Part 1 Jesus Visits Tsenkharla
“Come to Jesus today, let him show you the way, your drifting too far from the shore”
Bhutan is a busy place. Between planning lessons, chores, meetings, and extracurricular activities there is always plenty to do. I haven’t gotten around to writing in my poetry book or reading much of late. My favorite activity is roaming and staring at nature and these hobbies consume my limited free time. One must be vigilant to survive here. If water comes at 5 AM one must get up and collect it. I sweep my hut thrice daily.
I saw the specter of Jesus wander through the compound during prayer time at assembly. He was wearing a white robe and was bare foot with natty flowing hair. He stood out among the purple and black gho and kira. He seemed a bit lost and wide eyed in this region. Jesus has been on my mind a lot lately since my born again tour friend sent me an urgent E mail telling me to embrace Christ when I get in trouble here. It’s been a challenging time that coincided with her plea. I have been open to the Guru and Sangay Dempa to show me the way out of darkness but they ask me to find my own path. As for Jesus H Christ I simply bowed and let him roam through the pack of students passing the prayer wheel (without spinning it) and wander off into the wilderness towards Tsenkharla Dzong. I’m not sure the meaning of this apparition except to say our savior has visited the LOT. But he won’t find many takers here. Although he has a small fringe contingent among this ancient Buddhist Kingdom. Perhaps he is merely the Western Buddha or Buddha is the Eastern Jesus. I know Heather will recoil from that notion as in her faith lines must be clearly drawn. Religion often “others” humans in a “your with us or against us mentality” I prefer to acknowledge that it’s all one and that’s why I simply worship nature. The faded deities of the bon and pagan mythologies still flow with the river spirit as I absorb them all in each breath. Perhaps it’s time for an inclusive faith to usher in a balanced era for humankind. Look for a female messiah to spread the new gospel.
“Same old friends the wind and rain” Weather Report
At this moment the monsoon reveals its treats, rainbows and shafts of light. Saucer sized leaves and chest high grasses, bountiful vegetable and flower gardens. Tsenkharla has transformed from a barren rock into a shire. Seeds planted a month ago are as tall as me and nature seems on a larger scale here. And then there are the cloud’s which mutate and transform but never dissipate. Perhaps it is one cloud as Bhutan is one mountain (Mt. Bhutan) it’s rare to see the sun but when it immerges everything twinkles in our stars light. I spend afternoons perusing the grounds of our campus picking up trash. The campus has seen a noticeable improvement in cleanliness. The village and trails are another matter and remain littered. But I am very optimistic to see the students at least keeping the campus relatively clean. Of course this is no time for complacency. Hopefully BCF will get my bins out here soon so I can establish the recycling project. Once the students and teachers change their habits things will continue to progress in a positive way. I hope to coordinate another mass cleaning day in the fall after the rains cease. For now it’s my duty to observe and absorb the astounding beauty of this place. To relish in the heart shaped leaves trailing up the trunks of cypress trees. Or the dahlias that look like pastel lions and the second growth of roses along with the white, purple, pink, and orange flowers that remain anonymous. From our Eden we look down at the once barren valley now a carpet of rolling green threaded by my favorite river. Along the banks are rice terraces. Above our haven are lush deciduous and evergreen forests. Beyond these pockets of trees the peaks are shrouded in infinite mist. The steep once rugged mountains have ripples of green busting out of them, softening their tough demeanor. I can only imagine the jungles approaching Yangtse with their verdant waterfalls and playful monkeys. The maize is starting to be harvested and tastes like rubbery corn. I am not sure why a tastier variety cannot be grown. Mostly the maize is mashed and combined with rice for better nutrition. (It makes me crave Morgan’s “special corn recipe” White or yellow corn splashed with lime juice and chili flakes MMMM so delicious especially at a family BBQ.) At night I am waken up by rain pelting my tin roof as cells pass overhead moving along to Bartsham or Boomdeling. Birdsong fills the air, the croaks of ravens, the tweet of little sparrow’s dose -doing while butterflies promenade with moths to the call of cicadas and crickets.
Inside the simple wooden classrooms I struggle to keep a handle on my large classes. They are not well behaved under my tutelage compared to their national teachers who walk around with beating sticks. If I choose to be morose and serious they respond in kind. But when I am silly they don’t know how to stop. When delivering a truly engaging lesson the mix is right on god’s soundboard. It’s challenging with very little supplies and large classes of thirty or more. My karma from my student life is kicking my ass. I was a cyclone of disruption in the classroom and now I am on the other end of it. I marvel that I actually became a teacher in some sort of cosmic comedy. Overall I enjoy it but it is a challenge in every way. I was not born to teach rather was born to be wild. I have a long way to go in improving as most novice teachers do. All I can do is try my best to stay in the moment and be present each and every day, as teaching brings to the foreground all of my challenges.
I want my students to read more and they complete book reports every two weeks. But I am not able to go to the library and help them select appropriate books for their level. The selection is extremely limited to begin with. Some come back with Dzonka books, others with thick novels, and others with graphic comic books with inappropriate illustrations. Sither had a comic of some Tibetan adept that depicted him traveling the countryside getting drunk and sleeping with women. The pictures showed breasts and genitals. Not exactly appropriate for class 8. So for now I prepare for my Saturday classes which I try to make as bearable as possible for both student and teacher.
“I’ll call upon my faithful friend the mockingbird to fly and seize the helping book and bring it to your shack” Colonel Forben
At times I feel I have slipped through a portal into Trey’s alternative universe of Gamehenge. In reality we exist on the fringe of the land of lizards. We have a noble good king to counteract the evil King Wilson. Our lama’s trade secrets with Icculus whose helping friendly book is stashed somewhere in the hidden valleys of Lhuntse for safekeeping. On this side of the divide Tsenkharla has around 750 students including 500 boarders. We have around 50 teachers, support staff, and cooks. We are a major feeder school in Yangtse with some day scholars walking hours to and from school each day. The main drag of the village of Tsenkharla consists of about ten tin roofed shops selling the same biscuits and plastic jugs of Coca Cola. A few farmhouses that dot the slopes have traditional Bhutanese architecture looking like gingerbread houses with stones on the roof. Others are merely earthen huts. We lack the sophisticated rural style of Bartsham and perhaps are not as ramshackle as Phongmay. About ten minutes hike up a hurly burly stone road are the ruins of Tsenkharla Dzong established by the exiled Tibetan Prince Tsangma eleven hundred years ago. The forest and grasses are so thick it is difficult to bush -whack to the ancient stone edifice. About ten minutes up from Tsangma is Zongdopelri temple. From there a network of trails begins leading up to my bon shrine and Darchen, or down into the lush cypress grove and several tiny villages. Our village used to be called Rangthangwoon before being renamed Tsenkharla which is often spelled Tshenkharla. We are one hour’s drive from Trashiyangtse and an hour and a half in the other direction from Trashigang. We are two days grueling drive to Thimphu and the nearest disco-tech. We are about 10 Km as the famous mockingbird flies to the border of Gamehenge. There are no roads to the border and I haven’t found the trail yet. Tonight I peer out from Trey’s imagination where good and evil quarrel for my soul. And the search for the helping friendly book continues.
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants
“My strange heroes lead me on, and when I get there they’ll be gone” Two Djinn
Jamie Zeppa got it right in her fantastic book “Beyond The Sky And The Earth.” On my walk to the shops I was looking at a swirling sea of mist washing over Jamie’s former home of Kalung and Sharubse College beyond Trashigang in the distance. We two and a few other fortunate foreigners share a deep admiration for this mysterious realm of East Bhutan. Father William Mackey a Jesuit Priest arrived here after many years in India and established many of the first proper schools. I’ve stated before how proud I am to stand on the shoulders of these aforementioned giants. Cheers Jamie wherever you are tonight. I hope you are curled up in the lap of luxury. I will leave the final words to you as I love your description of old Rangthangwoon, my home village in “Beyond.”
“We look up and down the length of the river valley, watching the mountain ranges in the South opening one after the other like gates to a secret kingdom. I love how the landscape gives the impression of vast space and intimacy at the same time: the thin brown line of a path wandering up an immense green mountainside, a plush hanging valley tucked between two steep hillsides, a village of three houses surrounded by dark forest, paddy fields around an outcrop of rock, a white temple gleaming on a shadowy ridge. The human inhabitants nestle into the landscape; nothing is cut or cleared beyond what is required. Nothing is bigger than necessary. Every sign of human settlement repeats the mantra of contentment: “This is just enough.”
Fourth of July view from my doorstep (click on image for optimal viewing.