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.
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
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”
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
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
THE END OF THE WORLD
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!