Monday, September 24, 2012

Remembering A Friend


Remembering Martha

On September 20 Martha Ham passed away at Mongor Hospital. Becky called me while I was praying at Zongdopelri. My head was flooded with Martha memories as I collapsed at the prayer wheel. Martha was in her fifties and full of life experience. What stands out for me was her sense of humor. She would often make up catch phrases and sound effects on the spot to suit any situation. But underneath was a heart of gold. She was a superb teacher. I happened to meet one of her students in Phongmay and her eyes lit up at the mention of Martha’s name. On certain occasions when the Eastern Krewe was getting together Martha stayed at her school and put in extra Saturday hours, she was absolutely dedicated to her students. I sat next to Martha during our seminars and meetings in The Dragon Roots conference Room. My confidence was low as I struggled to acclimate to my new surroundings and I was sitting in the front so I could see the text on the projector screen. Martha was so impressed and supportive of my eye problem and she praised me for adapting in the world and having hootspa.  So far from the familiar her words inspired me to carry on in an uncertain time. My favorite memory was a beautiful Sunday morning on the road to Radi. Martha was talking with an old abi with tattered kira and bare feet. From a distance they looked like village shamans cracking the riddles of the universe.  Martha had a robust personality and a gentle soul. During her time in Bhutan she encouraged and educated the next generation of Bhutanese citizens and will be missed sorely by all she touched with her unique spirit. 

A ceremony took place at a beautiful spot on the Gamri Chu where the road branches off to Bartsham. There were hundreds in attendance including Martha’s students, several BCF teachers, and Dzongkhag officials from Mongar and Trashigang. Martha’s brothers were listening in on a mobile phone as the monk’s chanted scripture. The most heart wrenching moment was when Vicky read a eulogy from her brothers. 

I spent one night in Rangjoon having dinner at Ian and Vicky’s with Reidi, Ashleigh, Iman, Martin, and Becky. It was good to grieve as a group and reconnect. The next day I went to Mongor and on the return trip lost my camera punctuating a horrible week.

Martha was a seeker of truth and studied Buddhism. Hopefully she would have approved of the ceremony which was the most cathartic and poignant funeral I have attended.  She was a mentor to her students who had a chance to say goodbye and played an important role in the service. She lived an admirable life concerned for others and became a teacher to help children. We will all miss her deeply and Bhutan isn’t the same without her. While Becky was closing up Martha’s estate she found this quote tacked to the wall. It says a lot about who Martha was and why we identified with her so much.

“I have lived on the lip of insanity wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens; I’ve been knocking from the inside” Rumi

Blessed Rainy Days 

On the front page of Kunsel was a picture of a beautiful snow leopard who was hunting Tonkin. This rare species of cat lives in the upper regions of Bhutan and sneaks down into the alpine valleys to hunt. Bhutan is home to a third of the big cat species in the world including tigers. And speaking of tigers this blog turns one today. The author would like to thank his readers for their interest and support. School takes most of my attention and lately I have been concerned about our disorganized library. There is absolutely no system for categorizing books and students are frisked before leaving the building by the frosty librarian. The library would benefit from more English books and some sort of categorization of the materials. There are just piles of books on the floor and tables and upstairs is a nice study area with no chairs. The library closes immediately after school and at lunch so students are barely able to browse. I have my hands full just preparing my lessons and assessing my 120 students and not much knowledge of library skills. When I enter the library I can only mutter “What a shame.” If anyone reading this has suggestions on how to obtain and ship cheap books to Bhutan let me know. I also want to get a class set of a novel to read together. This would be something I could pursuit only if I was brave enough to extend my contract. Teachers must inform BCF of their intent by mid October. Now the clock ticks on an interesting summer which saw tons of rain a little sunshine and trials and triumphs. I will always recall this as the summer I fulfilled my dream of reaching Sakteng.

Last night I went to Cheki Choden’s third b-day party in the village. I was the first to arrive which was awkward sitting in a room taking tea with meme and a group of snotty kids. By snotty I mean they had mucus running from their nostrils. Every kid in the village was their including Hatchet Boy, Sangay Dema, et al. seeing all those toddlers made my heart ache for Reed. I fell into an interesting conversation with Namsa who is the BHU Dr. He studied for seven years in Sri Lanka and told an interesting story about Mt. Adams, a peak where there is one footprint which is claimed to be the imprint of Adam, Buddha, and Mohammed. Pilgrims peacefully intermingle and pray at the summit. We also rapped about the Tashi Tower and new road at Zongdopelri and how the company paid off the lama to construct on the land. Namsay cautioned that Bhutanese are attracted to money nowadays. Back in the classroom I was proud of my class 8 students for their terrific oral summaries of “Hectors Great Escape.” When they are focused the students are capable of great things. It is my job as a teacher to facilitate the path to greatness but how did I fall into the most important profession on earth? Seems like only yesterday I was a bagger or was it a beggar?  Paper and plastic was my game and in my dreams I still see the conveyer belt stuffed with porterhouse steaks, salsa, apples, and mint chip ice cream, an endless parade of treats from the developed world. The belt was a mechanical river of gluttony and temptation. “Would you like help out Sir?” I pushed carts for an eternity and never dreamt I would make it out of that San Rafael parking lot landing in East Bhutan. 

Teaching in Bhutan is an interesting assignment. The curriculum prescribed by the government is beyond the grasp of most students. I have to spend a lot of time relating stories to the student’s lives and explaining vocabulary. Another issue is the English stories are not relatable to a Bhutanese student life. For instance Bhutanese kids don’t drink lattes. But the most challenging aspect is improving student writing. For instance in “Hector’s Great Escape” the students write “the Hector” instead of Hector. I try to revue common mistakes as they occur without diminishing the enthusiasm of the learner. Each day is full of surprises like when Namkith put an enormous cockroach on my plan book making me scream! Or when we all crowed like roosters cock-a-doodle-doo when reading about a rural village. At its heart Bhutan is still an assembly of villages that are just now connecting to society via roads. Each village has a distinct flavor and cultural variation. Some minority groups practice animism and wear distinct regalia. In actuality Bhutan is a salad bowl of ethnicities including the Brokpa, Lhops, and Lepcha’s. Indian road workers add another dimension to the mix. Like Mexicans in California the Indians do excruciating labor for little pay. They live in shanty camps along the road. These sinewy men and women hang out in groups in Trashigang in ragged clothes. The Indo-Bhutan dynamic is complex and multifaceted. The relationship is symbiotic as Bhutan needs India for protection against China and India utilizes Bhutan’s hydropower. Indians have been instrumental in Bhutanese education especially before the kingdom trained its own educators. Many Indian teachers remain throughout the country and Bhutanese engineers and doctors train on the subcontinent. The two nationalities can travel freely in one another’s country and the rupee is accepted as currency in Bhutan. The rupee crunch has affected the Bhutanese economy. The secluded and secretive Kingdom of Bhutan is a crossroads of the Eastern Himalaya’s. It is imperative to keep the Buddhist majority which may have something to do with the expulsion of Nepali Hindus twenty years ago. Both Bhutan’s northern and southern borders are porous and trade between Tibetans, Bhutanese, and Indians still exists. Trashiyangtse people still trade with Tawang and the old Dzong sits on the ancient route between Tibet and Bumthang. Despite our advantageous location there are no Chinese or Indian restaurants in the Dzongkhag. Ah shucks!

(Zongdopelri Interlude)

When I enter Zongdopelri I step into a separate universe and the outside world vanishes like mountains in the mist. The thick heavy air seeps into my spirit and calls me back to the source. It smells like the grey wool sweater I exchanged with Morgan for a decade. The main chamber is a treasure chest of statues, paintings, feathered banners, bells, and conch shells. Sitting on the ladder I survey the placid scene melting in the reflection of the butter lamp. Before the main alter adorned with geometric designs and peacock feathers is a cream and emerald marble patch on the tiled floor. The prominent feature on the second floor is the tantric painting of a male and female deity embraced in love. The blue male is sitting in lotus position with the naked female straddling his manhood, her erect nipples pointing to the sky. Surrounding the figures are musicians and meditating yogis. The rest of the room has carnal half tigress deities fornicating with thousand eyed demons. Off the second story is the dark room where the beast resides. The attic houses a Buddha statue and peaceful meditating figures painted on the walls. This cozy room is only ten by ten feet with tiny wood carved portals opening to the Dagme Chu valley and the unfolding ridges of Arrunachal Pradesh. Here, times stops and I send out my prayers to the universe to the soundtrack of Ravens cawing, the chime of prayer wheels, and the murmuring of prayers from the old man in the courtyard below. Perched on my gold pagoda throne with the wind blowing in my face, I am the King of nothingness, the reincarnation of Buddha, and the incarnation of the Thunder Dragon.

Kori La Misadventure or The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Blah             

Mongar was a bust, losing my camera and incessant rain. It was Blessed Rainy Day or Losar part two. All the shops were closed and I scoured the streets like a stray dog looking for a discarded bone. Finally I invited myself into a closed hotel and begged the girl there to fix me something to eat. She made me some ramen noodles with vegetables and refused to take my money. The next day I hit the road.
Between Mongar and Yadi is an enchanted section of “highway” through primitive jungle. Tree ferns nestle in moist gullies and vines and ivy hang off the bushy trees. The canopy is dripping with gigantic ferns intertwined with purple blossoms. Mist shrouds the huge trees and birdsong fills the dewy air, this sumptuous biome is above 8,000 feet. I hitched through the twisted switchbacks on the bumper of an antiquated tractor. Twenty minutes later on the other side of Yadi the landscape turns to bone dry pine forest. Passed Chasm through Doksom is the driest region in East Bhutan with grasses and scattered trees clinging to rough canyon walls. Back at home the storm fell two large Cypress blocking the trail. I managed to crawl around and underneath to continue. Below ones gaze is a dry wilderness and the slithering Dagme Chu in stark contrast to Kori La. But the spacious expanse envelops my soul and bellows, WELCOME HOME! 

Martha and Villager

Sunday, September 16, 2012

One More Saturday Night


One More Saturday Night

“Everybody dancing at the local armory with a basement full of dynamite and live artillery, temperature keep rising everybody getting high, come the rockin stroke of midnight whole place is gonna fly” Ace

On Saturday night the students put on a remarkable program for their peers and the community. The event was in honor of Sherib Century which is celebrating 100 years of education in Bhutan. And we were here! I know I am bias but my 7 and 8 students stole the show. The class 8 boys did a dance with two boys standing on each other’s shoulders like a man on stilts. Class 7 did a hilarious skit in Sharshop which started with four boys acting drunk on ara. But the capper was the bamboo dance. This tribal dance was Indian in Origin and the boys were shirtless with painted bodies and headdress while the girls wore beautifully colorful kiras. The boys clacked together the giant bamboo shoots while the girls hopped through in time. Wangmo provided the soundtrack with a haunting melody. I was astounded at the creativity and execution from my kids. The evening closed with a group of class ten girls doing traditional dance with candles resting in their palms. I sat next to Karlos, Sonam, and Butterfly my three closest friends. I tried my hand in flirting with Tswering a hottie from Zongposo I had met once before. Single women are a rare and precious commodity in this part of East Bhutan. Not that I am hunting for babes but it’s nice to know this rare species exists. People automatically get married after school and bachelors over twenty five are rare. The culture dictates that people must marry and have kids to take care of their parents in old age. In the remote villages people traditionally marry at 14. The only exception would be the religious community including monks and nuns. As for my students they are intelligent, funny, and speak multiple languages. Teaching English can be challenging and students are burdened with learning all subjects in a foreign tongue. I can remember Sister Martha reaming me on Spanish at Marin Catholic and have so much respect for ESL learners around the world. It takes me many tries just to learn one Sharshop word from the students. My students often speak Dzonglish a combo of English and Dzonka. In Korea they spoke Konglish.  The school program cheered me up considerably and I am spending my rainy Sunday sweeping, correcting portfolios and planning lessons. Exams take up the last month of school so believe it or not we are in the home stretch. In the final months of my first official year of teaching I want to put in my best effort. Today I slept until noon which was the first time I have slept past 10 A.M my entire time in the kingdom. I can remember slumbering entire weekends away in Korea when I first arrived. Teaching takes a lot of energy and the hours extend beyond the classroom. I have learned a lot this year and have many areas to improve on. I have learned to some degree what works and what doesn’t. For instance hand gestures are great for teaching vocabulary. And portfolios should be kept in separate folders by me and not in their crumbling government issued notebooks. It has taken a long time to get my bearings in Bhutan and to be honest is an ongoing process.
The deluge continues and the temperature drops. Rain drops catch in spider webs and the wheel turns towards autumn. I look forward to observing this new season in Bhutan. I remember when I arrived wearing my puffy Korean coat and running my tiny heater 24/7. My cement hut was usually colder then outside. Overall Tsenkharla has a favorable climate as the summer never got unbearably hot like in Autsho or Rangjoon. Everywhere in the kingdom gets tons of rain but Phongmay received double compared to Tsenkharla. We all have our challenges and that sweet woman who throws the darts in Thimphu has incredible power. Since I requested the east I can’t complain. I remember when I got word of my placement and the water shortage. They promised it would be fixed in 2012 and were still waiting. WTDL! It’s hard to believe I haven’t left the LOT or is it the TOL in seven months and West Bhutan seems like a different country. I can’t wait for mom and Ty’s visit to Thimphu at Christmas, although it seems like years away from now.

Although I used to consider myself a nationalist I realize we live in a global community. When one travels to other countries they realize it is possible to love another land and still be a patriot. In fact when you do travel you become a representative for your nation. This is especially true when you are immersed. I hope I have helped to inspire students. It’s hard to know ones role here but sense it’s important. The kingdom is reluctant to allow foreign assistance, so HM must feel what we do is imperative. The author takes his responsibilities seriously and hopes the reader gleans that within the turmoil of “tiger.”

On my stroll in the forest an abi stopped me and gave me a plastic bottle filled with warm fluid which I assumed was tea. When I got home I sniffed the contents only to be overwhelmed by the smell of ara. I will give it over to Karlos. Becky told me that our colleague Martha is on her way in an ambulance to Mongor today and she may have typhoid. Several teachers have been seriously ill this year and poor health is a harsh reality of living here. Nobody has been healthy all the time and relative wellness is the best we can ask for. I know I could be more cautious about what I eat but I must live my life. I am confident that in time Martha will be able to return to her post. For now we all put in our best effort and enjoy each day of this precious adventure. But nowhere on earth is one reminded how tenuous each life is.      

Bamboo Dance, 7A

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Nothing Lasts



The Holy Babble

“Seems like all this life, was just a dream” Hunter/Garcia

Greetings Earthlings,

Is it possible for time to implode or expand, go fast or slow at the same time? Bhutan Stretchable Time plays with the continuum in numerous ways. Sometimes a portal throws one back 50,000 years or back to Autsho on a mild winter night. What was that haunted spirit roaming between those thick pines? And what were we scared of anyway? We had just crossed into the land of terror over the Big La. Like Dorothy the West was just a dream, the spiritual juiciness of Tigers Nest and Dochela a fa├žade to the crumbling reality that lay ahead. I learned this marching across Chasm the bare earth seething like a wound. Reidi found out that Autsho ain’t Nebraska and none of us were in Kansas anymore. I was soon deposited on a barren rock in the middle of nowhere where I write from now. This is the real Bhutan where we all spun off into parallel realities that would challenge us to the brink. Through culture clash and assimilation, sickness and health, tears of joy and tears of solitude we are still here. Surviving and thriving respectively. On some days it seems I haven’t even arrived yet at other times it seems I’ve been here forever. Perhaps it’s because my whole life led up to this endeavor and I am learning so many poignant lessons each day. When you abandon all that is familiar you come to know who you really are and what you are capable of. Sometimes this self-realization can be frightening or inspiring.  I have learned that I am egotistical and driven by desires. Even this blog is self indulgent like verbal masturbation. But any faithful reader must plunge into as Becky put it, “Tim’s psyche” As if any of our perceived souls were the main attraction in this universe. But does the author get the point and turn to relative matters of his life in Bhutan, a life far more interesting than his own narrow perspective? Sorry folks not yet. For now he will peddle his neurotic unicycle a little furthur up the road. Cue the clown music and dancing bears.   

Back in the thin air of Tigers Nest in that secret chamber was the only time I cried in earnest since arriving here. My tears just won’t flow like they used to. Ask Morgan she will confirm that I would cry at the drop of a hat. But now, dry as my geyser. But that brief eruption in that incensed room on the roof of the world grieved an icy waterfall, a moment of raw clarity and grace before descending into the befuddled world of my entrance into Bhutan. Although I still feel like at tourist just gawking at the mystery or swimming on the surface, a brief splash in love grabbing for the mermaids tail before she slithered into the muck. OOOPs sorry I lost the plot again. I know you hate it when I do that. Do you think the author is hazelnuts, do you think they ought to send the padded chopper from India to fetch him? Like the chap in the heyday who circumambulated the T-Gang prayer wheel naked. Don’t worry the author is fine just letting his mind go fishing in the violet void, dipping his toe in the limitless ocean of imagination. Sorry if mine is a strange sea full of ornery bioluminescent creatures with glowing jelly pods. There down there right now not concerned with us surface dwellers. Once we destroy ourselves and scorch the earth, life might have to crawl out of the sea again. Most Bhutanese must accept the existence of the ocean from T.V or second hand accounts. I’m beginning to wonder myself what is lost beyond these mountains. A peek from Samdrup Jhonkhar into Assam indicated the world is flat. But the border gate was merely a revolving turnstile, a portal reincarnating me back into the mountainous kingdom. The brooding Indians just extras on the ghost town set of Darrnaga at the edge of a vanished world. “The Timmy show!” But since I am stuck in a snow globe in god’s shaky hand I will make the best of it. Right now my concern is engaging the struggling students and incorporating all learners into the lessons. And each day is a chance to reinvent the chili.           

TOD (Tim on Duty)

“Had to let go, have faith and trust and hope to take me home” Walk Through the Fire, MK

On 9/11 my turn for teacher on duty came up. My 8A student Sangay Tobgay met me at my hut to help dress me in my gho. He is a spirited boy who reminds me of myself when I was young. I feel like quite the spectacle in my costume especially with the woman’s panties underneath bought in Doksom. Or at least they’re Euro style but regardless “I’m too sexy” for my gho.  I feel like a marsupial in a dress as I squat to pee. And boys adjust my gho every ten minutes as they take great pride in their ghos appearance. On the first quality check they noted I was wearing different socks, which I promptly changed. Becky might be reminded of the scene outside the Dragon Roots with the drunk local and the abi who adjusted my first gho attempt, their efforts a mix of kindness and embarrassment for the defilement of their precious heritage. Oh how I miss the plaza and clock tower in one of the Himalayas special cities. The lone place one can disco and eat pizza in the kingdom. At 6:30 I supervised and assisted students during their morning study hour. After that I took breakfast at the mess for the first time all year. They served coleslaw and rice. At assembly I gave a speech about picking up trash and made the morning announcements before proceeding on to classes. Ironically I woke to the same weather as on 9/11/01. That day in Quincy and today at Tsenkharla was grey with swirling mist. This is an emotional day for all Americans, especially the survivors and victim’s families. As a teacher I think of children growing up after losing their parent to such violent tragedy. How will this shape them in the future? The world was a terrible place that day even in the sheltered American Valley of Plumas County. I will say a prayer during assembly for all of us sentient beings including the perpetrators of such hennas hate. Hopefully we keep on with Obama who at the very least ups our street cred in this volatile world. As Syrians run for Iraq you realize how dire things are and somewhere the Bhutanese refugees wake up to a world where there is just no room for compromise.

Back in modern Bhutan things still make a semblance of sense. When you realize there is no Shangri-La or heaven the work begins to transform the here and now, all we have. I have never been good at staying in the present which is very essential here to survive. I have to remind myself every moment to just let it go…And best as I can tell IT is everything. I was happy to have my last blog selected as the “blog of the week” on the BCF website. Since everyone else’s blog has been selected I figured “Tiger” was just too peculiar to reach the front page. I am just delighted I am still on the link. All kidding aside the ladies in Toronto are the glue that holds this paper boat together. But it’s not a thankless task since the educators on the ground thank you. I hope in some small way I am fulfilling the mission of BCF in my work here. I am learning that I must use my enthusiasm and humor to engage my students. I am master of the blame game, blaming my lovers, friends, students, universe, and myself for my woes. Oh woe is me was my mantra for life. I am still struggling to notice these engrained patterns and change them into more positive mannerisms. But often I feel like Linus without his blue blanket. What is it about human nature that makes it difficult to love ourselves? I find it easier to love others and see the good in them rather than myself. I am secretly seeking external validation from my peers, family, lover, and rock stars. But I must heal from within and learn to love myself.  Since teaching exaggerates my talents and faults, it seems a viable place to start. It also gives me an opportunity to step out of my own way and help others. But as Reidi said in her “Himalayan View” we are only people all of us. In her cut to the core country style she has made a valuable insight into our human predicament. We must allow for shortcomings from ourselves and others and treat these expressions with infinite compassion. Like Becky Reidi has found peace in interacting with her students who I am sure will miss her tremendously if she chooses to go in December. It was nice to see a photo of Reidi’s radiant smile while on an outing with her kids. Who knows how important we are in these students lives. I think of Sangay Tobgay who has been a boarder at Tsenkharla for eight years now. He lost his father to a demon when he was a small boy and lives away from his mother at school. Somehow he has grown to be a delightful young lad, which is astounding considering the lack of parental guidance. These students are remarkably gritty and support each other in intimate ways. Being fully immersed in Bhutanese culture is an anthropologist’s wet dream since we are seeing a life uninfluenced by outside culture. When I think of the millions of Westerners it’s hard to believe I am all alone in Trashiyangtse. It takes a lot of courage to come to Bhutan and after being here seven months I concur with former BCF teacher Meagan’s analysis. Although I think I am spelling her name wrong. Anyway this Winnipeg wonder-woman told me in an encouraging e mail that Bhutan was the hardest year of her life but also the best. She also remarked she pitied the ten 2012 teachers who bunked before the kickoff. So any future BCF’ers reading this don’t be shy and jump in, the waters fine. My unsound advice, throw any expectations out the window and embrace the moment however you can. Now if I can only practice what I preach.

As my duty came to an end I supervised evening study and got wrapped up in some heady conversation. Namgay Zangmo is a sweet girl from my class 8A. I learned tonight that she hasn’t seen her father in thirteen years which is essentially her whole life. On top of that she rarely sees her mother who lives in the west as she is a boarder. These kids are being raised by the institution of boarding school. Many parents are divorced and infidelity is a big problem in Bhutanese society. Not exactly a byproduct of GNH which at times seems like Gross National Hypocrisy. From my limited travels I am sure there is no Shangri-La on earth. As I moved through the bare bones classrooms I chatted informally with many students. Of course the girls and boys study separately and are kept apart at all times except for class. They must hook up somewhere. I found one rebellious class ten girl with a tattoo on her wrist. I thought early on these were temp tats but realize now they are permanent as a few of my boys have them. This is strictly forbidden at school. The tats are done with a cactus as a needle. These ruffians are clever and this is more evidence of western encroachment on Bhutanese culture which is as seductive as a Thai prostitute to a depraved whore monger. My rounds in the classroom were very entertaining and insightful. I reaffirmed that I am terrible at Math and the girls reminded me that I am old. The students each have fascinating and often heartbreaking back stories. They are very tightly wound at school and afraid of many of their teachers. I realize more than ever how important it is to be soft and supportive with them. I am starting to see my issues in the classroom differently. Instead of being a detriment I can use their casualness with me to my advantage. The last situations I want are students who are afraid of me. And many BCF teachers have found the connection to the kids provide the most meaningful relationships in Bhutan.  It comes down to better planning of engaging lessons and getting to know my students more. Life for Bhutan students especially boarders is tough and I realize places like Ross School and Sun Valley in Marin are rare in this world. It seems the poor and simple ones deserve education the most. I am not sure how these students grow up sincerely without parents and guidance. In my last stop I met a student who had Scotty from Yadi as a teacher and Yeshi in my 7A had Kendra last year. Both had only good things to say.  It’s a heavy load realizing the impact we have on students, a heavy load. My heart could barely handle a class 7B girl’s tale of being diagnosed with heart disease. She says the doctor told her that being sad would aggravate the condition but gave her no medicine. She is traumatized by the experience and won’t let me set up an appointment at our BHU which has a bright young doctor. She is a vivacious girl who has been morose lately. I don’t know how to help her and she won’t tell her father what is wrong. Things work very differently here and it tries a teacher’s patience when they are worried for a student. Sometimes issues are medical ignorance or unequal treatment of girls from administration. But it’s always something and as Alan pointed out we can truly make a difference here. And sometimes we can’t and that is painful. 

I dropped by the village banging on boarded up windows for a jug of coke at 8 PM. Finally little Tsewing Choden poked her head out the window and hooked me up. I enjoy watching the boarder girls system for scoring junk food. Since they are imprisoned they throw money down to the day scholars on the road who get them candy at nearby shops. To finish my day of involvement I stopped by dance rehearsals for Saturday’s competition. We basically have a program every weekend. Between compulsory prayer, sports, dance, school, study, and more prayer these students have a regimented routine. It’s a combination summer camp boot camp, and being a boarder is a rite of passage for sure. I wonder how UK Dave is getting on in his jungle hut. As for me I am still in the heart of campus enjoying the boarding life. I think I will try it with some popcorn and electricity. My friend Sarah Carlin has been powerless in remote Gasa since the flash flood in June. She is rolling with it as only the “ice princess” could, but says it’s not viable for the long term and she is looking into extension options in Thimphu. Sarah is one tough chick and as our youngest group member she is wise beyond her years. Anyone who takes the polar plunge in Antarctica is aces in my book. I wish all team 2012 the best and Tashi Delek!     

(On the Road Interlude)

“Ah child of countless trees, ah child of boundless seas, what you are, what you’re meant to be” Barlow

It seems HM worships Elvis much in the way I worship Bob Weir. Our king actually models his hairstyle and trademark sideburns after “The King.” Apparently HM is fanatical and listens exclusively to Elvis. So in essence we have a rock n roll king. I know Tyler I am using “we” again but I am wearing a gho while typing this.  It brings to mind my relationship with Bobby. A relationship I identify with the sacred student teacher tradition in Tibetan Buddhism.  In this covenant the student and teacher are wholly devoted to one another. I view it as a lineage much like the Drukpa’s who produced my Divine Madman. Bobby worshiped Neal and I worship Bobby. Like many great teachers Bobby and Neal enlightened many disciples but I can only elaborate from my point of reference. For those who don’t know, Neal is Neal Cassady the protagonist in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road.” And Bobby was the rhythm guitarist and singer for The Grateful Dead. Neal died in Mexico from exposure walking the rail road tracks while Bobby continues on at a theater near you, and I am in the LOT looking for a Miracle! Neal taught by challenging taboos and bringing the party to everyone he encountered and Bobby sings all our emotions directly to the mutable meat. I hope to take this lineage furthur and inspire others to seek their truth in this world. But how to give back when I have received so much love? Again it starts with loving myself and embracing my good qualities. Anyone who wrestles with self esteem knows it is a perilous fight. A teacher cannot retreat from the battle since they are in the spotlight everyday all day long. Perhaps this is the reason I seek refuge at Tsangma’s ruin or roam in the forest incessantly. What do you do to make yourself feel good? And what are you avoiding? Being human is a mixed bag of tricks and treats and we dawn many costumes to the masquerade. This year maybe I will come as my true self. Today on 9/11 I sop up Reidi’s insight that we are all just people one and the same.

Twin Towers

“Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait” Uncle John’s Band

After lights out three class 10 boys knocked on my door to ask about 9-11. I had mentioned it in my speech and asked the student body to pray for peace on earth. The boys told me they had indeed prayed extra. They were very interested and wanted to see pictures. I didn’t have any juice on the data card but agreed to show them a few shots later. They were especially horrified when I told them about people jumping to their deaths and the firefighters who risked their lives to save the victims. The boys were genuine in their curiosity and sadness and not just morbidly fascinated. I explained about Osama Bin Laden and Barrack Obama and informed them Osama was executed near the birthplace of Guru Rinpoche. I tried to stress that most Muslims are peaceful and that America was not a perfect place. I reminded them that even Bhutan was victimized by terror in the Gelaphu bombing nine years ago that killed two and injured two dozen. Even the paper eater Jigme remarked that today was a sad day. But through all the palpable sadness that permeated my day I was uplifted by the endurance of the human spirit which was displayed by the students who overcome their own struggles daily. On that day eleven years ago Bhutan flew the dragon emblem at half mast. A country that most Americans had never heard of was mourning our tragedy.  HM was educated in the states and is a noble worldly soul. This year I have taught about Ann Frank and Osama Bin Laden and pray that Bhutan will never be touched by the horrors of modern warfare. One thing is certain we will never achieve peace until we stop labeling people as “others.” We all do it every day to some degree. A homeless man on the street, an ethnic group we blame our problems on, immigrants moving through artificial boundaries. Extremism is the true enemy as we ought to walk a kilometer in each other’s shoes. This late night preacher is guilty of “othering.” One example from my own life was I hated the guy my ex chose to be with. I allowed my heart to overflow with rage. I went so far as to verbally abuse her to futilely alleviate my anger. I can’t say I am like a Buddha and want to get together with my ex and her lover for tea, but I realize the error of my ways. This is the battle we fight in our own hearts each day. And someday maybe I could take tea with them and celebrate the common ground we share. Only then would grace flow into my arid soul like monsoon rain flooding the plane. My lesson is to learn to let go and losing my first love has been excruciating, a kamikaze airliner destroying my foundation. Like at ground zero I cannot rebuild the towers but rather leave an open space dedicated to peace and renewal.

(Nothing Lasts Interlude)

“There was cowboy Neal at the wheel the bus to never ever land” Bob Weir

 At Furthur Festival in the Sierra Nevada foothills the reincarnated Furthur Bus was parked for our viewing pleasure. The bus was splashed with searing psychedelic motifs that rivaled the walls of Zongdopelri. Behind the bus in a shaded gallery was a poster of the original Furthur that crossed America in the 60’s dosing yokels as it went. Neal was at the wheel and Ken Kesey was narrating the trip. The poster read “Nothing Lasts” and depicted the original bus rusticating on the Kesey farm in Oregon. Those two words sum IT all up…nothing lasts. That same weekend I encountered the Karmaling Dream Moth at dawn and we achieved lift off for sure.     

Hold Back the Flood

“Where have I seen you before, When have I been you before, the wind starts to holler, the moon is dripping blood, who’s got the power to hold back the flood” Emperor Zekemoto

This blog seems merely an allusion, illusion, or delusion. But there is nothing new under the sun except a lama sipping tea from a skull or a night hunting boogeyman. Things are getting intense in our remote corner of planet earth. Two BCF teachers are extremely ill including one who is quarantined in T-Gang at the K.C. Becky who’s healthy is marooned in Phongmay as the infamous river that sloshes over the dirt road has swollen like a blood soaked leech halting crossings. Luckily her students are lavishing her with cucumbers and jungle mushrooms, providing sustenance.  In Tsenkharla we have seen the heaviest rain since the monsoon began. But I am fortunate to be able to hike the muddy trails and escape on the weekends. I have had an interesting week at the grind stone. Classes have been fruitful especially class 8’s oral summary’s of “Hector’s Great Escape.” It’s very difficult to speak in front of peers in English. Namkith acted out scenes from the story and Sangay did an eloquent verbal summation. But I was particularly proud of some of the shyer students who stepped out of their comfort zones. Today I watched my class 7 students perform a great bamboo dance. A dozen boys sat on the floor across from one another clacking long bamboo shoots together while a dozen barefoot girls jumped in between the shoots in time. The dance has a basic and beautiful tribal nature and was exhilarating to watch. The boys also had a hilarious skit in Sharshop with dramatic physical movements. This love of entertainment and artistic expression is something I need to tap into more in the classroom. The Bhutanese love putting on shows or “programs” as they are known. They are very eager to laugh, dance, and sing, all fine qualities in people.

Between downpours mist has enveloped the landscape in innumerable carnations. On my misty mountain hops I have been able to see wonderful purple and pink wildflowers. Tsenkharla has taken on the appearance of a cloud forest. At Zongdopelri I met Rinchen Wangmo a comely young mother who is caretaker of the temple. When I told her my name she remarked in broken English that “Tim was a simple name for a simple boy” She gave me a blessing in the attic which consisted of pouring water out of a brass pitcher which I sipped and ran through my hair. On my way out of the forest a village women who I banter with said she would “kill me and eat me!” I think she was joking. Lately I have spent many moments observing Ravens and encountered one raspy blackbird making otherworldly noises while sitting in a Cypress. The bird was so close I could see into its red throat. An unkind of ravens flew a Blue Angel formation into a grey sky. Both the national tree and national bird are abundant at Tsenkharla. When I got home Pema stopped by with some fresh ema which I made into some of Tim’s delicious emadatsi. The trick in Bhutan is to stay healthy, I can handle a degree of mental anguish but physical pain is another matter. Despite my rice pouch belly making me look like a little Chinese Buddha, and bouts of Bhutan belly I feel okay. When I think of Buddha I think of the emaciated ascetic whose statue resides in a Lahore museum and not the fat Chinese Buddha. As for Jesus he might blend in better in a Palestinian bizarre or Syrian refugee camp than on Miami Beach. Anyone mixes more than Mr. Tim at Tsenkharla where I try not to destroy the culture in the Desolation Row Dylan wrote about. One thing is clear I am in the epicenter of “The Land of Terror” or is it “The Terror of Life?”                            

Blessed Rainy Day Prelude

“You may live in fear and pain and doubt, but never let your fire go out” Zeke

Next weekend is Blessed Rainy Day when the monsoon miraculously ceases in a parade of sunshine and rainbows. Yeah right! The holiday coincides with the autumnal equinox and our local Tsechu. There were rumors of a BCF gathering in Phongmay but judging from Bunky’s reports the village is a quagmire. I desperately want to voyage into the wilderness in search of the Indo-Bhutan border and the Indian Army Camp. The demarcation is the ridge beyond Kinney. I have heard it’s an eight hour hike but need a roaming buddy. I learned a harsh lesson on my sojourn to the Dagme Chu on that scorching Sunday. I definitely will attend the event at Shakshang in honor of Guru Rinpoche. The Guru’s presence radiates like a fire burning in the secret cave since the beginning of mankind. I tended that flame under the Tetons jagged peaks by the sacred lake where from the darkness I heard a grouse thumping on a log calling for his mate. Listen! Sit in the saddle of the bardo and glide across the void, giddy up. Ease up Odessa lighten up and let it go!  

Mission in the Rain

“All the things I tried to do I only did half way, tomorrow will be Sunday born of rainy Saturday” Jerry Garcia

The monsoon is dumping its load flooding the pathways and turning our campus into muck. Yet I trudge the path to class carrying 34.5 years worth of baggage. One can’t help feel lonely on a Saturday morning like this. Water falls from the sky but nothing runs from the tap. And you can’t buy paper towels in Bhutan. The laundry piles up at critical mass and suddenly I want to cry. What am I doing here? Why can’t I rest my tired mind? Am I making any difference in the student’s lives? Does anyone miss me at home? Who cares? Everything seems far away and dimly lit like shadows on a cave wall. I pick up the phone in my hand and it feels BIG, but I have no one to call. I am in exile and left only with myself, to fend for myself. The tiger has prowled into unfamiliar inner and outer territory and wants to crawl into his den and hibernate. But the only path to enlightenment is to stay in one spot allowing the universe to reveal itself. If it rained like this all summer I would have surely gone mad. As Red said in Shashank, “Every man has his breaking point” I hope this isn’t mine.  I will curl up with 120 crumbling portfolios and mark while in my dreams I am seeing Mark at Terrapin sharing the dance floor with Marin cougars and dining on crab cakes. But alas I must muddle through and love myself when no one cares. The faces of my loved ones blur into the rain and the path that led me here washes away into nothingness.        

Karma Eden, Mr. Tim, Netin Cheki

Cypress Grove

Prince Charmings