“There was simply no way to squeeze a thing so vast and heavenly into a container as small and earthly as myself” The Brothers K, David James Duncan
Existential Pearl Diver
Shadows and sun strips are layered across the scope of mountains creating a checkerboard of light. King me! On the way to Shakshing I was accompanied by three talkative little girls who were full of rapture shouting, “sir, sir, sir” and rapidly asking questions such as the name of my parents, then repeating Tom and Marti over and over again. The groups’ leader kept running ahead yelling “I’m the winner” you are second and Karma is third! Along the way near a Chorten some other day scholars had made their own high jump out of twigs and a branch crossbar and were clearing it both boys and girls spinning and gyrating together wildly laughing. Even my class seven kids don’t play with such abandon as the younger ones and an adult acting in such away would be considered crazy or on something. The best time to be alive is when were small and truly carefree and unburdened and we cannot recapture that rapture ever again.
Meanwhile up near Shakshing ribbons of silver clouds laced Tshongtshongma the spire poking out of the breakers at 14,000 feet the pinnacle rising straight up from the Gongri Chu like an alien antenna rising almost 13,000 feet from the lowlands near the river bend into Doksom. The earth is singing with new life and the chorus of crows and cuckoos sound out the Himalayan gloaming. Back down at Tsenkharla no water flows which is too bad since I have to clean out the rat shack for my neighbors baby shower since they need my space for overflow guests. God how did I make it for two years with no water? What a shame since I’m starving and want to make my customary K WA. Lanky Kesang dropped by under the guise of getting help but didn’t really have a question and I’m guessing he just wanted some attention (I know the feeling) Sunset over the capacious valley made up of mostly air since the mountains basically touch the riverbed itself and tiny lights dot the black hills on both sides of the sparsely populated border. Are they making emadatsi on the other side or are the Dakpa using Indian spices too? As for your bachelor king I’m trundling on gearing up for a busy weekend and busy month ahead. Tomorrow is pagan May Day so get out your peace poles folks and shake it. Teachers day is Saturday and on Sunday Lynn is coming for a hike, weather permitting. When did the tiger become so entwined in a community? I’m a solitary cat by nature but my duties demand active participation in the whole. The only other time in my life I was ever social was my first year at junior college or with girlfriends on a limited basis. I like to be alone with my topsy turvy thoughts and it’s hard for me to engage in human activities but that’s what the world demands and that’s where the substance of life is. But on a pleasant spring afternoon the radial of mountains flowing out from my heart is unction for my soul.
The Tinsel Tiger
Knowing that no matter how much kingdom they chewed and swallowed the heart of it, the heavenliness of it just couldn’t be digested”
Two nights ago I made delicious mushroom curry with meaty jungle shrooms but last night Nima made curry with tin mushrooms that had been put in the fridge by the boys. I woke up feeling ill with an awful metallic taste in my mouth like I had spent the night giving cunnilingus to a fembot. Apparently cans don’t belong in the fridge and can poison the food especially shoddy Indian tins. So I’ve poisoned myself nicely and the inside of my mouth taste like aluminum. I haven’t felt well this week mainly a bit exasperated from work and extracurricular activities.
So like the legendary blues singer Lead Belly (Goodnight Irene) Nima and Pema forced me into a gho despite my objections that were overruled and I headed up to the MPH for teachers day. My first years Teachers Day was one of my best days in Bhutan and although today didn’t rank up there it was still a nice reminder of the life I have built here. The highlight was a small class party put on by my home class with edible cake and balloons. It was also nice to see some favorites from past and present shaking it on the stage during the four hour program. I’m sure I’ve described prior TD festivities and you can go search under May posts 2012 for a more enlivened description but that metal has given me the trots so you must excuse me.
It’s Sunday now and I just got back from Shakshing with Lynn but still my mystery illness lingers as I’m completely dehydrated haven drunk ten bottles of water (the tap is dry) and peed a hundred times and still feel dry as the Sahara inside. Did I breath in rat poison from the decaying rat, was it something from the stool I manhandled? This malady concerns me because I have no idea what it is. I have a mild headache and fever and urge to urinate all the time, perhaps its acute caffeine withdrawal or a myriad of things rolled into one. After last year’s sicknesses I have no tolerance for being miserable here anymore and I pray that I rally and things get better not worse. Saw a lone eagle soaring along the ridge on the hike along with the last of fading rhododendrons.
Tsenkharla Central School
“They were just too big and thick and dull. And realizing this, they also couldn’t help but realize that they didn’t yet belong in this beautiful place and would so have to leave it”
So the worst of my health ebb seems to be over although I feel unwell with a bad taste lingering in my mouth and slight body and stomach pain. Why not since the boys made a nice supper but didn’t wash their hands. Pema calls Nima Mulley which means radish and I must admit his countenance although handsome does resemble that vegetable. I felt better after slugging a Coke, my first in three days. Water has ceased to flow from the tap bringing us back to the same situation as year one and two. Still my energy holds and TIAT sails on under its own strange inertia, a ship of fools on a terrible sea. From my perch on the mast I descry all manner of peculiar things Dakini clouds spouting mermaids and smoky Fata Morgana’s that were never there before in the eastern matrix, until it appears all this life is an optical illusion, a mountain mirage but at the center of the rainbow feathers is nothing.
Tsenkharla is now officially a Central School and we had a four hour meeting explaining the new demands placed upon the teacher. It’s an exciting time to be a teacher in Bhutan as the system is modernizing and the demands exponentially rising. I would bet there are a lot more paperwork and checks in balances than existed during WUSC’s tenure thirty years ago. And nowhere is this more evident that at a Central School. The idea is that the 24 Central Schools will absorb more students from the surrounding primary schools and that these students will be fully supported by the government eliminating the modest fees paid by families for uniforms and notebooks. That is why very few day scholars remain unless their houses are in Tsenkharla proper thus making for quieter and less amusing walks in the forest afterschool. Nature call, diarrhea so if you’ll pardon me…Welcome back it’s 7:30 A.M and I rarely update you in the morning, the boys are shouting and prancing about outside my window their pubescent flowers in full testosterone bloom yet not smelling nearly as sweet as the plump pink roses that adorn the bushes on campus. I inhale them deeply everyday an olfactory bliss that no author can adequately describe putting me in mind of daughter Pema. The boarder’s day begins at 5 AM, a pale silver light spread across the valley and songbirds groggily ringing in a brand new day. GIVE THANKS! They do Social Work grass cutting neglecting the trash (more to come on that) and the sashay up to the MP for prayer, dirges and incantations bursting into prayerful songs to Sangay the conduit blessing all sentient beings-bird, bat, bug and bee as well as predatory bears of Bromla and the Tigers prowling Mongar forests not so far away. Then breakfast, more social work before we all report for Morning Assembly at 8:30. If you equate boarder life to military academy than I’m painting the picture, isn’t it? In assembly the students in National raiment line up in rows with hands folded behind their back and make speeches sing out more prayer concluding with the haunting National Anthem (look for it to go straight to the top of the charts) Usually in between mind training and anthem there’s a healthy dose of scolding (even from Mr. Tim one more than one occasion about trash picking) The school day consists of 8 periods from 9 AM concluding at 3:40 with one hour lunch and 15 minute recess interspersed. I usually teach an average of 6 periods a day but often substitute classes and now sacrifice 4 freebies to attend library with students where I desperately hunt for appropriate books in the chaotic maelstrom of slanted and piled books most of which are ridiculously too hard for any student PP-10 to comprehend. The ones that are suitable for my 7-8 cherubs are deemed off limits by Library Madam since there for elementary classes (sparrow darts under my door pecks some rice off the floor and makes his escape under the crack) did I tell you the original Rat is back too, Yella! Becky made a special trip to the capital on her holiday for a local Tsechu just to purchase readers for her kids. If anyone wants to donate easy readers with pictures I will make a separate plea not tucked into the ranting of a mad tiger later on. To finish the day, games follows 8th period then evening study, prayer, dinner, more study and lights out at 9. No wonder they sleep in class and fritter away their study periods to gossip. There’s often culture practice and sporting events jammed into this packed schedule too. I better hit the head again and get dressed in my one pair of small black slacks and dress shirt and off I go to repeat the day I just outlined for a thousandth time. I’m not negative since in that routine our many magical and toilsome moments that make for some interesting events.
My VP just got back from an audience with HM along with the 24 other Principals launching the Central School. Unfortunately are esteemed Principal lost his wife recently and is mourning her in customary puja’s in Thimphu. I joked with VP sir asking if he remembered me to HM saying how sincere I am and he retorted, “Really sincere?” It cut me deeply since I have busted my buttocks this year and am as they say completely transparent with all lesson plans and grades available for inspection and anyone in the world can step in my class on any given day. I suppose I’m a late bloomer and have definitely improved all aspects of pedagogy and attitude especially this year but I’ve never been derelict in duty and for a Volunteer Teacher (making 300 bucks a month) far from home I’ve given my all to this community. What other teacher receives students for tutorials and moral support afterhours in their home? I didn’t say any of this but his comment hurt my feelings nonetheless. I like VP sir though so NO MATTER I think they see me differently and hold it against me that I used to Sunday in Trashigang where in my culture a teachers one day off would be their own business. I rarely leave station anymore unless hiking with Piet as it is imperative we see Westerners from time to time. I’m proud of the teacher I’ve become despite my shortcomings all I can do is try the best I know how. I also think they think I’m lenient (not this year) and Surgit calls me the student’s teacher like the Peoples King. I firmly believe that when learning a second language FEAR is not a valuable tool in the classroom although this year more order has been maintained and I’ve scared myself a few times (SCARING THE CHILDREN) I know I’m not feared nor would I want to be but I know I’m respected by my own students and that means the world to me.
Purging The Thunder Dragon
“The boy in the pool looked up and smiled, He was like me, he was exactly like me yet he wasn’t me at all there were none of my confusion none of my nervousness nothing the least bit sad or dull or hesitant. His features were mine exactly with a single, all encompassing difference they had the indescribable quality-the kingdom itself”
Wednesday, approximately 3:35 P.M. Gyelston Wangmo, Karma Yangdon, and Broomsha crowded close as we moved up the path through the cypress grove towards Zangtopelri. They hung on my every word and observation about the trash condition of their beloved Druk Yul. Gyeltson a pretty and plump girl who loves to draw pictures of Whinny the Pooh and has cropped hair says she’ afraid to take the shortcut home to Yartse since a drunkard beat his wife to death last near there last week, not all is peaceful in The Land of the Thunder Dragon. They cluster like a quasar burning in a dark corner of a distant galaxy there adoration lights my own dark corners and we all shine together. Behind us the rest of the fifteen out of fifty members of my club who showed up, mostly girls trek up the path too. We carry four sacks three cheap plastic and one burlap one. Thunder claps over Shali to the West as I look in Broomsha (Tashi Wangmo’s) innocuous black eyes. I see myself tiny and flickering in their lambent pools, I AM…We reach our destination an illegal dump site smack in the middle of a fresh pine grove and we begin to pick up the soggy debris, soiled clothes, beer bottles, plastic pop bottles, old rubber sandals, plastic wrappers from junk food, and every other imaginable kind of trash. There are hundreds of pieces maybe thousands all in a patch of slope less than a soccer field but in ten minutes it looks significantly better. But were out of space since I can only commandeered the four measly sacks so we turn and hightail it down the hill in a heavy shower big droplets wetting the girls pinned up hair, they look like Dakini’s in their colorful Taegu’s Broomsha in sparkling blue and Phuntsho Wangmo in scarlet chases Princess the floppy white dog from the temple who drags and whips her loose chain behind her. Phuntsho flits down the mountainside skipping now after the clumsy affable hound. Some boys have joined late including Karma Wangchuk I ask him to carry the overflowing bags and he takes them from the girls and we head past the ruin back to campus. By the time we dump the loot without properly sorting the rain falls earnestly. I thank the few honest souls who accompanied me as we wash our hands gaily at the tap which trickles from the rusty spout.
The previous Saturday evening I was in the midst of my confounded detoxification which continues at this moment. About thirty gents crammed in my house sitting on dusty rugs borrowed from the school. Some slurp tea but most drink Druk beer or Ara tinted yellow including Gyelpo who says he will quite tomorrow. Karlos has stopped for over a month and looks stolid but must be craving a sip. They’ve taken the wooden phallic that I confiscated from Kinley Wangchuk during night study last year when he was haranguing the girls with it. The White Whale, they ask if mine looks like this one and I say it’s bigger (guy talk) the fellas put it up to their gho skirts and shake it in turn. When Tashi comes in to refill libations they hide the cock and everyone is quietly giggling looking bashful. When she leaves Prabu stands up and strokes his fake Wang to the delight of the natives. There is much laughter and good cheer which I appreciate even in my dilapidated state.
Bucket and Radish
Nima and Pema are daily visitors as it seems our karma is linked to the last. They are nice boys who surely adore me and also work the advantage of getting out of the hostel for a spell enjoying free food and a home away from home. They aren’t extremely salubrious and stink sometimes and no one here uses toilet paper so the fact they touch everything I own is frightening. Nima is called radish by Pema who he calls bucket in Sharchop their preferred tongue. When jovial Pema does speak English he inserts a habitual “No Sir.” After every third word, for example, “Sir is good today, no sir.” “Nir Mala Tapa looks beautiful today, no sir” or “Sir went roaming yesterday, no sir.” Its half question but not really and I gently pointed it out to no avail. Since the new rules forbid me to entertain students during hostel study hours they get around this by bringing books and we had a study hall. I didn’t even offer dinner but of course by the end Nima had done some dishes (without my asking) and Pema hopped up to join him so they could razz each other and gossip in Sharchop, then they asked for tea and biscuits so I obliged the hungry duo. Nima is 17 and Pema 15 but they are both orphaned by their fathers and Kidu Kids sponsored by the monarch. They are relatively innocent but Nima has an Eddie Haskell quality about him (I can’t believe I’m old enough to make that reference thanks to Nick at Nite) They are virgins I assume but have tried alcohol but not regularly as far as I can tell. One of my class eight boys did just punch in a glass window when bombed at school and was reprimanded by administration that is surprisingly lenient on drinking and drugs framing three strikes and you’re out policy. A foiled smuggling operation led to the murder of a taxi driver in Paro and suicide is rising in the capital. There’s confusion in the hive and I can’t help but wonder if it’s Western influences stirring things up. That’s why it’s heartbreaking to see the trash situation all products and packaging imported from India and it’s like giving a monkey fire and then walking away, naturally the curious primate will burn down the house.
Lately all my efforts have turned me into a curmudgeon. I didn’t feel angry but when Poopghem saw me she asked if I was sad since my face was apparently contorted into a wince. This stunned me a bit since I don’t want my legacy to be a solemn countenance. Somehow I must strike a balance between hard work and my god given enthusiasm. My energetic nature is one of my natural attributes and gift to the world so am I squandering it? Again teaching cuts deep against my grain since I’m no task master but the deep responsibility and demands can turn a fellow tough. I have a positive rapport with students but I don’t always like the direction teaching blows my sail as I’m moody as Ahab. I love the kids and must remember why I do this profession. I can’t be hard on myself either since I’m finding my way best I can and the work we do can be stressful. Take it all around I love my life here but my attitude needs fine tuning and I want to spread love and joy in my wake.