“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.