|Jimmy's black school shoes|
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|
|In the staff room|
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
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|
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)|
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.