Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Weather Report Suite or The Big Bang

 Dedicated to the one and only Morgan Amber Neiman on her Birthday! May we tromp in The Canyon Forever…

Darkness falls and seasons change, same old friends the wind and rain” Weather Report Suite

The weather pattern has settled into a daily deluge of rain. We had a whopper the other day culminating in a bolt of lightning shattering a tree outside my door with the loudest crash boom ever heard which sent folks running out of there huts in terror and wonderment. Prayer flags blew over sinking in the mud, the dénouement was the sonic blast of thunder and lightning coinciding upon my front yard, demolishing the tree into a dozen charred toothpicks. Holy Shit! I yelled a split second after. Yelama or wow in Sharshop the primary language of East Bhutan which has no written form. There are close to 100 dialects in this tiny kingdom which doesn’t feel tiny at all when driving from Point A to B. It stays cold in spring with the nicest time being the early mornings before the clouds slowly build setting the stage, bursting then dispersing by bedtime. The big bang also zapped our power for two days. It was nice having pure darkness and candlelight to read about primal Oregonian existence as the Stampers fell the big trees in “Sometimes a Great Notion” An epic story of sibling rivalry (You ought to read it bra.) Or watching the candlelight flicker, swaying to Jessica’s sax solo, blow girl blow! Zippa, Look Out!  

“Gonna see a change, gonna see a change

 I ambled around the grounds in the rain doing some gardening, planting geranium clippings in the saturated soil. Just add some cow dung and Bob’s your uncle, presto geranium! The flowers are popping up from everywhere. The crimson roses are magnificent and fragrant. These simple pleasures are what make Bhutan endurable and enjoyable. Every once in awhile in the ebb of my sulk cycle I realize how enchanting this land is, even every more then once in awhile. Right now I’m digging in for the long haul. This means getting my projects running and getting a thumb on my classes. The confusion lifts like the morning mist revealing heavier mist and more confusion, and a spot of subtle blue. The grounds are cleaner that’s indisputable. The trails outside campus are still a mess but progress is being made. I often stop poor unsuspecting students leading them in impromptu trash removal in between bells. About that bell, not Tim’s bell but Bhutan’s bell or rather the schools bell. An iron circle cast bonked with a striker that announces all aspects of carefully planned chaotic life here. At 5 AM it serves as my snooze bar as students wake up for duty. It rings for class, for club, for dinner, for bed. It sounds like heaven. Not the automotive slave toll of the western bell. This is the bell of Mt. Olympus calling the gods and goddesses to order. Calling the little boogers to assembly to sing their precious National Anthem and murmur there peculiar prayers that sound like obsolete mumblings. But their National Anthem stirs me far more than the Stars and Stripes with its bombs bursting in the friggen’ air!  By damned if I don’t rush to assembly out of fear of missing the tune to hang my day on. Each time ringing out “hey bub, your dream has come true!” And don’t forget to pick up three pieces on your way to class and put em’ in the dust bin. My mantra! is anybody listening to the crazy felincpa!

There is so much to do and so much time to do it in. No instruction from the institution is both a blessing and a curse. Because of my nature I will start with the curse. I never now what the hell is happening! What am I supposed to teach? Or I miss school meetings because no one bothered to tell me about them in English. I grope along making things up as I go. The blessing, I miss school meetings and grope along and make things up as I go. No observations, no parent teacher conferences. Today a kid was playing with a Kuru dart in the front row of class, a mini javelin. Hopefully he did not intent to spear our hero during the lesson. One of Becky’s pupils had a cat in his gho. A scene repeated out of Zeppa’s book. How much has really changed in East Bhutan. Then there are the brooms made of twigs bound together at the top, making the boys and girls appear out of Hansel and Gretel when they sweep the classroom stirring up clouds of dust in their matching gho’s and Kiras. This place is surreal. Then there’s the TB, Chicken pocks, boils, and endless infernal house flies. Or as the Indian teacher, who calls me Butterfly observed in a thick Indian accent, “This is the time of the fly!” So thick a swarm in class it appears the students are waving at me as I pass on a parade float. Or perhaps they are waving west across Bhutan at our heroine Sabrina (the Princess of Chummay) as she waved to assembly on her first day as if just crowned first prize in a beauty pageant. (See Sabrina in Bhutan post, “The first day of school”) On cue the dogs howl in their incorrigible chorus and I am happy to report that Sabrina has been adopted by the tribe and doing splendidly in Bumthang, the heartland of the Kingdom! Yah!

Will not speak but stand inside the rain, listen to the thunder shout, I am, I am, I am” Let it Grow

Yeppers, it was great to see Rebecca, Martha, and Vicky and Ian this weekend. How fortunate to be conversing on teaching strategies, women’s struggles, and ornery principals. Ah Rangjoon! Vicky and Ian have taught around Asia for years and I bet anything they have made lunch for people in Japan, and China as well as Bhutan. They are eternally young and properly whimsical and cynical at once. One might wonder what keeps them out in Asia plugging along after so many years of work travel instead of settling down under. Ian cast some light on this query while teaching me how to prepare Dal. “Its pretty addicting isn’t it” he remarked on the ESL life. Is it? All the teachers here are a source of inspiration but I feel compelled to highlight these two Aussies for their generosity of spirit and keen wisdom. There house is a quaint palace (traditional architecture) glowing in simplicity and grace. There pad, a bastion and beacon of civilization in the region of “terror” known as the Far East of Bhutan. Is It? Yes it’s a fact Jack, we are all indeed lucky to be here now. Alive N’ kicken in the Kingdom.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bhutanese Doldrums

I repeat Bhutanese Doldrums...

(Caution, weird content enclosed)


“It is silence leaking from
 cupped hands like ice-cold
mountain water” Deki Tshomo 8A

Although the monsoon season has not arrived, it is already raining every evening. The rain usually begins after 8th period. We have had some tremendous and powerful T-storms with streaks of lightning and clasps of dragon thunder. Mostly we have intermittent showers that patter on my tin roof and plop in the mud outside my open door. It is still cool but warmer days are promised by all. A shout out from across the ocean to Lisa Marie Marcantonio, happy birthday in Tucson where I’m sure it’s warm and pleasant. Play a fiddle tune with pops for me okay.

“Take this child lord from Tucson Arizona, give her the wings to fly through harmony, and she won’t bother you no more” Under African Skies, Paul Simon.

I’m so happy you are reading since my readers whoever and wherever they are keep me motivated to share my wacky experiences. That reminds me I have to get that letter off to the boy in Spain who is collecting letters from around the world. I also have outdated postcards from Thimphu for Mare, Morgan, mom, Tyler and Beth. My b-day post card for Rabes might arrive by her 39th birthday since the mail here is so slow. I did however receive my parcel and now have two pictures from Reed hanging on my bleak wall.  

Part 1 The Limit

“Just one thing that I got to say, I need a miracle every day” Weir, Barlow

Becky and I concurred on the phone that this was the limit, the outer edge of adventure. On the map you can’t get any furthur away from home. But things are slow in this black hole. They can come to a muddy stand still where a body is left in the void of thought. Ones life reflected back at them in the puddles. What to do, what to do!

Here are some strange instances that make up Bhutan. My student Sangay Tobgay from 8A lost his father as a boy. I know this since he is a king sponsored student, which means the government is paying for his education. If he succeeds and passes the class Ten Exam he will have the opportunity to study abroad courtesy of His Majesty. I took Sangay shopping to buy some essentials and he told me his father went into the woods and did not return. His mother found him dead on the ground. When I asked how he died Sangay replied in earnest, “the local demon killed him” Another oddity is that none of my students had ever heard of Easter and many students have swastikas drawn on their hands. Remember this was a Buddhist symbol before Hitler adopted it for the Nazis. The students never knew the sorted history of the holocaust. We truly exist in a different universe here, a brave new world of immersion and self reliance. What would Jesus think anyway? He’d probably dig these earthy folks and then tell them to pick up their trash. I always liked the Easter story the best. I can just picture the apostles sliding back the stone and poof no Jesus! We do need our miracles to carry on. Anyway I have never felt closer to Christ than this wasteland away from the churches and crosses. What was it the devil said to our golden boy out there in the desert? Did he offer him a cold beer or a slice of pizza? What tempted our savior anyway? Cravings are the worst. Our shop is down to onions as the last surviving vegetables. Rice, onions, butter cookies, coke, and ramen, a meager diet. This is a strange place indeed. The school librarian frisks the boys checking their giant marsupial pockets in their ghos for books. She frisks in a professional manner like the security at a Dead show looking for contraband. I have heard reports from a BCF’er of teachers whipping students with stinging nettles. A more pleasant use of plants is the grassy sacks (hacky sack made of grass) made by the kids.

I went to the Lepcha’s for supper. I got into a spirited discussion about Christianity and Buddhism. Salim was preaching his Christian beliefs with passion. I admire the convictions of true believers. But for me the universe is a murky uncertain place. Nanu was listening intently to our conversation (I wish I could adopt her and bring her back to America) When Salim pronounced Christ spoke to him I rebutted that the trees spoke to me. It’s nice to have deep talks with a Bhutanese and I always go for a free meal! On the way home I could see the lights of T-Gang and the college at Kalung off in the distance like distant galaxies. One morning I woke with the burning urge to read the entire bible, but I don’t have one…

This week was up and down both emotionally and professionally. We had a great time making comic strips in class 7. But the curriculum for 7 is ridiculous. The stories are far too difficult for them to comprehend. Teaching them is tortuous to all involved. I try my best to make the material accessible. In class 8 we had a great discussion and made a chart comparing the life of day scholars and boarding students. These kids are interesting. Some of them appear quite dirty and unhealthy with boils on their hands and snot drizzling from their noses. Also they steal from one another in the boarding houses and someone even swiped my American flag from my porch. Luckily I got another one from mom in my latest parcel which arrived containing much needed jeans and shirts. In my class I am dealing with excessive chatter and feel some of the boys might be taking advantage of me since I don’t whack them. Overall the behavior is pretty good in the classroom. But hitting is acceptable even among students. I saw two little toddlers smacking one another, and then of course the littering epidemic.

Emotionally I found myself feeling painful remorse about my loves lost. I even drank alcohol for the first time in five years, swilling two Bhutanese brews and a few cups of Ara (the local brew) Hopefully it will be at least another five years before I touch the demon fluid again, or even better never. I still feel too connected to my old self. One must release much of their identity and assume a new role. I am hoping to just be Sir. That is, only a teacher. Not a lover or the Hard Rock Kid. I have a lot of work to do psychically. I tell Becky aka Pelky or Pokey (Bunky Brewster) that we are doing “psychic penance” here. We both lived charmed lives on the rainbow trail bouncing freely from show to show and job to job. I love Becky since I can tell her sorted twisted things I would never think to share with someone I am wooing! It’s great to simply have a buddy here. I am hoping to bunk to Mongor via T-Gang and Chasm, or “that damn bridge” as Becky calls it, to attend a book fair and see ALL the eastern krewe. These are some great folks including, Reidi, Scott, Ian and Vicky, Martha, Sheal, and Pelky. If it happens, we will unite from four different districts to meet in the mid evil town of Mongor. Mongor proper is essentially the gateway to the east about five hours from my post.

“Don’t worry about tomorrow lord you know it when it comes, when the rock N’ roll music meets the rising shinning sun” One More Saturday Night

Well I woke up thinking I was going to teach three periods and then hitch to meet the group in T-Gang but plans changed. Instead the entire school hiked up the mountain to a blessing at the temple I had visited on my second day in Tsenkharla. Before leaving I asked for final clearance to go to Mongor for the book fair. The principal replied that the book fair was not confirmed basically snuffing out my plan. Of course the book fair is happening meanwhile Becky, Martha, Vicky and Ian are on their way at this very moment to meet Reidi and Co. I am sad to miss a gathering with 7 BCF teachers, who are some of the coolest cats in the universe. As for me, I trekked up the steep slope to my own community gathering, a blessing for long life from several lamas. The Bhutanese children are surreal. They blast up the mountain in ghos, kiras, and flip flops. Little children glide by me hardly breaking a sweat, where I am profusely perspiring. I think this quality is genetic from hundreds of years of walking the most rugged terrain on the planet. They all have Sherpa mentalities and super strength. It makes me laugh to remember the Korean hikers dressed like they were embarking up Everest with funny suits and ski poles to accomplish the wooded hillsides of Anyang. While the Bhutanese navigate gnarly steep paths in their national dress and slippers (as they call them) I fell into a group of girls from class 9 who guided me up the mountain. I even showed the girls and a few boys from my class my bon shrine along the way. The entire student body and Tsenkharla community joined with many other villagers within walking distance. The dilapidated temple is perched high on a slope several hours below the next peak. Tsenkharla School could be seen far below. We all sat on grass, on walls, on rocks to watch the lama and monks prey. The monks in red robes and the lamas in extravagant costumes with funky head ware. This of course was accompanied by drums and blowing horns around several campfires.  

After lunch I went on a hike with some fellow teachers. We hiked through oak forests with ferns lining the path. We came to several farms which were growing potatoes, garlic, and onions. Many beds had lovely marijuana plants (pigs food) sprouting from the soil. I have never seen pot plants growing wild before or realized just how beautiful they are in their undisturbed element. They were merely babies incubated by the latest rains. We also saw a few rhododendrons which grow on huge bushes the size of small trees. Once in awhile even a cypress would appear next to a banana tree with tropical looking leaves. My beloved wasteland below is in stark contrast to the highlands, that reveals substantial vegetation. We made it back to the site just in time for the blessing which included the lamas walking through the crowd softly bonking people on the head with sacred objects. It was pretty cool to be the only foreigner (felincpa in Sharshop) in the crowd. I got to bond with many students and am slowly learning names. On the way down I saw Nawang Zangmo (the girl with the nightingale voice) I was also surrounded by some class 9 boys who were all rapidly asking me questions and making lewd comments about girls. When I arrived home I texted Becky the sad news and did three and a half hours of washing and cleaning. Obviously I haven’t washed clothed in a long time! They are drying outside overnight. By the way mom thanks for the tevas they are essential for washing and bucket bathing. So now I find myself alive on another Saturday night in Bhutan. I will most likely get to work marking the sixty portfolios from class 8 and planning next weeks lesson. Oh the joy of teaching. In reality teaching in Bhutan is a pretty nice gig if you factor out the four hour meetings in Dzonka and the never ending daily chores. As the rain began to fall I got a nice call from Sarah all the way from Gasa. She told me how happy she is in Bhutan. I imagine here in the northern forest under snowcapped glaciers keeping warm with her wood burning stove. (I have a Chinese heater) She just had a visit from U.K Dave who finally got to see his mountains. Sarah is indeed a solid woman and I look forward to seeing her face again in Bumthang this summer!

Today I came to realize how adept the Bhutanese are at daily living in a difficult environment. They can walk for hours wearing their national dress in sweltering heat and bitter cold. They utilize what little food is available to survive. This is a hearty group of people that make up the mosaic of Bhutan. It is as if they reflect in their actions the literal landscape. Tough and beautiful!

Introducing a sad poem about love lost…And the demons of the past 

Run Away AKA Bhutanese Nightmare

I am lost in paradise
where even the roses and clover  
of Eden’s garden
don’t console.
My mind is a golden languor
beating my skull from within
wanting to escape and leap into the forest
to swing on a cypress branch.
my ass stalked by the hungry leopard of memory
two muddy feet tethered to the past
by rusty chains locked with fear.
trying to remember to forget
my first love presently waiting tables
at Foreign Cinema
in fine dim light, a San Francisco angel
gliding across the floor
rushing to meet her beau at the Fillmore
for a bluegrass show
where they’ll burn away the foggy night
under purple chandeliers.
And my second love, her tiny porcelain hand
grasped tightly by a stranger wrapped together
in Seoul’s neon blanket
snuggling in a Korean dream.
who run away giggling
as I prey they won’t grow to torment.
the kids in kiras and ghos happily consort
and I know I can’t run any FURTHUR before
starting back towards home.

Trying to remember to forget is a lyric from the Little Feet song Easy to Slip. Furthur was a psychedelic bus driven by Neil Cassady which now rusticates in Oregon on the late Ken Kesey’s farm.

Part 2 Wanderlust

“You know the cursed look of wanderlust
but you did not know the hell that
lust was leading you into
you must go through a winter first” Sometimes a Great Notion

Speaking of Ken kesey I am reading “Sometimes a great notion” It’s pretty good so far. He switches points of view and ties together all the various characters crashing towards one another, in fates epic collision. I have just begun the novel. I love the statue of Ken across from the McDonald Theater in Eugene. I always hang out there when I breeze through town and watch the street kids peddle or panhandle. Wookies on unicycles and pretty girls who let themselves go with unwashed dreds sitting on blankets in army fatigues. And of course the Saturday Market, DIG IT! The spoon man and the washboard jams. Listen! crunchy gals making vegan food, fresh raspberries, candles, edible jams, and crystals in street stalls. This is a hippie haven, a counter culture oasis. One might even glimpse Liora Sponko on her cruiser bike riding away in the impeccable Oregon sunshine! (If you’re reading this kiddo say what up to Chuspi for me…) Back at the McDonald and Bobby crooning Wharf Rat right after Kesey passed, wearing a T-shirt with two aliens sitting back to back their bulbous heads touching. Weir’s beard sprouting- yeti roaming. Remember? The same scene played out at the Cutbhert several years later on a dewy summer’s eve by the ever flowin’ Willamette. At intermission sweating a poison China Cat’s waterfall all over your back… Remember? the crooked moon melting into that tree… Remember? the horseshoe amphitheater pulsating in the rain, The Mountain Song, hearts beating… The history of a town rushing back to me in a maelstrom on a whistling pacific bound train.

Eugene couldn’t be furthur away…Tonight another storm with purple lightning and peels of thunder crumpled over a rolling landscape with villages etched into impossible nooks on sheer cliffs. It all seems unreal at times and every day I am seeing it for the first time. Its vast spaces can exhilarate or petrify the soul. How many lifetimes have I walked this mountaintop alone? I wonder what the gang is up to in Mongor right now. It feels like we are living in a Lord of the Rings novel. Becky pointed out that the Bhutanese children have hobbit like feet. They scamper around with oversized dirty bare tootsies. In places with names like, Trashigang, Mongor, Jakar, Rangjung, and Tsenkharla! In a landscape little changed over the centuries. If you come here you will see why development in this countryside is a daunting task. Nonetheless it creeps along. We are paving our road slowly covering the last KM of rocky dirt with tar. The tar is boiled in huge fire pits along the road just outside the school gate near Kesang’s shop where I have a ten thousand Naltrum debt mounting daily. The good news is she got bread from T-Gang which means (kind) grill cheese sandwiches two for a buck…             

“Hog of a Sunday, dog of a Monday, get it back someday, what I say” Corrina, Hunter, Weir

Today was a hard day, hard as the landscape along the riverbed. Hard as the phallic plateau perched over true rushing liquid. So goes the holy babble. The sky was tremendous with silver and white billowing clouds that kissed the highest peaks of India then tracing along the borderlands. My favorite peak in the universe is a square tooth jewel above the rugged jawbone of an impressive range, somewhere between the giant subcontinent and the little Dragon kingdom. Its perfectly square chipped top seems to be higher than Everest from my point of view. From there I imagine peering down into Phongmay and Pelks place, and off into the golden sea past the tip Karalla. This will always be gods dwelling, the one true goddess that gave birth to Christ, Buddha, Ganesh, Mohammed, Krishna, Great Spirit, The Creator, the mumbo jumbo deities inhabiting the forests, paganism, atheism, the poor ol’ agnostics, and you and me. A place I can never reach except in my dreams. Below on the terraces (freaky) Deki roams with a friend, the pair moving like ghosts through the scene. Their red cuffs, black kira tops and blue checkered skirts (school uniforms) patterned against the pit of emptiness in my stomach?  Walking on the moon and feeding the cows. What to do? Don’t get all worked up about it! Queen Bee Nancy’s last words to Becky at Dochela echo in my overloaded mind. But she was only trying to say goodbye! There are no goodbyes anyhow, right? Nancy’s wise enough to know this. Ah well What to do! Becky was kind enough to check up on me, probably sensed my dejection from missing the Mongor gathering. She told me her and Reidi surmised that living in this wild loneliness was much like looking into a vast mirror. This perfectly captures the landscape projected outward or inward from my meditation rock. (If only I knew how to meditate)

“If I thought it would do any good I’d stand on the rock that Moses stood!”

I did sit a spell with Booty taking in the gaping landscape that throbbed in my heart as salty tears welled up in my eyes. He gently marked me with this tabby tail. And cried! Always crying is Booty. I don’t want that demon of depression and haplessness to get a tow hold, familiar and useless patterns. A brisk walk and nice chat overlooking the twinkling lights of distant villages lifted my mucky spirit. As did a nice meal of wild fern over rice at my neighbor’s house, and watching tiny carbonation bubbles (coca -cola) fizz swirl in random synchronization reminding me the universe is merely physics-atoms and so forth. Electrons and the nucleus of sugar particles (forgive my ignorance Dave) After all the world is benign in its transient and intermittent natures. Death decay cycling to birth and renewal. It’s only the mind in its awkward awareness that creates such pain and atrocities. Fear loathing love and compassion, all playthings of the mind. Call it the soul if it suits you. Listen! we are all alone and afraid of loneliness. What are we? Take away the other, god, family, friends, babies, pets, and finally identity. What are we?  

“She comer’ and git me if she could and carry me home again” Lucinda

Part 3 Casual Day

“The deepest journeys pass through the wilderness, the desert where the burning question resides; to taste the magic we must first suck the emptiness, from a cup that is always dry” Barlow, Lucky Enough

I went into Yangtse on Tuesday for a “casual day” to deposit my paychecks and mail my obsolete postcards. It was a good day, a crest between the deep troughs of April where Bhutan has had the opposite effect then desired. I have been living in the slums and ghetto of my own head instead of fluttering like a prayer flag in the breeze. But Tuesday was a respite on a misty day. My departure from school coincided with a festival at Chorten Kora. This gathering was subdued in comparison to the Gom kora Circus. There was little vending and mellow praying. The magic of Chorten Kora was finally revealed. The impressive whitewashed Chorten imposed against the grey heavens. After several clockwise circumnavigations I went to town and shopped. I bought vegetables including ginger and garlic, and fresh fruit including bananas, and apples. I haven’t seen any of these items in Tsenkharla. I went to another shop meeting two lovely sisters who sold me a portrait of the Peoples King being crowned with the “Raven Crown.” I have been seeking this print for months. Next I ventured out of town across a wooden bridge bundled with prayer flags and headed down a muddy road towards Boomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. The place of tigers and seasonal black necked cranes. The flat road wound through red and green deciduous trees with large ferns along a glassy green river. I happened upon a sandy white beach to sit for a spell away from the litter and people. It felt like home, a rare moment of contentment and the reason why I came. Hopefully someday I will press further into the park in fact I wasn’t even within the boundary. It was an ideal setting in contrast to the dry sucking void of Tsenkharla; where after rounding a bend out of Yangtse the land dramatically looses its cover like a lover shedding her gown in lustful haste. Remember? (Did you know that the Bhutanese regard oral sex as “acca” or dirty?) Leaving behind the gust of green and sailing back into the brown hills sparkling mauve in a drizzle. Idling in Rangthanwoon embodying the grinding stone.

“All work and no play make Tim a dull boy!”
 All work and no play make Tim a dull boy.” 

Salvation Beach

Mossy water
drifts its way into scattered mist
a red and chartreuse puzzle
of dappled deciduous entwined.
where dreams begin
a river sings Hallelujah,
sitting with Lord Buddha
in wind brushed sand,
a natural mandala of secret whispers
shhhhh, welcome home!
my hearts shell cracks
revealing the nut,
a golden light of creation.
a tug of truth
from muddy bosom
floating in milky current
to the place where nothing matters

Part Four and Twenty

“The earth will see you on through this time” Mountains of the Moon.
So the work goes on and the rain pours down. It feels like the monsoon already but it is a cold winter rain. The land reaps the benefit. Blood red, scarlet, and pink roses bloom at school. They make me think of my own roses blooming in San Rafael by the bay. How can the same plants grow 40,000 miles from home? But which is home anyway? Is Bhutan home or California? There is a chicken pox outbreak here and the students are all coughing and wheezing at assembly. It’s an unhealthy place for sure but I am doing okay. Slowly I am learning some dishes to cook and falling back on grilled cheese sandwiches. Always a good midnight snack anywhere one finds themselves in the world. But where am I?  I sink my troubles into my novel, Sometimes a Great Notion. It is a simple sometimes slow story with the most far out writing ever! It’s hard to believe Kesey wrote this in 64’ at whatever age he was then. It has sage like wisdom and unbelievable depth of prose. Some folks “just got it.” I am condemned to mediocrity but always recognize and appreciate genius. I suppose we all do.

I am getting some clarity regarding this strange uncertain career I have fallen into. At times I truly believe teaching is just about the worst fit for my personality. It challenges my patience and focus. But I do realize I would like to specialize in English. Teaching multiple subjects at the elementary level is too strenuous for me. This is a good insight but means I must take it upon myself to rewrite my grammatical faults before I reach back home. I aim to become a middle school English teacher someday and must shore up my grammatical weaknesses including spelling. The fact is I most enjoy working with this age group. It’s been adventitious to have worked with kindergarten through eighth grade giving me valuable perspective. There is something magical about a child’s transition into adolescence. At this point they are beginning to recognize themselves and their capabilities and interests. This is also a challenging age for the student as they seek their identity.

 I wonder what is happening in my former world. My new planet extends only as far as my blurry vision can distinguish. From my areal shelf I peer into the haze of India, its dwindling settlements and bleak nothingness. How can it be so empty yet still so damn beautiful? I dream I am walking up Bush Street in another life with a bouquet of spring flowers. I can smell the sewage and sourdough. I can here the clang of the trolley and see the neon sign announcing “Uncle Veto’s” up ahead. This is Tim’s bell! The face in my hand held mirror seems foreign and young, except for the reseeding hairline lurking beneath brown curls. Shaky eyes that were once hazel turn a faded greenish blue, the color of swamp water pushing out to the gulf. I rejoice in the hummingbirds and their kamikaze routines. Dive bombing at sleeping hounds before cork screwing and spinning away at the last instant. This is Tim’s bell! The din of prayer wheels that revolve all day long, somewhere in the Dragon Kingdom, the students murmuring strange prayers in rapid fervor. We all exist on a cliff at the edge of the universe. One pensive and exuberant alien, sticking out with sore circus thumbs. Overhead the ravens circle beating black wings, kings and queens of the sky, bringing shadowy life into luminous death, This is Tim’s bell! So smoke em’ if you got em’ fire up the colortinies and watch the pictures as they go flying through the air!

Part 5 Rangjung to Rangthangwoon (Is it?)

“Confess your hidden faults, approach what you find repulsive, help those you think you cannot help.  Anything you are attached to, let it go. Go to the places that scare you.” Machik Labron (collected from Becky’s front door)

I obtained all the proper documentation with official seal in order to strike out to Phongmay. But wouldn’t you know it that a major landslide closed the road near Chasm. So I tried again on Saturday slipping out into the dawn. After walking about an hour down the hill I was picked by a taxi who rode me to T-Gang. There was actually three slides the biggest one a real whopper at Chasm bridge. As monks, police, and students from a Science fair watched a tractor remove tonnage of muddy earth dumping the debris into the ravine. After crossing “that damn bridge” and producing the proper ID and note I proceeded to T-Gang hopping another taxi to Phongmay. Oh, Phongmay! The rode out of T-Gang follows a swift river through green terraced valleys as the vibe grows warmer and sub tropical. Poinsettias mingle with pine and thick deciduous stands recouping from the rainfall. First up the cozy hamlet of Rangjoon, its cute streets lined with markets and a large chorten at the center of town. Perched up on the hill an immaculate temple a perfect postcard of Shangri-La! Then up the road we turn off onto an endless and bumpy dirt road rolling past Radi and its stunning terraces carved into the opposing hillside of the long narrow valley whooshing back to Rangjoon. Over the two rivers swelling by the minute, an emergency tram is a harbinger of days to come, finally reaching Becky in Phongmay.

After a few moments in homey Phongmay I felt more connected to the land then all my months in Tsenkharla. An endless carpet of vegetation rolls out in all directions broken only by the occasional terrace. The robust farms blend seamlessly into the rolling mountains. And then there’s MEME, a perfectly rounded mountain at the center of this universe. So the story goes, an Indian was dragging the mountain west from the subcontinent with a giant rope. The rope snapped and the mountain rested in its plot sending the man away brokenhearted. I always imagined my first love Morgan and I were two hobby cats sailing in Lake Tahoe connected by a rope. But eventually the rope snapped and she floated away on her vessel out of my reach. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who lost my mountain. When I told her my sad tale Becky said she thought the mountain resembled a ship. The mountain is perfectly resting in the middle of a sleek river valley. It is a triplet. Her sisters reside in Selma and Quincy respectively. The middle twin is called Dollar Mountain watching over Aunt Mare in Selma Oregon, and the youngest (runt) twin is watching over the airstrip in Quincy California. I used to watch the light on the baby turn gold, green, and red in the warm Sierra night. Three sisters in three ranges bonded in perfect rounded unison. Our heroine in East Bhutan has a nasty scar cut across the bottom of her breast, a haunted road unfinished by the royal government which only adds grave grace to this natural cathedral. This is Becky’s bell! Becky’s abode is off campus and made of earth with protective penises hanging from the rock covered roof. It is quiet with no students or barking dogs.

We met Martha and scamper off to the head of the Brokpa trail which eventually leads to Sakteng and finally these yak herders highlands. This is the home of the elusive blue poppy and Yeti. A few Brokpa wandered by us with all knowing smiles and regal wool crimson regalia. The old women glide by in their woven hats that resemble dreadlocks adorned with amazing jewelry. Above a crew chews up the sacred wilderness, building a road to conquer these eternal mountain dwellers connecting them to Bhutan and our own hungry imagination. They already have a mobile tower, electricity, and Justin Bieber T-shirts. This trek was only opened up to (falincpas) tourist last year after decades of isolation for the twin villages of Merak and Sakteng. The road is slated for completion in three years connecting these tribal folks to us all for good. Building a road is a violent war waged against the forest. Plowing past a banyan tree archetype its twisted roosts exposed to poison air. But progress can not be aborted. Perhaps the Brokpa too want an easier life. A few more walk on by, faster then any mortal can stride. They make the two day trip in one. They are noble and exquisite. They are slowly going extinct like all of us. Progress cannot be aborted.

Later, Becky and I walk to another chorten this time in a hail storm. We meet Martha’s student a girl who exclaims, “Is it?” to all my statements, a typical and classic Bhutanese response to just about anything and the mantra of the weekend (repeated in jocularity in Ian and Vicky’s parlor while the breeze blew through the curtain.) The class 9 student in green kira remarks with genuine sincerity how great a teacher Martha is especially how funny she is. I am pleased. We get picked by a van and plopped off in the village with the heavy drops. We avoid the rabid dog. If we get bit according to Scott, “it’s too late we will die!” We borrow two umbrellas and make it on home. Phongmay is homey as Truckee. It is the end of the road. It is the end of the earth. This is earth’s bell! I wake Becky up at 2:55 AM to see a canopy of glowing stars and lightning blinking in rapid succession in a frosty clear sky. The dipper dips over MEME. The Milky Way wisps and creams. The sky impossibly flashes. Is it a dream? Is it?  Two shooting stars streak the heavens. A pixie explodes against the blackness. The moon is lost. This is the end of the universe. This is the end of time and the beginning of the last road. Somewhere the Brokpa dream of naked masked dancers whose bodies writhe and ungulate in this last dance, the prey of the night. This is the Brokpa bell!

In the morning we connect with Martha and walk to Radi then catch a comet to Rangjoon where I finally encounter JD, the last teacher to meet from last year. He is French Canadian and he and Martha speak French in the blazing sun. He is on his way to T-Gang to collect clothes for the needy with his students and they ware T-shirts specially made for the event. My impression as he departs is that he is a confident and compassionate individual who cares about his work. We find Ian and Vicky who have prepared vegetarian sushi for us. These two are as solid as they come. They have accumulated enough merit for us all. They have “value” in spades. They tell us stories of the far gone cats of last year’s group, epic walkers and drinkers, people who choose to volunteer in Tanzania, Canadian national forests, and Bhutan. These are the greatest of men and women and I am tickled to share their path. What am I doing here? Vicky and Ian have taught in China, Japan, and Thailand and are on their second year here. Now Ian teaches me to make Dal in their kitchen. There house is a home in an ideal place. They are the patriarch and matriarch of the group. They encourage us and feed us. We all commiserate about culture clash and challenges in the classroom. We all care so much for the students here. They are our children. I leave with a full stomach and placement envy. They call me a cab that slings me all the way around the fertile mountain range into the naked wasteland of my own place. Right on past Gom Kora still rattling from her festival, over the rickety bridge above the rushing white river and through the darkness of Doksom. The driver is from Tibet via Sakteng where he married a Brokpa. He tells me how to hike past Kinney to the border of India beyond which Tawang and Tiber. Two borders that emperors and kings have sealed from me. I arrive at HOME. Will it ever be home to me, this harsh and haunted land on the wrong side of the mountain? This the short end of the stick where god ran out of trees scraping the bottom of the divine pan for the twiggy dregs, placing one here or there. I think of Buddha setting out from the palace at 34 (we are getting older now) under an Indian moon to seek enlightenment, starving before choosing the middle path. A tree here or there is all one needs for shade.                   
Lightning flashes scream
At exhausted bulldozer
MEME cries starlight

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April Showers

What Teaching in Bhutan means to me. (Dedicated to the students of 7A, 7B, 8A, and 8B)

What does teaching in Bhutan mean to me? Student’s who jump up to greet me in the morning with boundless energy shouting “good morning sir!” The same student’s that are the hardest working I’ve ever taught. There are brave students who walk two hours in the rain to arrive at school, before walking two more hours through the muddy forest home each afternoon. And boarding students who live far from their parents and the comforts of home, crammed together in tight spaces, but they never complain. They are woken up at 5 Am to exercise, study, and prey and work all day until 9 PM. On winter break they help their family’s work the fields. They ask for help from their teachers and each other. They are angels in class and always listen to the teacher and turn in all homework on time. My students are the hardest working students in the world.

It is a dream coming true for me to teach in Bhutan. I love watching all the Tsenkharla students singing the National Anthem each morning in their finest ghos and kiras. My heart swells with pride and joy and I wonder if they know how much Mr. Tim adores them. While it is true there are less resources here then in my home country. Our classrooms might have no lights or window panes but we always share what we have. My class shares colored pencils when they do an art project without protest. They support each other in the classroom and are all friends outside the classroom. I respect each of my students and hope they respect me too. I admire them for their hard work and ENTHUSIAM! They all want to read and never laugh when a classmate makes a mistake. They come from simple families and are the first generation to learn English. They speak up to five languages each. My students have a wonderful sense of humor. They love to sing and dance and they love His Majesty and their culture. They love nature and write wonderful poetry. When I am teaching I feel happy and when I’m not teaching I miss them so. Simply put my students at Tsenkharla are the best in the world.    

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Walkabout

Part 1 Sunday Walkabout

“Sunshine Daydream, walk you in the tall trees, going where the wind blows, blooming like a red rose” Hunter/Weir

Today was crystal clear with blue skies and cotton candy clouds that billowed from the towering peaks. I am still suffering from the residuals of my funk but couldn’t deny the opportunity to roam. As usual, when I stepped outside students, teachers, and villagers all asked where I was going, and for what purpose? My new response is “this way” and “no purpose.” I pointed myself up the newly cleaned path to Tsangma’s castle and the temple and kept on going all the way to my bon shrine. New infant ferns had popped up within my stone ring. After a quick prayer and encounter with two shy girls in the forest I headed onward to the edge of my previous exploration. Just above the pine plateau and my shrine, an old abandoned house and a trail to the small village I stumbled upon my second day in Tsenkharla. Today I found a little track down the ravine into a deciduous forest. At the bottom of the gully I stumbled into another tiny hamlet greeting a confused villager upon arrival. She did not even know “hello” but she had some cool hand carved planter boxes outside here house. From there I wandered another tiny trail until I came upon a neatly kept farmhouse and field enclosed by a tidy stone wall. There hidden in the forest was a ruin quite similar in design and size to Tsangma’s complex. I left the trail and trod down several terraces until I reached this enchanted site. I hopped the stone wall marveling at its careful construction. The ruin was crumbling but still had two of its four thirty foot walls intact. It now resembled a great stone arch. There was a huge buttress growing out of one wall suspended in mid air. I couldn’t comprehend how such a massive tree could sprout from inside the stone, but there it was anyway. On the old trunk were dead and living ferns growing out of the bark hovering over the earth below. The roosts of this aerial tree were entwined around the stone as the tree and ancient edifice had coalesced. The arch had a window and I fixed myself on the sill overlooking the valley and the Dawang Chu rushing towards Yangtse. My feet dangled happily in the breeze twenty five feet above the duff covered forest floor. Oak leaves flapped while birds conversed along the ridge.

I have always loved ruins since my visit to Chitzanetza and Tulume in Mexico and later Angkor Wat. The ruins of Tsangma are small but very old, built in the 9th century. I sat on my sill wondering who built this lower ruin and for what purpose? I imagined when this spot was a bustling complex and how it was left to slowly wither and decay in the forest. A ruin makes me revaluate my conception of time. I always imagined time as a linear sequence barreling down a track like a locomotive. But at this spot time has receded and the forest has reclaimed a once important dwelling. It makes me think that time is more circular as civilizations rise and fall and move to other locations. This is actually a comforting thought as perhaps we can steer our world back on course and come back around to a natural state. We are not rushing down the track but can turn the wheel back to our own origins.

This lower ruin off the path also marked the boundary of my territory. Beyond this point would require a large hike and exploration into an unknown wilderness. I found my way out of the stand of blooming deciduas and down some terraces where I saw a villager lounging in the grass with a hooked machete. We attempted communication before settling on a smile. She pointed me up a narrow path into the brush. This path was unmarred by litter and I felt I could have been walking in the forest of a thousand years ago. Her cows were grazing in thick bushes and I am always amazed at the dexterity of these lumbering beasts with sharp horns. I made my way back exactly to my plateau and shrine in a perfect loop cutting through ferns and rhododendrons with vibrant red blossoms. Somewhat out of place in this dry land, harbingers of the lush forest around the bend. From here I whisked through the pine and cypress forest back to the temple. I let myself in to marvel at the paintings which grow in intricacy each visit, depicting half tiger men making love with Buddhist beauties. Or fanged deities with plump female beasts wrapped around them with bleeding hearts in their hands, while men with goat heads dance around with spears. And those clawed feet subduing naked china dolls. It’s all beautiful madness just like the human mind wrapped in natural phenomenon. Upstairs I take a quick breather in the attic lighting some incense and admiring the view through god’s tiny window.

Back on the trail I see donkeys with African penises and cows munching grass. The clouds move in quickly casting shadows on the mountains. The trail is the divide between the narrow western valleys with mountains criss -crossing past Gom Kora towards T-Gang, and the eastern wilderness with its gapping maw (beyond Kinney’s sacred tree) staring back at me from the subcontinent. A raven squawks howdy, “AH, AH” landing on the tallest pine top. Animals love humans after all, it seems we entertain them. I peer into arid Arrunachal Pradesh and its unseen village home of the luscious woman who gave me an orange and slapped me on the back on the road to Doksom. On the map Tsenkharla is closer to India than Doksom. But no road connects the two countries at this point. But there is a trail somewhere however I would not be permitted passage. I descended to my village chatting with some girls from 8B playing badminton on the main drag, a handful of shops lined up in a row like wooden forts. I wandered through the iron gates of purgatory towards my hut to make another plate of fried rice.

Lower Ruin

A magnificent stone arch
of crumbling love
is grasped by thick roots  
of a withered oak,
a tree serpent
swallowing the world
in slow reclamation
that devours our nature

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mass Cleaning Campaign

Today the entire school and villagers spread out to perform a mass cleaning campaign. We covered the farmlands, campus, ruins, and village. I supervised 8A and 8B as we scoured the road leading into town before dropping into the forests and terraces below the road. I was hanging off a cliff with Nanu and Deki who were in their Kiras picking trash beside me. The boys and girls did a terrific job working as a team. The entire school hauled a large amount of trash filling and entire trailers worth. We also removed and separated tons of bottles for recycling. In reality we only made a small dent in our community but it is an improvement. Hopefully it will be a starting point for us all to adjust our habits. Afterwards the students had a special lunch which was funded by the teachers. Most of my time was spent on the terraces below the school picking out tons of rubbish from the clover and grasses on steep hillsides. We filled sack after sack with shoes, bottles, papers, and plastic. The students worked two hours in a drizzle. I was covered in dirt and sweating by the time we finished. It was nice to see the community come together for hard work.

“Wish I could fake it, wish I were anywhere but here” Even So

At the library Namkith brought me a book that had a drawing of a character named Tim wearing a space helmet. The caption read “I wish I was somewhere else.” Obviously Tim’s home planet had been destroyed and he was wandering the cosmos. It’s been that kind of few days for me. Isolation and desolation grabbed hold of me last night. The full moon was spectacular but left me longing. Maybe for the romance that used to fuel my soul. Or the creature comforts of home, or my family and friends. The hard thought that my journey has just begun teased me. I just started “On the Road” and it reminds me of the thrill of my former life. Chasing my beloved rock bands across the West or swooshing through epic powder pockets. In some ways Bhutan is my greatest adventure, but it is often one without movement, stationary in a strange place. Nature is my primary source of inspiration as I seek solace in solitude. There is plenty to do as far as teaching and chores but finding the motivation is the trick. My health and diet are also areas of concern. Exactly one year after my ski accident my arm has made little progress. I constantly have a sore throat and mild cough and I am still floundering on my cooking. I have a lot to improve on which is why I came here in the first place.

So far now I watch the clouds move across the mountains. Investigate the ruined wall of Tsangma’s castle, and navigate the footpaths on campus, lined with blooming flowers. Perhaps acclimation is merely a matter of time and patience.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Surprise Visit!

Today my school was visited by Sam Blyth the chair BCF. He was accompanied by three Canadians and the BCF liaison Karma. I got the call as I was off to my first period. Thank goodness I cleaned my house last night and as always my lessons were well prepared. All the same it threw me into a tizzy. In my free period I frantically fine tuned my lesson plans for all my classes anticipating their arrival and possible observation. They did arrive at 11:15 BST (Bhutan stretchable time) unfortunately they did not see me teach, but did catch the closing of my lesson. It happened to be a great lesson due to the fantastic participation of my 8A students. My students did a graphic organizer chart comparing “desk Scholars” and “boarding students” The chart illustrated both positive and negative aspects of each lifestyle. The class was split into two groups consisting of the desk scholars on one side of the classroom and boarders on the other side. They did a fine job discussing as a group before presenting their findings to two recorders who wrote on the chart. I was merely a facilitator throughout the process. This kind of activity is a huge leap in their critical thinking and huge departure from the typical rote learning that they are accustomed to in Bhutan. I was proud of them.

I retired to the office for tea during the lunch hour discussing my life with Sam, principal, and company. I told them sincerely that in many ways “I’d never been happier” and it was my aim to stay for two years. I cannot guarantee this, but I feel this is (pardon the cliché) a once in a lifetime opportunity. I truly believe in my mission here. It was nice to hear that Canadian education had its roots in East Bhutan with Father Mackey, Nancy Strickland, and Jamie Zeppa along with many others. As an American and “honorary Canadian” I feel a lot of pride in my work here. I am also honored that this distinguished group visited my school. They will also visit Ian and Vicky tomorrow. It was truly an auspicious visit as Sam is a kindred spirit in my crusade against trash and encouraged me to apply for the grant offered by BCF. I also learned that Kendra’s former school was the pilot for a recycling program last year. I am looking forward to speaking to Kendra about this. There hour and a half visit concluded with a tour of the school including my humble abode, the campus, and my 8B classroom with student work proudly displayed on the wall. We also took a group photo on the steps in front of the administrative building. One of Sam’s friends said she had read my poems, presumably in this blog, which made me wince. I forget people read my rants and raves. I do appreciate her interest though. It was great to host them and hope I wasn’t too chatty. I told them truthfully that life can be challenging here, but I feel fortunate to be working with these awesome students.

They left just in time for a raging T-storm. During my last period the room was shaking from thunder and it was so dark my students were silhouettes. We even had a stray dog seek refuge in our classroom. After school the Indian teachers and I met with a member of parliament to voice our concerns. I spoke about the trash issue and the beating of students. He listened politely but also defended the beatings as something engrained in the culture. I am not out to solve this problem and can only manage my own class. A good example of discipline came up for me today. I was already frazzled at the impending arrival of Sam’s group, when during my first period lesson (8A) I was hit in the back by a paper airplane. I stopped the class and inquired who the culprit was. I did not loose my temper and the offenders after thirty seconds came forward, a boy and girl. I took them outside to discuss the situation exclaiming how hurt I was. I usually don’t reveal this type of emotion to my students but decided to go this route. I explained to them that I came across the world to teach and felt disrespected. The girl was weeping and the boy hanging his head. I asked them to write a letter (we had just learned to construct letters) if they felt remorse. If they did not feel they did anything wrong they had the option to not do it.  Both students had written sincere apology letters by the next period. For the next lesson I had the girl act as the class recorder for the boarding students and I am taking the boy shopping for school supplies tomorrow. I don’t think a beating would have helped reestablish trust between me and these two students.    

It was an eventful day in Bhutan and I would like to sincerely thank Sam for taking the time to visit. I hope he was satisfied with my effort here. I also learned something about myself today. I was very nervous prior to their visit. I felt the same feelings as I did student teaching, which at times was not enjoyable. I am a much better teacher when relaxed. It is important to be well prepared and even over prepared. But anxiety is not useful in the classroom.  It’s not about pleasing someone who is judging my own performance. It is about teaching the children new skills and how to be solid human beings. The focus should be on them and anxiety can impede this process. So from now on I will commit to focusing on my teaching. Like Rafe Esquith (Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire) says, “Take the fear out of the classroom.” Only then can both teacher and student think clearly and enjoy the beauty of learning.   

Until we meet again…

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Continuing On...

Part 1 “I love you more than a monkey loves a banana” 8B

“I live my life like a Chinese painting, shadows wash against the sky, empty brushstrokes for my darling, we never said our last goodbye” Peter Rowan, Angel Island

Today I taught the students of 8B how to write a letter. The discussion happened upon love letters and there phrases. One student pronounced “I love you more than a monkey loves a banana” We all laughed hysterically for the rest of the class.

I found myself at Gom Kora one more time. It had the feel of the last day of High Sierra Music Festival as most of the venders had packed up and left. Only a few hundred people remained. Karlos, Sonam, Karma Om’s mom, and her lovely cousin formed the group. I bought two flannel shirts and a pair of knock off gap pants that are a bit tight. I needed some clothes desperately. We had a special dinner of pork, emadatsi, dal, and rice in a bamboo enclosed restaurant. Beautiful Japanese style lanterns swayed in the breeze from the roof. A few enthusiastic locals joined us for the meal. After dinner we circumnavigated the complex. As the group made its last circles an orange cream moon split the night sky resting perfectly above the canyon. The tree of enlightenment fluttered in the mild breeze. At the end only a few remained circling the temple in the sea of trash left behind by the revelers. Although I don’t speak any of their language and they barely speak mine. These are my peeps in this far off world. And it is nice to be accepted in some capacity. The taxi drove home in the night up the curvy road to sweet Bhutanese music with birdsong vocals and trance-pop beats. It feels more and more like home upon each arrival. A place where rice is my loneliness and life is simple with its hard work and mindfulness.  Despite a lovely evening closing out the festival the highlight of my day was the consecration of several new yellow and green trash cans on our campus. These are painted oil tins mounted on wooden poles. They are beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen. The kicker is they each contain a few pieces of trash already. I feel proud of these trash cans but more importantly then my perceived accomplishment is the dawning of a new era of awareness. Like Julia Butterfly says, “Wake up it’s time for a revolution”

Part 2 Call Me Up In Dreamland

Dreams are lies; it’s the dreaming that’s real” Two Djinn

The closing night of Gom Kora I had a remarkable dream. I was in some large wooden auditorium with thousands of bearded Buddhist monks and Hindi swami types who were all chanting. I was in a deep trance floating down a corridor being pulled along by a divine force. I found myself in a euphoric opiate like state more intense then any drug or sexual pleasure I have ever known. I was heading into the bardo (the space between death and rebirth) I had almost departed from this world when a slice of my ego cried out refusing to allow my transformation. My soul wanted to keep on going but reluctantly I sank back into the wooden hall of life. Words cannot describe the deep peace of this dream and I can only imagine I was visiting the final passage between life and death. Or the Christian tunnel of white light. Except in my experience it was fathomless blackness.

Outside of dreamtime (if we ever are) I struggle with my classes. I feel overwhelmed to teach the material including book reports, spelling tests, and grammar lessons. ESL teaching is tough. For instance, teachers much check for understanding and an ESL teacher must often explain the word understanding. As much as I enjoy aspects of teaching, especially the humor in the classroom, I feel like I am Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill. There is never a conclusion in this art form as a teacher must relish the challenge and not be broken by her failures. I am sure others are more adept at this then me. Oh well, these kids are great and I don’t have much reason to fret other then my shaky constitution for the position. It’s daunting the amount of improvement and hard work that any new teacher may commit to. I am reading about Rafe Esquith a famous teacher in LA. He provides many great tips from his Hobart Shakespearians program. Any teacher should read his books to get inspired. I try to empower my students using trust instead of fear. As a green teacher I must seize the teachable moments in my own life as well as the classroom. One thing is for certain, I must find my own way as there is no guidance from principal or fellow staff. No one bothers telling me how or when to mark or any expectations of the teacher. On the bright side it gives me ample freedom in my teaching methods. I have the dual aim of teaching my pupils English while preparing them for the class ten exam, (2-3 years ahead) that will determine if they will pursue education or filter into the fields or a trade.    

I found out our constant smokiness is partly due to lemon grass burning by local residents. Asia is not known for clear skies even in the Himalayas. My first two months in Korea I never saw the sun due to yellow sand from the Gobi desert and smog, and in Bhutan its forest fires and crop burning. I have a feeling that my placement has particularly awful air quality due to prevailing winds. The smoke gets trapped in the rugged canyons before settling in the valleys. Despite this, spring is a wonderful thing. We have buds and flowers popping out everywhere. We have roses and geraniums just like my moms garden at home. If you’re reading this mom please remember to water them and my bonsai tree on the family room table. The one Morgan gave me many Christmases ago, a fragile living proof of our love. The landscape here remains the color of bare earth with an occasional tuff of clover here and there. I scarcely believe my area will succumb to pastoral green even in the approaching monsoon. After all I live in the wasteland of Bhutan. The word wasteland must not be misinterpreted as it merely means a land not meant for agriculture and cultivation. Put another way an empty landscape. Of course there are scrabbled farms and cows grazing the limited grasses and not far off the world turns a lush shade on the way to Yangtse. My favorite are our ferns that find a way to sap water from this dry cup of earth. So many familiar plants here resound in my soul, as if a piece of my former self landed in the scarce east along with my alien body.     

This is it, the real Bhutan, “The Terror of Life.” Or as my friend Reidi put it in her blog “getting real.” I’m positive all our BCF heroes and heroine’s are coming to terms with the challenges and rewards of their new lives. As I walked the campus under a full moon surveying trash zones and emptying my new trash bins, I came across a teacher who had recently given a licking to a student. I could see the grown student crying. I had missed the event and have never seen it happen live. The victim of the beating was being beaten for hitting another student. Does anyone else see the irony in this action? I offered the abusive teacher the option to hand over his future offenders to me for five hours of labor. I don’t think the teacher appreciated my intervention but I have no quam with my lack of professionalism in this case. Class Captains are beating students and kids are being beaten for beating other kids, a cruel and vicious cycle at work. I know this is not my culture and that hitting (playful and otherwise) is a part of the ethos in Bhutan. All the same it is hard to see, and I feel as a teacher it is not a proper course. Parents have to make their own choice but educators are supposed to be role models for the students. I know we are not supposed to blog about political or controversial issues, but what to do. Besides I’m sure no one of notice reads this far anyhow. It seems to me love and kindness is more effective in the long run than corporal punishment; which by the way has been outlawed by His Majesty, who dearly loves children.   

A huge part of life in Bhutan is made up of chores. Now I am doing karmic retribution for bunking on so many of mine in the past (sorry mom and dad) There is an expression that goes, “life is maintenance” and no more is that true than here. The families work the fields. Women herd their cows and spend weeks weaving their ghos and kiras, their hard work proven in the evolution of their giant “man hands.” Children walk hours through the forests up steep mountains just to get to school. For me I spent the last three hours, cleaning, washing dishes (when the water came) sweeping and scrubbing, all to return my little hut to order. Now I must dirty it up again by making dinner before starting the whole process over again. This leaves me just enough time to fine tune my lessons for tomorrows classes. One might find extraordinary delight in the meditation of these tasks. Or one might find them utterly tedious. I will let the doer decide!   

Three good things:

1. Watching my 7A students sweep the room with fairy tall brooms made out of twigs tied together.
2. Having 7B work silently and honestly on spelling tests.
3. A spring drizzle.

Gom Kora Reprise (for the earthlings)

Moon circle earth
People circle temple
Both are lost.
Moon chase sun
Men chase women
Into dark forest.
Make baby Dears
To continue the dance

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Living The Good Life

Part 1 Festival Time

I bet you didn’t know the Circus is in town” Festival

On a partly cloudy Saturday I headed down the road to Doksom with the aim of reaching Trashigang. I got a series of rides in a van, car, and ta ta (Indian psychedelic bus) to T-Gang to meet Becky. In between rides I stopped at Gom Kora which is hosting a huge festival on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Hundreds of people were already camped along the river and in the bush with tarps and open aired tents. Vendors had set up around Gom Kora proper selling socks, handbags, and all variety of cheaply assembled clothes. Unfortunately very few traditional items were there. The whole scene was a hybrid flea market and carnival with gambling tents, restaurants, and loud Hindi music. The crowd was a mix of Bhutanese in national dress and western dress, Brokpa people, and Indians from Arrunachal Pradesh. The Indians made a three day walk pilgrimage to the site. I accosted a group of Austrian tourist’s running up to engage them in conversation. My next ride took me as far as the infamous Chasm bridge AKA “The Bridge of no Return.” Apparently I am not permitted to overnight out of Yangtse without special permission and paperwork which I did not obtain. With a friendly smile and a Jedi mind trick. I was permitted, “Just this once.”

Just as my last ride arrived in the metropolis I saw Becky strolling up to the central prayer wheel. It would be a blessed weekend indeed. We headed out to the local bakery (an oddity in Asia and especially Bhutan) to get some sweet and salty treats. We then checked out various hotels before settling on one. We got room 108 the most auspicious of the Buddhist numbers at an inn on top of a prominent hill. We milled around the streets of T-Gang in the gloaming wandering to the Trashigang Dzong which was bathed in subtle natural and bulb light. One could feel the history in the soft and warm spring air. We found a veranda typed enclosure for dinner. I had chicken chow mien which was sublime. At dinner we met the education officer of Trashigang district and had a lengthy and pleasant conversation. We roamed onward being chased by vicious hounds finally winding up back at the hotel. In the lobby we ran into the Austrian tourists and their friends and had another conversation. Becky later told me I was using frenetic hand gestures which are my alibi in the classroom. I offered them my contact information and invited them to Tsenkharla if their itinerary permitted. Becky and I retired to our shared room and lay on twin beds laughing and talking until 4 AM. She spoke of her meeting a “bone healing” shaman in Guatemala and her travels in Ecuador. I talked (too much) of my adventures in Korea and lost love. We also spoke hysterically of Bhutanese names, which to me sound like carton birds, Deki Wangmo, Bumpa Zangpo, and Purpa Lhamo AKA Purple Lama. The name Bumpa Zangmo washed into my dreams like a mantra. We had so much fun we never even flicked on the flat screen TV.

In the morning T-Gang looked like a cradle of civilization, its shops, wide paved streets, and mid evil architecture. One round yellow building other buildings set in the green hillside with steep stairs ascending up towards them. We met fellow BCF teachers Vicky and Ian an Australian married couple in their second year and Martha a gritty Canadian. The three of them are older and wiser then Becky and I with great sarcastic sense of humors. Vicky and Ian treated us all to carrot cake and tea in the same Veranda enclosure as the previous night. Vicky told stories of the Kings visit last year to her school while we ate laughed and commiserated. Martha made her trademark hilarious sound effects at opportune moments. It was all pleasant and civilized. Traveling is a great equalizer as it allows bonding to those from different backgrounds through a shared experience. At the conclusion of tea we snapped a group photo and said our reluctant goodbyes. Becky and I split to Gom Kora.

I was fortunate to bring Becky into my neck of the woods. (Although it is a slimly forested wood)  We graced Gom Kora then went down to my power spot on the river to relax. The visibility was horrific with smoke encasing the canyons. We chilled by the rapids on the cream and olive river before moving towards Doksom. On the way we met two vibrant and beautiful Indian women with luxurious braided hair hanging down over their shapely buttocks. Their braids were like an Indian Repunsal. They gave us oranges as I commented to Becky on the good energy we were receiving from strangers on our journey. I made a circular gesture with my hands commenting “Something must be in the air” The more curvaceous woman laughed hysterically and emulated my movements. She then engaged me in a long confusing conversation playfully whacking me on occasion. Becky laughed as I got shy and bashful around her. The two women wore flowered skirts and tight blouses. They radiated sexuality and friendliness in comparison to the rather reserved Bhutanese women. They reminded me of a phrase by Gary Snyder, “sexy primate clowns.”

From Doksom we hitched in a car full of students with none other than Bumpa Zangmo from my 7B and a dozen other happy shiny faces. I gave Becky the quickest tour of my school, the ruin, and the temple. Unfortunately you couldn’t see any of the view due to the smoke. I sent her on her way around 4:20 with a vehicle headed back down to Gom Kora where she will catch a ride back to T-Gang for the night.

The gods were with us in our travels and one couldn’t ask for a better day in Eastern Bhutan. It was great to see my Western clan and meet some friendly tourists too. I am now home exhaustedly grateful for the epic twenty eight hours on the road. I feel reassured that there are some fine people sharing this path called life.     

Part 2 Late Night at Gom Kora

“They never stopped rockin’ going round and round” Chuck Berry

I bounded back down the hill in a packed vehicle for the late night revelry at Gom Kora. The complex and surrounding camps were all lit up in blue and gold light. Karlos Sonam and I circumnavigated the temple about fifty or so times stopping briefly for dinner and drinks. The vibe at night was buzzing with comradely, sexuality, and a hint of mischief. People held hands in various groups, walking together around and around. In the campgrounds on the terraces people ate drank and gambled. The story goes that men were once encouraged to find a suitable women and drag her off into the forest to fornicate. (A mass night hunt) But the real purpose of the festival is to honor Guru Rimpoche (the second Buddha) who meditated on this site thus subduing a local demon (with the help of a guruda) who is now encased in the huge rock. The guru’s imprint has also been left on that rock. This is the same rock that I meditated on over Losar under a huge broadleaf tree. As the night progressed the crowd got rowdy and a fight almost broke out. Under a phosphoric half moon a self proclaimed, “great lama” sat drinking a bottle of beer on a field. He had several more unopened bottles in front of him and a dozen or so people surrounding him. He offered me a drink which I politely refused. He then went on to say he was well known in Bhutan and was a reincarnated lama. He had his two brilliant young children at his side including his daughter wearing devil horns. We had a quasi philosophical discussion on Buddhism to the amusement of the onlookers. But mainly he boast of how drunk he was and how many people gave him beer. He then bragged on how he would drive his family home. I implored him to find another driver but he laughed at me saying he was above worldly harm. My assessment was that he was a foolish man endangering the lives of his children and so called disciples. After midnight my party piled into a taxi with karma Om’s mother on my lap and headed up the mountain towards home.     


P.S Emillio if you are reading this I will send a letter soon but the Bhutan postal system is slow and unreliable. I think your quest is admirable. For everyone else see comment in Blue Mountains Walking.