“St. Stephen with a rose in and out of the garden he goes, a country garden in the wind and the rain, wherever he goes the people all complain”
Tsangma’s ruin bulged against a sweeping sky. A cloud bow hovered over Arrunachal Pradesh as Ravens perched. It was one of my hardest days at school and I will be burning the midnight oil making exams. Coming out of the forest I saw Pema Tsomo and her little sister capturing bugs on the bluff. The little one ran down in the straining twilight and opened her hands releasing enormous brown insects that jumped all over me. Today was a perfect example of the trial and rewards of life in Bhutan. I’m not healthy, I’m homesick, and I’m exhausted. But there is no place I’d rather be. A horse eats grass outside my door where I have hung some prayer flags. I pet a newborn calf while absorbing the view. Let Scenery Dazzle my senses, like the vibrations of Bobby’s blue modular guitar. You know the one with the lightning bolt engraved on its side. Standing on Tsangma’s ruin, the world at my command, I realize how far from home I am. A three days drive to Thimphu, and a 23 hour international flight. But it feels furthur. I am eating a Hershey Bar courtesy of my moms care package. Boy does it often feel like summer camp here. In fact I haven’t felt so close to the land since living with the Colfax family outside Booneville at “Farm Camp.” I think David, Mickey, and Reid would approve of this lifestyle. Right now I am looking at a photograph of nephew Reed courtesy of home base. I might as well give a shout out to Reidi (to complete the trio) thanks for your consultation regarding the exams and see you soon. Vicky if your tuned in, I borrowed from you’re title “A typical day.” I could picture you and Ian getting ready for school perfectly. You are an inspiration to us newbie’s.
The next day I was met on the trail by the same girl bearing small plumbs. Very similar to the small ones produced by the Ginsberg’s plumb tree before it died. Extra bonus points if you’re dialed in John and Angela. Congrats on the impending baby!
For you other North American monkeys, I predict a 2012 on the Main Stage. Toast one for me! And Morgan No Climbing! Be Safe, Hydrate, and Sunscreen y’all! I understand this is the 10th anniversary of the Kron and Grossman meeting. I don’t recall all the histrionics but I do recall something of Tyler biting the crust of Cara’s slice. But the relationship survived anyway. Hey Cara look out for falling bats. And Morgan you know which garden to find me in. Remember the bees and ravens?
Number Two Pencil
“I was stranded in a long lost driveway, when a smile came floating through the gate, I saw you were out in the daylight too, and now I’ve come to love, someone like you” Zeke
Today I breezed on down the mountain to visit Manu. She is the lab assistance at a dusty school above the settlement of Khandung just up from the junction. Manu is the young women I met at the lama’s house in the forest. It was a hot spring day with a cool breeze. I caught a ride with a man taking (sister) Urie and her girlfriends down to Doksom. The little rebels were bunking. Kungdung has sparse vegetation but includes hearty Cypress, banana, and oak, spaced out on arid soil on steep slopes. Below Manu’s house are fields of maize, potato, rice, and chilies. As she walked through the fields she carefully and intuitively stepped around the crops in her slippers. Her home was built of earthen mud and stone. Manu and Pema (her roommate) served me the hottest emadatsi I’ve ever tasted which melted my face off in a small alter room with several rugs on the floor. She remarked several times about “how dirty her house was” but I found it modest and comfortable. I felt very content chatting with Manu although she is only 22 and not fluent in English. I lay on the floor and listened to the river and birdsong while she sat in lotus position twiddling her mobile. Manu is dark and petite with lush black hair arranged in swirls, twists, and loops. Her slight upper body was covered in a white blouse and she wore plaid shorts. Her eyes are dark brown but appeared golden in the afternoon light. When she is not smiling, which is rare, she appears especially beautiful, and for one instant time ceased in her earth kitchen. When time stops there is only light. In back of her house was a tiny patch for homegrown vegetables. Across the valley was a view of a dark rolling ridge with a white temple perched on its crest. From this lower elevation you feel a part of the valley which stretches from Arrunachal Pradesh to Khaling. The light played with shadow on the surface of the opposing mountain and the sky was throwing all manner of clouds from wispy to billowy. We also were playing with the light, like two children. Yonder over the bouncy humps rested the valley of Bartsham and beyond the Brokpa universe. Prayer flags rippled on the road and I left Manu feeling euphoric at the simplicity of life.
“Fee was a Buddhist prodigy, long past the age of maturity; someday he knew it would set him free, like it did for Floyd the Chimpanzee”
My care packages were the talk of the village for the day. Everyone wanting to know what I got. People in unique national dress going bananas over my long sleeve Gap T. Manu inquired if I had Maize in my village? The village of San Rafael has a nice ring to it. Meanwhile this chili scene is out of sight. Imagine basing a whole cuisine around this devilish veggie. My addiction grows to what I previously regarded as less than desirable plant matter. I have a sneaking suspicion that this chili craze has something to do with there ability to grow in this unforgivable terrain. Just like exam moderation and central marking make sense as a means to check each others English abilities. And then there is rice subsequently keeping billions from starvation. I was probably quite the scandalous scoundrel seen with two local girls by the tribe. And oh they love to talk! I am the only felincpa in Trashiyangtse district after all. Ho hum back to the grinding stone and test making, planning lessons, and the chores. Life is maintenance as Mare would say. And we all know how much Marilyn enjoys the maintenance. (How’s your arm anyway, No climbing for you either.) The forests in Far East Bhutan are alive with sounds, a medley of cows, crickets, and birds; a whir, moo, and chirp trio that beats the band. A sparrow flew through my window and walked under the crack of my front door, signaling that I have suffered enough bullshit depression this week. Life is waiting in the form of bright eyed students and cloud formations. As noted in “Eyes of the World” the heart has its evenings its seasons and songs of its own. But Trey gets the nod on this installments caption (ISN’T IT?) Electronic acceptance from BCF came during “Alaska” under a Heavenly Moon last August Ninth (RIP Space Pilot Jerry!) Or was it the monk’s tarot throw at Drametse, or the throw of a dart in Thimphu. Excuse me for being cryptic but as Dave Malone said when I informed him of my whereabouts, “don’t get too pure!”
“Sonam what are those things on your shorts?”
“I don’t know”
“What are these reindeer?
“Have you heard of Christmas, you know Jesus’ birthday?”
“Have you heard of Santa Claus?”
‘Where did you get them?”
“What does that say on them?”
“Jingle my bells!”
Suddenly it occurred to me how similar Santa Claus and Guru Rimpoche are. Santa has flying reindeer. And the “Precious Master” had his flying tigress who was actually his consort Yeshi. Both are quite adept at performing miracles. Apparently Guru Rimpoche (The Second Buddha) was born from a lotus flower on a lake. I don’t know anything of Santa’s genealogy and how he has achieved immortality. Even Guru Rimpoche and Jesus gave up the ghost. This puts Santa in rarified air as the longest living fat man on earth. He must pine for the pagan rights by now. Guru Rimpoche along with Drukpa Kunley had multiple ladies in their life. Since Santa has lived forever and is a traveling man, it stands to reason he is getting some mistletoe on the side. So hats off to Buddhism and Santa for embracing the sexuality of MAN. I wonder if Manu could transform into a tigress. She does possess the simple playful grace of her Nepali root. The Indian, Tibetan, and Mongoloid people all united under the Wangchuk Dragon Banner, wearing national dress to solidify their identity. Reading the mythical and mystical history it’s hard to believe Bhutan immerged as an independent nation. There is no doubt aggressive Buddhist missionaries had a lot to do with the success of the kingdom. Cleverly dodging and negotiating with China, India, and the British. A tiny country immerged with a strong sense of self. Bhutan is Bhutan! Bhutan is also ONE mountain, I call Mt. Bhutan.
She’s brown as the bank where she kneels down to gather her water” Let It Grow
Weather Report: Becky says the monsoon has hit Karalla in Southern India and is barreling our way. Asia’s sultry mistress slathers the erect palms with her wet thighs. Gushing nutrients on the parched lands of: Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Papa New Guinea, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Taiwan, China, and even her Northern Lover Korea. Becky also informs me that the Brokpa elders have requested that the road cease several hours walk from Sakteng. For now the “last road” will not complete the circuit of civilization. We all need these gaps from the bushman to the man in his air conditioned skyscraper. Just like people need tigers even if we never see one in the wild. My tigress consort roams in Boomdeling in the jungle or IS IT alpine tundra? She moves through the blurry territory between reality and imagination. Our heroine is a tiger in a trance visiting the realm of a snow leopard which is dreamed by the snow-lion. Maybe the one perched at Chasam, the bridge to Far East Bhutan.
Medical Report: My eye infection has subsided but my Bhutan belly has avenged again. It seems Pema’s emadatsi has made me feel as if sodomized by a giant red chili. I even have a touch of giddiness!
Book report: Due every other Friday. Please choose appropriate reading material.
Mare, it was great talking to you on the phone. I feel this is all a dream dreamed around a Pebble Creek campfire under the bosom of the Milky Way. Or was it Spalding Bay? If you dive into Trout Lake you might immerge in the waters of the Kulongchu. Those water molecules do like to travel. And if we are made primarily of water, would this mean we have a collective aquatic soul? And Becky if you’re still awake what happened to that portal of light over Phongmay? Where did it take you? Was there a fresh tossed salad and latte on the other side? The author of this blog is thirsty and will break for a coke and a smile. Goodnight Family, Goodnight Booty, Goodnight Cow, Goodnight Gom Kora, Goodnight Chorten Kora, Goodnight Lisa, Goodnight Nanu, and Goodnight Manu…
“You know it’s gonna get stranger, so lets get on with the show” Feel Like a Stranger
Any night when you get a call from Dust Particles is a strange one. Tonight the power went out yet again. I am convinced that Bhutan is a land most comfortable in darkness. Technology seems obtrusive in this place. I went in search of Pema’s (secretary’s) house and a Puja. Along the way I saw the boarders all sitting on the b-ball court taking dinner in the dark. (You got to admire these kids) Their morale is good for what they endure, including the same meal for weeks on end of potatoes and rice. I found Karlos at the Puja and sat down. The Bhutanese hospitality can seem nuts to a foreigner, the filling up of ones cup after every sip, and the musical chairs. Tonight I felt restless as I had tests to finalize. I was trying to channel my inner (patient) Nancy as Karlos took a sip of his “last beer” only to have it refilled. The room was crowded with mostly female shopkeepers, kids, babies, and flies. The meal consisted of dried fish, cow stomach, rice, and a bomb potato radish dish. As a friend of mine texted, “I repeat this place is insane!” So it seems a great place for an insane person to spend a year.
I struggle to get my exams finished. Today I was pulled out of class to help others assemble their tests. The tests are printed on an archaic crank printer. Teachers are covered in ink and wearily assembling hundreds of papers. I didn’t appreciate sacrificing my classes to assist others when my own tests are not complete. I did finally sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” to the kids. I picked a beautiful spot under a tree in view of some prayer flags. They loved it and several of them were singing the verses all day! We also made up our own lyrics posing more questions like, “How many people have died, before I was ever born?” or “How many people have suffered, before Bob Dylan suffered?” Teachers can be very self critical and its important to step back once in awhile and pat yourself on the back for your classes achievements. Looking back I realize despite my imperfections, the students are learning! I am proud of the work I am doing here. I also congratulate all my BCF coworkers for meeting the bizarre obstacles that appear daily in the Bhutan Education System.
Three funny sayings translated into understandable English.
1. By heart it= to memorize something
3. IS IT? = Several varied meanings (I’ll get back to you on this one)
I didn’t like linguistics in school but language is a trip. Imagine how different the world would be if humans spoke only one language. (Oh yeah that’s my job.) There are many languages being spoken on this tiny parcel, Sharshop, Dzonka, Nepali, Hindi, Lepcha, and numerous local dialects. The language gap between east and west keeps the regions separate.
On my walk to Kumdang I actually saw a chicken cross the road to get to the other side!
TOO STUPID TOO STOP
“I know its pretty country, it boarders on the sky, I only got my faith to say I will see you bye and bye” How Far to the Horizon, Dave Malone
“The only truth is there is no absolute truth, and that’s the truth” Timothy Kristopher Grossman
What is this intangible quality we call identity. The first unit I taught in class was, “Who Am I.” Perhaps I knew myself better as a child. But since 2006 I have turned off the path of knowing. Sitting alone in a dark wood I read that love is a virtue not an emotion. Yet my emotions have always guided me to some strange arenas, amphitheaters, clubs, and discos. But usually I end up dancing alone. Oh, that’s not the world’s tiniest fiddle playing for the one who begs to call the tune. Deep down I prefer the hermit life. But is a hermit complete? Can nature connect the cosmic circuit? Or does one need a human companion to fully enjoy the Circus? What can fill the void, work, sex, music, religion or nothingness? I am still a sexless soul with a river of anxiety coursing through my veins. Seeking answers where none are to be found. I mean, if there is a god why would he permit such suffering. Is it to let humans work out there own dramatic play. But life isn’t fair! I have it so much better then some but still I complain. Guilt, panic, fear, jealousy rattle around in my brain. Love is a candle in the wind tentative and impermanent. The debate always leads back to square when the question is circular or some shape yet to be identified. If the reader is confused then the author has accomplished his goal. But won’t you love me anyway? My mantra for the year is truth is beauty, beauty is truth. But WTF is truth? All I can say, IS IT? Or ISN’T IT? The crickets outside my open window don’t seem overly concerned about these questions nor does the horse nibbling grass. The animals teach humans so many things but what does the naked ape teach the monkey? Tonight I celebrate one year Radiators free. I will allow Morgi the eulogy in her hastily scribbled note passed to Dave at the Great American Music Hall,
“Here’s to first times and last times.”
Say a Prayer for the cowgirl
“And there’s nothing to follow, nowhere a go, he’s gone like the summer, gone like the snow, and the crickets are breaking her heart with their song, as the day caves in, and the night is all wrong”
Clinging to the fragments of my old self I woke up in pain feeling the bone fragments floating in my arm. This is a challenging stretch for me. Depression and sickness threaten like a monsoon sky and Excalibur is sunken to the bottom of the lake. So I plod on through the work feeling like an alien. Life in Bhutan is surprisingly busy between endless chores and teaching. I have not been reading lately and lost my muse for poetry. In some ways this blog is the only link between me and the world. Moist clouds cling to the ridges as patches of faded sun spots the riverbed weaving its way into Arrunachal Pradesh. The landscape appears heartbroken but free. I make a point to enjoy this time between rains. Becky and I did a good job traveling this spring both together and separately. I spun the wheel for all the cowgirls in Bhutan and around the world and asked myself if I can’t be happy here, can I be happy anywhere? Fortunately Bhutan allows one to remold themselves in clay. So I will make a ball and start on over.
I took a walk with Karlos and Sonam down a new dirt road. It was a dramatic scene with clouds, mist, and a view deep into India. I learned that Guru Rimpoche meditated east of Doksom on my favorite seemingly unreachable stretch of river. (I need a serious hiking buddy.) The Precious Master has captivated me just as Drukpa Kunley has before him. On the way back up the road Pema Tsomo asked “how I was feeling” I think she could intuit my internal break up. I reassured her I was fine and she told me I was her favorite teacher. On days I can’t do it for myself I will do it for Pema Tsomo and the kids. Meanwhile onward with the aesthetic ascetic life.
THE MISTS OF AVALON
“One of these days and it won’t be long, gonna climb to the mountain gonna sing my song, I will sing it loud and I will sing it strong, let the echo decide if I was right or wrong” Silvio
The rains have come, veiling the mountains in mist. It has been a light sprinkle to start. This is definitely a different feel for Bhutan. The seasons are distinct here and pure sunny days are rare. Usually we are layered in haze, or mist. The real treat has been the fog is hovering on the peaks and the valley is a smokescreen of mist as the river bends into India. The eastern and Western views are distinctly different. The dramatic eastern vision is like peering over the continental shelf into the Aleutian Trench. I favor the West when I am depressed. Looking NW to Yangtse and SW to T-Gang. These are more rounded mountains but huge. Both directions offer sublime glimpses of the respective river forks. It is possible on a ten minute stroll to see a 365 degree vista. At times it seems there are hundreds of crags, peaks, and summits. This next little poem is written from the point of the eastern view. From the rock downwind of my doorstep. It’s also for “The Precious Master” The second Buddha came to Bhutan in 746 thus introducing the religion. As mentioned above he had female consorts and often was a warrior and king. In contrast to the original Buddha who according to one friend, “Just sat around.”
GOAT: For Guru Rimpoche
An Open rugged space
of swatch stitched green, and mauve
made by Earth Mother
whose vagina spring
penetrated by massif phallic,
burst a silver serpent river
carving bare earth,
her creamy liquid swashes pyrite sand
a force MOVING
through thicket and brush
signaling prayer flags on rocks
RAVEN, GOAT, AVALON!
the ring of mountains
hugs the clouds
The Last Post
“I like the days here, I like the nights here, Oh how the world spins around, I like the summers and I like the winters, here I will sleep in the ground” Old Man and the Land, The Squirrel
I am still working on my exams as there is a lot of pressure on both students and teachers. The mist in the hills is a brand new Chinese painting every day. The strokes shift all day long rearranging themselves. The sun poked through the foggy blanket after a 23 hour nap and then went to bed again. The saturated ground has begun to puddle from the dawn rains. Dalia flowers of magenta are splaying themselves. The challenges of work and maintenance has been overwhelming lately. No water when I want it, power outages, poor diet. All of these in reality are manageable problems with effort and for sight on my behalf. Hopefully I can push through midterms and go explore a bit for break. At present flies buzz me. Today I was looking at a yellow and white flower and the petals took off as a butterfly. How does Ma Nature make a duplicate butterfly and flower. I wonder where my butterfly or flower could be? At school I saw a pink and brown moth the size of my hand. Throughout it all, I am blessed to live in this wonderland. Alas didn’t have an easy trip herself. And like Alas, it feels a dream but being surrounded by beauty is good for the soul. I briefly saw Manu again (any readers hoping for romantic storylines don’t get excited she is engaged) The truth is I am struggling with loneliness realizing I am on my own in a third world country. I have realized I am a needy individual. It seems I need constant love and affection and if I don’t get it I dry up. This wasn’t the actualization I was hoping for, but an insight nevertheless. I hope you are good and enjoying whatever you are doing. Thanks for sacrificing a few moments to check out this blog. I will check in after the midterm break, hopefully with some fresh adventures and a refreshed attitude. I would like to once again thank my donors if any are reading this. I truly wouldn’t be here without the help of so many people. I realize this blog reports my hardships and struggles but hopefully you all realize what a gift this endeavor has been. Personal growth is not an easy task but Bhutan is more beautiful then in my dreams. On my Sunday hike I went to my Bon shrine and the Zet Temple. I spent a long time looking at the paintings on the wall and the statues and three dimensional moldings. The second floor has tantric Buddha’s making love and wild depictions of multi headed deities and elephant trunks melting into women’s faces. Naked women dolls being subdued by twenty foot statues. This place is a sanctuary. I sat in the shadowy main floor chamber for some time until I felt I was inside the head of a rainbow feathered guruda. I feel particularly close to the Guru here. The murals depict the human condition from the mad, serene, lustful, enraged, devoured, dismembered, and enlightened. The details of the place are astounding and I believe the answers of the universe are contained in these depictions. I also heard a female voice in my head that alleviated one of my biggest concerns. I can’t count this as my second vision since it was only a voice that never manifested in form. It was also the voice of a Western gal. I sat there on a cushion in the gathering pools of darkness and had a good long argument with myself.
Back on campus my VP, a jolly man, informed me that he has been reading my blog. This always makes me blush and wince at once. I am happy people are enjoying my blog but cringe at my own neurosis flooding the PC screen. I am not writing for any particular audience but realize my flashbacks and perspectives must seem obscure and confusing. I favor a Sylvia Plath confessionary prose. I also forget that a few Bhutanese people are reading and hope they realize that I have the utmost reverence and respect for their culture. I shared my blog with Karlos early on and I am sure it’s public domain now. If any prospective BCF teachers are tuned in id love to hear from you via the comments section. I also recommend reading the other teachers BCF blogs for a counter perspective. If anybody has questions I would be more then happy to answer them. God bless you all on this Sunday, whoever and wherever you are!
I am sitting in the staff room waiting to take my turn at the ancient printing press. The whole building smells like the inside of an octopus. That is to say very inky. This test making process has been hellacious. It’s very important to the Bhutanese that the exams be uniform. This uniformity is essential to their culture. I have had to reedit and mess with the format for about ten hours. Next I will go through the tedious printing process and then make answer sheets for central marking. I am very disturbed that after making these exams for several hours I will not be able to assess my students myself. Big fat what to do. Yesterday I found a hidden valley through a lush forest including a grove of cypress trees laden with ferns and duff. It’s hard to believe such a place exists near here. Every time I venture out I discover more. I try to wander daily and am considered a regular at the temple. This place is the most beautiful and challenging spot I have ever been. On the solstice a black and yellow butterfly rested in the palm of my hand for five minutes. I even stroked its satiny wings before it flew off circumnavigating me three times. The exams are done and I am completing the answer keys tonight. Life at school has been hectic. The printing process was crazy hand cranking hundreds of pages only pausing to paint the roller with black ink. Fortunately I only assisted. So it appears we have almost made it halfway through this year. The next week will be a blur of marking and then back on the road. We have had little rain and the trails here are in excellent condition. Despite being in the rain shadow the scrappy farms I once noted have become robust, the network of trails progress through forest and farmland. All plots are on steep cliffs affording remarkable views. After tampering in the kitchen I can now make edible emadatsi. A dish only my father could appreciate. Stay tunes for the part two of my adventures as I will check back in after midterm break in July. Happy Solstice! Happy Festival! Happy Fourth!