Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dear Mother,

from my journal--21/1/2010
dear mother,
how do you watch that tick tock kaboom about
you must know it's a ticking time bomb?
goes off to scream look at me?
goes off the scream help me?
goes off to scream

Torn between two worlds
one foot there one foot here
(both feet nowhere)
some mass grows here, mother
In between one oblivion and the next
Practice practice, they all try to practice
(do they all know how to practice, mother?

oh mother,
all these things they send
all these things they do
they're just messages to you
And that abyss between two oblivions dwells there in their messages (razorsonitsedges)

Too deep and dark
There are no compasses here
There is only you
and the children.
Mother what will you do?
(KABOOM is sure to come)

i've been hesitant to post entries from my journal, but after these last couple of weeks...i simply cannot ignore the "kaboom" anymore. if i ignore it, at this point, it would be harmful to the children i came here to work with and learn from.

VAST held its annual winter camp in Phuentsholing (that crazy city on the border). it was held in conjunction with the Youth Development Fund branch there. the idea, as i understand it, was to invite children from Phuentsholing in order to get an art club started at that YDF branch. the workshop went well...for the most part, the participants learned water color, acrylic, charcoal and pencil techniques in drawing and painting. i had to arrive late on account of yet again, some Indian VISA delays...but once i arrived, as much of my time here has been spent, i figured out how i might fit into the plan for the workshop...and got down to spending time with the children. the week went well...and the final exhibition which was the product of the workshop was great. some of the VAST children and i worked on sculpture pieces and produced a total of five small scale works. They were all fantastic...and i was happy to see their faces fill up with pride when they completed the work. there was a sky scraper constructed out of recycled boxes, an ancient tripod made of sticks, a candle holder that was a robot, a relief map of a united Asia and a giant bird nest (the construction of this one "Madame Xochitl" led). It was strange to hear the work be described with hesitation and little explanation (especially considering it was a new form of art in Bhutan) but as i've learned, new things are always introduced with hesitation in this careful land. all in all the exhibition was a beautiful success...and the children had a wonderful time--that's what matters most.

and THAT is precisely what makes it impossible to ignore the sirens i juggle around in my ears everyday. i cannot stay quiet anymore. i have to talk about the things i've been hesitant to mention. i'll share more from my journal:

slept alone in white marble last night. sleep was easy somehow-don't know how. sounds of beastly trucks moving goods over dirt roads and distant suffering seeped into my ears in the moments before i fell asleep (there's a tent city way over yonder--shit trails leading away from it toward the river--the kids tell me "these Bengalis take crap anywhere" i say "is there somewhere else for them to do that?" they say they don't know). the sound of dogs going to war against eachother. vicious dogs...hungry, homeless and roaming. (it's a slow war) shadows oozed across the blank wall in my empty room. me and a dark door and all these sounds resonating in my ears, pulling my heart into oblivion.
i wonder now how i slept in that bed knowing there were people sleeping in hay in that tent city 200 meters away from me. (it's orange season, so they set up camp there) i lay in the bed remembering that little boys face...smiling after he swung a stick at mine. did an eleven year old boy really swing a stick at my face? or did i just imagine that...the infinite sadness i still feel inside my soul tells me it was indeed real. how did i sleep in that bed...when i know-when i have seen what i have seen. i fell asleep remembering my fear and that infinite sadness i can no longer deny that has grown out of this journey...and into it.
i pause and look out my window...this is the most beautiful view i have ever had the joy of looking out at...the river winds up up up the mountain.

my time here has been trying, but the fortress i have built in me is strong. so many years spent wondering about the how's and why's...and the clumsy movement i have surrendered to so many times. and here i am a place that won't let me ignore those questions and that a place that forces these things into my heart more powerfully than a place that will not answer those a place that begs me to surrender to that movement (tumble down down down)...
how did i fall asleep?

when i came on this adventure i expected to change, i expected to experience things i could never have dreamed i would experience in my life...i knew it would be difficult, i knew i would see the world-its reality put right in my face. and i was ready for that, or at least i was as ready as i could have been. i craved and needed that. i knew i was young...i felt that gave me something different to offer...i was happy to be a young woman, coming across the world to teach and make art. after having spent four months here, i find myself fumbling my way through a dark room--hands out in front of me desperately trying to prevent a crash. this happens anytime we go far away from what we know...from what we are. but this particular journey, is unique to say the least. and the dark room i find myself in at times, is different from any i have ever known.

while in Phuenstholing, i was swung at with a nice big stick. the boy who fancied himself a slugger must have been twelve years old. this is a pretty huge problem in Bhutan. the youth are going through things elder people don't know anything about. the youth are doing things elder people know NOTHING about...and at times it seems they prefer turning a blind eye. it's an adventure every time i take my students on foot anywhere. without fail, one chunk of kids falls behind or gets distracted...and the moment that happens, other kids that spend their days "roaming" through the streets pull them aside and steal from them, threaten them, give them a few wacks until they surrender the five rupees they're carrying or the bracelets on their wrists. i usually manage to stop "beatings" and "wrecking"...and the children smile and thank me, but in my heart, there is an undeniable feeling of immense sadness that grows in me everytime it happens. i'm not's just a temporary fix. the kid will turn around and do it to the next kid that comes around.

in Phuenstholing, this happened again. Rebecca, myself and two kids, Drakpa and Lobzang, were coming back from main town. we walked along the river to get to the YDF youth hostel. the slate path was dark and long. we ran into a group of boys and of course, they pulled Drakpa aside to steal his mobile phone. rebecca and i are both tiny...we don't look very i imagine the boys had no idea we were significantly elder to them. after getting away from them once, two of the boys followed us and grabbed Lobzang. i began to follow them and demand they let him go. they wouldn't and by the end of it, i was flinching at the stick that was coming straight for my head. the boy smiled at my fear, his stick one inch from my face...he was one foot shorter than me. luckily, a man was taking a jog and the boys ran away thinking he was coming to help (which of course he wasn't). we walked back to the hostel as quickly as we could and i had a nice long talk with the boys. i found out later that the boys were asking Lobzang for cigarettes.

in reality, the kids weren't looking for cigarettes or a mobile. the matter is simple. they don't have anything to do. they're floating and lingering without any sense of direction, without any explanation for the world they were exposed to in 1999 (t.v. was introduced here in '99), without any oars to steer their boats through this mysterious ocean that is "development." When such a huge change clicks over night of course it takes time for the balance to tip back into place! the legs have to catch up to the brain, the torso...etc. it's only natural for some flailing to occur. certain things are to be expected. i have spent lots of time with youth. i see, talk to, spend time with kids everyday for hours. i have seen some things i (maybe) wish i hadn't seen, i've been told some things i (maybe) could have gone without hearing...but i came here for a reason. i could easily say, and i have in one email home to my mother, that i wish i had come as a tourist. that route is an easy one. tourists come, see the world's "last Shangri La"...take in the beautiful land, the culture, the pace and sensibility of Bhutanese life and then they go. but i couldn't do that. i have seen a very real side of this incredible place. i have seen a very real side of humans. experiences like the one i had on that walkway with the slugger are the ones that almost make my heart break.

but when i think about it and remember, i came here to meet kids like him. i came here to meet every kind of young person i could...i came here with the hope that i might help give them something to do that didn't involve drugs, "roaming" and beating sticks. i came here because i truly believe art can change the an individual i know i can't and that daring ambition i have always had has dropped down to earth a bit. but if i can teach even ten kids to to USE art to speak with, ask questions with, express themselves with and be brave enough to say what they think then i'll have touched everything...and maybe they will do the same one day. this country is in such a complex situation...and no one has the answers. it is impossible to say exactly what should be done. but i came here to do what i could to help youth FIND A WAY. i came here to give them an extra help them find their own compass. it is clear to me...they are afraid to ask questions, if they even know the questions to ask at all. the system, call it cultural if you like, is hierarchical. elders are at at the top if we look at it in a simple way that applies to everyday people and everyday life. the youth are confused, they are bored and they want the world they were allowed to see in 1999. so what can be done?

there are some serious problems facing youth all over the world, not only in Bhutan. someone's culture and place in no way changes the fact that young people are more vulnerable and impressionable and fragile than any other age group of people. they have the mighty power to change the course of the future of humans. they also carry that great fragility that is built into their nature. however, as i always say, Bhutan is in a very specific and unique situation.

this place and its people have the advantage of being in a position to have enough hindsight to have foresight. they have countries like mine to provide them with an example of how NOT to do things-an example of what works very well and what doesn't. but they have to KNOW what is happening to their youth, and in order to do that, it must be acknowledged that certain things are occurring the way they are...certain causes have had their effects.

perhaps if i had not chosen to work with children, perhaps if i had not chosen to come to Bhutan, perhaps if i hadn't chosen to cross the border to Jaigaon (the city where "people get hacked"), perhaps if i hadn't chosen to teach art, perhaps i could have chosen to work with a different organization in a different city or country perhaps perhaps perhaps...

i would never trade this experience for the easy road. i could never be disappointed in any aspect of this journey, no matter how trying it has been at times. to do that would be unfair to the beautiful children i have met-those children and their booming brains are HOPE PERSONIFIED. to do that would require me to give up some piece of this giant balloon of beauty...and that, quite simply, i could never do.

as always...i send my warmest greetings from the beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

we have officially enjoyed the most fun day ever to exist in the history of all fun days. yesterday, the children and i had planned to go the Memalakha to see the waste situation in Thimphu first hand. because the upcoming exhibition with VAST will be dealing with the garbage issue in Bhutan (more specifically urban areas) i thought it was most important for them to see the city dump. most of them hadn't been taken to the dump and had no idea what to expect...of course, being from the U.S. i thought i had a good idea of what to expect from a solid waste management facility. (some of our dumps are the size of Thimphu City.) and so, we caught a cab to Memalakha and began our adventure.
though i thought i knew what to expect i realized quickly that this city dump was far more awful than anything i could have expected. upon arrival the stench was almost unbearable. the first things we saw were garbage piles, a tractor, and dogs. we walked up toward where the majority of the garbage is kept and the childrens' jaws dropped. we looked at the garbage...the rubbish mountain is half the size of the mountains that surround it. in a place as incredible and pristine as Bhutan, such a sight made me truly sad. i was frightened. i knew the pile would only grow into a mountain the size of all the beautiful ones that live in this Kingdom. most of it is plastic. we talked a bit about what can be done, what should be done and how things are done.
we all left the dump a little shocked and sad. we had no certain way of returning to Thimphu so we walked for a bit down the winding road that eventually leads up to Dochula, one of Bhutan's most beautiful passes. we decided we would try to hitch a ride on one of the many huge goods carrying trucks that roam over the winding snakes of Bhutan. That was probably the most fun any of us had had in a long time. Screaming, waving, and pleading...laughing, getting angry and feeling bad when the empty trucks wouldn't pick us up. Eventually, after finding a strange bag waterfall of shredded money, we caught a ride from a nice man. We climbed excitedly into the back of his massive truck, and sat among stones, the chilly wind in no way hindering our beaming smiles and laughter. we ended up at Dochula, thrilled at our luck and absolute disregard for any concrete plan. we played in snow, walked over fallen tree trunk bridges, made a fire and had some lunch. it all ended with a desperate dash to hitch a ride on another giant truck.
the day was beautiful...full of unexpected adventures, hard lessons, and free flying through the Himalayas!

the children have written for you all again...
Pema Lahm:
"My favourite part was when we went to Dochula. We were asking lift and when we got it we were all excited. We all waved to the people we met on the way.
At Memalakha I gt so frustrated because it smells so bad and it look so dirty. There was dogs staying there. That is because people don't know how to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Thank you."
Tandin Tshewang (Palu):
"My favorite part.
My favorite part was in the truck. It was so funny that our hairs were all stand up because of the wind.
The problem was in Memalakha that the boys were bullying us. We can fix the problem by ignoring.
When we saw the garbage in the Memalakha we were so unhappy as there is like buildings of garbage."
Tandin Tshewange (Pala):
"My favourite part of yesterday was when we went on the truck and our butts were hurting very much because of the small stones trying to get into our butts.
And the problem is that the garbage is not dumped in proper place. The city corporation is also not separating the garbage. And the solution is that our government should put more laborers to do the work and separate the garbage."
"About the Memalakha
Favourite part or time I had was playing on truck and walking along the road.
and when I went to Memalakha I felt very strange because the garbage wasn't on the proper place it was everywhere on the hills on the road and everywhere. Even at the mountain and most of them were plastic the most harmful thing to the nature. The best things to maintain is to use the three R's Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and a strange thing that I saw was pieces of money but we brought in VAST to make something to make sculpture for the exhibition.
Thank you."
Sangay Nidup:
"Yesterday we went to Memalakha and Dochula. We went into the truck and we ate lunch at the Dochula. The Dochula was so cold and my friend Sonam was freeze, he didn't even wear coat. At two o'clock, we came back to the VAST. At five o'clock we went for party. We ate momo and cake.
Thank you."
Drakpa Kekdrup:
"Yesterday 11/01/10 it was very interesting and I will never forget in my life.
It goes like this from Thimphu to Memalakha we the students and Mam Xochitl went to taxi. After we reached there we saw a huge garbage pile up one after another. I was very upset when I saw the garbage and I felt so sad.
When we come back we saw a lot of money that is cut into pieces and I was shocked. I don't know what to do. One of our friend told to collect in my scarf.
We went to Dochula in the truck from Memalakha and when we reached there I first went and play snow. It was my interesting day. We went to one of the hotels and it was closed. We saw a ground and we made fire there and after sometime we ate lunch.
When we come back from there we came in DCM and it was fun. When we reached there we came back in bus. Finally, we reached here without any problem."
Sonam Tshering:
"My favourite part of yesterday is when we went up to Dochula by the truck and clowned by the DCM. I am very happy to have this kind of journey and I always like to learn and play snow when we reach at Dochula. We all are happy when we go down from Dochula. Some of them was hurting their butts when we reached at rough roads and some of their hair was all stand up because of the wind. Thank you."
Lobzang Zangpo:
"Yesterday we went to Memalakha to watch the garbage. There was piled of garbage. We get very upset and we think that we should need machines to reuse. Half of the mountain was garbage. We went back to park and we saw the moneys cut in half in all the ways.
We take lift in the truck and go to Dochula and their we make fire and we came back in another turck. We came back to VAST on the city bus."
'VAST Ugyen' (our unofficial spokesperson):
"My nice part was at truck. In there was small stone. Our problem was that we saw a money beside the road and put the money in the bag and went to Dochula for lunch and came back home in the truck. (Memalakha is bad place for lunch and people throw things in there.)"

Beautiful times continue to be shared...there is always more to come.

As always...we all send our happy greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan!

Sunday, January 3, 2010