–oh the funny ways of the universe…my jeans alone were odd and out of place--
I learned from two tour agents that there is no VISA required for transit through a country. SO! Here are the possibilities—
1. I did indeed need a VISA and should have planned that better.
2. I did indeed need a VISA but it could have been processed upon arrival in Delhi for half of what I was charged…so I “got owned” as my little brother might say. (this is the more likely of the options)
3. I did NOT need a VISA and still…I “got owned”.
--now onto the good stuff—
Three days ago I realized it was October. Seven days ago I realized I was in Bhutan. My time here has been full of unexpected challenges and beautiful adventures. In the first week I was here, I found retreat and tranquility at the park just below the Royal Stadium in Thimphu. I sat next to the river and listened to the sounds of this place. That river is now the river of my mornings…even if I only visit it for a few minutes…its SOOTHMAD rushing makes my day.
I was very fortunate to be allowed to stay with a friend’s family for my first two days in Thimphu. After those two days I moved to Babeca—a village just outside of Thimphu. (now Thimphu proper as it is growing) I woke up every morning to two beautiful tiny faces full of excitement and curiosity for the “Auntie” from a faraway place. It is custom in Bhutan for the generations of a family to live together, so I was lucky to live in a home shared by three generations. This is a beautiful thing to witness, especially in a place that is rapidly changing and preservation of its culture is a major priority. The youngest of the family, beautiful baby Yeki, entertained everyone and could often be found entertaining her uncle, who is a monk. In the last two weeks, I have walked among the clouds as they boomed 20 feet away from me and then swooped up toward the tops of these Himalayan Mountains. By day, those clouds dissolve into a pristine blue sky…only to return again during the night.
I have seen a Himalayan monsoon storm and felt the bone chilling cold of this high place-it’s a little bit closer to the sun where I now make my home. During the monsoon I climbed among the clouds and rain up the slippery slope of the mountain where my host family lives. I am completely “of the desert”, so for me these monsoon adventures were heavenly. MORE WATER IN 24 HOURS THAN I HAD SEEN IN TWO YEARS. For the Bhutanese—not so much. The dirt roads up the mountains are impassible during rain storms, floods are inevitable and their harvests will be damaged if not totally ruined.
I arrived just in time for Thimphu’s Tshechu where I was fortunate enough to witness some of Bhutan’s most incredible religious traditions first hand. I have visited a traditional Bhutanese home and was lucky to be present for a Puja ceremony which was hosted by my host family’s oldest generations. During a Puja a group of monks goes into a home and chants prayer all day in the altar room of the house. The monks’ sounds float rhythmically into the air..and when I think of it, I can still hear them in my ears.
I was a guest at the opening of Bhutan’s National Boxing Tournament—coming from a city where boxing and soccer are GOLDEN, I obviously had an incredible time. The Bhutanese crowd can be compared to a Mexican crowd (minus the insane fights, public urination and trumpets and drums). The peoples’ sense of humor, though I couldn’t understand most of the commentator’s jokes, was so very refreshing. It was also refreshing to watch Olympic style boxing. Bhutan is a peaceful place, so the boxing I have seen in the States and around Mexico would never happen here. (No brutes.)
I had my first meeting with the student s at VAST on October 3. I was amazed. I sat in front of a group of young children who were interested and engaged in conversation. They were excited to learn what I might be able to teach them, and happy to discuss ideas and possibilities for the “strange sculpture” we will surely be making. (in this case “strange” equals contemporary) I was full of excitement and I was full of nerves. There’s much to be taught and much to be learned and so many things pushing, pulling and guiding both.
I’m so very interested in the workings of progress. My interests to this point were guided by ideas of family and values and how progress is made through nurture-I’ve always thought that, for the most part, parents held the promises for a child’s future. I find myself in a funny place now. What happens when your world is completely foreign to the world your parents know? In this place, progress is such a delicate flower. There’s that push and pull situation—a little bit of push a little bit of pull…if one moves more than the other…doom’s day. The situation seems to be an extreme. The parents are teaching the children while the children are also teaching the parents. And while this happens everywhere, it’s a very unique situation here. The children teach parents about things like recycling and the dangers of burning trash. The parents teach children what is was to be Bhutanese—to be Buddhist. That has been a very interesting aspect of my journey so far. I wasn’t raised under any religious belief system. In fact, in many ways organized religion was discouraged. I talked with a friend here about that and he explained that Buddhism is not a religion; it is simply a way of life. It is a system of teaching by which a good human lives by.
I feel a great challenge approaching…one that is much larger than those I expected. Teaching is always a challenge, touching lives is always a challenge, progress is always a challenge. But the challenge I am feeling in my soul probably has much to do with the battle that is stirring in my slumbering parts. In order to carry out this project I had to buy a camera and a laptop—both of which I had never considered owning. I dipped into some of my savings to treat myself to an iPod as well, on account of my dependence upon music in hard times. All three of those gadgets (the iPod especially) were things I detested in the past…and the horror of knowing that I need them now, the horror of knowing that those material things are evidence of “progress and development” and evidence of….
How do you say….
money money money money money (“makes the world go around”?)
well that horror is the most bone chilling and confusing struggle I’ve experienced.
So, countless times, I have sat near the clock tower (center of town) and children come and want to listen to my iPod (thank heaven I don’t like that gangsta shiz). They want to see the photo I’ve just taken or see what it is I’m typing…and what do I do? The best I’ve thought of is to play Bob Dylan for them and to show them photos of themselves and the big blue sky that floats above my home in El Paso. I show them pictures of the dark streets in New York—sky scrapers towering above. I’ve come here to find a balance…to find some truth in what it is to be “modern” and still be pure. I’ve come here to teach them tools that will help them remember as they move forward and I've come here to understand the workings of that "little bit of push little bit of pull". But…I couldn’t come without these items, without these things. And I could never tell the kiDdO that he shouldn’t see my camera or my iPod or my laptop. Why shouldn’t the Bhutanese have what the world has?
And so there’s the situation. I won’t find that balance immediately…I know that. But I must say that I have never felt so small…the tremendous power of the mechanisms of progress cannot be avoided. The tremendous power of change and preservation cannot be avoided.
I am in the Kingdom of Bhutan…its capitol city booms with the strange workings of its current situation. The monks walk by on cell phones, the people wear traditional dress, children laugh and play in the streets, tourists take their pictures and buy Nepali goods before even thinking to ask if they’re Bhutanese. Traditional Bhutanese music plays in the shops on one block and on the next you hear modern Bhutanese music…and on the next you hear American pop music. I bought some antique bamboo baskets for my apartment (and really for Lola). When I came back to work, everyone asked me why I bought the old ones. I sat silently for a moment (old things, to me, are so very precious) and finally said, “In the U.S. you have to search for such beautiful old things. Americans don’t like old things…" They prefer shine. I prefer EVIDENCE. My friends immediately understood what I was saying.
I cannot deny my nerves and I cannot deny this confusing sense of hypocrisy I am feeling. But I also cannot deny my excitement and the simple fact that this journey has begun. It may not have begun when I arrived in Bhutan and it surely will not end when I leave.
I smile when I remember my excitement over the unexpected down pour of rain that filled the mountains with water a week after I arrived. I smile when I realize that that rain will surely be the first of many unexpected and beautiful surprises during my time in Bhutan. I smile because though I may not see them yet, I feel the challenges that lie ahead of me…and I feel the beautiful tremendous terror of what it is to be AWAKE.
And so…….she just keeps going! VARROOOOOOOOOM!
With a smile….I send my warmest greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan.