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Friday, February 24, 2012

I've Been Adopted

My personal definition of a family is a group of people who care for the well being of each other.  Thus, I have somehow made my very own Bhutanese family!

Norbu The Monk
I love my new Bhutanese family, which so far consists of my principal (dad), principal’s wife/vice principal (mom), their daughter (little sister), their newphew (brother), my three younger neighbors (sorority sisters) and of course, Madam Sonam Choden (best-friend) and little Jimmy (nephew).  Ohhhh, I just love them all so much!  It’s only been a few weeks and everyday it seems like I add on new people to the crew like my new monk friend who teaches me meditation.  It’s weird how you can recognize one of your “kind.”  I start talking to someone and instantly know that this person is going to be my side for the rest of the year.  I’m constantly in a state of gratitude for these amazing people.  As a result, I believe that the universe keeps sending me more people to be grateful for.  This is fun!

My Adopted Bhutanese Parent's
When I first arrived to Bumthang, my “new father and mother” took me under their wing and into their nest where I was to be incubated.  They are extremely thoughtful and generous.  They come over frequently to check up on me and help me out with things I don’t even know that I need help with.  For instance, they showed me how to use my bhukari and hung my curtains with bamboo sticks.  I feel like I’m their child who has moved out for college and they are worried about how I will make it on my own.  I like this feeling because they remind me of my own family in America and that is exactly what my real parents did when I went away for college.  I feel safe knowing that they are just across the river and I have support.  Their daughter is very mature and we like the same music.  Their nephew is like a brother and he escorts me home from their house if it’s dark.  I also love when my VP “mothers me” by gently placing my hair behind my ear or picking some lint off my shirt.  It always makes me miss snuggling on the couch with my mom in California.  Overall, I have a lot of respect for their family and I always enjoy being in their home.

My Neighbor
The three teachers that live next door to me are all female Bhutanese teachers at my school.  My upstairs neighbor is like an assigned angel to me.  She was the first one to return from vacation and took the initiative to keep me company as well as making sure I didn’t go hungry.  The other girls are equally nice and are always inviting me over for tea or dinner.

Sonam


Next, Madam Sonam Choden is a teacher at my school who is my age and has become my new best friend.  Jimmy is her seven-year-old nephew who lives with her and he might be the cutest boy in Bhutan.  I love teaching him English and fussing over him like an aunty.  I think that Madam Sonam took one look at me and knew that she was going to make me into an American-Bhutanese, if there’s such a thing.  I’m not quite sure what I would be doing if I hadn’t met her because she spoils me.  She has me over for dinner, gave me my first cooking lesson, lets me use her internet, invites me to spend the night, insists that I can use her washer machine to do laundry, offers to share her closet full of kiras with me, and has even made me a chocolate cake for breakfast.  How lucky can a girl get?  I don’t even know how to return these generous offers yet and all I can do for now is just thank her over and over again.  The best part about her is that we have the same humor and we get each other’s jokes.  Therefore, we spend most of our conversations laughing until tears run down are face and we laugh at the most simplest things, which means the laughter never ends.  I love to laugh as well as make others laugh, so this has been a special treat to meet her.  I can always recognize who are going to be my best friends by how much we can laugh together.  So far I can tell that we are going to be BFF.  Awe… I love my new Bhutanese family…
Jimmy is so funny
Road Trip
Matching

Jimmy giving himself horns

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bhutanese Ghosts


My First Night Alone:  Did You Say Ghost?

Chamkhar Shops!
Goodbye BCF Friends
After I saw my house and dropt off all my things, I went with the remaining BCF teachers to Dekiling Chamkhar to drop off Martin and Tera at their location, which is only about 35 minutes from Chumey (my location).  The inside of their house is way cuter than mine and I was jealous because they have a geeza (hot water/shower) and a western toilet.  Chamkhar is great because it has a tiny cheese factory, pizza, French fries, disco and tons of little shops.  I guess you know where I will be spending most of my free time.  I stayed the night with the teachers in a Chamkhar hotel and enjoyed my last hot shower for the year.  The next morning, I said my goodbyes and watched the bus drive off with the only friends I had made in Bhutan.  I stood there all alone for the first time, wondering what next?  Little did I know I was about to get a new family, one that I would quickly come to adore.

My principal and his wife
Soon my principal and his family picked me up to take me back home.  They were so kind to me and I instantly recognized them as my new parent’s and kid sis.  Before we ventured home, they took me out to lunch and to several monasteries.  I even got a little taste of my first holy water and it was a great introduction to Bhutanese culture.  I found that my new family has a great sense of humor and our conversations flow with ease.  I love talking to them and we share tons of laughs.  I frequently find myself thanking the heavens above for bringing me such kind people.  It seems like my prayers don’t stop in Bhutan.

Dechin  helping me unpack.
Once we got back to my house, they called some friends and everyone scurried around like ants helping me unpack.  I felt exhausted from the road trip and really needed the extra help.  My principal’s daughter helped me set up my entire room and I couldn’t have done it without her.  Every time I would set something down, she would be right behind me to reorganize it in a neater way.  I was so grateful for her company while she answered all my silly questions, like which blanket goes on top and can a bear break down my door?  Although she’s only 15, I felt like she was the older sister.

My principal insisted that I stay the night at their house for the first day since my neighbors weren’t home from vacation and to ensure I wouldn’t be lonely.  They fed me an amazing dinner of rice, eggs, and green bean curry loaded with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.  I slept like a baby in their beautiful, warm alter room.  They did a great job distracting me from feeling homesick and they eased me into my transition.  The next day, my neighbor who lives above me came home and I decided that I should try out my new bed.  However, I have to be honest, I was a little scared to sleep alone because I was worried about whether or not my house was haunted. 

Here’s why, a few days before we left the capital, one of the teachers had a book that said my region (Bumthang) was known for the most ghost sightings and spiritual activity.  If you’re a close friend of mine, you know that’s the last thing I wanted to hear.  I have experienced way too much paranormal activity in my lifetime and ghosts freak me out more than these stray dogs.  There’s something about my aura that ghosts seem to like and sometimes they try to give me messages, which always scares the crap out of me and I’m not open to it.  Most people don’t worry if their new home has a spirit roaming around, but I do based on my past experiences.  I was angry that I found this out right before I was to about to live alone for a year and I wanted to throw the book out of the window.  However, it was too late and off I was to ghost central Bhutan.

So there I was in the heartland of Bhutan ready to be brave and face some Bhutanese ghosts.  I knew that I shouldn't get comfortable in my principals alter room because I might never want to leave.  I reminded myself of the power of prayer and that I could pray for protection or try to pray them away, if I felt like there were any ghosts trying to hang out with me.  I wasn’t surprised that I attracted myself to the most spiritual place in Bhutan, but how do I always get the ghosts?  Seriously, does anybody know why?

My home is the bottom left unit.
It was the first night that I was to stay alone in months.  In fact, I have never lived alone in my entire life.  That first night, my home didn’t feel like my nest yet; it felt empty, dark, eerie, and cold.  I looked out the window and it was pitch black.  No lights anywhere and the only sound I could hear was the rushing river.  I was scared!  This was very different from the bright downtown lights of San Diego that filled my high-rise bedroom like a supersized nightlight. 

My Collection of Flashlights!

Therefore, I slept with the lights on, my grandma’s rosemary, three flashlights by my side in case the ghosts turned off the lights (they like to do that) and a beanie stretched over my eyes so that I wouldn’t see any ghosts.  Then I pulled my blankets up to my nose, but left it out so I could breath.  I realized that I looked so silly and if I were a ghost, I would want to honk my nose for fun since it was the only thing sticking out.  So next I made a cave out of the blankets, burrowed myself in and finally felt safe enough to fall asleep.  The second night, I felt like there were no ghosts sharing my space and I convinced myself to sleep with the lights off.  It’s been about a week now and I haven’t felt the presence of anything, but then again a spirit always seems to find me.  Whenever I hear a creepy noise, I convince myself it’s a cute mouse upstairs.  Wish me luck! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

I'm In Love with A Red Tub


My Cover is Blown
My Squatter Toilet

Ok I’m just going to be very candid and honest.  I broke this entry up into three parts.  First, I want to paint a picture of my personality so you will get a feel for this story.  Then I will attempt to describe to you how I bathe myself in a plastic bin since I don’t have a shower or hot water.   Lastly, if you don’t mind hearing about me peeing, then read on for my rough experience with the squatter toilets in a separate entry titled: Princess Sabrina Meets her Squatter Toilet.  There will be no sugar coating about the squatting, so read at your own discretion.  Well here it goes… 

If you know me well or had the pleasure of spending some time with me, then it’s only a matter of time before you will start to see what my friends and family calls the princess side of me.  I try to cover it up at times, but it always comes out.  I have learned this week that there is no way of going around it; it has always been here and it’s here to stay, no matter where I am in the world.  In my defense, growing up my parents did everything for me, I was my mom’s live doll and I was a little spoiled.  It’s part of what makes me who I am, so I should probably embrace it since my Dad tells others I can’t help it.  I don’t want to portray myself as a spoiled brat, so I have to say that like most people there are many different aspects of my personality.  I have also been described as very loving, nurturing, bubbly, generous and even funny. 

However, the day before I left for Bhutan my aunt was saying, “How is this princess going to make it in Bhutan” since it’s so different from America as she looked at my sparkly shirt and year supply of mascara.  Right then and there, I planned that when I arrived to Bhutan with the 14 other BCF teachers, I was not going to act anything like a princess and instead display my more desirable characteristics.  I didn’t exactly know how I was going to suppress a huge part of my personality and maybe that’s why the plan failed.  I think my plan started to crumble away the moment I got to the airport.  The others quickly caught on because my bags were too heavy and I wouldn’t dare carry them in fear I would hurt my back.  Thankfully, Tim was so kind to me and carried my purse and all.  I don’t know what I would have done without him.  I noticed others looking at me and giggling as I frequently called out, “Timmm, Timmm, my purse please.”  I was a little embarrassed, but I couldn’t carry them!  

Simon and I Shopping in Thimphu
Then when we got to Thimphu, it was no secret that I was freaked out by all the stray dogs and practically needed someone to hold my hand down the street.  If any topic about the dogs came up, the group’s eyes would venture towards me for entertainment as I squirmed in my seat.  I knew my cover was blown a few days in when others just started flat out calling me princess, the Russian princess with the fur hat, Jasmine should carry her own things, etc.  Apparently I am an international princess!  Poor Simon, a BCF teacher, got suckered into shopping with me and had no idea what he got himself into, but he did give me a new nickname:  Princess!  So there was no point in pretending to be something your not.  I’m just not rough, tough, and full-blown independent.  I’m learning that there is something about me that’s very gentle, soft around the edges, fragile and maybe a little needy at times (I’m working on the latter).  It’s interesting how others can perceive this and offer helping hands.

So when we all found out what our bathrooms would entail, I was secretly terrified about how I would adjust to NO SHOWERS and what I perceived as A PORCELINE HOLE IN THE GROUND for a toilet.  I’m the girl who lives for hot luxurious baths, sometimes two a day and I lay in the shower for comfort when I’m sick.  I know some people might think that I am a freaking water waster, but in America most find this acceptable.  So how could I possibly boil a small bucket of water to splash on myself while standing in a cold-cemented refrigerated bathroom?   This became my new biggest worry.  I hadn’t thought about this before I came.  Instead I was worried about poisonous spiders and hungry bears.  How could I have been so na├»ve to think that I would have a hot shower or bathtub?  Maybe I unconsciously didn’t want to know.

I’m in love with a Red Plastic Tub

Well, I tell you what, this princess is a lot tougher than I had ever imagined.  In fact, at the end of the orientation, as some of the teachers suffered from illnesses and homesickness, Simon say’s, "Who would have thought that this little princess turned out to be one of the strongest ones here: tougher than nails."  Simon, if you’re reading this, thank you dearly for not being part of the crew who is betting on how long it will take me to slit my after I saw my bathroom, this cracks me up. 

The way I saw it was there was no turning back, so I decided to just go with it.  I bought the largest, roundest, red, plastic bin I could find in Thimphu.  I proudly wrote on it with permanent marker, “SABRINA’S TUB” for all to see.  I picked out a nice water heater emersion and pictured myself having a hot bubble bath in my new plastic tub.  I found myself feeling grateful for being petite enough to fit into it.  I even became all bubbly about this inventive tub of mine.  Before I knew it, I started to get attached to it.  When some workers were loading it on the truck for my destination, I found myself hovering over it to make sure it didn’t get any cracks.  I had fallen in love with this piece of plastic.  It was going to be just the tub and me.

The Bathroom!
When I arrived to my house, I discovered that my bathroom in Bhutan is everything my American bathroom is not, but I didn’t care because I love my location as well as the red tub.  The bathroom is so different from my previous bathroom, it’s hard to describe, so please refer to the picture.  It has an icy block cement floor, cement walls, a window with large cracks around the wooden edges for fat hairy spiders to come stare at me with their numerous eyes, a faucet attached to the wall that pours out melted snow water, a drain in the floor underneath the faucet, a little sink, small mirror and a very bad paint job.

The water that pours out is so cold like dry ice that it hurts my hands.  So I have to heat it up to bathe, wash my face or wash dishes.  To heat my bath water, I take a smaller blue bucket of water and lay a bamboo stick across the top of the bucket.  Then I attach my heater emersion in the middle of the bamboo, so more than half of it is emerged in the water.  Only then will I turn it on!  I wait about 60-90 minutes until the water is steamy hot.  I test how hot the water is by placing my hand on the outside of the bucket and NOT inside the bucket, so I don’t get shocked. 

Don't Electrocute Yourself!

Home Made Heater Emersion
As a newbie, the first time I heated up the water, I almost killed myself.  My neighbor wanted me to use her homemade heater emersion since it works faster than my store bought emersion.  However, it isn’t as safe as mine.  If I somehow touch the water while it’s in it, I would experience the electric chair unlike my factory made heater emersion that might give me a little zap.  Just about all the local Bhutanese use the homemade one and there are a few fatal cases due to it.  Although this fact scared the living day lights out of me, I didn’t want to be rude by refusing to use their heater emersion.  The first time my neighbor heated the water for me because she knew I had no clue how to do it.  I welcomed her company because I secretly didn’t want to come near what looked like a death trap. 
My Factory Made Heater Emersion

However, the second day I got a little braver and used to looking at it, so I decided that I could do it myself.  While it lay in the bucket of water, I wanted to check to see if the water was hot enough and my hand instantly started to go toward the water like I do in America to test the bathtub water.  The only difference was that this water was being fried by a homemade heater emersion, which looks like a supersized wooden rattrap with scary wires and coils.  Luckily, right before I was about to innocently dip my hand in, I remembered all the warnings I was given to not electrocute myself.  As I was only a centimeter away from death, I jumped back in terror.  Thank you Angels!  That was the last time I used it because I don’t trust my ingrained habits.  I rather use my slower, but safer heater emersion just in case. 

Bhukhari Heating up H2O
After the water is heated in my blue bucket, I use a scoop to pour half of the hot water into my red tub and I hop on in.  If I want more hot water all at once, then I start a fire in my bhukhari (wood stove) to heat up a big metal pot of water that’s sits on top of it.  The metal pot is too hot and heavy to carry from my sitting room to the red tub in the bathroom.  So I scoop the hot bicardi water into another bucket and carry it to my red tub.  Back and forth I go when I want to fill my tub all the way up to the rim with hot water.  This is too much work for me, so I usually settle for just the blue bucket of water heated by the heater emersion, which fills my red tub half way.  I’m looking for a longer bamboo stick to place across my red tub so I can directly fill it up to the top from the faucet and use my heater emersion in it, instead of doing all this transferring H2O business.  Although it will take a lot longer to heat that much water (3 hours), it will be worth it.  I’m sure I will find a longer bamboo stick if I venture deeper into the jungle.  Yikes!

Once I’m sitting in my tub, I soap up my body first so my long hair stays dry, which doesn’t cause me to shiver as much as when it’s wet.  Then I scoop up some hot water out of the blue bucket and rinse my body off.  Next I tackle the hair.  I love it and hate it at the same time.  I love how warm it feels while I pour the water over my head and I hate how cold it feels after I pour the water.  It’s hard for me to dress or dry off properly in the bathroom because it’s the same temperature as outside (-1 to -5 degree celsius) and my body goes into a shiver attack once I get out of my red tub.  It’s so cold that I can even see my breath as breathe like a hyperthermia patient in my bathroom.  So I rush to my room and dry off next to my plugged in heater that awaits me with warm clothes that I have draped over it. 

The first day that I was to bathe, my neighbor/new mom gave me instructions on how to bathe.  I wanted to laugh at how much I felt like an alien or a four year old.  I wanted to know if there was a right way or wrong way to do it since this was all brand new to me.  She acted out step by step what to do, but it was different than I had envisioned.  She told me to stand on the cement and just pour the hot water over my body instead of sitting in my red tub like an American.  I think that most of the Bhutanese don’t grow up with bathtubs or hot running water, so they wash a little differently.  Although they are very clean and have neat appearances, they don’t feel the need to have to bathe every single day, especially in colder areas.  My American mindset is different and all I can think about is having daily hot baths or showers. 

I had every intention to sit in hot water in my new comfy tub and that is exactly what I have done.  I often find myself hysterically bursting into laugher at myself as I sit in this red plastic tub filled with hot water prepared all by little old me.  I think if only my friends and family could see me enjoying my plastic bin they would also laugh.  Despite a few drawbacks to the changes of my bathing situation, I have to say that I love my red tub and I look forward to sitting in it every night.  Now if I could just get some bubbles or lavender, I would really be in heaven.  Hint hint to whoever wants to send me some.
SABRINA'S TUB


Princess Sabrina Meets her Squatter Toilet


Princess Sabrina Meets her Squatter Toilet

My Very Own Squatter Toilet
Now that I figured out how to bathe, all I have to do is figure out how to pee in my eastern toilet.  I just can’t seem to get it right.  Before I left Thimphu, Reidi advised me to just squat down and do your thing, but I still don’t get it.  I don’t feel comfortable asking anyone to show me how to go to the bathroom, so I have been trying to figure it out on my own.  I have tried all these different ways of squatting: I’ve held onto the wall and a bucket next to me for extra support, I’ve squatted at different lengths from the hole, I’ve moved my feet further in and out, I’ve peed at different speeds, etc.  However, I always manage to get some urine on my shoes or pants.  I bought “special” bathroom slippers for this reason.  There was only one time that I squatted “perfectly” and when I was done I jumped up for joy in the name of being a pro squatter, but the next time I was back to trying to figure it all out again.  Every time I have to squat down to pee, I feel like I am experimenting or trying to master a new art form.  This is so disturbing because I imagine that no one is more aloof at this than me and I now wish that I were a boy.

The first day I got here my body refused to do anything for that squatter toilet and it held everything in for as long as it could in hopes that a Western toilet might magically appear.  Eventually, my digestive system gave in and pooping in it isn’t so bad unless I imagine you’re constipated and have to squat there for a long time.  Your legs and knees will get sore or fall asleep and you might fall over.  I pray that I never get diarrhea because I don’t know how it will all make it inside the hole since there is no bowl like Western toilets to capture it all and it will probably get on your shoes, legs, wall, and floor.  Ewe that is not going to be a pretty sight and I should ask some of the other teachers how their diarrhea situation went.  Ha-ha.  Also if you get sick and need to vomit, good luck!  I think that you will have better luck vomiting in a bag than trying to bend or lay over a squatter.  Oh my, this is quiet a blog.  I sincerely apologize to anyone who is fully disgusted with me for painting these nasty images in their head.  Just know that this so called princess is laughing…

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Changes


I Have Changed How I View Change

Dochola

I have been through so many gradual changes in the last several months that it’s seems unreal to think about how far I have come.  Everything major in my life has changed including my home, job, friends, clothes, food, even the way I pee and bathe myself (that has earned its own blog entry, stay tuned) etc. You name it and it’s now different. I’m actually enjoying the changes I brought about including the bathing one, which I am just as surprised as everyone else.  I am accepting these changes as the creator of them and I’m starting to go more with the flow.  I like to tell myself, “Be like water, go with the flow” or “Be flexible like a palm tree in a hurricane.”

Before, I would deal with change by resisting it with tears, anger, and fear.  It was the fear of the unknown and my need to control every outcome of my life/future that held me captive for years from following my intuition.  It can be difficult to step out into unfamiliar territory and give up your security blanket or stale routine.  Several weeks before I was scheduled to leave for Bhutan, I was extremely anxious about not knowing every detail about what my new life would look like.  Although I had done some research, there wasn’t enough information to paint an accurate picture to calm my nerves.  There were moments I cried like a baby about how hard the changes was going to be and how I already missed my beautiful San Diego life.  I often questioned my ability to continue the changes and yearned for the past.  Ma and Pa would naturally console me and even my sister got in on some of the sessions, which means I had to have been an extremely pitiful sight for her to join in. 
Blogging

I laugh now thinking about how childish I must have looked, but at the time it was real fear and panic.  I was scared about what would happen to me if I got a bad spider bite and would have to fly to India to amputate a body part or what if a bear ate me and I died… on and on these horrifying thoughts went paralyzing me with fear, which are funny now.  Some of these thoughts were not even mine to begin with, but were other worried stricken folks I encountered who implanted their memes into my brain.  I come from a “worried wart” family, so these are normal thoughts for some of my family members like my Portuguese grandma. 

Intellectually, I knew that these were just thoughts that I was reacting to and they were not real.  They were only as real as I made them and I could dispel them whenever I chose.  I also understood that I was stepping out of my comfort zone, so my mind brought to the surface all of its fearful thoughts I inherited growing up from others and society, with the purpose of protecting me.  On the other hand, there was a part of me that wanted to go more than anything and it fed off any motivation it could get.  I recognized this as my intuition urging me forward and I listened to it more than the ugly thoughts.    

I love Bhutan!
Now I sit here in peace thinking about what was all that fuss about?  Bhutan feels safe and I love it here.  I know first hand that it’s never as scary as what the mind can conjure.  Those moments of unnecessary agony I put myself through has made me appreciate the mind more than ever.  It’s such an interesting device!  I’ve found that if you allow it to run wild, it can come up with all sorts of unrealistic fears that may keep you stuck in the mud.  To think that I could have listened to it and miss out on one of the most amazing experiences of my life is scary.  Fortunately, there is a night and shinning armor in my story that aided me through the worries, my Dad, who is not part of the “worried warts.”  He was often the hero, pulling me out of my mini tar traps.  I still think about his speeches whenever I feel like I’m walking into some quick sand.  I hear him saying, “Your going to be fine, it’s not going to be scary, you will adjust, you’ve done harder things before, if you need us we will come…” He would also say, “The mind is a tool like a computer and you can use it to your benefit…” and I’m starting to get this.  Thanks Dad!  And mom and Sonia too!
  

Since I’ve arrived in Bhutan, I’ve used some of dad’s motivational speeches to push through further changes.  Most importantly, I have changed how I view change, which is not always perfect, but it’s a start to a healthier life.  I use the renowned teacher, Louise Hay’s mantra that “whatever lies before me is good…” therefore, whatever change I experience, I know it’s for my highest good.  Now I’m looking forward to what the universe will bring me next because today I like the changes that I have created in my life.  It’s quiet exciting, almost like a game I finally figured out the rules to.  One of the lessons/rules that I learned is to welcome change in order to grow and experience more of life.  Change doesn’t have to be scary or bad when you take responsibility for it and know it’s there for your own good.  I’m learning that change is an opportunity to grow beyond your current abilities and one can consciously create it.  Sometimes I get lost in thought while walking home on a small trial from my new school, then I look up and see the most beautiful sights ever; rolling mountains covered with thousands of green trees, kids in colorful kiras, a rushing river and I think, “Wow this a great change, good job Sabrina!”  

Deadliest Roads in Bhutan



Leaving Thimphu for Bumthang

I'm sitting next to the the secretary of education (she's in orange)
During my two-week orientation in Thimphu, BCF spoiled us rotten.  We ate fancy Bhutanese food and had a fun schedule everyday.  We listened to several interesting lectures from the Secretary of Education, a Buddhist professor, the Minister of Education and we even got cooking lessons as well as Dzongkha lessons, which of course I am beyond help for cooking and Dzongkha.  It was fun hanging out with the other teachers all day and night.  The best part was the endless shopping we did during our free time for everything we thought that we needed: mattresses, mosquito nets, heaters, filter, rice cooker, curry pan, kettle, etc.  I made close relationships with some of the teachers in those two weeks and it was a little sad to pack up our home base, but I was also very ready to start the next chapter.

Pretty Views!
Loading Up the Bus
We loaded up a bus and a truck all the way to the sky.  It looked like the vehicle in the IKEA commercial and I prayed my plastic red tub wouldn’t fall off.  I actually enjoyed most of the 12 hour windy bus ride to Throngsa, but then again I got to sit by a cute and funny Australian, so what gal wouldn’t like that.  The bus went up, down, and all around enormous mountains just like in the reality show, Deadliest Roads.  The scenery was breathtaking with snow here and there, endless blankets of green trees, crossing yaks, waterfalls, and glimpses of clear rivers.  I was surprised that I had no problem looking out the window down 100 feet sheer drops.  I liked looking at the tires of the bus as they drove inches away from the edge of the cliff.  I felt like I was staring death in the eyes and a couple of times I whispered, not today friend.  It was a little chilling to drive around gigantic boulders that partially blocked the road and not knowing if at any moment some more could come tumbling down on us. 
8530 - 13125 feet above sea level???

Most of the ride was like a bumpy rollercoaster that sent some of the teacher’s stomachs tumbling.  It was almost impossible to film because I had no seat belt to hold me down.  The bus would throw me side to side or up and down along with the camera.  If you watch my videotape, I advise you to take a motion sickness pill and that’s not a joke.  You will even see people in passing cars sticking their heads out to puke. 

Tata Trucks
The worst part of the road trip was taking bathroom breaks on the side of the road behind any bush or boulder you could find.  I guess that I shouldn’t complain since I wasn’t one of the unfortunate ones who had diarrhea, carsickness, or altitude headaches.  Our bus driver was talented and maneuvered the bus with ease.  For the most part, we all felt like we were in safe hands, even when cars flew around us missing us by a strand of hair.  The funniest part was when we would get in old western standoffs with the Indian truck drivers who were traveling in the opposite direction.  There would only be room for one large vehicle to pass, so our bus and the Tata trucks would come to a stop, nose to nose.  Then the standoff would begin to see who would make the first move.  Once the truck drivers got out of their trucks to stretch or urinate, we knew we lost.  Our bus driver would back the bus up along the crumbling edge until he found a large enough space for the Tata trucks to squeeze by.  To top it off, all of this was done with no communication: not one word or signal.  Talk about skills! 

When we reached Trongsa we stayed the night for a day and said goodbye to several of the teachers because they were not assigned to the east.  Then eight of us hopped back into the bus and traveled another three hours to my location, Chumey, Bumthang.  I was the first to be dropped off and I started to get nervous about if I would have a squatter toilet or hot water.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself by crying if I didn’t like my new home.  I kept reminding myself of the prayers I said in California before I was given my location, which were to send me wherever I was needed the most or where God or the universe knew I could utilize my teaching skills the most.  I also prayed to send me to a location that could bring out my highest good or something better.  These silent reminders brought excitement running in my blood and I just knew it was going to be amazing.   

My Favorite River
The Wooden Bridge
When I arrived, I saw that my prayers had been answered and some.  Oh my goodness, the scenerary is unbelievably beautiful and it’s frequently compared to Switzerland.  The best part of my location is not the view of the forever rolling mountains covered in green trees or the prettiest school in Bumthang, but the most gorgeous river that runs just feet away from my door.   I fall asleep every night to the melody of the river and it’s music to my ears and heart.  The river is crystal clear and you can see that the bottom is covered in smooth rocks.  It also has huge boulders thrown everywhere, which makes perfect seats for basking in the sun or going fishing.  It reminds me of one of my most favorite places on earth:  Yosemite National Park.  I tell you, I am in heaven!  Some other favorite features of mine are the two bridges I cross everyday.  One is a cute bridge covered in prayer flags and the other is a suspension bridge that I love to jump on because it’s so springy.  I feel so blessed! 
The Suspension Bridge

My Room
When I entered my two-bedroom home, I was pleased that it was cute and doable for me.  There would be no tears.  They definitely have different building codes and tenant laws here than America, but it will do.  It just really needs a nicer paint job and a little TLC, nothing I can’t handle.  For now I have just banned myself from looking at the walls or up at the ceiling, which has lots of spider webs.  The floor is really interesting.  I feel like I’m mopping a boarded fence and my mop snags in the cracks.  The windows are also different from than the windows I’m use to.  You don’t slide them open instead they open like gates.  However, they are really cute and are painted with pretty flowers.  I like them!  Sometimes when I look out my window, a cow or bull peering in startles me and I laugh.

Front Door
Front Window
The doors are my favorite.  It took me a couple of days to get used to not having any door handles on any of my doors in the house, including the front door.  My doors are like barn doors made out of a thin piece of wood and you lock it with a latch if you want to close it depending on what side of the door you are on.  When I leave my house, I lock my door with a pad lock.  It’s strange to grasp that my house key is for a pad lock!  Now for the bathroom, dun dun dunnnn, no comment other than I’m grateful that my squatter toilet flushes, so I don’t have to use a bucket of water to flush it all down. 
In My Sitting Room
I hardly have any furniture and it’s a huge change, but I love it.  It’s my new home and everyday it feels a little homier.  That first day I saw my new location, I was so pleased that I did the best happy dance I had ever done.  I can’t wait to discover what Bumthang has in store for me.  I have a feeling it’s going to be something great!  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Part III: Played By A Lama? What Will I Serve The Lama for Dinner?


Part III:  Played By A Lama?  What Will I Serve The Lama for Dinner?

When I got to the top of Tiger’s Nest, almost all the other teachers had already been there for some time and were starting to descend down.  Apparently, Sheal and I took too many pictures on the way up and I was sure our new guide-friend’s finger hurt from snapping all the photos of us.  I hugged the other teachers as we passed.  Everyone on this mountain is excited and you can actually feel it.  The anticipation of entering inside the monastery is almost too much to handle. 

Unfortunately, you can’t take your hats, bags, or cameras in the monastery.  No pictures or filming and you will be patted down before you enter, especially if you look like a photo fanatic foreigner like me.  If you want to know what it looks like inside, you will have to go.  I will not spoil it for others because I want everyone to go and experience its beauty first hand.  I’m confident you won’t be disappointed. 

Feet away from Tiger's Nest
However, I will give you a little history lesson that my new friend (aka the guide I stole away with my charm) gave me about the monastery.  Tiger’s Nest also known as Takeshang Gompa or Taktsang Palphug Monastery is one of Bhutan’s most famous and holiest sites.  It was built in 1692 in Guru Rinponche’s honor.  Guru Rinponche is a real historical figure in Bhutan and is credited for bringing Buddhism to Bhutan during three of his visits in the eight century.  Inside Tiger’s Nest there is a great cave where Guru Rinponche flew into on a tigress back and meditated in for three months.  Guru Rinponche is very powerful and is known for subduing anti-Buddhist forces.  It’s even believed that the construction of the monastery was aided from celestial beings.  There is so much to know about Tiger’s Nest that I can go on for days, so look it up people!

I’m sure most won’t believe all of this mystical stuff about Tiger’s Nest, but I do.  So to be able to meditate in a place where the great Guru Rinphonche meditated was an honor and a blessing.  While meditating I was flooded with the usual luminescent purple light that likes to pay me visits during my meditations.   It was a majestic moment to say the least.  I thought about how happy my angels and spirit guides must have been to accompany me on this once in a lifetime adventure.

People from all over the world make a journey to visit Tiger’s Nest.  I met people from China, Nepal, Italy, Japan, France, and Tibet who were embarking to check off this monastery for this lifetime.  When everyone reached the top that day, they were surprised by a great Bhutanese master lama who had traveled there for the day to give blessings, whom I got my first blessing ever.  I was so excited that I rushed to the front of the crowd without observing the “proper” way to get a blessing and found myself doing a hesitant bow with my head.  The young lama laughed at me, told me it was ok and blessed the top of my head with a wooden looking gavel.  He looked at me with curiosity wanting to know where I was from and why I was here.  He told me that he was originally from the village I would be living at and asked for my phone number so he could visit me when he passed through. 

What?  A famous lama with an entourage wanting to visit little old me, how lucky am I!  So I was devastated that I couldn’t remember my new phone number.  No problem though, he ordered his assistants and umbrella holders to fetch him a pen and paper so he could give me his number instead.  That’s when my ego came out to say hello and I was literally blushing as he wrote down his number for me while tons of people watched.  How strange, the only bold male who asked for my number was a lama, did he think I was cute or was this friendly customs?  I later learned that Lama’s are allowed to marry, hmmm.  I couldn’t wait to tell all the other BCF teachers how special I was. Ha-ha. 

Break time! Shhh
Down the mountain my guide-friend I went catching up to Sheal.  I waved my precious lama’s number around in the air to her.  I yelled in excitement, “Whee, what will I serve the Lama for dinner?”  Finally, we reached the bus and everyone had been waiting for us for quite some time.  The BCF teachers kindly hooted and hollered that we were able to physically make it, little did they know that Sheal and I went on a photo shoot/meet and greet event.  Shhhh!  Their cheering was a little embarrassing, but I didn’t care because my ego had news to share.  I proudly took out my phone number and announced to everyone that the lama was coming over for dinner.  The whole bus busted out in a roar of laughter.  I instantly knew something was funnier about this story than I was aware of and I was about to be the butt of a good joke.  In front of me, I noticed that Reidi was the only one not laughing.  Tim was the first to burst my bubble, he gladly shouted that the lama said he was also originally from Reidi’s assigned village, asked for her number, but she too couldn’t remember her new number.  So the cute lama gave her his number instead, asked her to call him, so that he could visit her whenever he was in her village. 

Down the Mountain 
I guess I wasn’t the only one with an ego the size of Texas.  Reidi had also “ran down” the mountain entering the bus feeling lucky about the thought of this great man coming over for dinner.  It was basically the same exact replay as my experience.  So Reidi and I sat there looking at each other quite annoyed.  The bus was filled with jokes about how we got played by a lama and being a monk is only a day job.  On and on the jokes continued and I couldn’t help but eventually laugh too.   

Later on Reidi and I were still in denial that we were no longer something special and we thought for sure there must have been two different lamas giving blessings.  We started to compare notes on what the lama looked liked and what he said.  Still cemented in denial we got a great idea to get our lama’s phone numbers out to compare.  Our egos slowly crumbled away as each digit matched.  Then we laughed and secretly admitted we were still going to call this lama.  Ha!  What will I serve the lama for dinner?
Reidi and I 

Part II: Reaching the Top with Colorful Lights and Sadness


Part II:  Reaching the Top with Colorful Lights and Sadness

So far up
So what does it feel like to taste your dream come true after salivating for months and months?  Well, it feels just plain old AMAZING! 

I'm pointing to Tiger' Nest
First, I started to feel nervous, as the bus got closer to the trail.  I could see this teeny tiny dot way up the largest mountain I have ever seen.  I thought, “How in the world am I going to get up there? What if I get altitude sickness again?  I don’t know if I can make it bla bla bla.”  Then the stronger part of me kicked in and said, “There is no way you are going to pass up this dream, remember how bad you wanted this, just put one foot in front of the other and you will eventually make it…” That was the only plan I had…short legs, small feet and all.

My guide-friend
It took nearly two hours to reach the top.  I took many breaks catching my breath from the high altitude and steep trails.  Sheal, an Indian BCF teacher, and I were on the same page of taking our time to ensure we made it… one foot in front of the other.  We also were the only two with hidden agendas for long breaks, which were to take turns getting fantastic pictures of each other, chitchatting with strangers, and taking in the view.  I met a photographer and writer for a France magazine on the trail and kind of stole away their assigned Bhutanese guide.  The guide was so kind helping me along the trail and answering my gazillion questions about life in Bhutan.  He became a special part of my Tiger’s Nest experience because not only did he happily and patiently take great pictures of us wink wink, he also was so informative and educated me about many issues of Bhutan like the pollution, tourism, etc.  He promised to even get me some meditating lessons from a well-known monk in my valley, so I will keep everyone updated. 

Spider Web of Prayer Flags
As we got closer to the last 15 minutes, which was the most exuberating part for me, I came around a corner of a massive spider web of prayer flags opening up to the best view of Tiger’s Nest just like I had seen in all the pictures I had obsessed over.  In this particular area, I believe that there is a climax of excited energy huddling around, deposited from people like me who are so overcome by this beautiful sight.  I can’t even begin to explain the variety of feelings that came across me.  I was washed with feelings of gratitude, happiness, love, passion, excitement... all of these feelings mixed together brought me to an elevation I have never experienced before.  I had chills all over my body and I felt like I was going to float away. 

Overlooking the View
Then out of surprise, I could feel a small dash of sadness being sprinkled on top.  I stood there overlooking what I perceived to be the most beautiful place on Earth, asking where is this sadness coming from as my eyes wealth up with tears.  Then it quickly dawned on me that I was feeling down because the people I love the most were not there to share my happiness.  Although I wasn’t physically alone, I felt alone in spirit.  I wanted my mom, dad, sister, extended family, and close friends there to pat me on the back, share some hugs, and jump around in joy with me.  I wished that they could have seen how happy I was to manifest my dream.  It’s like having all the money in the world and no one to share it with.   

Strands of Light to California
I knew that I had to shake it off because I was now satisfying a long craving and there was no room for sadness.  At that very moment, I started to feel drawn to watch the hundreds of rainbow prayer flags flapping in the wind.  Suddenly, this gave me an idea to send my positive feelings to my loved ones similarly to the way the wind carries away the prayers of the flags.  I pictured my joyful feelings as colorful strands of light flying out of my chest all the way across the ocean into California; dispersing to all the people I love.  I smiled knowing that soon they would think of me out of nowhere or feel a zap of happiness for no particular reasons once the light reached them.  I took out my camera and my guide-friend filmed a piece of this joyful moment of me for my loved ones and I no longer felt sad.  So to all my loved ones, I love you guys!


video

If you are able to view this video, please don't judge me because I was on cloud nine and didn't know what I was saying.  Also I had been hanging around foreigners from all over the world all day and at one point I developed a weird accent.  Just have a good laugh!