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A reader sent this seventh grade question that was released by the New York State Education Department. It appeared on the 2014 English Language Arts test. Test yourself. How would you do?
HERE IS THE PASSAGE:
Read this article. Then answer questions XX through XX.
On the Roof of the World by Benjamin Koch
A few summers ago, I was lucky to travel to Tibet, the “roof of the world.” Tibet is a small country surrounded on all sides by gigantic snowy mountain peaks. For thousands of years, these towering mountains acted like a fence, keeping people from entering the country. That’s one reason why explorers and writers have called Tibet the roof of the world. It’s hard to get to. The other reason is Tibet’s high elevation. When I climbed mountain passes over 17,000 feet above sea level, I gasped for air. I was more than three miles high!
Years ago, the people of Tibet were nomads—people without permanent homes. The ground in Tibet is much too rocky and thin to grow crops, so Tibetans centered their daily life and survival on the yak. The yaks provided the nomads with nearly everything they needed—milk, butter, meat, and wool for clothes and ropes. Even yak dung was used for fires.
Tibetan nomads would lead their herds of yak and sheep across pastures, valleys, and mountainsides in search of the best grazing lands. They did not live in permanent homes made of wood, brick, or stone.
Times are changing in Tibet, and more and more people live and work in villages and cities. But there are still nomads who survive on the high plateau just as their ancestors did. Becoming a Modern Nomad Some friends and I were traveling with our teacher, Dudjom Dorjee, to Kham, in the eastern part of Tibet. Dudjom was born in Tibet and lived the first years of his life as a traditional nomad. Because of political problems, Dudjom’s family had to flee to India when he was still young. We were following Dudjom back to his birthplace and getting a taste of that ancient, nomadic way of life—with a few modern updates. The yak provides the nomads with food and clothing. 1
We had the advantage of automobiles—a luxury that nomads have happily survived without. When it comes time for a nomad family to move, they pack all their things into large backpacks that they strap over their yaks. A typical family might need from 30 to 50 yaks to carry all their supplies. My friends and I had more than 50 bags to carry. We stuffed them into a bus, while we piled into four-wheel drives.
Problems Along the Way
When it comes to crossing rough country, yaks are the true all-terrain travelers. Many times, the nomads have to cross raging rivers. For the loyal and determined yaks, crossing is not a problem. But when we had to cross a river, our four-wheel drives turned out to be not so loyal and reliable. We got stuck in the muddy banks of the river, and it took at least a dozen people pushing to get us out. When nomads arrive at their destination, they are so skilled at setting up their large yak-hair tents that they have them up in minutes.
My friends and I, with our fancy supermodern tents, weren’t quite as quick. At one campsite, I remember wrestling with one of my tent poles trying to pass it through the loops of my tent. Some smiling nomad kids approached and had me set up in no time, though they’d never seen a tent like that before. It’s Cold Up There! The weather in Tibet is cold, and the brutal wind seems to show no mercy.
Sitting inside a nomad tent, though, you’d never know it. With a warm fire burning in the mud stove and the snug black walls of the tent, you are as comfortable as can be. This was not the case in the fancy modern tents my friends and I slept in. I remember shivering through my four sweaters, three pairs of pants, and blanket, listening to the chill rain hit my tent. Having the Right Attitude On this trip, I learned that it takes much more than snug tents and thick, hearty tea to survive. You need the right attitude.
Everywhere we traveled, the Tibetans were generous, happy, and curious. It might be a monk warming my frozen hands in his fur robes. It might be a family of nomads taking a break to dance and sing in a circle, or a handful of kids watching me with beaming smiles. Though their lives are full of challenges, the nomads never take their day-to-day problems too seriously. They know how impermanent things are, including their homes. We modern nomads learned some of these lessons. Perhaps when we cross the raging rivers or face the cold bitter days of our lives, we’ll do it with a lot more of the right attitude—the same attitude that shines from the bright smiles of the Tibetan noma