(This entry spans from late March until publication. It was compiled on many separate occasions hence the smorgasbord of thoughts...A continuing saga of the life of a vagabond for beauty in the mountains of East Bhutan... By the way how are things in your town?)
For Jesus Christ
Sittin’ On Top Of The World
“You never told me the things you did, ran off to L.A, kept your business hid, now she’s gone and I don’t worry, cause I’m sitting on top of the world” Dave Malone
Before I begin I need to acknowledge both IT and Thinley Sir for fixing my computer which had 38 viruses and wouldn’t respond to any commands. They spent hour’s debugging the machine and restored all the information and installed antivirus. How fortunate to have a crack team of geeks on staff. That service would cost hundreds of bucks in The States and the boys never even flinched and when thanked simply replied “mention not” They are also two of the cooler guys on staff and we celebrated with a case of Druk beer (I had Coke) It was nice to entertain them and Karlos and their efforts have made my quality of life better, my duties easier, and keep the “Tiger” on the prowl. THANKS DUDES!
Yesterday was one of the clearest days I have seen in Bhutan so I accompanied Karlos to Sonam’s village to get some vegetables. The hourglass valley registers no time at all and to the east were the snowy peaks of Tawang, including a saddle at the far end of the valley. The twin Matterhorn’s across the border are rarely visible but always have snow and the saddle seemed close enough to hop in but was probably a hundred miles away. This feature is seldom seen since Tsenkharla is usually cloudy or hazy and days of absolute clarity are infrequent. The walk to the village was sublime descending through rice terraces and a sparse pine forest, scatterings of boulders, and a row of chortens and rainbow assorted prayer flags. We funnelled onto the new road that was constructed last year and followed the hard packed dirt for several miles along the rim of the valley with impressive views of the Dame Chu that coiled through the bottom like a cobalt- silver serpent. The sky tumbled into the mandala of mountains where one could hear a whisper from the powerful river. The road wraps around the ridge and into a side valley in close proximity to Shamposo the humped mountain that marks the border. Sonam’s parent’s farm hugs a steep slope in a small village of traditional Bhutanese homes, with black and white checkerboard wood design and thatched roofs weighted down with stones. A woman in the forest dressed in kira offered tea from a thermos in the gloaming to the chorus of chirping crickets. You couldn’t get closer to the soul of Bhutan than this village which until recently had no connection to the world. Sonam’s parents are simple and kind and don’t speak a word of English. In contrast Sonam speaks incredibly fluently which shows the improvement in one generation of education, as most of the students parents are farmers and don’t speak English at all, which makes it an exciting time for an ESL teacher to work in the kingdom. At the farm we took tea and biscuits and Karlos had a lengthy conversation in Sharshop about vegetables. On this day we couldn’t get a vehicle and for the second time in a week I experienced Bhutanese Stretchable Time (BST) Eventually a taxi arrived and they loaded the vegetables into the car only to take them out again. Then another taxi came by returning Karma Om, Hatchet Boy, and some others from Gom Kora. They reloaded the sacks of cabbage into this vehicle that was being driven by a teenager and we rumbled down the exposed track teetering on a precipice. After reaching home I enjoyed dinner with my neighbours and went to bed early. The whole scene was a Bhutanese comedy of errors.
As I write a student comes to my door with chocolate. As per tradition on a Bhutanese birthday the birthday boy or girl gives presents to his or her friends instead of receiving. Bhutan is a funny place with countless eccentricities and cultural contrasts. A thought that occurred to me as Karlos instructed a class 8 student to go off campus and retrieve a packet of dolma. Dolma is a mild stimulate in the form of beetle nut mixed with lime paste wrapped in broad leaves. Chewing the folded up leaf with contents produces crimson slobber that stains the teeth. The Bhutanese spit the stuff everywhere hence the signs “No spitting dolma” On Druk Air they prohibit the use of dolma along with smoking in the lavatories. I can’t imagine an American teacher asking a student to run an errand for chewing tobacco but this is not America, is it? Women also engage in dolma which paints a queer picture of ladies in elegant kira’s with wads of dolma stuffed in their cheek like big leaguers from the 70’s. It was also fascinating to see our vehicle stop on the way to Gom Kora for an illicit cigarette pick up. Cancer sticks are somewhat illegal in Bhutan and a little boy bounded down the slope with a pack tucked in his shirt for sale, the whole thing resembled a rural Meth deal. One might think that a teacher in his second year might begin to unravel the cultural mystique but if anything I find it more confounding than ever. In fact I have forgone attempting to understand IT at all. It is this perplexing nature of existence that makes life here intriguing and building bridges between my own culture and the students is the crux of the mission. Where else can a teacher enjoy such a rich exchange of knowledge and culture with their students? Sometimes it feels like we are aliens who have landed on a distant planet. Last year Namkith Lepcha showed me a picture from a library book with a disgruntled spaceman named Tim and the caption read, “I wish I was someplace else” This year’s caption might read, “There’s no place else I’d rather be”
“This Too Will Pass”
One might read the above words and think of a life situation they hoped would dissipate. But the words are deeper than that, whether formed in ecstasy or despair all things will pass. A reminder is the reaper creeping over our left shoulder confirming that soon we will return to the formless vessel of light from which we immerged. If one ruminates on this fact a deep peace will enter their core and their ego will suddenly seem unimportant and hilarious. For someone like me who clings defiantly to my “identity” these words are most profound. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my brother on the monorail in Bangkok. He noted that he accepted Buddhist philosophy but didn’t concur with the relinquishment of self and pointed out that our thoughts, ideals, and diversity is what makes life meaningful. We are much the same in our outlooks and deep down I feel similar. But on the other hand how different are we all in reality? Aren’t we merely reflections or manifestations of the shinning ONE? The aspects of others we find repulsive and disturbing cut too close to our own bones. Living in foreign lands has taught me volumes about our commonality as humans.
I have built my identity on the cornerstone of being a victim. This skyscraper of pain still stands but now shows the tiniest cracks in the foundation. Part of this victimhood is the incessant complaining that you are often privy too. Other beams are made of self pity and pride. The top floors are scary places full of anger and jealousy.
Here’s an example of the pain of separateness that mends this tower together. After I parted ways with my girlfriend Morgan she promptly began dating a fellow named Logan. I proceeded to spend years hating this guy who in actuality I had much in common. For one thing we both have affection for Morgan and share a passion for music. I had vilified someone who I knew nothing about and spewed my vile of hatred (a double rage burger with cheese) onto Morgan being verbally abusive and cruel. Looking back I am saddened by my actions. Perhaps NOW I can be grateful to them for exposing a chink in my armour. At this moment the author stands before you naked as the emperor with no clothes. Morgan if you‘re tuned in, I ‘m sorry for abusing you and condemning someone who has brought value to your life. Furthermore please apologize to Logan for the intense rage I expressed in our brief encounters. Like a ruin, my tower of ego will take more weathering before it collapses into the rawness of the moment. According to Eckhart Tolle when living in the moment there is no past and future so forgiveness becomes irrelevant. And in my case with my first love, there was nothing to forgive and I only hope she feels the same.
Rain falls to the earth in a loving gesture as seeds begin to sprout. The cycle of life nods to reincarnation which seems plausible if one observes the plant cycle. But it doesn’t matter what our collective fate will be, sort of like Terrapin Station where the singer asks, “I can’t figure out, if it’s the end or beginning?” Maybe it’s the middle? It doesn’t matter as we are here now...Perhaps the author has foiled your interest delving into his own restless psyche so let’s take it back to the tangible. During eighth period the rain pounded the shell of the wooden classroom. The kids were feeling restless at the end of a day of chalk dust torture, so we paused in the lesson and sang songs. I sang Kermit’s Rainbow Connection and Lhaden Lepcha (Namkith’s younger sister) sang an English song. Sonam a tall thoughtful boy also sang an English pop song which I didn’t recognize. As the rain pelted the roof we sang, laughed, and managed to complete our handy story maps to boot. This is precisely the scene I cherish in Bhutan in all its varieties that play throughout the day. Lightness and compassion have served me this year and I am focusing on praise instead of punishment. Classroom management must be pursued diligently but it’s not a “me against them” scenario but rather an “us” proposition. The results have been successful and I ‘m happy to be in the classroom! Seeing Bhutan is wonderful but in the end (or beginning) it’s the relationships with students that define the moments of this sojourn. Okay that and nature. The view from my doorstep constantly reminds me to stay open. The chain of mountains enveloping the curling Dagme Chu is only the limited manifested backdrop for the un-manifested SPACE surrounding each pinnacle and depression. That view is my greatest teacher of all, Teaching OPENESS...
I have tried to keep an open house for the students and I can always do more. We watch movies, play Frisbee, and do schoolwork but recently some items have disappeared from my home, first some loose change, then my I pod. I inquired with the boys who frequently visit and later the I- pod was returned with a sketchy story. What was the most curious were my typical Tim reactions to the events. At first I was irritated and angry then relieved when my item was returned, then I felt betrayed that the boys would steal from me, and later annoyed again when the device was damaged. As a foreigner we are considered wealthy and our possessions are of great interest. Whether it’s Sonam Choden digging in my fridge like a grizzly bear, or my students systematically asking the cost of every item in the house, our possessions are of keen interest. Almost anything in my house that’s not bolted down has been claimed for my departure. I gave Tinley my flashlight and extra memory card as a token of appreciation for fixing my computer but now I have no proper torch. As someone who is unduly attached to possessions it’s of good practice to be more generous. But the best I can give is time yet must monitor my things with kids in the house (don’t temp them by leaving gadgets around) We will always remain a curiosity something Jamie Zeppa noted in her novel (which Becky and I refer to as the bible quoting passages as scripture) We all have had the urge to be invisible sometimes, I remember Ashleigh telling me about walking through Kanglung in headphones thinking, “just let me be” And Ashleigh is about the most gregarious soul I’ve ever met. At a boarding school it’s a finite line between privacy and publicity. A boarding school is a vortex, whirlpool, and black hole that suck a teacher into its density. But students are pretty good at accepting boundaries, they will say anything to stay over but when I have work I will chase them out. (Chase is Bhutanese slang for asking someone to leave) Openness leads to endless possibilities, a fact I learned during my tenure at Alpine Meadows. Ski patrol would blast an area and then turn around the red stop sign which was painted green on the backside. When the sign was green it was an opportunity to hike out on the cornices of the Pacific Crest Trail and drop into an infinite playground of powder. With openness comes risk but what are we living for anyway.
When it rains in Bhutan it rains hard. If you close your eyes it sounds the same as standing underneath a waterfall. Last night when I closed my eyes I was standing under Niagara Falls. Tsenkharla is relatively dry compared to other spots in the kingdom but we get hit hard in the spring. It’s a joyous event for the earth and soon my wasteland will be transformed to a spectrum of green. Even the barren eastern side will be a landscape of lush grass descending the slopes to the Dagme Chu and up again. Blank fields of dirt will grow stalks of maize (corn) twenty feet tall and new potato sprouts currently pop out of the ground. Last night I cooked a fine meal with saag a leafy vegetable like lettuce that I’d called sock until Becky corrected me through waves of laughter. It seems I provide essential comedic relief for both Becky and my students who delight in my mispronunciations, perhaps I should have been a clown. (except clowns scare me) I fried the saag in oil with onions, tomatoes, chilli powder and cheese. We are at a high mark for veggies this week! Becky and I think last year was particularly scant due to some labor strike in India. (It’s always something with India) My body was happy with the greens but my stomach never feels too settled here. A steady diet of chillies is probably the culprit but the Coca Cola kills any bacteria keeping my body in alignment, if not running just exactly perfect like a Swiss watch. Water remains an issue but the availability has improved slightly and is flowing for an hour most days.
Let’s take a break now as Karlos has come over to help prepare dinner. On the menu potato curry and fish fry (dried fish which smells like the nether region of an unwashed woman) The author suggests the reader partake in a colortini, cocktail, or cup of tea while they wait...Or as MK puts it, “Arrangements while you wait!”
“Just a few more miles to the blue horizon, my love must be waiting for me” Dave Malone
The mythical Shagri-La is reportedly located somewhere in the Himalayan region. That legend is hardly new as the Bhutanese themselves proclaim that unseen valleys like Avalon are hidden in the midst of the mists. One such valley is allegedly in Lhuntse but for me such a paradise straddles the borderlands between Tawang and Trashiyangtse. But instead of being inhabited by people my shagrala is occupied by older species of plants and animals. A place I ‘m not permitted to go but free to imagine. A place of dreaming and not of dreams. (Dreams are lies; it’s the dreaming that’s real) Everyone has this place on the topography of their heart, a place for only you where even your dearest ones can’t enter. Tsenkharla might not be Shangri-La but Zangtopelri is Guru Rinpoche’s Copper Mountain of paradise! A place I visit frequently to reset my clockworks in cadence with the force. I am 100% sure that fate has led me to my heart home and as unfamiliar as things often are, the land is familiar as my neurosis. My spirit will soar with the raven to Shakshang long after my body has departed the area. Meanwhile there is work done on premises and trap doors open like portals within a toothy Rads jam. These doors reveal opportunity, to be a conscious person.
An outspoken teacher named Kesang always nags me that I am one step behind. He was the exam coordinator last year and had to patiently wait while I struggled through the meticulous process of making and formatting exams. To his credit he was very helpful but would razz me. Well tonight I am a step ahead with the dishes washed, leftovers burped in Tupperware, and my lessons planned. As a teacher as in life, preparation is key and is a qualification lacking in my existence that needs full attention. Especially in Bhutan where the dragon (like Ganesh) is always placing obstacles along your path. Health and sanity seem to top the list for many of us in the field. Alumni Reidi compared Bhutan to a vast mirror that reflects your soul back to your eyes (hopefully Miss Reidi is drinking a beer at her favorite watering hole right now) Some have deserted their posts or never arrived at all. The rest of us are left to wade through the madness making our own path as we go. Frankly it’s not easy out here but it’s rewarding. I have never enjoyed such fulfilment and despite resistance my life has a meaningful purpose and who could ask for more? The longer I stay the less I cling to things I left behind. Obviously I miss my family especially my niece and nephew, food, friends, and Bobby! But as Bunks relayed last August, a turning point for her, “I like it here!” And since I come to realizations later than my twin sister maybe I have finally loosened up my sphincter enough to enjoy this ride! No doubt danger will come knocking at my door but tonight walking in the rain and playing with village kids I felt the glow of atman and the bliss of ananda.
ONE FROM THE VAULT
across Thimphu rooftops,
crystal sunshine illuminating
a snowy pyramid
casting lavender pools
where squat pines
grasp the horizon
The End Is Not In Sight
“My soul cries out for rest but the end is not in sight” Dave Malone
Yesterday I went roaming on Shali side. Shali is a hamlet about 1,000 feet below Tsenkharla to the west. The walk follows a windy trail through an exceptional deciduous forest which was sprouting new leaves for spring. This stretch also harboured blooming red rhododendrons in significant numbers. Eventually the trail peters into a dirt road that leads to Shali. On the way home I followed a vertical shortcut that epitomised the Eastern Bhutan landscape. I traversed the scant trail through fairytale farmhouses etched into cliffs surrounded by bamboo and banana trees. The wind whooshed through the fifty foot bamboo stands causing me to pause in wonderment and I spotted several students along the way who were returning home from school. It was a challenging hike that reminded me of the hardship of being a day scholar, fortunately on this day it wasn’t raining. After reaching Tsenkharla I went to Jigme’s house to share dinner with him and butterfly but walking home a dark mood enveloped me. I am tired of serving my ego, tired of my rampant thoughts; just plain tired...Nothing that bothered me had anything to do with Bhutan but was an internal bleakness. But with the morning bell I rose and shined in class. I have a challenging syllabus to cover with class nine and despite carrying fewer hours find myself busier this year. One bright spot in life has been the classroom and not a period passes where I am not humbled or entertained by the simple and sincere students. There are no spoiled children in East Bhutan. Dema, a class nine girl has been sent away from Thimphu by her parents to board at Tsenkharla. She doesn’t speak sharshop and must be having a hard time adapting. But Bhutanese kids are nothing if not adaptable yet a teacher can’t forget the challenges that both boarders and day scholars face. Their collective spirit and resilience will stick with me more than anything from my stint here and I hope to emulate their courage.
In class 7B the students sang “Wangmo and Zangmo” a Bhutanese song, for a small country Bhutan produces some excellent music and the kids are adept at singing and dancing. They did a fantastic job staying on task and following directions and singing was our joint reward. In class 9 we’re reading a story about the India/Pakistan conflict and I couldn’t help but relate the situation to the forced exodus of Southern Bhutanese of Nepali descent from Bhutan twenty years ago. I certainly did not condemn the government for their decision but encouraged students to critically examine the situation. The bottom line is no country is perfect and political matters are complex. For instance mandatory dress code is an essential part of Bhutanese culture but might be considered oppressive by some citizens. I actually think it’s sad to see folks in the capital strutting around in shirts and pants and I appreciate the gho and kira. There is no doubt Bhutanese are obsessive about their national identity and for very genuine reasons. They are the sole remaining Buddhist Himalayan kingdom and don’t want to suffer the fate of Sikkim, Mustang, or Tibet. But things have changed with the introduction of T.V and media and I wouldn’t be shocked if there are covert churches in Thimphu as there are thousands of Christians in the kingdom (particularly in the South)
While sun bathing on my rock I opened my eyes to see a flaming cross floating in the sky over the naked valley. I was shocked at the aberration and have no idea what this sober hallucination meant. I can’t except the image as a vision but it was there, not a figment of my overactive imagination. (Anyone familiar with Christian iconography can post a comment and tell me what I saw) Perhaps it was merely a reminder that Jesus is with me as the burning cross materialized where I last saw Christ roaming east towards Arrunachal Pradesh. I got no such affirmation from the golden statue of Buddha in the attic which just stared at me with fixed quizzical eyes. But it is always comforting to sit on the bare wood floor in my tiny sanctuary on the top floor of Zangtopelri. One thing I am certain of is that Christ and Buddha only exist inside the heart and are not external forces to be sought.
“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through. Listen to this music” Hafiz
When I take out my trash the dogs scour the pit for something edible and when I throw out my uneaten ramen on the grass a raven swoops in for lunch. These events remind me of the interconnectedness of all things. When I was going down the road feeling bad, it was not homesickness or lovesickness I was experiencing. Rather, it was my disconnectedness and perceived separateness from the whole that haunted me. I vividly recall a late night conversation in squalor with my cousin in Portland where Larry contended that love was no more than an ego induced occurrence and at the time I fervently disagreed. Well I still think love is separate from the ego but also understand what he meant. Examining my own relationships, at the core is true love but the rest of it is fuel for the precious ego. That is why when these relationships evolve out of the intimate stage I react with sadness, anger, and despair. We build walls that we feel are necessary for protection and survival but these barriers hurt us in the end. If we recapitulate the ONE then no one or nothing can harm us. Why is this so fucking hard to do? Eckhart Tolle and other enlightened beings would point to the ego as the culprit of all suffering. That ego is not easy to destroy and far easier to indulge. It’s a monster hell bent on self perpetuation and egos have even fabricated heaven as a way to continue on after the physical body’s death, as the church lady would say “how convenient”
A sweet girl from 7B named Pema informed me that Kendra was her former teacher in Yangtse. Kendra taught at the LSS where Lee is currently placed. Pema told me what a good Math teacher Kendra was and how much she missed her. This got me to thinking of the impact BCF teachers have on their students even after they depart the kingdom. Then I thought of Martha and the impact she had on her students before her untimely passing. The work that we are doing here is valuable and worthwhile hence the title of this post.
A blast from the past, three good things:
1 Class 7B singing Wangmo and Zangmo
2 2 Real popcorn imported from the capital
3 3 Being part of a community (oh and having three months salary deposited in my account)
Living The Dream
“You will reach the far off lands if you keep hope alive within you” Magic Frog
About two years ago during a lunch break at Sun Valley School I was flipping through a children’s book and came across the above passage. At the time I had become aware of BCF but hadn’t a credential to apply with. I scribbled the quote on some paper and finished my lunch in solitude. It was a challenging period for me with state exams, criticism, and truthfully I felt over my head. I wasn’t sleeping well and felt my mentor teacher wasn’t approving of my ability. Luckily there were those who did believe in me and I muddled through and eventually got the opportunity to teach in Bhutan. I feel fortunate to be fulfilling a dream and to be on my own in the classroom. A classroom with jagged sheets of Plexiglas nailed to the windows and wood floors with crevasses in them. But even with limited supplies it’s great to witness metaphysical light bulbs switch on over the kids heads (we don’t have real light bulbs) At times the dream segues into a nightmare but both are an illusion. Its only reality (like that only) and I am blessed to get to live a short while in The Land of the Thunder Dragon. I would like to thank The Bhutan Canada Foundation especially Nancy for giving me this rare opportunity! And Kristen who does a fantastic job in Toronto providing support for incoming and current teachers.
Back to Bhutan dinner at the mess is an interesting phenomenon with hundreds of kids being served rice and curry from huge vats. The air is static with energy as the kids rejoice in each other’s company. Where a religious minded American might say grace the Bhutanese pray an hour before being served and then wait patiently while everyone assembles with plates in the MP Hall. Mr. Tim on the other hand gives half a second of gratitude before wolfing down his portion in the kitchen. Buddhism permeates every aspect of life and as an observer it appears both breathtaking and stifling. But the majority of Bhutanese kids revel in the chance to pray and propagate their unique culture and there is no doubt that Buddhism bonds the country together. The minority Christians don’t dare proselyte which is illegal but enjoy some freedom in beliefs. As a teacher and employee of the government it’s a dichotomy of rigidity and tolerance. For instance my principal La wants to monitor my movements outside of campus but I have ample freedom inside the classroom. As a teacher much of my time is accounted for but I also feel utterly free.
Speaking of Christ perhaps my flaming cross had something to do with Easter. Becky and I hope to meet in Trashigang to celebrate the most important day on the Christian calendar where our Lord Savvier ascended to heaven from his tomb. This miracle speaks to the enduring spirit of humankind or perhaps the fact that our souls or energy outlive the physical body. Jesus returned with a body but the story is open for interpretation and is as important to Christians as Guru Rinpoche’s ascension to Taktshang on a flying tigress is to tantric Buddhists. And as Merlyn the wizard would muse, “It’s all one” For me Easter also meant heady Rads shows including my own miracle at the Sweetwater with Jack calling Bobby down to sit in with the group. Sipping a beer from a mug Bobby strolled to the microphone and said, “The boys in the band want to wish you a Happy Easter” The true magic was that my mom made the whole event happen! Each day is a miracle of intent and action as the universe expands into the vastness of unknown space. The fact that I am writing these words and you are receiving them is astounding, oh I’m afraid the author lost the plot again so let me recover by simply stating, Happy belated Easter Everyone and Namaste!
It Was A Dark And Stormy Night...
“Still tomorrow’s gonna be another working day and I’m trying to get some rest, that’s all I’m trying to get some rest” American Tune
Tonight I started Married to Bhutan a book by Linda Leaming a Southerner who went native marrying a Bhutanese living in the west of the Kingdom. It’s a good read and like Jamie she taught although in a different capacity. It’s interesting to get other foreigners insight into living here and absorb their passion. Most of us who come here to work share a profound love for Bhutan. I am sure many tourists also export a deep gratitude and even a day in the kingdom might change somebody irrevocably. As I read curtains of rain drenched the mountain and the lights went out periodically. I’m not saying I want to transport back to the first generation of teachers era with no power, but it is amazingly silent and black at these moments and I treasure the respite. Living near the hostile I have glaring lights that I must block with thick curtains. Whenever we have an outage I clamber outside to try to spot the twinkling lights of Tawang. Tonight only a thick pea soup enveloped me as thunder clapped.
It’s Good Friday night but days don’t carry the same weight as my previous existence. It’s not the first night of a Rads stand at the Great American Music Hall but rather just another school night. Well maybe not since instead of Saturday classes we are having the school marathon. And just as on the heels of last year’s marathon I plan to keep on running into T-Gang. Has it been a year? Hard to say with BST for whatever that’s worth but I can remember watching the sunrise over my saw toothed formation then ending the night at the K.C watching A-Rod ground out to third for the home field loss. And I’m still here not much worse for the ware. One significant improvement is my teaching, which isn’t an ego stroke but merely comparable to a chameleon adapting to a new environment. I have the students to thank for guiding me consciously and “unconsciously” with vibrations and unspoken frequencies. One key is connecting to their background. Can I relate an American household to a Bhutanese household? Sure why not. The chore of taking out the trash can be equated to looking after the cow, and siblings quarrel everywhere around the world. Rural Bhutan is peculiar though; kids go home to mud houses and watch WWE while speaking in a local language that translates to “Monkey Language” Out in the Far East Dzongkha is obsolete except in schools or government facilities. Even the regional oral language of Sharshop is supplanted by local dialects. Linda’s book has me pondering language since she actively learned Dzongkha (good on her) and I haven’t learned shit. But I find it all fascinating especially the diversity in language ability expressed by the students who speak up to half a dozen languages in varying fluencies. They have a hard time speaking English and more aptitude in reading and writing and between individual students ability varies tremendously. I enjoy more commonality with the students this year as a result of patience and dual acclimation but the learning curve is higher than Jhomolahari. When I wasn’t reading or writing this to you I corrected essay’s while Karlos toiled about going over the ledger from Sonam’s shop. He said he was lonely and I forgot that about Bhutanese, they like to be in groups, which is the opposite of your author. But I always enjoy the company when I get it, and I don’t have to engage Karlos like I would a visiting student so I just did my work while he did his. Eventually a sopping Sonam came dancing through the door to claim her husband and borrow my water heater. Moments later I heard the whistle of their pressure cooker through the wall and sat back and wondered, what’s the curry?
Son OF Bhutan
“I got my hands on the gospel plough, wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now”
In our culture elders are not revered and honoured as in Bhutan. But my Grandma Marge is an exception to the rule. She was the matriarch of the Magner clan and a devout Christian. She showered all her grandchildren and great grandchildren with equal affection and inspired us to be kind hearted. She lived an exemplary life until her last day with my mom and twin sister by her side. I always think of her at Easter. On the day Jesus was crucified nearly 2,000 years ago I find myself in East Bhutan. Actually Jesus lived and died in the Middle East not so far from here. He must have come into contact with Asian merchants straying off the Silk Road maybe Chinese and Indian traders along the line. Jesus was a social animal, isn’t it? All our venerable teachers seem to have an affinity for people. I came to Bhutan seeking the natural world but found purpose in people. And one of my favorite people is Becky so it was my mission from god to meet her for Easter in T-Gang.
Saturday morning was the school marathon and was a real hoot! Exhausted students pressed through the finish line as teachers and peers cheer. As the last stragglers lumbered up the road I was walking down and eventually half way to Kamdung I was picked up and delivered to Doksom. From Doksom I started out in the direction of Gom Kora before I was picked up by a vehicle headed to Trashigang. As always the drive was delicious with deciduous trees clinging to the cliff sprouting fluorescent leaves as new grasses poked out of the bare earth. Cows and barefoot locals in dusty gho’s rambled down the center of the road while the river rushed south, several rivulets and waterfalls sloshed over the road. Near Chasm lilac and cream blossoms ushered the way into the ancient settlement of Trashigang. Trashigang hides in a horseshoe valley with a creek running through it and the town sports colourful buildings of traditional Bhutanese architecture but with a splash of French style. In the middle of town is an old greasy prayer wheel and adjacent from that is the bakery with bamboo thatched enclosure and tropical flowers. On the sidewalk a dead cat and road kill rat. Leading up to the KC Hotel is a row of shops including Phuntsho’s where the road curves revealing a view of the Dzong perched on a hillock overlooking the valley. The street continues past the KC store (with the best selection in the region) and to the Hotel.
I met Becky as we had been assigned adjoining rooms. We laughed that we try to be frugal but can’t manage to share a room. But it was Camile who said the secret of the Rads success was separate hotel rooms! We met Ashleigh and Barbara who came down from Kanglung to greet us at the Green Valley Hotel that had a patio with a view over the mid evil town. Barbara is a professor of Journalism who works at Sharubse College in the same locality of Ashleigh’s school. They were driven in by Ashleigh’s friend Sonam. The group had beers and tea and chatted while a grey sheet enveloped the sky. It was good to catch up with Ashleigh and hear her stories of drinking with Tsenkharla village women at Gom Kora. I also spent time talking with Barbara an older gal about the Tawang Monastery. We adjourned to the bakery for dinner sans Barbara who returned to the college in another vehicle. The service at the restaurant was terrible but when the food came it was good with nice dal. Back at the hotel the power went out and left Becky and I in the dark where we talked about how pleased we were to live in our respective communities. Flashes of lightning occasionally illuminated the ridges as thunder rolled up and down the corridor from Khaling to Tawang then back again. It was good to spend time in the company of my friend and realized how important these visits are.
In the morning I completed my shopping and found a shared taxi as far as Zongposo the junction between Tsenkharla and Trashiyangtse. After getting out the rain fell in golden drops that turned to black with the gathering veracity of the storm. Soon a familiar driver Sangay came barrelling up the road in his Bolero and grabbed me depositing me at Tsenkharla. Despite the rain and it being Easter and all, I hiked up to Zangtopelri in the mist. The temple was locked but I bowed to the old man spinning the big prayer wheel then completed three circumambulations before descending past the gate and Mani wall where I’d seen my blue lady, past Tsangma’s ruin, through the cypress grove and back to campus. In the veil of cool rain the Dagme Chu bolted like a loop of lazy lightning towards the hinterlands of Arrunachal Pradesh.
“I thank the dragon for a wonderful treat some night I’ll be dragons meat” Dave Malone
Sheets of rain pelt my hut in waves of varying intensity ranging from a light patter to a colossal roar. This is spring at Tsenkharla tucked in the far east of a little known kingdom called Bhutan. To the North is Tibet and to the East Sakteng. Between Trashiyangtse and Tawang are large tracts of land with nomadic yak herder’s, tiny villages, and few roads but within this area lays vast diversity and contrast with the underlying theme of wildness. There are tigers, leopards, spiders, butterflies, cypress, blue pine, oak, eucalyptus, bushes, brushes, ferns, cannabis, grass, rhododendron, rock, temples, lamas, monks, monkeys, aunties, memes, abi’s, apa’s, ama’s, and Rinchen Rinchen Rinchen, yelama! Also pigs, goats, cats, dogs, cows, rainbows, ravens, sparrows, demons, deities, and species I’ve never seen. But mostly there is tranquillity and space...
Tonight is Easter Sunday and I celebrated by making emadatsi with some plump chillies I had purchased in T-Gang. And to think I used to bitch about ham instead of prime rib, what a cad. Emadatsi ain’t prime rib but it was yummy and filled my tummy as I ate in gratitude. So what does Easter mean to me? HMMM the literal story I must take with a grain of salt just like any myth I didn’t witness. As a writer and seeker of power I am more concerned with the message than the facts. The resurrection speaks to the redemption of spirit and our chance to rise from the ashes and into the moment. The idea that Jesus died for our sins is perhaps not what he lived for. He seemed to empower people by awakening them to the divine that is everywhere including within, showing a way of service, kindness, and compassion that can transform all beings into light. So instead of remembering the external figure of Jesus I try to embrace the Christ Nature of my indestructible core.
Life in exile is challenging as one struggles with loneliness and being taken out of their comfort zone. But in such a state a person expands their parameters and become more than they were before. Or less than they were before if you look at it that way. More in the fact that they’re more open and less in the fact that they’re more open. (As Ken Kesey said “you gain a little you lose a little”) But this opening is a process and takes time and the journey must unfold naturally. Not that we can’t embrace the newness of each moment but like a tree we must grow at our own rate. If we are lucky we can grow in a coppice with our loved ones but some of us grow alone like one of my favorite eucalyptus trees at the edge of the road overhanging a precipice. The tree inhabits a lonely space but is regal in appearance, for obvious reasons I draw comparisons between myself and that tree. Despite pockets of isolation and ample solitude I am not lonely here. In my second year I feel more at ease with my existence and find myself more present. Truthfully I still dwell too much on my former life when utmost attention is required to stay on the beat in Bhutan. As I have mentioned before there is plenty to do despite living in a rural community. I get enough free time but teaching and surviving require most of my attention.
On the West side of Tsenkharla the forest is buzzing with activity. The deciduous forest is an aviary with melodic birdsong transforming the woods into a symphony. Including a shrill haunting cry of a puffy black and red bird that was calling to its companion as the birds eventually synchronized their calls to create a supreme surround sound. Also dwelling in the area were tiny yellow birds that darted through the undergrowth. The forest is a mosaic of chartreuse, russet, and bullion with explosions of crimson rhododendron blooms amidst the thicket. There are countless varieties of shrubs and regenerating ferns among the dead duff at a traveller’s foot. After greeting some locals I heard them exclaim to their aunt that I was a Tsenkharla La. (La is the respectful term for teacher) Located on the ridge above the irrigation channel is Zangtopelri’s golden pagoda roof and below the settlement of Shali. The muffled roar of the Kulongchu floats to the ear as it threads the narrow valley between Yangtse and Trashigang, eventually joining the Dagme Chu at Doksom. The Kulongchu headwaters are above Bumdeling in Tibet and the Dagme Chu flows from the watershed of Tawang. The joint waters flow past Gom Kora, under Chasm Bridge, finally draining into the Manas before exiting the kingdom.
They are my two favorite rivers each with a distinct personality but also bound to the others fate. This is why Doksom for all its spookiness is a power spot. There the waters generate their own wind that seems an entity of awareness. That is also why I chastise the citizens of Doksom for carelessly discarding trash on the banks near the confluence. Bhutanese believe spirits inhabit the water and therefore are supposed to protect sacred areas from pollution. But even in a Buddhist kingdom folks don’t always practice what they preach. On my walk in the woods I encountered Sonam Choden and her sister Tashi walking home. We paused to listen to the birds then I continued towards Tsenkharla before the rain spit down. Up at the mess the cooks were butchering a cow hide cutting the pieces into chunks of meat as flies swarmed. I am looking forward to supper! My hut rattles as a huge explosion shakes the valley like unnatural thunder. They are blowing shit up to harness hydropower on the Dagme Chu to sell to India. This is a major source of income for Bhutan but at what cost? I know something of the powerful deity that protects the sacred river and she might not approve of the earth being blown apart. But this is certainly not a decision that I have any part of so as most things I am relegated to curious observer. But I have authority (as far as decision making) in my classes which is nice. There is something very gratifying about teaching with few aids or materials since the outcome can be fruitful regardless. Nature is Omni present as sparrows dart in and out of the classroom and the view out the open window stretches for eternity. The din of a brass bell struck with a mallet by the “bell captain” governs our movements throughout the day, and the smell of wood smoke and fragrant trees waft into my nostrils lifting my consciousness. The day started out as crystal clear but by dusk clouds had swallowed the thousands of peaks and pinnacles between Tawang and Zangtopelri and a tempest brewed thunder.
On the second day of April I awoke with Bhutan belly and spent the day alternating between the classroom and the toilet. This is a fact of life here but never any fun. I finished Linda Leaming’s book which had an intriguing prologue about the geopolitical situation of South Asia. Bhutan truly is a diamond in the rough with unstableness on all sides. Her comments also make me revaluate the forced exodus of Nepali in the 90’s. Like I said before I see it from both sides but there is no doubt the government is concerned about the porous borders of the north and south. When one gets sick in Bhutan they long for home or at least I do anyway. It takes vast reserves of energy to grind it out here and sickness throws a left hand monkey wrench into the clockworks. Oh well what to do Kathmandu...Yesterday evening on the way to the mess I slipped and bruised my knee on some stairs. I was foolish not bringing my headlamp and was reminded of how careful one must be here. This is an example of lack of mindfulness and not looking where I am going which is a dangerous habit. All human beings suffer these mishaps but the truth is the dragon is always sniffing for his meat. Tonight I assembled a peanut butter sandwich and am off to bed hoping that tomorrow will be a more auspicious day... I hope all of you are doing well and living in love and gratitude, if you are lucky enough to have that special someone do as Elwood says and, “signify your feelings with every gentle caress, because it’s so important to have that special somebody to hold to kiss to miss to squeeze and please!”
With Love for all sentient beings from the LOT
|Happy Losar from T-Gang!|