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Thank you from Guate!

Our time in Guatemala comes to an end and the comforts of home feel closer than ever.  During our time in the Sierras in California for Instructor orientation we did a small simulation for what it may feel like for students coming on a Dragons program. We had two circles of instructors, an inner circle and an outer circle. One person stood in the middle of the circles and held a ball of string. As some instructors shouted out different identities that our students might come into the program with like religion, gender, socioeconomic status, education level, native language, friend-group, sibling, etc., I marvelled at the idea of so many identities that make up one person. From the middle person we threw the ball off string to different instructors in the inner circle and back to the person in the middle, each person representing an identity that the students would carry with them to Guatemala and all the other countries that Dragons explore. Once our identity list was exhausted our facilitator asked us if these identities would be lost or come into question when the students were outside their home contexts. For each identity that would be different in the host country, the instructor representing this identity dropped their string and the person in the middle, representing a student, was left with only a few taut lines, it really struck me that students come with many aspects from home. As soon as they land in country or even in the airport of Miami when we ask for their phones, they are asked to put these identities on the back burner in order to be present for an experience that is a very different one from their home environment.

We ask a lot out of students—to become immersed in a country that has always been foreign to them. We ask them to speak as much Spanish as possible, we ask them to sleep on different beds, take electric showers, eat beans on a daily basis, eat as many tortillas as possible, talk about their poop, to call people by their first names—especially those that serve us like our drivers, our cooks, our homestay parents, our guides, and our hosts in general—to learn about difficult histories that they never knew before, to be uncomfortable. All this we ask students to do with a smile on their face and we ask for words of gratitude as well.  One of the pillars of a Dragons course is global citizenry, in this day in age it’s hard to define what that actually means, but the way I would like to define this concept is that we are connected to other humans and to the Mother Earth as best we know how and this knowledge can always improve and grow.

A couple days ago Harrison and Will and I were walking around Cobán as other members of our group were at the market and resting at the hotel because they were feeling sick. We started talking about the meaning of life and all three of us had different perspectives. We listened to each other and we tried to understand each other and this is what being a global citizen is all about. The three of us our from the Global North but these kinds of conversations that open our mind so that we continually learn is the spirit of travel too, both near to our homes and far away.

“Be comfortable with the uncomfortable” was a phrase that was coined by the group during orientation and has stuck with us during our time in this country full of life and culture and full of oppositions too. At the beginning of our time in Guatemala we introduced students to the concepts that Guatemala lives on a daily basis.  More than 60% of the population is indigenous yet they don’t have rights to the land that once was their backyard, a land that was everyone’s and no one’s at the same time. Guatemala suffered a civil war that just ended in ’96 and that the memory of still runs in the hearts and heads of middle aged Guatemalans. This is a country that is impoverished yet has so much and these dichotomies are hard to stomach. Just as it is hard to deal with the discomfort of being far away from home we have learned that our comfort is something that many people in the world don’t have access to. Let’s keep thinking about this  and keep delving into the creases of such inequalities with increasing curiousity.

As an I-team we would like to thank friends and family for lending us your loved ones for a journey that put comfort and what we know to be true on the line. We have journeyed and now have lessons to reflect on and tell. Please allow the students to do this once they arrive back home and in your arms. We are so grateful and could not have done this without you! Mil gracias! And we hope the learning continues.

For the students…

I would like to leave you with the words of Pablo Neruda on the beauty of travel in a way that turns your would upside down and leaves you with a series of learning moments as your only guide. Spanish and then English…

Muere lentamente
quien se transforma en esclavo del hábito,
repitiendo todos los días los mismos trayectos,
quien no cambia de marca.
No arriesga vestir un color nuevo y no le habla a quien no conoce.

Muere lentamente
quien hace de la televisión su gurú.

Muere lentamente
quien evita una pasión,
quien prefiere el negro sobre blanco
y los puntos sobre las “íes” a un remolino de emociones,
justamente las que rescatan el brillo de los ojos
sonrisas de los bostezos,
corazones a los tropiezos y sentimientos.

Muere lentamente
quien no voltea la mesa cuando está infeliz en el trabajo,
quien no arriesga lo cierto por lo incierto para ir detrás de un sueño,
quien no se permite por lo menos una vez en la vida,
huir de los consejos sensatos.

Muere lentamente
quien no viaja,
quien no lee,
quien no oye música,
quien no encuentra gracia en sí mismo.

Muere lentamente
quien destruye su amor propio,
quien no se deja ayudar.
Muere lentamente,
quien pasa los días quejándose de su mala suerte
o de la lluvia incesante.

Muere lentamente,
quien abandona un proyecto antes de iniciarlo,
no preguntando de un asunto que desconoce
o no respondiendo cuando le indagan sobre algo que sabe.

Evitemos la muerte en suaves cuotas,
recordando siempre que estar vivo exige un esfuerzo mucho mayor
que el simple hecho de respirar.

Solamente la ardiente paciencia hará que conquistemos
una espléndida felicidad.

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He dies slowly
he who is transformed into a slave of habit
repeating the same paths each day,
he who does not change his brand.
Who does not risk to put on a new colour and who does not speak to anyone he does not know.

He dies slowly
he who has a television as his guru.

He dies slowly
he who avoids passion,
who prefers the black over white
and having all the ‘i’s dotted over a whirlwind of emotions,
precisely those that save the sparkle in the eye,
that rescue smiles from the yawns,
hearts from the stumbles and emotions.

He dies slowly
he who does not flip over the table when he is unhappy at work,
who does not risk the certain for the uncertain to go for a dream,
he who does not let himself at least once in his life
flee from reasonable rules.

He dies slowly
he who does not travel,
does not read,
does not listen to music,
does not find grace in himself.

He dies slowly
he who destroys his own love,
who does not let himself be helped.
He dies slowly
He who spends his days complaining of his bad luck
or the never-ending rain.

He dies slowly,
he who abandons a project before starting it,
who does not question matters that he doesn’t know
or not responding when he is inquired about something that he knows.

Let us avoid death in soft doses,
always remembering that to be alive requires a strength much greater
than the simple act of breathing.
Only ardent patience will allow us to conquer
a splendid happiness.