Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hands Across The Himalayas Review

“Gravity’s rainbow, childhoods end, nobody else but a Fish head man” Zeke

Namkith Lepcha and Dechen Tshomo asked me to define gravity in homeroom. I explained it to Namkith who relayed it to Dechen in Sharshop. Gravity is the great equalizer and we all must learn to live under its heavy influence. Another Saturday at Tsenkharla brought haircuts for the boys. One teacher mercilessly chopped my Class 7 boy’s hair leaving them all with ridiculous receding hairlines. One boy left the classroom in tears and I had to run out to console him. Hair is an important expression in male adolescent Bhutanese life. Many like to spike it up Korean style or as Principal quipped, “like porcupines” Students wear uniformed gho and kira so they look to express themselves as individuals through jewelry, tattoo’s, and hair. Ironically male teachers have hairstyles that are against the school code. I am too sick to roam so I cleaned up the hut instead. I am on the mend but still am suffering flu symptoms. At assembly we were all informed that there will be no class Monday through Wednesday due to the Zongdopelri Tsechu. I am fortunate to receive a second share of Tsechu. The time off will allow me to heal and begin preparing my exam papers and review lessons. I am beginning to get nostalgic about completing my time with both my classes. Lately the rapport with my students has improved dramatically. My class 8 captain Chogi hung out in my hut for an hour. He is a delightful boy who has never been beyond Trashigang. He is very curious about how much everything in my home costs. I am very fortunate to be able to teach and travel experiencing different cultures and meeting fascinating people. Living in Bhutan and building relationships with vastly different people is a wonderful thing. Bhutanese students are incredibly savvy and hip for remote village kids. They have an instinctual humor and earthiness that is unparalleled. I get visited frequently by Sangay Dema and Tswering Choden who remind me of Kate and Cal, twin girls I babysat back in the USA. I dug deep in my care packages for lollypops and super- balls to give them. Kids are the same wherever you go on a base level. The landscape turns from green to gold to brown while exotic birds with rainbow hoods and impossibly long tails skip from branch to branch. The compound explodes with orange marigolds and soon the trees will lose their leaves, roses will fail, and the temperature will plummet. It hasn’t rained in two weeks. I got a courtesy call from Meena at headquarters to talk renewal. Sabrina was in the office traveling with her parents and said hello. Her tone was positive as ever! We have five teachers extending including Becky, Delaine, Sheal, Andrea, and myself. Many others are moving on to amazing opportunities including Ian and Vicky who are going to Tanzania. They will be missed in the east. They have put up dozens of people the last two years in their lovely home. A stopover in Rangjoon included impeccable hospitality, gourmet food, cocktails, and tons of laughter. I was fortunate enough to travel with them to Sakteng and fulfill a dream in the process. At the same time I look forward to an influx of talented new teachers and potential friends. For now I embrace the dragon and the idle hours of Bhutan.

“And gravity has made a fool of you” Grief Snafu

Cows are Omni present in Bhutan. They roam the National Highway and the campus. They are woven into the fabric of life used for work and producing cheese, butter, and milk. One brown cow at Zongdopelri is an impressive behemoth that would make a devout Hindu reverent. Lost in the forest one hears the tinker of cowbells carried in the wind along with a hungry or anguished moo. Along with the cows we have goats and cicada type insects who rattle in the bushes like Zeke’s maracas. And of course the stray dogs!  Outside my door students study on my windowsill and have set up desks on my porch. They utilize the night light cramming before exams. It’s quite cozy in a rural village and every creature plays a part. I can’t believe how weird my life is here as a lone American immersed in a Bhutanese village perched atop a mountain with views in every direction. Perched atop a mountain with views in every direction! I will never have an opportunity to live like this again and make a profound difference. One might say that even on a difficult day, life is good. Slowly my perspective changes a few degrees as the Himalayas push up another millimeter towards heaven. It’s a slow process and then there’s an earthquake.  Maybe the experience has toughened up this soft shelled crab a bit. At least the author has his delusions to cling to in this fairytale, evading the dragons bite or the Wicked Witch of the East. Or is it the West? As it turns out Bhutan is more challenging then I had imagined. I remember my dad groaning, “Oh my son, do you really want to go there” He had been reading the blogs and was concerned. God I can’t imagine a skeptical parent’s reaction to “tiger” and the author apologizes. I am not a normal earthling so these words may be taken with a grain of salt and freshly stirred colortini. As for the anecdote I only grinned at pops and changed the subject to an episode of Louie. But daddy-o you were right, it is not easy in the LOT. But great endeavors never are. Dad your son is like a Catholic missionary spreading truth in the form of education. My mind often turns back to the pages of “Archbishop” the book Morgan gave me the evening before I left. All I can remember is what a brat I was to her that night. How would Willa Cather describe this landscape? I can’t do it justice although Zeppa did it nicely. And Jamie if you ever talk to Catherine give her a hearty “What Up” for me and tell her to drop by “tiger” and that Madam Dechen misses her. I am teaching class seven in one of the original structures, a relic from her time at Rangthangwoon. What would Miss McAdams think of the five new roads and cell tower above the temple? I try my darnedest to continue the legacy of those who laid the track always mindful not to “destroy the culture.” Finally I am reaping the harvest of the seeds I have sown with my students. As cliché as it might sound I have learned as much from them as they have from me. It’s been an amazing journey from fundraising to the conclusion of my inaugural year. The author and protagonist extend a hearty thank you to his readers and donors across the universe. You inspire me to put my best foot forward and keep this blog prowling in cyberspace.     

“Lord feel the gravity; feel that humidity, it’s great to be where you’re supposed to be, like a fish beneath the sea” Fountains of Neptune

There are several indispensible elements of my current life including Trashigang, Zongdopelri, and Becky. We burn up the invisible wires like sixth graders gossiping on a Friday Night. Becky is a useful soundboard and non judgmental counterpart. The truth is she’s a bit nutty herself but don’t tell her I said that. She’s a salt of the earth type who attracts many people as friends with little effort. Our conversations are ridiculous, hilarious, and occasionally insightful and have even blown my mind. I value humor among human traits and she possesses an abundance of it. We have lived similar lives yet are extremely different people. You would think we’d more likely have met on “Shakedown Street” than the Dragon Roots conference room. Nonetheless we united at an auspicious junction on this turn. Her friendship is valued more than gold and if the author goes mad you will have to count on her for the pertinent details. It’s remarkable to imagine another twelve months together after we both vowed for one year on a cold Thimphu walk to Nancy’s house.  What were we so upset about anyway? Disorientation was rough I reckon. Another thing Becky and I have in common is a love for strange village encounters. She recently witnessed an impromptu Brokpa masked dance in “downtown” Phongmay celebrating the arrival of winter. (I KNOW IT’S NOT A TOWN!) I just fly by the shops bantering with the crazy auntie who slobbers dolma juice like a lion gorging on a zebra. Meanwhile kids run and bow dancing in the street. Paint it with a crescent moon for evening moods.   

The Tsechu at Zongdopelri was much smaller than the Shakshang affair. The temple never looked finer draped in gold tapestries flapping in the breeze. There was some nifty masked dance interrupted by spinning dust devils. Rinchen Wangmo served lunch as I chatted amicably with students. The gold landscape introduced itself to a purple dusk. Even in a friendly crowd I felt homesick as I walked the pyrite path down the mountain. I have fallen out of my routine or perhaps just miss my family. I realize another year will be a long time to be away from home. Now I must dig in for the grind of the long distance haul. I pause to watch the white river cut through the narrow parched valley.  The moon rises over the rumpled ridges of Arrunachal Pradesh as I tiptoe along the border reviewing everything that came before. For I moment I forget who I am.                

1 comment:

  1. Tim, I look forward to meet you - I am one of the new teachers coming for 2013. Yours and the other blogs have been a great read this year, an eye onto the reality of life as a teacher in Bhutan - so thank you. I'd never let my parents read them though ;). Congrats on extending, see you soon :)