Presently I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life more than those interminable double shifts at Garwoods or all nighters pulling graveyard at The Crystal Bay Club emerging from the glow of slots and the mechanical fembot chorus of blinking Betty Boop- bleary eyed bopping past vacuums and lounge lizards with coin slot eyes emerging into a blanket of fresh snow covering state line. I’ll never forget having a fever and melting the microwave when I put a metal ramekin full of syrup inside starting an internal combustion. I was called off that day and soon was on the TART trundling towards Dollar Point in surreal afternoon light. Too bad Morgan is likely engaged elsewhere and probably isn’t tuned into tiger since she’d appreciate that anecdote. Come to think of it I might’ve called in the story that very evening fifteen years ago. This is more than just work it’s being absorbed into a community and striking a balance between service and leisure time with more service these days but thankfully I like my job (and love my students) This year I have been working exponentially harder which also coincides with greater external demands all for a whopping 300 bones a month. I never think about money when I work but rather am interested and anxious about the results of my pupils. For the first time I feel invested in a career and am currently cutting my teeth as a teacher. There are still growing pains and even experienced cream of the crop educators don’t have an easy time of it teaching ESL in the kingdom. Today a few T.M.S.S teachers redesigned the classrooms in clusters of students instead of rows, difficult due to number of students and limited furniture. I teach four sections of 7 and 8 with 120 students ranging in age from 12 to 18. Although I’m quite used to it and find the rooms cozy they’re bare bones by Western standards. Talking to fellow BCF teachers who taught in international schools where touch pad interactive computers are being used and parent teacher conferences are required, I feel lucky. Speaking of I pad’s mine was soaked from a leak in the roof but thankfully its working fine. All I’m armed with is chalk, some chart paper if I can scrounge it and ideas. Our Book caterpillars are colorful and cleverly strung together across the back of the classroom well half the circles are plagiarized but this is Bhutan after all. It’s frustrating since the language level is so low that we must move slowly to cover our lessons properly. Even though I’m cutting out selections that aren’t pertinent I still have yet to incorporate a fraction of my ideas but I am covering a lot of grammar this year which is beneficial. The tenses and articles remain elusive for certain learners but others like Yeshi Dema have nailed it. If I had the inclination or energy I could ponder in this forum on teaching all day but actually I have been which is why I’m not keen to write about it excessively. Likewise I could regale you with funny stories about them till the cows come home like when Dawa Nidup fell ass over tea kettle out of his wooden chair when we were rearranging the desks amidst a loud clamor of Sharchop that sounded like a flock of wild birds quarrelling in a cage. What a place this is that I live in! My students are literally cowboys and cowgirls and I have to admit the new arrangement seemed odd to me after delivering lessons in rows for three years. I do a fair amount of group work so these desks are better suited. I spend too much time trapped like a rat (who was last seen slinking off my stove at 3 AM) captured in my own head. Yet sometimes I observe others and it’s amusing especially when their Bhutanese. Not that I pretend to know what makes them tick although I find it endearing that most refer in their writing to “Our Bhutan” as if referring to a commune. But I know for instance where Guru Wangmo likes to repose on Sundays in tall grass. Before I came here my bra teased me because I included myself as “we’ when addressing Bhutan. Now deep into my journey through “The Land of Terror” I definitely separate myself from the beloved hive. Hell maybe in my next life or generation as the kids tell it I will be born as a Bhutanese. Not a bad notion a little hut on the hill perhaps with a Monpa wife and some curry with red chillies in the pot.
How isolated is East Bhutan? Well from my doorstep I can see three valleys where three different languages are spoken. Kiney is a Sharchop village but above on the shoulder of Shampula they speak the Tawang dialect Monpa and over on the other side of Doksom they speak Kurtop the Yangtse dialect. The national language is Dzonkha similar to Tibetan and the medium of instruction “officially” is English. Everyone hereabouts speaks Sharchop but some villagers are as limited as me whereby they speak only one language the prevalent Sharchop. Weird wild stuff Johnny! Somehow or another I manage to communicate and form relationships but since we learned at the workshop that communication goes far beyond understanding or comprehension so I’m bonded on subconscious and subatomic levels to my peeps here. Most of my relationships are with the youth beyond cordial relations with colleagues and Karlos and Sonam who I rarely interact with these days except visiting the baby every few days while picking up Coke.
Last Saturday Prabu, Surgit, and the boys and I went up to Zangtopelri on a drizzly afternoon picking up trash and visiting the Lhakhang together. On the walls a fresco of a headless nude woman holding her own head and dancing with a shaved yoni. In the sidecar room where the fierce deity resides and only men can go, a shield and riffle relics from antiquity. Now I have shared that Lhakhang with Becky, Mom & Aunt, and friends. Rinchen Wangmo upkeeps the ornate temple that was funded by Tawang relatives as Rinchen herself was I believe promised to the lamas son (who is never there) as she jokingly proclaims in broken English to be a graduate of the fourth grade. Nevertheless I can’t believe such a place exists in my remote locality as it truly is one of the finest temples in Bhutan and my most venerated palace on earth a true paradise. If there is a god I find IT there in that thick air or the cool marble on which I prostrate. Sadly the outer grounds are littered but I’m planning a Social Service Mission to assist. After that we strung some prayer flags up at Tsangma hightailing it home in the rain. Monopoly with the boys then a baby shower at night made for a communal day. Those who know me best might be amazed that I am interacting this way as I am a known recluse but the Bhutanese are cartoonish enough to draw me out into their Wangmo Zangmo world… Actually they’re kindly folks and I feel more at home in their culture than my own. When I met Piet at the canteen in TY for dinner a few weeks back a dignitary was so hammered post archery that he was illegible except to venture in slurred speech that America had no culture. I like to think although we slaughtered or corralled our indigenous people we have accepted the cultures of the world in our new age salad bowl. Bhutan is also wonderfully diverse with denizens from Nepal, India, Tibet and other far flung oriental places. Recently I have learned something of Azerbaijan correcting umpteenth essays on the fascinating country bridging Eastern Europe and Western Asia bordering mother Russia and Iran among others on the Caspian Sea, but that’s another story.
A lugubrious morning with pouring rain, a sadness pervaded my soul and when I arrived at school no one was there like that twilight zone episode when the man awakes to find all humans have vanished. I found everyone at the MP hall where the Dasho was speaking as apparently I missed the memo. Although I planned all my lessons to a T things bombed in the classroom with the new seating arrangement leading to chaos and the prescribed group work being too difficult. Of course there was ample Sharchop spoken too and this made me feel inadequate helpless and depressed. All my efforts and what is the result? I know there are days like this in life which at times seems like a useless illusion. We must invent ways to lift us out of the dreariness of Samsara where one is simply born to decay and die. We must invent god, religion, love and other means to make it through or attach some meaning to the meaningless and that’s where we find ourselves. I have health and that is indeed everything so I have no excuse to feel unworthy and sad but I do today, turned loose in a master -less universe set adrift drifting and dreaming….The day didn’t improve much when a spit ball landed on my head while I was helping another group obviously too absorbed and not monitoring the students properly. Sometimes I think I suck at this job, can’t win for trying methinks. A curtain of rain swoops down on my hut and all I can do is watch the puddles collect on my cement floor and think about my empty stomach, meanwhile the lads riffle through my fridge licking spoons. At the center of my soul ANXIETY a constant companion the fleeing animal rather than advertised tiger although the trance part is valid. That is if a trance is ten million coinciding negative thoughts pressing on the ineffable heart.
Dinner with Karlos and Sonam ama and little Pema Namgay managed to lift my spirits some I love my life here but still have to be Tim just like we all have to be ourselves in this mixed up world.