Friday, March 30, 2012

Blue Mountains Constantly Walking

Loop of Lazy Lightning must admit you’re kind of frightening, but you really get me high” Lazy Lightning

On a Thursday night an epic saga played out in the sky featuring a plethora of Thunder Dragons making love with wild abandon, lightning and thunder crashed through endless mountains. The guttural growl of nature rolled around as if set inside a vast drum. Violet forks of light crackled up from the valley floor towards my ascetic hut. It was as if I was witnessing the end or beginning of the place known as “the world” I lay in bed deep into the wee hours reading Gary Snyder’s “The Practice of the Wild” with eyes wide with wonder. Sometime in the midst of my reading and the waves of rain (evaporated river water) the phone rang. It was UK Dave from Southern Bhutan. We had a nice chat before the phone cut out. He gave me an account of his own tribulations and a second hand account of fellow teacher’s trials. Paraphrasing his own words, “It seems everyone is going through a rough patch now.” Of course I hate to think of my colleagues struggling but at the same time it provides solace. This is not an easy trip for even the hardiest soul.  

But it has its rewards now and again. Friday morning was the clearest day ever seen in my Bhutan. I could see farther down the chain of mountains clear into India. The rolling landscape folding in on itself again and again into a narrow corridor, until it was blocked by a wall of snow crowned peaks. The view was like putting on eye glasses after a lifetime of low vision. The contours of the slopes in sharp contrasts, as if I would bump into them with each step. The river far below seemed close enough to sip. The tawny massifs now seemed purple and washed as I could see the giant bushy tree of Kinney miles away down the thin line of a dirt road. And the sky a rare sapphire color instead of its usual faded grey appearance. The world seemed brand new, an acid-scape of vibrating molecules. This place which holds the secret of the universe, open as a woman her bedroom eyes beckoning. I knew in my heart just like that woman that this would be a fleeting view, slowly fading in the haze. I cherished the morning listening to the earth exhale and the river quietly singing its song on the valley floor. A man combined in the oneness of the universe, its blue mountains constantly walking.   

Forever Grateful, TKG

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March Madness

Part 1 Walkin’ Blues>Take Me to the River

“Feel most like blowin’ my own lonesome home, woke up this morning my little bird had flown, I wanna leave, leave my own lonesome home, woke up this morning my little bird had flown, little bird had flown.” Walkin Blues

I woke up this morning intent on walking down to the river. But I got lost looking for the trail and was sitting in an oak forest when a class ten girl and her family rescued me leading me back to Tsenkharla. When I told the girl my plans to go to the river she insisted it’s a two day walk and to take some students to lead me. I settled for staying put making Karlos and Sonam spaghetti. It was a warm spring day although spring does not officially begin until later this week. I talked to my mom but we got cut off. If you’re reading this mom I love you! Say hi to the family for me and give a special hug to Reed! I hope you can visit me here this winter, remember we must make arrangements before July. I also talked to Reidi before we too were cut off. Then to make it an auspicious three, I called Becky before getting…Before getting dropped, Becky told me she also had to be rescued today from the woods by a student. She really is my twin, a title she might revile.

The three conversations helped my homesickness a bit. I hadn’t spoken to Reidi since leaving her in Lhuntse sick as a dog. Thankfully she is better now and doing well in Autsho. Talking to her was like glancing in the mirror. She also is struggling with loneliness and isolation as well as woman eating caterpillars. But she is a strong woman both physically and mentally so I know she will endure. It was so funny when she remarked about no one understanding her jokes. I can relate as sometimes it feels like I am living in a bubble. She must feel far away from San Diego and even the farm in Nebraska. Keep on truckin’ Aurelia (rainbow child) She has been chatting with Dave regularly and says he’s doing well but is overburdened with his workload. Dave teaches advanced Science (physics) but fortunately he is a brilliant and talented individual and all around swell dude. I remember his impromptu lecture at dinner in Thimphu explaining the duality of light as both wave and particle, drawing on a napkin enlightening the assembled teachers. I often think of all my fellow teachers struggling and adapting to a strange new world. I’d like to remind all of them to plow ahead and be proud of themselves for making it this far! I’m hoping to attend the BCF midterm seminar in Bumthang where we can all catch up and swap stories.

I’m gearing up for my fourth week of teaching vowing to learn at least 20 names this week. Every time I feel good about my accomplishments the reality sets in. I have so much to learn and teach. Tonight I’m making word walls for my classes to hang up. I’m collecting commonly misspelled words so they can have a visual reminder. For example they often write I have six families. Instead of, I have six people in my family. For now I am trying to stay positive in the wild east. The birds are singing in the morning and I saw some bright blue ones today. And the ravens are soaring doing acrobatics in the sky.

I was complaining to Becky (Madam What To do, I am Mr. Weight of the World) that I have few friends but the truth is they are scattered around this planet. I love each of them including the ones I have lost contact with. Life can be bitter sweet. I watched the sun set over the western mountains thinking how fortunate we all are to have our sun keeping us alive, god or no god that much is a fact. Didn’t make it up to the temple today (Sunday) they have built a cell tower above the complex. I’m a little miffed but just pretend it’s a green chairlift tower. Progress creeps in Bhutan as on my hike I had to circumnavigate a tractor building a new dirt road through the rugged landscape. It amazes me they could get a tractor to that remote location. Slowly tiny villages are being connected and electrified in the kingdom. The last half mile of the road to Tsenkharla is rough dirt and they are working towards paving it. They also keep proclaiming they are on the verge of solving the water shortage. But today was another dry day.   

“Went to the well but the well was dry, I dipped my bucket up in the clear blue sky, looked on the bottom and what did I see, whole damn world looking back at me” Liberty

Three Good Things

1.     Peanut butter sandwich on my rock
2.     talking to mommy
3.     getting lost and found in the forest

Part 2 Spring Equinox AKA New Beginnings

“I’ll get a new start, live the life I should, I’ll get up and fly away, I’ll get up and fly away, fly away” Wharf Rat

I got up early and opened my door to see an orange ball cresting over the stone Castle Peak in “no mans land” between Bhutan and the Subcontinent. How silly are borders since the people of Arrunachal Pradesh have more in common with the people of Eastern Bhutan than the people of Southern India. Just as silly are the boarders of our mind constantly drawing lines between one another. We make war in our own hearts, afraid of “the other.” Are my perceived enemies so different than myself. Or is my only true enemy my own hatred and denial of the sacred one. There still exists ample fear in my souls reserve but the beauty here punctures the skin and the wound slowly begins to drain. My past angry words haunt me in my dreams as I quarrel with the ones I love most. I rage against my brother for an innocent accident. I rage against Morgan for following her own path. I rage against my parents for no reason at all. I rage against my preschoolers in Korea for their enthusiasm. And I rage against myself, worshiping the shrine of destruction. To say I’m sorry does not seem enough. I must learn to love myself a task that seems most difficult. As the immortal Jerry used to sing, “Without love day to day insanities king.”

During my free period I went to my rock with my headphones and listened to Jabez staring at my favorite river in the world. Yes I said it. No disrespect to the mighty Snake, the Lovely Feather, the familiar Truckee, the electric Eel, or all the other great ones I’ve come to know. The Dawung Chhu dramatically curves like a serpent from Arrunachal Pradesh weaving its way into the kingdom. It disappears behind huge massifs before winding its way back into view. Its turquoise waters with ribbons of white cut through rugged canyons surrounded by barren mountains that reach into heaven. It is the loneliest river on the face of the earth, exposed as a broken and desolate heart, made from the tears of god.     

“Well I love that dirty water, I love that dirty water, I love that dirty water, I love that dirty water” Black Water Out Jam

There was a glimmer of hope last week when water came at 4 Pm which is not the typical 5 AM time slot. But now the tank is empty and the tap is dry. I have one full bucket of dirty water for flushing growlers down the toilet. Oh how I miss running water. I know I’m repeating myself here. But doing dishes and washing in stagnant water is simply not sanitary. It can be hard to cook with no water too. I am slowly learning conservation tricks and better washing techniques. At least in a pinch bottled water is available from the shop. So tonight I’ll fix more fried veggies in a greasy skillet, As the Bhutanese say “What to do!” It was another beautiful weather day here despite my persistent sore throat and cold. The cow grazing outside my door is so plump I want to slaughter and eat him! (Get in my belly!) I can see the dotted lines on his skin indicating the different cuts of beef. I think he is on to me as he gave me the stink eye. After school I read a bit from Zeppa’s book and watched a comedic girl’s basketball game. They are so enthusiastic when playing frantically dribbling up and down the court with balls bouncing off their heads more than going through the hoop. Tonight I will check out the singing club rehearse for an upcoming concert. This should give you a sense of my social life here, watching cows, school sports, and rehearsals. WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO. WHAT TO DO!
Today the boys got haircuts from the principal and Indian teacher who went around with sheers ensuring a military look. Yesterday that mean black dog appeared but I showed him who is boss by chasing him and throwing rocks. Today when he saw me he barked but in retreat. The lesson is boldness and confidence go a long way in repelling psychotic mutts and any other challenges. Likewise my students are staring to feel more comfortable participating in class which is great. It is still a challenge to make them speak out individually. When the boys were out of my home room the girls of class 8A felt more comfortable talking to me. So I’ve gleamed a lot of the girls shyness has to do with the boys. Remember boys and girls are kept separate most of the time except for in the classroom. There is one little girl in the village who is terrified of me. She looks about Reed’s age and whenever she sees me she moans and wails. Once on a rainy day as I approached she picked up a ball of mud and cocked her hand ready to sling it at me. As soon as I pass she always stops crying.

It was great talking to Reed on the phone this morning before narrowly making it to assemble. Sometimes this all feels like a dream and I could just click my heels three times and be back in my garden in San Rafael. If this were true id head right to Picante for a bomb bomb burrito with steak and guacamole. Today I settled for leftover spaghetti with the last of my tomato sauce mixed with ample chili sauce. It was pretty, pretty, pretty good! I have to admit the water CRISIS gets to me when I can’t cook or bathe and am just waiting for the rain. For breakfast I had peanut butter alamode, using my last drops to make tea. Half the students are sick and I wonder if they are bathing or washing after using the toilet. I’m growing my “Asian whiskers” out since this is acceptable here. Tyler you would laugh at my appearance, a scraggily Fu Man Chu. 

“It’s been a long hard road that we’ve been traveling on, we sure gonna get there, it won’t be long” Norton Buffalo

After class I went with Sonam and the family of the little girl who hates me to Kinley. We piled into a 4 wheel drive taxi with steering wheel on the wrong side (English style) The school was down a bumpy dirt road half way to the river towards India. I can see the school from my meditation rock. Just as we departed I got the worst ear ache in years. My left ear was plugged and throbbing with immense pain that felt like a knife stabbing my canal. My equilibrium was also affected and I could barely keep my feet. The school was nice with crickets chirping and considerably warmer then Tsenkharla. The road traveled through scorched brown earth until the school which has neatly planted gardens and a twisted broadleaf tree that appears ancient. There is no other large tree for miles around. I was also impressed at the schools cleanliness. Unfortunately my visit was marred by the pain. As I write this the room is still spinning but my ear has popped slightly. I was actually a bit scared remembering in Quincy 98 when my pals had to take me to the emergency room as my whole eye socket turned black from the pressure. Here’s hoping for a healthy springtime for us all. If I feel up to it I might travel to Yadi on Saturday with my staff. They are playing a friendly match of soccer and 2nd year BCF teacher Scott Harris resides there. Scott is an older teacher who used to be a pharmacist in Utah. He has a dry witty sense of humor and a boisterous personality. He was the one at orientation who proclaimed that if we show signs of rabies, don’t bother getting treatment because we will die. He also wanted to kill and eat his local community dogs. I will give him a call and see if he’s around this weekend. I’d like to see a Westerner and his placement is nice. I briefly toured the campus on my way East. The school is on the side of a mountain West of Mongar.   

Today is the last day of winter and tomorrow spring begins! I will go to my Bon shrine in the forest to celebrate. Last year I saw a rainbow on the equinox over San Pablo Bay. Happy spring y’all, life’s a garden dig it!

Three good things

1.     The students singing the National Anthem at morning assembly.  
2.     Having a few class 7 students truly understand the moral of “The Girl Who Couldn’t See Herself.”
3.     Talking outside informally to my class 7A students in the sun. One of them asked if the USA had national dress. They looked in awe as I
     explained what a washing machine was.   

“Strike another match go start a new, it’s all over now Baby Blue” Dylan

One of my last vivid memories of Bobby was singing the encore at the 12/29 Bill Graham show. He was cast in blue light and when he got to the above line he looked in our direction and did this epic hand gesture like he was signing off with a glint in his eye. For me it was a blessed omen sending me to the far off land, and a brand new beginning…    

Part 3 Discarded Condoms and Dirty Drawers

“We will leave this place an empty stone, not that shinning ball of blue, we can call our home” Throwing Stones

I got a 75% turnout for Social Service Club today. I would give anything for some latex gloves. Mom if you ever send a package that’s the most important item. I can’t use my work gloves to get a good grip on small bits of paper. Today I picked dirty underwear and a discarded condom out of the mud with my bare hands. You can’t identify the slimy pieces until it’s too late. I actually hate germs but what to do. It will take a miracle to purge this campus of trash. Only certain kids in my SS club are working hard and by the time they assemble we only have about twenty five minutes to clean. But I will keep my promise to Mother Bhutan. I don’t know how I will reach the hearts and minds of the students so that they adjust their actions. Otherwise the problem will continue and eventually ruin this country. I’m still feeling quite ill and can only hear out of one ear. The first day of spring is the smokiest day so far in Bhutan. I can barely see the river below as there must be a forest fire raging near by. I had sardines from a can for lunch and ramen noodles. Instead of K rations its B rations. This spring I have two primary goals, learning to cook Bhutanese curries, and learning all my student’s names. Oh, and of course making headway in the trash war. I haven’t seen Pema the student who was helping me cook in awhile. He probably felt shy since id often refused his help. It is for the best that I figure these things out for myself, that’s why I came here anyway.

I’m fond of my semi pet cat and dog. The dog I call Red and the kitty is Boot short for Bhutan. I don’t know why Boot hangs around since I never feed her/him. I can scarcely feed myself. The kitty is very vocal meowing every second but lets me pet her while she wanders around my abode. Red follows me to class nipping at my heels (which makes me nervous) but is very friendly. The dogs still keep me up with there spirited bouts of howling on occasion but I’m pretty used to it. Overall I’ve slept well here unlike when I first arrived in Korea, But no Kim chi in Bhutan. The dichotomy between here and the USA is astounding. The kids here, eat, prey, study, and sleep on a fixed schedule. Of course they manage to squeeze in fun, hence the condom and empty rum bottle below the hostel. But there life is nothing compared to the teenage wasteland of the states.

I have to buy another bucket to store as much H2O as I can when the taps are running. They often fizz out after two buckets so I’m not sure it will help. If I was closer to a creek or river I could boil it. If I was stronger and more coordinated I might be able to tote it from a villagers house. I must figure it out since I have no confidence that the problem will be fixed in my time here. I feel like a sissy droning on about it here but these are the challenges I face. Bhutan makes one appreciate the little things that make life comfortable. Even electricity seems out of place in this landscape. I often think of the long (dark) history of this kingdom when villages were truly isolated and walked across the country to trade. As I was waxing philosophic to Becky on the mobile the other day, “This is one of the last frontiers,” giving the phrase the “Far East” a whole new dimension.  I am not handy, crafty, or a survivalist in any regard so this experience is challenging me to my full capacity. If I can live here anyone can!       

Part 4 A Family Affair or Bhutanese Idol

“What am I doing here
Among these strange people
Staring at this paper?
Oh yes, I am in school. Thoughts On Silence, Mary Jane Sterling
Collected from my class 8 reader

Tonight was a welcoming party for some new teachers which places me at a more senior level. (My party was in February) All kidding aside tonight I felt I arrived. Not in any monumental or meaningful way but rather I passed through an entrance. Every moment before tonight seemed like a strange, scary, or wonderful dream. Now I am truly here. It reminds me of Aunt Mare’s three day theory, which states it takes three days to arrive somewhere. She was speaking as it related to camping in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone. And in Bhutan the three days was stretched to two months, after all everything moves slowly here on BST (Bhutan Stretchable time) I felt light and happy while eating dinner and joking with the principal and teachers most of whose names I still don’t know. I even laughed at myself when I grabbed the whole plate of biscuits instead of a few. Another breach of etiquette by the shaky eyed American. All told there are 51 teachers, administrators, staff, and cooks at Tsenkharla. We are a big family in the middle of nowhere drawing students from tiny villages throughout the region. We have 500 boarders and 200 “desk scholars” or those who sleep off campus. Some desk scholars walk an hour to school and back each day. I ate heartily like a starving man who just stumbled out of the salt flats. My plate included mounds of rise, dried fish, emadatsi, dal, and a hard boiled egg. I gathered several interesting tid bits from the dinner. Number One is that Becky’s post in Phonmay is just over the mountains to the east. It is supposedly one full days hike, which probably means two days from the trailhead in Doksom. The vehicular road to Becky circumnavigates the mountains going through Trashigang taking four hours.

During the dinner the principal received a phone call from an angry parent about a beating given by a teacher to a third grade student. Officially he warned the staff but openly acknowledged his belief that beating was a necessary part of Bhutanese education. This is surprising since the principal seems to be a gentle well mannered man. His belief is that it is too soon for Bhutan to do away with corporal punishment. The fact is this law has been on the books for fifteen or so years. Most teachers including some of my favorites agree. I try not to judge to harshly since I have observed hitting from many parents towards their children and siblings towards each other. Even classmates playfully whack one another as means of communication. Of course this is outlawed in my class contracts. I wholeheartedly disagree with this practice but will not actively seek to stop it. My students know I will never hit them. The behavior in Bhutan is very good, so I don’t see any need for such harsh measures by the native teachers. Many teachers and the principal commented positively about my classroom contracts. I really like most of the staff and also the principal. One troubling thing is while telling the principal about the trash issue and how clean Kinney was, he smiled and said it would be a great challenge for me to clean the school. This is true but secretly I wish he would take a stronger initiative to back me up and drive this point home to the students. I need his support along with Karlos (the warden) and Madam Tashi (the Matron) Without there help I am Sisyphus pushing the stone up the hill.

With a rare full belly and Red in toe I finally checked in on rehearsal for the singing competition to be held Saturday. All the contestants were so talented but one girl or rather young woman blew me away. She was a sturdily built 19 year old class ten student with the most enchanting voice I have ever heard. In her parka, jeans, and sandals she might as well of been crooning for Simon, Randy, and Paula. And she blew Britney out of the water. Her voice was both sweet and confident but truthfully I can’t find the words to describe it. Not sentimental or sultry but honest and pure and I wish I could recall it on my death bed or better yet have her there to sing to me on that faithful day. I’ll probably skip Yadi just to catch her perform live. Bhutanese songs sung in Dzonka are immensely beautiful with gentle melodies that roll and twist like the mountains and valleys of the landscape. I sometimes think not understanding the words makes the melodies more heartwarming. Sitting in the MP on my oversized wooden thrown I felt like king Arthur in his court being entertained by his people. While I am often confused and bewildered and even frustrated here, Bhutanese culture is honest and innocent and sincere.       

Part 5 World Water Day (22-3-12) AKA Water is Life

“Burn a little rubber, burn a little time, I hope there’s a little cool water, waiting at the end of the line” Fall of Dark

Today is world water day. Please celebrate by appreciating your water. I missed mine today and as Karlos said “when the water was flowing like a river I was sleeping like a pig.” I didn’t leave the tap on as I usually do. I had a wonderful day of classes including 8A finishing their “Coat of Arms’ which are amazingly crafted. Namkith even drew a picture of me on the portion of her shield with her parents and god. The fourth portion was “who has helped you?” In class 8B we had a spirited discussion of the poem a “The Caged Bird in springtime.” It was a genuine discussion with many hand gestures incorporated. By the end of class we were literally and figuratively flying around the room like birds. They were grappling with symbolism and similes sharpening their critical thinking skills on their cuddle bones. The students in all my classes are feeling more confident to share questions and comments and likewise I’m feeling more confident in my teaching style.   

Today concluded with a special blessing from the gods in the form of water. I filled up my filter and three buckets. I have bath water primed, the dishes are cleaned and stacked and little Boot sits at my feet not meowing for once.  I talked to both Sarah and Becky today which was a highlight. Both are doing well on opposite sides of the country. I asked Sarah if she had any news on Andrea, the injured teacher. Sarah heard she fell while visiting a school at night. Apparently she stepped out of a classroom and off a cliff between two buildings. This is my worst fear in Bhutan as one false step can result in catastrophe. Being visually impaired means I must be extra cautious. I bet she will return to Bhutan since she has made a home for herself here and I wish her the speediest recovery in Bangkok. I’d like to give a shout out to Becky’s mom who supposedly checks into “Tiger” on occasion. You ought to know that Rebecca is one of my best friends in this world after a short time. It might have something to do with knowing each other in a past incarnation. She is very easy to confide in, and we share many laughs together which is essential in this odd existence.

I often wonder who is actually reading this post (especially the long ones) if any prospective BCF teachers are reading this blog my advice is GO FOR IT! You won’t regret taking the chance. No one would utter with their dying breath “I really wish I hadn’t gone to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.”    
One last thing, I talked to Karma from headquarters, he did not find my lost rice cooker in the capital, exclaiming “What to do La.” La is a term of respect in Bhutan. He will deliver my package to Tsenkharla personally in early April. BCF chairman Sam Blyth will be visiting my school and hopefully observing me teach. I couldn’t be more excited as he is only visiting a few schools in the East. It will be an honor to meet the man largely responsible for our postings in Bhutan. I wish he could have seen my 8B lesson today as that one was immortal. I could still here the students laughing and cheering as I sauntered across the campus. Karma also informed me that other BCF teachers have gotten paid and that my principal must take my banking information to the Dzong to have my final paper work processed. Money is scarce and I’m living on credit.

Life in Bhutan continues on as I try to find my way settling into a routine. Becky mentioned she was happy to not be confused all the time which made me laugh in concurrence. I contemplated the arduous journey here. First a far flung dream followed by months of preparation and fundraising. Then a day and a half airplane ride with Sabrina and Co. The two week “Disorientation” in Thimphu. The topsy turvy drive east which I still marvel at in disbelief, (they say the “
National Highway
” has an average of 17 curves for every KM.) then finally arriving at Tsenkharla. As Sarah pointed out we’ve been at our placements for six weeks and in Bhutan exactly two months. Like the wise and noble Squirrel sings, “But I still have a long way to go.”

Part 6 Holy Masala!

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need” Stones

Today was a hard day at school. My class 7 was not being respectful during their group work so I had to keep them a few minutes after the bell to discuss their behavior. After school I felt woozy from hunger but fortunately Sonam showed me how to make fried beef curry as I took copious notes. I bought 3 (cagies) KM of beef from Sonam’s father. It was pretty tender by Bhutanese standards and I have a leg or shoulder or some kind of hunk in my fridge. We cooked it in the pressure cooker. Later we added onions, chilies, garlic, and spices including Indian masala. It was a gourmet meal! After that the water flowed on cue so I could wash my stack of dishes and fill my buckets.

Tomorrow (Saturday) I am the teacher on duty which means I am expected to supervise morning study at 6:30 AM. I will also make a speech to the students about the trash problem at assembly. I have planned through next week but still must complete my yearly plans. I have a lot to do to become the teacher I want to be but overall my classes are going relatively well. I found out there was a group of tourist in the village last week but no one bothered to inform me. It’s too bad as I could have showed them the school, and Tsangma’s ruin. It would have been a mutually beneficial experience. Tourists are very rare in this locality as they usually proceed directly to Yangtse. They were no doubt in the region for a big religious ceremony at Chorten Kora unfortunately I could not attend since I was working.

“God hears the same confessions of all, he sees through the hate and the lies” Trinity, Roy Rogers

Voice (For Nawang Zangmo, Class 10) 

Her voice
Carries me away
On a wooden raft
Floating down a forgotten river
In starless night
Further and further from home
Around the bend of no return
A broken course delivers me
On the rapids of my soul
Scattering the splinters of my heart
Into unbreakable dawn

Part 7 A River of Shit

“Abraham and Isaac sitting on a fence, they get right to work if they had any sense, you know the one thing we need is a left hand monkey wrench” Greatest Story Ever Told

I bumped into Nawang Zangmo before her performance and asked her the meaning of the song that enchanted me. She said it was about something faraway. Getting translations are difficult but that phrase was enough. I snuck back stage to watch her perform her ballad for the competition, and she nailed it! I spent the remainder of my Saturday picking up trash with a few volunteers and dealing with the river of feces flowing out the back of the boy’s toilets. I informed Karlos the boy’s warden and he did a Ramsey and, “shut it down!” They will use the old toilets in the meantime as we dig a new trench and lay new pipe. The toilets are nasty with growlers piled up. The lack of water makes the whole situation unbearable and the smell is rancid. I am not an activist but living thirty yards from this problem has forced me into action.

While picking up trash I learned a lot from the gathering group of volunteers. Apparently Tsenkharla has doubled in size in the past six years and several new shops have opened. This has escalated the trash problem considerably in the last few years. And some of the pleasant boys who bow to me in the morning are drinking, littering, and “bunking” (ditching classes or responsibility) at night. Suddenly I want to be very strict which is ironic considering my own wayward teenage behavior. But in a boarding school setting bad behavior affects all students. The living conditions are stinky crammed and dirty and I worry for the health and well being of the students. Fighting, drinking, and tobacco are all an issue.

After our trash collection which barely made a dent we burned the refuse in the pit. I hate burning trash since it pollutes the air but we simply have no other choice. There are no garbage trucks in rural Bhutan. I consider my own wasteful practices and will make a concerted effort to cut down on packaged goods. As for my Coca Cola addiction at least I will recycle the plastic jugs. But after this experience I have a lot of respect for that wacky family in Kansas that produced one tiny cube of trash over an entire year. The evolution of man was a dark day for the natural world. This event was either a quirky mishap in natural selection or a Frankenstein scenario for the creator AKA God. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves myself included. People are already tired of hearing me complain about the garbage problem and I’m sure you’re sick of reading about it. So I will try to mince my words with action. There is a cool parable about a man walking on the beach with countless stranded starfish. He picks them up one by one and throws them back into the sea. Another man inquires “Why are you throwing the starfish back into the sea, you can never save them all. What does it matter?” The first man replies, “It matters to this one.”    

Straight Eight

“I got a straight 8,  I’m running down the road, well I’m all undressed and I got no place to go.” Dave Malone

I had my weekly constitutional with Becky which takes place promptly on Saturday’s. And for whatever reason I feel most lonely on Saturdays. Perhaps I miss the glitz and glimmer of the Circus. Or I miss the interaction with my students. My favorite take away from tonight’s  installment was the image of Becky sipping a beer in a hut watching Hindi TV while the hostess (a mother of a student) silently filled her glass after each sip, Bhutanese hospitality. She seems to be adapting better then me but we both see the absurdity and beauty in our lives here. I hope I am not overburdening her with my phone calls that have increased in frequency lately. Apparently I need people more than I thought. That’s why I felt such pangs of remorse not meeting the mystery tourists who ventured up to Rangthangwoon. It’s funny in the midst of some of my funks and ruts in America that I wished for a new identity, away from everything and everyone I knew. Careful what you wish for. I remind myself every day that I am living my dream. Becky pointed out that being in Bhutan is the work of fate. Is the notion of destiny real or a figment of superstition like Bhutanese Buddhism? I can just imagine the monks sitting around and deciding which baby monk is so and so’s reincarnation. Or maybe they are correct and I’m the preverbal lost sheep.  I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. I am likely doing (sexless) karmic penance for the selfish misdeeds of my youth. As Norm Peterson said when addressing reincarnation, “last time out I must have made a real ass of myself.”

I was lucky enough to get a facebook shout out while in Thimphu from Dave Malone, formerly of the legendary rock group, “The Radiators.” He said don’t be too pure in Bhutan, no problem there buddy! I often think of his electric smile and big hair blowing in the fan. He is one of my favorite guitar monks! It seems like another lifetime ago, folding up the big top tent (with the boys with the noise) at Tips. What a blessed life I’ve led due in large part to the unwavering and fathomless generosity of my mother. I hope my service to the children makes up for that in some part. But I will always be on the plus side of this life even if I perish tomorrow.     

3 Good Things

1.     Sitting around a Bhutanese campfire (trash burning) with some boys laughing and talking.
2.     Making my own version of beef curry. Hacking beef from the bone on butcher paper.
3.     Picking up bits of paper from a field of clover.

#9 Bhutanese Actress

For a Sunday this doesn’t suck at all, I used to think Sundays sucked.” Camile Baudoin 

I talked to both mom and brother today which felt great. My brother informed me that a certain loved one suggested I shorten my blogs and keep a journal. I realize the entries are longwinded but I feel more motivated for blogging then journaling. I also realize I am sharing intimate details of my struggles to my readers but I have nothing to hide. In a way this blog is for my own sanity which is selfish but true. So for now I will resume “The Stream of Unconsciousness.”

Decisions are precious and have extreme significance. I almost went to Yadi this weekend with 13 Tsenkharla teachers but opted to stay behind. Then today I almost didn’t go to Yangtse with Karlos and Sonam since I was chatting with Tyler, but he suggested we hang up and I go, which I did. We were dropping off Sonam’s bro at Bayling School. This is the higher secondary school where Tsenkharla students end up if they pass the rigorous Class Ten Exam. Passing this exam basically grants the student an opportunity to pursue higher education and a career. Those who do not pass must learn a trade or pay an astronomical rate for private education. I almost decided to get out of the car to get momos and visit Chorten Kora in Yangtse proper, but went on to the campus after all.

At Bayling after hanging up with my mom I took a stroll down a side path. On my way I saw a beautiful schoolgirl in a blue kira with pink trim walking towards me from down the grade (presumably a Class 12 student.) I said hello but she walked right passed me before I said hello again. Finally she stopped pulling hidden earphones out of her ears. I asked if she was a student and she replied, “No, I’m an actress” It turns out she is the star of a motion picture being filmed at the school. This lovely woman of 23 has been in two prior Bhutanese films and this was her first trip east from her home in the capital. Her parents are divorced and she lives with her father. Suddenly I felt bashful and star struck in my grimy Ratdog sweatshirt, sweats, and Kimock cap. After a very pleasant conversation SHE asked for my digits and told me to call her. I gave her my phone to put her number in (since I can’t figure out how to do it) and she labeled herself as “Bhutanese actress.” I proceeded to watch some filming at the school courtyard but she was not in those particular scenes.

The movie is ironically called, “Thank You Sir” (Staring Sangay Lhamo) and is about a student who falls in love with her “passionate” (her words) teacher. It was a nice encounter and hopefully we can strike up a friendship and one day I can see the movie. On the way home our truck stopped in two tiny villages for lunch and to purchase fresh eggs. I always feel happy when roaming the Bhutanese countryside. This story highlights the significance of each and every decision and where they might lead us. In my case it was a chance encounter with a movie star. Chance encounters and who we meet makes me ponder fate and destiny. Are we fated to meet the people we do, or is it all a miraculous roll of the cosmic dice. Both scenarios are spectacular occurrences. I often think a universe with no god is more incredible than a universe of divine construct. I swing both ways on my belief scale but as I get older and have more encounters I tend to gravitate towards magic. Love, either man made or gifted from the maker is the only real thing in life. And we must find a share each and every day to make this all meaningful.   

Encounter: for Sangay Lhamo

I step aside
as you tread up the path
through gold grass
in a smoky wind
carrying your scent
a sweet bouquet of wild flowers
your kira bluer
then the deepest ocean
or the highest sky
with a smile reminding
me of home.
departing in a gentle bowl
a vast imprint left
under a slivered starlit moon

Part 10 Bunking, does the punishment fit the crime?

Bunking means ditching out on something. Several boys left the campus without permission to go home to their villages on Saturday. Tonight the warden armed with a stick carved like a phallus with red painted tip, roused the offenders from sleep and sent them into the chilly night with nothing but the gho’s on their back. The students were expected to trek back to their villages as far as 10 km in the dark without a light. Or sleep somewhere in the forest. I pleaded on their behalf offering to supervise them for five hours of trash pickup but was refused. One of my students, Norbu was among the offenders along with several young ones who looked miserable with towels wrapped over their face for warmth. This can be a harsh culture but my objections were overruled by the warden and now the students are off somewhere freezing in the night.    

Part 11 Lepcha and Lonely Days

“Ah well a touch of grey, kind of suits you anyway, that is all I had to say, but it’s alright.” Touch of Grey

I went to dinner at fellow teachers Salim Lepcha’s house. He is the cousin of Namkith Lepcha (my class 8 captain) who they call Nanu. The name Lepcha is actually from the Lepcha tribe located in the hills of southern Bhutan. The tribe migrated from China long ago to Southern Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Burma. They are separate from other Bhutanese but consider themselves as Bhutanese citizens. They initially practiced Bonism but were forced into Buddhism when the monks burned there scriptures. Now they are a mix of Buddhist and Bon traditions as well as Christian under one tribal banner, more evidence of the absurdity of country and religious boundaries. As an American I am fascinated by tribes and clans with a strong identity. Even the Bhutanese come together as the Dragon people with the Brokpas, Mongoloid, Lepcha, Nepalese, and ECT, all revering His Majesty. Perhaps that’s why some Americans feel lost. We have no roots and cultural identity. I do not feel a strong connection to my German and other European heritage. What makes America great is its salad bowl of diversity, but it is also a confused identity. I have no strong traditions other than the television programs I was brought up on. I love my family and they instilled sound values in me but American’s cherish individualism more than community which is a difference from Bhutan.    

Time has definitely slowed down this week and I feel heavy and sad. Have I really only been here two months? The process of detachment from ones former life can be difficult. People are more interested in my things than who I am. They are always asking “where did you get that?” Or “how much did that cost?” Of course this is understandable since people in Bhutan have very little and even in the West people are rarely authentically interested in one another. I feel like an animal at the zoo which can be paralyzing. The classes are going well so I am grateful for that. I am by no means depressed or even unhappy, but am feeling isolated and out of place. As Becky pointed out the other day, “We will not know how this experience changes us until further down the road.”  Sometimes I admire the life of a hermit monk who lives in a cave with no possessions. Only this way could I free myself from insatiable craving and the cycle of desire. Though Bhutan is a simpler life in which I feel free, I have not broken my negative cycle of want or found satori from samsara.  I want companionship, I want love, and I want a pizza to fall from the sky. But if I got that pizza I would just want another pizza. The dog days are upon us all, especially the easterners. And much like the strays I must keep moving, eating whenever I can. The biggest challenge is my mediocre health. The students admitted not being able to wash after passing stool for lack of water. It seems one day I have diarrhea, the next an ear ache, the next a cough and cold. Thankfully none of these afflictions are serious, all part of the “Terror of Life” in this remote corner of the kingdom. This is a remarkable journey and I am merely suffering from growing pains right now. Although today I will skip the three good things and tell you one. A hummingbird buzzed by my face during assembly. The birdsongs here are sweet in the mornings.

I can only hope I’m making an impact. One silly Indian teacher who calls me “Butterfly” dreamt I was walking to Kinney by myself picking up trash along the way. Salim Lepcha said he followed my advice by picking up three pieces of trash yesterday. Even the principal made a speech about throwing away you’re plastic. Progress in Bhutan is slow but hopefully measurable. My students are definitely speaking in class more but our work has just begun. We had a blackout tonight which reminded me of the infamous blackout in Marin on the eve of my departure when I was frantically packing. My brother and I bunked out to go see Kimock (the guitar monk) at the Great American Music Hall. There he sent me away with a cover of “Into the Mystic.” I can vividly recall an Asian girl exuberantly dancing and a cougar coming up to me proclaiming, “I had dark energy.” These events seem like a past life as does walking along the river with Rebecca in Autsho, being bothered by a ghost. Yet it is undeniably peaceful here with no power, as lights in Bhutan seem out of place. Tonight it was so dark I couldn’t see the outline of my hand in front of my face. And there was no moon or stars in the sky as today was grey, only the flickering light of candles from villager windows.

Part Thirteen, Payday

“Get away, get away, I hate to see that Raby get away.” Payday, Emperor Zekemoto 

Today class 8 read an excerpt from “The Diary of Anne Frank.” None of them had even heard of Jewish people or the holocaust. They were shocked when I told them that 6,000,000 people were killed. I could here sickly gasps from the students and the room was quiet as a mausoleum. I explained that number is equivalent to killing every Bhutanese twelve times. I had to hold back tears when telling them the gruesome details. I always think that one of the victims could have just as easily been my precious Raby. I sincerely hope reincarnation is true, and that Anne is living a queen’s life somewhere. Speaking of the Rabes I am wearing the shirt she gave me today and took a bath. The students all remarked on how, “smart” and “handsome” I look. I imagined Morgan watching me walking up to class in my beautiful shirt with the backdrop of misty mountains, hoping that at last she is proud of me.

What a difference a day makes as yesterday I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Today my club members painted some trash cans and I got paid! I have two checks in hand for the month of February and March. It’s been a long time since I have gotten paid for being a teacher (since Korea) and it feels pretty good after teaching free for over a year.

Sir Tim

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Man Without A Country

Part 1 Wacky Wednesday

“What if fire come raining on the hills, and mountains made of rusting coup de villes, and all gods children find themselves alone, and all the poets took to throwing stones.” Ashes and Glass

Winter is hanging on tight to the landscape in Tsenkharla. Today I awoke to an amazing cloud formation that seemed to form around the campus rising from the valley below and billowing ten thousand feet above the assembly. It’s always a great start to the day hearing the chorus of voices singing the haunting National Anthem in the courtyard. I had a very successful day of teaching. In class 8 we examined the story “Which Way” which dealt with decisions and different outcomes. In class 7 the students made a “coat of arms” which they really enjoyed. We had five boxes of colored pencils for 30 students and no one complained or fought over supplies. I had to haggle for paper, colored pencils, and tape from the school store which is poorly organized by the charge and resembles a rat’s nest. As a teacher in Bhutan you realize that all you need is a piece of chalk and your imagination. Each child is issued a text book, pencils and notebook from the government. Ironically for a male dominated culture the girls have superior writing skills and work ethic but are painfully shy doing their best impression of an iguana, sticking their tongues out at me.

Today was my first Social Service club meeting and sadly only 15/55 appeared. We did some cleaning by the hostels which are filthy. The boy’s hostel resembles a dump with bottles and plastic and junk of every kind strewn down the mountainside spilling onto the property below the barbed wire fence. It seems to be just about everywhere except the designated trash pits. It breaks my heart to see this in a country so beautiful. After club I picked up trash for another hour around the basketball court where a game was taking place. A few students added some trash to my bag. I stuck my hands in a stone wall crevasses pulling out trash like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I couldn’t help thinking about my own hypocrisy as I consume cokes and other packaged goods. But I don’t litter. Changing the culture here will be a daunting task but I will persist. I am getting paint and empty oil tins to make trash bins for the campus and have ten so far. I will also apply for a BCF grant to help subsidize buying trashcans for my school. I hope to place one in every hostel, classroom, and all around campus. We need to make it easy for students to make a good choice. We will make signs with slogans like “Keep Bhutan Clean and Green!” I hope to organize a campus cleaning day involving all students and then spread the word to other schools in Yangtse. Eventually I hope to write political officials to address the problem on the National level, but for now one piece of trash at a time. We will collect the trash in burlap sacks then burn it in the pits. I hate burning trash but it is the only solution. We are separating the plastic and storing it behind the generator. Any BCF teacher reading this please encourage your students to keep our happy home clean.

This place is stark, the blue and silver of the sky washing over the brown mountains. I watched a group of schoolgirls descend down the dirt steps to Deki’s farmhouse below my hut. The line of girls in black and red kieras silhouetted against an endless vista of rolling mountains. It looked as if they were walking on the moon. I live on a ledge at the top of the world, and even in my most sour mood I can’t help marvel this fact. But today was sweet as I made grilled cheese sandwiches with bread baked in Trashigang and my block of Bumthang’s finest gourmet cheese, fried in a dollop of farm fresh butter that I bummed from Sonam. Now I’m munching on the last of my popcorn which I popped in the pressure cooker and seasoned with salt.

Today I was chased by a mean black dog from the campus all the way to my hut. I stumbled over a drop while in retreat almost falling. We heard some sad news from headquarters about 3rd year teacher Andrea from Punacha taking a bad fall and breaking her hip. She will be evacuated to Bangkok and is expected to be okay. If you’re reading this say a small prayer for her or spin the wheel. I’ve never met her but know she is our most veteran teacher and loves Bhutan very much.

Hope all is well for everyone reading this in Bhutan and around the world. Remember love is the answer.

Part 2 Another Thursday

Caledonia calling big foot on the line”

I gave a scathing speech at assembly today about the trash situation and my truant club members. I told both teachers and students alike that they were disrespecting god and his majesty by littering. Even if I offended the masses I stand by this position. Today was a gorgeous spring day that began mild and windy and concluded with a blackout and electrical storm. It’s cool to see no lights at night as it feels like the real Bhutan. Today I went for a day hike on my extended break from class. I went up to the ruins and the temple. The sky was clear and the wind was blowing. The old monk was steadily at his prayers murmuring while turning the wheel. The tin of the bell sounds like the clang of the cable car at the convergence of Bush and Powell in San Francisco. I fondly remember lying in the closet in Morgan’s apartment on foggy afternoons listening to the trolley without a care. In those days the outside world seemed a trillion miles away. Love flowing easily as a mountain stream. But life isn’t so bad anyway. The temple is an amazing balance of ornate and simplistic. The first level has a plethora of statues including Buddha’s, tigers, and a fierce multi headed deity subduing a naked woman with his big clawed foot. The naked woman is a fleshy doll with intricate detail including her bare shaved privates. On the third level, the attic was rattling in the wind as I sat inhaling the sweet incense smoke staring at Buddha. The paintings here are the most amazing art I have ever seen. They seem to play like a movie on the wall in every possible color. I wonder if any man could paint such images or if they came from god? I will never find a place more holy then this secluded ten by ten room. From the small window you can see a hundred miles into India. I wonder if there is a better view in this universe? Nature is my only true friend here. Outside the temple, cows linger in the cobblestoned courtyard not a human to be seen except for the Omni present man at his wheel. Perhaps he’s a figment of my own imagination. Observing the coming of spring I can’t help but wonder if there is something to this reincarnation belief. A plant dies in winter but is reborn in spring. According to the laws of nature this theory is given credence.   

Slowly I settle into a routine realizing that my work has just begun. The students are wonderful even if I don’t know many names yet. I’m not sure the impact I can make, but this is the reality of being a teacher. You give them your heart and knowledge turning them loose into the world. I feel my attitude and aptitude as a teacher has improved since Korea and Sun Valley. I come to class prepared each day with a sunny disposition. I have not lost my temper with the kids. Reacting calmly is always the best way to deal with any behavioral issues. There are consequences for student’s poor behavior, but I must always maintain a level head. The trick is to embrace each moment and have fun! These kids are very well behaved and easily controlled with gentle reminders of our classroom regulations, included in our joint contract which is taped on the wall. Teaching has been the highlight for me in Bhutan. The days pass quickly as I deliberately slow down my lessons obtaining a better result. I focus on my health and planning and controlling my restless mind. And each day brings wonderment, challenges, surprises, and heaps of rice.  

I miss my family and friends but realize that I am fulfilling my dream. I am deeply grateful to all my donors and well wishers who made this all possible. I keep you in my heart and actions each day!


“The days are bright and filled with pain
enclose me in your gentle rain” Jim Morrison

Black rain pelts a tin roof
as I dance with my shadow
by candlelight, a voyager
on The Crystal Ship
as thunder rumbles
through narrow canyons
rolling back again,
waves carrying away the past             

Part 3 The Terror! The Terror!

“Nothing shaking on
Shakedown Street
, used to be the heart of town, don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, you just gotta poke around” Hunter/Garcia

I couldn’t help thinking today if the population of this village was greater in the ninth century then it is today, when Tsangma’s temple was in full swing. Today I feel a bit woozy and wobbly. I hope it not rabies from Red my pet dog who follows me around campus and licks me, or the cat who I’m domesticating who scratched my leg. I can vividly here Scott’s warning in my head. “If you display symptoms of rabies you will die!” More likely I am just coming down with something, perhaps suffering from lack of meat. Meat is rare here with scrappy portions at best. However this month it is banned for religious purposes. I did see a shopkeeper hacking up some large chunks of beef but she sternly remarked it wasn’t for sale. I could have picked it up and devoured it raw. (IT’S RAW!) I might just set some traps in the forest and see what I can catch. I haven’t felt entirely healthy for one day in Bhutan. I haven’t been sickly since Thimphu but I have had aches, pains, scratchy throat, a touch of Bhutan belly and more. It’s a hard adjustment for both mind and body. I mean how much rice can one man eat? I need to drink more water and less coke and sugary tea.

I had an Interesting and long day of classes. The highlight was making the boys and girls work in groups. They were very reluctant and I had to teach them to sit in a circle and make eye contact. After class my prodigy Namkith stayed behind to chat. She is living with her aunt and uncle in Tsenkharla but is originally from Phuntseling on the opposite side of the country on the Indian border near the Duars. This area is the only flat area in Bhutan at almost sea level. In her own words “She is here to pursue education and roaming.” She is the only girl or boy who is not shy in conversing one on one, and her aspiration is to be a teacher. I’m pretty sure she can achieve this. There are other bright ones to, and a lot of struggling students, but I care for them all.

Talked to Becky today and she told me she stumbled across a children’s book written by Nancy Strickland which is part of the grade 2 curriculum. It is illustrated by a Bhutanese and according to Becky well written. Apparently it is the story of students crossing rivers to get to school. It is probably written about Becky’s school since Nancy worked there about twenty years ago and there are infamous rivers near by. One river tragically killed some students washing away part of the school several years back.  She also said a local Bhutanese teacher wrote an ode to Nancy. He had met her last year and was inspired by the encounter, more proof of Strickland’s legendary status in the kingdom.    

We got some water today and I took a rare bucket bath. That’s about my seventh bath in over a month. But I am keeping my face and house clean. I feel blessed to have a house made of concrete and not mud. So far no rats have visited. I do have a crack in my window and just had my latch on the front door replaced.

Oh by the way dad. Meena from the BCF office alerted me to my packages arrival. She also congratulated me for surviving in a third world country. This made me feel good since a Bhutanese woman refers to this place as third world. She said they will send it out with someone headed to Trahigang or Yangtse. The people in the west definitely regard the east as underdeveloped and don’t want to come here. Hence the sage I met on the street in Thimphu who stopped to adjust my gho. He referred to the east in dead pan fashion as the “Terror of Life!” Amen brother. Despite the hardships both Rebecca and I are glad we are posted on the frontier at the end of our respective roads. From her posting she has interaction with the Brokpa people of Merak and Sakteng who are semi nomadic and indigenous. Sakteng is also the home of the Migoi or Bhutanese yeti, a white relative of the Northwestern bigfoot. They trek three days into Phonmey to trade. We both took awhile to embrace the beauty of our environments. But as she says, “It’s like no place she’s ever seen and could just stare at the mountains for two years.” Couldn’t have said it better myself sis and thanks for your loyal readership!

My student helper Pema is helping me cook and clean a bit. He is a boy from class 10. I feel guilty getting to much assistance and often send him away. I think he likes helping and getting better meals then the school mess which he cooks and I provide. I will try to learn some dishes from him. This is perfectly acceptable etiquette here but as a western teacher I can’t help feel the need to have clear boundaries with students. Sonam isn’t inviting me to dinner anymore, implementing the two week cut off. Apparently after two weeks they stop assisting foreigners. People are very nice here but I haven’t been to many houses for dinner. Most teachers are preoccupied in their social groups and marriages. 

Three Good Things

1.     Talking with Namkith after class.
2.     Serving tea to Karma Om’s mom (auntie) and Sonam while they weaved a gho outside.
3.     Breaking into a dance when I got water.

Part 4 Jesus in Bhutan

“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her” Wordsworth

Today we are having a puja for the school. Many teachers and tourist come to Bhutan to immerse themselves in the traditional culture. I am here to teach and immerse myself in nature. There is no denying that Bhutanese culture is unique but often at cultural events I feel very out of place. I had help getting dressed in my Gho which resembles a tablecloth wrapped around the body with two cloth napkins as cuffs. Where the kira is intrinsically elegant the gho is floppy and awkward. I found out today that wearing a gho in school or office settings only became compulsory in the 90’s coinciding with the expulsion of many Nepalese. There is a need to preserve the culture that I can never fully understand. But national pride is paramount here. Of course Americans and Koreans feel the same about there respective countries but do not have the same emphasis on preserving culture. Another funny cultural aspect is eating with hands. Today we had rice and spicy slaw which is not conducive to eating with your hands and no napkin. I have not mastered the ability to roll my rice into a sticky ball either. I also might have chipped my tooth on a pebble in my rice. We had meat today but it was so tough that I threw it to the dogs. I imagine horse meat to have a similar flavor. Even cow stomach seemed like filet minion compared to today’s offering.

I had a lengthy conversation with Namkith’s cousin who is a teacher here. He told me that there is underground Christian worship in Bhutan. This was surprising to me. Officially freedom of religion exists in Bhutan but no churches are allowed to be constructed. Buddhism permeates every day life. Today many students are locked in a room reciting prayers. The teacher I was talking with compared them to parrots since they don’t know the meaning of the sand script they are reciting. It was a great analogy since so much of religion is parroting. He tended to gravitate towards Christianity but kept this on the down low. The village in the South where he was born was traditionally Bon which is the worship of nature which has priestesses and priests held in equal regard. He couldn’t understand the worship of nature since he felt god created nature and worshiping spirits was silly. He questioned the belief in Buddha as a god since he never proclaimed to be a god or spoke of the divine. He argued that Lord Krishna and Jesus were both born enlightened. I find that aspect of Buddhism attractive; one must obtain his own enlightenment. His arguments were convincing and for a second I considered if these antiquated pagan traditions like Bon have been replaced by a more civilized monotheistic belief. But for me nature is my only alibi especially in this foreign place where I feel like a man without a country. As a sign posted on a cypress tree reads,

“On your death bed you will receive total consciousness, so I got that going for me, which is nice.” Bill Murray, Caddyshack
I had many other conversations with staff throughout the day as the event resembled a picnic. Learning things like life expectancy is only 60 in the kingdom. One challenge here is a poor diet with little meat, greens, fruit, or bread. Another is a developing medical system. I also found out His Majesty visited Tshenkharla twice in the past. Inside the MP monks under the supervision of a Lama, chatter away at prayers intermittently blowing horns. We all were given cornels of corn to throw at shrines with white arrows sticking out of them. The cornels represent our sins which we cast away. Girls in the front row were being pelted and it reminded me of the marshmallow war at The Silver Bowl in Vegas 95’ at The Grateful Dead. Most lamas are reincarnated from other Lamas. There was even a second Buddha who meditated at Gom Kora (one of my favorite spots) There is so much I don’t understand here and often feel isolated which is part of the adventure. The day’s events culminated in a twilight blessing by the lama. He walked through the crowd tapping each attendee on the head with a wand. Several of his attendants followed with holy water and a monk holding a sack, collecting money. (That old collection plate) Today was full of color and sound. Like little kids playing hacky sack with balls of grass (grassy sack) holy cedar smoke wafting through the air, tapestries of red blue and gold. The male teachers asking me if I liked local chicken, when I told them I haven’t tried any they laughed hysterically. Apparently this is regional slang for lady parts.

I walked away feeling more agnostic then ever on a day full of religious ceremony and tradition. Two blue stars rose on the hill as the last raven flew back to her nest. I felt quite the spectacle today as so many folks asked “How you feeling?” that I thought I was at a Michael Franti concert. I recall complaining to Morgan that I felt invisible but I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t such a bad thing? I am quite content when invisible reappearing for my students like a genie then disappearing into my bottle. Despite being sick, lonely, hungry, and confused I am content. I do not crave a girlfriend, television, or a show. Okay maybe a coke, but just simply living seems quite extraordinary.

“Well I don’t know where I’m going, don’t know what I’m doing, but I know I’m not going back” Radio On, Todd Scheaffer AKA The Squirrel

But as night descended I felt legitimately homesick for the first time. Another lackluster dinner as my fear before coming here has been realized. This is not a culinary hot spot. Visions of Chef Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares unfolded in my head. After dinner some student’s performed traditional dances for the lama. One young girl in a gold kira caught my eye as she lurched and waved her hands in reptilian fashion like Raby slithering through the barn, deep in the trance pocket. Perhaps a premonition since the boys are back this year (get your tickets early Rabes, Bra, and Kron) I solemnly watched the lama and his congregation file out of the MP room surrounded by women with babies strapped to their backs by woven cloth. The irrie sound of the monks elongated horns buzzed in my weary ears like giant insects. They loaded there gear into a jeep and drove away under a starlit sky. Watching the taillights disappear down the road I never felt further from HOME.   

 I am glad I am teaching since education transcends boundaries and all students are virtually the same anywhere in the world. Of course Bhutanese student’s backgrounds couldn’t be more different than U.S students, but when we are all laughing together that detail seems trivial. They really go for the physical comedy here as I channel Jim Carrey while teaching vocabulary. The truth is without teaching my days would be vapid as the landscape. At least a teacher’s work is never done.

3 NOT so good things

1.     Salty dried fish with many bones
2.     tough cartilage disguised as meet
3.     my soar throat