Tiger freaks unite, who are you? Where are you? How are you?
The Show of Life
“It’s a limited time that we exist; we slowly make our way into the mist”
(On a cold sunny morning in winter 2012 I stepped out of the Dragon Roots Hotel with Becky where we were stopped by a man who asked us about our business. When we told him we were volunteering in Eastern Bhutan he remarked that living in the east was the terror of life or did he say the land of terror. Either way the sentiment was prophetic)
On a recent walk in the woods I was enveloped in the mists and was again reminded of how much I cherish every inch of my homeland. Foggy fingers curled around crimson rhododendrons as the plush forest returns to life. Wangmo and Zangmo sang as they trod through the underbrush on their way up the hill to Shakshang as I crouched like a tiger in the bushes near a row of tattered prayer flags. The remaining faded shreds waved in the wind and I laughed remembering last year when they were bright and new. Where had those wayward prayers gone and were they answered? The leaves supped up the dew drops as a sparrow grazed my crown. I plucked one rhododendron bloom and lay it on my Bon shrine which always is disassembled by a deity or devout Buddhist wanderer. I remake the shrine out of stones in whatever shape spirit commands and dance around the ring. After the ritual I returned down along the precipice where my ears tuned the murmur of the two rivers on opposing sides. THIS IS TIM’S BELL! Below at Zangtopelri Rinchen Wangmo and Ama were preparing momo’s and ignoring me so I split for home. I haven’t felt the sun on my skin for weeks as the rain falls in sweet torrents reviving the land for another cycle of growth, the farmers rejoice and the kids scurry for shelter. Oh how fortunate are the Bhutanese protected by a noble king between the chaos of India and oppression of China the land which they ceaselessly work protects them from the cruelties of this world. Even when I’m fed up with the culture I marvel at them with profound reverence. For example afterschool they had cultural training. Principal La walked up and down the row like a sergeant surveying his troops as the students bowed in a particular manner that was deemed acceptable or not. Would you believe this cultural practice insures the very survival of the Kingdom in the modern world? I chuckled at one girl using her rachu for a jump rope, ah sweet rebellion. Meanwhile Becky was on holiday in T-Gang conversing with Nick Morris’s former student who attested that he changed his life forever! Way to go Nick! Becky and I concurred that this year was even harder than the first but we are extremely happy that we stayed for the sake of the students and our communities. On campus roses bust their bloom as sparrows dart through open windows serenading the spring. How does the rain know when to return? This is the most sacred of cycles in god’s perfect world. And if there is no god well no matter because there are miracles all the same? A babe’s toe, a pups warm breath, and LOVE. Oh how your author complains in the face of gaping wonderment. There is nothing more miraculous than facilitating the learning process collaborating with these farm kids who somehow manage to communicate in English sharpening their critical thinking skills.
There’s No Place Like Home: 27:30 North Latitude 91.30 East Longitude
“I’m not the man they think I am at home; oh no I’m a rocket man”
As the raven flies Tsenkharla is five miles from Arrunachal Pradesh and forty miles from Tibet. But border tensions prevent foreigner’s passage at these crossings. The Tibet Yangtse border is off limits for locals too but Tawang and Yangtse residents are allowed entry into one another’s domains. Most of my view resides in India a seamless transition topologically speaking. I could just as easily write to you from Tawang except the gho’s and kira prove that I’m still tucked into the peaceful furrows of the wrathful dragon. But I may still serenade the vivacious Tawang babes with their raven truss braids from my post. Tawang town is a sizable city (smaller than Thimphu) about three hours drive from the road near the border. There is a renowned monastery that was occupied by the Chinese in the 60’s during the Indo/China war and politicians in Beijing still claims Tawang as its own. Becky was shown a Chinese chopper wreck from a battle that crashed in Sakteng. As it stands this wilderness is an important buffer and for this reason no road connects India and Bhutan in Yangtse or Trashigang. When I gaze down at the looping Dagme Chu I have the sensation of prehistory inspired by the unsettled wasteland. On the ridges unoccupied and abandon terraces are overgrown with grasses and at the bottom is just the river carving through rock.
For Bhutanese elections our school was given a five day reprieve and the students were sent packing to their villages. I took the opportunity to stay put and enjoy the solitude of an empty campus. On the first afternoon I made my way to Yangtse for the first time this year for some worshiping at Chorten Kora. The whitewashed structure has an ethereal quality as if made of clouds as the faithful orbited in circumambulation. This magnificent Chorten is modelled after Bodnath in Kathmandu and it was fulfilling to revisit the Stupa after seeing its inspiration. Inside the Chorten are precious artefacts including the remains of an eight year old girl from Arrunachal Pradesh. Any trip to this place is a boon for the soul and today I met three German Doctors volunteering in Mongar town and chatted them up.
On 4/20 I left the hut and ascended the trail to Darchen. The path passes both Zangtopelri and Shakshang before being intersected by a scarcely used dirt road leading to a quant hamlet with a dilapidated temple which is being replaced. From there I lost the trail bush whacking through the thicket eventually finding the way to Darchen a century old Lhakang on a pasture bluff. On the rolling green hills are stands of prayer flags where I came across Karma (class 8) and her friends enjoying a picnic. I continued on into a high forest known as Bromla where tigers reputedly roam. This marks the furthest that this tiger has roamed and I was shocked at the damp jungle which seemed far away from the tamer forests of Tsenkharla. Enveloped in mist tromping through a foot of duff I lost my way and turned back for Darchen. Giant ferns, rhododendron, and delicate white bells decorated the deep cover and I emerged from this wild place and met Tashi and his bro cutting wood for a prayer flag and gave them some biscuits. Afterwards I traversed the ridge towards Darchen finding a merry family placing rhododendrons on a large stone in what appeared to be a Bon ritual.
Reaching the temple the resident ancient ascetic lama was holding court for the auspicious day and I donated a pack of incense before continuing on my route. I made a wrong turn at a murky pond and descended through a verdant gulch ending up in Namkhar where I was intercepted by our local lama who ushered me into the temple for a blessing and tea where we discussed the history of the surrounding temples and Tawang. Namkhar is a government temple where Shakshang, Darchen, and Zangtopelri are all private temples. After tea we kicked around the football with some novice monks. (Tyler you would have enjoyed that play) I departed in the waning grey afternoon to complete my temple circuit arriving on campus on the toes of a deluge.
The next day a car dropped me at the road to the old Yangtse Dzong. The narrow road passes an aged cantilever bridge decked with rainbow prayer flags to the old Yangtse Dzong (I love my Dzong) which rests on a hillock at the mouth of an extensive wilderness stretching to Lhuntse. I found the trail that served as the old trade route between Tibet and Bhutan and was once trodden by the first king. Above the trailhead a queenly cypress dominates the forested valley as if surveying her glorious empire. On this day I was a party of one as I followed the muddy trail along a tributary of the Kulongchu through a dense emerald forest before crossing a suspension bridge, then endured steep switchbacks that lead through a mixed forest of pine, rhododendron, and deciduous chaparral before emerging into palisade potato fields and a few farmhouses. Passing a small crumbling Chorten and laughing little girl I wound through an oak forest to a series of small cascading waterfalls that bounded over roots and rock. This is the Rodang La Trek which eventually travels to Lhuntse before scaling a 13,000 foot pass and descending to Jakar. But I was destined to retrace my steps ending up in a simple farmhouse where I was offered tea by Yeshi a youngish woman who spoke no English whatsoever and lavished me with ridiculous hospitality. The barefoot female ushered me into the kitchen a spacious room with dirt floor and no furniture sitting me on a cushion by the simple alter. Referring to me as uncle she offered Ara which I refused multiple times then brought suja (butter tea) and a baked rice snack. I had never cared for butter tea but on this chilly afternoon the elixir was a balm for my weary soul. As Yeshi ran about trying desperately to please her guest she became formless embodying every woman in the world, a grandmother, mother, daughter, sister, and wife. For a moment I too shed my form and entwined with the moment melding into the dragon. Only in Bhutan would a trespasser be treated like a king and that tea in her company will never be forgotten. After a lifetime in the cottage I bid farewell to my cosmic consort and descended through the forest back towards the Old Yangtse Dzong pausing by the river to wash my face before continuing on to the regal cypress which I hugged snaring myself in thorns and brush for the sake of the embrace. Eventually I transported myself to Chorten Kora watching the spin of the worshipful as the Kulongchu flowed in its OM of purity. I hitched back home chatting amicably to the driver in this show called life.
Monday brought a surprise visit from Becky who made her first overnight stay at Tsenkharla. I finally got my first visitor and broke out a pad borrowing some bedding from Sonam Choden. We enjoyed our time thoroughly watching Phish videos, baking brownies, and enjoying a feast made by Sonam. Becky can bake and she busied herself making pizza, pancakes, and the aforementioned brownies. We also visited Tsangma’s ruin, Zangtopelri and Rinchen Wangmo, and stared at the snow clad mountains of Tawang which glowed in the distance. Becky astutely remarked on the scenery as the best view in Bhutan, a badge for this tiger la. On our second day we hiked out to a small Chorten overgrown with fern and wild berries. Above two hawks (or were they eagles?) glided above with square serrated wing span of ten feet. These noble sultans of the sky watched us intently as we did the same enjoying their aeronautical prowess. A raven joined in copycatting the two hawk’s movements beating its black wings in concert. I had never seen these hawks before and they seemed to deliver a message that the author was not altogether privy too. I guess time will tell our fortune from the birds who spiralled higher and higher before ducking behind a silver cloud. Did they really exist at all?
After 2.5 days harmonizing on the rock we absconded to Mongar town where I was headed for medical treatment by the Germans. This year I have had frequent stomach pain and cist on my back. In the dungeons of the Mongar Hospital the well mannered German physician removed my cist sealing the wound with two stitches and I was prescribed stomach medicine. Afterwards Becky and I went to Limithang to the Hazel Nut Farm. If visiting the School for the Blind was my pilgrimage visiting the farm was Rebecca’s. She has been a farmer in a former life and takes a keen interest in her school garden and anything organically edible. The Hazelnut folks are a multinational operation who visited Tsenkharla last summer planting saplings by my rock on the terraces. We toured the operation led by an Indian gent as the CEO and Englishman were away. The site is nestled in a warm valley by a river at about a thousand feet above sea level where the road descends 10,000 feet from the Big La.
Back in Mongar town we dined on Indian curry and Nan bread lamenting on life in sansara wondering how many times we’ll have to take the stage. The next morning we arose brightly and went to the book fair collecting some tasty nuggets. The books were housed in tents and since there are no book stores in East Bhutan this was a rare treat. Although the fair is established for schools a browser can find titles by Tom Robbins, Pema Chodron, and Rumi among others. In the afternoon we rushed back to T-Gang where our paths diverged as she returned to Phongmey and I stayed behind where I hung out in Phuntsho’s shop and ate malt ice cream! I met two heavyset ladies from Australia who were on a Buddhist tour and led them to the ATM chatting with them thereafter about my volunteering in the Kingdom. I’m always cautious not to say anything negative when speaking to tourist and the fact is they always remind me of how fortunate I truly am to be working here. After taking my day of rest as prescribed by the Doctor I hired a taxi back HOME.
Exactly one year after visiting the blind school I returned on the local bus to Khaling. Along the way I observed a lone Brokpa woman in gumboots, wool regalia, and a spider hat roaming on the national highway just ahead of a nasty landslide. The Brokpa from Merak side wander down to Khaling as their pastures are somewhere in the dreamy wilderness above the valley settlement. The Brokpa are incredibly resilient and self sufficient people who migrated long ago from Tibet. They add flavor and color to the eastern region and really get around trading in Trashigang, Khaling, and Tawang. They are fast with a smile and you can smell their smoky musk from a kilometre away. I find the woman particularly fetching with sentient grins and spider woven caps that resemble arachnids that disperse the rain from the head of a Brokpa chick. They dawn pastel wool garments and are adorned with turquoise jewellery. The men where red wool garments that resemble a Captain Kirk era Star Trek uniform with blue gumboots. In Khaling I checked in with the blind kids then hiked up to an old Lhakang in the shadow of an astounding Cypress tree with four trunks growing out of one base like tangled boa constrictors. The feathery foliage spread out from the coil tickling the fields below and as clouds burst I took shelter in the womb staying dry as a bone. The presence of this tree grew my hearts three sizes as I smooched her zophtic bark before retiring to the pastures to read Siddhartha amidst sweet tweets. I hitched back traversing a towering pass with a vista of crowned peaks over the summit and into Kanglung home of the college. From there the road spirals down through lush forests interspersed with curvaceous rice terraces that swivel into the moist ground. The scene whirred by as my tipsy driver shuttled me back to earth.
The Madman of Tsenkharla
“In this mad mad world only the mad are sane”
It was both taxing and refreshing to return to class and the business at hand. Even on grinding days I marvel at the kids. The boils on their neck, the wood smoke aroma of their garments, the flies swarming about their heads, and the twinkle in their eyes. Being an ESL teacher in East Bhutan is a grand adventure isn’t it! Even as certain things ware thin on this traveller others remain thick. Nature and students see the author through and events like lack of water and un-stimulating village life are ALL put into a broader context. There is still much to learn here if I can get out of my way and LISTEN! Listen to my heart, listen to my intuition, and listen to my students. Meanwhile the sun is on vacation and clouds wash over the landscape obscuring the high peaks. At lunchtime I retired to Sonam’s shop for fiddlehead fern and rice as Dawa Dema nibbled my shoes. Dookto insisted that Becky and I were married as did several students who saw us together. This will no doubt remain a running commentary in the village for years to come. In the evening some class eight boys dropped in to discuss a poem that they are presenting in class and to borrow a small amount of money. I love working with individuals which is too rare and that is why I welcome these impromptu visits to the hut. Now your author wishes to go to the village drag in search of a coke to wash away the taste of dried fish from his mouth. So with these words the Madman of Tsenkharla bids ado and hopes all is well in your world...Take a slice of pizza for me or order me up a tuna hand roll, or sizzling steak fajita platter oh my...
The other night I stopped on campus to watch the students rehearsing their dances for the teacher’s day celebration. They were so self-possessed and having so much fun, the older ones mentoring their younger counterparts with tender leadership. It is good to see the kids smiling as they tend to be wound up tighter at school. Of course we have fun in the classroom but when they are interacting without adult supervision and speaking in their native languages this is when they shine the brightest. Traditional dance is such a community building activity and directly related to preserving their culture. But far be it from seeming a chore this is the bass base of their commonality which bubbles up from the well of Bhutanese identity all over the country from Thimphu down to the jungles and up to the remotest primary school in Gasa. And universally the kids work in appeasing tandem assisting each other in the kinaesthetic routines. Then there’s the modern dance contributing elements of foreign culture into their routines. What a hoot for this teacher to watching the proceedings as an admirer letting the students teach the teacher as it were.
If I could more tap in to this natural enthusiasm and cooperation and transplant it into a lesson what better results might come? The next day we were visited by the Educational Officer a woman of great power and distinction who could be held up as an example for young female learners in Bhutan. The EO was well spoken and direct in her proceedings giving sound advice in all areas of education and student development. Of course when i mentioned Nancy Strickland she replied, “They go way back” At this point in my tenure here I am reassessing my techniques and teaching style to match the needs of the students. Constant reflection is needed to make adjustments moment to moment or day to day. I want these kids to get the most out of my time here. My class nine students are now teenagers from 13-16 and its both confounding and thrilling to adapt to their changing minds. I have never taught this age and am finding it rewarding watching them develop into young adults, the not so distant leaders and noble citizens of Bhutan.
“As always happened with him during his solitude, a mass of ideas and feelings had been accumulating within him, which he could not communicate to those about him” excerpt from Anna Karenina
Meanwhile in the forest I observed a giant bee pollinating blossoms up at Tsangma’s where a raven perched atop the stone ruin. I visited the cypress grove where in a coppice rest two identical cypress with a patch of duff between them. I like to meditate on this spot which has rejuvenating energy. There is nowhere else in the world like this forest where everything is as it should be. Here the author rests allowing the demons to knock around in his head or he merely slips into the void of emptiness. Through the trees he spies Shamposo the humped massif separating Trashiyangtse from Arrunachal Pradesh. Scented pines waft sappy perfume through the moist air to the delight of the all sentient beings. The grove exudes birdsong an open aviary orchestra of unseen winged creatures. I usually linger until the last strains of light filter through the hollow which is now six o’clock in the evening. The hollow has consciousness that is only perceptible to a human patient and learned in the ways of mountain worship. If one has the constitution the forest will impart valuable lessons to the beholder of a natural heart. In the distance sunspots play upon the ranges of Arrunachal Pradesh which greedily gobbles up the golden splotches while Tsenkharla languishes behind a curtain of mist.
The river bounds west from its source in Tawang through the desolate valley with grasses sprouting from parched earth. The Dagme Chu in all its glory snakes, loops, meanders, toward Doksom to meet its other half the Kulong Chu. Together they will run towards Chasm, disappearing into a tanned landscape where I lose its course where the road veers towards Mongar but the river continues on seeking the Manas and its grand exit from the Kingdom. Oh how excited it must be to find the Brahmaputra and join its languid thrust to the sea. But it is the stretch where it emerges from Tawang sneaking around the corner to Doksom that I survey with great deference. Nar a tree dots this passage only bare rock and firm earth and the rippled overgrowth of some abandon terraces keep the flow company. Oh how lonely it is and how dramatic the spread ribs of the earth exposing empty heartedness. This is the savage and fundamental elemental soul of the planet, naked in the eyes of the world. Cloaked on the ridgeline I silently observe its course listening to the whoosh of the river until I peel away to nothingness becoming everything.
During Social Service we pluck and pick, pick and pluck trash from behind the mess where a bloated pig sleeps in its slop. I want to slaughter it, roast it, and eat it! The air has taken on the aroma of spring as steam rises from the warm mud and crickets fill the night with their chorus which soothes my heart. The big wheel turns around as the farmer’s work their fields but there is no time or seasons. Only the eternal moment which accesses the source that blinds us from what binds us from enlightenment? Guru Rinpoche was able to see and manipulate this force thusly performing miracles and subjugating demons, monsters of the mind that can only be dispersed by the light of extreme and constant presence. In this way tantric Buddhism provides the practitioner with a short cut to enlightenment. Since Bhutanese love short cuts it’s no wonder this is their preferred brand of the teachings. In my convoluted mind the portal is elusive but a student’s smile or the brush stroke of clouds on a cliff affords me a taste of the gig. The intent of all things presses on if we are willing or not and humans expend a great deal of effort resisting what is already eminent, primarily our own deaths. So look over your left shoulder and give a hardy howdy to that which stalks you. On the Rodang La trek near the suspension bridge I saw the grim sallow skeletal face of death in a tattered black cloak with distorted smile and hollow eyes reaching hungrily for my elbow. I shuddered and looked away narrowly escaping my destiny but we will meet again in a minute so before I go I have more to tell you.
The perception of time is an alien concept. I talked to my dearest consort calling to wish her a happy 39th birthday. Seven years have passed since we had coupled but nothing has changed in my heart. It’s as if it hasn’t happened yet yet died a thousand times. A love uncontained by the world embodying the entire universe overflowing from the Big Dipper dumping its sublime contents onto the roofless castle of the exalted Prince Tsangma. But what of this love? One might say the best years are behind or are they still to begin. The primal forest withers to the equanimity of the arid desert and all is eventually reclaimed by the sea. Oh what a splendid road we travel together even when apart. For any and all forlorn lovers take heart in the truth of suffering. Buddha warned of attachment which always yields to despair. So my friendly advice, love without attachment or expectations and let go with a smile. Easier said than done my dears...I observe my heart as a chrysalis approaching re-emergence. But what form this new LOVE will take is undetermined. Perhaps a paternal or monastic branch of the same root that once sucked the lustful lotus of youth. My former lover takes one more step towards the bardo as I tread a different path to the same destination. If we only look around would our hearts not flood with compassion for all beings? Angels and pixies reach out to assist us in our journey home, to the source of Great Spirit.
Did I lose the plot or lose the book? Am I being too cryptic? Perhaps the reader might find something of value in this musing or might have abandoned these writings already. But solitude has its price. Being the only Phelincpa member of a Bhutanese village can make a body crazy. So I regurgitate my thoughts into cyberspace like a drifting rocket man peering back at the blue speck of earth. Solitude is also sweet though if one can sift through the demonic talons of consciousness and find their indestructible core, a core that is the same as all human beings who ever will or did exist. Thinking back on my postings I realize I am obsessed with geography and sex. Well my mom scolded me for the latter and implored me to remember my audience. Perhaps an audience as varied as at a Dead show. But it is assumed everyone reading this is adult aged. Nevertheless I hope mom is somewhat satisfied with this bizarre entry that touches on many things other than the human body. So for her sake and yours I will try to henceforth omit the saucy parts that bubble from my overheated libido. But like a volcano you never know when it might blow its top. Ahem where was I oh yeah Geography. I write a lot about Tawang and local spots to which I roam. Much like Don Juan was invested in seeking power spots your author does the same. Tawang in itself can be taken as a metaphor for an enchanted realm that I am unable to physically reach. Much like Avalon is a metaphor of a secretive interior realm of Britain. Although it would seem that Tawang is Britain and East Bhutan is Avalon. Much as any borderlands represent the bardo or the divide between the unknowable hence the unclaimed territories hold a special place in mans soul. Living on a frontier provides me a source of joy I find words unable to express. A palpable twinge often grows into a fathomless yearning expressed in the panorama. Perhaps this love is the greatest of all that unattached expression of divinity where the formless meets form in what we call grace. In reality there is no Tawang or Trashiyangtse just as there is no me or you. Although I am aware of this truth I will not obtain freedom from form in this lifetime alas I am too much in love with the world. Too attached to people to myself or my ego constructed identity. I am not ready to take the plunge into the truest peace superseding the most intense romantic, familial, or platonic bonds, to seek a love pure as GOD...But I am ready for a bacon burger dog!
Teachers Day 2013
Teacher’s day is always a special event and this was my third celebrated so far in Asia and my second in Bhutan. Bhutan celebrates in their own style with the students orchestrating the events. The day proceeded like this. I was awakened by a friendly call from Sonam Lhamo who wished me a happy teacher’s day then Karlos helped me into my gho on a drizzly morning and we took breakfast prepared by the students sitting on the floor in the old prayer hall. Next the staff and students assembled in the MP hall decorated with balloons and butter lamps for thoughtfully prepared speeches and the requisite traditional dances with fancy footwork and waiving arms that are reminiscent of delicate seaweed moving back in forth in the current. While it’s true I’ve seen enough of these dances to last this lifetime the significance and beauty is never wasted on me. Next came a delicious lunch and tug of war and hoops on the court. I particularly enjoyed the female teachers taking on the girls frantically zipping up and down the court in colorful kiras. We had the afternoon to relax welcoming a gargantuan rogue Thunderstorm walking on legs of lightning which knocked out the power. Despite this fact six hundred or so people waited patiently in the MP hall playing flashlight tag on the roof. As usual power was restored and the four hour joint teacher/student program commenced. The set list included skits, modern and traditional dance and song. Some highlights were the class five students putting on a comedy sketch parodying the teachers including Mr. Tim howling for Dawa the dog! The hilarious histrionics were made doubly so by the fact I was seated next to principal La who made a good humoured remark towards the shenanigans. (I observed principal La throughout the day with his son noting what an attentive father he is) From my side I preformed the second half of Looks Like Rain inspired by the torrents outside.
The next day several people commented on my singing, Karlos said it sounded like I was scolding and Dookto called it very sweet doing her own Bobby impersonation (Not half bad) Watching these precocious kids one could be sure the survival of their precious culture.
Waiting For The Worms
“Soon a worm will come out of your buttock” Karlos
My energy has been low this year and after talking with Becky I suspect I have worms. Yes I said it your author has worms. I almost vomited on the village path when she explained how these parasites are passed by bacteria in shit and shit is everywhere at a school with no water. So I will go see Namsa when I get my stitches out and get some de worming tablets. Ah life in Bhutan. But the fact is I am tired too much of the time indicated by baggy eyes and hollow sockets making my face look skeletal. In my vanity I’ve been asking strangers in T-Gang how old I am and the range is 30-41. For someone who was carded for more than a decade after his 21st I am apparently looking my age.
Teacher’s day gave me a renewed sense of purpose and Principal la has been stressing speaking English at school which is a hot button issue in Eastern Bhutan and here’s why. English is the mode of instruction since the third king made it so many years ago. This means the curriculum except for Dzonkha is taught in English. These kids mother tongue is either Sharshop or a multitude of other regional dialects and now they are forced to learn two foreign languages English and Dzonkha. They are extremely shy to articulate answers in class and many have a hard time forming coherent sentences. They naturally fall back on their native speech in social situations or even during class work which makes changing their incorrigible ways difficult. Also they don’t get opportunity to read enough with all the praying, dancing, and sports and overcrowded hostels. The teacher can only do so much in the limited time together with so many students and the responsibility must be shouldered by the students. Speaking English isn’t hip and they don’t feel loose speaking it but nevertheless I encourage them to try suggesting they make a pact to speak English on Sunday with their friends. Despite my cheery proposition I have doubts any will oblige the request. I was exasperated when I called them up and asked oral questions about what we have covered in class or asking them to describe their family. Answer, “I have six families” No Tashi you have six members in your family” I made the class repeat and they instantly responded to their preferred style of retention. Many in class nine could barely pronounce words to impromptu questions. That is not their style as they respond to the Indian rote style and thus like to memorize their material and present. I left class feeling dejected and concerned and spent many hours mulling over my own methodologies. I try to touch on the four domains of ESL learning each class but how to emphasize speaking improve writing and encourage reading while sculpting them into attentive listeners simultaneously. This is what a teacher thinks about in bed in the predawn hours sighing. Another challenge is classroom management as the students frozen stiff in other classes enjoy a sense of security in mine. But with that security comes goofiness, outbursts, and tomfoolery. I can get them back by scolding but I don’t like this method. A great teacher must set high expectations in advance and hold their students accountable to meet those expectations. But I am not a great teacher yet but am feeling my way along finding my voice and developing my skill set. Classroom management is difficult for many new teachers but I am resolute to strive for excellence in that arena. One thing I won’t do is yell or use scare tactics to achieve that goal, especially since it is imperative that the atmosphere in class fosters participation.
Some teachers were driving to Doksom so I took a ride and walked to Gom Kora and spent some time on the Dagme Chu which had swelled from the rains. The river flowed in white rapids swirling and surging through the gorge. The creamy liquid cut through red and tan rock rising towards the summer’s watermark. The shoreline consists of enormous boulders and sandy washes sprouting bushels of pig’s food and nettle. The charcoal sky began to roar harmonizing with the river as i circumnutated the sacred temple with one other elderly devotee. Simply stated Gom Kora is a spiritual oasis as I reckon my souls deeds while walking around the not quite circular edifice. This is the most peaceful place along the river tucked under the quiet road. Outside the retaining wall are potato fields and inside the giving tree grows from the rock where Guru Rinpoche subdued the serpent demoness. All in this domain is watched by the triple tiered gilded pagoda. If you make it out to East Bhutan don’t miss Gom Kora!
On the road I flagged down a vehicle carrying two youngish Swiss tourists and their guide and driver. They were on the final day of a month long tour including the Jhomolahari Trek and a trip East. They transported me all the way to the K.C while I jabbered loquaciously about my life here. Meeting tourists always reaffirms my fortunate circumstance of living in this special country. As it happens I was particularly excited to reach the fabled town since I had an interview with Becky that evening and Ashleigh was also waiting at in the bakery patio. This night would be a meeting of BCF veterans who were feeling the strain of their second year. Through drinks and dinner we worked ourselves into frenzy and I can’t recall laughing so hard in my entire life. At points we concealed our tear streaked faces unable to look at one another. It was one of those conversations dictated by spirit as one person can’t be that jocular without the confluence of shared experience. I won’t bother recalling details except they did name my tape worm Tashi and he was thereafter addressed as a fourth member of the party. The food came between bouts of revelry and they savoured the veggies as Tashi and I enjoyed the chicken. We laughed the night away before Ashleigh was picked up by two of her friends simultaneously; one of the gentlemen was a spitting image of the aged Asian kid from sixteen candles. Our heads spinning we hit the sack in our separate room by ten o’clock. The following morning Becky was suffering from a headache so I went about town doing errands. I bought things such as boxed milk, mangoes, pasta sauce, peanut butter, popcorn cornels, dish towels, etcetera, Items that cannot be commandeered in the village. Poor Becky must buy toilet paper out of town. Ah Bhutan! But hey Jamie if you’re tuned in wouldn’t you know T-Gang has come a long way since the late eighties and the K.C hotel is a fine establishment with flat screen T.V’s and hot water. I saw a Brokpa woman in full regalia shopping at the K.C which summed up the crossroads of ancient and modern Bhutan. Somehow they make it seamless as Bhutanese embrace development and technology in a Bhutanese way. The first Sunday of the month is a no vehicle day in Trashigang but i heard my school bus was parked out of town so I lugged my heavy box a mile up the road to meet the bus. Of course the bus drove back passed the K.C to pick up the Lepcha clan. Loaded down with meet and multinational passengers we rumbled back to Tsenkharla under threatening skies.
The Days Between
“...Once we grew into our shoes we told them where to go, walked halfway around the world on promise of the glow, stood upon a mountaintop walked barefoot in the snow, gave the best we had to give how much we’ll never know”
One of my class seven students shares the name Pema with all eight members of her family. Yellowma! Names are a never ending source of fascination and entertainment for your author. They add a cartoonish quality to this peculiar life. One thing I can’t grow accustomed too is the scarcity of H2O. It’s not that one can’t survive storing water, but when it comes for twenty minutes every third day at 5 Am those knowing me know that this might be a problem. We had an improvement in usage but the well has dried up. Blah Blah Blah shut up or go home right oh wait a minute this is home...Either way life can be frustrating and annoying here but it helps to be in good humor rather than out of temper as I too often am. Many of us are secretly spurred on by these challenges which make life here unique. Health and sanity are two challenges that BCF teachers face in their tenure here. That and the enormous task of teaching Bhutanese children English with a curriculum that is over their head and severe board exams that determine their future based on that curriculum. The Bhutanese education pundits are doing their best to develop an appropriate curriculum but sometimes in reality the demands on teacher and student are overzealous or too ambitious. From their side (a popular Bhutanese expression) they need to develop a capable generation of students to assume the reins of the country. These are some of the issues all of us working in the system grapple with. And then there’s the trash problem oh boy don’t get me started.
At present its Sunday night here I have two buckets worth of dirty clothes soaking and no running water to rinse. I’ve a tad bit of remaining water to cook with. The bell tolls for lights out meaning its nine o’clock and I’m still yet to prepare supper or finalize my week’s lessons plans. Sundays get away too fast with six day workweeks especially if one chooses to meet his chums in T-Gang. With exams approaching both teachers and students will be focused on accomplishing the joint goal of student success as unfortunately exams count for everything in this system. The principal and VP encourage me to make the questions exceedingly difficult but I emphasize review and preparation as I’m not trying to fool the students or root out the toppers. I will try to give the students all the tools necessary for them to hopefully succeed. But some will do well and others poorly and that’s just the way it is. Fortunately for my own piece of mind there are no board exams for class seven or nine as Becky’s students face the board exam in class six. For me I oscillate between all the materials on my syllabus needed to be covered before midterm. If the tiger goes underground then rest assured he is working (or de worming) nicely! In the meantime enjoy this fat juicy post and be well!
|Fly Away! Mongar Town|