Returning 35 years later, Lake Titicaca is unchanged.
The world around it is barely recognizable.
Our family likes to joke we are as Jewish as the Olive Garden is Italian. Call it ‘Jewish Lite’. So in lieu of a ceremony, my son Jack and I donned backpacks – instead of prayer shawls – and headed for the Andes mountains (we called it a Brrrrr Mitzvah.)
For nearly three weeks traveled the Andes by foot, boat and bus. On Lake Titicaca we crossed the blue waters to traverse the Island of the Sun. In Bolivia, we hiked for days through canyons, came upon dinosaur footprints in the ancient rock and slept one night in the center of giant volcanic crater. In Peru we descended from the ruins of Ollantaytambo in the dark and consumed strong indigenous home brew (me) and purple potatoes (Jack) with the locals down a back alley in the Inca capital of Cuzco.
Jack Salz, Andean Explorer Extraordinaire
In shunning the ‘gringo trail’, we accomplished something more. We met the native people and landscape on their own terms. We stepped out of our own comfort zone. And into theirs.
Why we were doing all this was a question neither Jack nor I had to ask. We were doing this for the shared adventure, the excitement, the learning… the fun. There was a hidden agenda on my part, however. We live in the dawning of the Era of Globalization. At a time when it is obvious to even the most casual observer that ‘global competence’ is the essential skill set of our time, the perspective of young Americans is frighteningly provincial.
Among the findings of a recent Roper poll:
- Nine in ten (88%) cannot find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.
- Sizeable percentages do not know that Sudan and Rwanda are in Africa (54% and 40% answer incorrectly, respectively). In fact, 20% place Sudan in Asia and 10% put it in Europe.
Moreover, their lack of knowledge does not seem particularly alarming to many young Americans. Half think it is “important but not absolutely necessary” either to know where countries in the news are located (50%) or to be able to speak a foreign language (47%). Indeed, young adults are far more likely to say speaking a foreign language is “not too important” (38%) than to say it is “absolutely necessary” (14%).
The study concludes:
Young people in the United States—the most recent graduates of our educational system—are unprepared for an increasingly global future. Far too many lack even the most basic skills for navigating the international economy or understanding the relationships among people and places that provide critical context for world events.
Jack and I spent a lot of time in ruins this last month. Ruins are reminders that civilizations collapse. Why do civilizations collapse? As an anthropologist I can state with some authority that triumph or extinction depends on how competently a society anticipates and reacts to change. In an era where our greatest challenge comes from globalization, success belongs to the ‘globally competent’.
What is Global Competence?
Global competence refers to the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of international issues, an appreciation of and ability to learn and work with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, proficiency in a foreign language, and skills to function productively in an interdependent world community.
Dennis Van Roeke, President NEA
Back in 1990 – when Way of Adventure first began – our initial three-color brochure bore the title – Across Worlds. Even then it was my dream to combine my dual passions for adventure and cultural anthropology into programs that would assist individuals in exploring the powerful lessons and gain the essential skills for harnessing the creative magic of multi-culturalism.
Now, twenty-two years later the idea has resurfaced with a wonderful vengence, thanks to my partnership with a most amazing man.
Alepho Deng came to Thanksgiving dinner at our home. He walked straight into our hearts and has never left.
Done with Walking…. Alepho Deng of Sudan has magnificent tales to tell
Alepho is the co-author of the book They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan. In 1989, when he was seven years old, his village in Southern Sudan was attacked by government troops. To avoid capture he ran into the night with many other young boys. Without food, water, shoes or parents, he crossed 1000 miles of lion and crocodile infested territory. After five years of fleeing war, starvation and wild animals, he reached Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and began his education. In 2001, the government of the United States welcomed Alepho as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
After a nine month stint as at Ralphʼs grocery store in San Diego, was cast in the Russell Crowe movie Master and Commander. In a sudden and unusual juxtaposition, this young African man spent six months on the set in Rosarito, Mexico where he learned to sail a tall ship, fire a cannon and swordfight. Alepho has spoken to over 100 schools, universities, clubs and organizations about his extraordinary story of survival in Africa, adapting to his life in the United States and his hope for peace in the world.
Alepho Transfixes Audiences with Unassailable Credibility
My story is not one of sorrow, pity or feeling bad. In fact, it is a celebration of the spirit of mankind, of the goodness in the world, and of fortitude, faith and caring. As my journey has taught me, you cannot change what has happened but you can create your own future.
The Big News (saved if for last):
Alepho Deng and I are proud to announce Small World/Big Hearts – Way of Adventure’s unique lecture/theater event and our first program designed specifically for today’s cross-cultural leadership teams. Available as both keynote and half-day workshop – Small World/Big Hearts is a multi-media production that will leave you and your organization cheering, moved to action and equipped with the necessary skills to be ‘culturally competent’ in this exciting, new global economy.
Essentially, as different as the veneer of culture may paint us, we are far more similar than dissimilar in the things that truly matter. These are the elements of our shared humanity that arise independently in virtually every culture around the globe. Organized around the theme of the Highest Common Denominator™ we call them The Four Keys to Cross Cultural Connection:
- Daring Disclosure
- Courageous Conversation
- Suspension of Judgment
- Attaining Common Ground
The idea of a combined performance arrived slowly as we realized that, as seemingly different as two humans on the planet could be, we had forged a remarkable friendship bound by strong bonds of agreement and affection. We decided that, by deconstructing the foundation of our friendship and adding to it the wisdom of our individual experiences we could create an event of both inspiration and concrete value.
Small World/Big Hearts chronicles our respective ‘life’s adventures’. Mine was quite my choice. Alepho’s was compulsory and not of his choosing. Juxtaposed together there are both delightful contrasts and powerful common lessons – profound and inspiring human truths that will remain with you long after the event is over.
It’s All About the Children
Every child has a right to a joyful beginning full of hope, affection and possibility. Alepho has lived through the harsh reality of war – loss of home, family and friends. Most tragic of all is the sudden end of innocence and opportunity brought about by violence beyond the control and understanding of any child. The commitment of Small World/Big Hearts is to reach out to these children and to make a difference.
A significant portion of all proceeds from all performances of the program will go directly into a fund that – when our goal is attained – will be used entirely for the establishment of a center for children orphaned by the ongoing conflict it South Sudan. This center will provide food, shelter and education to allow these children access to the lives they deserve. Lives more like the life of opportunity, travel and learning my son Jack is gifted with.
As Alepho – who has made the journey himself – reminds us: It is all about the children.