Friday, June 26, 2015
Thursday, June 11, 2015
A Grain in an Hourglass
“Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait…”
Since my gas cylinder is exhausted I am taking gruel up at the mess. When it’s emadatsi it’s good but when it’s radish or typical potato unadorned…not so much. The curry is served from vats by the somewhat salubriously challenged cooks who stir the rice with canoe paddles with boiled claws. Radish tastes a lot like the dirt from which it is torn which is admirable if not delicious. Fruit season is here! That means the occasional mango (every few weeks) or unripe plums or peaches. We all suffer from scurvy around here. I won’t tell lies, I’m hungry and just scrapping by, one won’t starve here but if you live in the east you might go hungry, albeit I’m not the most innovative bachelor King. A wonderful sound of water splashing into a plastic orange bucket, water is precious. It’s Wednesday June 2015 and I’m living in far eastern Bhutan (how lucky am I?) I feel ragged but healthy, the socks I’m wearing are mismatched and dirty, I’m snacking on a piece of processed cheese. The best part of living in Bhutan is being instantly accepted into the community. Is Bhutan the happiest place on earth? It is the happiest place I’ve been or at least a healthy intact society. Like anywhere in the world there is an underbelly to Bhutan a slimy part of the Dragons tummy but society remains accountable on a person by person basis unlike the faceless and shameless United States of America. Rain patters on my tin roof so I don’t put on those tattered and torn boots just yet and I write and listen to the cuckoo calling from a tree outside. The blending of wilderness, faith, and culture make Bhutan what it is, I’m afraid the rest of the world doesn’t make any sense after sojourning here. This is the place for me but like all places it’s impermanent. That makes me sad but I must rejoice in being here perched over this hourglass valley, surfing the sands. HANG TEN DUDES… Gnarly! ALL RIGHT SAN KHARLA! BRA!
What could I go for if a pixie granted room service? Prime rib MR with gravy and mashed potatoes, a Caesar Salas app with French bread and butter like I used to toss when I was called “Salad Boy” at Garwoods. Maybe an It’s It for dessert. Ah the food game is as much fun as eating itself!
But without food we die so I went for emadatsi at the mess and so I live on. I supplemented the scoop of curry with some crackers that we call biscuits. Even an Oreo Cookie which I don’t have is called a biscuit.
My most embarrassing moment ever as a teacher occurred about an hour ago. I was in a hurry to class in a downpour so I grabbed my grey sweater and hurried to class putting it on as I went. The students upon seeing me burst out in hysterical laughter since I had put the garment inside out with the tag sticking out like a retarded fourth grader. They already compare me to Mr. Bean and I’m sure this wardrobe malfunction will live on in their memories forever.
Butterfly used to warn, “Don’t destroy the culture” and indeed at times I feel like a cultural terrorist. It’s not that I’m iconoclast out to destroy or worse yet proselytize for Jesus. Rather my very personality lacks the subtleties and grace that are exhibited daily by Bhutanese. In fact I feel inferior to the local denizens in many ways and am humbled to spend some time here. My Western sensibilities often go against the tender grain of sharing peaceable Buddhists. In class I saw the students passing around an album of a student with a class photo with me and my mother amongst faded family photos and pictures of lamas, so at least I will be remembered when I’m gone.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
It’s Happening Now
I’m sitting in my home class with my computer a rarity but I brought it for exam printing. It’s weird typing away in front of kids whose families don’t own computers or aren’t literate only speaking Sharchop. They are supposed to be studying but they’re chattering away in Sharchop and when they interrupt me it’s with a phrase in broken English. They wear national dress and this year in the transition of becoming a central school the kids are freer in wearing different Taegu’s and Ghos interspersed with the ubiquitous school colors, a pert black with red cuffed Taegu for the girls with plaid purple pleated Kira. The lads are bedecked in purple checkered pleated Ghos that look equally smart in contrast with the girls. The girl immediately in front of me is Pema a reticent girl with immaculate white teeth and a radiant smile. Her chin is blotted with acne scars which add character to her face. She keeps straggly strands of hair falling over her face where she can adroitly chew on the strands. She is sucking on an unripe plum and gossiping with her friends in Sharchop of course. I was three minutes late from lunch and dismayed to find my VP glowering in the threshold at my students who were apparently making a disturbance. How embarrassing and annoying for me but what to do, so I engaged them in some review activities encouraging complete sentences. Dawa the boy who was punished for harassing a classmate just popped in and out of the cupboard for a text book. His sister’s name is Sangay Wangmo, a former pupil, who was steamed over the incident accusing the girl of teasing her brother about his reading. It’s a hectic time leading up to exams and students are feeling the strain. My adopted son Nima Gyelston (officially adopted as mandated by the Dzongkhag) was held back in assembly for keeping a hairstyle. Our VP was shearing off the boys spiky tresses while Principal looked on approvingly and Nima audaciously crept away from the group in a conspicuous fashion but somehow made his escape even with me scolding him right there on the ground. I didn’t turn him in but gave him a strong talking to later about disrespecting authority. By that time he had had a buddy cut his hair which he admired in the smudgy mirror. I’ve wrapped up my review sessions and am awaiting my final printing and then onto dreaded Central Marking. Pema the girl with the scar says that Sangay is telling lies and that Chakedemi girls ALWAYS tell lies. “Telling Lies” is the funniest and most used expression from a Sharchop child. The other Pema in front of me says she’s never even been to Trashigang she is the one from Chakademi who accused other Pema of acting like a boy in which other Pema responded, “Telling Lies” Outside my window I can see Shampula through pine needles, the sky is charcoal grey and the mountains are a pale green. It’s not a stellar day but the birds seem fine with it chirping right along.
Sangay a feisty girl stands up and nearly knocks off Phuntsho’s head shaking her fists Tendi Zangmo style. I have worked them hard so I let them socialize and blow off steam for the last few minutes of the day. Tashi Dema exclaims that Phuntsho Wangchuk and Sangay Chozam are always fighting and that its, “Dangerous to woman and man” Sometimes a foreign teacher must sit back and watch like an anthropologist observing one of the last great tribes of the earth. Bhutanese subclass Sharchop, Kurtep and monkey…Right now a pell-mell as the OA brought in some vital paperwork and the kids are ripping it out of the captain’s hand. How to describe the Sharchop language? Well, it goes well with gho and kira, and it sounds like birds warbling in the treetops. On the way down the channel to Buyoung falls I heard the strangest flying saucer bird calls zipping on orbiting frequencies through the lurid forest. The energetic calls were from another world so eerie and dark something hidden from the scrutiny of man. At one turn in the channel an old Abi asked me for something and a middle aged farmer shoved three unripe peaches in my hand. Further along the channel the trees got bigger, the forest thicker, the weeds taller, with coral colors bursting through the greenery an undulating wall of talking vegetation. Whir of cicadas mixing with symphony of birds and swarming dragonflies. Best are the smells of warm mud and cow pies steaming in the sunshine burning my neck. The bell rings and the school days complete. My hiking boots are destroyed again and I desperately will seek out the cobbler one last time. Meanwhile I have two other pair that don’t fit right leaving me in a Cinderella scenario. I can’t give up the ghost on my current boots that I couldn’t even begin to describe but have been on my tootsies since ABC all the way to Zangtopelri. God knows what I’ll strap on today for my afternoon walk into the silver haze.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Spring is a beautiful season in this part of the world. Except it’s a Monpa beauty - darkness without moon or sun a superior and terrible domain of imperious clouds, rain and marching thunder. I awoke again to the banging thunder drum the thunder dragon’s long drawl of rolling clasps that echo throughout the labyrinth of mountains spread in all directions. Through these deep gulley’s the echo of thunder rolls on and on through the pitch blackness. Lightning rips open the heavens freezing the moment in electrical gyrations forked like an electric eel squirming across the sky –CRACK –BOOM-ROLL…Waves across the silky nightline valley in phantasmagorical kaleidoscope of purple, orange, and gold strikes. The river below also looks like lightning slithering across the rugged grasslands of the valley floor. Thunder thrums across the strings of the Guru’s instrument PLUCKING out mantras for mortals-ALL HAIL THE JEWELL IN THE LOTUS- BIRTHED BY THUNDER MANIFEST IN LIGHTNING –THE GURU”S LIGHTNING –MY LIGHTNING TOO!
an anomalous moonbeam
“Once you’re where you think you want to be, you’re not there anymore” Tony Gwynn Former Outfielder San Diego Padres
Changes have been made since I arrived at Tsenkharla one is that we‘re now a pilot Central School. One improvement has been the printing of exam question papers which used to be done on an antiquated oily printing press which would pollute the air with noxious fumes and stain clothes and fingers with a substance akin to bicycle grease. Now we print and photo copy on a somewhat less ancient copier. 2012 was the first year of central marking which continues to this day. The exam process in Bhutan takes a lot of effort and everything must be uniformed and formatted in a specific and tedious manner. I’m wrapping up my last lessons and shifting into exam mode and trying to not get as stressed as previous years. Outside the landscape has greened and there’s nothing quite like spring in Bhutan. We are not at the pinnacle of greenness since the maize has only begun to sprout with the potatoes and all manner of wonderful clover, aromatic bushes, and wild weeds that permeate the air with ambrosia. The mist clings to the mountains that sprawl in every direction as I can set out in three different directions for seemingly endless roving and am still mapping my heart home. Pink roses explode around campus and when you inhale them its transcendental. Pink ones smell sweetest but the crimson deepest reds smell more musty yummy. And if that’s not enough for you flower lovers add orange and cream hibiscus, robust magenta Dalias and so on and so on. I could fill volumes on the subject of nature here, and I’m in the middle of it all of this sector of the Himalayan range. The inner range a labyrinth of verdant and impossibly rugged and legendary mountains stretching for eternity in every direction, northwards to Tibet and Eastwards towards Tawang and endless Arrunachal (There are tigers in there somewhere) It a nifty part of the planet on the eastern spine of the great range. Today we even have a bit of sunshine penetrating through the mists and filtering down to 6,000 feet dancing in the pine treetops. I dreamt I saw the moon for the first time in ages an anomaly swooning in the foggy mists before slipping away swallowed whole by the cloudbank.
Tsenkharla consists of 36 teachers and 650 students, perched on ridge crest facing three valleys and boasting 360 views! I like the people I work with and the administration and especially the wonderful students. That’s what many of us love, living and working in a village, which might be the coolest thing in the whole wide world! So the teaching and learning continues. I just printed my first of four exams and am calculating my grade book which I have managed efficiently this year for once! I spent the morning picking up trash with students in anticipation of the Dzongkhag Athletic meet on Saturday. Meanwhile a cockroach is the sink and rat under the stove for good measure but with bugs come warmer weather and now it is quite pleasant with nary need for even a sweatshirt. Out on my constitutional a little kitty moaning in aguish approached me near the ruin, he was obviously astray and skin and bones and all I could do was stroke his brow with one finger. I knew that not taking him home might be his death sentence but I walked sadly away. Nature can be cruel and kind and in the end everything takes its place in the realm of decay and regeneration and we can all take heart in that. I repeat spring is a lovely time in this part of the Kingdom, the very mountains turning a shimmering green. Distant villages incised into distant slopes in every direction as far as the eye can make out, and in between the tiny settlements forests, waterfalls, and cliffs. On the escarpment over the Kulong Chu solitary houses are nicked into the vertical cliffs, somehow dug out on ledges floating in terrifying space over a 10,000 foot abyss. These lone settlements subside on cabbage or potato and whatever can be grown vertically. The little monopoly houses made in the Bhutanese fashion with black and white wood pattern like gingerbread houses or something out of grimes. Just in my locality no less than three native languages exist although Sharshop is predominant and take it around it’s a hard and satisfying existence.
A word about the “lake” near Darchin which in my estimation is a pond or even more so a small pool (a pool or a pond, anything’s nice) around the stagnant water is a barbed wire fence meant to keep people and animals out of what supposedly houses a deity. According to Wangmo our prayer captain a mermaid dwells in what she calls the “big sea” near Darchin. Most have never seen a lake or ventured as far as Mongar and many haven’t even been past Gom Kora. Anyway if there’s a mermaid in that murky leaf covered pool she must be feeling trapped and I should set about rescuing her and eloping to Deli for an MC ASAP! One should know I’m not disparaging the mermaids domain since the small pool is water and therefore must be revered and the pond is shaded by magnificent gnarled oaks standing over a hundred feet and draped in luxurious mosses and creamy trumpet flowers blow in the twisted canopy. And most wonderful is the damp must that fills one soul with indescribable bliss with so many oak leaves carpeting the muddy bottom. I came to the staff room trying to post this because the internet has improved but alas the connection was busted so we will continue this post until I can publish. These words in effect are like starlight reaching the reader long after being put forth by your muzzy author.
They are funny creatures like karma climbing in the cupboard like a monkey searching for his books or Sangay Chozam and Singye Wangmo arguing vigorously but good naturedly in a mix of Sharchop and broken English and everyone going about in the fairytale like National Dress giving the whole scene dignity and purpose. They probably find me equally amusing at least I hope they do. Teams are arriving from opposing mountainsides on campus for the meet including a group of class 8 girls from Tragom a small settlement near the Indian border on Yellang side. With the binoculars gifted by mom I can make out their tiny schoolhouse across the bend of the Gongri Chu and up the slope of the mountain at a higher elevation than my position probably around 7,500 feet a whopping 5,000 feet above the valley floor. You’d have to see it to believe it and all my explanations are frivolous as if anyone could adequately describe GOD. Clouds usually drape the mountains as they do today so if you like clouds and darkness Bhutan is a good place for you. MONPA means people in the dark and is somewhat derogatory term probably stemming from Tibetan lingo. Let’s face it folks, the east has always when barbaric event eh Tibetans stamped this, “The Land of Terror” Lhomon land of Southern Darkness. The impenetrable and verdant mountains vexed the Tibetans who were slaughtered at Trashigang Dzong toiling in the ravine taking arrows and getting stung by wasps and nettle. And today the Tibetans are gone but the bees and nettle remain and one of our rivers still runs unimpeded by a dam. That’s the Gongri and Dangme Chu because very soon they will break ground on Kulong Chu a multimillion rupee joint endeavor between Bhutan and India. I think I’ve made this rant before so I’ll spare you details for the moment. Haven’t seen a rainbow this spring which is uncommon but I remember the elephant I never saw in Manas and you just can’t order up miracles from the maker, rather one must greedily take what comes to them and give a whole lot more. My exhortation for the reader is to look on the world with fresh eyes and see the beauty around you.
On Sunday I took a walk down the western canal finally reaching Buyoung and our water source. Just before the waterfall I heard a troop of languor’s whistling and squealing like dolphins in the thick canopy of deciduous. Then one leapt sailing through the air its long gray tail swooping behind in slow motion. These appeared to be the same kind of species as I witnessed in Langtang right here an hour walk from my door. The primates only inhabit the western slopes above Chakademi towards Yangtse and not the eastern slopes of Tsenkharla which are dryer. Beyond the monkeys the waterfall cascades over a cliff face topped with pines and maroon flowers, the jet gushes over the mossy rock into a riparian nook with clover and water plants clinging to stones around the pools. One can stand near the catchment of the falls and the mist will spray finely on your face in a simply divine way that makes you forget anything sinful or unwholesome in this world. This spring is the source of Tsenkharla’s drinking and irrigation so in each drop I could see Guru Wangmo and her friends smiling.
It’s old school with no water flowing from the tap so I went seeking alms and was granted porridge at Sonam Choden and Karma’s house. She made it hot in the Tibetan style with natural pepper and hand rolled noodles, a heartwarming supper and afterwards I played with Pema Namgay who recognizes me by now and he was even wearing the jumpsuit my mom gave. I had many insightful things to share but as often the case they drift away before I can record them for you but the main thing is old school. There are spiders on the wall that look poisonous, rats on the table, and empty water buckets, since I’ve remained faithfully in station nothing to eat and now my gas cylinder is finished so I can’t cook. It’s like camping full time here a world without fruit or ovens among other things and for that we can rejoice. The weather report is misty with clouds smothering the peaks and monsoon rapidly approaching.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
For only the second time in Bhutan I had to accompany a boy upstairs to our VP’s office since he
directly disobeyed me and back bit me as they say. Namchag Wangdi has caused problems in other classes too and is a constant disruption leading a group of unruly boys also in the class. Classroom management has always been a challenge for me and although I’m pretty permissive I also have limits especially when incessant chattering interrupts my teaching. During a group activity I allow for discussion but when I’m giving direct instruction and students are talking it naturally disturbs me. In this instance I asked the boy to go outside and wait for me and he superciliously sauntered out of the room while smiling and remarking god knows what in Sharchop. So I indeed marched him upstairs since he has acted inappropriately all year. Such occurrences always depress me since I loathe dragging administration into my own disciplinary actions mainly for fear that the boy will get a thrashing which thankfully he didn’t. So now it’s four o’clock and the bell for dismissal rings out over the schoolyard. A few days later a boy named Dawa sexually harassed a girl named Tenzin who came to me crying demanding to see the VP. Apparently the rambunctious rapscallion told some filthy words to Tenzin but I knew the trip up stairs to the admin would turn out badly for Dawa. Sure enough VP started for his stick and I left the room muttering a weak objection to the effect of, “You know how I feel about beating.” I could hear some solid whacks as I drew the curtain leaving the office. Officially beating is banned in the kingdom but most teachers still covertly whack with sticks or pull earlobes etc.
On Tuesday we celebrated a triple gem of a holiday commemorating the beloved Fourth King’s coronation, Social Forestry Day, and the Death Anniversary of Buddha. In honor of the occasion school was cancelled and I took two boys up to Darchin. One of them the reader knows as Nima Gyeltson and the other was Gyempo a strapping lad who is rather reticent with dewy eyes and bulging calves who basically glided up the hillside with a Sherpa stride. We went a different way (still finding new paths) through thick forest reminiscent of a jungle with giant bells of wild honeysuckle cascading from the mossy green canopy. The trail wound through a ravine with vegetation dripping over the vertical walls of the ravine so it seemed we were climbing vines like Tarzan. Mist draped the dripping green ridge creating a most otherworldly habitat with clacking frogs and whirring cicadas keeping our time. Up at the small temple in the rolling green pastures a puja was happening with the sickly acetic lama back in station. In fact he lay wrapped in a gray cloak by the hearth while Kezang the attractive villager I’d met previously from Chakademi served us Suja or butter tea on the other side of the room from the convalescing lama. On the way down the hillsides the boys ran ahead singing popular Bhutanese pop songs as they descended through blue pine and past the last faded rhodedron flower a dying ruby in a ray of light.