For Aunt Mare who taught me the Dharma before I knew what it was…
All you need is love…
Deposited by a dream moth at the Karmaling Hotel I witnessed a powerful thunderstorm which is unseasonable for October. I had breezed into town to renew my contract for a final year coming directly from Trahigang. It had been too long since I was freewheeling on the winding roads of eastern Bhutan spotting languors and little brown monkeys. Purple lightning pirouetted above the jagged escarpment of Tong Bra, and in an instant- more lilac forks ripped the sky before exploding thunderheads shook the hotels foundation. Soon ominous clouds swallowed the peaks and hailstones pounded the tin roof while flashes of lightning froze the steep cliffs and trees in lurching strobe action. The previous day I was in Trashigang that fabled Hill Station which is more remarkable than ever despite the changes which include renovation on the Dzong, the gutted bakery and veranda, and the closure of the only viable store. Nevertheless the vibrant pastels, sunshine and puffy clouds, the swaying eucalyptus, and the clink of Ugyen Deepak’s scissors remain the hallmark of that enchanted ancient settlement. It was refreshing spending a few days out of station but that’s not what matters most. The prophecy of the gentleman under the chandelier inside the Dochila Lhakhang rings true, “it’s all about the village!” That man was talking to Becky and she relayed his words later on-on that day so long ago moving eastward to our placements during winter2012. Almost all of those faces have vanished from my life but Becky remains in Central Bhutan while I toil onwards at a Central School. The other chestnut of that faithful noon was Nancy’s “don’t get all worked up about it.” One last thing to mention about my weekend getaway was that Chorten Kora glimmered from a recent whitewashing. Back at HOME a busy day in the trenches and my voice is throaty. The only nagging health problems are an interminable boil over my left eye and a strained tendon which isn’t healing on the top of my foot but forbearance is a must when addressing maladies in the Kingdom and water comes and goes as it pleases.
Today is my turn in the rotation for Teacher on Duty (Tim on Duty) and each turn last two days. After supervising night study surely Pema Chedup will visit for help with homework and perhaps supper. Pema is a reliable Man Friday and quite a nester. He will scrub laundry in a pinch and is happy to turn down my sleeping bag before lights out. I rarely ask him to do these things rather he offers freely. When he’s not here he’s often at Prabu G’s pulling double duty. My other adopted son Nima is visiting less frequently due to his approaching board exams but both came over on Saturday night for a spirited Monopoly game. I spend many hours with them but since in Bhutan everyone NEEDS a friend it satisfies that GNH requirement. For an anti social loner I find myself mingling frequently mostly since my job requires that I stand in front of a crowd yapping all day long. I’m also surrounded by forests and stunning mountains radiating in all directions to keep me company. Today is cold with grey skies and we’re entrenched in autumn. Crows congregate then flock in mass to Shakshing for whatever it is they attend to. We often forget in our own business (busyness) that animal’s, and microorganisms are also hard at work. Dust Mites and Bed Bugs people! Life thrives if we want it to or not and things constantly change. Decay…Birth…Love mutates and takes other shapes like water filling a new container and the world is your container and you are the liquid. Gulp! How many vessels can we fill with our love? Don’t forget to water yourself too! Drink Up…I know who you are…Ah life in Bhutan when you want to shut down there is always someone crying out for attention and it’s usually me.
I dedicated this post to my Aunt Marilyn who taught me about dharma once at Marin Bay Park in the spaceship (down in the laundry room to be precise) when I was a moody teenager already in love with Bobby. She told me while ordering me to refold to embrace the darkness and make friends with it. Pema Chodron would have us fire up our Tonglen and breathe, Inhale that black negativity and exhale ticklish white light for all to savor. Thanks Mare! To refresh the reader the word dharma simply means the Buddhist teachings but the Buddhist teachings are everything everywhere especially the juicy rotten stuff. For example if you suffer from OCD then that’s your dharma or perhaps you’re an angry bird than that’s your dharma. Passion, aggression, and ignorance are the three poisons represented by the cock, the snake, and the pig- and these three animals we ride on an ever revolving carousel with all the delightful blinking lights and circus music of Samsara. CANDY! Step right up for eternal rebirths only two tickets at the gate, a midget will take your stubs. How to stop the ride? Simple, chuck your ego and stop identifying or clinging to phenomenon just simply relax in the void. If we stop carrying our made up burdens then we’ll have no load to bear. Easy isn’t it. Speaking of pigs Piet, Lynn and I came across some uprooted earth in primordial forest upturned by wild boars searching their grubs –DESIRE! I’m sure they ate them mindfully though. Blackout at study hall and now the hive is humming in prayer where like a hornet’s nest it’s best to leave it alone. Passing out photos to the students I felt the joy of Santa Claus except I also felt guilty for not having one for each pupil in the class. They really appreciate the simpler things in life even though they live without many niceties that many of us consider our birthright. Beside me a steaming cup of specially brewed milk tea with a dash of magic masala and I made it ALL BY MYSELF!
When I walked into 8B they were so attentive and quiet making a genuine effort to atone and then we commenced with the poetry slam. None of them incorporated the gestures I suggested out of reticence but some of the writing was cathartic about deceased parents and the transitory nature of life. Tshering Penjor a strapping lad who wrote about MR. Tim frolicking under the Golden Gate Bridge in the sunshine-in the image I was happy! The last time I stood on that exact beach was after flunking another State Math Exam in pursuit of my credential (although I wouldn’t get the result for months, good old Washington H.S in the Marina) and again attempt and conquer the math. I tell this story for my-self not the reader since you wouldn’t believe the effort I put in to get here. As Hands donor Professor Bill Gholson stated “I’m a representative of determination” and that’s why I’m still here.
Observations regarding students, shall I put on my anthropological hat and jot a few notes. Big Kezang from the agricultural hamlet of Shali never wears shoes including on this nippy October evening (a good night for baseball) she has an intoxicating laugh and hobbit sized heart and feet. Pema Wangchuk seeks alms almost nightly with winning smile and dimples like a cherub and his donation of choice is ramen noodles a delicacy of the student community usually eaten cold. When I answer the door he sheepishly utters, “junk food” and scratches his head eyes on the floor (Another hobbit like disposition sort of an extraverted loner) When trying to converse with Guru Wangmo (the Guru) in a crowd she hides her face in her hands and will only initiate a confab alone or with a group of intimate peers. Preschooler’s in kira demonstrating hand washing out of buckets at assembly is highly adorable! Knock Knock-Whoes There? Oh it’s Pema of course coming to alert me that emadatsi is the sup at the mess. He grabs my plate, flashlight, and finds my keys where I hadn’t known I’d left them and off we go into a starlit frosty night.
Right now I’m in the process of planning a grammar lesson on an obscure topic, active vs. passive voice. Insert your blind leading the blind cliché here. I have to teach a range of discursive unrelated concepts and worse yet I’m not making the class 8 exam. It seems that one teacher in the Dzongkhag makes the exam for all grade level classes. Basically that means I can’t even make my students exam which is unsettling as their teacher. This is an extension of Central Marking which will certainly remain at our newfound Central School. Meanwhile the goods keep coming new wall clocks, blankets for the kids, paper. At my level I haven’t noticed a spike in teaching supplies although it is easier to get marker pens and chart paper. The whole school seems ill- a mumps outbreak across the valley on the border and one girl in my class has scabies while another has ringworm. Karlos is sick along with the VP and half the staff but most are still on campus covered with surgical masks or clutching handkerchiefs. The Bhutanese blame it on the changing seasons or perhaps demons. I have some residual snot and fatigue from a long day where I taught seven classes and my second to last session of Social Service Club which has been a bumpy ride this year although a lot of trash was purged by many whining students (and many bunking ones) I have something to prove before my time is up with regards to waste management. Most frustrating is that the makeshift oil tin trashcans have been bashed or stolen and cannot be replaced since we don’t get oil that way anymore. You can’t even have dustbins or I haven’t been industries enough to figure out a way. Things have improved, slightly, and one must start with baby steps isn’t it. Only a few fields of golden maize linger but the crops have been harvested and the land begins its introspective journey towards golden fallowness. Yet the forest remains brimming with honeysuckles and whirring insects the burst of autumnal life in all cool glory.
Today I took the core members of Social Service Club along with Nima Gyelston up to Shakshing to clean up the disaster of rubbish leftover from Tsechu. It’s been a bumpy ride with club this year but the ones who joined on Sunday were the boarders and more sincere group. You have to make it worth their while so that means arranging Emadatsi from the mess. I awoke feeling like shit with a list of minor maladies then my club members keeping with their MO this year were late. Out of 22 who embarked on this trip 15 were girls almost all my students and five fellas including Nima, Pema Wangchuk, and Karma Wangchuk all boys I know well and spend time with outside class. Among the girls Kinley Wangmo had the best day since she was the one who instigated the trip and hounded me all term. Both Dooptho Wangmo and Kinley Wangmo (not sisters) hail from Daka a village of six houses in the pastures below the grove. I gave them permission to visit their relatives and they dragged the Guru and a few others along returning with giant cucumbers and sour pears. Along the trail Tendy Zangmo and others scoured the trees climbing high up in the canopy for some sour fruit that didn’t tickle my fancy as much. The most sincere workers were Nima who carried the juice and burned the trash and Rinchen Wangmo who got down and dirty in a makeshift dump below the ridge. In that pit I touched urine, stool and later when washing my hands students found a dead rat in the basin we drew from. An exceedingly rare phelincpa spotting as two Australian lady tourists and guide parked their truck up at Shakshing and headed to the next village. They asked about all the rubbish and I explained that it was from the local festival. We chatted briefly while my students stared and afterwards remarked about their beauty, I called after the trio relaying the message, “Hey my students think your beautiful” They perhaps didn’t know how to respond to such a Motley Crew. My students all thought it was Ms. Lynn at first (if any phelincpa comes they assume it’s a friend) and many of them ask about Ms. Lynn frequently and they still ask about Nima and Dawa my mom and aunty. We continued our toilsome work and as usual I spent my time pleading with them while doing the lion’s share, meanwhile my ear was clogged and my throat burned. We started burning heaps of trash on open ground which is terrible for the environment. We have an incinerator we recently constructed on campus but it would have been too difficult to haul it three miles down the slope. So we sloppily burned dirty diapers, plastic, bottle caps and cardboard sorting out the glass and plastic bottles. The amount of trash was startling and to be frank we only completed half the job. Only poor Rinchen got down in the tangled thicket and at that point I knew I’d gotten what I could out of them for the day so we had lunch. Everyone paired off into their group friends and I supped with the boys. Tendy Zangmo and shy Pema Tshoki ate nearby Guru Wangmo and her group friends and so on. After lunch the old lama opened the temple and we filed in together for prostrations. I followed my Sanga (Buddhist community) into the Lhakhang again marveling at the revitalized paintings including a spanking Sangay Dema (the historical Buddha) we held up by a Chorten awaiting the girls who had split to visit relatives and naturally we had to wait for a lengthy duration. Eventually descending the club picked some more fruit and merrily headed to the bazaar (five shops) to feast on momo’s that Sonam Choden prepared. It was a fantastic day so much so that I forgot my sickness completely until arriving home where I hosted Nima and Karma Wangchuk for milk tea.
Almost half the kids on the trek were Kidu meaning that one or more parent had died. Kinley Wangmo lost her mom and openly said her daddy drinks all the time and she is raised by an auntie. Once they open up Bhutanese kids are the best in the world. The ones that come from the sprawling hills to TCS (Tsenkharla Central School) are a fine mix. In my estimation, although they speak broken English, the youth of Bhutan are strong and ready to assume the Dragons Mantle. Shakshing might be heaven on earth with a radial view of the mountain mandala and two opposing valleys spanning two countries. There’s mighty oaks and as Lynn aptly described, “it feels like the top of the world” Now don’t think that’s cliché until you visit. It was a great outing since in the final reckoning this is what matters- the fruition of a lifelong dream. Making memories with these tribal moppets out in farthest flung earth-it truly doesn’t get any better!