“ 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...