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

1 comment:

  1. Glad i am altering your reality from afar bra. good story on making choices. Beware, they are Everywhere! (-;

    Love you and almost miss you as much as you miss water, meat, and Bobby (not necessarily in that order). Don't go getting lost in the forest or religion, but do continue to get lost in your own head.

    Video Nawang singing so you can capture a bit of the spirit. Wish you could send some photos out.

    Take care on the other side of the planet bra!