Monday, May 31, 2010

10.2 Hike Camel's Hump in all four seasons (Spring)

I've been back from the Dominican Republic for a couple of days now, and feel like I'm still processing an experience that turned out to have a much deeper impact than I expected. One of the student participants, Ashley, (who in the space of less than a week, won the hearts of an entire village that openly sobbed at her leaving) described it this way, "I spent the best ten days of my life with some of the best ten people that I know. We loved each other and became a family amongst a beautiful community surrounded by an unreal landscape." Although the focus in community-based experiential learning like our trip is (and I think should be) on the relationship between the guest and host participants, it's also true that in the best of such trips, lasting and meaningful bonds are created among the participants in the guest group. For me this was one of those "best of" trips, and our entire group bonded in a way that felt rare and very special.

I will definitely revisit the whole experience in at least one more post, but on a lighter note, I am excited to report that today I got to do Season Two (Spring) of New Thing #10 (Hike Camel's Hump in all four seasons). I must confess, I was starting to get a little worried. The original plan had been to organize a hike with some of the Saint Mike's 2010 graduates during senior week, but the mountain wasn't open yet. Then I went to the DR, and early tomorrow (today now, actually) I head out to New Hampshire for a conference and then once I'm back I'll be in town for a long weekend and then it's off to the Pacific Northwest for a week. And by the time I get back it will be mid-June and I'll be frantically putting things together for the Jordan/Lebanon/Uganda trip. But I should have known not to worry, because as usual, a great SMC student and friend came through for me.

That person was Will, who had been terribly missed spring semester because he was on a School for International Training (SIT) study abroad semester in Uganda and Rwanda. He just got back and last night he and Connor, the SMC student who will be going to Jordan with Siham and I in June, dropped by to say hi and catch up. Happily, my friend and former student Jamila is staying at my place right now, and another SMC alumnae, Jess, was up for the weekend as well. So, as we all sat around doing one of my favorite things (talking about past and future travel plans), I mentioned that I really wanted to do a hike and Will was all over it. So, this afternoon we went, and I got the bonus of hearing yet more about his spring semester.

Our conversation ranged from novel and quirky stories (Will definitely gets the prize for most adventuresome eater, and told me about sampling, among other delicacies, rat, deep-fried crickets, and ground-up white ant balls)to profound insights (pretty inevitable given the very serious topic of his SIT program was post-conflict transformation in Rwanda and Uganda). Will conducted his independent study project in Gulu, the northern part of Uganda made famous by the Lord's Resistance Army's abduction of child soldiers there. Although I peppered Will with questions about the LRA and child soldiers as well as the refugee camps he visited in the area, the most profound thing he taught me during the afternoon was about none of these things. Rather than focus on any of these questions, Will, who is both a political science major and a musician, had chosen to do his independent study on the music traditions of the Acholi, the predominant ethnic group of the area. He told me that the people there welcomed him with open arms; after years of submitting to the questions of researchers about the crises they had endured, they were excited that someone had come to learn about the cultural richness they had to offer, rather than to continue the one-note narrative of tragedy and chaos that we westerners tend to associate with African life. As someone who is guilty of that blindered focus, that was a great reminder to me that there is much, much more to see and explore and learn.

So, our spring hike on Camel's Hump was a great learning experience, and equally importantly, just plain fun. I couldn't resist throwing in a few pictures from my winter hike for contrast. They're taken from exactly the same spots -- the sign at the trail head and the summit respectively -- but just look at the difference a few months can make!

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