Wednesday, May 15, 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!        

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