The Merchant of Venice

A familiar face recently dropped by and astonished the grade three classes at TIS.  But why would they be astonished to see a familiar face?   The visitor was a merchant from Venice .  Though from afar, he was very familiar to grade three students.  So why the astonishment?  Because his name was Marco Polo, a man believed to have died in 1324, almost 700 years ago.

You see Marco came to tell us of his three-year epic journey along the Silk Road—by ship from Venice to the parched holy land, through the Strait of Hormuz by foot and camel, through the frigid Himalayan Mountain range, the endless Gobi Desert, and finally arriving at the court of Kublai Khan in Shang-Du on the edge of the Yellow Sea.  The hardships and adventurous experiences along the way were the stuff of ages, and Marco’s trekking experiences captivated the grade three students’ attention during in their research.  So the thought of having the exploration legend of legends in their midst was simply extraordinary.

In his brief thirty minute visit, Marco spoke of losing his mother at a young age and of his youth, learning the merchant trade business in Venice.  He spoke of the previous journey to China by his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo which paved the way for his own visit in 1271.  The students were on the edge of their seats when he described witnessing barbaric acts of cannibalism, the wretched details of his treks and his imprisonment in Constantinople.  But which details and storylines were of most interest to the grade three students when came to questions?

Water.  They wanted to know where and how Marco and his crew got water, especially when trekking through the desert.   To their amazement at Marco’s ingenuity, they learned perhaps the most implausible and grotesque nugget which they will no doubt never forget.  It seems the herd of camels used to carry their supplies was over-watered, to the extent that their stomachs were bulging.  This is where the story gets gruesome so you may want to cover your ears.  As camels can carry water in their stomachs for days, when the explorers were getting thirsty, they would simply put a pot near the mouth of the camel; stick an arm down the camel’s throat, until the camel vomited the excess water into the waiting pots.  And this became the beverage of choice along the Silk Road.  I kid you not. This no doubt is where the term camelback comes from, the popular hands free hydration system for trekkers.   When Marco, during his visit to grade three offered up a taste of the infamous cup of camel stomach H20, not a single grade three hand went up.  Except one little boy, who shall be nameless.  When met with bug-eyes by his peers and Marco, he said with a wink:

“It’s not for me, Mister
 It’s for my little sister.

Marco Polo’s visit was part of a day long inquiry into this legendary explorer. For Marco Polo Day,  the grade three students were involved in many learning activities such as mapping the Marco Polo route, and building a timeline of his life and times.  We would like to give a special thanks to our PE teacher, Mr. Dan Tucker for his wonderfully authentic portrayal of Marco Polo.  In the Primary Years Program we know that learning best occurs when it is experiential and authentic.  When children go away with a certain buzz about an activity we know that learning has taken root.  But learning doesn’t just happen. Learning activities have to be planned just right; even the smallest of details need to be addressed.  Sometimes the final touch is what breaks the camel’s back.  Just don’t drink the water.

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