Monday, March 17, 2014

GCP Bolivia has arrived

Just received word that the Bolivia group has just landed at Dulles.

Bolivia's Adventure Team

There are some experiences that just can’t be documented. If I had a picture or video of what happened after we saw the sand dunes or behind the waterfall we visited I would. I can post the pictures of what we saw and the touristy group photos we took in front of various attractions but I can’t post pictures of the experiences I had. While this trip has been filled with incredible sight seeing, food consuming, and friend making, nothing will beat the physical memories I am making.
Tuesday, Mar. 11: After a day of many frustrating curve balls we arrived at our final attraction of the day. It started with a 15-minute hike under a light drizzling rain on a muddy path and ended at a rather small, muddied waterfall. Just as we were finishing up our photo shoot on the shoreline, Nate had an idea. Within minutes Nate, Grace, Seth and I stripped down to our underwear to wade into the muddy water and explore the cove behind the rushing waterfall. As we got closer to the falls the current got increasingly stronger. Nate took the lead followed by Seth and Grace. As I made my way toward the falls my adrenaline began to pump. With the water spraying relentlessly into my eyes, my group mates ensured I made it into the cove safely. Sitting on a bed of wet rocks and sticks in nothing but a thong and a sports bra, behind a vicious waterfall, I couldn’t catch my breath or find the words to describe how I felt and the experience I was having. Not only was this occurrence not documented but also it’s been days and I still can’t find the words to explain how amazing of an experience this was.
Thursday, Mar. 13: Another experience that was not documented but equally as inexplicable was on our drive back from the sand dunes we visited. Descending from the peak of the dunes was only the first task to complete on our way back to the main road. The next task was a two-mile hike through swampy puddles, mini sand hills, and tall bug-ridden grass. When we finally got back on our trusty bus, all that was left was a ten-minute drive back to the main road. The path we had so swiftly conquered on the way to the dunes was slightly more treacherous this time. Dipping in and out of each mud puddle our eyes were wide with fear that the worst would happen, and it did. The bus got stuck. Our tour guide quickly escorted each of us off the bus and on to the side of the dirt road. Frantically translating the bus driver’s orders, our tour guide told us we needed someone to push. Instantly, almost every member of our group ripped off their already wet and muddy shoes to trudge into the puddle to push. Collectively, we were able to push the bus back behind the puddle. On the second attempt to plow through the mud, the bus got stuck once again. The driver thrust the bus back and forth as we continued to push and run, trying not to get run over. Finally, with only four of our strongest team members pushing, the bus drove free. It was an incredible feeling to have come together with a group of people, who were strangers only a few days prior, eager and willing to work together to overcome an obstacle we never could have foreseen.
I have done my best to describe two of my favorite memories from my trip this spring break, but these words seem weak in comparison to being in the moment itself. No words, no pictures, and no videos could ever do any life changing experiences justice.  
GCP Morocco

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make a blog post during my time in Morocco, so I thought a reflection was in order.  I could talk about the surreal feeling of traveling from deserts sands to snowy mountain caps within a few hours.  I could also talk about the art and communication of bartering with the local vendors.  I even could go on about the amazing mosaic and marble factories who create some of the most stunning art in the world with only their hands.  I never thought I would experience any of these amazing things, but I decided to post about a universal truth I learned 4,000 miles from home.
A resounding fact left in my mind is simply that people are people where ever you go.  The landscapes, clothing, food, art, and culture as a whole were quite different in Morocco, however the human interactions and behaviors I saw and got to be apart of were oddly familiar.  I witnessed families who invited our group into their homes for tea and food and there was a comforting kindness and sense of community that was awesome.  I also encountered vendors and salesmen who would try to swindle and leave you none the wiser.  In Marrakech we even witnessed a staged fight as a diversion for pick pocketing.  The massive metropolises of Casablanca and Marrakech were mecca business towns operating all day and all night.  Then there were the smaller farming towns who moved at their own pace.  These examples may be extreme on either end of the spectrum, but it was amazing to see and experience a culture so different and yet so familiar.
I would like to thank Shenandoah University for offering this once in a lifetime learning experience and I would like to thank Abdel and my entire GCP group for making the experience so 'awesome!'

-Mark Koons

GCP returns - update

Yesterday (Sunday), the groups from South Korea, Costa Rica, Morocco and Albania arrived and are now back on campus.  The Bolivia group made it safely to Miami but had to spend the night there due to their connecting flight being cancelled.  They are confirmed on a new flight that arrives in Dulles this evening.  Updates will be posted here and on the GCP Facebook page.

Bolivian Days, Bolivian Nights: The Recap Through My Eyes

This trip, by far, has been the most interesting one I've ever been on. I've met some pretty cool people, eaten some delicious foods, and explored a world much different from my own. While on this trip, I took into account the discussions we had at each meeting for GCP. We discussed body language, interaction, the difference of cultures, in-group/out-group, and much more. I paid a lot of attention to in-groups and out-groups in Bolivia, as well as my own group. I watched as the similar people bonded together and never separated, while making it difficult for the out-group to join the in-group. I absorbed the culture, knowing that this isn't just a vacation out of the country. It's a new experience; it's a new ride; it's a new world. At times during this adventure, I lost site of why I was there. I lost sight of my purpose. As well as having fun, I was there to learn, share, and explore. The things I've seen in Bolivia are things I'll never forget. I went to a foreign country for the first time with a group of strangers. Two days into the trip, we were good friends. Four days in, we were great friends. For the Bolivia group, however, the adventure isn't over. Because of the snow in D.C., we're still in Miami with a confirmed flight to DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) Airport, then to Dulles. Yes, it's inconvenient, but it's better than being in a foreign country and being shuffled around like this. As we sit in Miami International Airport, we continue to think of the things we take for granted, such as clean water, soap, and toilet paper in the bathroom. We remain ever thankful and hope for a change for the better in Bolivia. With all of the beautiful pictures taken and experiences gained, this will make for a wonderful iMovie!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Do you remember when the family was everything?

Do you remember when the family was everything?  Bolivia 2014

            Sight seeing, touring and hiking have made this trip very fun and exciting. What makes this trip the most memorable is the time we spent with the family of our group leader Kathy. On Sunday, we were fortunate enough to celebrate the birthday of Kathy's daughter in law, Pingy, and her family. Everybody in her family welcomed us with open arms. Even though there was a language barrier, their communication of how they felt about us coming to visit them was clear. They made sure that we were fed and well hydrated. We even had a chance to sing some karaoke with them and dance in the living room. 
            We also spent today with them and it was more of the same. One of the uncles even bought one of my trip mates a drink that he recommended that she must not leave without. There was even more family here today and I talked to several of them that spoke english. They told me that they usually have family gatherings like the two we attended once a week, preferably on the weekends. I know that in the United States that most family gatherings are saved for major holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and special birthdays. It was great to see a family that enjoyed being around each other and that seeing each other every week is not considered a task. 
            In our large meetings leading up to this trip we talked about how individualism seems to be the way in the United States. It's quite refreshing to the group, seeing that family is so important here in Bolivia. This is something that I hope that I can establish with my siblings if we are all in the same relative area.

Samuel Fasanmi

Final Reflections

It is our last day in Morocco.

We arrived in Marrakech on Friday evening and got a quick tour of the medina and of the market square where people gather every night. The square was full of makeshift restaurants and other stores as well as snake charmers, musicians and the like. We also had the opportunity to experience a real hammam -- a Turkish/Moroccan bathhouse -- that the locals visit often. It was a very unique experience because this wasn't something that tourists experience often. We entered the bathhouse and did everything as the locals do.

This morning we woke up bright and early to visit the old medina. We received tours of a local palace called the Palais Bahia -- meaning great beauty or brilliance -- that was built in the 19th century by Si Moussa, the grand vizer to the sultan. The palace was named after one of his wives. We walked through many of the rooms and took pictures of the grand vizer's tomb along with that of his children and his women.

After visiting the palace, we made our way back through the medina to a local spice shop where we learned all about Moroccan herbs and oils and their homeopathic, medicinal and beauty-related capabilities. (We also had the opportunity to buy some of these herbs, oils and creams and we fully took advantage of it!) For lunch, we found a local restaurant that served fish (as most of us wanted to try something different from our beef and chicken meals) and enjoyed another wonderful meal there. (There has not been a single meal that we have not found enjoyable in some way or another.) After lunch, we made our way to a guest house called "Riad Laksiba" just inside of the medina. We learned that while we have been staying in hotels during our trip (with the exception of the Berber tents) guest houses are a very popular option for tourists who want a very unique and authentic experience. Guests get to enjoy the comforts of a quality hotel but with the hands-on interaction with locals that is missing from that setting. Guests of the riad have the opportunity to actually live with a family of locals who open their homes to others and they get to really learn first-hand about the culture. They even have the chance to help cook traditional Moroccan meals in their kitchen. 

We returned to the market square in the old medina and did a bit more shopping before our guide, Redouane, had to leave us. Redouane actually went to college with our destination leader, Abdel, and we were all surprised when he showed up at the airport and introduced himself as our guide (even Abdel didn't know!) After spending so many days together with him, it was a very emotional goodbye. It is incredible to see how strongly people can impact you even from a brief encounter. We have come to love Redouane as one of our own and he IS part of our family. Everyone that we have met on this trip has just been so welcoming that it is almost overwhelming. We are all very sad to leave the country that we have fallen in love with so deeply. That is not to say that everything is perfect in Morocco but for us on this trip, we truly feel blessed to have been able to experience this country together. The good, the not-so-good and the very different. All of these experiences have connected us as a group but have also opened our minds and expanded our horizons. 

On our drive back to Casablanca, our group was already discussing plans for a 5 year reunion in Morocco. Each and every single one of us has just been humbled greatly by this experience. We might be a little teary-eyed tonight and wishing we could stay just a little bit longer but we are definitely looking forward to strengthening our bonds with each other once we return back to the U.S. and sharing everything we learned about this beautiful country with everyone and anyone who will listen.

Much love from GCP Morocco 2014.