Monday, September 23, 2013

Blessed Rainy Days

A wake of clouds jets across azure sky from Tawang to Tibet crossing over my rock at Tsenkharla. In the wee hours heavy pellets of rain sounded like applause, an aquatic ovation for another season passed but I awoke into a sunshine daydream of the clear blue bell of morning. Where am I and how did I get here? Were the two thoughts that assembled from the cloudy delusion of my fledgling consciousness. Another long wet summer fades like red roses from the vine a season that began dancing with pixies up at old Tsangma’s ruin in the twilight and ends in sparkling morning light. I can see clear into Lumla where Monyul lasses toil in colorful flowing skirts of phosphoresce lime and lurid cerise flirting about spinning prayer wheels and chattering in sweet tonal Monpa, Good Morning! On this side of the border it’s more reserved reverent prayer and elegant kiras just another Friday in Drukyal. Blessed Rainy Day is considered a kind of second Losar holiday in Bhutan so we had Friday afternoon and Saturday off. I jetted off to Yangtse town to meet Becky and Ian & Vicky two alumni teachers who returned to the kingdom for a vacation. The two intrepid travellers had spent most of the year globetrotting and re-emerged into East Bhutan last week visiting their old stomping grounds in Rangjoon. Friday was a rainy day with clouds blurring the distant peaks socking in the town and hanging over the chalet style edifices on the ridges. Unfortunately Becky and I were delegated back into room number six in the dungeon of the hotel which also has a far nicer upstairs selection of rooms and wooded lounge. Readers might recall this is the room where we bunked last year where I found blood on the pillow case and mould on the sheets. Well no blood this time but the mould was worse than before on the heels of the monsoon and the Karmaling Dream Moths were still plastered to the cement wall. We spent the evening in the lounge catching up with Vicky & Ian, a pleasant reunion of THE FOUR FRIENDS. Much of the conversation was centered on Martha who passed away exactly one year prior. They had spent their morning hanging a horizontal strand of prayer flags within the white vertical stand of flags that had been planted in honour of the late great Martha on a spot near a Chorten overlooking her beloved river. They ran into some of her students who exclaimed “I AM MARTHA” meaning they were her students but in truth there is a bit of Martha in all of us always.

The next day was Blessed Rainy Day a day of repose for ALL Bhutanese who quit the fields, offices, and classrooms to enjoy special food, dance, and drink with their families. We roamed around Chorten Kora and crossed over the rainbow serpent Kulong Chu on a wooden bridge decked with streaming flags. This is the entrance to Bumdeling a National Park that stretches up to 20,000 foot mountains and the barrier between Eastern Bhutan and Tibet. It was a sparkling day with intermittent sun and showers. The oscillating vicissitudes of natural phenomenon gave a fluid context to the earthly characters moving through the landscape. Another evening of merriment in the lounge and an upgrade to the upper floor since the gang of cyclist who had ridden from Bumthang to Bumdeling had moved on that day.

Sunday brought clear skies as I said farewell to my own gang at Zongposo and started walking up the grassy slopes towards Kamdung the rocky top of Tsenkharla. After some time I hitched a ride arriving home before noon where I whipped up some Emadatsi before hitting the trail. It was a hot afternoon as I stopped in the village to play with Sangay Dema and bumped into my former student Pema Tshomo who had transferred to Kiney. I was delighted to see a young girl who has matured and grown into her own this year, she even had a new cropped hairstyle and stylish specks. I lugged myself up to Shakshang Goempa where I saw Karma Eden and her father a farmer in dusty gho. The Lhakang is a hundred and fifty years old with bare wood planked floors, dusty cloth wrapped texts, old statues, and faded tantric paintings on the walls. I received a blessing from the toothless lama before moving up to Namkhar Goempa traversing an oaked ridge. Past Namkhar I found some stunning pasture land where a village woman grazed her horses under the protection of Shampula.

Back at home I read some Ayn Rand before outing the light and slipping into a deep sleep exhausted from a wonderful weekend in Far East Bhutan.
Tim from Timbuktu    

Thursday, September 19, 2013


“Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you, it’s late September and I really should be back at school” Maggie May

Mist swirls in mystic dervishes rising languidly from the shimmering Dagme Chu through the scant pines of Tsenkharla. The cloud break reveals the hinterland of Arrunachal Pradesh beckoning me like a sirens song. The Yin of layered forests blankets the ridges of Tawang while the bare Yang of Kiney pronounces the end of Bhutan. The last drops of the monsoon gleam upon lush grass where insects whir and butterflies flutter about aimlessly. Students are gaily preparing for a three day holiday to celebrate Shakshang Tsechu and I scratch my head and wonder what to do? After delivering my lesson I allowed some free time for the students to practice dancing for the event. Bhutanese traditional dance always recollects images of kelp underwater drifting in the waves, a rhythmic and gentle swaying accentuated by the waiving of hands and simple footsteps. Sonam Rinchen orders the students around monitoring their every movement and making modifications when necessary, this is all done in Sharshop but it is evident that the kids are enjoying themselves. There is a sparkle in a child’s eye that cannot be reproduced by an adult. What have we lost while growing up and can we recapitulate that potent magic? As time rolls on I become more embittered and more attached to my situation here, darkening like the trees of the forest glancing towards autumn. That fresh squeezed elixir has soured but I swig it down anyway like Coca Cola. “Sir you are addicted to coke!” Phuntsho says as I walk by the whole expanse of Eastern Bhutan glistening like Chinese brocade before my shaky eyes.

It’s been a gruelling week on campus with all the highs and lows that punctuate my life here. I just got back from working with a group of last year’s students who I helped with an upcoming presentation. I enjoy working with individual students or in small groups which is a rare treat. Afterschool we had a mock earthquake drill (this is earthquake country) and tonight I’m supervising night study for class ten. I have been earnestly prepping and delivering lessons but have a lot to cover before exams. Hence TIAT has not been active of late. In other local news one of my students was involved in a gang fight last weekend outside my home.  The gang fight constituted one of my student and his two adult peers jumping a student and beating him outside the hostel. Incidents of violence are rare and I couldn’t believe it was my top student in 9C perpetrating the incident. Alcohol was involved and my student was suspended and the two adults were briefly incarcerated in Yangtse. I gave my student some friendly advice pleading with him to earnestly consider his actions.  A boarding school is an organic entity a massive blob of students coagulating into daily life like ema and datse. The beating goes on at school as someone handed me a whip to help control the students during the mock drill which I tossed aside. The second year has proven extremely intense and extremely rewarding, one can only postulate what a third year WILL bring???

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Outside the mist funnels up the steep slope to my front doors licking my toes and steam peels off the treetops in a whimsical curly cue array. The monsoon ungulates reaching its cloudy tendrils into the Himalaya from the Bay of Bengal across the drenched plains through dense jungles and into the chain of vertical hills finally petering out in snow flakes and dying on the barren Tibetan Plateau that ambles unrestrained into the wasteland of Central Asia. But on the borderlands of Eastern Bhutan and Arrunachal Pradesh India there is plenty of moisture to water the crops producing a fine yield. Farmers cart veggies around in baskets up from lost valleys or down from precarious perches to trade or sell in bazaars or roadside stalls all over the kingdom. (Whomever harvest doma bits must make a fortune) Life adheres to the rhythms of the universe according to the seasons and rituals put in place by Guru Rinpoche for the people of this enchanted realm. (WELCOME BACK IAN &VICKYEVERYONES FAVORITE ANTIPODES WHO START THEIR SOJOURN INTO THE KINGDOM TODAY) From my side, it’s another working day and my lessons are prepped and my bag is sitting on the corner of a clean desk, I am ready to go! At dawn I was awaken by the screech of a raven that would send Poe jumping out of his pajamas. But I know that ravens are to be adored rather than feared as this one seemed to call out “DO you plan to start living today” We are both made of stardust and YOU are too and maybe I’m plain tired of denying my divinity. Bhutan chips away at the illusion of separateness which causes one to reinforce their walls against the vivid unity contained in the ravens alarm. We all awaken when were ready and in the meantime we’re all part time Buddha’s.  
At morning assembly the administration cut off the girl’s hair. The girls had an anguished countenance as staff sheared off half their manes leaving the job crudely undone then shoving a handful of hair back into their hands. Hair and jewellery are the only means of personal expression for students who all wear national dress and partake in a strictly regimented academic and religious schedule. Whenever I feel tethered to the system I remember how much freedom I enjoy comparatively. One native teacher remarked that if girls wore shirt and pants they would be inviting rape and even HE would be aroused in the classroom. I politely excused myself from the conversation walking to the edge of campus to calm my emotions. On the way I passed groups of teachers shoving dolma into their mouths then returning the banana leaves to their marsupial style pockets. On the home front I cleaned my house best i could manage taking out mouldy clothes for washing. Mould grows on everything here since the monsoon air is saturated with moisture. For whatever reason this is a particularly harsh period on the body as many students are getting sick as the climate begins to change eventually becoming drier and cooler. The days are receding and the temperature is dropping slightly but the raindrops still pepper the land. I estimate that we have gotten 50 inches of rain this year as it can come down in buckets, cats and dogs, and kitchen sinks all at once. Blessed Rainy Day is approaching and sometime after that rain will taper off and on the heels of the reprise the tourists will gallivant into the kingdom seeping all the way into Trashigang arriving in minivans. The lucky devils will trek and attend Tsechu but it is unlikely any will reach Tsenkharla instead heading to Chorten Kora and T/Yangtse.  90% of tourists never cross the BIG LA and I give props to those who explore the East. The K.C will be full and rooms scarce in town so the next few weeks will be my window to enjoy the solitude of the ancient trading post.
But I did enjoy the K.C Hotel this weekend and on this sterling Sunday Ashleigh, Becky, and I languidly stretched across the bed in the lover’s suite watching Aljazeera. They had come to wake me up and we had breakfast on the patio overlooking the range surrounding the wooded settlement. I slid into Doksom at 3 P.M and found an astounding trail shadowing the Dagme Chu through a rocky playground with lemon grass and an occasional lonesome pine. The trail ended on a reclusive white sand beach on the banks of the muddy Dagme Chu where I baptized myself on the shoreline careful not to wade into the swift current. From the beach I had an imposing view of Shampula 4,000 feet above. My position was a few miles east of Doksom about eight miles downstream from the wastelands of Arrunachal Pradesh in a borderless territory of rock, grass, and water. On the opposite shore a few straggling farms cultivated rice with paddies occasionally broken by stands of banana trees, a tropical touch in an arid and rugged domain. The green coat of September lends the land a gentle veneer but the earth pokes out everywhere with steep walls cut by the racing river. High on the bluffs clumps of squat pines cling to crevices or are tucked into ledges. This is the end of East Bhutan I thought sitting placidly on the sand as the mountaintops turned to gold and mauve hues. A citrusy breeze enveloped my skin as I listened to my singular footsteps on the dusty trail. I caught a ride out of Doksom in the back of a pick up watching the mountains and vegetation spin on the axis of the wheels, a ride as scary as an old wooden coaster with the landscape blurring into dull blue twilight except one lurid tangerine tinted cloud resting on a distant pinnacle. Today was a respite from the blessed rain as the monsoon conquers Assam and North Eastern India with torrential floods, the wet grand finale of a yearly phenomenon essential to life on the subcontinent. Another one day weekend flies by and another work week rapidly approaches. Plan the lessons, do the chores, keep your nose to the grinding stone in old Rangthangwoong...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Supper in Samsara

“Ever since I was a pup, deal was I’d sing before I’d sup, this silver spoons my beggar’s cup, and when it’s empty I fill up, all I have to do is just show up” Two Djinn

A silver sky bares tidings of rain as summer lingers on in Samsara. This place feels close to home but I haven’t found home yet, that’s because home is the present moment a place I rarely dwell in. When you’re truly home the past and future have no bearing on the soul. I love this mountaintop but it isn’t home yet and for a person with my anxieties this TRUE HOME can seem unobtainable. Thus the work begins and Buddhism offers the best map HOME. Even my vague Bon Mountain Worship is merely a fabricated link. Mindfulness is the hardest task a human can undertake a proposition so frightening that I rather wallow in fear than take the steps necessary to find that true paradise.  Awareness of every movement, breath, and thought without the aid of stimulus (sex drugs or rock n roll) is the path to enlightenment, a trail fraught with peril that one must follow eternally until they break the bonds and find HOME. Even attachment or possession can be a backslide into suffering so what’s left,  Some wayfarer standing on a hill with no family except everything that has ever existed or will ever exist? The whole universe is his home nothing more or less than that. Every molecule flowing through his being until each blade of grass is his child. Makes me want to run away and attach myself to anything I can like a barnacle on the haul of FORM. FORMLESS is the ONLY salvation and that perturbs me. Unmask GOD, DESIRE, and sensuality leaving only awareness. Peel off the labels and go where even Jesus or Buddha cannot follow because wherever you go there you are. WE ARE MORE THAN THE SUM OF OUR COLLECTIVE PARTS. The oneness that binds us all together in this lurid life force that manifests as the roar of silence thundering through the void, misunderstood or misconstrued it can drive a person insane. The schizophrenic hears all the voices in his consciousness, the obsessive compulsive clings relentlessly to form doomed to repeat history, and the vapid ignores it altogether. Perhaps you can only find IT out when there is nothing left to lose. In my finer moments I am the wealthiest man alive owning all that I see. Chief Seattle wisely stated one cannot own the land but what if everyone owned everything together?  I guess that is called sharing.

Rain patted on the tin roof of the classroom as students read their journals aloud. It has helped me this year knowing the names and preferences of all my class seven students. There are a few names in class nine I mix up but I have been focusing on struggling students and defiant boys this week. I have noted that the extra care has yielded good results.

 Being a teacher is intense since every thought deed or action directly relates to the wellness of a student, a symbiotic relationship whose origin is the teacher’s essence NO PREASURE RIGHT. I love my students but realize how much I need to improve for their sake. Every one of my actions garners a reaction in the classroom and this career requires immense focus. So basically it challenges all the holes in my being constantly begging me to pony up and ride.  Giddy up! Last night I was on duty for class ten night study supervising 120 teenagers. The VP came in and seemed annoyed at the noise level but I was fine with it since most of the kids were assisting one another while I helped individuals. In class nine I was impressed with my student’s responses to mock exam questions for Dawa. I am stressing citing examples from the text and making concrete connections to their own lives within their answers.  Critical thinking can be like squeezing blood from a stone.

At times I feel the antonym of mindfulness which creates a Shangri Blah sensation. (More Bhutanese doldrums)I have put in more energy into this endeavour than I give myself credit for and have built a solid foundation.  Its morning so I rummage in my messy drawer to find a pair of clean socks, slacks, and the corduroy shirt Morgan gave me before I shipped out. Karlos knocks on my door to lug off a burlap sack full of empty plastic coke bottles to recycle down South for cash. Its 8:13 A.M and I am drinking milk tea my bag is packed and I’m heading to morning assembly. Tsenkharla in socked in with fog after a night of substantial rain. Lately I have been dreaming of wild animals including tigers and bears. In one dream I touched a tranquilized tiger whose fur was like silk, GRRRRRRR. You know a tigress is considered the most fearsome huntress on earth, but this male tiger hasn’t made any kills for awhile (A HUNGRY MAN IS AN ANGRY MAN)

The fog never lifted today with intermittent showers while I delivered lessons enjoying the interaction with the kids. We have finished Dawa the Dog and they seem to comprehend the story well connecting the content to their own lives exhibiting critical thinking and analyses. For lunch I had ginger snaps (generic but mom you’d enjoy them) and tonight I’m scheduled to sup at Karlos and Sonam’s where i will settle my 7,000 NU shopping tab. I hope YOU are well and enjoying life AS IT IS!

Over and out

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Breakfast in Samsara

“Look at me the time stands still the mountain here is now a hill, look away”

What’s for breakfast? I hear my stomach grumble to my brain, oh no not again, not another breakfast in Samsara. So I grab a handful of baked rice on my way out the door to school. It’s drizzling and the calendar (merely a piece of paper with numbers on it) says Monday September 2nd 2013. It’s the beginning of another workweek; I spent the weekend at the Linkhar Lodge a luxuriously appointed resort nestled in the mountains near Kanglung. The rooms reminded me of the Rustic Cottages on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe except it included a huge flat screen television, room service, wireless internet, and endless hot water. All the creature comforts made me think of home so I called my mom to boast about the accommodations.  A lovely Wangmo brought my supper to the room and I took it out on the balcony overlooking rice terraces and densely forested slopes. Sitting in the lap of luxury i enjoyed roast chicken and potato curry with sliced mango for desert. The area is comparatively lush especially in juxtaposition to rocky Doksom. Ferns and flowers drip over the narrow road winding from T-Gang up to the college. Before retiring to the resort I had an interview with Ashleigh at the bakery. Like all of us she is feeling the strain and demands put upon her. Ashleigh goes hard at anything she does putting enormous effort into her duties also going above and beyond. Last year she helped churn out a school newspaper and this year she’s supervising (and contributing) to the building of new latrines at her school. It was good to swap stories and hardships with another teacher who has endured a year and a half in Eastern Bhutan.  I checked out after taking tea and toast on the balcony listening to the spirited yelps and whoops of an archery match. This is how Bhutanese men spend Sundays while their wives gossip and wash clothes. I headed down the road and soon got a ride to Chazam where I bought a coke at a shack by the river. After walking a mile I stopped to admire the swift grey waters of the Dagme Chu when fellow BCF teacher Lee rode up in a taxi followed by Baghi sir from Kiney in his vehicle. I chatted with Lee than jumped in with Baghi who drove me into Doksom where we stopped for juice. From there I hopped in a bolero bound for Tsenkharla. I find myself running out of gas rapidly in my second year as if my tank has a rupture causing all my fuel to leak out as a vapor trail across the abyss. Why does everything seem so tedious and difficult and why is everybody staring at me all the time? Chores consume incalculable amounts of time and prepping for classes or entertaining students is a reckoning that bankrupts my soul. My eyes look sunken and tired as I laugh at the smudged handheld mirror wondering who is that middle aged man looking back? Reflections of weariness...Where Am I anyway?  Just a piece of unclaimed baggage on the frozen conveyer at 3 A.M in the Buffalo airport, or a neon motel sign (minus the letter E) blinking solemnly on the fringe of Jackpot Nevada saluting the wastelands of Idaho. Oh yeah right I’m Mr. Tim the Madman of Tsenkharla looking for the reins so to continue down the muddy deserted track towards my last place trophy. Looking for the book so I can resume the plot, what was it something about living my dream in the wilderness of Eastern Bhutan? What was the title anyway, “skipping breakfast in Samsara”? 

“They looked, as if you stood on a mountain peak and they could only take their hats off to you across the great distance” Atlas Shrugged

There are great aspects of teaching in Bhutan and it’s also extremely challenging. The class sizes are large and the students are entrenched in a rote system of learning. That’s the magical part of the cultural exchange since they have never had a phelincpa teacher and we have never taught Bhutanese students. They are entirely different than me and write answers about their next generation or next life as a matter of fact. But they are also human beings who despite a gazillion outward differences are essentially the same as me. Namkith Lepcha, a class nine student sighed and asked “How does one find peace?” I wish I knew Namkith I replied your guess is as good as mine. I added that being simple and helping others seemed to be a good approach. Aren’t we all just SURVIVORS in SAMSARA anyway? Suffering wares on each soul in varying degrees making us indignant or sulky. Humor kindness empathy and LOVE are miracles since we are merely highly developed animals and friendship is the ultimate bridge spanning the treacherous gulf of human isolation. Nobody can do it alone a truth that is painfully clear on lonely nights on the border. Youth is amazing as I observe the exuberant spirit of my class seven students who laugh and play as only children can. By class nine they have already outgrown that particular innocent exuberance never to be reclaimed in this lifetime. Teaching helps me keep connected to the pulse of youth but I also feel a grave responsibility to guide students and impact them positively. The power in my hands is a bit unsettling like being given a live lightning bolt and told to subjugate the demon of ignorance. Well in a way the students are the ones teaching me to be a teacher, and it’s a slow gain of aptitude for me like heaving my-self up the slope of Annapurna. But reflecting on my abilities I concede that I have made some progress towards a peak that can never be attained. In teaching as in life it’s all about the journey as a DESTINATION is only an ILLUSSION.

“... Get out Mr. Lot and don’t you turn around”

I spent the night with shooting diarrhoea and in between trips to the shitter I lay in my fart sack lamenting home. BCF teachers must express their intent to renew in the next month and as much as I yearn to continue the reality is that I’m coming undone and don’t know if I can physically or mentally push on. The renewal process is a headache itself and last year it was a SHIT SHOW with the Dzong getting all the Siberian Ducks in a row. In the modern BCF era no one has taught for three consecutive years, most people come to the kingdom for one year of service, and I sincerely believe two years is a noble undertaking and beneficial to the community where a third year might just be madness (therein lies your folly) but it’s not an easy place to say goodbye to either. My goal was two years and with Shiva’s help I’ll make the finish line, but what of my future in Bhutan, I cannot say for certain. But as Jamie remarked she didn’t want to leave Bhutan until it had changed her. But have I changed?  One positive is despite the severity of things here I know my teaching has improved and I’d love to continue on with my class seven who are a special group. Maybe I just need to make a cloth surrogate doll to hug at night to tamp down the loneliness inside. I always thought nature was all I needed but as it turns out human connection is essential for my own survival. On many levels the students fill up my soul to the brim but something else is definitely lacking. I just feel tired and FLAT and dog gone it I miss creature comforts like clean water, wholesome food, and a different brand of fun. It’s all a trade off and one must always sacrifice one thing for another.  I never want to leave bitter and I must confess a portion of my zeal has diminished in year number two but at the same time my love has grown stronger. WHAT TO DO KATMANDHU? Whatever course I take will be the correct one and I will cherish the days that are left in this magical place.