“No one ever said there gonna be an easy way”
Monday for the metric man in Old Rangthangwoong, the clouds parting revealing mountains the color of alpine lake water. In my house there has been no water for four days which the cooks are trying to remedy hiking 12 K.M to the source. Meanwhile I wait patiently. East Bhutan is a land defined by rivers but up at Tsenkharla no creeks flow. Some water trickles from underground up at Bromla but nothing wet in this vicinity. Walking on the spine of the ridge between Zangtopelri and Shakshang one can view the Kulong Chu and Dangme Chu thousands of feet below and miles apart, it is these rivers that give the green mountain mandala its meaning. These two silver liquid braids provide relief to the eye and spirit in this rugged territory, and without the presence of those rivers I’d be lost. Prayer flags are supposed to face the river sending their prayers out in that direction. I learned this fact in my third year atop Shampula where the river looked as if we were viewing it from an airplane. Indeed the prayer flags we erected did salute the river below in the distance. One cannot overestimate the aesthetic value of prayer flags and Chortens in this life. It’s one of the distinct pleasures of serving here, like students in national dress these things brighten up the day. Flowers also do that, including an arcing bough of giant sunflowers or a dewy magenta dahlia. How many beloved spots do I consider now, how many favored rocks and trees within my radius, how about those majestic cypress on campus near the grinding stone? Today is overcast and dry but one can be sure more precipitation is coming (This summer has been raining cats and dogs, La) so one must enjoy respites as they occur and get out and about.
Today was a solid day in Bhutan. Admittedly I was groggy through first period but all classes went well and I enjoyed teaching and singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” to the students. Teaching poetry to ESL students is rough beyond tossing them a few vocabulary words with only a handful grasping the larger themes. Hell they live in a GNH country with no racism or war, except that’s not exactly accurate. Still don’t knock it till you try it, walking through beams of light hand in hand with two preschool girls who were hysterical for over an hour in the waning day (The real Hands across the Himalaya’s) the last rays of August sun lightly touching the crest of the opposing mountains. I Said tootaloo to the little girls who scampered onto a cattle trail near an overgrown Chorten in their tiny kiras, snot dripping down their lips. Shakshang is nearer to the rim of our chain of mountains about a thousand feet above Tsenkharla, the journey takes about an hour if you do it earnestly. I lingered to watch the tangerine tinted clouds fade into dusk and then returning home via the derelict muddy road a canopy of stars drifting through a frothy Milky Way with hundreds of stars the best display I’ve seen in East Bhutan thus far all sailing past Tsangma’s castle. Although never the brightest these stars have a distinct appeal that I can’t quite convey except to say there Buddhist stars, the occasional glimpses that the Guru spied while sojourning in the secluded inner Himalaya. (FYI stars and prayer flags are a good match, especially with wispy silhouetted pines on a moonless night. By the time I visited Karlos and Sonam’s shop (Sonam Choden is pregnant) mist was already swirling at my abdomen. I saw Sangay Dema and wished her a happy birthday coming in at 11 years old but she seems to me an old soul. Samsara really brings age and status into question when a student might have been your father three thousand years ago. And what really bakes your noodle is that you know it’s true! I could also have been a woman in my last life but the Bhutanese stay Bhutanese I think? It seems certain that my karma drew me back to East Bhutan for some reason, maybe for a crack at enlightenment in this life or more realistically an opportunity to accrue merit that I can parlay in the next lives. Living in Bhutan is like getting triple ball in Fireball, you know it ain’t gonna last but you try to rack up as many points as possible inevitably losing balls as you go until, AYUMAYUMAYUM!
Dogs are an inevitable addition to any boarding school or village for that matter. Some of the strays are in a sorry state with pussy soars from mange. The alpha dog is a fat sandy colored dog that is docile in the day but must be a beast at night. I thought of sharing about dogs since they are howling outside keeping me up right now. I admire their fortitude especially the weaker ones who fight on without gripping much. Mr. Tim is the only complainer in the bunch along with Cowla the handyman. Dogs are only one interesting aspect to this multifaceted experience. Another spectacle is the ancient ama walking barefoot in the mud in faded old school kira always asking me in Sharchop, “Where are you going?” Where I reply Shakshang Goempa and she smiles a toothless grin. Now the potato harvest is on like Donkey Kong with all sorts of trafficking with dudes slung with hefty sacks that none of us could bear. They lug them down from Shakshang and Namkhar to Tsenkharla where there loaded by the thousands onto trucks bound for SJ, The potatoes end up in India and Bangladesh where a Muslim family does whatever curry it does with a Bhutanese potato, no doubt prepared by a woman and odds are it ain’t K WA DATSI she’s making. That’s small potatoes compared to the exporting of the Hydropower generated from Becky’s river near Doksom. I teach the boy of the Indian Chief Engineer, a lovely lad who is the class topper. His parents are involved at the school and I know his mother checks my marking. That’s my VIP class with a Lopen’s son and Principal Sir’s son all three are good boys and no more or less mischevious than other boys of that age. It’s a fun and engaging group in class six! They usually enliven me when I’m lagging with their attentiveness and obedience.
For Social Service Club we went Shali side picking trash along the canal overlooking the verdant slopes descending to the Kulong Chu. I was about to 86 Ugyen Tshomo but she just fulfilled her minimum quota. It was a productive session and I enjoyed watching the students splashing in the shallow canal with Bhutanese looking out of place in water.