Part 1 The New Dark Ages
“Here we are in the new dark ages; people are hungry like lions in their cages” New Dark ages, Emperor Zekemoto
I awoke last night in a blackout to take a pee. I stumbled towards the bathroom getting lost in my tiny square cage of a room. Before I knew it I was petrified on all fours groping through the darkness in complete vertigo. I ended up slithering to my front door which I thought was the backside of my hut. I undid the latch and immerged into a starlit canopy blinking with silent lightning. My life here often feels like a dream or a scene from the adolescent novel “Indian in the Cupboard. When the child closes the door at night I stand rigid in seamless silence in the cupboard until the door swings open setting this toy world into colorful motion. My kids with brown shiny faces in black, blue, and red patterned cloth might as well be dolls stitched together by the maker, the author of this funny Bhutanese tale. Is this place for real? Perhaps I have just lost the plot. Oh yeah I got it now. I am a teacher in the tiny kingdom of Bhutan. Today I lost more then the plot but my temper which I vowed never to do in a classroom. I made my students skip class and pick up trash since they refused to listen and work. They were just being kids I guess. The true issue is I feel so ineffective at times. I can’t learn the names as they appear to me only as fuzzy objects in matching costumes. I have learned only a quarter of them so far. It’s hard to maintain classroom management and even harder to teach them proper English. I like to have fun in the classroom but they take advantage. They act as I once did constantly chattering. It’s hard to teach and mark and assess 120 students of varying ages and ability. This is a challenging time that I must buck on through. I must whup it!
I am not unhappy or depressed but certainly mystified and frustrated, the mirror of the borderlands always gaping back at me asking WHY? Where are you going and for what purpose? What odd dream have you followed here? Or are you running away? The voice cries STOP RUNNING, be still, and WHUP IT! I am left hanging like the end of the Kesey novel with more questions then answers in a bleak rainy world. Past that bleak world is a bright one incomprehensible and complex. Two mirrors facing each other. A silver screen of endless rain and rolling thunder inducing flashbacks… To a world that seems most distant and obsolete but still ruminates, crisscrossing into now like the zig zag roads carved into the cliffs. Why do I crave and moan for love and what the hell is that notion anyway. To live alone in this world one must first endure relationships. Finally coming to the last connection to NATURE, GOD, (“you mean the universe?”) we are ALL scared of being alone. We seek the light staring hopefully into our mobiles and PC screens. Oh no not alone! Like Paul Simon says in the Myth of Fingerprints, “That’s why we must learn to live alone”
I am interrupted by the jubilant class 8 boys who are singing in a thunderstorm for donations. They have won the football tournament and I was feeling so crumby I missed the event. To tell the truth, for me, watching soccer is like watching paint dry. I give 150 NU as there class teacher and vow to attend the celebration party. I feel myself withdrawing this week and must reverse course. There is a way out by moving in. Good golly just adjust that attitude and whup it! These are the New Dark Ages of self imposed exile. A time to test my mettle or is it metal or meddle. The rain pounds my tin roof like a river flowing with glacial runoff. The power cuts, the thunder echoes, fearlessly marching to May, Whup it!
Part 2 Trashiyangtse
“walking backwards slowly with our eyes closed” Kamikaze
On Saturday I set out on a great adventure unparalleled before and never to be repeated. It began with a near fatal mistake, which was getting in the car with a drunk driver. Something I vowed never to do. But Bhutan does strange things to a body. Movement is hard from point to point which can motivate someone to take a foolish chance. This Dzonka lopen who transported me is a notorious fiend. A wife beater, child beater, and ara alcoholic. I was white knuckles all the way down to the junction. He kept repeating how drunk he was and not to worry. I will never take that ride again I promised the maker as I stepped safely onto the pavement and awaited my next sober ride. The VW bus arrived with Becky (or Bunky) and her colleague taking us through the heavy mist past the waterfall and lush greenery into Yangtse at twilight. We began by circumnavigating Chorten Kora which finally, in the stillness of the moment, released its 300 year old spell. Like hands of some eternal clock we went around and around 9 times. On the way out we spun the wheels listening to the alternating chimes playing together.
There is only one hotel in town which from the outside appears rather charming but in Bhutan so much hinges on appearances. Inside a bare bones room with giant spiders and mutant paintings that appear like giant moths peeled off the crystal of the dream molecule. Spooky shit all around. After trapping the gargantuan arachnid under a wastebasket we set out again for dinner. We happened upon the only open joint in the berg and suddenly found ourselves in Kendra’s footsteps. You see this is the haunt of the former BCF teacher Kendra Matherson. We were waited on by a delightful little woman who in reality was a delightful girl. I know this because in the dim light of the plastic chaired restaurant this darling appeared to me twenty. But after some banter revealed she was a class 8 student. Whoops, those damn eyes of mine. Anyway she introduced herself as Kridica but will forever be called Crispy Cricket, or cricket for short. Well cricket was delightful indeed with a flowing red skirt, white blouse and long black haired bundled and tied back from her shinning face. Her cheekbones floated high above her bow of a mouth and her eyes twinkled in innocent playfulness. As it turns out Cricket was rather fond of Kendra to say the least. When asked if she new Kendra she replied, “She wasn’t only my teacher, she was my best friend!” My writing cannot convey the spontaneous joy that this response brought me, Becky, or Cricket who recalled the memory of Kendra with burning intensity layered with sweet remorse like a sumptuous cupcake. We parted from Cricket with an invitation to return someday and went back to the Kora which glimmered in the steamy mist of the cool rain. A kamikaze bat attacked Becky as she flinched at the last millisecond releasing an “AAAHH” for effect. So back around the Chorten we went, playing the prayer bell shuffle. The street lights smeared on the cobblestones for thirteen more circumnavigations until we were gitty with dizziness.
I awoke the next morning to a smattering of old dried blood on my pillow. Next time I will inspect the bedding more closely before sacking out. This was the Bates motel but what to do! We hailed a taxi out to Boomdeling National Park. Becky thought the forest resembled the Eastern U.S. Deciduous trees intermingled with opulent red and green ferns that reached from the embankment towards our open windows. The road was rutted and muddy as we four wheeled our way along the Kulongchu river. The mountains settled peacefully above us allowing narrow valleys to encompass this stretch of my favorite river. We arrived at the start of the park situated at the edge of a cute village with a shop selling Orio cookies. Boomdeling is the roosting grounds for the seasonal black necked cranes who are now summering in Tibet. There are also tigers, leopards, and red pandas in the deeper regions of the park. The park entrance itself sits on a large riverbed sprawling in a vast gentle valley. The terrain was flat which is more than uncommon in Bhutan. Strolling along the gravel and sand beaches had the feel of walking in a divine park. We even met some enthusiastic locals along the way remixing the traditional Bhutanese greeting “Kuzuzongpola, la, la.”
It was a spectacular subtle day in the park walking the flats picking favorite mountains and comparing war stories, shows, and adventures.
“And if it’s real, give me a rainbow” Give me a rainbow, that’s for real” Volker
As I write this a rainbow is thrown into the sky stretching from Arrunachal Pradesh to Bhutan over my beloved “tough mountains” My coveted rainbow at long last the final bridge for home! I scampered down the sloppy slope to my rock to prance and rejoice yelling “Deki, Deki! Make a wish! Then running back up to coax Sonam into the rain where she splashes like a child in the puddles as the fog evaporates the stream of color in the sky washing it white as Chorten Kora in between clasps of thunder until only puffs of dragon smoke remain. Will this be my last image of this silly life before I trek into the bardo to meet her again, In the meadow below friendship bridge? Where is she now? What is she doing at this very moment? Rainbows are transparent and impermanent and brilliant as love. An Asian rainbow, an Indo-Bhutan rainbow, a Tim and Morgan Rainbow. Why do I always worry? Why do I want to lock her in an amber cage, This cuckoo with turquoise plumage always wanting to fly? Catching the desert wind to the playa to roost… Where are you??
Part 3 Truckin’
Sometimes the lights all shinning on me, other times I can barely see, lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it’s been.” Hunter, Weir
On the beach with Rebecca telling stories of endless nights on tour. Pushing another limit, challenging psychic or psychotic endurance. Dance, Dance, Dance in the wake of the rainbow. Laughing laughing fall apart! Back in our taxi as the rain falls streaking against the window Payne, melting the forest into blurry hues. In town we reunite with Kendra’s ghost at her old stomping grounds. We meet a student who tells us “Kendra is a famous teacher!” When I ask why she tells directly, “the way she taught the way she talked” and this was not even one of Kendra’s own students. I know for sure that Kendra made a deep impact here. I know Crispy Cricket misses her. I meet Kendra’s former boss to discuss the recycling program that I will be implementing at Tsenkharla. We have done it all in Yangtse we don’t want another stay at the Bates. We bunk to Trashigang? Can I trick the Chasm troll and get across?
At the end of the entire journey in Trasigang. While eating a fine meal at a local restaurant I asked Becky to describe the flavor of rice, She replied “earthy and nutty” And that is Becky too. After reaching home I had the Tuesday Blues back in my own cement cage. I happened upon UK Dave’s blog exploring loneliness. It was written more for certain BCF teachers other then him and I felt it potently relevant. To crudely and inadequately paraphrase, patience is the key to embrace the darkness. Check out Dave’s Bhutanical adventures if you want a real writer’s prospective on life here. After logging off and after the rainbow I bought some massive local chilies from the school captain. Pig parts were hanging in the kitchen which indicates meat tomorrow for teacher’s day.
“Don’t give me no chicken, don’t give me no steak, pig meat is all I crave!”
On the way out of Yangtse in the jungle we saw a troop of languors in the tree tops. We jumped out of the vehicle just in time to see a handsome monkey leap from a treetop down to another vine. They made high pitched squeaks and squeals and scampered into the twisted green thicket of edible rhododendron and ivy. We rounded the turn back into the parched and thirsty region which is my neck of the earth. Following the protruding vein of the kulangchu as it rushes to meet its other half at Doksom. Where they thrash together after miles of separation from their mysterious origin in the Indian Himalaya. One fork flows from Boomdeling and one from Arrunachal Pradesh their liquid hurriedly rushing together before they frantically pound each other, thrusting churning until the two are indistinguishable flowing faster and faster, finally bursting together in a simultaneous organic orgasm of roaring white fluid. And the past is all water under the bridge turning towards Gom Kora and its golden pagoda. Riding the flying tiger with Guru Rimpoche the second Buddha. And when we reach Chasm I use the old Jedi mind trick and get across and never look back.
Trashigang at sunset resembles a mid evil town. Its narrow stone steps creeping through corridors and boxes on the hillside. It is the heart of East Bhutan. The heart of the heart is the prayer wheel and overstuffed plaza and our bakery. A hub for BCF’ers of the modern era. We ate in the gardened veranda outside the bakery, which serves delicious chicken chow mien. Wandering back to the KC hotel we are locked out at 9 PM. We bang on the doors and holler. JESUS, JOSEPH, and MARY. We are let in! WE take hot squat showers. We talk about summer vacation. We plot, plan, gossip, and rehash. We are kin. The Yankees are on the HD TV. CoCo Butter hits a dribbler down the third baseline scoring the runner and putting us ahead 2-0. I want to know the standings but drift off to sleep not knowing. It is a sparkling day in NYC and I Dream of Hot Dogs and green grass repeating in my slumber, What are the standings?
I saw Karma Om on her way to Rangjoon. It is a holiday in Bhutan. An auspicious day for the man who long ago before the kings united the people of east and west. Karma stops and smiles. We chat then she leaves saying, “catch you later” Hatchet boy is calm, eerily calm. But it won’t last. I say goodbye to Becky in the street. Parting is such sweet sorrow” She pats me on the back and we go our separate ways. I find our infamous driver in his bright orange shirt and half gho. We drive off towards Chasm with its empty purple mountains. Becky moves towards Rangjoon chasing Karma Om. The clouds move back from their hiding place. It looks like rain. We drive through the checkpoint with the guards screaming to halt. The rain begins as we shadow box the river past a hazy Gom Kora through Doksom and up the dry mountain which appears drier than ever even in a stiff rain. Single trees stand isolated in patches of brown earth strewn with large boulders painted white. But still its my home now with its cliffs, the precipice of east Bhutan, a place with nothing at all to prove and barren as god in his heaven. I reach the gate where I am greeted nonchalantly by Sonam who roots through my bag inquiring not where I’ve been but what I’ve purchased. I am home…but still don’t know the blasted standings…or the score…
Feeling rather tickled at our movement Becky remarks, “Lets go to Bartsham” where Julian and Shauna taught last year. Up near JD’s post. I like the idea but suggest Sharapse College instead. I want to follow in Jamie’s footsteps. I want to see the college girls. We agree. But we can do more. I can fulfill my ambition to visit the school for the disabled hereafter referred to by the author as “blind school” It is an hour and a half past the college and an hour shy of “Simonite” my old roommate from down under. We find a bizarre driver in the bazaar and negotiate the fee. We settle on $1,800 NU to the school and back to the college. He becomes our driver for the next two days. A madman hopped up on dolma with muscular cut features and a girlish laugh. And off we go…
The landscape begins to green. As mountains build upwards in rolling configurations. Big ones with rounded tops like heavenly mounds and humps rolling into the shrinking sky. It’s lush again but not the same as Yangtse. There are less vines and different ferns with banana trees and flourishing boganvias which makes me think of my mother. (Is she watering our garden and my bonsai tree?) We climb up past cones and conifers. It is a refreshing place like a cool drink of water. We reach the college and keep on going upwards past a magical stand of plump pines lined in rows resembling a hedge maze. We are now in wonderland like Sabrina’s fairytale land only more intricate and surreal. And here is where the airport rests on top of a plateau on top of the world. And the last Himalayan Pass near ten thousand feet where the air is whipped by the wind that tastes like winter on the last day of April. Or Coke from a chilled glass bottle. At the summit a road block provides epic views of a triangle mountain with a temple. Rolling humps and crags coming around in circles and loops. Rambling in all directions in an endless ridgeline. Corridors of mountains that form the intricate mountain maze of the Kingdom. A thousand shades of green with not one bare path showing. Not even a river cries. And god knows where the lakes are hiding. Descending the Pass my stomach drops from the drive and in anticipation of my destination. But what will I say when I get there?
Standing on the ridge in the darkness golden lightning flashed against the clouds in the distance over the orange glow of Trashigang. The Dzong rests on the bow of the lightened ameba protecting the city from the Tibetan’s final raid. It looks so close considering the hour and a half drive. Overhead the moon peeps out as clouds sail by in a sea of lightning with no thunder to be heard. I pass Kesang’s shop and enter Pema Zangmo’s shop to see Karma Om. I find her there with her colleagues from her school which is in the forest an hour walk away where there are no cars. They are eating noodles when I arrive. The lights go out and I grab Karma’s hand but she pulls away. I wrestle with Hatchet Boy before he spits in my face. Everyone laughs, including Karma who brushes her wavy black hair from her brow emphasizing her exquisite strong features. This vignette exemplifies rural Bhutan. People in Bhutan are never alone and I wonder when they cry? They are always in groups and never alone. Never. I follow Karma into the kitchen to say farewell and give her a big hug which she accepts but does not return. I miss her friendship and let her know it. The group packs up to return through the forest like a band of gypsies in the moonlight. I go back to Sonam and Karlos’s for supper. We eat emadatsi with the fresh chilies. Sonam has a heart of gold but her heart desires only gold. When I stepped out of the taxi and said goodbye to my personal driver Sonam began riffling through my sack like Yoda on Degoba. Where did you get this? How much did you pay? She is pregnant and I imagine sharing a thin wall with a baby. After dinner the author returns home to work on his blog. The power goes on and off. During the outages I read from a Tom Robbins novel, “Even Cowgirls get the Blues” about a girl with freakishly huge thumbs. I look at my own “circus thumbs” and laugh. I lean back yawning thinking of the song I will sing for teacher’s day. Somewhere Karma and company move through the forest. In her own words she jokes, “I am the wildest of the wild” and I wonder if this is true? Earlier in the rain I chat with Yuri a sixteen year old girl who I adopt as my little sister. She is painfully cute and shivering like a doe. I send her to her hostile to fetch her coat. My heart swells like a balloon or the tide with the pulling moon, surging from the magic of the weekend. The faces and scenery whirl by in my brain where fantasy and memory intersect. I remember cricket, the rainbow, and the boy with no eyes and want to weep again. I recall yesterdays thunder storm and the soaking college girls clinging to one another in the rain, an episode of college girls gone wild! The ivory clock tower gleaming like a Swiss watch, and Ashleigh glowing like a firefly. (She is already a famous teacher! And who can forget Rica, certainly not the author.
The road curves and snakes down the mountain revealing more complex daisy chain ranges undulating like ocean waves that hypnotize us completely upon arrival in Kaling, the end of our road. This was Nick Morris’s placement the last two years, but now stands empty of felincpa’s. Our driver prattles in Sharshop to a local as if asking directions then blurts out “blind school” The local points down a dirt road and we are on our way.
Part 4 Teachers day
“Sir you are like a star in my life” Nanu
Teacher’s day was an epic event that brought the whole community together. In reality teachers day was mostly about the kids organizing a great day for their teachers and I wonder if American students could pull this off. In celebration I wore my gho and some girl remarked I looked like His Majesty. In return the teachers put on a great show for the kids tonight. I sang fever doing my level best to channel my inner Bobby, a psychedelic gem in the middle of a gem mine. The MP was packed with over 500 students, staff, and villagers. They love entertainment here and are quite hip in their own way. The best skit was a rock n roll parody (American pop singer) featuring Karlos and several other goofily clad teachers. I broke across the stage doing a Chuck Berry duck walk putting it over the top. I found a groovy cowboy hat in the prop room backstage to adorn my gho and settled back in the audience to observe the rest of the show which included the veteran Indian doing “stupid” yoga, Nawang Zangmo, and some awesome dances. The afternoon included me playing hoops (in front of the student body) in a half gho and dress shoes which was rather ridonculous. And class 8 putting on an awesome program for me and two other teachers in our homeroom. They sang danced and adorned the classroom with homemade decorations including United States flags, drawings and origami. They served tea and snacks and organized it all by themselves. The only downer of the day was some infighting with the girls who were picking on Deki Wangmo a lovely girl with some scars above her lip and a strong constitution in her heart. Nanu and I pleaded with her to come to the party as she wept and she acquiesced. Nanu and Deki gave me a beautiful card as well as Yuri from class XC. I received a wooden pencil holder, pens, and a dragon cup from Pema Tsomo (who hopes I stay three years). My heart grew three sizes today and it was a perfect way to cap off a splendid holiday! I will always remember Songay Tobgay’s dancing and little Kesang’s smile with short cropped hair and wolf teeth or my precious Nanu singing in her new hairstyle. I will try to forget the pork which was nothing more than 100% fat which I gnawed at thankful for any meat at all. Tomorrow back to the grinding stone with some fresh perspective on what exactly I am doing here which is teaching an amazing group of children most of whom are living far away from home just like me.
Part 5 Comes a Time
“Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand, says don’t you see” Garcia/ Hunter
The blind school is located in the most serene and complacent valley ever painted by the goddess. I couldn’t help but think it was a shame the kids couldn’t see it. And felt even more the fool commenting repeatedly how beautiful their school was. The school is situated in the center of a valley with rounded ridges that give it a cartoon feel with a faint resonance with the Siskiyou Mountains near Grants Pass Oregon but completely different. This is god’s country. I found the students lunching in an old dilapidated dining hall. I introduced myself to the TOD (teacher on duty) who also had low vision. The school has 41 students who are either blind or have low vision. The blind students sat at one long table while the low vision students sat at another table. I gravitated right away to a boy named Dorji who I later found out was the famous blind singer who I saw on TV performing in Thimphu. Dorji is a handsome boy who is about 16 or 17 and wears Ray Charles like sunglasses and walks with a cane. I was apprehensive and nervous at first but soon began talking in earnest asking the boys were their village was. At the next table were several girls including two albinos with bleached white hair and thick glasses. I wonder if they had congenital nastagmus. People with CN can often have albinism as well as shaky eyes like me. Dorji took me around the campus tapping the ground with his cane. On the way to the boys hostile he bumped into another student which made all three of us laugh. I asked him if he knew who the student was and he said it was a newcomer. Dorji adeptly led me up the stairs to the second floor at a quick pace. The boarding rooms were old but kept extremely clean with wooden bunk beds. The bedrooms were nicer then our boarders have. I met several other students who were both blind or had low vision. After that Dorji led me to the courtyard where we called the girls and boys together for a group picture. I realize the irony of taking a picture that many of the students could never enjoy. We took a little extra time to arrange the photo with the help of Becky and the two student volunteers from the neighboring school. After the photos an albino girl showed me how they punch letters through paper with a pin that looks like an ear syringe. After the bell rang I joined the Indian teacher who seemed to be running the entire school and he showed me the classrooms. The schoolhouse was old and in desperate need of an upgrade.
Inside I came across a boy with no eyes. He had skin where his eyes should have been. He was feeling my thumb with his tiny fingers and his gho sleeve was filthy. Seeing him reaching out to touch my hand when I withdrew was almost more then I could take and I almost balled. His three classmates were also classified as mentally retarded and blind. It was hard to see but it also seemed the students at this school took excellent care of each other. The students were kind enough to demonstrate reading brail and using the brail typewriter. I will never forget their faces and smiles and hope to contribute something to the school in the future. They desperately need large print books for the students with low vision. If anyone is interested in helping please let me know. I am investigating how donations can be made and what is needed most by the school. I left with both a light and heavy heart feeling inspired by the courage displayed by the students in Kaling and I left a piece of my soul back there with those kids forever. Some of the better off students will be able to assimilate into mainstream schools after class 7, including Dorji who has a promising singing career. I also feel lucky to have the vision I am blessed with (although not perfect) and the opportunities bestowed me in life mainly by virtue of a supportive family and being born a Caucasian American. Without my donors I would never have arrived in Bhutan and for this I am eternally grateful. These experiences are the importance of traveling and being flexible to a world different then our own. And what a world this is!
Part 6 Truckin’ Reprise
“Hey now get back trucking on” Hunter, Weir
Back in the taxi with our racecar driver we bombed up the hill in anticipation of several lengthy roadblocks. At each block he was telling lies to the Indian workers saying we were tourists who were trying to catch a flight from the airport to Paro. He sprinted back and forth from the car high on dolma proceeding zooming us to the next block and then repeat the process again. Along the way a killer bee got inside the cab stinging my ear and attacking Becky who had been chased by spiders, attacked by bats, and now a bee accosted her. We conquered the beautiful pass in reverse sliding back into Khalung on the toes of a massive storm. Our driver let us out in the lower market as the rain began to dump from the sky.
I wonder if I have turned a corner. I guess one is always turning them each and every day. Changing identity like a caterpillar, chrysalis, then butterfly and sometimes back to a caterpillar. I feel more like a moth labeled inferior and less comely but still having the power of flight. Or maybe one of those painted day glow creatures on the concrete wall of the Karmeling hotel, a monster from the DMT realm ready to swallow the world whole before taking off for another galaxy to do the same. Is it? But what is IT anyway? We never found out during this incarnation whispering incantations as we walked around the drizzling Kora in the darkness, butter lamps dancing in the puddles. What is your favorite side? It depends on how you perceive it?
Back on Turtle Island she puts her rainbow key into the brass lock after a long hard shift, shaking the rain from her brunette curls.
We chugged up the hill in the rain tailed by the two college girls dripping wet and clinging to each other like scrawny wildebeests separated from the herd. We arrived at the upper market and were met by fellow BCF teacher Ashleigh who remarked that we were the only white people in the neighborhood. I countered that she was the only black woman in Bhutan. She was wearing a dark blue kira and looked exquisite like she just stepped out of the beauty salon whose green sign advertised above her head. She was glowing and we would soon find out why. She had just busted her butt to publish the school newspaper a project she had continued from Lisa who left Bhutan after her contract expired. Ashleigh we would find was completely in her element but not without her struggles. For one thing she has battled poor health since arrival but seems to be fighting her way out of it. She has managed to make what seems like hundreds of friends as her mobile was ringing off the hook. We met her Japanese “besty” named Rica (no relation to the test) and they seemed like international sorority sisters. Even though the eateries were closed for the holiday Ashleigh rustled up some fine grub including fried rice, cheesy potatoes, and momos from one of her students mothers who owns a restaurant. Ashleigh gets what she needs. We slept at her friend Alan’s pad, a professor who was in Thimphu. Alan’s had wood floors, a shower, and washing machine. Poor Ash must have thought we were envious rubes the way we reacted to her proper lifestyle. We had a great night catching up and listening to Ashleigh’s fine ideas on teaching. It was more of a teaching discussion but Ashleigh seems a natural born teacher (teamwork is dream work) and speaking for myself I am a natural born audience and dancer. It was great to see her thriving and happy in her placement. A sentiment surely echoed by her new community.
With two class ten boys I perched the area below the boy’s hostel of six sacks full of trash strewn about among human feces and debris. Some of the trash was buried deep in creek mud including shoes, broken glass, plastic bottles, toothbrushes, underwear, ECT. After half an hour of sweaty labor the area is still not clean. Overall the campus has improved dramatically. We have one a battle but the war has just begun. With my grant from BCF pending and a recycling program in the works I am more dedicated then ever to make a clean and green Tsenkharla…
Early the next morning we left the cozy confines of the college and found our Omni present driver who dashed us back to T-Gang. The driver (Dorji) appeared like a willing genie who accepted our Ngultrum with a genial smile. He was probably more ecstatic to see us then we were to see him, a truly reciprocal relationship. (Dorji has called me three times since the weekend as apparently I have favored a friend) At the lower market he carefully removed a hit of dolma out of a paper pouch placing the two brown nuts inside the broad green leaf with loving care. Much as a coke head would chop up a fresh line, or a stoner would tamp a sticky bud into his bowl. Becky and I were moping a bit like two hobbled kids who ran out of tour and money but perked up once we were in motion. Back in T-Gang we had some carrot cake and did some last minute shopping stuffing our Santa Claus style rice sacks that we had left at the KC. One of the shops had a DEA action figure complete with a K-9 and plastic marijuana plants. It reminded me of one of my student’s book reports about a story of hemp. The moral, “destroy the seed of evil before it destroys us all.” At the same store I bought some souvenirs. Becky checked the bank and found that we hadn’t gotten paid. I feel this is unacceptable as it puts undue strain on the foreign teacher who often lives close to the bone. For any prospective teachers bring extra money to help see you through. I am confident we will get paid someday for April since we got paid for the first two months already. We both decided we needed an early start home. As we prepared to split, Karma Om yelled out of a taxi window, “Tim Tim!” It’s so odd to hear my actual name instead of Mister or Sir.
“Not all men are fools, some stay bachelors”
At Karlos’s I watched a spell of TV. They just got the idiot box installed. I caught a glimpse of Friends with Jennifer Aniston’s breasts appearing like two Himalayan peaks (I wouldn’t mind planting my flag in between those mounds.) I learned that Mo bust his knee shagging flies. Oh my, there goes the season and the standings I never did obtain. What to do Yankee fans, what to do. I went up to Tsangma’s ruin to sit on my perch a stone bench at the foot of the ruin that overlooks the Kulangchu and the west. As I sat letting sunbeams absorb into my face. Salim Lepcha spotted me from the fields far below and began shouting, “Mr. Tim Grossman!” over and over. It reminded me of the end of Dances with Wolves when the fierce one was shouting at Kevin Costner’s character, “I am your friend, don’t you know I will always be your friend.” This reference is spot on since I refer to Salim internally as the fierce one. He is not truly fierce but is quite strong and deliberate in manner and has the native features of his Lepcha clan. Besides Karlos he is my only other friend here. I made it on up to the temple and my beloved attic. Tied to a phallic post was a cow so magnificent and zophtic I almost converted to Hinduism. I rushed to the attic just in time for the fire ball to spin below the contours of the mountain. The ridges unfold with all geometric shapes including triangles, sharp edges, crystalline, jaw bone, jagged, smooth, regal, rolling, swirly, bumpy, humped, hard, rounded, and soft. It would take many lifetimes to absorb all the scenery received in my shaky eyes. These mountains are complex as this culture. The sunset crowned the mountain with golden flame while in the east clouds billowed in intricate ranges as complicated as the mountains themselves. (Somewhere over the western slopes Karma Om’s beautician sister arrives in Thimphu from her home in India.)
On the way home I stopped in on Salim but he was out to trap a porcupine that was raiding his potato garden. I was greeted by his wife and Nanu who was wearing a shirt that read, “Not all men are fools, some stay bachelors.” Needless to say I almost hit the floor. She is definitely a special breed and my favorite student. Later on I wished on the evening star that her aspiration of being a teacher is fulfilled. As I scrambled home in the gathering dusk the moon was framed by a black cloud like a demons eye. I arrived just in time for a campfire to welcome the staff of Bartsham School, here on a games visit and sleeping in my classroom. This is where Julian and Shana were placed last year. We sat around a bonfire eating a delicious meal with real fried sea fish and emadatsi while some students danced for us. One of the students was Chimmey who just turned 17. She was silhouetted in her kira against sparks that flew into the air. Each spark like a human life born of fire before being snuffed out by eternal darkness. I chatted with my student Sither and her friends. Sither is half Bhutanese and half Nepali referring to herself as a cocktail, classic Bhutanese bluntness. I ended the day talking at the campfire well passed midnight with the principal of Bartsham who had met just about every felincpa to ever pass through East Bhutan from Father Mackey to Jamie Zeppa, to Martha Ham. All in all a pretty good Saturday, pretty pretty pretty good…
Part 8, Terrapin Station
“The solemn wings of fortune beat like rain, we’re back in Terrapin for good or ill again” Terrapin Flyer
Today Namkith was crying because the boys had been writing I love you on her desk. Tough week for the captain as I told her to hang tight as it can be lonely at the top and that no one could hold her back. I wore my gho for class photos and ate a rare lunch at the mess. I also polished off my bundle of bananas and fed Booty some repulsive canned hot dogs. Its cold today and snow blankets the peaks around the valley. It is raining but through the spurts one can see into Arrunachal Pradesh (just the way I like it) it’s hard getting back into a routine and the work is piled up. One can’t help but wonder when the cold rain will stop and the warm monsoon rain will begin? This month will be all about work. Life rolls on, I here word from around the kingdom. Miss so and so is happy, no she is miserable. This person blew up at assembly, this person is lonely, or that person had a disagreement with the principal. Oh how I love to gossip when there are ones to gossip about. It’s not an easy row to till for anyone that’s for sure. We all have ups and downs in Bhutan. We don’t get out of our bubble enough. The hours and days are long. But for myself (an expert complainer) there is nowhere I would rather be at this moment. The krewe of BCF teachers placed around the kingdom all are talented, brave, and compassionate beings.
I went to hang class 8B’s GNH posters in their classroom and clipped a pink and red rose from the hedge. They are sitting on my desk (a flimsy table) calling me back to work…I went to Kezang’s shop scoring a loaf of bread (on credit since my pay is late) for tuna fish sandwiches. I had scored some mayonnaise in the big city. Just like mom makes at Baypoint, minus the celery. Tonight the sky is clear with an egg shell moon shimmering on some wispy curly cue clouds. Trashigang gleams clinging to the mountainside, and beyond the college town and Kaling divided by the last pass of the world’s greatest range. Yelama!!! The next morning brings more views deep into India with her snowcapped mountains, the toes of the gods resting on their thrones. Tsenkharla offers fantastic view in all directions. If one looks west (on a clear day) they see past T-Gang and the rounded humped rollers leading to Kalung. Gazing north one can see the sumptuous greenery approaching Yangtse while the southern view offers mild wedged ridges that divide the kulangchu and the shipwrecked Meme. And one finally glimpses east to the rugged borderlands and the void of Arrunachal Pradesh, just beyond the toot of Kenny B’s sax is the elusive Terrapin Station. This is the epitome of my world, barren, gorgeous, free!