Get with the Program
“River Sky moon and stars –every blade of grass and every mote of dust were transformed for the Buddha. He knew that the long years he wandered in search of the way have not been wasted. Thanks to his trials and hardships he had finally discovered the way in his own heart.”
On the final pitch to Shakshing a magnificent hawk with huge serrated wings glides in circles overhead. He was soon joined by a crow shadowboxing his every whim. Later on, a burnt rusty rainbow smudged the dragon’s tail as a curtain of clouds blotted the horizon. It’s the perfect walk following the stone road through a majestic cypress grove interspersed with eucalyptus and pine around Prince Tsangma’s redoubt. I’ve been sitting on my throne a lot these days (a pile of uneven stones) and noticed someone has cleared weeds from the interior of the castle and excavated some pillars from the brush. This place has special meaning for me and serves as a fortress of solitude where I can ponder life or simply listen to the breeze rustling the eucalyptus leaves. From there the road winds past a Mani wall and gate towards Zangtopelri. Above the temple the terrain levels out revealing a precious undulating ridge traversing towards Shakshing past farmhouses and fallow fields littered with maize stalks. It’s now a hazel landscape with latecomer sub-alpine flowers perfuming the air. The vegetation is a splendid mix of oaks, a few species of pine, wild fruit trees, and various shrubbery and bushes. Pastures intersperse seamlessly with forest and roughly terraced farmland. Near Shakshing a stand of mighty gnarled oaks with fern lined limbs house the local deity. Ascending further one encounters mossy oaks then shrubbery before the moist primal forests in the vicinity of Darchin. If one hustles they could summit Brong La within five hours but it always seems to take me the whole day rising thousands of feet above campus. Beyond Brong La the wild habitat of leopards, bears, and snakes. October with perfect visibility to the Matterhorn Peaks and their tangerine tinted snowfields. Clear sailing deep within the topography of Tawang until the saddleback stops the gaze,(so many living creatures between here and there and somewhere a wildcat crunches the marrow of a deer) but now a haze has swallowed that end of the valley and works its way westward devouring one ridge at a time shrinking the scope.
It’s been extremely busy on this hilltop and the harvest moon has come and gone along with many programs including school picnic, class picnic, Social Service trip, Scout Bonfire (I sang K.C Moan) club exhibition day, and an excursion to Darchen with a dozen boys to offer butter lamps and string flags atop Shering La (head) the tiptop of Rangthangwoong. One small boy Tashi Namgay rubbed the crevice of a Cypress and said, “Look sir, vagina!” I haven’t had much alone time and feel gratitude finding solitude in the forest with the hush of the distant river and chirping birds for companionship. It’s good to try to open up though- after all we spend a trillion lifetimes just learning how to breathe.
I’m also involved in the invigilation and marking of class ten trial exams. It’s not glamorous work since I only do a section of anonymous pupils for about four hours a stretch at a table in a room full of chattering Bhutanese, the stink of domo hanging in the nippy air. Teaching is essentially finished and most of the week I was out of class acting as an invigilator for the exams just staring at students for ten hours. I miss the interaction with students but Nima and Pema still drop by daily. It’s a grinder for the last month with heavy duty office work and spreadsheets ahead. Blah! In addition I’m a bit rundown and when colleague Kirsten dropped by unannounced she said I didn’t look like “Tip Top Tim” In fact when we walked by Sangay Uden pronounced, “Miss is so beautiful and sir is so ugly!” “Thanks a lot Sangay” I retorted. Kirsten spun my world around staying about an hour before departing with her two Bhutanese friends. On Sunday I sponsored a class picnic for my homeroom on a terrace near the channel and it was fun to see the kids playing games at a time when they are rapidly maturing. Sangay Chozam beamed like Little Red Riding Hood in a kira totting woven picnic basket loaded with emadatsi and rice. We all slurped watermelon a rare and refreshing treat warding off the hot sun.
After the school picnic we heard a colleague had died and proceeded en mass to his dwelling where music was still wafting out his open window. Several teachers climbed the ladder and came out to wash their hands. They reported he had blood around his mouth and wasn’t breathing. It appeared that it was an overdose of alcohol. The moonshine eats your insides but I’m not sure he was an Ara drinker. I barely knew him as he was a newcomer who kept to himself and had recently separated from his spouse. He was only one year older than me and I have a vivid memory of him skipping rope with his PE class.
Around Halloween a ferocious thunderstorm shook the mountain and it sounded like bombs exploding with simultaneous booms and flashes jolting the earth. Usually I’ll watch from my stoop but I was terrified as rainwater blew under the crack of my door even scaring the rat away. Finally the full POWER of the THUNDERDRAGON exhibited on ALL SAINTS EVE! ROAR -ROAR!
Next week the ultimate program in celebration of The Fourth King’s 60th Birthday. We’ll see what unfolds. Right now Nima and Pema are preparing dinner on a cold November night. On the menu, emadatsi, just like every other night unless I forgo dinner for crackers or can’t scrounge up ingredients. These boys have been cooking more than I have and sometimes I like to make my own curry and settle in for the night with a sitcom or book. My last read another Pema Chodron Dharma book one that my long lost pal Lisa recommended before I had read Pema. Sometimes the Dharma feels like beating one’s self over the head but some themes ring true and if I met Buddha on a cloud I would say, “Hey man you were right about everything,” The myth of fingerprints as Paul Simon sings it. It all makes me feel queasier than ever or maybe it’s the heights lording over the valley. Today the haze made me blue as now the finest visibility is gone. Only a certain amount of days have that polished look and some of those moments you’re stuck in a five hour meeting. DHARMA! DHARMA vs. DRAMA…So Pema and Nima are here chattering in Sharchop and we rap in fragmented English about their admire girls or progress in studies since Nima’s class ten exam is approaching. I always have so much more to say but what can I say anyway about this imponderable place. I will be parting with many beloved students since once they pass out from your tutelage you don’t interact as much. I understand something of the wonderment of being a teacher staying at a school in a community for an impactful duration of time. Teaching many siblings and hundreds of students has been my boon in this life.
A major development has been another tract cut across the scalp of the mountain connecting Nankhar to the Shakshing track. Nankhar is a picturesque village tucked into a secret finger of our valley with views out over the Omba area. I have only been once since the new road construction but have heard dynamite blasts followed by terrible crunching rockslides often. Now Omba and Jangphu are the only villages not connected by road in this locality. Although aesthetically unappealing and environmentally degrading, the roads make life for the villagers easier. It’s a gesture of support to the remotest and poorest region of the country so who am I to complain. It’s the same with the menacing hydro project on the Kulong Chu. Life goes on and still paradise even with cell towers and farm roads and dueling boils over each eye…when one looks out over the landscape nature still seems comfortably in command…The pressure cooker hisses like a snake about to strike announcing dinner, bon appetite. The season is changing and winter is on the wings of the crows jetting through the void but today a rare sound of an Indian chopper on reconnaissance. Inhaling a puff of cedar smoke through my nostrils and I can hear soulful prayers soaring from the MP Hall.
Whirling between death and birth
in the folds of a gold skirt
see a Cham dancer’s barefoot pivoting on a pin
spouting wake of dust
flares of sunlight gleaming off clashing cymbal,
dragon horns blare
ejaculating squiggly lines
waves of color and sound
light Fluid dervishes
jumping jacks and Atsara’s with long red penises
waiving them at pretty girls to squinty eyed elders delight
hey! Grab the horns of the beast, twist and turn
feel flexing calves freeze,
then melt away
Me Wang Cho Kardinche
I was surprised when Pema our office assistant exclaimed “Sir Come to see the Tongdrel!” in her hallmark falsetto. Pema is married with the requisite two kids and husband but a real looker with a Tibetan visage complete with Rosy cheeks and China Cat eyes. Actually I prefer the swarthier Sharchop but on with the story since there’s no denying that Pema is beautiful and an essential component to our school. Soon we went encountering a pack of lady teachers who giggled and Pema requested the girl’s washer who speaks very little English but is indeed swarthy in a Nepali manner to accompany us. So it went that we knelt below the towering embroidered or was it painted tapestry with the most amazing scenes and this is the very same banner that was unveiled at Zangtopelri Tsechu also depicting that mountain of paradise with a real life backdrop of Shampula a rogue hump the end of Bhutan flowing with its own banner of streaming clouds. It was an immaculate day in the valley with views to the saddleback, a snowcapped massif in Tawang, Tshongtshongma glistened and the two jagged snowbound peaks beyond Lumla shined like million pointed crystals wrapped in rock and ice. And between these points mountain fresh air and a sensation of openness as if one commands the world. The serpentine S curves of the Gongri Chu and the interlacing mountains spawning from the riverbed then sprawling outwards into their own horizons and pinnacles. After passing underneath the banner we received a blessing from a bronze chalice given by a lay monk and departed. I felt like the Guru riding along with his consorts for a precious spell and Pema seemed every bit a proper embodiment of Yeshi Tshogyel. The moral of this vignette is that Pema did a kind deed to include me in something I might’ve missed out on, and on a day I have the blues with a clogged right ear. After that blessing I managed to appreciate the fairytale like scene unfolding around me (I can’t recall which Grimes had the mountain of trash piled up after the village fair) the genuine and heartfelt devotion to the Fourth King and all the Wangchuk Dynasty is staggering and this showed through in the meticulous attention to details and sensational dance programs and of course the hours of prayer. They built a platform and installed a huge prayer flag tree encircling a massive altar. They sat in the blazing sun reciting mantras because they wanted too. That very night the students were back at it in the MP Hall as usual praying for you and me and every sentient being. I could fill volumes about the details of the day with Cham dancers, Lamas in red wizard hats, Drums, glorious National Dress and many pairs of waltzing dragon boots. Before lunch was served to over a thousand people there was a cultural program and I was moved by the mass community circle dance including, dignitaries, students and staff from three different schools and people of all ages forming mass circles then breaking apart snaking along with a few deceptively simple and elegant steps in their finest gho and kira or school colors. Look there’s Karlos looking so traditional bopping along. I was whirling with Pema Namgay a few minutes prior. The whole celebration lasted three days THE ULTIMATE PROGRAM. Last night a four hour singing competition left everyone satisfied but weary yet ever’2yone rallied today for the Kings actual 6oth Birth Anniversary (we call a birthday) I was impressed and grateful to witness a unique occasion which included old timers looking on for a farmer vs. Civil Servant tug of war (guess who won that one?) Of course a little Shakedown sprung up with Guava, cheap toys, the last of the season’s giant cucumbers, and clothes and cheap jewelry. Now all that’s left is a huge job for my mutinous social service club. Despite making an announcement on the PA at March Practice only about ten girls and Pema Wangchuk showed up to assist in paper picking and grass cutting last night. It was a humorous scene at sunset with a lot of grumbling and some laughing in the end. Rinchen Wangmo is a loyal member of the club but Guru always groans in her hallmark way under her face mask while wielding a sickle. Another good Guru anecdote was when I encountered her and sidekick watching a group of madams playing musical chairs during the festivities. Guru asks, “Sir which one is the prettiest?” I reply, “Well Guru I like the one in the green Taegu the mouty one with long hair” “She’s married with two kids, sir.” The Guru replies with a laughing twinkle in her eye. “They all are Guru!” I say and walk away.
It’s been a rollercoaster in my head these past days with a clogged ear and occluded essence it’s hard to achieve both equilibrium and equanimity.
A work in progress…
Ode to Brong La
serpentine trees with squirming tentacles
inject their poison
Into my veins
grasping at knotted buttresses
strangled on tangled vines
inhaling spores and dank mosses
under black mushroom ships.
spawn the Brong La Gremlin
with pale green lichen skins,
glowing jaundice eyes,
he climbs on a ladder of sunbeams
rattling his studded teeth
chomping my spine.
I make it to a bamboo shelf
touching tender shoots
hovering among thick trees
embedded into rank duff
(this mountain is made of air)
a swirling kaleidoscope
of dappled bullion and crimson canopies
scorch my skull,
on my belly rutting,
a wild boar
wallowing towards a speck of light
a tunnel through
hollow trunked moaning maws
and spongy decay
swallowing my spindly legs
until busting free
into the glare of a thousand suns
pulling amber grasses up the face
teetering over abysses, laughing.
the realm below choked with smoke
THE WORLD IS BURNING!
but up here
a fresh breeze stirs an elegant conifer
perched on a knoll,
breathe in overgrown pastures
surf on a broken bamboo mat
surf on a broken bamboo mat
over purple and gold waves
spurring a wake of white blossoms.
rubbing my potbelly
so smooth like a seal
a fresh breeze eddies over nakedness
snapping a constellation of rainbow flags
until only the peace pole remains
wrapped in yellow cloth.
I call a hawk and it comes
folding the entire universe into its silent wings
Nightmare on Misery Train
It’s a beautiful day in this sector of the Kingdom but I had to make my first visit to the BHU all year to get eardrops to try to unclog my ears, especially the right one. I retired at 6:30 last night and awoke with a start to see a huge black rat scurrying across my cement floor then squeeze its plump body down a drain hole its curly tail disappearing last. Yuck! After that I went back to sleep only to have a vivid nightmare about my ex girlfriend and her new beau. Funny thing is I’m not resentful or even dwelling on her new life and love but apparently I carry a deep wound that bubbles up in subconscious dreaming. In this dream I remember visiting her apartment on a dark night only Bush Street looked different although still hilly and urban and all the interior of her apartment was different. But Morgan was still Morgan and I was pleading with her about something perhaps taking me back. Pangs of confusion and jealousy were acute and as real as this moment. I awoke feeling intense loneliness and despair part of our birthright so I lay awake with the feelings until gradually I drifted off asleep but the dream reoccurred in a strange continuum. The next time I awoke I went to look at the starry night sky wondering where the hell I was and what the hell I was doing. The sound of the river was powerful even at great distance on a cold night. After my visit to the BHU I went back in the classroom to review for approaching exams and that cheered me considerably. I love my life here but it has also been a painful period for me working through and with my core issues that are glaringly obvious. ANXIETY & FEAR still govern my every action which is tiring, and the only medication I have is the DHARMA. Former BCF teacher Reidi compared this place to a giant mirror reflecting all your soul back at you and who wants to look at that, probably very few of us. Also despite being ACTIVE in roaming my health is not that good for a young man and I’m starting to own up to the effects of drinking too much Coke and my other bad habits. The good news is that these problems cannot be solved rather can be worked with in this brief lifetime granted. I spent a portion of the three day celebration gazing up at Brong La peak and wondering just what the hell happened to me up there as a Pandora’s Portal was pried open releasing many great allies and adversaries in the forms of spirits, ghosts, and oriental entities some winged and others made completely of light. Not to mention the bubbles from the murky forest pool near Darchen where the mermaid is said to dwell.
I came here mad and thus assumed the self appointed moniker MADMAN of Tsenkharla which only puts me a step ahead for enlightenment but we can only manage our own pace which is why regret is futile. In more practical matters the final push is on and exactly a month remains -the part of this job I don’t relish with central marking, spreadsheets, and work that taxes my limited eyesight and managerial abilities. The celebration for His Majesties Birthday has left me in awe of the Bhutanese and their unity although my VP noted that in the olden day’s people used to dance all night after a puja and now they disperse after the eats. Things are changing everywhere but what I saw this week could never be witnessed anywhere else in the world. A rich tapestry of tradition, devotion, and community spirit endures in Rangthangwoong.
Today was not my best since I started it at the hospital although the walk was sublime with poinsettias lining the golf cart road with the spire of Tshongtshongma looking on in the distance. First Dr. Namsa tried to remove the wax with a pair of pliers (and no ear scope) which obviously made me uneasy. Then he snaked a tube in my canal and tried sucking it out. The latter worked to some degree but the confounded ear is still blocked and the other one partially blocked with huge accumulations of wax. I was sent home with drops and will return to the cavernous Basic Health Unit probably tomorrow. My spirits were buoyed by a parcel from home from my mom and Aunt so I’ll feast on dried salami and M &M s tonight! When my neighbor pounded on my door I had been asleep for several hours in a murky world but when I groggily stepped into a magnificent twilight streaming bands of salmon light bounded around the valley alighting all the distant horizons and ranges pooling liquid light within the chaliced snowfields of the Matterhorn’s; I could swear the valley was rejoicing in the brand new moment awaiting the sterling starlight. Nima & Pema appeared at my door grinning but I turn them away telling them to return tomorrow when I feel better. It’s good to have a family here and maybe that’s my greatest accomplishment.
“…wings a mile long just to carry the bird away…”
Apparently I invoke the Lord Jesus a lot and have the habit of saying Jesus when something irks or startles me which is all the time. Pema Chedup likes to imitate this shouting, “Jeeeesuuuuss!” When all Bhutanese mimic my voice it always sounds the same wheezy high pitch so I must sound like that, what a shame. I’m hungry and grumpy about my ear and too lazy to make dinner. Are these complaints a waste of the reader’s time? Perhaps you ought to flip on ESPN instead. Go into the fridge for some guacamole or make a sandwich. I can still see the light patterns outside mom’s kitchen window by the Target across the marsh and Sammy on the big screen. Or I can open the door and see the light patterns of Kiney and Yellang and the far off outskirts of Lumla with Sammy on the small screen. It’s all interchangeable especially once you’ve mastered the art of astral projection. Look! Now you see me now you don’t. Thanksgiving is approaching with its gravy and fixings and my thoughts turn to turkey, family and the notion of family. If reincarnation is true and everyone you meet was your mother at one point that would be a game changer. I want to be a more open and tolerant human being and learn how to better share the world with others. I want to flood my heart with the light of a million dakini’s and attain an indiscriminant nature. I’m the dancing Buddha yo! Maybe I even want to find someone to keep me company, any takers? Or perhaps I can take this whole wide world as a bride till death do us part!
My ears improved slightly so I hitched to Yangtse town for some R&R at the Karmaling which fortunately was empty. The ride was a good one a taxi carrying an older Brokpa couple. The grandfather was wearing his crimson wool tunic but also a cow skin vest which looked like dried parchment. The woman was in full ruddy regalia minus the spider hat adorned with turquoise beads. It was the seventy year olds first trip to Yangtse since they are Yak Herders by trade. Arriving in town I was horrified to see the latest madness on T.V about the massacre in Paris. I went down to Chorten Kora and circumambulated where I saw the deeply reverent Brokpa woman doing her rounds and prostrating her head against the immaculate edifice. The ancient Stupa is a replica of Bohdnath in Kathmandu but the model which was sculpted on a radish shrank on the arduous journey back to East Bhutan so it was built considerably smaller. There are no shops lining modern CK though only a few park benches and the whooshing Kulong Chu. The other noteworthy fact is a Monpa girl was sacrificed alive within the Kora to appease a menacing demon that inhabited the woods. That’s why the Monpa trek in from Tawang every spring to pay homage and for only the second time I entered the forbidden inner sanctum usually locked. Some ladies were sorting some butter lamps in there so I slipped through the doorway and did three rounds. Some l2groovy gold slates depicted rudimentary skeletons and beast and one gnarled tree sits in a corner. I’d been in there one other time during the Tsechu with candlelight and singing Monpa with Karlos. I did as the Brokpa and put my forehead against the actual Kora (not outer wall) getting as close to the Monpa martyr as I could. I returned after supper and to my dismay they had posted floodlights at the corners of the promenade making it a blinding experience instead of the galactic orbital it once was after dark. The Bhutanese are manic for progress right now and as Becky said when I told her, “Buddha is already enlightened” On Sunday I hooked up with Prabu G and we went to see the cranes in Bumdeling. Prabu an Indian veteran of 17 years at Tsenkharla is by the book so we stopped in the office under the big cypress at the foot of the prayer flag draped bridge spanning the river. Inside a fetching woman named Karma (who by the way had two kids and a husband) processed the day pass. She had been to Me La, Pema Ling, and into Tibet in the lake dotted highlands. She loved orchids and just saying the word broke into an irrepressible smile, all teeth. We proceeded in our taxi the ten miles down a bumpy dirt road to Bumdeling village which has a campground feeling with a primary school and some shops littered with trash. It’s a rare flatland with paddies full of the un-harvested grain which the precious birds snack on. The river flows into a fertile plain enfolded by mountains. North of here it’s a three day slog to the border with China and the Great barrier of the high Himalayas. There’s abundant wildlife in the park including red pandas, snow leopards, the occasional tiger, and gigantic butterflies and migratory birds. But the park is famous for being one of two primary wintering sanctuaries for the endangered black necked crane. This graceful black and white bird migrates over the high peaks from somewhere in Tibet in November and returns in February. A few arrived early and we were on the move but I missed a step splashing one boot into the cold stream. Woops. A villager tells us where a pair of cranes is roosting and five minutes later we spot two distant birds near a few straw huts. Bird watching is not an ideal sport for a visually impaired individual but I can still catch the vibe of birds and love them for poetic reasons. These regal birds are astounding and when one fluttered its wings momentarily it tugged on my heartstrings and released butterflies in my chest. The monochromatic pattern is striking with the purest white like Chorten Kora after a whitewash or the snow on the saddle of Me La. The black as pitch as a Plumas midnight. These birds stick with their mates for life and the pair was snuggled close moving in complete harmony. It appeared these lovebirds didn’t quarrel and were the highest form of lovers and maybe that’s why people are so attracted. I didn’t see them fly like in Phubjikha with my family or cry like that day with my brother. Unbelievably my bra called exactly when I was watching this pair which is amazing since whenever I see a black naked crane I think of him and our encounter in Phubjikha. Sundays encounter was special too with the pair tucked on a knoll of terraces under a forest of tinted deciduous trees and they seemed to give the land its essence by their very presence. On the way home to cap it off we saw some funky monkeys playing along the road. Simply to see those two birds was a special gift granted in this lifetime.
How many times had they taken that flight together? What had drawn them together and what force binds them until the end? When one dies what becomes of the other. Two bachelors watch from a barn. How do these birds feel love? You can hear it in their angelic calls.
It’s Monday with classes wrapping up for the year shifting into the dreaded exams. I’m doing review and enjoying the company of students who will pass out of my tutelage soon. That is the reality of teaching and I have been fortunate to teach students for two years consecutively which is a real treat both personally and professionally. Outside cicadas whir in the trees while dead leaves litter the campus. They tore down an old building (from Catherine’s time) and now only a few original structures remain nearby the Rangthangwoong grinding stone under the shade of towering cypress. Before me students are studying in their checkered school dress and not a word of English is being spoken.
Fast forward to Wednesday the school router blew up in that Zeus inspired thunderstorm on All Saints Day so no internet access from school or home but miraculously my computer has revived operations! Today was emotional and a tad inauspicious unless considered from a Dharma perspective. I woke to find my well used tour shirt in tatters chewed by the black rat and no water in the tap. I got a call from Principal Sir at 9:22 A.M in my hut saying a fight had broken out in my home class and where was I? Ugh! Let’s preface this story with some background information like in assembly three days ago he reprimanded teachers for leaving students unattended, commonplace in Bhutan. Well I had been turning up to class and wrapped up review just yesterday. Well today my classroom was being utilized by examinees from class nine. Where were my students or my class eights for that matter since there classroom was devoid of furniture only the Guru meditating on the floor along with her group friends. With no students in sight I rushed home to use the toilet and make a phone call when the call from Principal arrived. No one informed me (my famous line) about the class shifting to the lab but I still felt accountable all the same. Even though the rest of the day no teachers set foot in the temporary classroom and the students were all mixed up permitted by principal to study outside (an announcement was made in Dzonkha) Exams are a strange time around here with most of one duties revolving around marking taking us out of the classroom for invigilation. Anyway when I arrived on the scene two Sangays were balled up bawling in opposite corners of the room and it didn’t look good from the outset. Best I could gather Sangay Chedup a tall and hotheaded lad had decked Sangay Chozam a fiery girl, the two had had many words this year and Sangay Chozam has harassed him plenty. I felt indirectly responsible and sad that the event happened in my home class, the very class I had picnicked with two week ago. The male Sangay was covered in chalk shaking hysterically in the corner while female Sangay was sobbing on the floor being consoled by her friends including Sangay Dema who he belted in the chest. My reaction was aggressive and I scolded both of them until I calmed down enough to put the story together. Apparently someone had stolen 110 Ngultrum from Sangay Chozam’s bag and she and her friends accused Sangay Chedup who freaked out and started punching people. Most of the students were outside mixing with other sections of students without a classroom or supervision. I talked to both Sangays at length separately and told them where they went wrong. I pointed out to Sangay Chozam her error bullying the boy and accosting him with no proof, and especially boy Sangay for hitting a girl. I replaced her money and encouraged everyone to forgive and forget. Poor Sangay had a bruise on her face and was soon in a group of her friends threading yarn for a muffler and even smiling. While around the corner Sangay continued to pout. He’s moving to Thimphu and is actually a very kind boy who made me a sweet card for teacher’s day. Sangay Chozam is also a well known student since I’ve taught them both two years. They are both day scholars living at home so hopefully Sangay Chozam’s auntie doesn’t complain. I should have been more diligent but like I said no other teacher turned up nor did most of the students with the logistical displacement. I capped off the day with three hours of class nine central marking complete with tea and poury, I still am opposed even with refreshments. I managed to hike halfway to Shakshing pausing in the cypress and bushy pines peering out over two opposing valleys and the tangerine tinted Matterhorn’s. Currently the brass bell rings for lights out on another wild day on the mountain. I’m saying goodbye now to another batch of students and the most prominent of my stint here. If I take on new grades next year I might finish out my time with one year of brand new students. Or I might get familiar faces although I feel three years is too long with the same teacher. It’s been a privilege to helm the same hundred odd pupils two consecutive years (I know I’m repeating myself) The year is not over and I have some aces up my sleeve but if we part ways here HAPPY HOLIDAYS Y’all and keep on rocking in the free world!
But Wait There’s More
One tradition I cherish is chatting with the girls when I’m heading out from roaming. They call down to me from their perches in the grass behind the barbed wire fence, “Where are you going sir?” Or “Shakshing sir?” Usually I’ll encounter Guru Wangmo (The Guru) sitting Indian style in the grass with her sidekick with a schoolbook and some dry ramen noodles. The girls toss money over the fence to schoolboys or shopkeepers who give them the contraband junk food. The proof of the activity is littered on the dirt pathway below the fence. Guru won’t chat much at school but in her own element she will joke around with me and dispense little pearls of wisdom along with gleeful giggles as only The Guru can. She seemed to levitate in lotus position in a shaft of light just before the sun dipped below a western ridge. GLORIOUS! The colors and coolness of autumn bliss.
We had a staff dinner which was scrumptious but I was exasperated at my best friend’s inquiry about life in the U.S.A once again feeling as an alien ambassador from a world I know longer belong. But I shouldn’t be short with my pal. Conversations center around a few themes usually money and how much I spend and on what items and luxuries. I’m not social like Bhutanese and feel lucky to have Karlos and my adopted sons and other students. I value my private time immensely here. Heck I’m truly a man without a country although my spiritual homeland is definitely this locality a place that I also will never truly belong. Right now rare moonlight fills the valley accompanied by gazing starlight. The waxing silver orb is a welcome sight allowing SPACE to flow into our dark world. Dogs seem to die on my doorstep a lot and a huge one was slumped over dead when I returned from the highlands and I implored some boys to remove the wooly corpse. Meanwhile Dawa still limps around on three legs but seems to be in good spirits. It reminds me of the three legged cow when I was lost near Gosainkund, a more lonesome spot cannot be found with desolate snowcapped ridges and twirling weather vane at that derelict lodge. Loneliness is part and parcel in this adventure and addicting as the world fades away, a twinkling illusion. Poof! It’s an amazing community up here and take it all around it is the most social and involved I’ve ever been and the quality of existence is supremely unadulterated. Yesterday at twilight a bat bolted up brushing its wings within inches of my face so I could feel the wind…Sorry Old Milwaukee East Bhutan truly is as good as it gets…
Last night a black rat was skulking around in the wee hours of the morning disturbing my sleep and chewing on cardboard as I got up and chased him out three or more times. I couldn’t get back to sleep because I had a blocked nose to match my partially blocked ear. I made it to assembly where I groggily observed the military type procession of students singing hymns and making speeches. I was teed off about the class eight Grammar Test although in reality I only didn’t properly cover two of the questions properly. I think it’s unfair to not make your own students tests and it gives a teacher a helpless kind of feeling. That coincides with central marking in stripping control of one’s destiny. The system is flawed and goes against western sensibilities but the whole rigmarole is bequeathed from the Indian Educational System. Today I will mark my share of the exam and have given up doing all the marking of my own exams especially in this case since I didn’t even set the questions. I have a challenging three weeks ahead whereby I must complete my work on time and retain my fragile sanity.
The glory days are over at Tsenkharla. From my room I hear the drone of a tractor leveling the remnants of an historic classroom in favor of a new academic block. The construction is yards away from the most precious hundred foot tall cypresses which I love wholeheartedly. They cut one of the babes a twenty foot tall cypress now splintered in the gravel pit. Yesterday a line of students in shiny gho and kira proceeded to yank Shawn’s hazelnut trees out of the idyllic field below my hut. They were attempting to transplant them ahead of the groundbreaking of a new hostel below my house. Right now when I look out there is nothing between me and the Matterhorn’s and saddleback approximately eighty miles away in Tawang. Before the gaping maw of the vale is a terraced field dotted with lolling and lowing cows and my beloved rock and vista cruise or launch pad for teleportation. Eventually there will be a bustling encampment of interned borders. The view from my house instantly neutralizes any travail’s I’m experiencing and immediately pries open my heart. So the glory days are gone, let’s get on with it! A few minutes ago I was surrounded by a huddle of class eight students wanting to know answers from their exam. It was the last time I’d gather with that constellation of pupils and it was bittersweet around the impressive Rangthangwoong stone.
Right now Pema and Nima are preparing supper after my walk up a lovely trail, the back way to Darchin. The trail traversed through gold and crimson oaks with stunning views of Brongla looming above a heart shaped pasture nearby Darchin Gompa. The mellow gold was angelic at last leaving a halo over the rounded peak. The forest was tinted in autumnal shades and a spanking moon was imprinted on a royal blue sky. Not a cloud or trace of vapor appeared in the sky which is exceedingly rare and there was also no haze to speak of. Different features and pinnacles could be clearly seen in every direction along with the dragon’s tail and the impossible spire of Tshongtshongma. The light was clean with ribbons visible in the ether as if light beams were consciously zipping along in tandem. I followed a tangent and sat below a twisted oak in thick forest with a wall of dappled vegetation ablaze in the setting sun. I made quite a nest from crunchy oak leaves and watched the sun disappear behind a pyramid mountain, soon after the temp dropped. On my way back to Shakshing I discovered a cluster of homes I never saw before with a Mani wall and some prayer flags. It was a beautiful spot with a cypress tree that split into two at the top. The ethereal light lingering in the treetops along with sleepy birdsong I felt right at home. At moments like these I wish the devil would appear and tell me to sign on the dotted line trading my soul for permanent residence at Tsenkharla. We know life is impermanent and things must be torn asunder but I’ll remain a mountain man until my dying day.
I went to the office before my walk but my colleagues didn’t turn up for marking, so I did a few essays before the rumbling of the tractor ten feet away drove me out of there. I found the forest entirely more peaceful with the awesome radial spreading out into a vibrating living breathing mountain mandala.
Along with Nima and Pema Chedup Pema Wangchuk has been coming around these days. He’s a peculiar boy knocking on my door then hiding in the shadows. He did this for forty five minutes before I caught him red handed on a very cold night. He is also a Kidu student and a goodhearted albeit strange lad. It’s Saturday night and the boys sing and brighten the hut as we are saying farewell to Nima who will be departing the school at the year’s end. It’s a fancy dinner with beef (tough by your standards) Q Wa with eggplant, fried egg, milk tea with boxed milk and biscuits. This is about as good as it gets in the food department up here. The landscape remains hazel with golden highlights and is still lush on the western slopes while the riverbed by Gongsa is tawny and browning by the minute. My love for this land is as BIG as it gets. Its late-night Saturday and the fellas just left after a scrabble game. They took it pretty seriously and this time we even played the game correctly. The Warden and neighbor did come by and scold us for our exuberance and shouting. I was sneezing and farting my way through the match and this got a bit hysterical but I won the game and we even used all our tiles.
“We can share the women we can share the wine…”
Another glorious Sunday but I awoke with a legit head cold but nonetheless I trekked up to Nankhar to meet Karlos and Lynn and take in another Tsechu. Despite being November it was hot in the direct sun following the new dusty road to the small settlement and Lhakhang tucked into a secret cirque. This Tsechu doesn’t have the juiciness of a Shakshing or Zangtopelri with simpler chams and less crowds including no students. When I arrived I was welcomed into the VIP seating where Lynn was already chatting with the Nankhar Lama and his cousin sister. I’ve enjoyed having Lynn as my nearest neighbor and have been able to get together with her a handful of times this year. Despite being almost sixty she trekked the steep incline from Kiney joining Nawang from Sep the last bit of the journey. A warm cup of tea after a trek is one of life’s simple pleasures from our box seats with views of Shampula, Tshongtshongma and deep into Tawang. A few wispy clouds brushed the azure and I enjoyed watching the villagers gather in their finest gho and kira. Of course Lynn was decked in blue Taegu and Kira where I looked like a Thamel advertisement in knock off trekking gear. The Atsara’s harassed the comely dancers and Lynn remarked that they were playing silly buggers with their penises. Must be antipode lingo! I’ve always liked the Nankhar Lama with his roly-poly build and gentle voice. Maybe I like him because I’ve seen him levitating in a trance wielding a torch chasing away ghosts. His cousin a plump lady from Thimphu led Lynn and I into the Lhakhang to receive a blessing. It’s a nice Lhakhang fancier than Shakshing but not as ornate as Zangtopelri. It’s a government temple with beautiful wooden floors and 108 Buddha statues underneath a large smirking Guru flanked by impressive 3-D Yeshi and Mandarava sculpted in bronze and wearing kira and crowns. On the altar large torma’s made of buttery substance with Mayan style geometrical complexities served to banish any lingering malevolent spirits or ghosts. We lit some butter lamps and I said a prayer for the reader. The highlight of the afternoon was hanging out with Nawang and her friend Pookina a chipmunk cheeked woman with a grill of fanged teeth. All my lovers have fangs it’s the mark of the beast for me. She is married of course with three kids but affectionate snuggling up close in the tented shop drinking a beer that I had sponsored. I did my “Hands Across the Himalayas” routine pinching and caressing her cheeks and looking into her warm brown eyes to the bemusement of her village cronies. I also saw Karma Om and her little rug-rat hatchet boy who has grown to my waist but still knew my name and I joked with Prabu that we were always meeting on Sundays. I left unceremoniously and alone descending via Shakshing down the mountain at a slow pace knowing that I’d feel worse stuffed up in my cold cement hut. On the way down I breezed by the huge Dakini Chorten that is under construction near Lama’s house with views to eternity. Inside unpainted tantric statues including a carnal Buddha with three faces making love with his consort complete with dangling scrotum his shaft vanishing up genitalia. Yummy! What struck me about this depiction is it seemed so real, fluid, passionate even erotic (It’s an orgy y’all and everyone’s invited) The two figures twisted together, Buddha bearing his teeth while SHE puckered her lips. It had been a long time since I shared such an embrace but I try to achieve unity with my own situation. It’s a blessing that LOVE exists on this planet so I said a prayer for all lovers and the rest of us still stranded and waiting. One thing I’ve realized is that LOVE exists in many forms and we all can share IT. Maybe that nonsense about a heart divided is true.
Another rough day on the farm but still if the devil came around with his contract I’d sign in blood (covenant) what is it then that makes this place so alluring for some of us? Perhaps it’s like a sailor (just ask Ahab…at the bottom of the sea) once a sailor gets that saltwater in his veins land won’t do. Perhaps it is so with Bhutan for a few of us. It’s a challenging and interesting life where one can make a difference. Sometimes it seems we don’t make the impact we desire though. Today was a central marking fiasco and I have a nasty cold to boot. I did the lion’s share of my own test but still Sangay Tenzin was on my case after he showed up late reprimanding me for this and that the odor of doma making me queasy. It was in the air as Prabu and another teacher were quarreling and everyone seemed a bit snippy for a GNH country. I ordered tea and snacks from the canteen to smooth the mood and finally after seven hours my work was completed. It’s turn and burn and the welfare of the student is not always considered. In my opinion the system sucks and most BCF teachers except one that I’ve queried agree. Today I felt like an alien even after years on the mountain and I guess that will never change either. Oh well despite feeling shitty a full moon rises over the dragon’s tail and the Matterhorn snowfields gleam reflecting the high Himalaya seen from my hut in the middle hills through fronds of shriveling banana trees. Hills and dales everywhere and there’s no place else I want to be. Sine I’m complaining again I’ll add that the water situation has deteriorated ah ha those challenges again that are so frustrating yet addicting. Somehow I’ve built a life for myself here outside the dancehall and it’s even more gratifying. It’s nice to find ones purpose in this mixed up world now if only I could drop the storylines and learn to be.
“And when the day had ended, rainbow colors blended…”
What is your secret fantasy? Do you dare disclose? What would you wish for in The Guru’s Grotto? Even if you get it you still have to wallow in the muck of mundane existence so better get our hands dirty. I won’t share my secret desire but I will say I want to be weird. I don’t know if a wife and children are in my future or where I will live…I just wanna be weird! As weird and natural as the Brongla Gremlin. When you close your eyes do you see shifting patterns and orbs of purple light? Or do your ears ring with the bells of hell when you’re trying to sleep? Can’t sleep anyway with a full moon projecting ghostly light everywhere so bright the grass looks eerie green. Shakshing is lit up like a Christmas tree and my mind is coloring outside the lines. A fire hose of thoughts blast from that mysterious blobby brain (take a sip) It isn’t always pretty being human is it? Buddha told us to look at the hottest chicks and picture them as decaying corpses (worm meat) what a turn off man! Yet some tales have it that he and Yasodara got down and dirty in the Pleasure Palace yet Prince Siddhartha turned his back and walked out on a night with the same moon as tonight. He vowed not to return until he found the truth and remedy for ALL suffering. And he did return years later with the answers and presence to convert his father (the King) and entire family to the wheel of Dharma. In doing so it is presumed he never got laid again. That is until he came back as the ravenous Guru Pema. Are such ribald thoughts disturbing you dear reader? I’m guessing if you’re still with the program your down for it.
It’s another sunny day and sick day for me. Dawn was amazing as the contours of the surrounding mountains were razor sharp. I can peel back my curtain crane my neck and see the Matterhorn Peaks so far away in Tawang outlined by saffron burning into the indigo sky.
Muzzled I arrived to work where I entered into a quarrel with hotheaded Tashi Yangzom exchanging harsh words culminating with her telling me to “go to hell!” The whole fuss ended up being my fault and later I apologized. All day I felt sick and isolated excusing myself to go take a long nap. It’s been a rough few days I went to the BHU where Dr. Namsa again put an ice pick looking thing in my ear to remove wax and hit something that made me wince. It might be my imagination but that ear aches although it can’t be too serious since I can still hear and am not wallowing in pain. It’s the day before thanksgiving and I’m snacking on biscuits since no water has flowed from the tap for nearly three days. I feel desolate as the moon soaked mountains, its cold now. I lose the plot every November when teaching stops and admin work begins. MELTDOWN MODE as one friend calls it. Not much to do but crawl into my sleeping bag and call it a day except I’ve slept so much recently that I’m not tired. I’m reading Joyce’s Dubliners an appropriately dismal array of short stories reeking with the air of Samsara. My ear is throbbing, dogs are barking and the fluorescent lights are humming angrily then suddenly blackout.
It’s American Thanksgiving, that’s the running joke of the day on my dozen or so conversations with Becky (We set a new record for conversations in a day) I also called veteran Scott Harris and reminded him what day it was. He retorted, “Today’s thanksgiving, wow I should be home for that!” I had a thanksgiving feast at the mess with bits of chicken, emadatsi and dhal. That constitutes all the fixings around here. My Principal tried to prank me by coming in the staff room and telling me that my contract extension had been rejected. I had already received confirmation from headquarters so he didn’t get me but I was tickled at the sentiment. Meanwhile a tractor roars outside my house two hours after dark as groundbreaking for the new hostels in the vacant field below my house has begun. A smoldering tawny moon sears a vortex of ominous clouds. I’m grateful to be here and enjoyed a peaceful walk up the ridge to Shakshing encircled by a murder of crows.
“You know this song it ain’t never gonna end…”
A cold night as the rat tries to push through my jerry built barricade but is rebuffed. They are intelligent in the sense they remember timings and exits like cat burglars or matriarchal elephants and their watering holes. I despise them still and shiver at a sighting. Winter brings them in. Pema Chedup just fetched me a bucket of water but didn’t stay since he has a Physics Exam in the morning. A few class seven boys came by asking me to summarize all three stories and I was disappointed they didn’t seem to retain any info from the discourses. Albeit their not the model behaved trio and often space out or blather in class. On an extremely positive note I was impressed with the writing on my Class Eight Exams that were set by a Kamdang teacher. A colleague stated that the overall writing was better than class tens. I drilled them pretty hard on complete sentences and using examples from text and life. Many of the students performed well at least on the short story which I marked. Thankfully he/she chose “Hector’s Great Escape” which is a good story that we spent ample time on.
The sinuous valley stretches like a clam to the east, straight ahead Brongla’s impossibly steep face with oaky tresses gilded. I meet a group of men on the trail carrying pick axes and shovels barefoot and grubby they stink of Ara and offer friendly salutations. The old woman with cropped hair and weathered swarthy face is in rare spirits as she shuffles by barefoot in traditional faded kira (old timers where a more rustic and certainly less elegant cloth) with a toothless smile leading two horses whose lather smells delicious and my stomach growls. A good moment is when you see Sither Wangmo score 53/100 a high mark in a Bhutanese curve a major improvement especially since she’s a sleeper during instruction. She’s a diminutive girl but fast with curly short hair, big buck teeth and cartoonish laugh. Her father a farmer has the same visage and bucktooth unabashed smile. A parent teacher conference in Eastern Bhutan is staring at each other, smiling and bowing. I taught her three years since she’s a repeater but will surely move on this year. Three years ago she climbed the pole of the old classroom (now abandoned and condemned) like a monkey to every ones amusement. She is also a first rate dancer harvesting the fruits of tradition in each step.
Published from Trashigang