“Most of us fear death. Most of us yearn to comprehend how we got here, and why-which is to say, most of us ache to know the love of our creator. And we will no doubt feel that ache, most of us, for a long as we happen to be alive” Jon Krakauer
Love for the Universe! Ain’t No Love Connection, Empty Notions and Violent Head knocks…
One by one class eight girls streamed from the classroom gagging and fanning their lips, they had been eating straight green chillies and with bright red faces they wretched and made heaving noises. October in Bhutan is wondrous. The maize is cut and the mountains turn hazel and gold with clouds fringing the continuous rolling and sometime jagged peaks. The gapping valley sprawled out below comforts my soul and I know that the rest of my life I will long for this place more than anything in the universe…Even now I can’t seem to get enough of the landscape as I attempt to thread my essence into the spirit of the land. I am teaching grammar the best I know how and the students love it since it’s interactive. They like to come to the board to correct sentences with Tendy Zangmo, shouting “Me Sir! Or Thinley Gyelston shouts, “I sir!” Some roses hang around and orange Marigolds high as my eye burst forth filling the morning air with their pungent aroma. After school our last Social Service Club picking up trash and weeding the garden near the generator room. After club I took the trail to Shakshing memorizing trees and rocks or greeting familiar landmarks. It’s a wonderful path through pines, oak, farmland, and pasture with access to two groves. From Shakshing you can go higher to Darchin and the big forest nearing Bromla. But just hanging around Shakshing vicinity has plenty to offer with oak trees and dwarf forests and the grove with its hundred foot twisted oaks now sprouting rusty ferns from their gnarled branches. A mountain sunset over Trashigang signals the demise of another fantastic day at the eastern end of the Himalaya. I miss my mom and Aunt Barb and some little one asked in the forest, “If they had reached America?” There visit was one of the greatest experiences in my life, and somehow this place seems more blessed now in the aftermath of their sojourn. I thought this as I walked the trail in the very footprints of The Twins. I can’t believe I got my mom to Bhutan twice but I think she can attest to how much I love Tsenkharla. I feel my soul was made for this land and vice versa. The mountain completes me like nothing ever has! I have documented the hardships that are part and parcel on this trip but it’s all worth it and I thank fate that I got this placement. There is a plan in the works to add two hundred or more new students in the next few years. I hope they account for water shortages! What a long way the school has come from Catherine’s day a decade after the school opened in 1978. Rangthangwoong was only a primary school then and I heard there was an orchard on campus. The house where Catherine lived still stands and I’m sure the giant cypresses must have been there but I think the village bazaar itself has moved from the football ground up to its present location. The old grinding stone must have been there but not the clock tower. Prince Tsangma’s castle has been there a thousand years but Zangtopelri wasn’t there in Vera or Catherine’s time. Farm roads and a cell tower have been constructed but I still know places untouched by time. From my doorstep I gaze a hundred miles into Tawang and on the clearest day can see two glaciered peaks completely removed from our world. The holiest places undisturbed even by the ripples of man’s prayer. We all need these places in our life. In October the world changes in front of your eyes cicadas whir frantically during daylight and a lone languid cricket keeps the vigil at night. Tremendous flocks of ravens, dark forms circle the skies migrating the short distance up to Shakshing from Tsenkharla each afternoon. Why do they congregate in flocks in October when they are more solitary the rest of the year? When they fly the wind, a razor sharp whoosh rhythm and beat by ebony wings and at night in the cypress grove they croak raspy lullabies to one another in the straining light.
As hypocritical as it is I love the gho and kira. I say that because I don’t wear the national dress but really appreciate having it worn around me. I admire many things of Bhutanese culture some tangible and some intangible. I love the artwork although it’s religious but also artistic, the architecture of a simple farmhouse clinging on a hillside or the granddaddy of them all, Punakha Dzong. I love prayer flags and the sound of prayers. I enjoy spinning prayer wheels so I can hear the ding of the bell as I walk away. Many things I love are woven into the people and the land and that is difficult to speak of. I don’t care for the visiting rat but at least he stayed unseen for mom and Aunt Barb’s stay. It rained last night maybe the last substantial rain for awhile but maybe not. It rained the second night I was hear a short burst wetting the brown earth. My first night the remnants of that Lhuntse moon hanging over the open valley a sigh of relief I thought, there aren’t a lot of trees but what a view!” There are actually plenty of trees and in October flowers blossom in the depths of the forest and on the floor of the narrow meadow, pink and purple flowers lustrous in a pastel twilight. On the ridge near Namkhar a sizable Chorten is planned to honor the sky dancing dakini’s yeah how about that! It’s near to the Delog’s house with astounding side views of the valley including sweeping views into Tawang and back towards Trashigang. My mom and Aunt Barb know that view first hand! October even has glittering stars and a frosty Milky Way the embodyment Triple Gem.
It’s very busy now and for the second day in a row I never made it for roaming. Today I watched a mesmerizing sunset from my stoop until only Tsang Tsang Ma and The Matterhorn peaks that lay on the Indo China border the NEXUS of Arrunachal and Tibet. Becky told me she heard that China and India are disputing some areas near Leh and Kashmir. I recall that China still claims Tawang and the other half of this valley but in reality the land belongs to India but Chief Seattle would dispute all claims. Afterschool Social Service met for more than two hours to prepare our exhibition for Club Day. Principal Sir announced the Club Day on Wednesday leaving short notice for members but I am pleased with the results comprising seven posters with mottos, slogans, and artistic renderings. All the work was done by the students who worked well as a team with boys and girls choosing to work separately. Our members are mostly from class 6, 7, and 8 with the older students choosing other clubs. The twenty or so members contributing today did a great job and the markers my mom gave me proved invaluable.
It’s been a great season for me and I feel revitalized from my mom and Aunt Barb’s visit, a shot in the arm to boost morale and keep me trucking. I’m still processing the events and feel I rushed through it in my meandering account. I am eternally grateful for that time together in East Bhutan. Somehow it reminded me too how fortunate I am to have found my place in the world. Pacing along the MP wall waiting for the student’s to finish their dirge and wondering where all those prayers end up I remembered showing my Aunt Barb and Mom the evening prayers.
Tuesday was a gorgeous day with only a string of lace clouds fringing the crests but somewhere beyond Tawang the Matterhorn Peaks sparkled like dragon fangs framed between a small cypress and shimmering banana fronds. All within reach in the eastern Himalaya, steep escarpments line the broad valley concealing a multitude of upper valleys and hidden cirques, amulets strung about the neck of local deities. Many forests of pine, oak, or shrub subside to grassland crisping in the warm October sun along the curvaceous river. The rice and maize are mostly cut but patches remain soon to be harvested leaving a checkerboard of tan and gold on the slopes, a brilliant chartreuse paddy fades to gold near Gongsa that favored oasis similar to the larger Gom Kora downriver. I was at Gom Kora killing time waiting for the roadblock to reopen to Trashigang. I had forgotten that two little palm trees live near the row of Chortens on the hillside above the Goempa. The inner compound with the great rock and Bodhi Tree is the place to be on a warm afternoon, a river breeze rustles the dappled canopy, duck into the grotto where the Guru rendezvoused with the snaky succubus who disturbed his meditation. I hitchhiked to Trashigang through the gashed roadway a typical ride with a young Bhutanese couple with a baby. I remember tottering on the abyss to the consternation of the mother who hissed the Sharchop way like sucking air through her teeth. In Trashigang I met Jon from Wamrong who I hadn’t seen for a year and two teachers Brett and Angie who I’d never met before. We ate outside in the veranda of the bakery and as always it was nice to meet with other BCF teachers. As it happened four Americans which is a novel thing in the Kingdom of Bhutan, but everyone at the table had lived out of the USA for some time. Brett and Angie have spent many years down under and Jon worked in London for a decade. Angie teaches in Khaling and Brett is an environmental engineer and works with the Mountain Hazelnut outfit. They are good people and Jon is a good friend although I rarely see him since he lives four hours south. Jon is fit and has a shaved head appearing streamlined like the runner he is. Brett is stockier but is an avid hiker along with his wife. Later the men retired to talk sports and other relevant topics and eventually it was only Jon and I making too much noise laughing hysterically about the burgers at the Zone in the capital that come without meat. I ate through half of mine before I accepted the fact that no meat was in the bun not even invisible beef particles, just the bun itself, lettuce, tomato, and onion. So I had to sheepishly reorder saying a Hamburger with meat and cheese please. Jon had seen others fall victim to the same chagrin and the funniest part is no one sends it back right away they nibble at it thinking where’s the beef.
The next day I went to Sherubse College for a meeting with a female teacher I had met when touring campus with my mom and aunt. The “date” was awkward although she was nice I am old enough to know when a woman doesn’t fancy me. I admired her achievements but our personalities weren’t a match. I visited Zangdopelri a large temple adjacent to the bazaar that feels a world away from the college across the street and the roadway where Ta Ta’s roar tooting their bugle horns. The monk who had been to Tsenkharla found me and led me through the capacious Lhakhang which is not ancient or new but feels worn in spiritually and far grander than Tsenkharla Zangdopelri, although the three tiered design is the same, downstairs an immense Guru with skulls impaled by his scepter greets the devout, and what’s this in the attic is Buddha flanked by Yeshi and Mandarava? Not possible!
Back at Tsenkharla more grammar and enjoying the last few weeks of direct contact with students before it blurs into the mayhem of exams. It really starts next week with class ten trials and I will begin center marking. I have completed my syllabus and plan a week of review. In the afternoon bullion light illuminates my body as I walk the rough stones towards Zangdopelri, a flock of ravens more than a hundred it seems circles a maelstrom in the last bars of light projecting shadows on the crags of Shampula now a humped hazel mass. Some class one girls are rolling around laughing on a grassy bluff for no apparent reason exuberant with the joy of this moment. It’s nice that in some way I was a part of that joy bringing them at least some form of entertainment. For dinner a repeat performance of lunch K WA Datsi a good batch with garlic, firm red and green chillies, and local cheese which is very delicious and would probably fetch a good price in the Whole Foods Cheese aisle with a fancy label of a yak. Actually its cow cheese with consistency like feta and refines the K WA Datsi. The pressure cooker whistles like an evening train melding flavors for my satisfaction. It took me nearly three years to get a handle on one dish. Yellama! The countryside is resplendent the glorious payoff for months of rain but on the heels of the stellar days are cooler nights although
I am only in a sweatshirt and no heater plugged in.
I still have highlights of the twins visit dancing in my head and to give you an idea of how small Bhutan is in two separate rides this weekend the passengers were talking about Nima and Dawa at the Shakshing Tsechu. It’s often that the driver who stops is someone who knows you or one of your friends as it happened when Sonam one of Ashleigh’s friends picked me up near the junction. The Dangme Chu runs with an emerald streak clearer than in other seasons pursuing purity even while the cliff face above is ravaged by tractor teeth sending debris into the ancient aquatic artery. One must push ahead at this time of year the final stretch and soon it will get cold at night but remain mild in the sunshine of autumn days. Summers hand can still be seen in the lush vegetation that slowly flowers and eventually wilts into December. October is a bountiful time and also a busy time indoors at school. I have been marking portfolios and practice essays but everything is on target for the end of the term. These are simpler times as my soul unwinds into traceless patterns of light. Well maybe not yet but one can visualize like those zealous golfers that imagine holes in one from air conditioned cubicles atop skyscrapers. As a Maitreya I can visualize bursting into rainbow light leaving only a scorched sack of testicles behind like Drukpa Kungley. Seal them up in the Chorten boys for posterity.
I munched my last batch of popcorn (purchased in Thimphu) reading about Lord Buddha who was lavished Prince Siddhartha son of a tyrant king, then wandering ascetic Gautama before becoming Buddha or the awakened one. He left his loved ones and station behind to test his limits wasting away in the jungle lost in meditation knocking but unable to pass through the portal to Nirvana. When he finally defeated Mara or the devil under the Bodhi tree he liberated his soul for eternity. His last tests were pestilent demons and three hot naked chicks frolicking in a pool begging Gautama for a moonlight skinny dip ménage. Gautama saw them as an illusion and like all things they turned to a pile of dust as did Mara himself and without anything to hang his horns on Mara was vanquished. Life is suffering and we must detach from the wheel of life, death, and rebirth breaking our bonds of humanity glued with perpetual desires forcing us to cling helplessly to the world and its funhouse illusions. When the sun rose Gautama stood up as a Buddha and never looked back or forward instead he resided in the resounding peace of each moment. So it goes we must conquer our mind without trying to conquer our mind, no sweat eh? Villagers, students, and my Vice Principal asked if the Twins got back safely and I smiled and answered, “Yes they have!”
My knee still stiffens up and I imagine I will feel it for some time but I’m grateful to be back on the trails finding new adventures in the woods. A huge avalanche just knocked out the trail on the Annapurna circuit killing trekkers. This was my planed route for winter but now I will reevaluate. I am certain that I want to return to Nepal and hope to retrace Siddhartha’s renegade footsteps. I am so grateful to live in this region, on this ridge, and at this school. I will never enjoy these circumstances again and the magnitude of my fortune continues to dawn on me as if the first rays from the east are still above my sightline. If I can make it long enough I might get a glimpse of IT or at least get to hang around this place, working my way into the community, threading myself into the woven tapestry of Tsenkharla.
Currently a moonless night exactly two weeks since my mom and aunt left and their bedding has still not been claimed although the bed frames were finally hauled away. All the meat sticks and salami devoured and their visit seems another beautiful dream within a dream. I would have liked to give one more hug to my mommy. The light is saturated this time of year captivating alive as the trees, monkeys, or tigers prowling the hillsides in search of prey.
Buddha left us with no notion of God and so we seek god and goddess in our collective imagination. We quarrel over whose God or God’s (a product of culture) is the true god. I see the divine in nature and in human faces. If there is no Godly order than no matter since LIFE still retains the holiest essence of mystery. It’s all one and it’s all interchangeable, Dude! I digress while they pray which in itself resembles miracle as people join together singing and chanting the glory of the unknown mysteries to the rhythm of a bell a triumph of the Dharma spirit. My job is teacher and observer and lately I haven’t been connecting the dots for y’all but you must realize as the quest expands the signal will breakup but never leave you entirely. I want to go blank as a slate but be able to function and teach effectively, the universe passing through my transparent spirit like particles through a beam of light, ah! It was said Buddha felt dull and detached before he found his tree and made his vow not to arise until enlightened. After the farm girl revived him with rice milk he mourned his forsaken wife, all those years as a diehard ascetic and he was still attached. Why would anyone undertake a philosophy that tosses them asunder from all they love and cherish, isn’t that just narcissistic and pessimistic? The other selling point is moderation and mindfulness, any takers? The Dharma is a grind but also the reality that cannot be avoided. Buddhism can also be applied in a family life and work but I am attracted to the extremities of Gautama’s ascetic vows that took him into the astral plane. I tried that trick teleporting myself to distant crags but don’t know if that’s the same or not. I live in the Holy Land for Bhutanese the very soil consecrated by Guru Rinpoche himself who wandered on the banks of the Dangme Chu River (Yeshi sang songs above Omba) The Guru scored a huge victory for the Dharma subduing the temptress in the secondary cave downriver from Gom Kora. The Guru reigned supreme in Bumthang and performed miracles at Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) and Singye Dzong in upper Yangtse on the Tibetan border. The Guru is the patron Saint of both Tibet and Bhutan but some would have it that Tibetans betrayed their covenant with the Guru but on this I can’t speak. Nonetheless I live in the Holy Land which is out of sight! The Second Buddha Padmasambhava came to Bhutan in the eighth century to settle a dispute promptly converting the denizens to tantric Buddhism with displays of powerful mojo. The bloodline of the Sharchop people runs older than Guru Rinpoche or Prince Tsangma traced east into modern Arrunachal Pradesh maybe coming up from Burma? It’s as much a mystery where my people came from or the content of my own soul that I thought I knew so well. Personality is transitory like a cloak our soul wears on its endless journey through the immaterial world of Samsara. Our karma or previous actions bind us and perpetuate our souls through innumerable lifetimes but at each of our cores is a Buddha Nature which has no sense of individuality an uncomfortable pill for many to swallow. Is life that painful that we must turn away? Or turn back to the great unborn star shinning in each of us! This has nothing to do with the dualistic dramas we play out orbiting each other in iniquity or virtuousness. Beyond it, we are all the same in our fears and desires that bind us tightly together through the furrows of many life spans. Our pain and fear weaves us like fleshy strands birthing the bonds of attachment known as love; but with love we must take care that it’s bonafide. Only then can we free one another and enter the heavenly realms- dissolving into bliss.
These are precious days in the classroom still able to meet uninterrupted with my students the people I spend most of my waking hours with. The sun was shining down all over Gods Country but after assembly I witnessed a beating that upset my stomach. The offender’s three fourth graders had forgotten their Kubney’s ceremonial white sashes for boys to wear on religious occasions. The students were punched swiftly in the head or what is commonly known as a head knock. These head knocks were forceful enough to jolt the students head askew. They looked violent to me at a time when beating is a sensitive issue in Bhutan. Corporeal punishment is officially illegal but widespread throughout the Kingdom. One must understand that this form of discipline has been a part of education since the beginning a hundred years ago. Modern education started less than fifty years ago so the old ways of beating remain. None of this matters to the three students who had tears in their eyes and sheepishly slunk away after the scolding. This particular person had committed to not beating students after our GNH workshop but I didn’t confront him since everyone knows my stance on corporeal punishment. I had actually had a fifteen minute discussion with him the afternoon before. I won’t soon forget the thud of knuckles on skull and the kids won’t forget it either. Occasionally physical punishment takes place out of doors on the assembly ground but mostly it’s done in classrooms where I rarely see it.
The village is low on vegetables and I made good emadatsi but ingested too many devilishly searing chillies. While at the row of shops I noticed large bags of rice with swastikas imprinted on the sacks, this is an ancient Buddhist symbol stolen and perverted by Nazi’s. As a Westerner I see something dark and sinister where a Buddhist sees something else altogether. It’s getting cold at night with crisp days sporting glorious blue skies and golden sunshine. Tsenkharla falls into shadow early in the afternoon and the shadows creep east to the borderlands and beyond to the hinterlands of Arrunachal Pradesh. The valley slowly drains of light, the last rays funneling to the pinnacles gleaming off the cragged spire of Tsang Tsang Ma, alas illuminating the Matterhorn’s in left field bathing them in orange and finally magenta spheres of light reverberating off icy cornice’s, a puzzle of overhanging bergs and jagged peaks. It’s dark now another moonless night with a Buddhist requiem playing on the cosmic radio. Actually strike that, it’s the student’s prayer a particularly droning dirge drifting up to celestial realms.
I think about God a lot dwelling at this outpost where the banished Prince Tsangma became King of the East. I’m ambivalent on the subject while on one hand there is no proof of God, on another everything is proof of divinity. Is it the Chicken or the Egg did God create the Universe or did the Universe create God? And if there is no God or Goddess (as if that entity wouldn’t embody both genders) who or what created the matter that spawned the Universes. Did the whole thing just become self aware pluming like a thunderhead -but how did the elements the essential foundations of dust and gas come into being, that’s the mind bending inquiry that will drive one mad, that’s why melting into meditation is the only key to discovering the precepts of the inner workings of everything. Only then have the great ones dissolved the ego and penetrated the pregnant mysteries. I like to dabble and then often complain when things don’t go my way. The religious zeal of Bhutanese is as much cultural as divine or rather in Bhutan culture is divine. The King wear’s a saffron sash like Buddha himself and every other students notebooks contains clippings of HM or the Royal Family. A framed portrait of the Fifth King hangs over my head right now, in the picture the Fourth king is placing the Raven Crown on the Fifth King’s head. Earth spins rotating through space and the days become shorter. Today I taught letter writing in all my classes and now all that’s left is review. I have to make exams, review quizzes, and starting tomorrow central Marking begins. I will be doing my share of the Class Ten Student’s Trial Exams and it will mushroom from there. It’s not an easy time of year although pristinely beautiful, the humor of the students brightens my days and always pulls me through.
A funny observation about eggs is I don’t consume enough when they’re around but when they’re gone I really miss them. I told this to Jimba who laughed a single short noise “Ha” Jimp’s is pretty solemn on the whole but she spontaneously brought tea and toast (resembling French toast) at 7:38 this morning I poked my head out with puffy eyes in my boxers. I went back and enjoyed breakfast in bed! It was a nice deed and nice deeds make the world go around. I can’t ask for better neighbors and doubt they would say the same. Although they have never reproached me once and only rarely comment on an exuberant late night phone call with my dad or Becky. My voice carries and the walls are thin (we share a duplex and mine is smaller) they brought tea for Aunt Barb and Mom and even let them use their toilet the next day. They have a western toilet not a “Two feeter no seater” as Bubba Ganush quipped. Of course I miss the company of Karlos and Sonam as neighbors and Sonam Choden is due in December for their babe. They were married my first month here on a night a vividly recall still bewildered and wide eyed at my new situation. (I’m still bewildered and wide eyed!) Student’s stream in at night to ask questions and Nima Gyelston offers to do the dishes and I turn him on to Garlic French Fries. Last night Butterfly came by to make his famous Butterflies Chicken using my old ketchup with Masala with chillie, onion, and garlic in a soupy curry. In India they call such a meal “non Veg” Only a culture based around Vegetarians could have that expression. HOLY COW though haven’t I seen Ashish eating beef? After throwing the bones to the dogs we sat on my bed and talked about India and the Caste system which I find utterly fascinating and inhuman. India is such a trip so expressive but constraint in its vibrant nature. Butterfly still awaits a wife from his caste with a matching astrological chart that must be arranged by his mother and sisters. They advertise my Butterfly in the newspaper hoping to attract a mate. He will either marry or not but never go on an awkward date like mine on Sunday. Maybe he’s the lucky one? Bhutan seems open by comparison but I’m still an interloper an outsider tolerated nonetheless. Bhutanese treat me kindly and that’s why I choose to stay here, that and the awe inspiring mountains stretching in every direction.
It’s late October and I’m not watching Yankee Baseball, seeing Bobby at the Fillmore, or camping amongst the ferns with my paramour. This is something entirely different although there are ferns here but definitely no Bobby or baseball. I dreamed of touching a woman last night, she was blonde and buxom some projection of a grownup Brooke Siebel and I woke up realizing just how far I’ve strayed from romantic love. Perhaps the dream was merely reminding me that the seed is dormant within me and someday love may blossom again. Meanwhile there are other outlets to get in touch with the factions of that LOVE that rules the cosmos. It’s true, amazing sexual intercourse is the purest form of loves expression but the diluted path can be rewarding too. Weeding a garden, tutoring a lad in English, or sending out positive vibes to the Dangme Chu are all good solutions.
One of my great pleasures is too sit back at my desk in my wobbly padded hair and read books on my I Pad. Right now I’m reading Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. It’s an intriguing account of Mormonism and certain lurid crimes within the churches. Like the Mormons, Bhutanese Buddhist can also be fanatical but in a completely different way. Buddhism simply permeates all aspects of life here but it’s pretty live and let live. The book is written like a mystery and reminds me of one of Paul Winfield’s City Confidential episodes that I used to watch on A&E Daybreaks. One gets used to living alone maybe too used to it. A nice treat tonight, grilled cheese sandwiches with a decent batch of bread and Indian processed Cheese not unlike American.
Fear and loathing in Lhomon & Dreaded Central Marking
Well it’s that season again, the season of center marking where we all get together in a cold room and mark exams. Starting with class ten trial exams and I was saddled with letter writing. The tedium of marking hundreds of papers doesn’t distress me like it did two years ago. You are doing a service for the students even if they aren’t your own pupils and even if you’ll never know there name. It’s all part of the job anyway right. Of course I prefer teaching in the classroom and I’m still having the opportunity to do that. It’s Friday night and I’m rundown, I taught eight consecutive periods followed by two and a half hours of marking letters. It’s genuinely cold tonight although I’m managing in my disintegrating Ratdog sweatshirt and a ski hat but I plugged in the battered Chinese heater. BRRRR! Not much to eat so I scrounged a few potatoes and made K WA which was elevated by copious cloves of garlic. I chased that dinner with a second supper of grilled Cheese sandwiches and I’m still famished. Oh no maybe it’s a tape worm but more likely I often feel two meals behind and am rarely stuffed (packed as the natives say) I suppose living hungry keeps an edge as long as one doesn’t become emaciated. I sure do crave a pepperoni stick right now or a piping hot pepperoni pizza from Uncle Veto’s and maybe some fresh pie for desert upstairs. I’m afraid those days are gone though. It all led me here though and I’m gratefully hungry for a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake! AH isn’t the food game a riot Alas? Yes it was another blissful autumnal afternoon with clouds streaming into the valley fracturing the light. Ravens and marigolds mark the passage of time and someone placed a bundle of orange blossoms above the chalkboard tied on a string. Marigolds are sacred and offered at Hindu shrines and in class 7 B where Tendy Zangmo winds her arm around like Popeye and punches little Ugyen Norbu (Revenge for the girls!) Across the aisle Nima Zangmo gets bonked on the head by Thinley Gyeltson and the score is settled. In the U.S.A these antics would garner parental complaints and Principal intervention but not in Bhutan where bonks and head knocks is standard procedure. Either way I am compelled to announce “There is no hitting in this class!” A surge of laughter erupts from the culprits who take it all in stride. So passes the days and cold nights alone in my hut texting Pema Zangmo in Wangdi for any means of contact. Here I am in my concrete hovel perched on a grassy ledge on the lip of an abyss stretching east for over a hundred miles into darkness. In daylight not much can be seen that is civilized, the settlement of Khiney directly below our ridge at the foot of Shampula. Shampula itself uninhabited humped summit with moors stretching into the forests that flank Bromla. A radial as impressive as the Wheel of Life! Beyond Shampula Lumla perched atop a pinnacle the first village east of the border in Arrunachal Pradesh. Dirt roads crisscross both sides of the invisible demarcation and on the other side of the Dangme Chu Yellang Temple shines like a pearl. A few scant villages cling precipitously on high steep slopes but mostly its trees and untouched land to steep to live on, graze, or cultivate. I don’t foresee much growth in this valley over the next several generations as the land will only yield to people so much. In the entire splendid valley the best spot is right here buttressed by the boy’s hostels. My range is limited but what I have could easily satisfy me for the next nine lifetimes. I told our senior teacher Prabu G a Brahmin from Tamul Nadu that he had fortunate karma to be a bachelor living at Tsenkharla for seventeen years.
Hands Across the Himalayas rages onward against the dying of the light. A prophetic slogan indeed it took your help to get me here and the assistance of many others once I arrived. I consider myself a loner by rights but it isn’t exactly so. Even as an introvert many wonderful souls touch my life. It’s a strange thing making a life and in Bhutan mine has expanded in ways never available to me before. Simply put here I finally touched the hearts of people where in North America I was sheltered. Paradoxically Tsenkharla is lonely but also I’m part of a community. I recall having some impact on Turtle Island and even wielding the Sword of Power but here is where I fulfilled my destiny. My personality is different here than in California. There I am shy but here more outgoing as my Aunt Barb observed it’s like the stoical Bhutanese unlock something in me. The students are easy to get along with and easy to discipline because they are the best youth in this world. The environs of campus are another boon. Our campus is endowed with towering cypress trees and views in every direction and my mom was quite impressed with the buildings and the vibe of the grounds enhanced by students milling around in matching gho and kiras, a tide of black, red, and purple plaid.
Two weeks after Nima & Dawa departed and their hard mattresses are still on the floor along with Karma’s bedding. They might have felt cold now and although the days are markedly similar to the ones they spent here there is a nip to the air as soon as classes adjourn. It happens drastically with the monsoon ending their first full day in the Kingdom and a week after they left colder air amassing. The wild grass on my lawn a precipice on the lip of a voluminous valley remains a lustrous green, but the mountainsides have a hazel sheen. On a recent walk down the paved golf cart road I noticed the first poinsettias of the winter appearing. My mom loves poinsettias and she missed the bloom by a few weeks only. Her presence remains with me and I see her in all of Great Spirits marvelous creation. It also seems like a swift dream her visit or even this short life. My lasting impression is that I’m blessed to belong to a great family and have as Camile says a “Cool Mom!” I feel lucky to be here and recognize that it was my loved ones who put me here. There support all these years gave me the courage to come and stay. Tyler, Beth, Mom and Dad, Aunt Mare, Aunt Barb and Cousin Larry are the principles, the foundation of my existence. Living in Bhutan is literally a dream come true for me so I like to say I’m living the dream. Oh I still have the same old neurosis and hang ups and extensive travel and insatiable adventure won’t satiate my soul. That doesn’t take anything away from the experience since one lifetime is ONLY a learning process a lesson in letting go. Moreover life is fascinating in this part of the world and even after a few years I still struggle to adapt and am still waiting for my feet to touch the ground. Up until now I’ve led an itinerant life but here at Tsenkharla I can put down roots. How fitting it’s at a place I never knew was part of our planet eight years ago. The end of the world can be a tad harsh and scary but it’s also my HEARTHOME. When I asked my mom her impressions of the East verses the West of Bhutan she said that the beauty of the East was unsurpassed. She remarked that in the West one looks up at the mountains from the valleys where in the East one is always on top of mountains. A very astute observation and although my heart is of the East the West holds many favored spots too.
A cloudy Saturday with stratus clouds overtaking the valley. It was a full day starting with three classes (a half day) in 7B the students were sulking from a beating by their Dzonkha teacher. Many Lopen’s come from the old school and often beat, the sharp stick left on the desk by the logbook. Rigsar Wangmo was upset and last I saw she was skulking away after the bell. The kids know it’s illegal and asked me to report it to the Principal. I have voiced my objections to Principal Sir but also know it is not appropriate that I intercede in these matters. If I saw a dangerous beating I would be compelled to complain but ultimately the Bhutanese must police themselves and one cannot save the system here. I suggested they write anonymously and I would give their letter to Principal on their behalf. After third period I supervised the burying of two trash pits that Principal Sir wanted removed because he felt they were an eye soar for dignitaries who happened by that pathway. It was demanding work as some bigger boys used a pick to break up the rocky earth and after an hour of labor they had filled both pits burying hundreds of scorched plastic wrappers under the earth. After lunch I went to the staffroom to do Center Marking until 5 P.M. It’s a chilly evening and I just made K WA Datsi with ample garlic the same old dish day in day out. My health holds out but my nose is snotty along with everyone else at this time of year. The Bhutanese attribute the unhealthiness to changing seasons and maybe they’re right since a lot of people get sick around the spring and autumnal equinox. A light wind also picks up in late October but Tsenkharla is a remarkably placid place considering the exposure and elevation. Perhaps being a hill among giants that buffer the fierce winds that I assume whip Tsang Tsang Ma. Now I will turn my attention to making exams and preparing review quizzes and games for the students. My afternoons will be filled with Center Marking. Tomorrow is Sunday and I hope to make the most of it.
Nothing came of Sunday since I awoke at dawn to rumpling thunder that seemed to emanate from where the sun was absent. Charcoal clouds hung in the valley all day and it rained heavily in the morning. I stayed in my sleeping bag until 11 A.M the latest I’ve ever slept in Bhutan. I puttered around doing dishes and making curry eventually going to the village dropping nearly $300 dollars, they didn’t open a burlesque on the three shop strip, but I pay my debts to Karlos and Sonam and Aunty Kezang. I also took tea at Karlos and Sonam’s which hit the spot on a blustery afternoon. I love the Bhutanese sweet milk and sugar tea and don’t drink enough of it. Dawa Dema followed me home where I read Tibetan Peach Pie a Tom Robbins autobiography and planned review lessons for the upcoming week. I also had a long talk with my brother on the phone which was nice. Memories from this cloudy weekend, Guru Wangmo proclaiming that I roam everywhere while Chongola lost his English portfolio sitting cheerfully with his arms folded across his chest seemingly unconcerned. Saturday night Center Marking where I discussed with principal Sir the phrase “pass out” which means graduate in Bhutan means to become unconscious from too much drink. Bhutanese English derives from India via Brittan and terms like Bunk are not known to Americans. Now it’s Sunday evening soaking laundry and washing dishes an endless cycle of chores that I neglect as long as humanly possible. The upcoming week will be busy but Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is Zangdopelri Tsechu. I will have three days off to do as I choose. Tomorrow is a work day although my syllabus is covered I will spend the last two weeks of classes wrapping up grammar and reviewing. I also have to finish marking Class Seven Portfolios and then for a month and a half I will be invested in Exam invigilation and center marking.