.
ALI ELLIOTT is an experienced Dragon, having completed the Peru program last year, and took the group by storm as a very effective leader on our first trek. She is sweet, kind and a "team player" as she makes efforts to be connected to everyone in the group. Her ISP topic is color and symbolism in Tibetan Buddhism.
VIRGINIA GRAY remains calm and positive in all situations, no matter how challenging. She keeps the group laughing and in high spirits, and to our knowledge has not complained once on the entire program. She has become excited about a new realm in her life, trekking and wilderness exploration, and her ISP topic is Wilderness First Aid.
CLAIRE GREENWOOD is an energetic, enthusiastic caretaker in the group. She is fearless, strong and compassionate. Her experience in past service projects made her an instant leader in our toilet/bathroom construction project in the village. Claire's ISP topic is Wilderness First Aid with a focus on wound and soft tissue injuries; Claire is also learning about local homeopathic remedies to such medical issues.
COURTNEY HODRICK has a voracious appetite for reading and learning. She is an eager and enthusiastic Dragons student, embracing the ruggedness and cultural challenges in every day, from bathing in the river to 11 hour car rides on bumpy back roads to helping make breakfast in our host's kitchen. Her ISP topic is the embodiment of the feminine in Mahayana Buddhism.
NATE JAFFE has a quiet personality with a phenomenal sense of humor; he keeps things light for the group! He is articulate and interested in engaging and learning from his experiences. For instance, he chose to learn more about his own experience with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) in Peru last year by focusing his ISP on high altitude wilderness medicine, as well as local remedies to altitude sickness.
SARAH JOHNSON is a strong leader in Chinese language and has been helpful to the group with her skills from prior study of Mandarin. She is willing to go outside her comfort zone and seems to have had a great time rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty in the service project! She has a vested interest in learning about China beyond her Dragons experience, and is studying the Buddhist concept of attachment in her ISP.
MICHAEL LACKEY is inquisitive, hardworking and a natural leader. He is one of our two resident musicians who makes the mundane melodious with his guitar and harmonica skills. We want to mention here that Michael independently worked an extra 2 hours on hauling cinder blocks for the service project, without complaining. He is interested in everything but has narrowed down his ISP topic to the Buddhist concept of "no-self."
LULU O'DONNELL is open, supportive and energetic about the ruggedness of our program and the overall experience of Tibetan culture. Her good sense of humor and decisiveness are her strongest leadership skills. Lulu has more than a passing interest in Buddhism and has focused her ISP on the Tibetan Buddhist phillosophical concept of the "Four Preliminary Thoughts."
JAY RUIZ (aka "Blue Jay" as he is nicknamed after his blue collared shirt) is a strong, quiet presence in the group. He is curious about everything and always present with the group, no matter the activity or challenge that lies ahead. He dives in to every experience with an open mind. Jay has a strong interest in trekking and his ISP topic is Wilderness First Aid with a focus on spinal injuries, fractures and dislocations.
CASSIDY SCHULTZ is grounded, strong, self-reliant, generous and willing to grow with every experience. She has a genuine love for Tibetan culture and has relished being pushed outside of her comfort zone. We appreciate her great photography skills; as an artist she is eagerly diving in to symbolism and iconography in Tibetan Buddhism for her ISP.
ISAAC SLEATOR is a fast learner, a light spirit and a playful presence. He can draw the group's attention in an instant and is currently excelling in the service project. He was determined to find a musical instrument at the beginning of the program; as a result we have all benefited from his extreme musical talents. Due to the rapid travel pace of our itinerary we weren't able to provide Isaac with a Tibetan music mentor for his ISP; however he has decided to focus instead on the benefits of Buddhist meditation.

As an instructor team, we feel lucky to have such talented, capable and energetic students who also work well together, through triumphs and challenges. Bill Bryson said, "To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." This is a mindset we currently embrace together. In the adversity of the political situation here and our changed itinerary, we have practiced patience, tolerance, open-mindedness and flexibility; we continue to explore the unfamiliar in this way. We a re so appreciative of the kindness of our Tibetan hosts and look forward to sharing more homestay stories with you.
With much gratitude,
Courtney, Amrit and Ziva, Course Instructors
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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Student Updates and ISP topics

Courtney, Ziva and Amrit,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

Dear Family and Friends of Tibet: Culturally Odyssey, We are in day three of our one-week homestay in the idyllic village of Hongpo, Dechen County, Yunnan Province. Hongpo is a small village of approximately 1000 Tibetan residents. It is located on the sloping hillsides around a beautiful clear alpine river, and surrounded by pine-forested mountains. […]

Posted On

07/26/11

Author

Courtney, Ziva and Amrit

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Dear Family and Friends of Tibet: Cultural Odyssey,

We are now in beautiful Yunnan province and have arrived in Zhongdian, also known as Shangri-la, the decorative Tibetan town north of Kunming, the capital city. This region is also known in the Tibetan world as southeastern Kham. We are surrounded by pine-forested mountains and are enjoying the high-altitude sunshine (we are 3,000 m, approximately 10,000 feet). Following a morning meeting with a local NGO that provides training for local farmers in sustainable beekeeping practices, we are spending the day exploring the old town with its cobblestone streets and traditional wooden carved buildings. Soon we will also check out a traditional Thangka painting academy founded by a longtime friend of Dragons.

We are happy to be moving our itinerary forward for our exploration of Kham. We have been working with a wonderful ground operator called Khampa Caravan (www.khampacaravan.com) and are looking forward to beginning our first homestay experience tomorrow, in a tiny village called Hongpo near the town of Deqing, northwest of here. Our friend Matt Burton, China Program Director for Dragons, has been hard at work in and around Hongpo for the last few days setting up this homestay opportunity for us, along with Khampa Caravan. Hongpo has never hosted a foreign group of students before, so it will be an exciting new experience for us all. While in Hongpo we will engage in a service learning opportunity, building the first-ever toilet for the village! We are also looking forward to language lessons and English language teaching opportunities with students from the local school. The group is poised to embrace the increased ruggedness of our upcoming two weeks. Students are also gaining great skills as independent travelers; in addition to managing a student budget and rotating leadership roles every three days, they have also been assigned to tasks such as finding our next hostel.

After our week-long Hongpo homestay, we will spend five days trekking in the stunning natural beauty that surrounds snow-capped Khawa Kharpo, also known in Chinese as Meili Shan, one of the four sacred Buddhist peaks on this continent.

Our itinerary is as follows:

7.23 Drive from Zhongdian to Deqing to Hongpo Village

7.24 – 7.29 Homestay and Service project in Hongpo Village

7.30 Drive from Hongpo to Deqing to Zhongdian

7.31 – 8.4 Trekking outside of Zhongdian

8.4 End trek, return to Zhongdian

8.5 Fly Zhongdian to Chengdu

8.6 Transference activities, final group ceremony in Chengdu

8.7 Fly Chengdu-Hong Kong-Los Angeles

Please note that as we will be in a very remote region for our week-long homestay, we will not have internet access. We will look forward to telling some good stories when we return on July 30!

With warm wishes from the Tibetan plateau,

Courtney, Ziva and Amrit

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Itinerary Update: Off to Homestay!

Courtney Zenner,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

Dear Family and Friends of Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, We are now in beautiful Yunnan province and have arrived in Zhongdian, also known as Shangri-la, the decorative Tibetan town north of Kunming, the capital city. This region is also known in the Tibetan world as southeastern Kham. We are surrounded by pine-forested mountains and are enjoying […]

Posted On

07/22/11

Author

Courtney Zenner

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The wild Tibet, untouched by modernization, is hard to describe. People who always greet with warm smile or a cup of yak tea, the rolling hills that quickly grow into giant snow-covered peaks,and the always welcoming monasteries that are open for a curious outsiderare some of the most remarkable qualities of the Tibetan plateau。Tibet is what adventurous spirit craves for。 As we hike along green hills covered in fast mopving white spots, I think of my family, my friends, myself. In the mist of a dream, I grasp the idea of seeking self-reflection, away from everything and anything. The Tibetan plateau makes my mind disconnect from

my sore body I engage in a deep reflection about my life those in it。 My mind wonders how influencial my family and my friends are in my life。I think of the opportunities and privileges I've shape me as a person。 Then,the realization of ingratitude hits my head,the thought of having it all AND TAKING IT FOR GRANTED MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A SPOILED BRAT. IT IS THE BIRDS, YAKS, SHEEP, MY HEAVY PACK, AND THE 20 MILES I'VE HIKED SO FAR ALLOW ME TO REFLECT ON MY BEHAVIOR. I REALIZE THAT IT'S THE LOVE OF MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS THE FEELINGS THAT HAVE HAD A TRUE AND MEANINGFUL IMPACT IN MY LIFE. I REALIZE THAT I MISS THEM MORE THAN ANYTHING. I REALIZE, MOST IMPORTANTLY, THAT I AM LUCKYT TO HAVE SUCH LOVING AND CARING PEOPLE IN MY LIFE.

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Into The Wild

Juan Ruiz (Jay),Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

The wild Tibet, untouched by modernization, is hard to describe. People who always greet with warm smile or a cup of yak tea, the rolling hills that quickly grow into giant snow-covered peaks,and the always welcoming monasteries that are open for a curious outsiderare some of the most remarkable qualities of the Tibetan plateau。Tibet is […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Juan Ruiz (Jay)

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The river is mine, no matter who occupies it. My blood runs through its streams, trickles over the rocks and nourishes my people. This river is mine, and it will forever flow. I lay my body down and give myself to the river, the river is me. It feeds me, provides eternal life. My people and their energy will forever remain engrained in this land. Let the smoothness of the rocks guide me through this fast paced journey. I trust the river to lead me the right way. I cannot stop the current, whether good or bad - I can only follow its path. People will mistreat my river, but they cannot mistreat me. I am as strong as the boulder cemented into the earth. You can tread on me, flow over me, but you will only smooth me over with compassion.

My energy forever flows, for I am the river.

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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Prompt: Tibetan Perspective on the River

Layton O'Donnell,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

The river is mine, no matter who occupies it. My blood runs through its streams, trickles over the rocks and nourishes my people. This river is mine, and it will forever flow. I lay my body down and give myself to the river, the river is me. It feeds me, provides eternal life. My people […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Layton O'Donnell

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Saturday, July 9th

-10:10pm- Under a Stary Sky in Amdo

We begain our first trek today. I got up at six and ran five miles in the rain. It was the first day of bad weather in Xining. Breakfast at our hostel was very good. I had some Chinese yogurt and some pancakes. I need to find a way to bring a few of the Chinese yogurts back to the states.

The bus ride out of Xining felt long. We traveled about two and a half hours southwest of Xining.We arrived in a small town with many touristy Tibetan shops. We walked out of the town on a dirt road. This is where we first saw the mountains. I think we were all very excited to see the high peaks.

For lunch we stayed at one of our guides houses. It was walled and had an inner garden. Apricot trees shaded the courtyard. When we were served we were in for a treat. Bread is rare in China, but in Tibetan areas it is both common and culturally important. The bread was plain, I think it could have used some salt, but it was still delicious. There was also fried green beans, onions, meat, and eggs and tomato. It was all really good and I ate too much.

As we climbed into the mountains the view got better and better. At the end of the day's hike we had dinner at another local house. Well, I thought it was dinner, but it turned out to just be a snack. We had bread, peanut butter and coffee. These are my favorite things to eat at home so I was really happy. After our snack we set up our tents. It was so nice to be outside in the fresh air and out of the city.

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Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

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First Night in Amdo

Henry Blood,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

Saturday, July 9th -10:10pm- Under a Stary Sky in Amdo We begain our first trek today. I got up at six and ran five miles in the rain. It was the first day of bad weather in Xining. Breakfast at our hostel was very good. I had some Chinese yogurt and some pancakes. I need […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Henry Blood

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A poem by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blacming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait adn not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, not walk too wise:

If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;

If you can think - and not make thought your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaces to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve adn sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings- not lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling

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IF

Virginia Gray,Tibet: Cultural Odyssey, Summer 2011

Description

A poem by Rudyard Kipling If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blacming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait adn not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Virginia Gray

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