Monday, May 27, 2013

Poem



The Dagme Chu

A river in motion bounds
through hard cut canyon
cream liquid splashing
on russet rock with crimson veins
driven by peculiar currents
shaped by the slanted bottom
on an infinite course
East to West
rapids roar, a snow lion
calling out the Buddha Nature
within all sentient beings,
cast in samsara
reckoning the useless events
of personal history
now annihilated by Gurus thunderbolt staff
under a sky saturated in the deepest blue
the eye is drawn to olive water
churning, undulating, cresting
In silver droplets
Om Siddhartha ride those waves
bobbing through a baked land
of brush and sand
and occlusive boulders
dotted with primary colored prayer flags
ripples releasing fine threads
into sticky atmosphere
riding on a turquoise horse
to Nirvana 


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Spotlight On Trashiyangtse Picture Walk....

Bumdeling Bridge

Butterfly and Jigme

Mr. Tim and Bayling Students, 2012

Waterfall

Dagme Chu Rapids

Prayer Flags in Yangtse Town

Kinney Side, 2012

Weekend with Bunky...Picture Walk

Confluence of Kulong Chu and Dagme Chu, Doksom

Gom Kora Backside

Chorten Kora on Auspicious Day

Worshipers

karmaling Dream Moth

Sidetracked

Friday Night Farming

Mountains

Becky and rug rat

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Few Class Nine Haikus...

I really miss mom
hope you are fine and healthy
Do you miss me mom?

-Karma Wangmo-

When life ends with dream
We become nothing just mad
Don't laugh when world cry

-Nima Wanchuk-

Hello my teacher
You are like second parent
I love my teacher

-Ugyen Wangmo-

Bhutan is peaceful
It is very beautiful
I love my country

-Lathro-

Flower

It looks beautiful
It can attract insects
It blossoms in spring

-Jamyang Lhamo-


Beautiful

Beautiful is dead
But it will recognize you
As love never dies

-Namkith Lepcha-





Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekend at Baghi's Border Walk

Weaving

Omba Falls

Baghi

Omba (Tigers Nest of the East)

Omba View

Borderland Forest

Tawang Tim

Tawang, Arrunachal Pradesh, India

Checkpost

Rural Bhutan

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May Daze Musing...



“Dug him up on Tuesday he hardly aged a day, taught them all they ever knew, they never knew so much before, they may never know so much again” Masons Children

 May has revealed lurid beauty and as a write this I rush back and forth like Neal Cassady to catch glimpses of the evening cloudscape over Tawang swirling around the crowned peaks and my revered tooth. As the eye penetrates deeper into India the valley tightens like the inner folds of a lotus. It is god’s country if gods or countries actually existed. A million shades of green spruce up the rugged terrain and in the foreground near my hanging laundry sparrows comically dart pecking at seed. The sparrows are a fascinating bird to watch in their rapid flights and floating acrobatics as they rush about darting into classrooms, shops and dancing at the feet of the students. The kids are also comical in their gho and kira boisterously speaking sharshop and laughing. I feel close to them and it’s a more genuine closeness than last year when so much time was spent in the throes of acclimation. I am still adjusting as each day one must adapt to their niche to survive and contribute to the good of the community. The straining light turns the world into a silver song and the dirge of the student’s prayer floats to my ears and the scent of cedar smoke burnt in offering reaches my nostrils. It’s all very natural here except the unnatural repetitive chatter of my brain.  But there is space to forgive my shortcomings and space to help others. This is good therapy for the soul and good karma for my next life. Meanwhile prayer flags ripple in the soft breeze sending invisible strands up to the atmosphere. What’s more is that love exists for me here; the love of land the love of students the love of spirit. On my desk sit thirty five portfolios and tonight I will be burning the candle marking essays. Social Service Club was productive as we purged the football grounds, entryway, and the village of trash. About half of the members bust their humps, a quarter of them lollygag, and the remainder do nothing at all. Dawa Dema my sweet and simple captain works hard responding with a hearty “Yes Sir” to my inquiries. In my teachers day card from Pema Tshomo who transferred to Kinney she wrote that she picks up papers at her new school so it’s nice to imagine I am helping change habits. School is busy but going well and I am teaching letter writing and grammar next week leading up to exams. Sometimes the students are naughty but I don’t want to be strict with them yet today I raised my voice imploring them to settle down. They respect me enough to obey my commands but still feel comfortable enough to be themselves which is fine by me. That’s the line a teacher must suss out for classroom management.  Meanwhile the gloaming swallows the mountains as nocturnal deities prepare to romp. Mr. Tim prepares to mark essays but before that I will have a bite with Karlos at the shop and maybe a coke and a smile.

“The way Odessa do me I got to move and change my name”

My life in exile becomes more like a life at home with all the benefits and drawbacks of that fact. I am endlessly fascinated by the students and their inner realities and dynamics. They treat each other well for the most part as community at a boarding school is a necessity. Today the ceiling of clouds hangs on the ridges but I can still gaze to the snowy saddles of Tawang peering down the gullet wondering what’s on the other side of those mountains? I woke up tired but a bucket bath revived my senses and a full day of classes engaged me. One must work very hard to stay on top of it here. Chores constitute much of one’s time out of the classroom. For me its gathering and storing water, dishes, laundry, sweeping, preparing meals, and lesson planning. My free time is spent reading, writing, roaming, and entertaining students. It all makes for a busy life in a rural setting and Bhutan comes with challenges but not too much stress in the traditional sense. I rage against internal turmoil which all the while seems quite ridiculous in such a splendid situation. But ones constitution gets exaggerated in the Land of the Thunder Dragon and as one former teacher put it, like a giant mirror reflecting your soul. One thing’s for certain I complain too much and have become co-dependent on Becky’s good humor to see me through. Like a pitcher in the throes of a based loaded jam one must constantly check their nerves and summon the courage to throw a strike. In the U.S.A my nephew is celebrating his fourth birthday as my life proceeds independently in The LOT. Everything that configures my life, my challenges and potential triumphs are the nut inside the shell of each moment. How to crack that nut? But somehow I am still dreaming and don’t quite know how to wake up as this dream has been a long one. Clouds swirl around the trees and mountains and Scooby Doo mist drifts through campus. I feel crispy and strung out like I want to return to civilization after a long campout. But it isn’t time to go yet and there is still so much to see and do but only to refresh my weary eyes and crusty spirit. Oh my kingdom for one solitary hug or a fat juicy cheeseburger with bacon and guacamole. But presently your author (Mr. Tim) staggers onward trying to forget about the result and enjoy the ride. After all what a beautiful ride it is on the top of this hill overlooking the emptiness of creation and working with sweet and sincere students who enrich the dream.         

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Nod to the Hazelnuts...

Last summer Shawn and the hazelnut folks came out and planted hazelnut trees in the terraces below my hut. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the nursery in Lingmithang where the saplings are cultivated. Becky who is versed in organic farming accompanied me and a nice Indian gent showed us around. Here are some photos of my trip to the nursery and some trees in the field at Tsenkharla. I believe the outfit is called Mountain Hazelnuts if you want to check them out online. Of course it soon turned into a photo shoot with my former students.

The last pic is of Ashleigh and Becky hanging Ian and Vicky's prayer flags on Thrumshing La at over 12,000 feet!

Becky at the farm

Greenhouse

Working Together

Class eight students on my favorite rock

Kesang tending his tree

Cool Dudes...

Boys Working 

Shawn, Principal La, and Hazelnut folks

Ashleigh and Becky hanging Ian and Vicky's prayer Flags, February 2013

Living The Dream




“I’m moving through this life and I’m thinking about the next, and hoping when I get there I’ll be better dressed”

Last night’s encounter with the rat has left me shaken and out of temper. It was the ugliest creature with long black hair (a hippie rat) and a foot long greasy tail. Becky gave me all the scenarios of how it might have infiltrated my space including through the toilet. Eek! Becky has had a rat for much of her tenure here and has had many face to face confrontations. The sight of my rat made me shudder in repulsion and produced a strong physical reaction in my body. Heck some mountain man practically fainting at the sight of a rodent. Like Mouse and the Motorcycle (where the rat was the protagonist) this rat was roaming on a dark and stormy night. Eek! I cleaned the house and stored all food properly so we’ll what happens. To settle my nerves I took a walk and found three of my class nine boys bunking in the forest. I half heartedly scolded them for sneaking out but of course ended up walking with them to a lookout of Shali where we snapped some photos and picked some trash before I escorted them back to campus. For lunch I made sag with cheese and veggies and gobbled it up. Outside the clouds played over the valley casting shadows on the Dagme Chu and rugged valley. The light falls into this habitual game often and the effect produced is dazzling.

The weather patterns are unique here with so much rain and clouds. Sun, moon, and stars are infrequent visitors but are always the life of the party. Even on a rare clear day the clouds swallow the mountains by afternoon. Often the peaks are poking into the stratosphere and the silence is broken every six months by a Tawang chopper on a test flight. Other than that only the birds charter their flight patterns through the wilderness. Even the three dirt roads that scar Tsenkharla Mountain are used about once a day if that. Around Tsenkharla and particularly further out the farming life remains virtually unaffected by the modern world. Although now extremely remote villages have power from poles planted in the deep forest. But the family values remain and the mud houses with rooftops weighted down with stones surrounded by wild roses and flowering cactus are out of a popup fairytale book. There is nothing better than wandering free unguided through villages and interacting with the stunned locals. For me this and my relations with students is the essence of my journey. By no means do I truly understand the deeply rooted culture rooted in religion and tradition and practices of female inheritance and multiple husbands and wives remain obscure. But there skill in husbandry and good humor is easy to grasp. I am blessed to be posted in a place with a lifetimes worth of terrain to explore. I’ve said it before but Tsenkharla is my homeland a place that will remain inseparable from my core even after I depart. Loving this land is like loving a person but of course entirely different. In some ways this love goes deeper than human relations but like human relations it’s difficult to not embrace the land with deep attachment. Like most loves this affair will end yet also not end. In the meantime I study the land and try to observe the lesson of openness that the views teach.

In the village this afternoon Tsewang a student from last year gave me a letter from Pema Tshomo another former student who transferred down the hill to Kinney. The sentiment in the letter was heart warming and reaffirmed my faith in my mission.

Mise en place (To Put in Place)

I am implementing a library period at the end of the school day to give the students a space and time to read while I monitor them. Sangay Tenzing another English teacher will help me implement the afterschool program which starts next week and will give a rotating cast of students the opportunity to have quiet reading time while I’ll have the opportunity to clarify pronunciation and assist them in any way.  I am hoping this library time will encourage students to read and nurture a zest for literature. The boarding school life doesn’t allow time for free reading and virtually all the reading they complete is for schoolwork. They are practical students by design but have a knack for creativity that reading would only enhance. I wrapped up haikus today and the students were enthralled by the activity putting the final touches on their illustrations after the lunch bell had rung. Since plagiarising a haiku here is impossible the work was original and remarkable.

Teaching is relatable to work in a kitchen and a teacher is like a chef. Both have ingredients to work with to create a fine lesson or meal. Preparation is the key for success in both the kitchen and the classroom and both crafts benefit from organization, enthusiasm, and creativity. Unlike Chef Ramsey I don’t berate my students screaming IT’S WRONG instead of IT’S RAW! On the contrary I hardly get stirred up and my temperament is now an ally in management. Mise En Place means to set up or put in place. As my crazy friend Chef Paul (not my other crazy friend Chef Paul who told me about Bhutan) Anyway when Jungle Pants introduced me to Mise En Place it was at four thirty A.M in the cavernous kitchen of the Crystal Bay Club where we were baking apple pies. He explained it as a mindset followed by a tangible process. Another words, one must get into the mindset for both cooking and teaching. To first see the larger picture then calmly set about preparations and execution of the intent. The end result is a satisfied customer and student full of food or knowledge. Having said that this is not my strong point and I have only begun to work it out. But I can say that I am teaching more effectively this year due to improved attitude and more relaxed yet firm resolve in my approach to the students. Being more relaxed leads to being more open and learning about individuals to a greater extent. The end result of all that is a more fulfilling enjoyment of the craft and hopefully excellent results for the student. A teacher does so much more than presenting lessons. In Bhutan we live in the spotlight and must be role models and exemplify the characteristics of a sound human being. There is no going home at the end of the day at a boarding school a reality I experienced last night. At about seven thirty Nima Tsewang a student from last year came over wanting help on a poem about 600 brave men from the brigade getting slaughtered. I remember skipping this poem last year due to the thick language and inexplicable content. After twenty minutes I imparted the most basic information that he needed to prepare his presentation. As I was assisting Nima (mimicking cannonball noises and charging around my hut) Butterfly and Jigme came over to prepare dinner and at the same time Sangay Tobgay and Thinley Phuntsho came over to hang out. The two class nine boys asked if they could help do a wash and I relented. I have rarely used any students for labor but gave in on account of my busyness and will reward them by showing a flick and having a party at my house this weekend. All the kids left and Butterfly (Indian teacher) and Jigme (national teacher) cleared out by ten o’clock. Afterwards I set about reading Anna for a spell before crawling into my fart sack. I awoke tired with swollen eyes brushed my teeth made some tea and rushed off to assembly.

Last week I had no water for five days but now I am getting water for two hours each day! Perhaps they have made headway in this vexing situation. My life is so much better with H20 especially cooking which I’ve tried my hand at more lately with a flux of veggies at the shop. The rain continues but in the ease of the monsoon a more rhythmic downpour instead of the thunderous violent torrents of spring. Basically it might be a year of no stoppages with spring storms flowing into the endless monsoon. WHAT TO DO KATMANDU! There are moments of sun splashing on the mountains and occasionally on my skin but clouds make up the landscape veiling the secrets of the Bhutanese who are as mysterious as the day I arrived. In fact the more I know them the more they intrigue me and less I realize I could ever know of them. This is all part of the pleasure of being the only phelincpa in a remote village (not remote by Bhutanese standards since we have a road and electricity, Phongmey although a larger village is more isolated due to the rougher road cut off by two rivers and lack of veggies and TP in the shops) What a pity I haven’t made it to Phongmey in so long to see Becky and meme mountain. Nor have I breezed through Rangjoon since the Aussie super couple flew the coop.

There is much work to be done and magical moments abound in the classroom while we do it. Isn’t that what teachers live for? Yesterday while writing outside little Sather was being silly rolling on the grass and giggling her infectious giggle. She is a tiny girl for class seven with buck teeth and mop hair that falls around her sparkling slanted eyes. She likes to chew bubble gum and goes barefoot and has a devil may care attitude. Sharub a sincere boy who has the bad habit of rocking in his wooden chair was hard at work writing his five paragraph essay. Most of them had a hard time organizing their thoughts which is to be expected at their level of development. But they enjoy writing and that is satisfactory of its own accord. The best times are when we’re having fun and learning too!        

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chance in a Million Picture Walk

Rinchen Wangmo and baby

Tsangma Minor

View of Tsenkharla

East Bhutan Forest

Lost World

Bhutanese barbershop

Traditional house

Lama

Sangay, Karma, and Dorji

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Chance in a Million


“ It’s not your business how it’s done, you’re lucky to get through” Gomorrah

Today I went out roaming in search of Omba  a holy temple nestled on the slopes of Shampula. Guru Rinpoche visited the site during his escapades. With my weak eyes I can’t make out the temple when people point it out but nonetheless that that was my goal was the truth. I picked my way through rocky terraces trespassing in farmhouses that might not have changed in a millennium. Beyond the dirt roads no one speaks any English as they cheerfully work the fields hanging off cliffs in gumboots and filthy attire. I stumbled into villagers relaxing in the forest with grandma napping in the grass and daughter cutting moms hair. They found my antics amusing except the cute one who hid behind a tree retreating from Mr. Tim’s advancements. (I’m creepy in any language) I took a breathtaking trail through deep forest ascending past a painted rock and a woman touting her weaved basket of goods with a strap around her forehead. Throughout the day I had several conversations in completely different languages which no one could understand and I met several young ones who obviously missed the memo about mandatory schooling in the Kingdom. This secret amulet of crags and waterfalls in the borderlands is a strange and magical place which on this day sparkled in the sun. Eventually the trails petered out and I was rebuffed by an impenetrable thicket. The path perished at a shed where a bewildered boy gaped at me before villagers immerged from the scenery making me wonder in the blazing sun if any of what my senses perceived was real. My dreams have been strange of late and reality stranger than the dreams themselves. Until it all blurs together in a fantasia. My trail food in my knapsack consisted of a handful of crispy rice, an Oreo cookie, and coke which sustained me over ten miles of traversing the bush. I never did find what I was looking for but there’s a lesson in that. The journey exceeds the destination in fact the idea of a destination is falsehood. Yet on the long trek home my memories weighed heavily on my spirit like the gathering nimbus cloudlets that pronounced their afternoon warning. Be here now you hungry ragman they said at once snuffing out the sun. But my mind wistfully grasps to a perceived golden age of marathon lovemaking sessions with Morgan on similar long afternoons or all night raging parties on the rail with Bobby! The best samsara had to offer this poor boy and now? What now? You can’t go home again son but being lost on the border of East Bhutan and Arrunachal Pradesh is as good a place as any to wither away. A thousand shortcuts later past a thousand chortens stuffed with withered roses I slinked up the final incline to my door. One more Saturday night in Samsara as your author hardly recognizes himself in his grubby mirror with bags under his dull shaky eyes.

Last week Sonam Choden’s father passed. He exemplified a farmer nobleman always quick with a cup of tea and smile. I always fancied he liked me or atleast hoped so. Oh poor ama now alone in the country what to do. Karlos and Sonam are the closest thing I have to family here. If I fell ill or injured they would show up for support. I feel terrible for their loss and as Bhutanese they process death differently than us. Several teachers went to the cremation ground set on the Kulongchu three miles shy of Yangtse town. The body was covered in a small tent which had offerings of beer, Coke, and biscuits at its base. I sat next to ama who seemed composed though reflective and took tea. Of course ara and beer were served to the assembled mourners. The next day the body was burned but I had to teach. At the cremation ground a scrawny cat jumped onto my lap and I had the sensation that i was this cat or he was me in another lifetime. It was eerily transcendental as things in Bhutan often are.

Classroom life has oscillated between productive and repetitive but things are running more smoothly this year. But this is gritty ESL teaching not as BCF advertises. So be prepared to meet those challenges. My new strategy for teaching Dawa the novel is to read together and explain as we go. I give them a set of questions prior to the chapter so they can be privy to what to look for. I let them struggle and strain but in the end tell them what they need to know so they feel adequate and content in their comprehension. In class seven I’m teaching five paragraph essays and the rot style of copying from chart paper suits them. They simply love it. In my classes I incorporate different types of activities and group work having them move around the classroom and work together which can be challenging for them. There sweet and simple anyway even though the class nine kids are concerned with self image as any teenager. So we roll right along and exams are looming.

“So many roads to ease my soul”

This year has been rainy with seven feet of rain following on this seven story mountain.  Bhutan receives copious amounts of precipitation and it seems more than anywhere on earth. The land is blessed by the dragon. Today the air was perfumed with a million scents some citrus some sweet. Peculiar translucent winged insects sprang from the underbrush as songbirds gleefully darted in the canopy,  just another day in Bhutan a shagrala not for humans but for animals who enjoy an intact habitat. But animals suffer a great deal to survive. I lay awake surveying the suffering both in the outer world and in my own heart. I make mountains of my mole hills when humankind shared my sickness. Some face superior physical challenges or endure more extreme mental illness. What a similar plight we all share in our illusion of separateness that we stubbornly take to the grave one free ticket to rebirth, samsara coming to a theatre near you for eternity. There are old souls and new ones I don’t know about myself. Jerry Garcia seemed like an old soul. I wonder who that soul incarnated into in this lifetime, no doubt another talented sage working for the greater good. Assuming Jerry didn’t reach enlightenment under the stress of his position how could I expect to. Whatever inklings of reclamation I gain in this turn will carry to the next. That is if I don’t fade to dust, my soul extinguished like a match. But why do I concern myself with death in the face of too much life? And why consider salvation when there’s laundry to be washed, water to be collected, and lessons to be planned. We ‘re always waiting for something but what is it?

Out in the forest I encountered those unseen creatures of the other realms including pod elves (machine elves as Terrance would say) pixies, and felt the presence of local deities. But the aforementioned entities predate such deities in a realm behind the realm behind the realm. The local Bhutanese are influenced by these other worldly beings and vice versa. The force seems particularly powerful in that last cranny of Far East Bhutan with luminous orbs zipping up and down the furrowed potato fields. They orbit our world playing with it like a toy. Perhaps the pod ones are enlightened beings where a pixie still loves the earth too much. God only knows what is really out there and for my part, despite acute sensitivity I could only perceive a trace of the action, perhaps accentuated by hunger and heat. The other night I awoke at 3 A.M with an excess of entropy (the story of my life) such moments amount to surreal anxiety (Big phone syndrome) which I remedied by stepping outside. A million faint stars pricked the carbon sky inlayed with the barely perceptible wisp of the Milky Way. The Big Dipper plunged in Tsangma’s ruin and orange lights twinkled from the inky depths of Tawang. A dog barked while a premature rooster crowed eager to begin the sterling day. The grass was wet with dew and I could only sigh. I burrowed into my sleeping bag and fell back into a fitful sleep fraught with the kind of dreams that are so similar to a twisted version of reality.  

Back in this dimension we had an interesting meeting at school. Although students are encouraged to speak English and Dzonkha only most teachers speak sharshop in class. This is an instance as do as I say not as I do. Judging by the circumstances it’s no wonder expressing themselves in English is difficult. Thankfully the students have a proclivity for languages which is helpful.  I continue to include more speaking components into my lessons and try to foster a relaxed and secure atmosphere in class to encourage participation. Planning lessons is easier than finding a pair of clean socks to wear. Despite the multitude of challenges I can emphatically state that teaching is rewarding here on a multitude of levels that extend beyond the walls of the classroom. There is a dynamic teaching here that is lacking anywhere else. Although the students can be shy an intimacy develops at a boarding school, especially with the boys who live a hundred feet away. It is a few of these boys that I will recruit to take me to Omba if Principal La will consent to it.    

An Early Morning Visitor

Its five AM and I can’t go back to sleep after seeing an enormous rat in my hut. I came back from the toilet to see a black rat with huge tail scamper into my washroom. I screamed like a child and ran to my bed. Once I got up the nerve to investigate the rat had disappeared but where could it have gone. To compound my disgust a drip from the roof plopped on my head ensuring a sleepless rest of the morning.  

Hope everyone out there in internet land has a rat free day...