Friday, October 26, 2012

Fear and Loathing in East Bhutan

 Part 5: From Shooting Stars to Shooting Diarrhea

“Lost in a fever dream”

Being sick in Bhutan is a drag. The last week has been hard with the flu segueing into diarrhea. The squat toilet seems to add insult to injury. I wonder is my health deteriorating or is it just the normal wear and tear of living in a developing world. As I lay in bed in a neurotic ball I assess and reassess my life.  I had hoped to develop myself as a man here but sometimes it seems just like survival. I have realized how dependent I am on others affection. I have not been in a relationship for five years and I realize my path is going in a different direction. Suddenly approaching 35 my body feels older and my spirit wayward. The fact is I am more alone than ever before and must be okay with that.  Blah Blah Blah.  For whatever reason I feel the need to extend my time here but this week I have pined for some home cooking and hugs. Maybe I ought to make a cloth doll like that baby monkey in the study used. The weather is crisp and blue but I haven’t felt up to roaming these days which is probably why the author has the blues. In Buddhist beliefs we all enter this life with baggage from previous karma. We must try to detangle ourselves from attachment on the stage of samsara. This is a tall order, isn’t it? As my past disappears I have an opportunity to reshape myself and develop my career skills. But am I being proactive or merely the same old Tim in a different place.  When I wished on a shooting star to come to Bhutan I might have known there would be days like this. The truth is I am luckier than 99% of earthlings. It’s a tough world with starving kids and people killing each other and my anxiety and shaky eyes don’t amount to a hill of rice. Mostly I am a whining boy with a pension for self induced drama.  Please forgive me and I will check in with something positive soon.

(Trick or Treat Interlude)

“Shake the devil out of your head”

The second best Halloween I ever had was at “Dad’s Ball” in Minneapolis. The Rads hosted an annual masquerade ball in that city for twenty five years and I was fortunate enough to make a pilgrimage in 2008. The nightclub was packed with a coterie of wholesome Midwest babes in unwholesome costumes. We made Snow White, Cinderella, Naughty Bo Peep, and a French Maid with a tickler. The miraculous part for a Radiators show was these chicks were under thirty!  I wore my mask and Fearless Krewe cape for the party. The boys ripped through two spooky sets of fishy swamp rock making it a legendary evening. I was grinning ear to ear striding back to the Ramada in the frosty night. Of course the best Halloween was Sector 9 at the Fillmore with Morgan. The tribe came out with amazing Native headgear and warped and woofed us to another dimension. We merely melted in a pool of our own ecstasy from what little I recall.   

Part 6: Socrates and “The Covenant of the Rainbow”

“The seeds that were silent all burst into bloom and decay”

Things improved today as my health stabilized and I was able to take food. Becky was a trooper on the phone listening to my torrent of complaints and misery. I halfheartedly told her I wanted to go home and woe is me.  But I felt half human upon waking and I enjoyed teaching outside sitting on the grass reviewing short stories with my students. I felt like Socrates on a sunny Greek afternoon. Not to say I have his teaching ability but I was trying to employ the Socratic Method nonetheless. It’s tough going to coax comprehension from the kids. For instance while teaching a short story I must explain a lot of vocabulary and try to connect the content to the experience of a rural Bhutanese kid. When you see something click it’s exhilarating. Some cases seem more hopeless and these pupils are some of my favorite due to their infectious personalities. Take Phurpha Neima for instance. He is a ham in the classroom and rarely stays on task. His writing is atrocious but his Justin Beiber songs are a smash hit. Then there is Kesang who started struggling but has worked her tail off in class and shown awesome improvement. She is also cute as a button and looks much younger then Class Seven in her cropped haircut and oversized teeth. She used to be painfully shy but has come out of her shell even participating in class. My students make it worthwhile and make this old rover smile. I try not to forget how precious the teacher student relationship is and what a rare opportunity it is to be teaching in Bhutan. Students like Tashi Wangmo remind me of the triumphant spirit of humanity. She is an orphan sponsored by the King to go to school. She finds her community at the hostile. But she has the sweetest disposition for enduring such a hard life. Or Sangay Tobgay another “King Student” who lost his father to a demon and has been at Tsenkharla for eight years. He has a gregarious personality and is a joy to teach. He disrupts lessons and is a class clown much like your beloved author as a student.  

While it is true I came here eager to explore the country, I realize the school routine is the meat of the matter. It is hard to get away in Bhutan with six day work weeks and vacations scheduled into the worst climate of the year. But what we might forgo in treks and sightseeing we make up for in interpersonal relationships with the students. Hopefully our influence will outlast our stay. From a teachers perspective we will never forget the students, and that’s a fact. Their smiling battered little faces covered in sores and boils, and their oversized dirty feet. For my part an Indian teacher remarked on how weak I appeared today. So for now the author takes it a day at a time with only 300 and something more to go! Tonight we are blessed with a full moon dancing with the Dagme Chu to a gusty tune. The surrounding landscape turns brown but the oasis of Tsenkharla bursts with late blooming marigold, rose, and dahlia. But these will soon be gone returning the terrain to the earthy bareness.

I must be hard up for companionship as I even enjoyed a compulsorily tea party. I had a nice talk with Principal La about my goals for next year in the classroom and for Social Service Club. I will only admit 20 students to minimize bunking and insincerity. Those members who worked hard this year will have priority. I have been beat down with the trash problem lately but I know I must be patient and vigilant. I even still purge the forest once in awhile if the trash is near a chorten or power spot. I would need a forklift and drivers license to finish the job. The key is education and changing habits. Really the lamas and principals must help in the effort spreading awareness and a sense of civic duty. In short there is a lot to stick around for, so Mare, I guess that trip to Glacier will have to wait.  But for what it’s worth I am upholding the “Covenant of the Rainbow.”

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