“What an evil road I took to find God. What a forsaken incline, all cliffs and precipices! I called and called, my voice rebounded from the Uninhabited Mountain and I thought it was an answer ” the Last Temptation of Christ
On Saturday we held our first annual kids athletic events for the primary students with such fan favorites as tug of war, cross dressing dancers, and an obstacle course. I woke up early and headed to the temple to prostrate and pray. I’ve never set foot in there before noon and the golden light flooded through the curtains in the attic resting on the smiling eyes of Buddha. On the first floor I touched my head three times to the cool patch of marble and noticed the peacock feather I had given Rinchen Wangmo was placed on the altar. I could enter the sanctuary a million times and always notice something new. Today it was a character on the vast mural, a naked woman dancing holding her decapitated head. I perused the statues of Guru Rinpoche and Dorji Drolo his wrathful manifestation fornicating with a tigress while holding implements of torture, all indications pointed to a long day. After the school event I grabbed my knapsack and trod down the road towards Doksom. I wasn’t particularly craving company but fortune joined me to a soft spoken boy named Karma as we walked all the way past Kamdung before the Tsenkharla bus picked us up. The VP and some students were on their way to the river near Gom Kora to collect rocks so I accepted a ride. We stopped in Doksom where a topless woman bathed in the dusty street and marijuana sprouted from the gutter. The serpents of desire were coiling and copulating in eastern Bhutan but regardless I found a canteen and ordered beef curry. I continued on with the bus and watched the class ten boys haul huge stones for landscaping before I backtracked to Gom Kora to try to purge my deviant soul. Upon arrival I noticed how well the monks had cleaned up after the festival and hurried to the interior of the complex climbing the rock where Guru Rinpoche subdued the serpent demoness centuries ago. The tree of life bent and creaked in a subtle breeze and I sat in this power spot trying to dissipate the black energy that clung to my core. The pagoda radiated blissful peace and I sat motionless for a spell then returned to the outer promenade to circumabulate. A few old women and a bare foot grandfather dutifully spun the handheld wheels and twisted rosary beads in their free hand. After my first lap I went inside the temple my bare feet gliding across the glossy cherry wood floor to receive a blessing from a novice monk wielding a brass jug, fake sipping the holy water with my right hand and running it through my hair. Back outside on my second lap God placed another serpent in my path in the form of a fetching woman cradling a sleeping toddler. After my third lap I ambled up to her for a chat. She was an elfin lady with pointy ears and extra teeth and a hard knotted chin with huge bare feet which I found myself fondling, next to her a satchel of mint wafted into the spring air. I tore myself away and walked to the road where the school bus was already waiting. On the way home I dozed off and in the flat light of evening we reached Tsenkharla.
On my walk home from the village I wondered what has happened to me. Is my heart harder or softer now? And when will this tiger awake from his trance to seize the glory of god’s kingdom, to pounce on his mate and devour her? The whole village had turned out for a Bhutanese film and I spied Rinchen Wangmo looking plump and ripe in a red fleece and matching scrunchy and my neighbor’s daughter who’d returned from Delhi dressed in black velvet decorated with painted pink toenails caused my loins to ache, “So you like chinkies do you!?” she proclaimed “Yes I have yellow fever!” I retorted “Chinkies are dangerous don’t you know.” she replied “All women are.” I rebutted. You might be gagging at the author’s insatiable perversion but I am running on nature’s fumes and apparently in rut with only my right paw to insatiate me.
As I prepared my Emadatsi it occurred to me that Bhutanese people’s moods are far less perceptible than my own. Of course some are jolly and others reserved but they stick to their disposition and don’t fluctuate wildly like phelincpa’s do. As I returned home I observed how much boarder life resembles prison life. The students are encased with barbed wire and they sleep in crowded barracks given tasks to perform throughout the day and are rationed free time. They don’t seem to complain but it’s a tough life and despite having considerably more freedom it still seems necessary for me to flee from campus whenever possible. Today’s excuse was to get off the mountain and listen to the river spirit!
The Sabbath Lament
The water workers have increased the flow on Sundays so it’s a fine opportunity to deep clean the house. I am not that fastidious but even I have my breaking point and it was time to scrub the bathroom and floors of the wash room that were coated in thick goo from washing my dishes. I often laugh and think about if my aunt Mare lived here, she would spend every waking hour absorbed in cleaning. Today I even cleaned out my buckets and then cleaned the cleaning utensils but I’m sur Mare would walk in and say "Oh Timmers” and start scrubbing and ordering me to do the same. But I do the best I can and wouldn’t say that I’m living in squalor exactly. Even when my modest hovel is shaped up flies buzz around and one never forgets they are living in a developing country (THE THIRD WORLD) now with cleaning done I turn my attention to planning lessons for the week.
In the afternoon I went up to Zangtopelri spending most of my time in the main chamber where I noticed on the wall a character sprouting blue angels wings and on my way home I passed Amadamma who had given birth to a calf and was nursing it. These days my heart is weighed down with loneliness and I wonder why? Am I like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that escaped the box or a lone sock left at the Laundromat? I scan the terrain trying to commit the ridges to memory but they constantly shift like Blue Mountains Walking! All I see will someday perish and what then? Are we merely just dust and bone encapsulating a drop of liquid which will someday rejoin the river carried to the sea whence it came? Why do I feel afraid? What funny little creatures we are, how can I know what’s in your heart or you what’s in mine? But what happens to our souls when we die you cry? Do they ascend to heaven or jet into the bardo to be assigned a new body? In my marrow I believe we are ALL dispersed as light into the furthest reaches of the universe to be reformed into the collective...
Ranting and Raving
I always learn astounding things from my students. A few of their mothers and grandmothers have multiple husbands although this is less common with each passing generation. It could be viewed as a very communal and evolved way of thinking compared to our views of proper relationships in the West. The Fourth King has four comely wives who are sisters but the current King has only one wife a sign of the changing times. I think Bhutanese are much less stingy with themselves and possessions than us in the west. When they come over, they root through my belongings and read my postcards. Can you imagine that behavior in the west? They also take more rice and less curry and I am sure they view me as a greedy pig when I do the reverse. But you famished author is fed up with rice but always down for delicious curry. One common phrase a foreign teacher will here is “When in Bhutan act Bhutanese” Of course veneration and assimilation to the culture is important but it is equally imperative that we show them a different way. Most BCF teachers wear the national dress which appeases the locals. But I feel more comfortable in “shirt and pants” and reserve my gho for special occasions and still need my students help to dress me in the regalia. But as you probably glean I must let my freak flag fly and remain myself since that’s all I have to cling to. I revere Bhutanese culture but must retain my own link to American culture as well. Living here has made me both proud to be an American and proud to be a Guest of Bhutan. Make no bones about it these are a special group of people (their god’s chosen) I look in the smudgy mirror and see the same tired face but I am not the same. I’ve been Bhutanized..
As hail hammered the hut my dad called and we spoke about the future. My dad is both supportive and pragmatic and we enjoy a solid relationship supported by mutual admiration and humor. He advised me that the deferral of my student loans would expire in August 2014 and it would be prudent to return at the end of the year. Assuming this is my last year in Bhutan I must appreciate each moment living on Guru Rinpoche’s Copper Mountain of Paradise. He always relays his concerns about the Education job market in California and we discuss the International teaching scene. I am in no hurry to depart but must consider my next move to develop my career and begin to pay off my $35,000 debt. What I do know is that I enjoy teaching and living in Bhutan, a golden age for this golden boy. I also know I am doubly blessed to have a great family waiting for me when I return.
Life in a village is strange and so are the Bhutanese. They like to get drunk in the Land of Terror and there seems a fair amount of voodoo too. It’s rumored that some even stick brown powder up their nose or huff chemicals and either cops or robbers are cutting the cannabis stalks at the entrance to Trashigang. Some smoke and chew tobacco and eat dolma, while others run pills and syrups from Assam. But I haven’t seen any of that, around here it’s just good old fashioned moonshine and maybe a little night hunting. My class seven student read that sometimes when she visits her granny she’s a little bit drunk and sometimes she’s a lot. Nothing is as it appears and demons run amuck getting into the invisible phone lines and coursing through my veins until I want to scream enough! Then a hot cup of tea or cuddle with Dawa balms my soul. Tonight I wandered through the village like Jesus in Galilee begging for alms in the form of supper. Dookto took pity on me and I devoured the simple curry on the bare wood floor listening to a curtain of rain cascade from the roof plopping onto the muddy road. If you haven’t noticed your author suffers from a pinch of cabin fever with restlessness burning his heart like hot coals. It seems just into the second lap his tank is out of gas but fear not cubbies I have a reserve!
So like all God’s children I wile away the time marking, planning, thinking, sleeping, and defecating frequently. I want to cry sometimes but nothing comes out so I sigh instead. My soul pangs, clangs, and my phantom spur’s jangle and sometimes when I feel like it I make a song. It seems I’m in a scene from Dances with Wolves as the locals banter in sharshop in dirty clothes with bloody dolma juice drooling from their mouths their half naked babes running around my feet. When I ask what is being said they merely ignore me or share a laugh at my expense. To sum it all up it’s primal out here on the fringe of the dragon’s tail but despite the histrionics life is alright...
School life brings routine and relief joy and frustration. I constantly ask myself am I making a difference. I check and recheck their writing but with so many students I can only do so much. I try to isolate errors but find I am weak in teaching grammar. I know they are improving in conversational English and that provides solace and satisfaction. They look at me like I’m from Mars when I howl like Dawa the dog and I have to explain so much from the novel by that same name. But teaching a novel is fun and it’s my supplication that they exalt in reading. But when will they have time to practice between prayer, dancing, chemistry homework, and sports. The boy’s hostel is more like a monkey house than a study hall. Any prospective BCF teachers out there if you like challenges this is the setting for you. When you do get through it’s a breath of fresh air and the atmosphere in my class is often exhilarating. Today one of my brightest students Nawang was being obstinent and I asked her to repose. She replied that she wanted to get beat by a phelincpa teacher, “Sorry kid no such luck!”
As a teacher there is nothing like the feeling when the class is engaged and interactive. You can see them sitting on the edge of their chairs with fire in their eyes, when they are relaxed and working together to solve problems words flow between students and teacher like a waterfall of wisdom. It’s not always like that though and its hard work but we take the journey together for better or worse. This job I chose becomes a career and finally one afternoon a calling and way of life. I have crossed that threshold and there’s no going back which means I better get my ass in gear to become an effective leader. But what else could anyone ask for than to have a chance to impact youth. Not having children of my own I find myself in a position to have a positive influence on so many youths. It’s a heavy burden that never ceases to freak me out! Like all teachers deep down I want them to respect me, remember me, and learn something of the world and themselves. It’s a heady responsibility that I am growing into. I am growing up too alongside my students as we discover together.