Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Om mani padme hum. Wrong turn.

In class, my students sing, “Om mani padme hum” everyday.  The prayer means many things!  The students believe they should sing it everyday to cleanse them of sin.  It is also sung as a person is passing away, so that when the person goes to hell (in Buddhism they believe everyone does), that person will receive minimal punishment before reincarnation.

Today, some of the teachers in Bhutan ran a race to encourage youth exercise. It was suppose to be a 5K.  The weather, as usual, was pretty wacky.  It was hot as hell with a side of showers whenever a large cloud passed over.  Today was a day for shorts.  My roommate and I walked up the mountain to the starting line.  Every time I got a strange look, I said an “Om mani padme hum” for my sinful knees.

At the base of the mountain, I heard, “Madam Jennifer,” and I saw six small children running towards me.

After a few “Om mani padme hum”s, I asked my students, “What are you gentlemen doing today?”

“We are having a picnic,” said one of the boys, as another child held up the only picnic food in sight: the Bhutanese version of a bag of Cheetos.

I slowed down my pace.

“Would you like some mam?”

“Meshu.”  (no thank you)

We asked the boys to join us.  The boys scurried up a shortcut in the mountain while my roommate and I took the road to meet them at the top.  Race time.

At the start of the race, the directions were given, because the course was obviously not marked.  We followed one of my students who led the entire pack.  The American blood in my roommate and I could taste the first, second and third place prizes at the end.  Idiots!

We ran through the mountaintops.  My ears popped with the altitude.  We passed large roosters on the lawn of a gorgeous monastery.  “Om mani padme hum.”  We continued to run.  We chatted about how the clouds cast the most beautiful dark shadows on the mountains.  We ran.  We pondered what the prize would be.  We ran.  We asked ourselves if we won money, whether we would use it to buy lined paper or curriculum.  We ran.  We saw a rainbow.  We ran.  The sun got hotter and the hill got steeper.  We ran.

We realized we had taken a wrong turn.  We were at the bottom of the mountain we climbed once already, and the finish line was at the top.  We walked.

I contemplated teaching a lesson on directions to the boy who got us lost.  I walked some more.  When my body cursed me and threatened to die right then and there, I “Om mani padme hum”-ed it up. 

Several hours later, we reached the top, as people were getting in their cars to leave.  When the head gentlemen asked me if I enjoyed myself, I replied with:

 “Yes!  You should do it again soon!  But next time, can you give the directions in English too, instead of only Dzongkha?”

I walked into my apartment and drank water next to the window.  The sky opened up and it dumped.  Just in time.   I watched.  As I watched the rain, I thought long and hard.  In the event that I die, please do not waste your breath singing "Om mani padme hum".  One, you may pass out by the time I am spared in hell.  Two, I also wouldn't mind coming back as a pig, seeing as though they use the medicinal, native, green plants here as "pig food".  Thanks.

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