Meet Danny, the Jungle Man Meet Danny, the Jungle Man
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Meet Danny, the Jungle Man

by Josh Barkey

October 17, 2010

A teacher is reminded that the lessons that really stick are rarely a part of the official course material.


Then I graduated and moved away. Unlike Danny, I had no real place of my own. It was never my mission, so when my borrowed time expired, I hopped on one plane after another, ending up at university during one of the coldest British Columbia winters in decades.

You can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the boy. I spent hours wandering campus sidewalks in the mist and drizzle of the night, wishing that I, like Danny, could have stayed in a place where everything—even the smell of the air—wasn’t so strange.

But Danny was with me, too. See, without realizing what was happening, I had absorbed him into my way of thinking. My perspective had been drastically shaped by a man who lived, by choice, at a pace and with a simplicity unthinkable to the average North American. He was, in short, my teacher. His way of thinking had become a part of me, and I have worked his teachings into my life as I have spent the past 13 years in this foreign culture, gradually learning to make it my own. He was a missionary kid of American and German descent, destined to return to a life of “civilized” wealth, living out his “potential” as an educated, Caucasian male. He became the Jungle Man.

Two years ago, when I moved from British Columbia to North Carolina in order to be closer to family and a few childhood friends, this Jungle Man was there as well. His mother, long since a widow, had fallen ill and needed constant care. So Dan (as he had come to be known) put his dream of helping the Achuar develop a local, sustainable industry and protein source on hold and moved to America to care for his mother.

I see him most weeks now. We sit in his book-lined loft and talk, as before, about loftier things. He tells me his stories, and with them continues to teach me about life. In a culture obsessed with the self and personal advancement, he stands for me as a reminder of selfless familial devotion. He teaches me how to live.

Teaching is a privilege that happens when we least expect it. As a professional educator, it's easy to forget that the lessons that stick are often not a part of the official course material. It's easy to get bogged down in the daily grind of lessons and evaluation—to forget that sometimes, by just being me, I can really change a life. 

Photographs used by permission of the author. 

Josh Barkey is a high school art teacher in North Carolina.

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Meet Danny, the Jungle Man