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,



  1. I miss you timmy.
    Teacher tim.
    Have a fantastic first day!
    I cannot begin to describe how amazing it is to read your blog!

    "You who choose to lead must follow, but if you fall, you fall alone, If you should stand then who's to guide you? If I knew the way I would take you home.

    "...crippled but free,
    I was blind all the time
    I was learning to see..."

  2. I love the 3 good things today and other ramblings and I assume that the "3"emanate from "Radios Shangri La" I did it for a 2 months after I finished the book! I just lent my copy to Becky and I am sure she would have finished by now. Hang in there Tim the adventure is just beginning and the fun starts now. Don't sweat the grammar Communication is about more than that.

  3. keep writing Timmy! great stuff. embrace your hardships and cherish your new found perspectives. the year will be gone before you know it but your growth and life lessons will remain eternal.


  4. What the Kron said!

    When can Reed call you? we tried all last weekend and couldn't get though. apparently just after dad did.

    hope class is going well bra.

    Miss you!

    - bra