Thursday, November 19, 2009

Binnacles and compasses.

give it some gas...slam on the left turn...then a sharp right....then a nice fat U turn...then a nice steep climb...some serious gas....sudden brakes again...then sit in the car and wonder which direction to go next.

Keeping momentum is hard.
So many things boom into each other all at once that its difficult to know precisely how to do what it is you're meant to do. it's been difficult to move with no binnacle to support my ever-wavering compass. i find myself writing quite a bit. (Her wall is covered in post it notes...none make any sense-Gancho asked her "i don't understand any of those yellow notes on your wall--one says 'where are you from?'"...we both laughed.) i write because i'm finding it easier to sort through this process by vomiting out these fragments of some kind of something.

before coming to bhutan i set my mind on not setting my mind on anything. i prepared for my journey with limited expectations because i knew the way in which the journey unfolded would be beyond my control. so many of the experiences i've had have been lovely and beyond anything i could have imagined. other experiences have been a bit difficult to handle...certain predictions-dare i say fears-have been very hard to swallow. it's never felt quite like it does now- to be a "woman".
i sat in on a meeting a couple of weeks back and someone actually said (something like) "A man will never be like a woman, he will never be pretty. And a woman will never be like a man, she'll never be strong." Of course that's all there is to be a woman and a man... ??


i'll do a performance soon. it will likely be private and i'll be the 'woman' that i am. i was compelled to do it in the first weeks that followed my arrival, but now it is far more than a matter of simple compulsion. Women in Bhutan are absolutely fortunate. they are definitely given equal opportunities. but there's an attitude present that cannot be denied. that attitude is present in so many places across the world. of course it's entirely up to women to decide they'll grab whatever is in front of them (and especially the things that are not) and fly up up up and then up some more.
two weeks ago, i spoke with a friend and all she could tell me was "xoch you have to understand you're here under very unique circumstances
doing a very unique thing. you're a female artist who was granted money from an american agency to come here. you're only 25. you flew across the world alone to come and work for free. and you want to weld. of course its awkward!"
i've never been the type of woman who wasted time being concerned with what it is to be an "ideal" woman. but i did spend the majority of the first twenty years of my life looking in a mirror. i was a ballet dancer. i dedicated myself to perfecting every muscle in my body. every line was trained for grace. i wasn't born with the long legs and delicate frame ballet dancers are supposed to have so i worked hard...and i used every ounce of discipline and energy i had trying to perfect the "person in the mirror". but all that was fine because i learned (rather quickly) that dancing wasn't about my body. it was about so much more. when i reached my teenage years, my relationship with the mirror was one that grew out of a desire to look the way i (xochitl) wanted to look. in time..i wasn't concerned with actually having the long legs or the delicate frame...quite honestly i despised the idea of having that.
since i've arrived in Bhutan, i've caught myself looking in the mirror again only now i'm not looking in the mirror to make sure xochitl is looking like xochitl...i'm looking in the mirror to see what i may look like to other people. several people who i've met and a few of my friends have no reserve in telling me how "healthy" i look...some will even say flat out "fat". all of that is fine...and even amusing at times. but it's been a bit of a slap in the face and a little poke at my heart. beauty in any person grows out of all those intricate and ever-lovely things that live far beneath (and beyond) the shell of a body our soul lives in.
i am (kind of sort of) an "American". every store i go to in the States houses magazine racks filled with covers depicting nearly anorexic celebrities (or nameless "skinny" women in some cases). i am no stranger to depictions of the "ideal" woman.

and i am no stranger to the effects of the viral nature of that depiction.

i enjoy being a LADY...but i will never do the blah blah blah whatever it is i'm 'supposed' to. (i tried-it went KABOOM in my face) makes a big giant BLEH in my stomach-that empty "ideal".

(these are the warrior women of all the world)

and so...
xochitl went to the mechanic's shop today. to get there we drove right down into the mouth of the same winding snake that takes us to Paro. we crossed the river at some point and then plopped the green bullet (that's the car) down into the mechanics' shops. (the shops live directly at the opening of a runoff from the mountain. they flood every time it rains.) the garage doors are lined up one after another--the set up is the same as the "junk shops" on doniphan in west el paso. there's oil everywhere and it smells delicious. rusted and new metal pieces are all over the place...the sound of heavy machines and hammers was music to my ears. i could have gone to a fence building shop in Thimphu but it seemed to be difficult to schedule...but difficult things always seem to be hidden blessings in Bhutan.
i couldn't be happier. that complex is like a dream. the sound of labor, real hard labor, bangs in the air...Hindi is spoken all's beautiful for a gal like me to think of working in such a lively and lovely place. reminds me of Mexico or Canutillo (just outside of el paso). photos of these adventures will come soon.

i was lucky to get some help in scheduling some time to was almost postponed again but i refused to let that happen. this morning this LADY (xochitl) welded.
oh goodness it felt so wonderful to get filthy. of course, there were only men working in said complex. yesterday, when my friend, Jurodui and i walked in, he introduced me and explained that i was the lady that needed to weld. immediate response: laughter- which made me laugh. there was a misunderstanding and the man was under the impression that i was ordering a boat and a bridge to be made by him. my immediate response: laughter. i explained that i would just need a little guidance with the welding machine (i had never seen one quite like it) and the rest i could do on my own. the mechanics seemed curious and were definitely excited. oh the joy of EXCITEMENT and ENTHUSIASM--we agreed to learn from eachother! no one, i'm certain, especially not a 'woman' has ever come to them for help concerning art. and so it is my be the first. (first in many many ways, i'm sure.)

and so here we go! Jurodui and i walked into the mechanic's shop, i sported my dungarees for good luck purposes-texas boots on my feet. of course, i was greeted with a giggle and many many onlookers. before arriving i knew there had to be method in my delivery (or madness from the onlookers perpectives) so i immediately grabbed the rebar rod and began to cart it around the mechanic's shop. and so the pace was set. the day was incredible. noise everywhere, absolutely no hope of communicating through language, a balcony lined with 30 curious and shocked onlookers, and xoch maneuvering her way around a big juicy boat-Dulal (the welding expert of the world) helping her, filled with half amusement half confusion half excitement. that's right-150 total!
and so the boat was assembled. hand gestures were perfected, laughter was had, barriers were melted...and of course, the 'ideal' was ignored.


and onto some not so...........??.........stuff.

November 20 marked the 20 year anniversary for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Only two countries in the world have yet to be a part of this Convention. Can we guess which those are.....Somalia and the good ol' United States of America. ouch. VAST collaborated with Unicef and the National Convention for Women and Children to organize a week long celebration for the children in Thimphu. There were painting, drawing, and poetry competitions for the children. The final products of the week long celebration were over one hundred drawings, paintings and poems as well as three beautiful murals-all expressing the rights of the child as children saw them. Several groups of youngsters were invited to help create the mural paintings. Young monks and nuns, children with disabilities, groups of elementary school students and, of course, all the children who normally spend their days roaming through and playing in the streets of center-city Thimphu all took part in the creation of the stunning murals. The entire week was beautiful-children danced, sang, played and created art. The clock tower was filled with color and life and the event was another beautiful example of VAST's ability to carry out such incredible and moving projects. The murals were exhibited and accepted with warmth and appreciation and the entire event was hugely successful.

While the entire celebration was carried out beautifully, one tiny moment in one day deserves mention.
xochitl writes a mini-sort-of-story.

Tiny Lungten stood in front of the massive mural, gho (that's the Bhutanese traditional dress for men) covered in dirt, grime under his unclipped nails, knees skinned scraped and scarred. He sported an empty pink backpack-a tattered doll dangled from its zipper. His little hand reached down to grab a paintbrush and he began to paint his masterpiece.
Lungten smiled and sang as random lines, shapes and numbers flew onto the canvas.
He was happy.

Before Lungten could choose his next color and move onto his next spot on the giant canvas he was chased away. Lungten was too naughty to help create the mural. Lungten was too naughty to be guided instead of rejected.

Only 'good' kids had something worthwhile to say. Only 'good' kids could express themselves during the 20th Anniversary Celebration for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Working with children is always a challenging undertaking. Their impressionable nature inevitably leads to this push and pull that constantly moves and freezes you. How close to their level should I get? How authoritative should i be? i have never had a problem RAISING (some may not consider it an upgrade) myself to a child's level.

Lungten is my friend. i see him often, wandering through the streets of center-city Thimphu, his tiny home made bow and arrow strapped to his back. He's a firecracker of a boy. He constantly observes, constantly watches everything and though we have trouble communicating through language, we always understand one another. He dances like a dream and always lacks fear in his delivery. His stare is fierce and wiser than his age would indicate, but on the afternoons we've spent exploring together, he has never failed to timidly hold my hand.
Just minutes before Lungten was evacuated from the clock tower, two of his friends revealed the sadness of Lungten to me. i walked by the boys as they drew depictions of their rights as children. Their paint covered fingers pointed at Lungten as they asked me, "Are you his friend madame? He said you are."
i replied that i was everyone's friend and definitely Lungten's too. The boys looked at me with concern in their eyes and said, "His parents madame...his parents dead."
i looked down at Lungten, then back at the boys-their eyes were still full of concern. i smiled and said, "well that's probably why he isn't afraid of anything isn't it?"

The boys smiled and before i knew it, Lungten was singing and dancing to Hindi songs.
He is six years old.

Of the many striking things I've seen in my two months in Bhutan-all of which have been tremendous and beautiful in ways i couldn't have imagined-Lungten's evacuation from the Clock Tower Square that day has been the most difficult for me to accept. I cannot be silent. Children that live in Lungten's circumstances are
the youngsters who are most at risk. His booming brain and soaring spirit are just as valuable as any 'good' kid's might be. and in a place like Bhutan, where the future of a people will be carried out by the minis, every child deserves their moments. In every place, including my home across the world, all the minis matter.

i have no barriers or boundaries in terms of the amount i would give in sharing and exchanging with people (both mini and not-so-mini). i understand that carries some implications with it..and at times puts me, and those i'm sharing with in a very vulnerable position. but this has been in me for much longer than i can fathom...and so i carry on the way the women of my family have for generations...without fear. "it's not about changing the world-you can't change other people", my friend who operates the green bullet keeps telling me, "you can only change yourself." and so it is.

i continue to listen and absorb. i continue to smile at the binnacle that's gone missing...and my compass that never fails to waver.

To be a stranger.
To move forward and backward at once.
To feel at home in two places.
To want to push.
To want to pull.
To want to leave and stay.
To speak without speaking.
To be challenged and to be harmed.
To protect and damage.
To be silent.

--just a few "to...'s"--

all these "to....'s" are part of my machine's operations these days-they're all part of some process (whichprocessitmightbeidon'tknowyet!) but IT's ALWAYS the PROCESS. The funny thing is that there's always lag in the process. The spark will happen and months, if not years later, I get to a point where I can really bring all the levels of the process together. And here I am. One year (less now) to understand what is happening around me, to understand what is happening to me, to understand what I'm doing, what my presence alone is doing. Keeping your hands off the wheel is one of those ultimate KABOOM situations...KABOOM because its almost impossible and you're likely to crash at least once when you try to let go and KABOOM because if you manage it, so much floating and freedom sends you everywhere so very fast and you're likely to crash-ev.

but i'll go forward my my the freedom that is born out of flight is GLORIOUS.

i send my warmest (Holiday!) greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan.

--himalayan hug sent via wind currents and dissolving/forming clouds...and the snow flakes i hear are falling in the desert and not in the himalayas!--

p.s. to view more photos from the CRC celebration you can visit:
and i shall provide one more link the coming days with the photos i've taken. cheers!