Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Grab Bag!

March Madness

“The sun gonna shine in my backdoor someday, March wind gonna blow all my troubles away…”

These last few days have been intense. Right now all I want to do is make my K WA supper but no water flows from the tap. How on earth did I survive two years with practically no water? I couldn’t hack it now. I’ve exerted tremendous will in the classroom clamping down on behavior while maintaining a positive vibe. That will mean less joking but today I was very pleased with the returns on my efforts. The forest fire has jumped from Lumla catchment to Kiney side and I wonder what Lynn is thinking. A ring of fire encompasses my beloved village of Jangphu where the Monpa’s hail. My computer needs antivirus and is acting out and damn popup ads have been encroaching on tiger so I’m sorry for that and hope the dear reader ignores them. Now that Himalayan Odyssey is behind us the work goes on…Rain is falling from a charcoal sky, its cold; the rats back, my camera broke yada yada…The difference is that I’m still reasonably happy where two years ago these nuances of life might have sent me into a tailspin. Surgit who refers to me as “college boy” teased me about the flannel over shirt I wore to assembly and I teased him about his shiny Indian trousers that make him look like a mustached merman. If I want to impress Nir Mala Tapa I should bathe more than once a week since admittingly today I looked like a ragamuffin and might’ve stunk like a Brokpa with Danny Newnan hairdo. Still, my yearly plans are complete, I’m a week ahead on lessons and I had a successful day in the classroom carrying out my discipline with class 8A trash picking at interval since it wouldn’t be fair depriving them of lunch. It’s always challenging here which is actually comforting since you know the waves will keep rolling in.  Surfs Up!

Nima Gyelston just brought a case of coke for me from the shop and I set him and Pema Chedup to work cleaning and making curry before Monopoly. I don’t want to force work on them but it’s reciprocal since they’ll get a proper meal and enjoy a board game. I want to help them too with homework especially Nima whose Class Ten. I mostly do my own housework but on occasion having some help is great. Outside the six black pups snuggle in a box and accumulate puppy merit so when they go to the doggy Bardo they can follow the rainbow light and be reborn as humans. Yes, the community is swinging now and it feels good to have some hardships under my belt knowing many more will come. To borrow a Chinese proverb (where’s Pema Lhamo) “May you live in interesting times” Ho! I realize as long as I’m healthy life is good but I’m sure I’ll complain anyway since that’s what humans like to do. I can’t rally anyone to go see the Monpa’s on Friday Evening so I might have to mission. How’s it that Mr. Tim’s more interested in aspects of culture than the native’s. I guess their whole life is culture so they can just make Emadatsi and watch it on BBS or the Doksom Cable Station I never knew existed. I will buy Surgit’s tiny T.V when he departs so I can watch “Men” in my own home instead of T-Gang. This year a kindler gentler Mr. Tim since aggressiveness only aggravates the denizens and won’t get me to first base with Nir Mala.

Today is Wednesday and I already have seen the possible pitfalls of 50 members in Social Service and am devising a plan to organize. Campus looks TERRIBLE and it’s a pity that my efforts haven’t amounted to much, partly since administration doesn’t support my efforts. No need to give up and for my own sake I will continue my personal mission. The rumor that I fancy Dir Mala has spread through the staffroom like the wildfire near Jangphu, to be honest my initial reaction might’ve just been the sucking desperation in my soul wanting somebody to share in this life but maybe deep down I want nothing to do with women anymore. I don’t really know my feelings since Bhutan has me all mixed up. That’s okay too since all I really care about is becoming a capable teacher and staying healthy building a new life. My soul is ripe for something BIG and I have no idea what. I know this is the place to bear fruit and despite missing my family there’s not much else to lament from my former life except juicy double cheeseburgers. The harder I try at teaching the more I realize how much I need to improve, I just spent two hours to mark one paragraph for each of my 120 pupils so that tells you what I’m up against. My goal is better consistency and setting a higher standard for Mr. Tim since teachers can only expect their students to excel if they do.

Today’s cold with Tsang Tsang Ma sparkling like a Jewel atop the crown of the Tawang Valley. Plumes of smoke billow up the spine of Shampula and snow dusts the mountaintops that ring the valley. Again I’m waiting for water and didn’t make it out of doors today but I reckon the woods will wait for me since they’re my TRUE LOVE!

(Action Plan for afterschool Reading Program)

Reading Rainbow Action Plan

Motto: Reading for a brighter future…

Mission Statement:

In honor of 2015 being declared as National Reading Year in Bhutan we will resume our afterschool reading program at Tsenkharla. Students need a comfortable and nurturing environment to read. Boarder students have a very busy schedule and aren’t able to set aside time on their own for reading books. Furthermore the hostel is not a conducive environment since there is an excess of noise to contend with. It’s our aim to provide students with a consistent and supportive environment to enhance their reading skills. To improve reading students must practice on a regular basis. The program will meet Monday -Friday afterschool from 3:50 - 4:50 starting April 1st and concluding approximately October 15th. Reading Rainbow will not meet during the week leading up to Midterm Exams. The rotating schedule will range from class 6 to 10 and will include both boarders and day scholars. Students will only be permitted to read library material focusing on storybooks and novels. Those students who don’t have a library book will be offered periodicals such as Kuensel. Students should check out books and read them over the course of 1-3 weeks and will be expected to finish books they have started. Facilitators should keep track of what each participant is reading. It’s also possible that two sections can congruently meet if we are allotted another classroom and another facilitator is available. I will discuss this with the English Department and decide if this is feasible and Mr. Sangay Tenzin, Madam Tshering Wangmo and I will set the schedule. The library period is not a time for browsing or for pupils to read segments of random material. The point is that students are to be involved in a particular book which will foster a love of stories and insatiable thirst for reading. Only then will students begin to regard books as friends to cherish and they’ll look forward to reading every day.

I will facilitate the program assisted by Mr. Sangay Tenzin and Tshering Wangmo who will supervise the students. Personally I will monitor the students five days a week guiding them in their reading. The role of the facilitator will be to monitor behavior making certain that students follow the prescribed guidelines agreed upon by myself, Sangay Tenzin, and Tshering Wangmo. Students must choose a proper book in accordance with their respective reading level. Choosing the right book is extremely important to ensure that the student is engaged and challenged but not overwhelmed and the facilitator will make sure students have appropriate reading material at all times. Students should be reading novels or storybooks outside of class in addition to assigned school texts. The reason for this is that students must find books suitable to their interests in addition to what they’re assigned by teachers in class. We also need to work towards improving our library facility by adding to our selection of books in all grade levels, interests, and abilities. By improving our library we will motivate students to engage in reading providing a wide selection of titles to choose from. I will be happy to attend the Mongar Book Fair and assist the librarians in picking out suitable selections to add to our library. 

Class Nine and Ten students will be allowed to read either “Dawa the Dog” or “The Giver” and any other novel assigned by their subject teacher however, short stories from textbooks should not be read during the library program. This should be a time and space where students are pursuing their own literary interests while improving individual reading skills. Facilitators will circulate through the room assisting with pronunciation and answering vocabulary inquiries from students. It’s paramount that all participants remain quiet and no talking will be permitted unless it’s a question for the teacher. A list of Library Guidelines will be posted on the wall for the students to follow and strict attendance must be observed. Students who fail to turn up for the Library Period will be reprimanded in conjunction with the T.M.S.S Discipline Policy.         

Our objective is that the, “Reading Rainbow Program” will encourage all participants to incorporate reading into their lives making a habit of reading every day. This will make a huge improvement in the four English domains reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Students will dramatically expand their vocabulary which will improve both their writing and speaking; in addition they’ll hone their concentration which will drastically improve listening skills. In my three years of teaching in the Kingdom of Bhutan I have noticed that most Bhutanese learners are not active readers and I sincerely feel this puts them at a disadvantage in a competitive world. Living in an isolated part of the Kingdom students will be exposed to the outer world by reading and will broaden their horizons learning many valuable lessons. Reading avidly provides a healthy alternative to television which is a growing concern for the youth of Bhutan. All over the world students benefit from reading but nowhere is the need greater than in Eastern Bhutan. We must do everything we can to improve T.M.S.S students reading skills so they can compete with the students in the western part of the country. Students have reported to me that they’re not getting enough time for independent reading. Boarders have many extracurricular activities including prayer and social work in addition to regular classes and homework. As educators we must find a way to encourage reading including setting a personal example for students by reading ourselves. Our Reading Rainbow Program will hopefully be a steppingstone in a lifelong relationship between students and books.    
Reading should be a priority at our school and our program will allocate time for book talks so students can share reports on interesting stories they’ve read. It’s our sincere hope that participants will also spread the joy of learning to others and reading books will become contagious so that everyone in our community will benefit!

“Take a look in a book, reading rainbow.”

Reading Rainbow Architect Mr. Tim Grossman

One from the vault: December 2014

For Butterfly: Thank you for being a friend…

Yesterday my friend and colleague Ashish (AKA Butterfly) was laid off by the Ministry of Education. Sixty teachers all in his subject also got the ax in an ongoing elimination of Indian teachers. Indians like Prabu G who have served over 15 years were temporarily spared. For years Bhutan relied heavily on Indian personal at one time having Indian administrators. Now MOE wants to ensure jobs for fresh Bhutanese teachers coming out of training. Unfortunately they notified Ashish and company without warning and Butterfly is distraught although bravely putting on a smiling face. It’s too bad since he’s probably the most dedicated teacher on staff having the onerous task of teaching class ten and putting in extra hours with students prior to exams. Performance had nothing to do with these cuts and finding a job in India with a comparative wage will be difficult. I went over to Surgit’s house and had dinner with Ashish who was devastated. Meanwhile I still haven’t wrapped up my paperwork opting for the trail in a sepia afternoon with a lopsided moon breaking through a sea of clouds. I ate all my rations and care package and plan to go to T-Gang to meet the fellas tomorrow. We have enjoyed pleasant weather with fine views brushes of color flourish the ridges and crisp autumn smells make traversing the pine spine of the mountain delightful, needles coat the dusty trail and the wind howls ruffling the treetops. The sunshine seeps through my third eye and I’m MINDFUL of my feet on the packed earth.
We had a meeting on the grass today and were surprised to learn of a plan to construct a Chorten on that spot on which we were sitting. Teachers were advised to donate 4,000 NU or more (100 bucks) I was ornery perhaps since Butterfly’s dismissal and proclaimed I was not Buddhist and would have to think of an amount I’m comfortable donating. I also wanted to know whose idea the Chorten was. I should preface by saying there was a long speech in Dzongkha so it was 30 minutes before I knew of the intended Chorten. I like Chortens but scratch my head at the rapid development that has overtaken the area and campus in its wake. Now the giant Sky Dakini Chorten near Nankhar sounds dope and I guess I could get behind a campus Stupa. I was just feeling cheeky but seriously would only donate fifty bucks. I can see it now schoolboys spinning clockwise before a test. Jesus, our assembly ground is already cluttered by an excess of gardens and disaster placards. By December a Phelincpa is feeling every bit the outsider and now I am losing Ashish who was my buffer, we would commiserate about our frustrations and joke around. We even had what we called “Foreign Corner” at staff parties and meetings so we could whisper translations in English, a play by play of what was going on. Tsenkharla loses a good teacher, a big fat WHAT TO DO!

I hung out in the village watching kid’s play and Karlos do dishes at the spigot located off the dirt strip. Up in the pastures a woman was rounding up her cows and singing at the top of her lungs a happy song in Sharchop. She wore ubiquitous blue gumboots and worn grey kira cavorting around the pasture Sound of Music style. It’s a fascinating scene especially when a maelstrom of ravens lands on a massive oak all squawking in cacophonous unison while leaves continuously plop on my head. Below at Zangtopelri the conch vibrates through the cellular makeup of the mountain at sundown. At the hermitage site old men bang sticks adorned with shells and chant funky mantras borrowed from Himalayan cave dwellers. Cedar smoke fills the air offerings to unseen spirits, entities in other dimensions that roam with one foot in our world. When I told Principal Sir that I was not Buddhist he replied regardless I could accumulate merit by funding the Chorten. He had me there, isn’t it? Even I spin for merit but am lazy on the wheels unlike Bubba Ganush. Puja horns bleat from Zangtopelri like snakes uncoiling loose upon the world, a sound once strange but now familiar. This puja was intense with bells chiming like the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Time” overlay by Alice’s bagpipes. There’s also a fair amount of white noise emanating from some channel of the void ala screaming sirens of the Bardo. Meanwhile lama’s decipher the cosmic mess in the Lhakhang and pipe it all back to the surrounding villages through a PA speaker attached to the pagoda. Ken Kesey couldn’t have done better and all that was missing was a sweaty shirtless Neil Cassady juggling a ballpoint hammer.   

Prabu G said I should avail my readership to fund the Chorten, any takers?
It’s amazing being here a year revolving with the seasons, winter is hazy, dry, introspective, and brown. The spring has its thunderstorms and rhododendron blooms and slowly the forest enlivens. This year the T-storms were subdued and then the verdant monsoon smothers everything in moldy clouds for four long months. Steamy leeches in the jungle yo. Finally the monsoon tails and autumn sparkles like an emerald. One constant is it’s always beautiful.
And so it was in Trashigang this weekend meeting Jonathon, Warren, and Mack at the K.C, three quality bros. Warren and Mack are in their early twenties and Warren has an old soul as Kezia put it. He has a shine and calmness in his presence that is refreshing. Mack is solid too. Both gentlemen had fantastic experiences and it was touching to see Warren’s community deliver him in the school bus with entourage who looked upset at his departure. The Bhutanese aren’t demonstrative at farewells even with family members but it looked as if they had embraced handsome Warren Tanner as kin. I didn’t watch the particulars but saw that his peeps carried his luggage up the stairs and were hesitant to say goodbye. It’s humbling to see BCF success stories in the field unfold. Mack also told of his tearful goodbye down in Pema Gatshel. They headed off to Thimphu on the bus and I took a casual day in Trashigang waiting for the road block to open hanging out with Jon. He has a rapier wit and we can joke all day if left to our own devices which we did admiring the view from a gardened veranda sitting on dusty plastic chairs drinking pop and eating chocolate chip cookies imported from Australia. It was a good meeting with everyone and it confirmed that Bhutan is beloved by many of us. Each of us placed in a village where we make connections and live our lives the best we can for the time that were here. I’ve met some awesome individuals while in Bhutan and we share a connection. How cool is it that people from around the world become true friends despite cultural differences.

On the way to the hill station I was picked up at Gom Kora by a female teacher from Bayling. It’s rare to see a woman driving in Bhutan. We got a flat tire running over a nail and she changed the flat efficiently while I stood around holding tools like a little boy. Trashigang sparkled with billowing clouds, a Brokpa man in his wool red tunic and a stylish pink cowboy hat chewed doma hanging around the shop rapping with Sharchop dudes. Blood red poinsettias stained the parched hillsides, and blood red doma spit stained the pavement. The town is being whitewashed and spruced up for the Kings visit (K4 & K5) tomorrow. I couldn’t stick around despite Jon’s plea since I had to complete my work but it was good to see the guys. Jon and I are Americans and they are both Canadians so we explored stereotypes of hosers and which government is worse. When Americans hang with Canucks I feel everyone in the room wants to blurt out that their country is superior, eh. I didn’t know Jim Carrey was Canadian or that he renounced his Canadian citizenship. Now I’m back in the cool mountain air of Tsenkharla and soon I’ll be on my way to the capital and eventually leave the kingdom for a spell. Jon and I walked to the Dzong where indeed they were dismantling the historic fortress brick by brick. Apparently there’s foundational damage and the whole structure must be rebuilt. 

It’s December 8 2014 and exactly 20 years ago tonight I saw the Grateful Dead at the Oakland Coliseum Arena with my dad and Aunt Mare. We drove in URF and it was a frosty night but Jerry warmed all our spirits.      

Leaving tomorrow and still I can’t finish my work, being a class teacher in Bhutan demands heaps of paperwork. Right now my problem is collecting the marks then entering them on the massive spreadsheet (I can’t explain all the snafus that occur in the process) and my eyesight is not suited for this type work. Regardless one way or another it will get done but its stressful just getting out of town. Today is Wednesday foggy and cold in the kingdom. I woke up at 3 AM with the rat gnawing on my foam spare mattress basically chewing through half of it scattering bits of foam across the cement floor. I never got back to sleep anxious about my unfinished tasks and now it’s Thursday and I’m still muddling through the snafus. I won’t bore you with the details but rather tell you about the adorable snot nose PP students looking scared at registration for next year.
The highlight of the day was the class ten Picnic which featured the students sitting on dusty red strips of carpet, boys on one side of the court and girls on the other. I have taught many of them including the batch in my first class 8 in 2012. Nawang Choden won the chance to interview for a scholarship in the UK (what an opportunity for a farmer’s daughter) I said goodbye to a few students including a nice conversation with Kinley Wangchuk a good natured lad I have enjoyed over the years. Dema a retiring girl thanked me for teaching her and wished me a safe journey. The image of the day that I remember clearest is Pema Yangdon standing near Thinley Wangchuk a teacher who is leaving. She was overcome by emotions and when I gave her a last photo and said goodbye, she couldn’t speak. Pema Yangdon is a pensive girl and at departing radiated modesty. I never said goodbye to Sangay Tobgay who after eleven years says goodbye to Tsenkharla.
A hazy sunny Thursday with zeppelin clouds floating across the sky casting mutant shadows on the Dangme Chu. Wood smoke permeates a pink sunset over Drametse and the bats torpedo through tinsel gloaming. The skeleton of the giant oak looms above me and a leaf plops on my head. A few stars peep into the valley where lights blink on and off like a Christmas tree.
(We are all so fortunate)

It’s Friday evening and I finally completed my spreadsheet and progress reports, the end of a long year. The prayer wheel chimes outside the staff room and sleepy birds tweet in the waning light.


“Keep on rolling by…”

In this stage of my life I’m sort of like a chrysalis waiting to emerge into a butterfly. Piet told me butterflies only live a few weeks and that got me thinking about what a marvelous symbol of impermanence they are. We also don’t live long in the scope of time something I recalled when Piet was rapping about rocks and the formation of landscapes in a high mountain glade that I’ll never visit again. Human time is a drop in the bucket compared with geologic time but even earth is fragile and impermanent. One might consider this fact terrifying or comforting depending on their perspective- This too shall pass- all of it and in my little life many wonderful people and moments have already gone by. Maybe the best times but since time is an illusion what difference does it make. A river continues to flow even when diverted into hellish manmade channels or through polluted cities on its journey to the ocean before evaporation starts the process again. All a body can do is hold it close and let it go and this practice gives life its sustenance…Furthermore we never know the impact we have on others, for example my parents will never know how much they’ve helped me since some things remain unsaid. Open wounds never will heal and that’s good too tenderizing that soft spot. I still wake up in rapturous pain remembering- but I gradually soften slaked by Dharma laughing at my neurosis and what a funny clingy creature I AM.      

I open my door to see a peaked gibbous moon peeking through layered clouds while the dead grass burns below…Everything is changing and fluid and it’s alright...

Thursday Night is Circus Night and the wildfire still smolders under a full moon reaching the valley floor near Tsangma’s ancient defense on the phallic knoll above Gongsa. It was another busy day at school with a lengthy meeting after classes. Principal Sir announced the meeting in morning assembly and I told him afterwards that I was now checking the schedule tacked on the bulletin board and he replied that he had made the announcement on my behalf which was kind. In turn I was on time for the meeting which addressed health issues in the community.

I had a few moments with Nir Mala (meaning pure) and she reminds me of what Mari Devi might have looked like except when the sunlight struck her hair there were ruddy gold highlights. When I asked her why she colored it she replied, “I have too” a typically quirky Bhutanese response. She’s nice, simple and frank but I don’t have much in common with Bhutanese women in general. They’re a unique breed and for all their variety share many of the same traits. It speaks to the greater dichotomy since Bhutanese couldn’t be more different that your author but I revere them all the same more than any other race (authors note they are not one race at all) Shall I venture a description of this chapter’s heroine? She’s a perfect height coming up to my nose possessing a slender body but with curves hinted under her tightly wrapped kira (I haven’t picked up her scent yet) She favors rusty earth tones and the one she sported today reminded me of the iridescent brown trout I saw spawning in Yellowstone. Her hair falls loose around the shoulders with bangs that frame her kind face. Her nose is pronounced and squat and her black eyes are direct and honest. Her lips are not pouty but her cheeks are rounded with a soft chin and she possesses a light chocolate skin tone. Nir Mala slumps a bit when she walks and stares at the ground sometimes like myself. Once I made a joke in the staffroom and she laughed heartily revealing the rich inner chuckle behind a laugh which tickled my soul. She already reprimanded me once for calling the Je Kempo ‘that guy” when I saw his face on a calendar correcting me by saying “that’s not a guy he’s an important religious personality” Some facts I’ve gleaned she’s 22, hails from Wangdi, is unmarried (although she wears a ring on that particular slender finger) Speaking of those fingers they’re very active brushing her hair from her forehead or stroking the tassels on her embroidered rachu but always searching for something. We both teach class eight and I admit I spied on her a bit enjoying her brash voice at work. Oh, the intangible and tangible configurations that spur attraction are as mysterious as the stars.    

I cleaned the hut today and Nima & Pema dropped by but eventually I ushered them out since I had work to do. Maybe I won’t make the Monpa celebration at the Kora and I wonder if they’re able to crossover from Blithing due to the fire although a contingent comes via a higher pass directly into Trashiyangtse town. Karlos is too busy with family to attend and I had to beg him to go last year. Little Pema Namgay is adorable and last night was all swaddled near a bukari as I was staring at his precious face (like Karma does) he woke up yawned and stretched his little arms like a grownup would. His miniature fists were balled and he had more strength grabbing my finger. I felt a pang of envy and also vicarious joy for my cousin and brother who have known the wonder of bringing new life into the world, there must be no feeling more potent including summiting the highest mountain. Reed is now a big boy running six and Paige is a little girl of her own with Holden on his way too. My bra and Cousin Larry both make excellent fathers in their own right and here I am a teacher. It’s all pretty unbelievable, ha! when did we all grow up I can still remember them following me around as a child teasing me mercilessly their tormenting laughs still haunt me, I remember threatening to shoot my cousin in the face with a Beebe Gun for stealing a coke, or them mocking me onstage during “Oliver” More recently I recall a Sound Tribe show the three of us together in the Crown Room before they were husbands or fathers. Yellama!      

On a good day there’s a cadence that a teacher enjoys that is mildly exhilarating and modestly satisfying. Students were enjoying writing similes and sharing them in class, including my favorite Mr. Tim is like a King! Yeshi Dema is a star student and topper in class seven and was nodding her enthusiastic approval at my fencing display using a broom and dustpan as sword and shield demonstrating “Coat of Arms” that we’re making. I have found a new home in the staffroom which is quiet during my free periods and my plain wooden desk (table with drawer and wooden chair) is tucked in a cozy corner near a window with a view of the basketball court, prayer wheel, and Bromla towering above. Through the opposite window I can see Tsang Tsang Ma through the needles of a giant cypress. What a joy to live in Bhutan a simplistic perfectness with birds darting in and out of the classroom during lessons. There’s nowhere else on earth I’d prefer to teach or live even with only one thing on the menu. Tonight’s K WA was spiced with Masala from the import shop in Thamel and spruced up with garlic, spinach and tomato. I thought of Vicky munching on a rare raw carrot for dessert. I just started reading Moby Dick which is hilarious although it took me awhile to begin to grock those flowery sentences but the dude paints quite a picture although I have just begun only reaching the scene where the protagonist Ishmael is bedding down for the night with a cannibal in a dingy Inn. When I read a good book I feel connected to the man who imagined it and although I can’t do it, there’s nothing like good fiction, a world within a world. I see that those who lived and died were similar to me and there’s comfort in that. There’s other weirdo’s popping like corn through the space time continuum.

Not Much of a Saturday

“Everybody’s dancing at the local armory with a basement full of dynamite and live artillery”    

Often when I awake on Saturday mornings I feel like a vampire who stayed out until after breakfast. I dragged my weary ass out of my coffin splashing copious amounts of water on my bloodshot eyes before pulling the stake from my chest hightailing it to assembly. Classes were smooth and afterschool we had a four hour ad-hoc meeting on Reading Year. Ultimately my action plan was rejected and now all students will get an extra reading period on Monday only. This is due to all the cultural and sporting activities that frankly are given higher priority in Bhutan. WTD? I was more than willing to dedicate five extra hours a week in the library but my services appear redundant. After the long freezing meeting I slid home in the grey afternoon made potato curry and passed out on my bunk waking up in time for the three hour welcome night program at the MP Hall. I like to watch the kids show their talents even if most dances and songs start looking very much the same after an hour. Tshering Choden rocked it as usual and the upperclassmen shouted, “shake, shake” when the older girls hit the stage. I had to stave off evil thoughts as Gyelpo held little Pema Namgay talking freely with Nir Mala. I was thinking how to compete with a Bhutanese suitor holding a babe plus he knows her from their schooldays. Those confounded evil thoughts, tying one to that despondent railroad track like a damsel in an old west flick, the train of jealousy its engine sparkling with a fresh green coat barreling down the line at high noon about to cut the victim to pieces. How many lifetimes will I wrestle with these infernal and trivial emotions but what of it? When I turned and saw her face alternating between pensiveness and delight something struck me deep and familiar but at the same time I know that my chances are slim. Some faces we might regret ever seeing at all, isn’t it? But in the eyes of Nir Mala something haunts me even as your author loathes making direct eye contact another of my weaknesses. I could tell by the way her nimble fingers adjusted the blankets of little Pema Namgay that she’ll make a fine mother herself someday and that made me even sicker. I feel at those moments like a hungry ghost wandering the wrong realm. It was a long Saturday so when the young fellas came over for Monopoly I told them to come back another night since I needed rest.

I had an audio vision two years ago in the sun streaked chamber of Zangtopelri where a voice in my head told me that I needn’t search for my soul-mate but that she’d find me. Since I don’t want to depart from my mountain I kind of hoped that I would be found where I stand. The problems of falling for a Bhutanese gal are numerous but I no longer desire (or see) the fair skinned honeys so I’m in a pickle. For eight years I’ve had various crushes but looking back they all seem silly yet when I see the face changing countenance of Nir Mala and here her flinty tone it’s like a missile obliterating the heart.

I also miss, Miss Rebecca who is acclimating in Chume watching devotees jump through flaming hoops to erase their sins accumulated from many lifetimes. Who will light my hoop and make the sacred tree bloom again? Oh well- we still have a long way to go...I haven’t been in the woods since the epic hike with Piet last Sunday as the realities of work set in. I’ve been home exactly 1 month and only left the mountain once. This will be the blueprint for the year as I will only go as far as my legs carry me following the advice that mysterious stranger gave Becky under the chandelier inside Dochila Lhakhang three years ago. Advice reiterated by Nancy as we picnicked by the Mani Wall on one of her auspicious visits on the mountain. As she absorbed the view of the Tawang Valley gazing eastward she said, “Why would you go anywhere?” True that Nancy you are indeed wise.

Sunday Roaming      

It was a beautiful day on the mountain with smoke hanging near the valley floor but stark blue skies tattooed with red rhody blossoms up high. I went to Darchin via the magic Chorten romping through idyllic Nankhar and up the sleep green ridge to the holy pond, now a bog. I encountered only a few people all day and every one of them laughed at my appearance, not in a malicious way rather in that affable Sharchop manner of laughing with you. First a half dozen kids picking kernels of maize off cobs tossing the husks into bamboo baskets. There farmhouse has a commanding view right where the Bey Yul joins the rim of the primary Valley. They laughed hysterically snot dripping from collective noses as I continued. Then another group of villagers of indeterminate assorted ages were out collecting grass for their cows. The lead woman with cropped hair must’ve known me since she asked where I went on winter vacation and if I saw my mother and father. She spoke broken English and directed me up the reverse way to Darchin but when I arrived at the ridge top temple all was quiet and a rusty padlock hung on the door. The ascetic lama was nowhere to be seen and only the sound of eddying winds that pouring in from the four directions rustling the cypress boughs. A most amazing wind powerful and refreshing but at ground level a mere breeze yet one could hear it howling and shrieking above while feeling comfortable in the March sunshine below. The pastures stretched out towards Bromla but I turned back descending the ridge with a spectacular view of Tsenkharla a thousand feet below, the forest, a mix of pine, oak and blooming rhododendron as red as love. I dropped into Daka the remotest outpost for day scholars (a long walk two ways every day) They’re supposed to be building a replacement Lhakang but I only saw the original one, over a hundred years old if a day. I’ve only graced this temple once and it’s one of my favorites in Bhutan. This tiny temple is simply a village shrine although Daka is only about four households with traditional homes shored up with cow dung in the crevices of the whitewashed walls. The Lhakang is slowly crumbling with beams bursting through frescos a lightning forked crack between the forehead of Guru Rinpoche like the faults of the earth, the walls themselves being pushed up like the Himalayas breaking apart floating Buddha’s on otherworldly murals. The simple wooden temple boasts amazing carvings some completely devoid of paint featuring ornate snow lions and dragons all faded from glory. Along the walls hundreds of carefully preserved holy books wrapped in orange cloth sandwiched between woodblocks what secret mantras do these texts conceal? Even more interesting the dusty framed snapshots of lamas and groups of monks that look fifty years old hanging along the walls. Many statues of Jamyung too his sword of wisdom and many faces smiling. The central statue is a stern smirking Guru with scepter skewing impaled heads staring back from behind smudged Plexiglas bloodshot eyes beseeching. The creaky floors bounce underfoot and I feel delightfully privy while prostrating. All day the forest was awash with magnificent aromas honeysuckle and lemongrass the vegetation under Darchin unseasonably green with gigantic draping ferns sprouting from rocky overhangs, creamy magnolias rubbing elbows with towering oaks. I walked under a dappled canopy with skirting songbirds and that wonderful wind overhead and thick layer of musty duff under boot.

Monday Depression

“Hog of a Sunday dog of a Monday…”

It was a dismal day in my soul as dry as my spout although Mother Nature rolled out a blessed one as usual even affording your weary tiger a glimpse of the distant snowcapped twins. I felt out of place not just in Bhutan but the whole darn universe too. My soul brimmed with doubt then flooded with loneliness. Sitting in the staff room near Nir Mala and a Dzonkha Lopen I had nothing to say feeling miserable as she hummed along to her work five feet away and when I did speak I said something cheeky asking if she was afraid to live alone since she lives with her mother. What’s next pulling her pigtails? On two occasions I learned a tough lesson about misdirected emotions this week. When I ranted at my class for behaving poorly there was a knock at the classroom door and I rudely slammed it on former student Karma Sonam. I had forgotten that part of the incident until I noticed Karma Sonam didn’t say good morning as I crossed the courtyard. I asked why she wasn’t regarding me and she reminded me that I had closed the door on her. I felt terrible and apologized saying I was angry with the class and not her personally and that I shouldn’t have done that. She condoned my outburst since she knows my character in its myriad of colors. And now I was acting out towards innocent Nir Mala because I was jealous that she was talking with Gyelpo at assembly. MINDLESNESS. I felt lower than the bottom of the Dangme Chu and colder too so I dialed up Becky to complain releasing more useless negativity into our collective psyche. Regarding the aforementioned tale it also illustrates a shortcoming as a teacher which requires a certain detachment from ones emotions. In Bhutan I am well within rights to raise my voice and be myself because I know the children feel safe with me. In the U.S.A I’d be afraid of being myself with all that bureaucracy. I don’t think ear pulling is tolerated so many of the Bhutanese teachers would be in hot soup. Actually I paint a dim picture but we have great teachers at Tsenkharla some better than myself, to wit. Kunsang Yeshi is a very active and engaging teacher having the class ten kids up and moving around laughing like little ones, no small feat. Everyone in my department works hard and I feel very comfortable teaching in this environment. Although I am seeing some dividends from my extra effort so far the same issues remain. Speaking is hard for eastern kids and the curriculum is far too advanced for them. My taciturn class seven students are stammering out one sentence explanations of their beautiful Coat of Arms but a boy might point and say “dog” when he’s 15 instead of attempting a sentence. These are real challenges for teachers in the field particularly in Eastern Dzongkhag (everywhere too) they don’t read or speak English outside the classroom so imagine what a disadvantage its teaching non ESL curriculum to ESL students. Marking 120 students writing is also difficult but I’m doggedly collecting notebooks. There’s no way to do it all so I choose an assignment and mark it across the board then get a rewrite which I only scan. I know I check more than most of my colleagues. Ah Monday! Tailor made for despondent souls in formless gray suits (no Pee Wee Herman bowties or razzle dazzle allowed) I have always been a sad person at seed although people don’t know that about me. WTDL (what to do La) just keep going on…on the frontier with one foot in my community and one foot in the cosmos, no wonder sometimes I get lost. I know I’ve positively influenced students but I also know I’m TRULY an outsider. It’s the land that sees me through since it’s my HEART HOME and for that alone I’d stay FOREVER. This land is that meaningful for me. As for my schoolboy crush it’s best to just leave it and focus on what’s important, teaching in the time The Dragon allots me (I’m the bachelor king heir to Tsangma’s oblivious throne) This dream of Bhutan is impermanent and all I can do is hold it close than let it go. Except the kicker is that Bhutan knocks IT out of the park and everything is revealed for a dew drop evaporating in the void, while on this side the perfect illusion SAMSARA. 

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