Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fear and Loathing in East Bhutan

Part 16: Red Hot Leather in Old Rangthangwoon, Total Exasperation, “You gotta flip that shit!”

“People don’t know, people don’t care, that a man could be as poor as me”

One funny thing in the classroom is that the kids use the word shit. This is an acceptable substitute for darn or oops. I try to explain it’s a profane word and not to be uttered but it’s rather hilarious especially when mixed with animated Sharshop. All part of this dream cartoon. I spent the day marking essays that all proclaimed Bhutan as Shangri La. My favorite was the student who wrote all tourists visiting Bhutan pray to be reborn as a Bhutanese in their next life. Patriotism is rampant here as it was in Korea and is in the U.S.A. But In Bhutan nationalism is born out of fearful necessity. The outside world has historically been a threat to Bhutan with China looming over the northern Himalayan peaks and big brother India lying to the South. All Bhutan has to protect itself is its unique culture, which the kids wholeheartedly buy into. So why am I here? Good question. I don’t always feel appreciated by the administration and was reminded several times today not to roam next year, and that I was carelessly wasting my money. I rebutted that if I was concerned with money I wouldn’t have chosen Bhutan. It is frustrating to feel that my movement is restricted as principal even suspiciously inquired where I go in the forest with my pack in the evenings, and “joked” that if I didn’t spend my cash roaming I could replace my tattered boots. Many BCF teachers bump up against this stifling mentality and until Scotty complained we could barely get across Chasm. BCF needs to be a better advocate for us teachers here on the frontier. As volunteers we need to have freedom to connect with one another and see the countryside. Your author is feeling cynical tonight and laughs remembering Kendra’s warning over E Chat last year. Now I am the malcontent, tradeoffs. I love Bhutan but it can be frustrating on many levels. Today walking up the road as the breeze rustled through banana trees and poinsettia flowers my affection for this land was again reaffirmed. I will never lust for a country in the same way. It’s like making love to a goddess. We all have one lover who surpasses the rest, fitting together like the pieces of a puzzle. But the culture which I often appreciate sometimes oppresses me. Being immersed can make a body crazy. Assimilation can be a bumpy awkward ride, much like the lover we try to forget. At the center marking circus I ate a tiny red chili that sent me gasping for air to the amusement of the Bhutanese staff. At the four hour staff dinner I gnawed on peppery cow skin called “leather” while defending my monetary habits and motivations to the group. On the way home through a pine scented forest the stars twinkled far away as if viewed from the interior of a black hole. I sang El Paso which seemed an appropriate choice for the moment. The character in that song was suffering a bout of culture clash and paid with his life. In some sense I have hit a wall at the end of the twilight zone. I question my choice to renew but can’t imagine leaving these dear kids just yet. I have all but abandoned my travel aspirations in the kingdom and will spend my vacation outside the dragon gates. I came for one thing but am staying for another. Life is tricky that way, isn’t it? At least I will be imprisoned on my mountain of paradise, following in Tsangma’s ancient footprints. The village headman vanished with my flimsy tent but I will order one stateside. As if you all haven’t given me enough! I figure eventually I will move into the forest fulltime. My door is brightened by boys a lot these days asking questions, seeking test results, or company. They are my salvation but those who know me know I cherish my privacy, Tradeoffs. Tonight my stomach is in knots and I miss the comfort of my mom’s house and the salty air of the San Francisco Bay. It all comes down to attitude. Your lost sailor has to flip his perspective according to the Mare doctrine. Shift his perception five degrees starboard or port navigating by the spiral light of Venus.          

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