Thursday, October 18, 2012

Autumnal Mumble

Bhutanese Thanksgiving AKA Beef it up!

“…It’s just the same old movie, I’ve seen it all before, guess one more run through wont undo me, but I would like to know what for” Bombs Away

On this Saturday night Karlos and Sonam gave a great feast with local meat, rice, chilies, and vegetables. The dal was top notch and the meat delicious. In attendance were Karma Om, Hatchet Boy, and her mom.  Sonam’s folks were also there and little Tswering Choden from the village. I was cozy on the couch next to Karma having a genuine conversation while petting Booty. That afternoon I set up my tent down in the farmlands and took a nap. It’s pretty cheap and when disassembling I noticed the strings connecting the posts were frayed. Karlos predicted it wouldn’t last another night. I woke up sick which isn’t surprising after a nice streak of health. I am extremely busy and must maintain my health. Living in Bhutan is balls to the wall. No water or power and constant upkeep and maintenance are required. It can be exhausting at least for this lazy boy. We are spoiled growing up in a developed country where everything is available. However Bhutan does have advantages too if your patient. For instance the students are great and yesterday I had some boys over to look at photos and goofed around after social work with class 8A. Another teacher strolled by and the students tensed up like toy soldiers. I realized they are relaxed in my company which is a good thing. Like I said before it usually lies with the protagonist’s attitude. Those of us “half empties” are reminded to evaluate our positions. October brings epic views of the Matterhorn peaks of Tawang. I usually find a chorten to kick it at and have been roaming about every day. The tiger would like to push his frontiers furthur expanding his territory. When I first arrived I was mesmerized by this land, later I was hypnotized. But now my love for this landscape has crossed into the sacred.
I got locked in the temple today which gave me ample opportunity to explore. The primary statue in the main chamber is a twenty foot Guru Rinpoche draped in gold silk. The three ascending rooms depict the entire story of humanity with a serene golden Buddha meditating in the attic. The rooms are full of relics, bells, conches, prayer books, statues, offering bowls, butter lamps, incense, and the breathing murals that cover the ceiling to floor. The space explodes with color and the musty air tastes divine. Back outside Rinchen Wangmo was roasting maize and offered me an ear. This enchanting 24 year old with two babies has never been to school and speaks only Sharshop, although we are able to communicate in the most basic terms. She never leaves the temple but once a month to walk the fifteen minutes into Tsenkharla. I watched her play with her baby in the ultimate show of love. Bhutanese women strap their babes on their backs with colorful patterned cloth. On the way down the mountain I picked up a full pack of trash in view of the soft glow of an alpine sunset on the distant arc of Himalayan peaks. Ravens jetted over Tsangma’s ruin towards Shakshang as the sound of horns and drums rolled down the ridge. Back in the village I take tea with Sonam and a dozen village women. Many of them speak no English and I realize this is the first generation to be able to communicate well in English. Sonam tells me that a group of tourist from Washington D.C was in the village this morning. Besides the hazelnut folks only two groups of felincpa’s have reached Tsenkharla. These tourists picked a nice day to visit the village and there is a reason that October is the high season for visitors in the Kingdom. That would explain the stoical and mysterious white woman in a kira that snubbed us at the K.C. I call her Edna. But at Tsenkharla I remain submerged in village life which in some ways remains unaffected by the outside world. Speaking of the outside world it was nice to talk baseball with dad and sad to hear about the loss of Jetes for the post season. But we live to play another day. As for myself I make my own entertainment observing the grandest stage on earth featuring the world’s greatest artist, Mother Nature. So if you excuse me I have to complete a mound of paperwork to extend my contract for the 2013 year. This way I give my donors more bang for their buck! So my dear readers enjoy yourselves wherever you are around the world.       

Individually Unique Together Complete

“Now the shoreline beckons, there is a price for being free” Lost Sailor

Tuesday October 16 was a religious holiday for this agnostic cowboy, Bobby’s birthday. Unfortunately I woke up sick as a Ratdog and with an epic errand to run. So I went Truckin to Yangtse to the Dzong papers in hand to renew my contract for another year. As any seasoned Bhutanese volunteer knows submitting and getting approval of paperwork is as one friend says a “shit show” or at the very least an extreme hassle. We get indoctrinated as newbie’s awaiting approval for entry into the Kingdom. I reached the Dzong at 9 Am on a glorious day that I was too sick to appreciate. I met with the friendly DEO (District Education Officer) with the stack of papers BCF advised me to submit. Of course no one in Yangtse had ever gone through the process before and confusion took hold. Three hours bouncing from office to office in the Dzong and the I finally left with most of the ducks in a row. I’d fill you in on the particulars but my head was swimming in a fever dream and for most of the time I was slumped over in the regal courtyard watching men with sword bearing rank shuffle my papers. I jumped back in the coach of The Jupiter and we gunned it to t-gang so I could pass the file off to the Karmenator. Once I reached the K.C I retired to my room where I stayed for two days. This boogie woogie flu featured extreme body aches and cold sweats. Becky fortunately brought me some H2O and food before splitting for Phongmay. I regrettably had to call in sick for two days until I was well enough to travel back HOME. While I was hibernating the outside world underwent a metamorphosis into crispy gold with sweeping blue skies. Bare earth once again exposed as the lush grasses of summer subsided once again leaving the area around Doksom the driest in Bhutan. But no matter I love every inch of it now. Getting sick is a wakeup call and I wonder how I can help myself be more healthy? The truth is the dragon has a veracious appetite and sooner or later it takes a bite out of all of us. It’s been a horrific year on the health front. We lost our friend Martha and many others battled extreme illness both in and out of the BCF expatriate community. I felt I recovered swiftly enough from the flu and am left ONLY with body pain and an earache. Truthfully health is the biggest challenge in the Kingdom and a healthy day is a good day. The Year of the Male Water Dragon will go down as the toughest overall I hope. But as this negative Nellie sifts through the evidence he cannot tear himself away from the landscape and the students that make this home.

In Bhutan teachers share an intimate relationship with their students. Living at a boarding school my life is intertwined with the student body. Thankfully this includes many extracurricular activities outside of the classroom. A teacher in Bhutan can be a life coach, mentor, and educator. I hope to embrace these roles more easily in the coming year. Speaking for myself it took a long time to settle in and a long time for my students to relax around me. It’s satisfying to see the progress we have all made together. But before I can reflect I must bear down for the busiest month of the year, preparing and marking exams. I must stay reasonably shipshape for the homestretch. So if things get out of control the author wants to be the first to wish you all a Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukah, Happy Festivus, “Happy” Christmas, and Happy New Year!


WTDL = what to do La
La= term of respect for authority in Bhutan
BLAH= the Big La
LOT= Land of Terror
TOL= Terror of Life
Colortini= Sign off phrase from the late great Tom Snyder’s talk show, meaning is open ended.

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