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

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