Monday, June 3, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Lhomon



“...and what ever happened to his precious self control?”

Part 1: From the Lair of the Tiger (on another moonless night)

I’m not exactly sure where the moon goes but she doesn’t show up in East Bhutan often. In fact I can’t think of anyplace I’ve been where I see less of Luna. I feel like a jilted lover waiting by the window while Luna is off frolicking in more hospitable climates. Perhaps plopping her bellybutton ring in silver tropical seas? Or dazzling the dwellers of the Bay Area by resting on the North Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge? This just in Luna has been seen skinny dipping in Lake Tahoe, oh my! But in Eastern Bhutan there is nothing but inky blotches of darkness injected with tuffs of spooky steam. Nonetheless crickets chime their nightly serenade perhaps lamenting the absence of the moon? With the cloudlets blotting out the stars and obscuring the sun it seems a pretty illusion, a reality inside a child’s snow globe. Resplendent with minuscule treasures, terraces, temples, cows, and the meandering Dagme Chu, even a tiny Tawang! From the inside it all appears an enormous drum. The view from Village Incognito expands in all directions simultaneously projecting earth and space. This is Lhomon the land of Southern Darkness a mysterious realm divided by a mighty chain of peaks, the abode of the white GODS. To the North the Tibetan Plateau and to the South the verdant rolling inner range. An ecological paradise referred to as the The Land of Medicinal Herbs flattening into the endless plain of the subcontinent. The inner Himalaya is inhabited by a patchwork of tribes united under a noble monarch: including the Tibetan lineage of the Druk (or dragon) people, The Indo/Burmese descendents known as Sharshop, (with a unique oral language) The Brokpa from Tibet (or an alien planet) Lepcha, Laya, Lops, and those prolific Nepali who spread across South Asia like ants on peanut butter. The list goes on and on, all enjoying life in this benevolent and bejewelled emerald palace. Throw in a few Phelincpa’s for good measure and dress em up in funny costumes which are made primarily by the adroit women folk as they chew dolma straddling their looms. Where animistic spirits are abound along with animals and Homo sapiens in brightly colored cloth work the land yielding crops, going back to huts and copulating yielding children. Drinking Ara, gambling, and most importantly praying always praying. Praying to Buddha’s, manifestations, and deities who go between the monotheistic science of Buddhism and the fiery spirits of Bon, a complex montage of ritual a mosaic of mandala’s and spinning wheels causing giddiness for the mortal mind. And this immensely diverse spec on the map which I had never heard of until the age of 29 has now become my world, the topography of my heart. A transformative place that weaves its influence on the dusty threads of my soul into a tapestry not yet manifested.

This moonless night happens to be Sunday that overweight Sabbath hung over from the sacramental wine and wafer. Already wary of dragging his hung over ass into work on Monday morning. That heavy old man of Sunday bloated from Saturday Night smorgasborgh, having eaten all 31 flavors and gelato for dessert. A happy night owl hoot hooting at the keypad will be an angry man in a few hours hopefully softened by the warm smiles of his pupils. His pupils surrounded by rubies of a dreamful night, staying up too late wrestling with grammar for the next day’s lesson. Monday like an anal taxman always comes on time and always collects his due. Except those frosty Monday’s disembarking from Sherwood chair, drawing up fresh lines on the South Face whooshing into the ice bar for a Coke and a smile. Tomorrow is not that Monday but the mountain doesn’t give a picayune about what day it is, always present! Here! In its seat and ready for what may come.

Part 2: Work Done On Premises (The Dark side of the Rainbow)        

During library time (the afterschool program I have instigated) the other teacher was abusing the students especially the boys belittling them and hitting them. Poor Sonam, a small and simple boy was on the verge of tears. I had excused him to the toilet and upon his return he was scolded and thrashed by the other teacher (Hey teacher leave those kids alone!) I protested explaining I had excused the boy but it didn’t affect the capricious instructor. I was very upset to see such abuse in an environment I have tried to make secure and enjoyable. How can beating a child spawn anything productive? Now I’m pondering my options in confronting the instructor. I would go to administration but beating is tolerated in Bhutan and is traditionally as ingrained in the curriculum as prayer. My stomach was ill as I lavished young Sonam with attention trying to distract him from his emotional and physical wounds. This is a part of Bhutan I don’t enjoy and didn’t find it surprising that the students were not asking this instructor anything instead turning to me for help. While it’s true my classes are not the most solemn affairs it’s a small price to pay for gaining the trust of students. Not all teachers strike their students but many do hit the boys and girls in their care. The only positive for me is that I am recommitted to kindness and compassion in my own instruction. These kids have a tough life as it is living at a boarding school and then they must endure abuse to boot. I love working with them in the library since they enjoy learning new vocabulary and the girls are more unrestrained in their conversations with me in a non formal setting. I have noticed as the girls get older they are shy to speak in the presence of the boys. Perhaps this is a cultural phenomenon and several former BCF alumni like Vicky and JD were champions for girl’s rights in the school. We do good work here, across several mountains Becky dedicates her free time to entertain the kids and we all give what we can. I always feel I could and should give more outside the classroom but after witnessing barbaric displays like today I realize what I do give is sufficient. (But I can give a whole lot more) What will my legacy be?

The weather report is as follows. Clouds streak the borderlands with distant sun spots splashing Tawang. It rained in torrents the other night muddying up the campus. This year is full of water (The year of the female water snake) has dumped her load incessantly. It appears spring thunderstorms will segue into the monsoon which inches its wet nose closer each moment. Ironically it pours from the sky but the tap is dry. I can collect a bit by leaving my buckets outside, nothing like bathing in rainwater right? The Mongoose of Monday brings Emadatsi for supper and the kids like to tease me about it. “Sir its Emadatsi tonight” “I know Karma Sonam I’ll be there!” This unusual staple has replaced my kimche heart and I actually love its spicy flavor. (I think my dad would dig it too) As Scotty would say “Smokin’ hot Emadatsi” Yeah yer right! Lonely in Bhutan but I do have enough to fill my tin cup. Butterfly my gregarious Indian chum made me supper on Saturday night when I was sick. The Indians are on five year contracts but the government is fazing them out for national teachers. The eccentric Brahman Prabu has been here 16 years already, Mr. Tim only 1.5 years so far.  At boring Dzonkha meetings Butterfly and I come up with words beginning in b that end in fly for example, bunking fly, beer fly, bar fly, bedroom fly, beating fly, barfing fly, Bhutanese fly, bored fly, border fly, bad fly, bardo fly, bon fly, better fly, basketball fly, bagger fly, beggar fly, bus fly, busboy fly, burden fly, bowl fly, burnt fly etcetera. We are close to a hundred B-flies already and counting. Everybody needs a hobby especially in Bhutan. (For my part I miss being a Bobby fly or barn fly but what to do Kathmandu) But right here the beat goes on in a wide open puja jam with twenty foot horns and space drums playing Gurus siren song, as the twilight birds croon their melodious lullabies. I will try not to be a fly in the ointment as Butterfly always quips “Don’t destroy the culture!” But beating in the library I cannot tolerate.

My other friend Karlos and his wife Sonam have finally returned after the 21 day funeral rights for Sonam’s father. I actually missed hanging out in the village at their shop sharing the occasional meal. It was nice to see Dawa Dema who instantly recognized me bounding towards me and licking my toes. (Dawa Dema is a puppy not a woman I’m sure you’d guessed) So that’s the story and I’m sticking to it. It might sound dull from the cosmopolitan point of view and duller from my own perspective. But like Paris Hilton in her reality escapades I get on with it, the Simple Life! But sometimes like Chef Ramsey I want to SHUT IT DOWN! LA DA DA...Living alone immersed in a remote village can do funny things to a mind. On the Indian made road in Tawang they had painted LOC (line of control) on the cinderblocks along the wayside. Where is my LOC somewhere back in Thamel or in the Chitwan jungle? No matter I will draw a new line in the dirt, slipping deeper into the ether of village incognito, where there is always work to be done if not fun to be had.     

Dead Rat in Paro Town

Post Script

On my coke run to the village I saw a horrific sight. A mother of a prominent village family was lashing her daughter (one of my favorite kiddos) with an electrical chord. The child grasped my leg for protection her heart rapidly pumping like a hummingbird against my thigh, the mother was whipping her while she clung to me. Eventually I pleaded for the enraged mother to stop. The child ran away blubbering on the drag her whole body shaking in sobs on the verge of a meltdown. I coaxed her into Tsewang's (a former students) shop and bought her a treat of her choice and sat with her until she recovered her composure. Damn this village Incognito needs a puja pronto...

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