The Holy Babble
“Seems like all this life, was just a dream” Hunter/Garcia
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 façade 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.
“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.