Chapter 1: Bookends (The Globetrotter Blues)
The trip from San Francisco to Tsenkharla takes almost a week and is grueling. I was driven to the airport by my brother Tyler in a light rain the first drops of relief for the parched watersheds of California. I barely remember glimpsing the Golden Gate Bridge its international orange towers sparkling gold at night. Passed the little boxed houses with T.V’s perpetually flickering through curtained windows along with somebodies lingering Christmas tree lights. Emerging onto the expressway and into the garage of the International Terminal at SFO. We enjoyed a libation to the gods of Turtle Island before saying goodbye at security and this time I looked back as my bra and I shouted last words across the mob. Woke up high over the Pacific then passed out when we touched down in Guam to refuel then woke up with a start thinking we had landed in Manila and took off to Guam. But we did land in Manila in the scarlet dawn and later on Bangkok, a two hour massage cradled by a young lady named A who plucked several grey hairs off my scalp ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ before boarding Druk Air first Class with fresh fruit and heavenly croissants and the heart pounding ascent out of the hazy subcontinent and descent through a labyrinth of mountains before touching down in old Paro. Getting out of Thimphu proved difficult as expected all bus tickets were sold out for two coming weeks but after an afternoon loitering at the bus station I finagled a standing room spot to Trashigang. The Thimphu Bus Station is a Himalayan nexus and a grand old building, the concourse bustling with swarthy and mongoloid faces all wearing an early morning countenance. Old men in dirty ghos hawk cubes of dried yak cheese and doma. Once out of the city the lateral road proved as nauseatingly beautiful as ever the scale of the mountains humbling my spirit as did the good natured Bhutanese who rode along with me. Dochila Pass, 108 chortens shrouded in fog a gloomy morning in the land of Southern Darkness, Somewhere out there are the tallest mountains on earth. Bhutan is slumbering in a silvery winter haze, a thin layer of ice and snow clings to the rocky precipices as unpleasant music blares on fuzzy speakers. Himalayan Bus travelogues are abundant I’m sure so I’ll spare myself the agony of recollection but one appreciates the land as he travels through it. Bumthang, the heart of Bhutan nestled within four rolling valleys blanketed by thick evergreen forests draped in moss. Sadly it’s merely a stopover this time just grab a hotel on the strip and a bite to eat (stomach pain already) and out the next morning before dawn. No bus! Blackness, extremely cold, this is Bhutan I’m demanding to know where the bus is I’m ridiculous because I know it will show up eventually, I’ve seen it drive by twice already. This time relegated to a middle folding seat between a half dozen College girls and a few dolma chawing village men. We all make amicable jibber jabber trundling passed the traditional village of Ura surrounded by brown pastures crossing over Thrunsing La and its enchanted fir trees with mass of prayer flags lashed by foreboding wind, Somewhere within the flurry of flags are Vicky and Ian’s strand hung by Ashleigh and Becky. Tswing calls the view majestic before falling back asleep. Now in East Bhutan spending the whole day crossing Mongar dropping to Sengor on a magnificent plateau then the big descent spiraling down cliffs tottering on the edge of an abyss. Waterfalls splashing onto the icy road. Tendrils of mist try to pull us into the maw but we keep contact with the zigzagging road and eventually are treated to poinsettia and banana trees and traditional farmhouses perched beneath oaky ridges you might recognize this place as Limithang. But it’s even nippy in this subtropical hamlet and soon we are ascending into Mongar perched high on a bluff overlooking a grand piece of wilderness dotted with villages scratched into the mountainsides. The last three hours in fading light over Kori La still green although muted now, darkness at Chasm and finally the timeless hill station of Trashigang. I rode the Greyhound for long durations but nothing compares to crossing Bhutan on a local. It takes 23 hours to go 450 miles on a road that alternates between rough pavement and dirt. I burrow in at the K.C which is bustling with activity on this February evening. That’s because HM is touring the East and staying the night at the Guest House adjacent to my quarters.
Two days later was the first day of school more aptly it was student registration day. I encountered a sea of familiar smiles that warmed my marrow. Falling back into the world of national dress, stirring prayers, snapping prayer flags, and spinning prayer wheels. Many students are timorous but I enjoy their laughter and getting reacquainted. There is something special about Bhutanese students and I enjoy growing alongside them, I will have a busy year teaching class 6, 7, and 8 since we are short an English teacher so it’s a good thing I stayed on but I will have more planning presenting three lessons a day instead of two. The bonus is I get to teach three consecutive grades which will provide a congruency to the mission, I will also continue my duties for Social Service Club and the After School Library program. Coming back after globetrotting is heady and poses the question, Where is Home? Is this cold hut with a rat and a runny nose my home? IS IT?
The good always outshines the adversity in the Land of Darkness and the other night despite being sick I enjoyed another unique experience up at Zongtopelri. I accompanied Karlos and his cousin and dined with Rinch and company. Nestled deep in the Himalaya on a frigid night sitting on the wood floor chomping dried fish, rice, dried chili, k-wa-datsi, and dal. Wow! Simple fare that warms the soul. The Bhutanese drank ara as Rinchen refilled their small bowls after each sip (the famous unyielding Bhutanese hospitality) at moments like these despite a moderate degree of boredom I felt like the luckiest man alive. You can’t get that community spirit with a guide shelling out 350 a day. Not to imply that tourist can’t enliven themselves in the kingdom but the longer I linger the more a part of things I become. Yet the rift always remains which is part of the fun. Its bare bones hereabouts in the winter but the beauty still exists, and I enjoyed a midnight stroll through the grove after a night descent from Shakshang. Actually I spent the evening lying under a huge pine in the duff peering sideways at the melding stars, the chime of the prayer wheel still rattling within my bones under the cell tower transmitting Bhutanese dreams. I highly recommend going into the forest at night and lying down in the duff although I startled a few blackbirds from their nightly roost. Eventually coldness drew me home but not before hugging a few of my favorite trees goodnight! Feeling homesick I called my bra to reminisce and talk to the kiddos. Hell ya baby I’m back did you miss me? The words aren’t coming these days as I defrost my fingers to try to rethread this peculiar life together. Start where you stand or where you lie, lay me down and let me be… under the cypress tree under Tibetan-Sharchop skies with a fat Monpa moon gyrating over Bartsham evoking the spirit of Tsangma, howling! When I haven’t been de-arranging under a phosphorous moon I’ve been rapping with the kids who are shy upon returning. Most have spoken nary a word in English in two months and who can blame them. I have many fun ideas in the hopper to coax it out of them and will keep you in the loop.
Rewind to Trashigang and an auspicious meeting with the aforementioned King. Sometimes dreams do come true and sometimes dreams within dreams come true as was the case for me on a windy Trashigang morning. I emerged from the K.C seeing HM’s entourage including royal bodyguards posted outside the guest house. Apparently my enthusiasm rang alarm bells as I was gently ushered away warned that my voice might awake the Royal Party. Fast-forward to the gorgeous Dzong a few hours later where an officer named Ugyen made some calls and hooked me up at the end of the line with a Japanese engineer. So we all patiently waited for four hours until as if springing from a genies lamp HM arrived on the heels of bleating puja horns. Words can’t describe the event all I can tell you is that The King was everything I’d hoped and more. An august man who is completely comfortable in his skin, His Majesty exuded grace and glory and was kind enough to stop and chat on both his way in and out of the fairytale Dzong. I happened to be located before the great wooden doorway that leads into the interior. HM wore a gold sash and full regalia, and as he passed by his Bhutanese Subjects deference was obvious as they kept their eyes and mouths averted. When His Majesty stopped on the way out he spoke to both the Japanese man and myself, asking where I was from, if I was working here, how long I’d been here, and a few other simple questions. I might have blurted out that living in Bhutan was a great honor and he definitely responded that he was very happy to have me here. He remarked about returning to Yangtse soon and I invited him to our school on behalf of Tsenkharla Family. The Queen an embodiment of grace also introduced herself shaking my hand. She was down home and approachable but I was so in awe by now that I stammered my responses. I do recall she wore an embroidered indigo kira. It was a meeting with the Royal Couple that I will always cherish and remember, the encounter reaffirming my mission here. Deep in my heart I wanted to meet His Majesty during my stint and am grateful that it happened. The fact that it took place at the Trashigang Dzong is auspicious since I have many warm memories of twilight rendezvous on that very spot with Rebecca.
This life is just a glimpse I know that the more I live it. Just a beautiful and senseless dream but I kiss my lucky stars to be here now with nowhere else to go. Working with wonderful students who come from tiny villages dotting the borderlands. These are remarkable people and I envy them. They don’t overreact to things the way I do and there values are firmly in place. At this point I’m grateful to be along for this ride. (THANK THE DRAGON FOR HAVING ME) It will be a challenging year and I’m ready. It helps knowing what monumental support I have at home from family and friends. Just a glimpse, Morgan in a shaft of light at the turnstile (an angel in white) Mare driving off, Reed vanishing into Spinnaker on his bike, Paige admitting she loves me, holding my mom in my arms during “I know You Rider” Dad presenting me a wedding ring for an unknown bride, John walking out the front door, Julie on the rail, Jazzy in the sink, Marty and Allie at the bench, Miles, driving the Miracle Mile with Beth, salutations with Bobby, Kimock flashing the peace sign, Tyler at security shouting goodbye, glimpses. And on this side seeing paws and faces I have come to love too. I realize I can only get so close to the Bhutanese and I thank them for allowing this much, even making friendships with folks who can’t even speak English like Rinchen Wangmo. Humanity overcomes! As I observed my beloved Bhutanese friends on the floor speaking Sharshop telling stories as always, good old Mr. Tim has even managed to be woven into village lore. Their language has no writing which means it’s all about living the moment and storytelling. This transcends mere traditional living and harkens back to the source, which you can hear in a Tibetan wind lying in the duff under a cypress tree at midnight. Thanks to the modern marvel known as the mobile phone I can keep contact with Bunks who always has nuggets to impart, we came to realize that being a wacky foreigner in Bhutan affords one a total freedom of expression. Who are we anyway well that remains to be flushed out but the moment entices us onwards, efface the past and embrace the wicked now!
(Burning Hearts Rage in the night…Intermezzo)
A blaze below Kiney has charred the slope above the Dangme Chu River, at night the flames look like a dragon’s tail. Back in the village sitting on the drag with MOMO, pup Dawa Dema, and the flies with Bhutan belly. I have met with all my students and planned several lessons but haven’t received the timetable as of yet. I will start with some games and ice breakers this week and finish my yearly plan. BST is real people! One huge boon is that the water is flowing, but right now we need rain to douse the wildfire at Kiney. To give an example of the lack of infrastructure in the far- east, several of our male teachers volunteered to fight the flames even sustaining minor cuts and burns. Doc Namsa sustained a head burn imagine our sole regional physician fighting the fire! Is it like that where you are reading this? I don’t think BCF or mom would approve of me on the front lines so I watched from my front yard. Some agricultural lands have been razed but no homes, the fire burns dangerously close to the settlement of Kiney which has a sizable school. It’s a blustery smoky atmosphere as the students get health checkups from Dr. Namsa at school. I am spending time catching up with my class 8 students but classes won’t officially begin for a week. Each student has a story like poor Tandin Wangmo a soft spoken newcomer whose handbag was stolen from the hostel last night. The next day I slipped her some pocket money practically forcing it in her hand. I have gotten to know my students better the longer I remain at Tsenkharla. I just stepped outside to notice the blaze creeping up the slope towards Rangthangwooong so with one eye on the flames I go to the mess for lunch where Pema Yangdon is Girls Mess Captain, many of my students from last year have taken leadership positions for their class ten year. This year my original class 8 now will graduate from Tsenkharla and hopefully go on to study at Bayling in Yangtse. It’s cool to see the students grow up and mature before my eyes. I have gleal8ned many things since returning. Foremost is how reticent students are about speaking English. They typically speak in phrases not sentences but many of the teachers do the same. The truth is everybody struggles in English which is no one’s mother tongue. His Majesty spoke more eloquently than your author but he had the opportunity to study abroad. The reality in the Sharshop East is that speaking English is tenuous. Overall Bhutanese students are intelligent and more importantly incredibly well rounded individuals but are forced to excel in English to compete and succeed. Therefore I have incorporated several speaking activities into my yearly plan. We will conduct impromptu speeches, interviews, book reviews, and play Pictionary among other activities. I don’t want to intimidate the shy learners but must find ways for everyone to find their voice. I remember being terrified to speak in Spanish class and ironically I flunked Spanish multiple times, and here I am teaching ESL to Bhutanese students. I am eager to resume my duties and improve upon my results since understanding is an ongoing process.
So if you’re inclined to tune into this narcissistic rant you might be asking what’s it like to be back in Bhutan? The dichotomy between Marin County and East Bhutan is stark. Like the division between the haves and the have not’s, but which one is which since it’s all interchangeable. While many folks in Marin County have a surplus of material wealth where Bhutanese (Boot-em-in-the –knees) are culturally rich. Of course there are rich ones in Trashigang and homeless ones in San Rafael too. But overall it really is a different way and it can be observed everywhere. I observe the contrast by eating cream corn from a can which is a precious commodity imported from eight eleven in Thimphu. Nowhere is the contrast more apparent than at a boarding school. I have told you before about the conditions for these brave kids who leave their homes entering a Lord of the fly’s type existence. Of course if the allegorical novel starred Bhutanese kids they all would have gotten along nicely. If Ralph and Jack were Dorji and Karma all would have thrived under triple gem and there would be traditional dancing around a campfire. From my Monday Morning QB anthropology armchair I can ascertain that some degree of the individual identity is relinquished for the good of the community. This isn’t usually even a conscious decision it’s just done (They just can’t help themselves) yet exposure to the West through T.V and media threatens the hives existence. I would concede that in the Bhutanese ethos things make more sense and are more holistic than in the scatterbrain multicultural capitalistic salad bowl known as the USA. (Boy I’d hoover a Big Mac or three about now) Ha! As I just typed that a cow mooed angrily from the pasture as if reading my mind. Damn psychic cow!
So there’s your bookends bra! If you are reading this far down the page and not playing with our Paige on the trampoline. Thank you for sponsoring my trip home, there is so much more to say about my visit but no time to reflect, instead I must pick up the yoke and plough on. I’d like to thank my family for all their love and support. Primarily my bra for flying me home to meet my niece and bond with my nephew. My mother for just being you and oh how I crave more nights watching T.V and making dinner together (Did Juan Pablo distribute the final rose yet?) Dad I know you’re reading and I wish I hadn’t been so sick when you were around but it was fun beating your team on the gridiron. But we got licked by that loudmouth Sherman in the end or end zone more aptly. Julie thanks for the front row corner ticket for the Miracle Show (and Bobby thanks for the wave and Easy to Slip) Tyler had a huge part in that one too. Marty and Allie (and Emma) for making the arduous trip out (perilous since Marty had to cross through the casino sector twice BTW how’s your egg baby?) Cousin Larry thanks for the bacons, Mare also for driving Pumpkin in from the NW and for exuding so much positive energy. Beth for understanding me most of all, and Morgan for letting me know that I haven’t changed a bit and am still a first class brat. Also John and bra for all the gear that makes life more tolerable on the frontier. What I learned most from my sojourn home is that I am extremely loved, what else can a human want? I try to give some of that powerful force back to this community perched on a rounded ridge between Tawang and Trashigang. Oh yeah and F- you Murph!
Chapter 2: Happy Losar from the Land of the Thunder Dragon! (AKA Saddling the Male Wooden Horse)
The cold weather keeps on as the fire at Kiney burns out, sparing the village leaving Tawang in a silver haze as smoke fills the looking glass valley. Warm smiles at campus are a godsend as the work is now beginning and I already miss my friends especially Becky, Butterfly stated that Trashigang without Becky is like a garden without flowers! Ian and Vicky called but they are all the way west. The upshot is I can give all my attention to the village and school and lately I’ve been reclining up at Tsangma’s ruin. Inside the ruin is a little throne one can lean against, a nice spot for a sparkling beverage! It’s hard to believe Tsangma built the castle a few years after Guru Rinpoche visited the area. If I could have lunch with one historical figure it would be Prince Tsangma, the connection is we both made long important journeys to get here and now I must assimilate within his lineage. The strand of prayer flags I placed there with some boys have become worn, molecules strewn in all directions. I was invited to Losar at Sonam Choden’s village beneath Sep where the rough dirt road to the idyllic locality was completed last year. Visiting Sep is like stepping back in time, tucked in a secret valley behind Shampula. The terrain is dominated by steep cliffs, cirques, and deciduous forests, the village rests on slumbering terraces where the main crop is potatoes, but rice, maize, and chilies are also grown in the vicinity. Our Losar celebration featured many stars of my Bhutan show. Karlos and Sonam are my best friends and like family to me. The party also included Sonam’s widowed mother, Nawang Choden, husband and baby, and a precocious student named Dawa C Seldon. Losar is an ongoing feast with all the best curries on display, chunks of chicken, emadatsi, and an amazingly simple fish stew all served over rice. The drinking of local brew began at 9:55 AM, I remember taking note of the early hour on my watch, as we spent the day drinking (Coca Cola for me) and watching the kuru tournament in the field below the farmhouse. On the second day I pitched my tent outside and nearly froze to death (Think Lewis Lake Mare) and that night we watched Chorten kora a movie filmed in Yangtse and Tawang. At twilight Dawa C Seldon frolicked with puppy Dawa Dema cavorting through the fields while I watched the first star glimmering above a row of Chortens, inside the krewe enjoyed libations and storytelling. We finally piled in a taxi back to Tsenkharla rattling passed earthen huts in the dark. The next day into the classroom for a long and tiring week meeting many new faces in class six and seven. Class six is particularly keen to speak English and has only 24 students. Each student has an interesting story to tell like Dookto a zealous learner from up the hill. Last year she led a train of little ones to Shakshang Goempa but this year she is a boarder. Last night all the boarder girls were savagely beaten at the mess. I heard about it from a bystander teacher and some students. The perpetrator apparently was so apoplectic that he shattered his beating stick, all this over some unaccounted for eggs. eggs! I plan on reporting this to the VP but it won’t do any good. Beating varies school to school but is very much part of the established order. The boarder life is hard enough eating gruel and living in cramped conditions, but the students are always remarkably upbeat.
On the way to class two hawk’s mascerading as eagles or two eagle’s mascerading as hawks stealthily glided over my position, the incognito pair reminding me it’s all interchangeable. In the woods crimson rhododendron buds burst like clockwork announcing spring as I lead a train of younglings through the brush like silly ducks in gho and kira. All that is left now is to wait for the rain. This Sunday I packed up some sundries and headed off for a four temple trek up the spine of Tsenkharla ridge. The trek begins at Tsenkharla passing our exalted Prince Tsangma’s ruin up to Zangtopelri. Above the temple looms the Tashi Cell Tower and other spook shit including a humming box that is more ominous than the Bartsham machine. Continuing, the trail follows the ridge through bleeding rhododendron bushes and occasional farmhouses passing through my Bon meadow with views in all directions of Tawang, Trashigang, and Trashiyangste. Next stop Shakshang Goempa where a puja was taking place (Old Shakshang so holy and so littered with trash) I stopped in briefly to offer incense and prostrate before the golden statue of Lord Buddha before traversing up the ridge through twisted chaparral to Darchin, a small temple nestled within a cypress coppice at the foot of rolling pasture land. Ascending through tawny open space the wayfarer reaches Bromla a jungle of old growth oak draped in moss, wild honeysuckle exudes citrusy aromas, ferns, and dwarf bamboo. Eventually the trail peters out and I found myself crawling under fallen trees wallowing in the thick duff. Sprawling on my deathbed filtered sunshine warms my face. Resurrected I Drop to Darchin where I was greeted not by my favorite ascetic lama but a Chakedemi cougar whose name I intuited. After my customary pantomiming Kesang allowed me into the old temple where I prostrated before the flickering butter lamp and offered up some incense. The frescos on the walls are peeling with age and the hundred year old floorboards creak underfoot. After waving goodbye I retraced my steps turning left at the dried lake heading down to Namkhar Goempa traversing a secret cirque to the idyllic village with astounding views of Shampula and forty foot rhododendron trees in bloom where villagers were busy preparing the barren fields for planting. Last up Zangtopelri the best temple of all. When I visit Zangtopelri I feel like a teenage Jesus visiting the Golden Temple in Jeruselum. The ornate main chamber has eight impressive statues of Guru Rinpoche in all his manifestations including copulating with a tigress. The first floor is stuffed with artifacts including, bells, a musket, holy books, peacock feathers, animal skin drums, gilt trim, and butter carvings. The walls are crawling with murals depicting cannibalism, bestiality, serene deities adept at bursting illusionary bubbles, minstrels, entrails, Excalibur, magic eight balls, goat heads impaled on spears, bare yonis, and snow lions. On the second floor in a cedar scented room a celestial couple enjoys a ceaseless carnal embrace. Before the alter on the mezzanine a patch of emerald marble cools my forehead as I perform my ninth prostration and upstairs in the attic the smiling countenance of Buddha welcomes me home.
Talking to Morgan on the phone her last words cut by static fading into oblivion…”eat some veget…” Sorry sis not much here, the occasional onion, potato, and fiery imported Chillie that makes my asshole ornery. Life resumes with interminable meetings and scheduled and rescheduled classes, and the general squalor of my shanti. Each day I feel more at ease in class with all the same challenges reoccurring but I know I am a better teacher than when I first arrived. Last night at the mess I received a compliment from a class ten student named Dorji Phuntsho who said “That he didn’t consider me a phelincpa but only as sir” Then he remarked he missed my teaching. Dorji is a leader on campus and an upstanding young man so I am encouraged that I had an impact on him. Watching the girls’ house basketball final among my community amidst the wafting fumes from the leaking septic tank I never felt more a part of something. I know I can only assimilate so far into the tribe but in many ways my life here is already complete.
Chapter 3: All New Tshenkharla Blues
The Bhutanese calendar has rolled around to another school Rimdo or mass puja. I know since I was awaken from my slumber last night by a fire wielding monk in Technicolor regalia and a myriad of howling teenagers who forced their way in throwing stones and water around the hut. Like a Sally I tried to keep them out since I had diarrhea and was in no mood for cultural exchanges, but this puja was mandatory and VP ordered me to stand down for the blessing which culminated in a splash of water in my face. So it goes and it’s been one month on the hill without descending and I desperately need a Trashigang shopping spree to replace my busted water heater that melted. Life at a boarding school is like living at a 7-11 in Vegas (We never close and weird things are always happening) there are compulsory meetings, sporting events, cultural shows, classes, and the ambience of living next to hundreds of boys but it’s all good! Apparently the puja cleared out the haze and I awoke to the Guru’s rays cresting the dragon’s tail revealing a sparkling looking glass valley with layers of mountains unfolding in Arrunachal Pradesh. Ravens and other songbirds greet the new day enthusiastically so why can’t I? The Rimdo itself seemed subpar compared to the first two years with my inaugural Rimdo being the best. My reluctance to admit the lama for the howling was a hot topic as I find the Bhutanese ribbing me a lot. Butterfly and I concur that the Bhutanese have subtle mood changes and we are subtly expected to act accordingly, as Butterfly quips, “If they are smiling we should be smiling, if they are unhappy we should also be unhappy” It was a strange day with the murmurings of prayers inducing smoke into the valley below and the omnipresent bleating brass horns and beating of drums. I took a sunbath under one of my cherished leafy trees which circulated a current of fresh air fanning me. An hour later it was cool for a lovely dinner with tender chunks of beef and smokin’ hot emadatsi. Large cultural events always prove enjoyable and lonely as I am asunder from the Bhutanese who are always hospitable. Today I had some nice encounters with boys I hadn’t spoken with casually in a while and took some snapshots of students. Captain Kungdo Wangmo was working her tail off all day, another one of my former students turned School Captain. I recall being homesick after the first Rimdo and here I am somehow two years later still trucking along. This marks the beginning of my third trip around the metaphorical Chorten and I find myself more alone than ever.
(Oh Monpa moon, guide your people back, to the Chorten by the emerald river, with traces of Tibetan blood, sealed inside the bones of our sister, partially turned to dust, can I enter the tomb with a secret song? Can I gather ruddy marrow in my arms? Can I resurrect your flesh to dance with me under the glistening rotunda?)
Another Sunday that didn’t suck bound for Chorten Kora for Tsechu with Karlos, Sonam, and others. First I went to the new ATM for cash then the shoe -smith who stitched and polished my proven boots. This guy was a master tradesman a real Himalayan dandy! As evening arrived so did the Monpa in rosy embroidered regalia along with Sharchops in shinny gho and kira of every imaginable hue. A hazy moon rose and candles were lit and placed around the base of the spacecraft where the aliens started singing a soulful rhapsody as they circumambulated. Butter lamps, monks, and little children making their own circle songs, Hands across the Himalayas. Tonight the inner corridor of the Stupa was opened which allowed the worshipful to place their hands on the crypt where a young Monpa girl self -sacrificed and is now entombed. All this blissfulness taking place under the omnipotent eyes of Buddha and I AM a small part of it. Glory!
On Friday I was T.O.D (Tim on Duty) and it came at a bad time since I woke up with gnarly stomach cramps. This time chillies weren’t the culprit for my ornery asshole but a suspect tin of beans. I had to run down to my hovel three times during morning study and barely completed my rounds. At assembly I spoke my trash bit and stood in agony about to poop my pants before being excused and running home again. I managed to teach classes, attend an interminable meeting, and supervise evening study. By twilight time my tummy was better and I enjoyed helping students with their homework, it’s always nice to see my former students and I was a zombie in the morning shift. I eavesdropped on evening prayer moved by the emotive dirge mostly since I knew the faces transmitting the triumphant melodies through the darkness. Never before have I been part of a community and it happens to be located on the fringe of Bhutan on the cusp of Arrunachal Pradesh, nevertheless its home.
I greeted spring with a charred gut and puffy eyes as I groggily treaded the pathway to the schoolhouse where I was stopped in my tracks by a tiny red bird. The little tweeter jumped around from limb to limb its feathers completely painted in the most lavish red imaginable. How could God make such a perfect creature and how fortuitous our morning rendezvouses. Sunny skies revealed the entire gorge from snowy rimmed Tawang to the scorched riverbed below Trashigang. Tsenkharla is auspiciously located on a gentle ridge with impeccable views of the entire sector. Yesterday I wandered westward among the red rhododendron blossoms and chortens towards the lush folds of Trashiyangtse where Dawa Dema and I sniffed out a new trail winding through outcroppings.
Life in the classroom always keeps you on your toes. One thing I’ve noticed this year is how poor most Sharchop kids are at speaking English. I have ample respect for these multilingual learners but the truth is they skate by on as little English as possible. Many are adequate readers and writers but very few can speak in complete sentences and hold conversations comfortably. My class six students are more enthusiastic than class 8 and 9 students who are dealing with adolescent issues that are a detrement to speaking, mainly shyness and puberty. This proves an interesting challenge for the ESL instructor in Bhutan. I have improved my strategies but the results can still be frustrating. The boon is the work is interesting and I am always met by fresh faces with great sense of humors. Now I am getting to know new personalities in 6 and 7 everyday which is pretty cool. I have nothing but admiration for my students and the entire student body but what makes the Bhutanese tick? Becky and I discussed it at length but we don’t have an answer, she knows more than I do though. Physically they are a multiethnic tribe of approximately 700,000 people who share a distinct culture based on tantric Buddhism. (The author is not a scholar so take it with a grain of salt) But deeper than that they are a collective psyche expressed in a myriad of individuals but they seem so connected at the dragons root. (As if they are god’s chosen few not the Hebrews) The spirit of the Druk folk is elusive and the more “time” I spend with them the less I know but it’s all interchangeable. I’m tickled at participating in this wild cultural exchange that trades in hearts as we become intertwined within our communities until we leave a chunk of our souls behind. So I don’t know Dorji about the Bhutanese but just a glimpse is enough for you simple author. I am here Spring 2014, I am living my dream and it’s more vivid than I possibly imagined.
(Too Stupid to Stop Intermezzo)
“Caledonia calling Bigfoot on the line” Zeke
Dripping violet stars vibrate while on the periphery lightning vortex’s whirl over Trashigang. The orange lights of the hill station beckons like a siren enticing the lost sailor with meat and television. But for now I remain on my mountain subsisting on coke and occasional rice. Night is still cold and my Chinese heater broke. The thunderstorms rehearsed the other night knocking out power a throwback to Catherine’s era. What a difference electricity makes, the whole existence of TIAT depends on it. It was a nice repose as the hush of the river harmonized with the gusty wind as I burrowed into my sleeping bag enveloped in blackness. Another superb Sunday that didn’t suck at all as I roved all over Tsenkharla Mountain from Namkhar to Kumdung through an amazing array of vegetation eventually tailing Karlos through the darkness on a steep slope tracking lonesome flickering lights on the outskirts of little Lumla while on our side Trashigang glowed like a torch blazing up the hillside, shortcuts are steep in the Himalaya isn’t it? Monday and a four hour rigmarole on hand washing, a very important subject but the meeting could have been an hour. This year is chalked full of meetings which is a reality BCF teachers know too well but even for Bhutan we have been on a roll lately as life at a boarding school can be tedious. The best part are the actual classes which might be the best teaching gig on earth especially if your satisfied making three bills a month. Had three pieces of chicken at the mess (god bless that fowl) I needed those scraps of meat. Another stellar day today in the great range still waiting for rain and staying cold at night but it was clear with my mesmerizing Tawang’s pouty maw doing a striptease peeling off her fluffy misty gown. The eastern view is like if you take all the prettiest woman of all the crowds and put them in a bevy and then select the most gorgeous from that group and that’s the eastern view; a tawny haired beaut with legs that span two countries but like all true beauty’s she’s a changeling coming on with infinite incarnations seducing me deeper every day, you dig? The bounty of Tsenkharla is infinite as are the challenges and its best to take it a moment at a time. I love the life I live but haven’t changed all that much at the core which is annoying. So much is surviving and trying to stay on point in the classroom that becoming a disciplined Buddhist disciple isn’t happening. So I’m no Gary Snyder more like Jack Kerouac falling off the Dharma Wagon actually I’m merely a cat named Mr. Tim or Sir tied to a pesky ego that won’t recognize the common fortune of nothingness unravelling into a stream of unconsciousness must be the chillies firing my imagination. Bra-La nice talking with you the other night sharing our bizarre bizzare simultaneous adventure. Those who like the smutty side of Tiger this yarn is for you as I squatted in the woods taking an alfresco dump while brother was scalping his Galactic ticket outside the fabled Fillmore. While Tyler was doing his business and I was doing mine he had me on speaker pulling that old Neil Cassady trick so I felt like I was in the Tenderloin shitting beside the crack heads and alley cats (Dear readers shitting is not a cuss word hereabouts) I was visiting a very special Chorten and pair of cypress and later on down the trail decaying rhododendron blossoms like drops of blood splattering a vapid field. His next call was placed from outside the Boom Boom Room and last call sailing under the North Tower of The Golden Gate Bridge at 4:20 A.M PST putting the ocean on the line! My day also meandered conjoining with my Bhutanese La Karlos and a ceaseless walk to Kumdung and back on an aborted Doksom mission MEOW! So let’s cascade into NOW WOW where I sit in squalor with a stack of notebooks that are marked, so teaching comes before housework but I’m primed for a Spring Cleaning Spree. Had Butterfly for tea bonding as expats bobbing in the overwhelming Bhutanese tide (Surfs Up, Hang Ten, COOL TAN AND GROOVY) If you’re wondering has the author lost the plot after hibernation well for all I know these words will never see the light of day as I’m offline kiddos. This is just a sound check from Timbuktu check check? Rat Farts! Haven’t read a book this year might have fried my brain doing laps around the world or maybe its three lesson plans a night right? I will get back that old reading rainbow soon as “time” catches up to your speedy hero, meanwhile my dancing eyes are glued to Bhutan Station a captivating drama that hooks you something awful. Speaking of Butterfly AKA Ashish is probably my best friend along with Karlos which cracks me up. Both Karlos and Ashish are archetypal countrymen of East Bhutan and Kerala respectively. Ashish like all Hindi Indians abides by the Caste system which blows my mind. They adhere to arranged marriage according to caste and astrological compatibility. Butterfly is simple in contrast to the bawdy Bhutanese and footloose Americans. Believe it or not when the Bhutanese aren’t absorbed in prayer they can get pretty wild with the Ara and hanky panky. I like the Bhutanese character in fact I’m not sure I could immerse into any other culture on earth as I have only seen one westerner in two months. Back to my two best friends and how peculiar are these relationships with two traditional men of vastly different cultures, Triumph of human spirits is the name of this game called Hands across the Himalayas…
Chapter 4: Continuation
“Spin the wheel like Ezekiel”
Morning is a ritual in Bhutan that I am only semi-conscious for. Actually I awake with the hovering morning star and frigid rooster crowing as I walk outside to hear the rivers song, an hour later I might wake up to the boys singing in the sunrise cresting due east over the dragons tail palisades. I might hear the swooshing of brooms sweeping away the remnants of a cacophonous dream. The bell rings and rings and eventually I join the party on time for assembly which resembles a military review. This is not pomp but reverence and routine all unfurled with the dragon flag. The singing of prayers and National Anthem is something a tourist’s money can’t buy and it is always a reminder of OUR privilege to be serving here. Ravens soar overhead and I let my mind wander riding the drone to distant peaks that are too far too reach on foot, places I will never go! The mountains are endless and beyond them thousands of miles of more and bigger mountains. But nowhere is Tsenkharla that’s for damn sure as I wish all the naturalists in heaven could descend for a trek in my neck of the woods. Then off to class with shiny faces in gho and kira but they are just kids snoozing in class, cheating on their homework, chewing gum all the time, and always throwing things like monkeys but…Oh what kids they are at heart taking it all around they are the best, chattering away in Sharchop perched on a mountainside overlooking unspoiled country but there is degradation especially the litter problem that continuously pangs my heart. Why can’t they cherish their jewel? I have earnestly tried to change their habits to no avail but pledge to continue to advocate proper waste disposal but know the problem will persist after I depart my beloved post. For each obstacle teaching there is a breakthrough which tickles the teacher pink. Wow I did it! I reached a student and taught them something and I will never take that for granted. People believed in me donating money supporting my mission. BCF continues to support me in the field and my administration supports me so I must do my duty well. I average six classes a day and each period is forty minutes long held in simple wood classrooms that feel comfortable to teach in especially when sparrows or puppies burst on the scene. Campus is an oasis with a row of regal hundred foot tall cypresses, the old Rangthangwoong grinding stone, prayer flags, and gardens. Now we also have trash cans painted Oakland A’s colors. We have a small dilapidated clock tower overlooking the dirt courtyard which is being tiled. So campus is a bit torn up from construction but still is a copascetic place to work. Several buildings are from the original construction in 1977 along with snazzier new edifices made of stone. Tsenkharla is a juggernaut pulling in kids from all over the surrounding hills and is a vital instition in Trashiyangtse. In achievement and appearance are school seems average from what little I have gleaned of Eastern Schools with the exception of our auspicious position atop a mountain. Our school runs the gamut from PP to ten with students feeding in to the boarder system after class seven. Holy Moly they live on prison rations of gruel and then told not to eat junk food from the shop. I couldn’t care less if they throw away the wrappers that is to say I also load up on extras to supplement rice, which they literally call food. It’s a hoot interacting with these village kids who are the first in their lineage to be educated in English. Gosh I feel like a pioneer doing this work and even on a rotten day my spirits are lifted by the children, yes the same ones I complain about. Joking with them bridges the gap as my whole career has been geared towards ESL teaching (Sorry BCF and MOE but this is English as a Second Language teaching out in Eastern Bhutan) But that’s okay we will breed multilingual educated farmers and a few easterners will rise to the top and join the movers and shakers. In the end I will remember the fun we had in the classroom, spontaneous golden moments both precious and priceless. Teaching stretches me to the limit but it’s the relationships and accountability that keeps me at it.
|Lumla and Arrunachal Pradesh from my doorstep|
|Mr. Tim and Tshering|
|Becky at Chorten Kora|
|Can you see the UFO?|
|Tigers Nest December 2013|
|King's B-Day Ceremony|