Sunday, January 3, 2010

new year goodness

And so the final day of 2009 was graced with Bhutan’s first snow fall. At about 4:45 in the morning I sat straight out of the bed. I could hear the few cars that were moving about Thimphu, rushing over the water on the expressway. I realized immediately, that at the very least it must have been raining. Sure enough, this desert gal had the joy of pulling back the curtain only to find slushy rain falling from the sky. The city was blanketed and white, and the enormous presence these mountains usually have took on a soft ghostly appearance as the bitter cold made its way round and round the Thimphu air. After a short while, the slushy rain stopped and that delicious pre-snow silence landed gracefully over the valley. The snow began to fall…from the balcony I tried to snap off a few photos and decided my memory and whatever echoes it left in my eyes would serve as a better record of that misty night. By the time morning hit, the snow fall was ending…whiteness blanketed the mountains and trees as the sun began its compromising with the clouds. By noon, most of the snow in town would be melted.

When I arrived at VAST to meet some of the students I was filled with tingles, chilly chills and extreme levels of excitement…they were expecting my excitement. At least once a day for the last few weeks, I’ve mentioned the snow that has been falling in the desert where my faraway home is. I keep saying “I traveled all the way to the Himalayas! I thought I’d see snow I’ve never seen before…and now I’m here and it’s snowing at home!” So as I drove up to meet them, I stuck my head out the window and let a snowy scream loose. We immediately decided working would not be the best way to spend our day…sure it would be the most “responsible” way to spend our day…but not the all together BEST way to spend our day. And so, I let them choose the snowy destination. We asked one “older” person where they thought we should adventure off to…but I figured I should follow the same fact I always follow—when it comes to things of a beautiful and ever joyful nature, children absolutely always know best! And so we boarded the city bus toward Dechenchholing in hopes of grand snow filled adventures. After some walking in different directions we ended up back where the bus dropped us off—we hadn’t found nearly enough snow to satisfy our snow ball fight standards. We stood discussing our options and Pala pointed up toward a far off mountain and said “Madame! We should take a cab to Tango!!” I looked into the distance as they explained the location of the monastery. As is usually the case when the students lead me on adventures, I had no idea where we were going. The misty mountain was hiding the monastery beautifully from my eyes. But of course, I immediately started looking around excitedly for a cab. I may not have had any idea where they were taking me, but I did know, that if we were going to find sufficient amounts of snow for our fun time purposes we would have to go up up and away..where the mist met the earth.

A soap box cab pulled over and the children asked him if it would be possible for all seven of us to go together to Tango. He giggled and looked at us, his eyes examining ours to see if we were well behaved enough to pack into a tiny cab without causing disasters. He gave us the rate and allowed us the ride. Initially, we all packed in together. After we got out of the danger zone of police doom’s watchful eyes, two kids packed into the trunk (full of laughter and excitement). We went up up and away.

On the way we passed a giant mural painting on the rock side of a hill. The cab driver looked at me and said “Madame, just here you’ll see our Guru Rinpoche!” I started looking out the window intently and excitedly. We went around a bend and there he was-his HUGE being painted boldly upon the stone cliff…water running beside him. This is one of the loveliest and most admirable aspects of the Bhutanese way I have had the honor of witnessing. They are truly connected to their faith, to their beliefs and to their land and the precious nature of its existence. The youthful and the elder all know why things are done…they know why beauty is placed upon beauty…they know where simple beauty lives. They don’t go on and on about it, they don’t really even bring it up often…it is simply in them.

We travelled up the winding road a ways more and the cab stopped, the driver kindly informed us that if he drove us all the way up to Tango he’d have to charge double the rate…we immediately got out of the cab and were happy to have found the place where we would make our snowman and start our “winter war” (after the second snow fall of my life in El Paso, I wrote a story about a grand snowball fight between my neighborhood and the one west of it in the seventh grade called “The Winter Wars”-I’ve only just remembered that story) We attempted making a snowman which turned out to look more like a gentle deformed cone and then Pala threw the snowball that would lead to the joy of the day.

I watched him run toward the old cottage across the road and lob a snowball in the direction of a monk who was going back inside to warm up. At first my body froze in fear that he had disrespected the monk. To my COMPLETE surprise, ten minutes later there were five monks outside waging war on all of us. Snowballs flew through the air as we tried our best to defend our keep. But as I now know, monks are graced with very peaceful gifts…but they are also graced with the ability to throw snowballs at tiny targets from 40 meters away and hit their targets dead on. (In an attempt to defend our honor I will say that they had the walls of the porch of the cottage to protect them…we were out in the open…no trees or stones and definitely no walls!)

There are many monks who travel down that road on account of the monastery, so at one point, a friend felt sorry for us and joined our forces in defense against his fellow monks. By then, I had given up on trying to throw snowballs from a safe distance (I have the arm of a two year old infant) and became the snowball making factory. Seven children and one monk formed our offensive (defense would probably be a better word to use, on account of our inadequate skills). There were still only five monks. Our traveling friend and his precise arm was our only hope…

After some time we had only one choice. “Ruuuuuuuuun!” In total, the children were very upset to have fled in surrender twice and begged for truce once. After the battles ended, the monks invited us into the canteen to warm our numb hands, but we stayed outside discussing our next move. The monks thought I was the children’s older sister, and upon learning I was their teacher they were very worried I was upset over the many snowballs they had sent crashing mercilessly into my legs, behind and head. I laughed and said, “if I was that kind of teacher we wouldn’t be here in the first place!”

We bought some snackage and started our walk along the winding road back toward Thimphu. We had limited juice in our phones, no chance of catching another cab and no guts to hitch a ride so we called a friend to rescue us. The walk would have made for a lovely three hours, but it was nearly impossible. Along the way we took photos, collected stones from the stream, Lobzang tried to make a flute from bamboo, Pala took to being an Eskimo/ninja, Palu became the stealthy attacker lobbing snowballs at everyone unexpectedly, Jigme (the eldest) laughed and made commentary, Pema (a beautiful young warrior woman) also made stealthy attacks, fell down a hill and stuffed snow in all our jackets, and “VAST Ugyen” (the tiniest of us all) photographed, provided commentary, became a stealthy attacker, played with bamboo, made trails of packed snow along the road, splashed in the freezing river water and ran toward any glimmer of healthy amounts of snow he saw. After some time travelling on foot, peacefully and slowly, “Uncle Jurmi” drove around a bend to our rescue after some time. Of course, VAST Ugyen greeted him with a snowball against his car.

We journeyed back to Thimphu with smiles and frosty fingers…and so our snow day ended.

I go forward in the company of beautiful beings and shared joy…as always there is more to come.

I send my warmest greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan!

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