The spectacular morning sunrise floods Arrunachal Pradesh and spills into East Bhutan. Neighbouring Tawang is aptly named the Land of Dawn Lit Mountains as Trashiyangtse is the Land of Spiritual Awakening. The region sounds like a spot for morning people isn’t it? Yesterday I headed to Zangtopelri to pray, Rinchen Wangmo was attending the alter unwrapping a bundle of incense and pointing to the label she laid on the table, she quipped “Ancient Tibetan” Suddenly a jolt from the Guru’s thunderbolt coursed through my body as I realized where I was standing. Rinchen Wangmo herself was ancient in her simplistic kira and earthy manner and I was in a remote gilded temple in the heart of the Himalayan world. The sweet air filled my nostrils as a stream of sunlight illuminated the supple features of Rinchen’s face, her babe strapped to her back in colourfully stripped cloth. We had a nice conversation under the tantric statues of fierce deities standing on the backs of a three dimensional tiger. (Your author imagines a night at the museum scenario where all the statues come to life after Rinchen locks the door) On my hike home I glided through the cypress grove with its own array of odours to stimulate olfactory delights. Ochre ferns decorated the floor and one hundred foot old cypress and clusters of blue tinted pines rise to the canopy. Through the gaps the eye wanders out into the river valley peering east into India. The grove is set on a steep decline and the trail eventually connects with a ridgeline with an overgrown path. The path is so overgrown that I found myself swallowing strands of spider webs and at one point a large spider with yellow abdomen crawled down my arm causing me to run in the other direction. Eventually I burrowed through the overgrowth to a flat rock where I marvelled at the scenery; parallel on the ridge was Tsenkharla Dzong the ruins of Prince Tsangma’s castle. Looking east over the desolate wilderness it occurred to me how nothing has changed in 1,200 years or since inhabitants first ventured into this rough terrain.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
A Completely Appropriate Introduction
The rainy season is over! I repeat the rainy season is over! Well one can’t be too sure but it appears that way as the air is palpably cooler and the skies noticeably clearer. It’s the kind of view that juices the weary spirit imploring one to bash on regardless. The view and the community are an unbeatable combo and one I won’t relinquish just yet. If one wanted to surmise why I’m continuing on for a third year I would invite you to class to see for yourself. What a wonderful connection I share with the students, what a joyful experience teaching in Bhutan. At a boarding school I am intimately involved with the boys I teach who stop over frequently for tutoring, to help sir with work, or merely to hang out, it’s a symbiotic thing in Bhutan and the more you give the more you get. For starters I am so much better with names this year and it’s wonderful knowing hundreds of students and village kids and the longer one stays the more involved one gets. It’s also fascinating watching them grow up before my eyes the ones I taught last year have shot up several inches this year. Outside the coned pinnacles tower over the scenery projecting Himalayan juju the last in a chain of peaks stretching to Everest and beyond. It is incredibly rare to have this clarity due to seasonal haze or soupy monsoon clouds but the appearance of this 20,000 foot glacial peak broadcasts to the region but even as I write this glancing out my open door remnant clouds threaten to swallow the Shasta style massif and its lesser counterpart. The definition of the mountains is lurid with each crease and feature illuminated in a gilded spectacle.
Tributes: Nancy Strickland, Jamie Zeppa, Mark LaPrarie, Sam Blyth
There is no doubt that the fearless leader of BCF is Nancy Strickland our dignified matriarch. The plain truth is that none of us would be here if it weren’t for Nancy. BCF didn’t immerge from a vacuum the company is an extension of WUSC the agency that initially brought Canadians here in the late 80’s and early 90’s before folding. That company employed Mark LaPrarie who now works for the World Bank funding schools in Bhutan. Mr. Mark learned Sharshop and parlayed three years of rural East teaching into a career that benefited rural Bhutan in a substantial way. Jamie Zeppa whose wonderful book still inspires the next generation of Bhutanese learners (I had to ask one girl to put the book away since she was reading it during my lesson) Jamie’s book was instrumental in my choice to apply and I have always felt myself a kindred free spirit. Nancy helped carry the torch through the dark years and rekindle the original mission of Father Mackey the Jesuit educator who established the college along with other institutions of learning dedicating his last years ceaselessly serving Bhutan. These aforementioned heroes live on every day in Bhutan. Whether its students reading Jamie’s book, or a former student of Mark LaPrarie turned Principal who told me that MR. Mark is the reason for his success. Or barber to the stars Deepack who speaks of Nancy like his own mother (Nancy was his fourth grade teacher and still gets her haircut from him and I love having the same barber as HM and Nancy) In fact Nancy is such a legend that Karlos wanted me to ask her if he could be her adopted son and a teacher out in Phongmey where Nancy originally served admires her to the point of writing fan mail. What I learn from my esteemed predecessors is how we conduct ourselves here impacts an entire generation of Bhutanese, and just how important the work we’re doing is. All who have served here past and present have played an important role in developing individuals who influence the world around them. I must also mention our benefactor Sam Blyth whose influence and dedication combined with Nancy, Jamie, Mark and others concluded in the birth of our grassroots foundation. I can’t think of a country that deserves the assistance of qualified ESL teachers more than the Kingdom of Bhutan. I humbly want to say thank you to Sam, Nancy, Jamie, and Mark for opening this door that has changed my entire perception of the universe. Without them I would never have been able to meet the wonderful students that make my life here so satisfying, making the memories that will last a lifetime. As one of the first Americans serving in East Bhutan I feel honoured to be given the charge of enhancing the English skills of Tsenkharla students and taking part in a priceless cultural exchange that benefits everyone.