Monday, February 27, 2012

Fire on the Mountain

“They say it’s a living we all got to eat, but you’re here alone there’s no one to compete” Hunter

I went up to the temple to pray for clarity on the eve of my first official day of class. I was feeling quite insecure about my new life in Bhutan, trying to follow Nancy’s advice to be patient with myself. The temple was locked as a cold wind blew across the stone courtyard. The resident old monk sat spinning a prayer wheel uttering his evening prayers covered in blankets seemingly oblivious to my presence.  I noticed a small path above the temple and jumped onto it. It skirted up a hill to another ruined wall that looked more weathered then the primary ruin below the temple. Twilight gathered around the wall which had weeds growing all over it. Above the ancient edifice the soft dirt path led up into an evergreen forest. I had breezed through the bottom part of this stand before but up higher the dark trees hovered together their sweet piny scent wafting into my nostrils. At dusk the magic of this small forest at the top of a barren hill consumed me with its nurturing energy. I could have been on Mt. Tam although the landscape is not similar. But a feeling of home washed over me. Not as in my former home of Marin, rather that inexplicable recognition of familiarity. The dirt under my feet seemed to know my steps. The air tasted of cedar incense and filled my lungs with refreshing breath. The dark foliage was almost black as the gathering night, the deepest green possible before turning to black. An animal scurried through the brush but I couldn’t see it. A few sprinkles of rain baptized me as I lingered in the shadows hugging an evergreen with a grey trunk. The tree omitted a soft energy, silently returning my embrace. I carefully descended out of the grove in the grey gloaming tracing my way back to the ruins without a torch. Down in the Western valley a soft glow hugged the mountain. This lone ember in the darkness must have been a forest fire in the direction of Doksom. Soon I stumbled out of nature into the sleepy hamlet of Tshenkharla momentarily refreshed. Now confident there is a place here that will always soothe my spirit, welcoming me in my fangled state of being, a robust growth that is out of place in the rugged landscape. This forest possesses radiant compassion that I can love, and will love me in return.

Part 2 Waiting for the Rain

“And this town is just like a desert ghost town up and down the line, and the circus is down to a juggler, thirst is the only thing we find” Ed Volker

Three days without H2O now. This is a very difficult aspect of reality on this rock. It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew when water came so I could be waiting with my bucket at the tap. So for now the dishes are piled, the clothes are dirty and the filter is dry. The locals seem very easy going about such hardships and nothing ever fazes them. Tomorrow I am scheduled to head to Yangtse to deliver papers to the authorities at the Dzong and open my bank account. I am bummed I will miss class on my first day. I don’t like the message it sends to my pupils but I have no choice in the matter. I have done my best in planning the first lesson (for Tuesday) that is designed to build trust and put us all at ease. I’m sure I will update on my blog this week as I just posted the behemoth, “Dancing in the Streets” today which will occupy my faithful readers for awhile. (I hope someone is reading this thing!)  I had a great conversation with my mom and Becky today. I am yet to say goodbye to anyone before losing the call. Mom I love you and don’t worry for me. Becky I need to see your smiling face ASAP to keep my sanity. Let’s paint T-Gang red, shall we?  I was remembering our nocturnal walk at Autsho by the riverside while on my constitution tonight. (I hope Reidi is healthy and thriving out there!) That place left a deep impression on me. Especially those giant trees with dragon scaled trunks and the white washed chorten gleaming in the moonlight down that haunted road. Bhutan is so peaceful at night. I feel lonesome in my hut but love “night crawling” about, although I haven’t caught anything yet but starts! Solitude can drive a body crazy as I’ve taken to prowling the grounds with my torch, a night watchman talking to the dogs and studying the intricate tantric paintings on our schools prayer wheel.

After my walk I fulfilled my obligation to meet Samgay to share my edits on his book. Just one page took a half hour to discuss and rewrite. And I’ve already sacrificed several hours to complete 5 pages, first making my corrections then meeting to discuss them. The truth is I don’t have the time or inclination to help rewrite an entire novel in this manner. But I am reluctant to say no to anything here. I’m caught in the movie “Yes Man.” My priority has to be my students and their development. I’m not the best at establishing boundaries especially in a tiny village. I’m sure I will eventually be known as the village curmudgeon. I only feel obligated to my students and club members and no one else. I’m not here to find a Bhutanese bride, or curry favor, or make friends. I have my two Bhutanese friends (Karlos and Karma OM) who constitute my support network. Despite being lonely I cherish my limited privacy.

Liora thanks for your readership and message. Seems like just yesterday we were reading “Beyond the Earth and Sky” by Jamie Zeppa and now I’m submerged in my own saga here. I’m sure your fearless leadership is a guiding light for the arts in Eugene although the Latinos miss you. Say hi to The Squirrel and T-Bone for me! It’s auspicious that you sent me the lyrics to “I Shall Be Released” I broke down and cried listening to a recording of the Rads covering that song at Bacchanalia. I cried partly from the words and also the memory of dancing in front of Zeke with my mom in the fall of dark. That was a great day celebrating my cousin Marty’s birthday with him and (the other Marti) my mom. The song is a true story especially with reference to the east. I haven’t found that “spiritual awakening” yet but I’m still searching! Send me your address so I can mail you a post card with special stamp!

“I see my light come shinning from the west down to the east, any day now any way now I shall be released” Bob Dylan

Dave if you’re reading my parents relayed your story of renting a car and driving to the “Real Himalayas.” I’m still having issues opening blogs due to my weak connection. Its kind of intriguing getting second hand accounts from my folks that bounce from Bhutan to the UK to America and then back to Bhutan! Oral tradition is alive and well in the modern world. I can’t wait to actually read one of your infamous entries and am elated you’re stopping by “Tiger.” Watch out for those leeches!   

It will be an interesting week for all of us teachers as we settle in for our work. Hard to believe it’s been a month since arrival. Time is a funny phenomenon, seems like we just arrived yesterday and also like we’ve been here forever. I can vividly recall Reidi shedding tears of joy upon arrival, sitting in the hospital with fellow teachers and Nancy, Big Buddha, Tigers Nest, and all those wonderful dinners together. None of the easterners could possibly forget the drive descending over the pass surrounded by monkeys. I fondly remember my third goodbye to the Final Four at a lunch stop beyond Mongor. Then chasing the bus across the bridge of no return into the land of “Terror” the fork in the road separating Trashiyangtse and Trashigang. As Ashleigh wrote those were the memories of a lifetime!
Part 3 Zig Zagging through Ghostland

“Oh yeah zig zagging through ghostland, oh yeah crawling through the shadows when I move, oh yeah zig zagging through ghostland, who knows what evil lurks, Zanidu” Zeke

Today I visited the district capital of Trashiyangtse playing official hooky from my first day of class. I went with Karlos and my principal to open my bank account and visit the Dzong to submit my paperwork. The drive from Tshenkharla was splendid as the scenery changed from barren to semi lush with the wide valleys steepening into tight ravines. The vegetation included ferns, comely purple flowers with snow-cone buds, pines, and oaks with wild ivy wrapped around the trunks. The jagged road followed a river all the way to town alternating between dirt and paved. I caught my first brief glimpse of Chorten Kora which is situated at the edge of town. We did not stop. Rumor has it a straggling half dozen Black Necked Cranes are still roosting in town before flying back to Tibet for the summer. These are Bhutan’s most famous birds but I didn’t see any. Yangtse is situated in a large bowl shaped valley and reminds me of the inner mountain west of the United States. The wide and relatively clean streets are inviting. I even saw a garbage truck collecting trash! After completing my official business we got some delicious momo’s for lunch which is the same as Korean Mondu. This dish is a dumpling similar to a pot sticker but not crispy and stuffed with meet or cheese. I had an orange soda to wash it down. In the afternoon blue skies were replaced by wind and thick smoke from a forest fire. We visited a secondary school that educated older students and was above where Kendra taught. The campus was new and had the feel of a junior college. Then Karlos and I stopped by his friend’s house while my principal had a meeting at the school. We watched (taped delayed) UCONN vs. Syracuse on ESPN with Dickey V announcing (baby!) very strange to see hoops in a pinewood shack drinking tea. This year I will host my own version of March Madness hopefully getting a team together. The owner of the house had an adorable daughter who was very outgoing and slightly older then Reed.

My friend Karlos is perfect for his job as the boy’s warden and seems to enjoy his authority. He is a natural leader spotting associates and former students all over the region. “Come mister” he quips “lets move” That is my cue to follow. He reminds me a lot of my brother and also loves talking on the phone frequently to his many pals.  

I was impressed with Yangtse especially the greenery for the dry season. I will return to make my pilgrimage to Chorten Kora and maybe see a Black Necked Crane before they fly away. When I get back to Yangtse maybe I will call the teachers who gave me a ride home last week from Gom Kora. Any road trips must be done between Saturday afternoon and Sunday night. Yangtse and T-Gang are the only two possibilities. Trashigang is at least two hours from Tshenkharla and Trashiyangtse is an hour and a half away. The two towns are in opposite directions with Tshenkharla in the middle. 

Yet another day without water! I am down to a swill of drinking water. I was envious at the school I visited which had a geyser with unlimited supply gushing out in strong force. Even when we do get water it isn’t running for more than ten minutes and often doesn’t fill my three buckets so washing anything is difficult, it is hard livin! I notice some Bhutanese have a gruff appearance with skin as bad as mine. I attribute this to their sparse diet. 

I just got back from Karlos and Sonam’s house for supper which was cow’s stomach over rice with emadatsi. One can’t help but wonder who is eating the rest of the cow. She is a great cook and can really pull together a delicious meal with some questionable ingredients. Returning home I pinched my finger in my gnarly metal lock. It takes all my strength just to open my door.

3 good things today:

1. Playing with adorable little girl (Pema Diki Chorden) and her two stuffed deer.
2. Momos.
3. Finally seeing Trashiyangtse in real life.

Bhutanese Moon

a Bhutanese moon
rests in two hemispheres
ladled out by the dipper
crucified on the Southern Cross
a phosphorus sliver
mocking me from afar!

Part 4 In The Dark

Tomorrow I begin my classes. The timetable they gave me has the wrong times. I have no list of student names, no chalk, and no one told me where my classroom is located. Its ten o’clock and I just got back from a walk. I was desperately looking for a night cap but all the village doors are locked. Only the lonely flicker of a television set through a window. And the soft glow of the forest fire raging in the distance.

It’s been great having my few followers along for the ride but I might shut this blog down for awhile. I need to focus on educating the children, finding water, and maintaining my health. Some of these thoughts may be better suited for a personal diary and not a public forum. Plus as a teacher I feel very self conscious about my poor grammar which I'm working to improve.

Once again I would like to thank my donors for granting me this unique opportunity in Bhutan. 

All the best,


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dancing In The Streets

Dancing in the Streets

“Every guy grab a girl everywhere around the world”

Tonight the entire community of Tshenkharla came out to celebrate Karlos and Sonam’s wedding. The event started an hour late, a perfect illustration of Bhutan Stretchable time or (BST). In Bhutan weddings are rarely public events and this was the first one ever to this scale at our village. How auspicious that I was here for the occasion. I even sported my gho, having some boys from the hostel dress me. I had prepared a speech but my turn in the rotation got skipped. I wanted to thank the couple for their incredible hospitality, always feeding me dinner and tea. The ceremony had speeches, song and dance from students and the traditional white scarf ceremony where each villager presented a white scarf to the couple. Their must have been 200 or more piled on the table. Then we had a massive pot-luck feast which included pork, beef, radish, potatoes, chilies, raw onions, rice and more which we ate with our hands. Men and women alike chewed beetle nut staining their teeth red while boosting their energy. The crowd also consumed beer, whisky, and arra (the local liquor distilled from rice). After the kids went home the community danced for several hours. I tried the first few rounds performing atrociously. It seems the years of disjointed Ratdog rhythm has thrown off my beat considerably and I cannot grasp the basic steps of this unified form. I sat out the later rounds as they danced and danced and danced. Some songs were specifically for Tshenkharla and have probably existed for hundreds of years. The village was previously named Rangthang Woong which translates to “grinding stone” The old stone still resides in the schools main courtyard to this day and gives off a radiant energy to the touch. The villagers (my community) moved “like a Swiss watch,” as the dogs came in for our leftovers. These songs are hauntingly beautiful and so reminiscent of Native American chants. Even the principal was in motion which was so cool. The vibe was electric as boarding student’s peeped through cracks in the window peering into the assembly hall to glimpse the happenings. People began to hang loose as the night wore on, and I shared some good laughs feeling a contact high from the music, spirits, and beetle nut. It was truly an unforgettable event for the village of Tshenkharla. I took many pictures and movies by myself and others when after my camera was commandeered by village folk. I will share them soon I hope. Tonight was an initiation for me, and I was glad to play a small role in the festivities. No matter the hardships and challenges ahead, its moments like this evening that make it all worthwhile. I am so blessed to be in this particular community nestled in the far east of the Kingdom of Bhutan. I have been a part of many wonderful community circles in my life thus far but have never experienced anything like tonight before. The entire village pulled together in pure generosity of substance and spirit producing a holistic gem polished by the essence of the collective. His Majesties b-day celebration will occur over the next several days. “Its festival time!” 

“So that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always” pg. 50 Death Comes For The Archbishop, Willa Cather

Part 2 Rehersal, Clean Up, Nightmare, Potty Talk, And a Message to the Krewe…

“Life ain’t never easy, it’s hard hard hard!” Hot Lube, Ed Volker

Today was rehearsal for “His Majesties” b-day celebration tomorrow. He will be 32 or 33 depending on who I asked. There was wonderful music purveyed by several teachers and the principal. The principal is a regular old Bela Fleck on the Dragon banjo an instrument which strikes me as an oriental version of our classic instrument, whose neck forms the shape of a dragon in vivid detail. Like a banjo it’s plucked with a pick producing a plinking of rambling notes. There was also a tabled string instrument which was struck with two thin sticks, maybe a zither. One of our teachers beat a huge bass drum with a large crack which he struck by a large stick with cloth tied around the end. There was an acoustic guitar, cymbals, and a quartet of class 10 students (two boys and two girls) singing the words to their National Song, a beautiful melody. This was broadcasts via microphones and a large PA to the crowd of students. This took place on a bluff as students marched on the soccer field below, like a more organized version of “The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band.” I decided to attempt to purge the area of trash to the shock of the vice principal and several teachers. “You cannot do yourself!” protested the VP. “I will try!” I exclaimed disobeying his protest to the inquisitive looks of many people. I managed to collect two full trash bags of rubbish (Wish I had more of those bags) emptying them in a trash pit before reusing the bag. It was tedious work picking tiny gum wrappers out of tangled grass. I also collected, plastic jugs, broken glass, cardboard, abandoned clothes, and papers with my bare hands. Sadly I only completed a small fraction to clean the field area. I cut my finger on a thorn which sent me home for repair. I bandaged my finger and lay down for a nap which turned into an all day slumber. My dreams were of a tumultuous nature where everything I touched was destroyed, blazing in fire. My brother Tyler was around, I remember because I capsized his SUV somehow by walking near it putting a large dent in its side. I was afraid to tell him and did not want to take ownership of my path of destruction. Somehow I set a house on fire by looking at it then I was in a cavern drowning. The dream took place in Bhutan but it was an unfamiliar landscape to me. I finally awoke to the dinner bell for the mess. Like a scavenger I crept up to the chow line asking the cook for a plate of emadatsi and rice and porridge. After dinner I sat by a small outside fire a student had made in the brush.  After supper I went up to the basketball court to spin our new prayer wheel which is set under an awning, (It was installed last year) and a finer prayer wheel I’ve never seen. The large well greased wheel spun effortlessly knocking into and chiming a bell with each revolution, filling the air with silver globes of sound. I watched the class 10 girls sweep the court in the darkness. Before adjourning to my “sick room” (It is called that since this structure would typically be used as quarantine for sick students.)

Karlos dropped by and asked me to look over his speech for the celebration tomorrow of His Majesty’s birthday. I had a few suggestions for the grammar (I know the blind leading the blind) But overall it was beautifully written. Here is the speech that Karlos permitted me to publish. I helped with the closing remarks which are hopefully consistent with the overall “voice” of the piece. The dates appear differently then in our own English and certain words have a British spelling as well. Hope you enjoy and maybe learn something of His Majesty “The Peoples King.” (If you’re short on time scroll down for more of my own perceptions)

Respected chief guest, fellow government servants, shopkeepers, dear parents and students, today on 21st February 2012, according to Water Male Dragon year of the Bhutanese calendar, we are all gathered here to celebrate not only a monarch’s birthday, but also to observe the education day.
His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck was born on 21st February, 1980, at the beautiful palace of Dechencholing, Thimphu. From His Majesty, the fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and Her Majesty Queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon.

His Majesty received his formal schooling at Lungtenzampa and Yangchenphug schools in Thimphu. He also received training in traditional arts, code of conduct, and ethics. After completing his twelfth grade from Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School, His Majesty went to study at Phillips Academy in the United States, then at Cushing Academy and Wheaton College in Massachusetts. His Majesty eventually received a Foreign Service programme and M. Phil in politics from Magdalen College of Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
His Majesty also attended the 2005 program of the National Defense College in New Delhi, India. Furthermore, he has received an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Rangsit University in Thailand in November 2006. The degree was presented to him in recognition of his contributions in leadership, wisdom and strategies for development in his country to improve the well-being and happiness of his people.

From a very early age, His Majesty served his country as a chief patron of various organizations like the Youth scouts Association of Bhutan, the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environment Conservation, the Royal Society for the protection of Nature, the Royal University of Bhutan as Chancellor, patron of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the president of the Bhutan India Friendship Association.  Outside the country, His Majesty served as the patron of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and the European Convention of Bhutan Societies.

As His Majesty was aware of growing juvenile crime affecting the youth in Bhutan, he opened the first juvenile rehabilitation center in Tsimalakha in June 1999 to give special care for this unfortunate youth under his initiatives.
His Majesty addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 2002, where he called for the nations to come together to eradicate poverty, disease and hunger. He also played an active role in strengthening Indo-Bhutan relations by signing a memorandum of understanding to enrich and expand bilateral relations between India and Bhutan.
For overall contributions made by him, His Majesty the fourth King awarded him the Red Scarf on 25th June, 2002.

On 31st October, 2004, His Majesty ascended the Throne of the 16th Trongsa Poenlop. The investiture of the Trongsa Poenlop was a powerful declaration of the future King’s ascension to the Golden Throne, and with it, came a huge responsibility for the nation upon His Majesty who was just 24 years old.

The fourth King involved the Trongsa Poenlop in the making of the Bhutanese Constitution.  Prior to Bhutan’s full transition to parliamentary democracy, His Majesty travelled across the country to meet with the people and discuss the draft Constitution introducing the new political system. Following these consultations and detailed discussions in the National Assembly, the Constitution of Bhutan was put to a nationwide referendum in June 2008, and adopted. His Majesty has stated that as King, one of his biggest and most sacred responsibilities is to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Bhutan.

In December 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced his intention to abdicate in his son's favour in 2008, and that he would begin handing over responsibility to him immediately. On 14th December 2006, the King abdicated and transferred the throne to His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck who was officially crowned on 6th November 2008, in the month of the Male Earth Rat, in Punakha. His Majesty’s active involvement in causes of the future generations have made him the role model for the younger people, and thus, he has become the embodiment of the past and inspiration for the future.

Within two years of his reign, His Majesty has proven himself as an open, positive and selfless leader, the one who is deeply devoted to the cause of his people, for which he is known as the ‘People’s King.’ Even as the Crown Prince, he gave everyone a sense of optimism for the future.
His Majesty consolidated Indo-Bhutan relations by signing the Treaty of India-Bhutan Friendship in New Delhi on 8th February, 2008. The updating of the 1949 Treaty reflected the mutual desire of both the governments to strengthen the relationship to a greater level of cooperation and goodwill.

His Majesty established Druk Holding and Investment Limited [DHI] on 11th November, 2002 with the mandate to ensure that the Bhutanese companies are able to meet the challenges and requirements of the corporate sector in a highly competitive global economy, so that the Bhutanese people receive the maximum returns from their business and investments.

In 2007, His Majesty established the Royal Education Council of Bhutan, which is mandated to carry out a holistic reform of the education system and to align the Bhutanese education with Gross National Happiness.

Under the benevolent leadership of His Majesty, the first democratically elected government came to power on 24th March, 2008, which marked a key turning point in the smooth transition from monarchy to democracy. Thus, His Majesty fulfilled his father’s vision for democracy. On 8th May, 2008, he addressed the first parliamentary session.

On 18th July, 2008 His Majesty signed the Constitution in the Kuenrey of Tashichodzong, witnessed by His Majesty the fourth King, the monk body, the Royal Family, Government leaders, the parliamentarians and the international community.

His Majesty was crowned as the fifth King on 6th November, 2008 in Serthi Namgay Khangzang, Tashichodzong. Since the formal coronation, King Jigme Khesar's first landmark project was the launching of the National Cadastral Resurvey in March 2009. The programme is aimed at resolving long-standing land issues of excess land that affects every Bhutanese household.

The King has also been giving away land to landless farmers around the country. The on-going project takes the King to remote villages and communities. He personally supervised the rebuilding efforts following major earthquakes and floods in 2009.

His Majesty believes in adopting Gross National Happiness as the true indicator of the nation’s overall development. He defines Gross National Happiness as “a bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity” that is necessary to pursue a sustainable economic growth. So GNH is to be continued as the nation’s collective conscience, always guiding the nation to achieve the ultimate goal of human development, which is happiness.

Today on this auspicious occasion we appreciate His Majesty’s tireless efforts and achievements on behalf of our country. As the Bhutanese people, we pledge to support him in the development of all areas of our nation, especially the pursuit of Gross National Happiness. We expect His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck to continue his selfless dedication on behalf of his people. And that the people of Bhutan will reflect his compassionate service in their daily lives.

Lastly, today is a special day for us to offer our gratitude and wishes for the wellbeing and happiness of our King and The Royal Family. We hope to thrive under His Majesty’s benevolent leadership for many generations to come.

Tashi Delek 

Tomorrow I will review the events of His Majesty’s celebration before publishing my latest edition of “Tiger” sometime this week. It’s amazing that every school across the country will host elaborate celebrations to honor His Majesty. Their will also be a celebration in Thimphu for the king himself. Where else in the world do they genuinely love and respect their leader like this? I feel badly I did not complete my mission of cleaning up the “football field” for the main event. But hopefully a few students took notice of my efforts and will assist me for my “Clean Up Club” in the future. I pledge to leave Tshenkharla cleaner then when I arrived. I hope to contact the prime minister regarding the complex issue of trash disposal in Bhutan. A national clean up day would go along way to eradicate the tons of litter in each community. Of course I need to learn a lot about how trash is dealt with and disposed of here on a national level. It seems it’s mostly buried or burned. Managing the trash properly would not only benefit the locals “Gross National Happiness” but also enhance the pleasure of the (heavily taxed) tourists who come to Bhutan expecting Shangri-La. I encourage any fellow teachers to help clean up your campuses (if you’re not busy enough with your classes and clubs, LOL.) Everyone can make a difference wherever you are in the world and change cannot take place without action.  

Now, if you’re sensitive to potty talk skip this passage. The eastern squat toilets are the worst for “foreigners” as we must squat in a “defensive stance” over a porcelain hole. No enjoying the morning newspaper on the thrown here. And yes if you’re reading this Sabrina I empathize with the burning leg syndrome from holding this stance. The biggest problem for me is the lack of water which means I must flush my toilet by means of a bucket. I have discovered that even the slightest bit of toilet paper clogs the drain so the best way is to wipe your bum with your hand or splash water up there. “Very dirty!” as my Korean students used to say. A proper toilet is a wonderful thing but any day in Bhutan with solid poop is a blessing.

Ashleigh thanks for the offer of your rice cooker that was immensely generous of you, but how about some of your daddy’s ribs with a side of slaw instead! (How’s the college town treating you?) I replaced my rice cooker in Mongor and have used it only once. I need to start cooking myself and not being dependent on the community or my dwindling supply of fast food (noodles) or western food purchased in the capital. Sarah if you’re reading this, I’m glad your gho is popular with the Gasa peeps, it looks smashing on you. Also, Becky you owe me a call! Sheal, how’s the night- hunting/ night-crawling going? And Dave if you’re reading this, my family are “big fans” of your blog and crazy “Indian adventures” along with all the other BCF blogs which they update me on. My internet is painfully slow so I can’t keep up on ALL the entries. It was great talking to you bra (my brother) on the phone for the first time except now I can’t get burritos out of my head. Sorry I missed you mom, can’t wait to see you again Tyler, Beth, Reed, Paige, Dad, Mom and Jazzy. Come visit me if you can. I fear I drained everyone’s coffers from my “Hands” campaign. I hope some of my donors are enjoying this blog and let me reiterate that despite my stream of consciousness which sometimes flows negatively, I am HAPPY to be here. I can still remember when my buddy Paul told me about Bhutan while enjoying a gourmet meal on his floor in Korea, (he was an amazing chef, like Ramsey!) He told me about trekking through rhododendron forests and seeing one horned rhinoceroses. I went home and immediately began researching this country which before that dinner was unknown to me. And now, five years later I’m actually here. All the BCF’ers had had that ah ha moment that eventually led them here bringing our threads together, woven in a singular tapestry of distinctive adventures. I think of y’all often, what a pleasure getting to know each other during “disorientation.” Thanks to all the former BCF, and former alumni, (Jamie Zeppa’s and Nancy’s groups) the ones who passed through and the ones who remain, “We are standing on your shoulders!” and continue “our” work with dignity and enthusiasm.

This is a poem about Duksum a small dying town at the foot of the road
to Tshenkharla.

Ode to Duksum

Where have all your people gone?
who used to drift your abandoned wind swept street
to Thimphu, Trashigang, Samdrup Jongkhar?
or washed away with your iron chain linked bridge,
by the angry Kulong Chhu.
only few children remain
playing amongst the old tires and broken Coke machine*
even the post office stands empty
a ghost of its former self
if you could talk what sad stories would you tell?

In actuality the Coke machine was a refrigerator with the Coke logo on its brim. There are no Coke machines in Bhutan.

Part 3 His Majesty’s B-Day Celebration

“Dogs begin to bark now, hounds begin to howl” Little Red Rooster

I tossed and turned all night as a pack of wild (stray) dogs howled and bayed outside my doorstep, and a cricket like insect chirped loose in my hut. So far infiltration has been at a minimum except for a sleek tabby that creeps in the door now and again. I was dreaming that I lost my baby niece Paige in the ocean and she was being carried off by the undertow. I could see her bulbous head bobbing away in the waves. Being an uncle has given my life more meaning then ever before and I can’t wait to see Reed and Paige grow into little bookworms. I wonder what they thought of “Aunt Morgan?” When I awoke the sun was shinning for His Majesty’s b-day. We had a beautiful ceremony that lasted all morning and into the afternoon. We had speeches, dancing, and performances by each class. Many community members also attended lining the hills to watch the festivities. Other teachers and dignitaries sat under a canopy with pine needles forming a natural rug below their feet. I must be the worst dancer to ever set foot on Bhutanese soil. Ironically I used to receive many compliments on my dancing in the rock n roll arena. I think I probably lost the respect of my students today by my movements or lack there of and cries of “move your arms Mr. Tim” or “No like this” were heard all over the field. I wore my gho which was synched too tight like a corset. I also know how it feels to pee like a lady pulling up my skirt. The ceremony was followed by a special lunch with the students on the basketball court. On the whole, Bhutanese students are quite shy and do not engage me often. Even the Korean students were more relaxed in conversation. The Bhutanese students are extremely cordial rising from their seats when I walk by the braver ones muttering “hello sir.”

The women of Bhutan are also very shy and have big strong hands and can carry a large load over their slight frames. Some Bhutanese are darker (like Thai folks or Native Americans) generally from the East and some have lighter complexions from the west (similar to Koreans) of course this is a generalization as Bhutanese are supposedly all of Mongoloid descent. But like everywhere the darker ones wish to be lighter. A phenomenon experienced by Haitians who want to look pale as their Dominican counterparts and even in Korea where a fair complexion is coveted. I blame the British Empire for this and all whites thereafter. This is why English is the language medium of the world and that’s how I make my living. So be it. I am also interested in observing the male female dynamic here. The women have a quiet power like anywhere in the world but it still seems to me a male dominated society, although not in any overbearing way. But as anywhere the patriarchal panoptic wheel turns reflecting the basic nature of global society. This highly protected patriarchal dynamic is my primary scorn of any organized religion (including Buddhism) that subtly or overtly favors the males of society. In a country as this, some might argue that gender patterns follow the necessary work and dualities of their reality. For example traditionally women bare children and tend the house, while man hunts, gathers, and works. Acquisition of blunt power and wealth is a seed that blossoms deep in the male psyche as men have always been experts on making war. And I have known women who are conversely experts in making love, but I digress!

We have a few days off for Losar (The Year of the Male Water Dragon) Hopefully I will join Karlos and Sonam and Karma Om for lunch. Just as I wrote that last line, Karma Om knocked on my door how fortuitous, she is a striking young woman of light complexion and thoughtful round eyes. She teaches English up the road at an isolated village. Her son (hatchet boy) lives with her mom (proprietor of the canteen) in Tshenkharla and her husband works in the west. I enjoy conversing with her because of her effervescent humor and capabilities in English. For example when she’s tired and gracefully 86ing me from the canteen, she says, “I’m feeling droopy.” She understands 50% of what I say which is 25% more than anyone else. Deep conversations are my passion and will be sorely missed while in Bhutan. Simon if you’re reading this, and I know you probably aren’t since your watching some Yankee entertainment. I’m glad I lost the coin flip and (had) to share a room with you in Thimphu. Are chats on philosophy, history, teaching, travel, comedy, and all things human were grist for my mill. Hope you’re rolling along in Wamrong where I’m sure your positive attitude will serve you well. For my part I’m trying not to be such a drango.

I learned today I have some Bhutanese readers for “Tiger” I welcome them all. I hope to not offend anyone with the content of this blog, since it’s mostly an E journal or diary where I share my shadowy soul and half witted opinions. I have to get off this hill before school starts on Saturday. I have inkling to take the 14 hour bus ride to Samdrop Jonkhar on the Indian border to shop and see the scenery of the drive but will not have time. I have a million places to go but no ride (just like home). My pilgrimage to Chorten Kora and Gom Kora will have to wait. I desperately need a bath it’s been over a week now. As I’m composing these words I’m heating some H2O in my bucket. The weather outside turned from seasonable to cold as clouds blur the horizon to a silvery haze. I imagined Bhutan with stark blue skies but in reality it’s usually an inky haze. I am told that summer is clear. I have decided after today’s ceremony that I need to get some “fly” Bhutanese boots in Thimphu. These techno-colored boots worn by the Bhutanese men on auspicious occasions would be epic for late night trance parties in the barn.

Happy Year of the Male Water Dragon, I can still here the roar of the cardboard dragon in my head from NYE with Furthur. The last time I saw my adept hero he was pounding his chest and roaring like the Thunder Dragon before vanishing from sight.

Just took an invigorating bucket bath and am feeling, “so fresh and so clean clean!” If Sarah can do a “polar plunge” in the waters of Antarctica I can handle a bucket bath on cold cement. 

“We’ll be back in just a little bit.”

Part 4 Losar

“Long weeks of marching in the mud
the time is right for drinking dragon’s blood” Dragons Blood

Today school was very quiet except for a student who came by for some grammar help. He is from class 10, combing through his grammar book while the other students are off celebrating Losar with their families. What a lonesome sight two people struggling over grammar on a cloudy hillside. I spent the day with my surrogate family on a picnic for Losar. Karma Om was radiant as she prepared food for the event listening to hip hop singing along to the profane lyrics with the voice of a nightingale, while peeling and chopping vegetables with impeccable knife skills.

Karma is a tall woman by Bhutanese standards and more shapely with broad shoulders and a round booty with very muscular thighs and legs, but is by no means plump. Many Bhutanese women have slight frames with timid stature and karma has none of these qualities but she is superstitious and afraid of ghosts. She has delicate hands in contrasts to the thick hands of many Bhutanese females. Her long black hair frames her creamy complexion hanging straight passed her shoulders with highlights of crimson perceptible when struck by direct sunlight. Her large eyes are like watery chestnuts reflecting intensity and compassion simultaneously. Her sharp teeth have slight gaps between them (as Asians typically have a lack of dental care.) and are set behind pouty full lips. She speaks English confidently in a velvety tone her eyes sparkling when she laughs which is often accompanied by a gasping sound. She has a constitution that would afford her success in any situation of travel and at her feet is the wildest boy you’d ever want to meet. Sergey has a constantly dripping nose and no upper front teeth which according to karma have been rotted away by chocolate, although I haven’t seen any chocolate here. He operates on pure instinct and is “a little weird’ according to mom. His chaotic actions and frequent trademark whine is interspersed with occasional sweetness. Indeed the boy has taken a shine to me and usually shows it with hitting or throwing large objects. The matriarch of the family is “Mama” who is 42. She has a pleasant face and sad eyes that twinkle with measurable kindness. She had lost her husband who was murdered in a terrorist attack by Indian insurgents (when Karma was approaching adolescence) and has a melancholy aura. She enjoys smoking tobacco and chewing beetle nut like most Bhutanese. She is also the pinnacle of the family wheel, after lunch laying down in her daughters lap for a nap. Karma has two sisters, one home from boarding school that turned 18 yesterday and one in the highlands of India working as a beautician who Karma describes as “bold.” There are two brothers, one in Thimphu and one class 10 student who lives at the canteen whose name translates to “Compassionate Mountain” He is intelligent and soft spoken and dreams of a scholarship in Australia. He aspires to be a physician and spent Losar picnicking with friends near the river.   

Mama, Karma, Sergey (hatchet boy), little sister, cousin, other Karma, and I headed out for our picnic. They even made a special stop to try and get a Coke for me since all the shops were locked. They managed to secure some orange pop in the upper village where some children played a game that was a cross between billiards and shuffle board. We hiked below the main ruins to a lovely spot I’d sung at for sunset once before. This ruined white wall is over a thousand years old. A lone rhododendron blossomed in brilliant red flowers on the slope over the ruin. In the distance men laughed playing archery as smoke rose from a village in the valley below. This is the western view from Tshenkharla opposite my homes eastern view. Both views open for miles in opposing directions. From the ruins one can see in four directions for an eternity. Numerous settlements are carved into mountainsides with dirt roads etched into steep earth that zig zag from village to village. Here we spread out rugs and sat down for our feast. Karma Om is a tremendous cook as I enjoyed the best meal in Bhutan which included rice, fish stew (with fresh trout, tomatoes, onions, and ginger,) fried beef and potato curry, Pork and radishes, Fresh chilly salad and beans. The flavors meshed perfectly and you could taste the love in each bite. One can’t help but wonder what she might create in a western kitchen with unlimited ingredients. I am drawn to this clan since they are louder and more aggressive then my own family and seem to especially enjoy hitting each other and throwing things, (rocks, flowers, food, and more.) I even spoke to Mama’s sister on the phone in Thimphu. After lunch they had ceremonial arra (including the 5 year old Sergey) all getting tipsy. Sergey was running around torpedoing into everyone before climbing the ruin like a monkey. As the warm rays of sunlight kissed our faces, the pias class 9 cousin (who besides me abstained from drink) was picking weeds out of the ruins and retying loose prayer flags to the structure. She has a quality of innocence and wisdom like a nun and I felt myself wanting to behave respectfully in her presence even though I am fifteen years her senior. She was the complete opposite of her family and sat off to the side serving and cleaning for the group occasionally laughing at Sergey or my antics or dancing. She also was the only one wearing traditional dress.

It was an exquisitely authentic Losar and im grateful to the family for indulging my presence. I haven’t laughed so hard since arriving here as they allow me to be myself. Like they say “A small family is a happy family and a big family is the royal family.”

The sun has set and the world is dusky grey and lonesome. I am lucky I have made two true friends here in Karlos and Karma. Everyone is very nice but real friends take time and understanding to form. Its 6 PM and I’m listening to “Graceland” and savoring the warm memories of the afternoon. Paul Simon’s song “You Can Call Me AL” sums up my experience in Bhutan best,

“A man walks down the street, it’s a street in a strange world, maybe it’s the third world, maybe it’s his first time around, doesn’t speak the language, he holds no currency, he is a foreign man, he is surrounded by the sound”  

I enjoyed watching the family interact today, pretending I was not in the script interfering with their natural interplay, the real Bhutan. Mare’s motto “hide and watch” is a good one.

Perhaps tonight I will sink into my book “Death Comes to the Archbishop” a story so appropriate for my lonely journey to this place seemingly at the end of the world. The novel is about a French missionary in the wild landscape of New Mexico in the 1800’s. Morgan knows me so well and is an adept oracle. Perhaps she knew something I didn’t when giving me the book. If you’re reading this Rabes, thanks for everything. You own a place in my heart that is untouchable! By the way since I brought very few clothes my new shirt is invaluable! The longer I live in this mixed up world the more I realize that you have made me the man I am. It’s cosmic comedy the way life works out like a river carving unconsciously finding its course. Two days after my Bhutan interview I saw Morgan in Lake Tahoe during the Phish run. I begged her to take me back over lunch. She kindly and flatly refused. I was devastated and slunk to my friend Julie’s house to lick my wounds. Flicking on the computer I had a message in my inbox from Kristen Scott offering me the position in Bhutan. If Morgan had accepted my reconciliation plea or Ed Volker hadn’t retired from The Radiators, I wouldn’t be here now. The moral is that profound heartbreak and loss can lead to new opportunity. Oh by the way Rabes, don’t forget to wear sunscreen!

Sorry this blog is so long but writing keeps me sane and in touch with YOU the reader. I imagine all of you reading this snuggled up to the creature comforts I miss, or the BCF krewe commiserating with my plight. Becky I almost had a wild hair to seek you out this holiday! Next week I begin teaching and tomorrow I will scout an adventure perhaps hitchhiking to the river. If it’s worthwhile, I’ll update! Two boys from the hostel are bored and knocking on my door. I promised I would pay them a visit when I’m done writing and will do so now.

I visited the two boys at the hostel and it turns out they are the only students who didn’t go home for Losar. One has only a mother and doesn’t know who is father is. The boys however are best friends. I admire their dedication as they are studying together alone on their precious days off. That inspires me to work hard as a teacher. Both boys have never been out of the East of Bhutan. And both work very hard to be able to speak several Bhutanese languages and converse in English. I feel guilty being able to travel and arrogant speaking only English. Meeting them was a humbling experience and I brought them some filtered water and cups to sustain them. They reciprocated with a bag of rice which they insisted I take. Tomorrow I will play some football with them.

My 2.5 year old nephew Reed couldn’t believe I was living without a dishwasher, washing machine, and high speed internet. I miss all those things but not as much as him. 

Some cool things about Bhutan:

1.     You can pee anywhere
2.     You can eat with your hands

Quote of the day

“I am not a wolf in sheeps clothing
rather, a sheep in wolf’s clothing!” Timothy Kristopher Grossman

A poem for the season


Naked mountains reveal infinite and finite lines
an old mans face with a frozen expression of serenity
only possessed by the ancient
peering into the valley of death
divided by the Dawing Chhu
its swift sea-green water cut with feathery white ribbons
flowing from Arrunachal Pradesh
where massifs of brown change to burnt lavender
in the yawning light of afternoon
where ravens drift about the faded sky
calling the night

Part 5 Gom Kora

“Passing me by, those buses and semis
plunging like stones from a slingshot on Mars” Black Throated Wind

Today I went on a pilgrimage to Gom Kora. I set out down the hill at about 11:30 AM and after an hour I was picked up by a tut tut (a Psychedelic Indian Bus) full of adorable young girls in the flat bed, and transported to Duksum. I set out across an old bridge with gaping holes large enough to fall through. From there I followed the river for about a thirty minute walk to Gom Kora. The road shadows the river which sits at the bottom of a steep rock canyon with little vegetation, the same canyon that depressed me on my initial journey to Tshenkharla. Along the river is the occasional pine, brush, or flowering tree, the eye drawn to each green bush and shrub. The river itself flows in earnest for the dry season its olive color broken occasionally by white water. Along its banks are enormous boulders of irregular shape and size. Gom Kora sits beneath the road and above the river. It is a physically and spiritually satisfying spot that conjures up thoughts of a Middle Eastern oasis. From the road one descends stone steps into its friendly confines. Inside the stone walls exist a supple world lined with prayer wheels and potted plants scorched by the dry season. Walking through the doorway a group of young girls (students) greet me as one exuberant girl proclaims, “Welcome Home Sir!” I reply “Thank You!” to a barrage of giggles that follows me echoing through the inner corridor. More prophetic words have never been spoken, the same words I muttered to Reidi at the Paro airport. I guess I have arrived! At the heart of the complex is a giant rock resting underneath a sprawling broad-leafed tree. Sitting atop the boulder I studied the twisted beige roots that support endless branches each with hundreds of heart shaped leaves with dark red berries on their stems. The wind shushed through the bushy foliage making this unusual tree breath. Below, the river rushed conversing with the breeze in loving whispers. After some time I realized that this tree was our universe and each leaf was a soul, all connected at the root.

After my meditation I wandered the stone lined corridors surrounding the central pagoda watching butterflies and tiny yellow birds flutter and dart and listening to the chime of prayer wheels and the crow of a rooster. Robed monks kicked the soccer ball in the courtyard under the warm sunlight.

After my respite I adjourned to the river through a sandy wash. The rocks glittered with pyrite (fools gold) that refined the rustic landscape with sparkles. Reaching the river I washed my face and plunged my feet into the icy water. I sat for a spell reading my novel on the bank. I felt very fortunate to be on my own without companion or guide in the far reaches of Bhutan. As the sun sank below the ridge I knew it was time to start my return. I walked into Duksum waiting at the foot of the mountain hoping for a ride. After two cars passed me at fifteen minutes intervals I begrudgingly began the 9 KM trek up the road popping on my headphones, selecting an appropriately twisty Kimock instrumental from Japan to keep me company. After about one hour of walking, the village of Duksum vanished, swallowed by the rugged canyon walls. Finally a carload of teachers from Yangtse stopped. Inside were two Bhutanese teachers and the driver who was a Japenese volunteer. They were friends of BCF alumni Kendra who is very popular in the region and spirit lives on here. They drove me up the road until we saw some teachers from Tshenkharla washing their clothes under a water pipe. They passed me off like a baton giving me their phone numbers for when I come to Yangtse. I waited for the Tshenkharla folks to finish their laundry before they carted me on home. The penance for my sojourn is a penny sized blister on the bottom of my big toe. I am presently heating some water to soak my tootsies in. Today was a nice start to my new year and new life. I am grateful for my three rides enabling my successful mission, if not for them I would still be walking in darkness. When I got home I made a fantastic pasta dinner with gourmet cheese from Bumthang melted on top. I also bought two big jugs of Coke. I have cut my consumption by more than half not exceeding 24 oz. a day. Next up learning Bhutanese style dishes…

Part 6 Frustration

“I need some communication to see if all of this is real now.” Supplication

I’m boiling over in frustration and struggling to learn patience. I spoke to (my boss) Nancy today and learned I am supposed to submit my yearly plan but have no example to model after. I desperately need an audience with the principal and some guidance from last years Class 7, 8 teachers. I also need to go to Yangtse and submit my official papers to the district and open a bank account. As of now I might miss my first pay check and have only 13 rupees left. I have some Yankee Bucks to exchange when I make it to a bank. I enjoy the people and the place but have received little support from the school administration as of yet. The new principal is busy adapting and organizing and I feel a bit overshadowed. As a foreigner this is frustrating but I know I must be proactive and vigilant in my adaptation. Now I might have to miss my first day of class to go to Yangtse which from my western perspective is unfair to my students. In my defense I’ve asked several times for a ride. For now I will type up my yearly plan the best I can and submit my intention letter for my “Clean up Club” with is called “Social Service Club.” One thing is clear as a bell, the honeymoon is over and the work has begun. I also know I must go with the flow at all times and keep my sense of humor. My only goal is to try my best which is all one can ever do in any endeavor. I am going for a hike to cool down and collect my thoughts. Today is smoky and grey but not to cold. I don’t feel cold as when I arrived. At least my body is adapting! I finished “Archbishop” today and will miss the company of this novel. It makes me want to visit New Mexico and has in a sense reconnected me with my Catholic roots. I find ESL teaching to be missionary work of sorts, making knowledge god and me a mediator. The book resounds in my present circumstance for many reasons. It explores the life of a Bishop leaving France for the New World, using vivid description of an alien landscape that eventually becomes his favored home. Some last words from the book that explain my feelings of leaving my family,

“That parting was not a parting but an escape-a running away, a betrayal of family trust for the sake of a higher trust. pg. 204 Death Comes For The Archbishop, Willa Cather. 

A poem about the peaceful refuge of Gom Kora and a poem of “love lost” 

Gom Kora

On the bosom of the canyon floor
rests Gom Kora as time passes by
measured in the rise and fall
of the olive river
where a gold pagoda surrounded by stone
sleeps under the branches
of the giving tree
its broad leaves flapping
like prayer flags
in the gentle current of
the afternoon breeze
its twisted roots a boon for you and me.

CELESTIAL HAMMOCK (For the one and only)

“Sleep in the stars, don’t you cry anymore” Hunter

I dream of you
sleeping in a hammock of stars-
our love shinning
a constellation of ancient light
beaming through blackness
NOW extinct
fading, vanishing
washed away by our own sun

Part 7 Trading Places

“So I told my friends and family that I wasn’t very well hid,
and I packed my stuff and left the hut to try to get off the grid” Mike Gordon 

Today the teachers campaigned for their clubs. I am chairing the “Social Service” AKA “Clean Up Club” We will also do gardening and school beatification. I used my appeal as a foreign teacher giving a brief speech to the student body encouraging green citizenship as a means of promoting GNH. I was overwhelmed by a huge group of students wanting to join the SS club. I felt like Eddie Murphy (Valentine) and Dan Akroyd (Winthorpe) at the finale of “Trading Places.” When they “cornered the OJ market” on the floor of the stock exchange and were enveloped by a screaming mob! The students were tumbling over one another screaming out their names, as I feverishly jotted them on my pad having them spell out their names letter by letter. It took me awhile to figure out that they pronounced “Z” as “zet.” A priceless scene reenacted at Tshenkharla AKA the mythical land of Mepos, (I hope you’re reading this cousin Larry.) I have 59 students to mange and hopefully inspire to “Clean and Green” our campus. I have not been responsible for my own trash disposal in the past and hope to learn the ways of recycling, composting, and trash management. The dichotomy between pristine nature and filthy villages is astounding. We will also clean the ruin, the village, and the roadway. Club meetings are compulsory on Wednesday but most work will be done on Saturday and Sunday.

In less satisfying news my blister popped and it hurts like heck to walk on. My leg is cramping since I am not putting full pressure on my left foot. No hiking for awhile. I learned my lesson and must be more attentive towards my feet which are essential in this mountainous terrain. Also I still can’t quite figure out this water shortage. I woke up at 6 AM to refill from my geyser but the tap was dry. So for now, since I took a bath and did my first hand washing of clothes, I am bone dry. I do have a canteen of drinking water to get me through the day. As I said before its time to learn some Bhutanese dishes so I am not worried about my next meal. Oh, how I miss fruit and meat and In N Out Burger! The food has flavor but variety is scarce. The diet is mainly rice and a few vegetables including a bitter relative of spinach and the occasional potato and If were lucky bony dried fish from India. Glad I invested in peanut butter, crackers, pasta, and popcorn in the capital. Plus I cherish the fond memory of shopping with Becky at 8-11!

 I started Lisa Napoli’s book “Radio Shangri-La” about her time volunteering at Kuensel radio station in Thimphu. I prefer Jamie Zeppa’s writing style but do appreciate Lisa’s story thus far. It’s fascinating to learn what fate leads people to Bhutan. Are we running away from or towards something? Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m only 1 of 18 “Western” teachers in Bhutan. As far as I know BCF is the primary feeder company of teachers in the kingdom. It’s also cool to think that Americans have only been here a couple of years as we have no diplomatic ties with Bhutan. Thanks again to BCF and Nancy Strickland for opening up Bhutan to us yanks. Oh Canada! I hope my Canadian cousins in the Peg are reading this especially Brendon and Tam!

Before I sign off I will briefly describe my hut. I know my mom is curious. It’s actually a new edifice made of concrete. It’s a perfectly square room with small bathroom and shower attached. The shower is the geyser which on rare occasion trickles cold water to fill my buckets. In one corner is my stove and a table for cooking. Adjacent to my kitchen is my bed located by two windows looking out on the boy’s hostel. My bed is a simple metal frame with my extremely hard mattress which I purchased in Thimphu and find comfortable enough. I sleep in my sleeping bag covered with one additional blanket which keeps me sufficiently warm, certainly warmer than sleeping under the stars at Yellowstone last summer. I have another table which I use as my desk and have three wooden classroom chairs. It’s very simple but I hope to make affordable improvements over time. I hope to employ the help of several students to do a deep cleaning this weekend.

Part 8 One More Saturday Night

“Don’t worry about tomorrow lord you know it when it comes, when the rock no roll music meets the rising shinning sun” Bob Weir

Some of you might be wondering what Saturday Night in Eastern Bhutan is like. Well it’s pretty much like any other night. Not like the wild and raw evenings on tour with Bobby at Shoreline, Indio, Vancouver, and Eugene lunging and propelling myself off the rail and swiping at ACE with claws outstretched like a predator. Being admonished and even restrained by security all to the amusement and bemusement of those around me. I recall my last Saturday Night in Monterey at the old fairgrounds where it was the blond girl in front of me playing my part as I thrust her high into the air like a ballerina towards the stage. But here things are not so heady. Tonight we paid a visit to one of the cook’s house to pay our respects to their new baby then enjoyed a Bhutanese meal of emadatsi (a dish only my father might savor) of chilies smothered in thick cheese and rubbery spicy beef which makes me want to go vegetarian. As always the sweet tea was the highlight of the scrappy diet. I was next to one of the Indian teachers as we both commiserated on the lack of variety, missing our native food respectively. We sat on the floor Korean style, everyone eating with their hands except for me who always insists on a spoon. They roll there rice into a ball then shove it into their mouths. That’s all good with rice but saucy food is another matter. Like any house in Bhutan this place had an impressive Buddhist shrine with butter lamps and paintings of the eight auspicious symbols two of which are a tiger and conch. As usual I had to refuse alcohol at least three times and defend in great detail my choice. At 8 Pm the dinner concluded which led me right back home. A far cry from my last Rads show which took place on a Saturday Night at Tips in NOLA starting at 11:11 PM, rolling deep into the wee hours of the Sabbath. And different from those raging nights at HSMF swinging to Hot Karl in the red barn till day break, his smooth buttery flute ringing in the dawn like a morning dove. Tonight I’ll settle for a recording of Duke Ellington. As a party favor after dinner I was given my timetable which denotes my teaching schedule. I teach five periods on Monday, four on Tuesday, seven on Wednesday, six on Thursday, seven on Friday, and three on Saturday, totaling 32 periods. Classes are 50 minutes each. I like Tuesdays already! Wacky Wednesdays will be busy with club following my classes. Never the less I’m ready… 

Three good things that happened to me today:

1.     Being swarmed by enthusiastic students signing up for my club.
2.     Talking to my dad on the phone.
3.     Getting to the store for a Coke a minute before she closed.

Timothy (Gods honor)

Here’s one more for the road

Canyon walls glimmer like pyrite
cut mercifully by the river
an emerald flow unseen by eyes unheard by ears
only the shadow of a raven traced on rock
an empty arrangement made by obsolete god
scarce scattering of trees
with twisted sandy trunks and sullen roots
scratched in stone the color of earth
repeated over and over
beige, brown, and gold
beige, brown, and gold
beige, brown, and gold
broken by lonesome wires
a failing bridge
unconvincing relics of humanity
where nothing matters
listen to the river
listen to the river
listen to the river

Timothy (Gods Honor)     

P.S If you read this whole blog entry you get a gold star!  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pass Out The Hatchets

“Well the first days are the hardest days don’t you worry anymore.”

Today is sunny and clear. I was reading on my stoop and some grade 10 students came by with some grammar questions regarding usage of (a vs. an.) I knew the answers but not the rules behind them. It will be a mission to find a grammar book and study the rules of the language I teach. Grammar is not my strong point so this will be a great opportunity to nail down the foundation of our language. I’m sure this will help my writing and blogging also. I swept my floor today and will clean all surfaces once the water returns. It runs from 6-7 AM on the days its available at all. So I set my alarm. I received a package today and still have one on the way. I believe the one I received was the second one sent so the first one might be in Thimphu at headquarters. So mom if your reading this I haven’t received the one with all my medicine yet. I realize the tone of my blog has been a bit negative but I want you all to know that I don’t regret being here for a second. I am getting very excited to teach and am speaking at my friends wedding on his behalf tomorrow. (That reminds me, I need a white scarf to present) The staff each contributed some money for a gift which is common place for the numerous parties. I have a lot to do as far as housework, shopping, and banking. My principal dropped by today on a courtesy call. He assured me I could go to Yangtse next week. I still can’t get over how beautiful it is here and am looking forward to establishing a consistent routine. I have to be vigilant about cleanliness, health, and my PMA (positive mental attitude) I am getting some cooking lessons next week so I can be self reliant, which is one of my primary goals for sojourning here.

I am thinking a lot about my teaching strategies and approach since knowing all my students names might take some time. As well as establishing clear and consistent classroom guidelines and expectations. I just had lunch at Karlos’s and can you believe the Bhutanese enjoy eating with their hands. As I’m writing this a huge blast of dynamite shook my house echoing up and down the valley for about 20 seconds, their doing some hydro project down there. Today I can finally see to the end of the valley which is blocked by a small range in Arunachal Pradesh India. Theirs a glimmer of snow on the highest peaks on the Bhutan side of the border. I talked to Becky again today before using all my minutes up and getting disconnected. She was telling me stories of her interactions and observations of the Brokpa people from Sakteng, a place that was closed to tourists for 30 years until 2011. She is fortunate to be able to interact with them and says they have rugged features and are very happy people. They come into the village where her school is to trade goods before trekking a few days back to their indigenous community. As for Thshenkharla life plods on at its natural pace and students and teachers are in good spirits. I am really enjoying “Death Comes to the Archbishop” by Willa Cather. The story itself is simple enough but the descriptive and sparse writing is remarkable. I finished “The Divine Madman” a novel translated into English by Keith Dowman. He was an example of “crazy wisdom” enlightening beings through his sexual escapades and drunken revelry. He also was an adept known for performing miracles including creating Bhutan's national animal, the Tonkin. He did this by putting the head of a goat on the body of a cow. I am very drawn to Drukpa Kunley since he possesses many attributes and qualities quite opposite then my own.

I went out exploring, walking the road down towards the town and river 9 KM below. I always feel good walking in Bhutan. Tonight I went out with Karlos for his last night as a "chronic bachelor" Karma's little boy was running around like a wild animal at one point picking up a hatchet slamming it into a log. This didn't even raise an eye brow from the folks sitting around the wood stove! I had some fun playing with the "wild child" before taking my leave in a light rain.  

Here's a poem about my favorite indoor spot in Bhutan above the ruins at the temple.

Where the secrets all our told
and the petals all unfold- Attics

There is a secret attic
far from the reach of any demon
where a shaft of light filters through
sweet incense smoke
and the mural depicts your story
in silver, blue, and gold
secured from all earthly form.
open your heart and you will be,
the sound of thick air
older then dirt

Love Tim

Friday, February 17, 2012

Feel Like a Stranger


“He will eat dried buffalo meat and frijoles with chili, and he will be glad to drink water when he can get it. He will have no easy life, your eminence. That country will drink up his youth and strength as it does the rain. He will be called upon to make every sacrifice, quite possibly for martyrdom.” Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop.

It is a nice warm winter day here. I went to my rock and started a book Morgan gave me on the eve of my departure which is eerily appropriate for this place (see above caption.) After reading the first few pages I ventured down the slope through a wispy stand of evergreen and some tall dry bushes which hid the path. At the foot there was a stupa which looked old as the ruins and maybe part of the ancient complex. Another path untaken blazed ahead to a settlement of farmhouses. From the crumbling artifact I gazed into the valley trying to determine if the river was flowing into or out of India. It’s hard to determine such detail with my poor vision. But today I am blessed to be able to see at all. This sparse landscape has vapid mountains the color of earth rolling and folding into tighter and tighter valleys. I don’t know why I find this view so alluring. It doesn’t have the snowy grandeur of the Pacific Crest Trail or the gapping chasm of “The Grand Canyon” But it is where mountains and desert coalesce. Its not fair to call it a desert but it hints of the eastern slope of the Sierras descending into Reno, except completely different. This place defies categorization and seems to exist in “the bardo” which is the space between death and rebirth or one thought and another. It is an open place but not in a threatening or scornful way. Where pockets of vegetation lace certain mountains while others are completely bare. The demarcation between Bhutan and India is a dog nosed ridge that traces from the clouds all the way to the valley floor before meeting a knotted hump of a plateau above the river. The color of the water is aqua -green with white veins of rushing liquid. It flows fast even in this dry season of winter. We are situated on the west end of a sprawling valley that becomes blocked by massifs to the east. The river forms a magnificent swooping s curve almost doubling back on itself. On the Bhutan side of the border are larger mountains with one flat crowned peak that is the jewel of this vast natural Mandela. Below this summit rests a patch of snow. You can hear the river whispering from 20 km below. Far beyond the faded smoky horizon I imagine the filthy bustling cities of India. My door is open and students wander in to say hello rifling through my belongings which is culturally acceptable. And even from my keyboard I can see this magnetic view and hear the BOOM of dynamite from a hydro project somewhere below. The sound reminds me of powder days with ski patrol blowing off the cornices from Estelle Bowl and Granite Chief.

I got my books today and broke into a cold sweat at the sight of my grammar books, time for the teacher to become the student. I wandered into a classroom of primary students and read aloud from a Bhutanese children’s book written in English. I knew it was Bhutanese since it had chilies in it. My house is still UN scrubbed and being the scrapper dog that I am I sniffed out a delicious free meal at Karlos’s house. He moved in next to my sick room today. He occupies the larger part of the duplex having three or four rooms. Barefoot students, some as old as 20 were scrubbing his floors and polishing every surface, where are my servants? I desperately need to get to Yangtse to open my bank, buy a kitchen knife, and other goods. I’m working on spending the last $100 of the $1,500 I brought from home. It seems each and every donation has been essential in delivering me here. And if my posts strike you as negative it is only my Russian soul. The truth is I feel very happy to be here and use this blog as a vehicle for complaining which unfortunately is one of my pastimes. Much like this landscape that initially perturbed my ignorant senses I hope to slowly awaken to the astounding calmness of reality. For now my specialty is calamity. I have a friend from Oregon who I advised into solitude in the year of the iron rabbit. I hope she is released from her vow. Now it is my turn to take on this burden and bliss of solitude.

Back at the canteen last night I met a kindly woman who spoke delightful and humorous English calling her younger sister, “a little freaky” describing her footloose behavior. The younger sister who is 17 (who always prepared my noodles) left for boarding school yesterday. They are the daughters of the proprietor who does not speak any English and the whole family is very nice. It’s great to see the next generation learning English. Anyway, they lost their father and husband respectively in a terrorist attack by an Indian insurgent group in the 80’s that left the mother a widow and the five daughters without a father. Karma Om, the oldest still has memories of this event as she recounted the tragedy as her five year old boy slept in my lap. I like the canteen since I can “be frank” as the Bhutanese like to say. I can be myself without constant worry of offending Bhutanese society and sensibilities. The language barrier is real especially with the students, some of which seem unwilling or unable to communicate in English. I have discovered in ESL teaching, humor and lightness is the best way to get them talking and am often pleasantly surprised at how much they know.
His majesties birthday is next week which means a celebration and holiday for us. Then classes will begin in earnest. This slow build up has been quite different than in Korea where I was in a classroom two days after arrival. I am ready to get down to it and see exactly what I’m up against. Some students in my 7th and 8th class are as old as 15 but their English is at a lower level than anything I’ve seen before. My main goal is to make it fun and encourage them to speak, read, and write with confidence. Although its illegal its common place to use corporal punishment (beating) in Bhutanese classes. I haven’t witnessed this yet and realize its part of the culture here. As foreign teachers we must remember things are different here and the same way of punishment existed in America until recently. Judging by the bare bones classrooms with green boards and wooden chairs things are not as modern here. Obviously I will have my own non violent means of light which drives me crazy. I will also try to maintain my vow of sobriety as I haven’t touched alcohol since Tequila night in Korea. But the beer and chung seem to be a way out of boredom here. A clear head is my ally and I’m surprised the drinking is not as rampant as advertised in the West. In fact I saw much sloppier behavior in Thimphu. Thank god they have Coca-Cola; it’s the real thing…In another boon I just scored a cabinet for clothes and dishes. I hope to strike out to a small village two hours away this weekend and maybe visit the town of Trashiyangtse. One of these days I will entertain the locals to return the favor of generosity. Wouldn’t that be something hosting a tea party and cooking Bhutanese food for a few friends.  

After five hours of scrutiny and assembly Samgay and two class ten students have fixed my filter. Today was a very good day. It seems that in E. Bhutan when one challenge is conquered another arises. Good old Ganesh at work. I have also been informed that I will have a total of 120 students, OMG! In Bhutan knowing names is not essential according to the native teachers. This is inconceivable in the West. How to discipline and recognize my students let alone decode their aptitude and learning styles? Along with lack of resources, indiscriminate dress, multi-gender names, and six day work weeks, it’s going to be a wild year! Buckle up kids! Hopefully in the end it will make me a more adept teacher.

A haiku for you

filtered sunlight shines
on Arunachal Pradesh
rugged mountain pass

Friday, “A Hard Rains gonna fall”

“And I’ll tell it and speak it, and I’ll think it and breathe it
and reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it”
Bob Dylan

Today we had another painfully long meeting regarding the “timetable” and distribution of classes for teachers. The meeting ran about four hours and my ADD was flaring like an angry dragon. I mingled informally with my 7 and 8 classes. They are very shy but it was nice to talk with them. I began just by having them say their names with confidence. For example “my name is Pema Soma!” Sometimes I wonder how much they understand. I had a great conversation with one student who is a relative of a colleague in my 8 class. She is a lovely girl with neatly pressed kiera (girl’s national dress.) She was initially very shy when I met her yesterday but today was speaking freely, which gives me hope for my other 119 students. After the meeting I went next door to Karlos’s only to stumble into a quant engagement lunch which I unknowingly crashed. His fiancée is a kindhearted young woman of 23 and a great cook. I even got some chunks of pork which my body readily and thankfully devoured. Now a crisp rain pelts my hut. Thankfully I am done for the day. Hopefully this rain will clear the smoky valley and bring the stars back. The dipper is upside down here, pouring out its secrets onto the treetops. I’ve been invited by Karma Om and Karlos’s fiancée (who are somehow related) to Losar which is the Asian New Year. I am twice blessed with auspicious celebrations, first with Bobby and the Thunder Dragon and now a trek to a small village with no cars about two hours walk. The real, “Real Bhutan” That dinner is after his majesty’s celebration this weekend. The students have been working hard rehearsing their traditional songs and dances. Should be a kick! I’ll leave you with some words from his majesty, “In Bhutan the key word is merit.” Happy New Year!!! The official “Year of The Thunder Dragon!”

The rain has stopped revealing partly cloudy skies and a dusting of snow on the upper peaks. I can see farther into Arunachal Pradesh India then ever before. Seeking inspiration I took my constitutional up to the ruins which were awash in remarkable light. Sun beams filtered through the clouds in shafts of light playing on the pastel mountains. Then on to the temple with was unoccupied. I sat awhile in the main chamber on the cold marble patch on the wood floor watching a lone candle burn on the alter. The main room is covered in Buddhist paintings and statues more vivid and beautiful then anything I’ve ever seen before in a museum or church. Descending the vertical stairs to the second floor where the tantric images of man and woman reside. These sexual images are so pure that they elicit only thoughts of the diamond being or the perfect unity of male and female forces. Another steep staircase leads out of the second floor to the attic as I call it. This is my sanctuary. Here there are no female images only depictions of holy men deep in meditation with silver and blue clouds behind them. The images are three dimensional popping out of the walls onto the simple wood floor. Here I lit some incense and tried to meditate but my mind led me back home. Not to be a critic anyway as the magic of this place was not lost on me. It is the most silent holy place I have ever been, broken only by the chime of the prayer wheel and the AH of a raven. From the attic window you can see the ruins and the river flowing in the valley below. The paintings and artifacts are everywhere from the floor boards to the ceiling with its psychedelic breathing paintings. After awhile a mantra appeared on the screen of my mind, beauty is truth, truth is beauty.

“Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a pile
nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile” He’s Gone

After my walk I headed out the gate thirty yards into the village of Tshenkharla with my neighbor Karlos. (I was touched he invited me to his wedding on Sunday) On the way we saw a sparrow that had been bitten by a dog. Karlos picked up the twitching bird cupping it in his palm. Within ten minutes the little sparrow had died and I was glad since he didn’t have to suffer anymore and he died in a warm hand. I began to think of my parents and how afraid I am to lose them, and how we all must die someday. How can I live without my loved ones with me? I’ve often felt religion or worship in any form, sprouts from a deep seeded fear of death. Ever since the first burials and cave paintings homo sapiens has used this mechanism to cope with that unfathomable truth and joke of existence. And in a sense all actions including love, our born out of this egotistical desire for immortality. That’s why nature and the animal kingdom have always provided some perspective separate to human’s clingy consciousness. Willie said it best when he wrote it for Bobby, “Everything crawl creep or fly, just live until they die.” (Eternity) We roamed down the road a ways to a village shop where Karlos had a beer and we discussed corporeal punishment in Bhutan and the education system in America. Sometimes I tire of being the authority on all things North American. Like Becky said on the phone before our conversation got dropped, “Everyone here thinks I’m an expert on everything, they’ll learn soon enough I guess.” Right on sis and I hope your in your new digs. I am also disappointing the locals when I constantly forget their names. My eyes only see blurry dark faces, my ears only hear strange names, and my mind is preoccupied with ten thousand worries. I go out for company but get left behind in the drunken conversations in Sharshop. There are no women or dance clubs here so I (night crawl) back into my hermit shell. I wonder if my family realizes how lonesome it is to return to my dirty little hut with dogs barking all around my door. It was classic at orientation when alumni teacher Scott remarked “I hate those dogs I wish I could kill them all.” Today was Bhutan in a nutshell, supreme joy and deep sorrow. I try not to judge this place as backwards because it’s just different. And I am different from everyone here. I will try to find a Coke before bed. I’m down to two a day yet somehow have bought out the village supply. Sadly there are ample jugs of Pepsi, yuck! Oh well, tomorrow is a brand new day full of challenges and perhaps delight. I need to start “bone stimulating” my arm, it’s hurting a lot these days. It’s just to damn cold to do it or to take a bucket bath for that matter. I aim to buy a giant bucket to sit in for warm baths. I laughed at alumni teacher Kendra for saying she gave up bathing, well it seems I never started. Good thing I’m a dirty hippie. Mare if you’re reading this atrociously written piece of unholy babble with countless grammatical mistakes; I want to thank you for your sound advice. “Get rid of the distractions!” Like Ed Volker said to me outside 19 Broadway while discussing tranquility, “If it were only that easy, well maybe it is?”

Good night and may god bless all weary travelers. I hope my fellow BCF teachers are adapting to their placements. I hope Reidi is finally healthy and rid of her “Bhutan Belly” and Sabrina is at peace with the local k-9 population. I genuinely miss you all… For all those reading this blog, thanks for indulging my rants and raves. I give mad props for the teachers of yesteryear in Bhutan (like BCF Matriarch) Nancy Strickland for living here before electricity. And yes Nancy you were right in correcting me, this definitely isn’t a town.

Timothy Kristopher Grossman, Somewhere Over The Rainbow