Total Pageviews

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Saddest Day in Bhutan

Life is strange and mysterious how it brings people in and out of one’s life.  When I came to Bhutan, I didn’t know one single Bhutanese person and I never imagined that I would quickly become part of a little Bhutanese family.  There was no way to foresee that there would be a little eight-year-old boy who would capture my heart and a dear friend who would teach me many life lessons.  I had no idea that as fast as they entered my life and brought me joy, they would exit my life and I would be overcome with sadness to say goodbye.  For life is filled with change and movement... always embarking us on a new journey...

The day that I had been dreading for months finally came last month.  I ran up to Sonam’s house for our daily luncheon together anticipating the news.  Each step to the final 107 steps that led to her house brought me closer to tears and turned my stomach upside down.  As I reached the top of the mountain and made my way into her house, I took a deep breath and tried to act calm.  In the most normal voice that I could possibly pull off, I immediately asked her, “So what did the letter say?  Are you going?” 

I had never seen her so somber as she tended to the boiling tea on the stove and I knew the answer before she could say, “Yes, my visa for Canada has finally been approved.  Now I just have to get my leave date from the education office and I will soon be moving to Canada to be with Tashi (Sonam’s Bhutanese husband who lives in Canada).” 

I started to zoom around the kitchen doing nonsense stuff turning my head in every direction except towards her so that she wouldn’t see my eyes glossing over with tears.  I tried to sound as peppy as possible saying, “Congratulations! That’s great news, but no rush right?  You have plenty of time to pack and ease the news to Jimmy…” I tried to continue the conversation and be supportive, but my heart was bursting with sadness over the thought of no longer having my best friend with me everyday at school and no longer having little Jimmy buzzing around me all day long, which he had become like a nephew to me.  I could feel a knot in the back of my throat growing with every ticking second and my nose started to scrunch up as I desperately tried to fight back the tears that were about to take over my face. 

Sonam had never seen me cry before and I didn’t want my tears to make her feel sad about moving because I knew first hand how much courage/support is needed to uproot your life when you heart says to do so.  So I hid the waterfall that started to pour out of my eyes by keeping my back turned towards her and I pretended that I had to go to the bathroom really bad!  I stayed in the bathroom for several long minutes silently weeping into wads of toilet paper while hoping that she thought that the reason I was in there for so long was due to too much chili for breakfast (most Bhutanese people eat chili with everything).

I wasn’t ready for my happy, perfect life that I had just created to change once more.  For about six months, I practically lived with Sonam, Jimmy and Dawa and I thought about how different my life in Bhutan was going to be without my friend who took me under her wing and her little nephew who made me laugh everyday.  My mind swam around and around:  I wondered where Dawa would live when Sonam left (Dawa is Sonam’s 17 year-old niece who has lived with Sonam for 4 years and attends a high school nearby).  I worried about how little Jimmy would adjust without his Aunty Sonam who he calls mommy because Sonam raised him since he was a toddler.  I felt sad thinking about how difficult it might be for Sonam and Jimmy to be separated for this moment in time.   

In the bathroom, I consoled myself for a few minutes and then turned the focus on my dear friend.  I thought about how I could make the transition easier for her, Jimmy and Dawa.  I pondered about how I could make Sonam feel great about moving to Canada and how I could help out with the move.  I reminded myself that everything happens for a reason and that there were valuable life lessons to be discovered from this experience.  I also thought about how excited her husband must have been to know that he would soon be reunited with his true love/best friend.  Thus, it took me several minutes, but I was able to shift my energy, stop sniffling and put my messy face back together.  

Lunch Routine
Finally, when I came out of the bathroom, I was nervous that Sonam would suspect that I had been bawling my eyes out.  I tried not to look at her so she wouldn’t notice my new puffy eyes because I truly wanted to be a supportive friend after all the kind things she had done for me.  Whether she knew that I had been crying or not, she kept quiet and we resumed our usual afternoon routine:  sitting outside on the porch side by side eating lunch, drinking tea and gazing at the mountains.  After lunch, I told her all the cool things that she would experience in Canada, such as tasting a McDonalds hamburger for the first time, riding a rollercoaster, seeing a 3D movie at a theater, etc.  I could see her fill up with excitement and we both seemed to perk up a bit as we laughed about how many different types of cheeses she could buy in Canada. 

I learned that when I set aside my sadness about saying goodbye, I am filled with optimism and happiness for my friend’s new chapter in life.  I also become truly joyful for Sonam and Tashi to finally be able to live together again after three years of waiting for her visa; I have seen how much they love each other and how they have been patiently, yet eagerly waiting for this moment.  So it's pleasing to see it finally come true!  

Moreover, sometimes I even get giddy picturing Sonam shopping in large Canadian supermarkets discovering hotter chilies than the ones we eat in Bhutan.  Furthermore, one of the best parts about Sonam moving, was all the fun we had staying up late brainstorming about different business ideas that she could start up in Canada to introduce Bhutanese culture to Canadians.  We would bubble up in excitement about what one could do with all the money our ideas would generate, such as building libraries in Bhutan. 

I view Sonam moving to Canada as something positive and we have spent hours getting carried away laughing and speculating about all the magnificent things that await her.  However, as much as I was supportive, I can’t claim that inside I was always so cheery and rosy about her moving because it hurts to say goodbye, especially when I unexpectedly found out that little Jimmy moved while I was away during summer break (he moved to be with his grandma and biological mom).  Fortunately, overtime the tears slowly retreated as I started to grasp the beginning of my new Buddhist life lesson:  The nature of impermanence!  To be continued…

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eastern Bhutan - Magical Clouds

Tang Valley, Bumthang
During my break, I traveled around Eastern Bhutan becoming intoxicated by the different sceneries: vibrant forests, engulfing clouds, enchanting waterfalls, crumbling dirt roads, etc.  I weaved around mountains that soared toward the sky daring to surpass the clouds.  I fell in love with the green landscapes of rice patties and valleys of farmlands.  At times it was overpoweringly breathtaking, magical and a little scary to dangle my life around ticking landslides. 


On my trip, I discovered that eastern Bhutan’s vegetation differs from my location in central Bhutan.  As I traveled further away from Bumthang leaving behind the flat valley and gorgeous blue pine trees, I was hypnotized by the infinite variety of green leaves that consumed the mountains of eastern Bhutan.  There were vines that trailed along anything they could reach and I admired the way they bravely draped down the sides of the roads trying to grab hold of the passing vehicles.  There were wild looking bushes that looked madly tangled as if they were strangling something and they looked impossible to walk through.  Of course there were also a variety of trees:  tall, small, fat, skinny, etc.  Sometimes from afar, the condense trees looked like heads of broccoli covering the mountains.  However, the best part were the dozens of breathtaking waterfalls that would pop out when I would least expect it as we veered around a corner.  The shooting waterfalls looked like something out of an exotic travel magazine and they never failed to throw me into a snapping, picture frenzy.


I enjoyed the long drive to Trashigang feeling at one with the usual scene of never-ending, staggering 3-D mountains that were often separated by violently swift rivers cutting between the bases.  Sometimes the mountains blended together and I wasn’t sure where one started or ended; I had no idea how I would be on one mountain one moment and then on another mountain the next moment. 

Once in Trashigang, I was surprised to find an environment humid and rich with buzzing insects and thirsty leaches.  My skin became covered with itchy insect bites and I was struggling to breathe the sticky, thick heat.  Moreover, some of the passing cows would freak me out when I would get a glimpse of their necks/backs profusely bleeding from blood sucking leaches tearing into their skin.


Enchanting Rainbow
As I traveled further up to Barsham the air became lighter as well as cooler and I felt blessed to stay the night in a gorgeous monastery.  The monastery had amazing views looking down at tiny villages dressing the slopes of the mountains and my eyes seemed to stretch for miles.  I could also see what looked like the wettest mountains in the world being hammered down under a rain cloud.  However, I wanted more views, which caused me to wish that I could fly across the mountaintops for an aerial view of it all.

I could have easily stayed forever to gaze at the most capturing rainbows that would suddenly appear to steal the scene and make the mountains look like fuzzy backdrops.  Everyone would stop in their tracks to be absorbed into the rainbows enchanting beauty.  Thus, leaving Barsham was difficult because I had fallen in love with the cloudy sky that would sometimes permit the most magnificent views. 


Barer Mountains
Next as I traveled northeast to see the Chorten Kora and Gompkor I was shocked to discover a barer part of Bhutan with sad, small looking trees that were widely scattered apart along drier mountains.  The puny trees had such huge gaps from one tree to the next that I could actually see the weeds and dirt that compiled the mountains.  In addition, other parts of the mountains were rocky and jagged, which didn’t feel like the green Bhutan I adored; my eyes preferred the more life infused jungle-looking areas (beauty is in the eye of the beholder).


Clearing Landslides
Falling Rocks
Road block
Finally, as I traveled southeast to Wamrong, the adventure really started to heighten.  The unpaved roads didn’t provide the easiest travel during monsoon season.  The roads were muddy and rocky screaming DANGER.  At times they became extremely narrow allowing only one passing vehicle and there was messy evidence of landslides everywhere littering the weary dirt roads: fallen piles of dirt, monster roots attached to old trees snapped in half, rocks of every size imaginable, shredded shrubs, etc.  The erosion brought all vehicles to hour long road blocks while Indian workers conducted back aching, grueling labor to clear the way.  On the side of the road while we waited for the removal of the debris, I would gaze up at bare mountainsides realizing that they were missing half of their vegetation from the landslides.  It looked like a giant had used a gigantic spoon to scoop out a side of the mountain and it reminded me that nature is stronger than man; I was aware that at any moment the continuous rain could cause more landslides to come plummeting onto the bus squishing everyone to the size of an ant.

Eerie Roads
Furthermore, the roads were engulfed in fog that gave the most eerie feeling that we were creeping through a death trap and gambling our life with every passing foot.  The bus slowly lurked by boulders larger than me that had tumbled down from the top of the mountain, which my Bhutanese friends refer to as "shooting stones."  Although I should have been shaking in fear, I took comfort in the smell of the fresh, upheaval dirt and stones that had been washed down the mountain being exposed to the sky for the very first time; the smell reminded me of the nutrient-rich soil my dad would buy at a hardware store for gardening.  The memories of my love for gardening with my family gave me enough courage to stick my head out the window to peer down hundreds of feet of crumbling mountain, which caused me to wonder what the statistics were for buses falling off mountains in Bhutan.  I hoped that the fragile dirt roads carved out of the mountainsides were strong enough to hold up the massive weight of the bus filled with people and luggage.


I was relieved to reach Wamrong in one piece where I nested on the very top of a mountain.  The first few days it continuously rained and remained dreary with fog, yet at times it had a romantic appeal to it.  However, I was worried that I wouldn’t get to see anything since the fog would only permit a few feet of visibility.  I wished with every fiber of my body for the fog to go away so I could witness what I had been yearning to see ever since a tourist had peaked my interest about the enchantment of the clouds in eastern Bhutan. 

So on my last day in Wamrong, I could no longer take the never-ending wet fog and rain that seemed to imprison me indoors.  I was restless and bursting for something to happen.  Then, as if an angel heard my relentless wishes, like magic the rain stopped and the fog vanished.  Suddenly the baby blue of the sky reappeared and I rushed outside to feel the warmth of the sunrays.  Finally, I could clearly gauge that I was hundreds of feet above sea level and I felt like I was on top of the world.  I knew that this was the perfect place to experience what I had been dreaming about for weeks:  The magic of the clouds!

For over an hour, I sat outside and silently watched the clouds perform their most sacred rituals right in front of my face.  I was swept away by the movement of the clouds floating by like wispy, white cotton candy being slowly devoured.  Sometimes the clouds traveled vertically up like thick smoke mysteriously rising from nowhere between the mountains and then disappearing into the heavens.  At other times, they descended and slowly dissolved into the vegetation of the slopes.  I loved observing the way they changed shapes within minutes and their swiftness commanded my respect.  I also loved the way they showed off their enormous size by casting dark shadows across entire mountainsides. 

The clouds were the whitest of white against the pure blue sky and I couldn’t believe that I was so close to them while standing on soil.  Everywhere I turned fluffy cotton balls surrounded me and I didn’t know which one to focus on: some were below me, above me, behind me and at eyes level.  At times I felt like I was living in the sky or maybe even heaven.  Furthermore, the surrounding clouds made me smile thinking about the story “Jack in the Bean Stalk,” which I had just read to my students; I felt like I had climbed high up a magical beanstalk arriving at a fairytale village in the sky.  I now think that the story has a real setting: The villages high in the Himalayan Mountains of eastern Bhutan.  

Unfortunately, the show seemed to end when all the clouds started to merge together and out of nowhere a large gray blanket of fog rushed in joining forces with every cloud in sight.  Once more the blue sky as well as the sun were hidden away and a chill pierced the air.  In a blink, the gray foggy cloud covered everything including me indicating that this cloud was here to stay for a bit and it was time for more rain.  So I relentlessly went back inside. 

I sat on the bed in bewilderment wondering what just happened to the magical show I had been enjoying seconds before.  Then I realized that it wasn’t quite over.  I noticed the thick clouds slowly creeping into the open widows and stretching their foggy looking fingers across the room to penetrate the walls and dampen everything in its way.  The show only ended when I shut the windows after the cloud gave me a big wet kiss on my nose and started to swallow me up.   

All over the world a cloud is a cloud, but I swear the clouds of eastern Bhutan seem different: they are spellbinding and supernatural.  I often hear people boast about how spectacular Bhutan’s mountains and wildlife are, but I rarely hear people vaunting about the clouds of Bhutan.  I found the clouds to be just as alive as the monkeys in the trees and they were no doubt a special part of the mountain as well as the country.  

After my experience observing Bhutan’s clouds, I view them as the life givers of the forest and all living organisms:  they carry gallons of water to the mountaintops releasing it to be carried away to the land below turning it a variety shades of green.  It’s amazing to know that all who drink its life force into their bodies experience the majestic clouds.  It was a joy and a blessing to have been literally touched by the mystic clouds of eastern Bhutan and it was my favorite part of my trip.


Sherubtse College, Kanglung
Lastly, as I headed back to central Bhutan, I made a stop by the famous Sherubtse College in Kanglung.  I found Kanglung to be a neatly manicured place that gave off a different vibe than any village I have been to in Bhutan: an unexplainable energy of excitement and innovation.  The college was vacant of students who left for summer break and I felt that this wouldn’t be my only visit because I definitely want to observe this place in full action.  So Kanglung, I will be returning!
Chumey, Bumthang


Overall, eastern Bhutan was beautiful and different from my home in Chumey, Bumthang.  I like the east for many different reasons, but it felt nice to come back to my little village with familiar scenery.  I came back appreciating waking up to pretty “Christmas trees,” roadsides of ferns, clear skies, cool air, flat paved roads, no insect bites and my favorite emerald river.  Sometimes there is no place like home.  I love You, Chumey, Bumthang!

Slideshow of Summer Break in Bhutan

Friday, July 20, 2012


I recently got back from my two-week midyear break.  During the break I explored eastern Bhutan and spent hours/days in buses, taxis and cars traveling to one place to the next.  The drives ranged anywhere from two hours to fourteen hours winding up and down the edges of the majestic Himalayan Mountains.  During those long hours I would stare out the window soaking in the lushish greenery while reflecting upon my first half of the year teaching in Bhutan.  I would get completely lost in swirling thoughts that seemed to travel faster than the moving vehicle I was riding in:  What have I contributed to my school so far?  Am I doing enough?  What do I want to focus on for the second half of the year?

The midyear break was a fat reminder that time is flying by and it shook me up a bit realizing that I am halfway to the end of my teaching contract.  I only have five months left, which feels like no time at all considering how fast the first six months had flown by.  It feels like it was just yesterday when I landed in Bhutan worrying about getting eaten up by bears and worrying about how I would use a squatter toilet.  Now six months later, all I can think about is how will I ever leave my precious students and how can I make more of an impact at my school as well as in my students lives. 

I also have been thinking a lot about what my new friend, Pema, wrote to me in one of my blog entries:  “Our life is very short and everything is impermanent…just feel that you are walking on the planet to shower the goodness of you to others.  You will be remembered by the number of lives you have touched upon in Bhutan and beyond.  Leave behind your footprints on the sands of time…”  Thinking about his words, I ask myself what footprints I am leaving behind in the sand and how many lives I am touching in Bhutan? I lie awake at night pondering about how my students will remember me?  Will they say that I am a good teacher?  Will they say that I am kind?  Am I making a difference in their lives?  I love them all and I wonder if they can feel how much I adore them.  I think about how I can shower them with more kindness during the remaining months that we have left together. 

Recycling at School
I am bothered by the want to contribute so much more, but only having several more months to do so.  The list of my goals constantly replays in my head: I need to find a way to get more books for the school library, I need to get the school more serious about recycling, I need to conduct a professional development writers workshop, I need to smile more, I need to tutor some of my students… I need to do this, I need to do that, I need… I need… I NEED MORE TIME!  I also know that I NEED to be more compassionate with myself and enjoy every moment that I have left in Bhutan. 

After I drive myself crazy worrying about all the things I want to make happen and whether or not I’m doing enough, my mind gently brings me back to the two sweetest letters that two of my class five students wrote to me right before break.  The letters are very precious to my heart and they never fail to choke me up a bit.  As those letters pop into my head, it’s almost like someone from above is reminding me that I am being too hard on myself at times and that maybe I am leaving my footprints in the sands of time.

The two  cutest letters:
Pema Choki - My Class Five Captain

Dear Miss Sabrina,

How are you? I hope you are fine with Madam Sonam.  I am also happy with my mom, dad and family.  I would like to say thank you for being our class teacher.  I will never forget you.  Miss had talent and hard work.  You are the nicest class teacher in the whole school.  Miss you are cute like a barbie.


Pema Choki

P.S.  Will you forget us?

Picnic at my house with my class five girls
Dear Our Miss Sabrina,

How are you?  I hope you are fine and well.  Today I am writing this letter to thank you for your good work in the class.  You are good and kind hearted like our God.  You will do hard work in the class and school when we are not understanding the question you will teach it again.  You are beautiful in a kira or pants and shirts.  I love you because you will not beat us.  In the class you will make a clean class and make new rules.
We sit in a circle and share curries


Your student Dechen Lhamo

P.S.  Do you like our school and students?
They huddle in my house looking at my photo albums

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Templeton's Butt Was On Fire

After Templeton, my fat rat, threw the party of the year in my kitchen, I was so upset with him for keeping me up all night making a racket and leaving me a gigantic mess to clean.  I also never wanted to re-experience him banging on my bedroom door in the middle of the night.  Therefore, I was on a mission to kick him out once and for all.  However, I didn’t know that Templeton was extremely relentless, sneaky and cleaver at breaking in and destroying my stuff.  As a result, I would have to take all kinds of different measures to get him to leave.

Stuffing firewood
under the door 
Wood nailed under my door
and the right side of the door 
No matter how hard I tried to block one of his entryways into my house, he always managed to leave me puzzled about how he kept sneaking in, which means that he’s the smartest rat in the world.  For instance, I first tried blocking his new main entryway, the bottom of my front door, by stuffing firewood every night under the large gap.  Some nights he would get his friends to help him push the firewood out so he could barge in my house.  So I started wedging the wood tighter under the door.  Then he got smarter and started to squeeze through the side of the door.  It took me a while to figure this one out as I scratched my head every morning wondering how he broke in and destroyed my kitchen over and over again.  Fortunately, I also got wiser and I had a solid, wooden block nailed under my door as well as to the side of the door.  Ha!  Did that stop him? No way! 

Empty shampoo bottle
Templeton's holes
he made to drink
my shampoo
A few nights later after I thought that he could no longer get in, I was half asleep when I went into the bathroom and stumbled upon him drinking my shampoo.  The sight of Templeton’s muddy, mangy, fat body made me look like I got electrocuted; my eyes bulged out of my sockets, I sprung ten feet in the air and screamed in horror as he gave me a soapy grin.  I ran faster than I had ever run in my life back to my room and I didn’t dare come out all night.  The next morning, I discovered that my shampoo had a big hole in it and it was empty.  When I told my friend that Templeton must had been the cleanest rat in Bhutan, my friend laughed saying that he got an image of Templeton farting and burping bubbles. 

The mushrooms covering his rat hole
His first rat hole, which was under the mushroom
 in the above picture

For over a week, Templeton managed to stump my friends and I about how he was sneaking into my house at night.   I couldn’t believe how he had fooled us for so long.  He outsmarted us by chewing through my wooden floor under where a big mushroom was growing and he was using the mushroom as a flapping door to conceal his entryway (Yes! I have mushrooms growing through my wooden floors).  I know that he deliberately chose this spot because it was just too perfect.  His rat hole was discovered when the mushrooms started to grow too big and I had them removed.  I was shocked at how clever he was and I tried to show him whom was boss by having a piece of wood perfectly cut to fill in the hole.  For several days my house remained quiet and there was no evidence of Templeton.  It was heaven again!  Well, at least for a little bit.  

Just when I thought he was gone for good, one night I stepped into my hallway and heard a crash in the kitchen.  I knew that it was Templeton and I froze in fear.  Before I could bolt to the safety of my room, he ran faster than the speed of light acorss my feet, which caused me to scream bloody murder while I tried to climb up the wall.  Within seconds he vanished into a new whole that he chewed next to the old one, but of course not without flashing me his famous grin.  Still clinging onto the wall for dear life, I screamed, “You sneaky rat bag.”  Then I dashed to my room in case he heard me and wanted to show me who was really the boss.  
The stones I placed over his rat holes in my hallway

Every time I would block his new rat hole with a stone, he would make another one a few days later next to the old one as if he was saying, “ha-ha-ha you can’t kick me out with my sharp teeth.”  He was relentless!  Additionally, when he would sneak in, he always destroy something as though he was getting back at me for trying to kick him out, such as when he peed and pooped all over my extension cord causing it to malfunction.

Red Hot Chili - this is the mess that I woke up to
Furthermore, my neighbors said that they had never seen such a skilled rat being able to twist off tight lids and they questioned if he was a raccoon, but I explained that I had seen him with my own eyes and that he was a very intelligent rat.  He always seemed to amaze me when he could screw off the lids to the tightest containers, such as the lid to my olive oil that he drank.  Errrrr!   He impressed me the most when he twisted off a trickiest lid containing my chili powder, which he ate and scattered all over my countertop.  The only satisfaction that I got cleaning the mess was the thought of him having a burning butt later on.  Ha!

Templeton's  presents to me... Errr
The worst part of his adventures in my home was that he always left me little presents: rat poop!  He was shameless!  He pooped everywhere and anywhere.  I was reaching the end of my rope, constantly having to sterilize my kitchen every morning.  I was also becoming mentally exhausted from being woken up in the middle of the night from him screeching around my house.  I wanted him gone!

After complaining about Templeton to a couple of my friends, they told me different ways that I could make homemade rat traps to kill him.  However, in some twisted way, I kind of like Templeton and I didn’t want to hurt him.  Once I even had a dream that he was a cute hamster and I was petting him as well as adoring him.  I woke up knowing that somewhere in my heart I actually have a soft spot for him despite how I react to him like he is some kind of rat vampire.  Thus, I just wanted him to stop destroying my stuff, pooping in my house and waking me up at night.  He was exhausting! 

So I started to ponder how I could get rid of him in the most humane way.  After a few days of serious reflection, I realized that I had been going about the whole situation wrong.  For instance, I was constantly dreading/expecting Templeton to show up at night and that’s exactly what would happen.  I would carry my broom with me from room to room fearing that he was around the corner and sure enough he would appear.  Basically I was focusing all my thoughts and energy on what I didn’t want the most:  Templeton breaking in and destroying my stuff.  As a result, that is what I got.  Errr! 

Most of the time I am pretty good at manifesting what I want, which means sometimes I’m also pretty good at manifesting what I don’t want.  Yikes!  When I realized this, I changed my focus and started to pretend that Templeton had moved away and I was on my own.  Once again I forced myself to stop carrying my protection broom around my home and if I thought about Templeton, then I would quickly think about something more pleasurable like dancing carefree around my house as if there were no rats.  Within a few days of refocusing my energy, I finally manifested what I wanted:  Templeton was gone once and for all!

It has been weeks since he has moved out and in some strange way I kind of miss him, but not enough to have him come back.  I think that I mostly miss being able to write humorous stories about how he makes me go crazy.  However, I hope that all my thoughts about Templeton for this blog entry won’t attract him back.  Ahhh the art of manifesting can be a tricky game.  Wish me luck as well as Templeton wherever he is.

Monday, July 16, 2012


A similar looking rat to Templeton
If you have read my past blogs about my rat, Templeton, then you know that he is an acrobatic, perverted, fat rat with a sly grin.  You may also remember that he scares the living daylights out of me and makes me turn into a crazy person - screaming, meowing and tapping brooms around every corner.  Well, he came back and I discovered that he was also a burglar and a major partier, which only added to my insane behavior towards him.

Sink pipes I
blocked with rocks
So after I blocked Templeton’s main entryways (my kitchen and bathroom sink pipes) into my home, he got the hint and moved to my neighbor’s house for a few months.  It was heaven no longer carrying a broom around at night from room to room.  However, it was short lived because my neighbor eventually got annoyed with him stealing all her vegetables, so she kicked him out of her house by blocking all Templeton’s rat holes.  That’s when he decided that he would come back to my house with a vengeance. 

When Templeton returned, it was as though he gave me a warning that he was back for good and not to dare try to kick him out again; I found a trail of his gigantic rat poop that lead to a half eaten baby rat in my spare bedroom.  I thought, “Oh my goodness how did this happen?  Did Templeton do this?  OMG he’s back!  Ahhhhh SOS!” 

Partying Rats
Then later that night, I was just about to drift asleep when I heard Templeton break into my house with a gang of his rat friends.  Since I was too frighten to kick him out, I stayed locked in my bedroom and I allowed him to throw the most massive welcome home party one could only imagine a rat could have.  Templeton and his friends went buck wild, raging all night long in my kitchen.  They were having a blast fumbling around my stuff and squealing on the top of their lungs.  A few times they even got into a brawl; I could hear them fighting and rolling around crashing into everything on my countertops.  They sounded like a bunch of drunken college kids coming home from a late night at the bar and making a ruckus. 

I had no idea what was going on in my kitchen, but they were having FUN!  I could picture them jumping from the counter to the table then windowsill and back at least a hundred times; their bodies would make large thumps when they landed after launching through the air.  I thought that they must have been playing tag or long jump.  I could also imagine them playing soccer with my jars because I could hear the jars rolling around and smashing off the counters.   Then they would all squeal what I thought sounded like “GOALLLLLLLL”.  At other times, it sounded like they were using my pot lids as cylinders to make some random beats while they sung completely out of tune.  Finally, I thought that they sounded more like kindergartners than drunken frat guys. 

After several hours of them partying away, I had enough of Templeton’s lack of respect.  I sat up in my bed extremely angry, threw off my blanket, placed my feet on the floor and screamed toward my door, “Can you keep it down in there, I’m trying to sleep, I have to go to work in the morning …”  Then I realized how crazy I sounded yelling at rats as though they were human.  I started to laugh at myself because my only intention was to scold them since I was too scared to actually leave my room to chase them away; my feet weren’t budging off the floor. 

A few minutes later, I couldn’t believe that Templeton had the edacity to come knock on my door (I swear this is true).  At first I thought that it was my imagination because his little rat fist made tiny knocks, but when I didn’t respond I heard him use rat language to call his crew to come try to bust down my door.  Within seconds the knocks multiplied and became forceful with many little rat fists and my heart started to race.  I feared that they would use their sharp teeth next to chew through the door and eat me like the dead, baby rat I found earlier.  So I reverted to my old wacky behavior since it had worked once before.  I sat up in bed holding on tightly to my blanket and I started meowing as well as clapping my hands a few times hoping that it would scare them off like my last episode with him.  I dreaded resorting back to my silly behavior, but I was tired and desperate for them to leave.  Either they felt sorry for my pathetic attempt to frighten them or they really believed that there was a monster cat behind the door because they decided to leave me alone.   

Finally, the party was over just as the sun started to rise and I was able to fall asleep in peace.  A few hours later, the sun filled my home and it was time for me to get ready for work.  I peeked my sleepy head out of my bedroom door and meowed a few times worrying that they might have come back for a surprise attack for not opening the door for them.  However, it was silent and I felt safe.  Nevertheless, I took my broom with me for protection just in case there were some hungry stragglers. 

When I entered my kitchen, I froze in my tracks and my jaw dropped as I looked around at the gigantic mess.  My kitchen was no longer immaculate.  It was a disaster!  It looked like it had been ram sacked by a bunch of burglars.  Everything that had been neatly displayed on my countertop was now knocked over or on the ground.  My pot lids looked like they had been frisbeed across the room.  In fact, there wasn’t one item that still had a lid on it.  My collection of recyclable garbage had been thrown off the windowsill and some of the labels from my jars were shredded everywhere.  I thought there must have been a half a dozen rats partying it up by the amount of rat droppings they left behind.  It looked worse than what I had imagined.
Templeton's daily rat turd ERRRR

After my state of shock wore off, I felt my blood boiling as I began to pick up the mess and I came across a huge rat turd inside my beloved rice cooker.  I know that this was Templeton’s poop because only the biggest rat in the world could poop that big.  I was so angry with him!  Out of all the places he could have pooped, he chose my rice cooker, which is like a huge insult for a rice lover.  Was he taunting me?  Hmmm!  I started murmuring, “This is freaking ridiculous.  I refuse to pick up after rats and host rat parties.  Who does he think he is partying like a rock star all night!  This rat has to go.” 

I meant every word and it was now my mission to kick Templeton out once and for all.  However, I didn’t know that Templeton was extremely relentless, intelligent and sneaky.  To be continued…

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Missing Little Black Shoe

When my friend, Sonam, had to attend a special puja (ceremony) in another village for a week, I volunteered to stay with little Jimmy while she was away.  Everything was going smoothly until one morning when Jimmy discovered that he had lost one of his little black school shoes at soccer practice.  At first, this seemed like no big deal, but little did I know that his black shoe and me were going to be the biggest talk of my school and that this shoe would bring me a big lesson on an important Buddhist custom.

Jimmy's black school shoes
When the first bell rang for school to start, Jimmy started to pretend that he had a massive stomachache and couldn’t go to school.  Minutes before he appeared fine jumping around the house and it was only when it was time to put on his shoes that he started to fake that he way dying of a stomachache.  I knew that the real reason he didn’t want to go to school was because he lost one of his solid black school shoes, which are part of the required school uniform.

As he fibbed about stomach pains, I pleaded with him to wear his other black shoes, but he stressed that he couldn’t because they had a white stripe around the edges.  I told him that I would ask our principal to allow him to wear those shoes until we could find the missing shoe or buy new ones.  However, in addition to his magical stomachache, he claimed that he no longer understood English and I was struggling negotiating with an eight-year old who now only spoke Dzongkha.  He kept rolling around repeating, “Miss, I no go to school, stomach, aaaahhh pain and shoes no….(then he rambled on in Dzongkha).”  It became apparent to me that this child was not budging and I was going to be late for teaching. 

That’s when I got a bright idea to call his Dzongkha teacher/my dear friend, Norbu, the monk, to come and help me get Jimmy off to school.  Norbu has known Jimmy since Jimmy was a baby because Norbu is Sonam’s childhood friend.  Norbu is also a strict and cool teacher that all the little kids look up to.  Thus, I knew that Norbu could handle the situation better than me, especially since I’m such a softy when it comes to my little Jimmy. 

Minutes later I met Norbu halfway down the mountain to further explain why Jimmy was still in the house refusing to go to school.  Norbu said that I should go down to the morning assembly so at least one of us wouldn’t be late and he would handle Jimmy.  So I rushed down to the school just as the last bell rang and like magic I spotted one of the teachers carrying Jimmy’s missing shoe.  As the students scrambled to get into position for the morning prayer, I claimed the shoe, which was found on the soccer field.  I was so happy; I got a little zing in my step.  I dangled the shoe by its long laces practically skipping across the courtyard in excitement to take my morning stance in front with the other teachers.

Then, to my surprise, I discovered that Norbu was already back.  As I continued to glide across the front of the courtyard, I waved the shoe around to show him that our problem was solved.  In fact, I was so thrilled that I didn’t realize all the teachers and students were staring at me holding the shoe like it was a trophy.  After I heard a few giggles, I quickly stopped treating the shoe like a golden prize.   

I immediately asked Norbu, “Where is Jimmy?  How did you get back so fast?”   He explained that as soon as Jimmy saw him coming, Jimmy’s stomachache vanished.  Jimmy jumped into his black shoes with the white stripes before Norbu could say a word and they were off to school.  “Norbu you rock” was all I had time to say as I zoomed off to tell Jimmy that I had his shoe so he no longer had to have a “stomachache.” 

Morning Assembly in the Courtyard 
Clinging onto the ends of the long shoelaces, I rushed over to where Jimmy was supposed to be standing in his “house formation” during morning assembly, but he wasn’t there.  I searched around the courtyard of 500+ students that were neatly standing in block formations getting ready for prayer; back and forth I went dangling the shoe and feeling a little panicky that he was nowhere in sight.  
In the staff room
I asked all his friends, “Where is Jimmy?”  I was so worried about where Jimmy was that I wasn’t aware of how funny I looked dangling one shoe around the whole courtyard, which grabbed the entire school's attention.  A couple of people even joked, “Hey, Nice Shoe! One shoe?”  However, I was on such a mission that it didn’t occur to me that others where intrigued by my attachment to the one shoe. 

Finally, the morning prayer started and I moped back to the front of the courtyard with the black shoe and no Jimmy.  I held onto it for the entire morning assembly worrying about Jimmy’s whereabouts.  Fortunately, after the morning assembly Jimmy’s friends found him hiding in his classroom and they told him that I had his shoe, so he came out of hiding.  He was hiding because he felt awkward/embarrassed not wearing the required dress shoes.  I tried to ease his worries by promising him that I would keep the shoe safe for him until we went home. 

My desk in the staffroom
Jimmy's shoe on my bookshelf
Trying to keep my promise, I put the shoe on my desk in the staff room thinking that was the safest place for it and then I went off to teach my first period class.  After first period, when I came back to my desk, my heart dropped as I discovered the shoe was gone.  Eventually I found it underneath my desk and assumed that it must have fallen.  So I picked it up and tried to make it extra safe by putting it on top of the bookshelf that is connected to my desk indicating that this was my shoe. Normally I wouldn’t put shoes on desks, but I didn’t want it on the floor in case someone thought that it was lost and took it away.

Once again, when I came back from second period, the shoe was missing only to be found on the floor.  I was in such a hurry that I didn’t think too much of it and I wedged in tighter in my bookshelf.  However, the third and forth time that I discovered it on the floor, I thought why is this shoe always trying to run away?  Is someone playing a joke on me? I can’t lose this shoe and have to go through another morning of Jimmy faking a stomache.  Shoe, please stay here!  Finally, I thought that the shoe read my mind because it stopped moving.

It wasn’t until Sonam returned to school that I learned why I kept finding the shoe on the floor.  Some of our coworkers narrated to Sonam how I was running around the courtyard dangling a little black shoe and how the shoe kept moving up and down in the staff room.  She thought that the story was hysterical and decided to let me in on the staff’s interpretation of me and the little black shoe. 

The little black shoe
She said one staff member told her how he witnessed it all; someone would walk in the staff room and immediately spot the shoe on the bookshelf and say, “Why is this shoe up so high?” and put it on the floor.  Then I would come rushing in looking puzzled at why the shoe was now on the floor and put the shoe back on the bookshelf.  He said that this went on all morning and finally by afternoon they were all whispering that I must have considered the shoe to be very important or holy in order for me to keep putting it up so high.  Thus, they stopped moving it to the floor.   

It all made sense when Sonam explained that Buddhists would never put a shoe up high because shoes are dirty and in Buddhism you only put holy or clean things up high.  Most importantly, there were many history textbooks containing Buddhist scriptures that were around my desk and Buddhists would never put a shoe above Buddhist texts/scriptures because the scripture is sacred/respected.  In fact, not only is every single word considered holy, but every single letter is also holy and valued.   Furthermore, Buddhists would rarely put anything above the text let alone a dirty shoe.  Therefore, my coworkers didn’t understand why I was putting the shoe on the bookshelf.  They concluded that the shoe must have had a very special meaning to me in order for me to be placing it respectfully above the ground and above Buddhist scripture. 

Dangling shoe (inside staff quarters)
Sonam chuckled when she heard the story because she knew that the shoe had no special meaning to me other than I didn’t want to lose it and re-experience Jimmy faking a stomachache.  She explained to my coworkers that I didn’t know any better and to please excuse my error because I was just trying to keep Jimmy’s shoe safe.  

When she told me this we found some humor in how silly I must have appeared to everyone running around all morning with the shoe treating it like gold.  I felt very fortunate that I had Sonam as a friend to educate me and to giggle with about my naive mistakes.  I also felt very grateful that the staff understood that as a foreigner I'm constantly learning about their customs and that I would never intentionally do anything to be disrespectful.  So once again I learned a valuable lesson on a Buddhist custom:  Don’t place shoes or unholy items up high, especially above Buddhist scripture.