Friday, August 19, 2011

How I know Karma is the real deal…

One of my gentlest 6th graders calmly approached me one day.  “Madam, Karma is beating me.”  My student turned around and I saw a small person hanging on to the 6th graders back like a little koala.

“You are lucky my sixth graders are so nice Karma.  You do realize this boy is twice your size, right?”  Karma said nothing, gave my 6th grader another mini smack and took off.  The sixth grader and I shrugged.

Karma is a pudgy little third grader who zips around the Early Learning Center slightly little hunched over, with one squinty eye, saying things like, “Mam, may I have a word with you?”  He is articulate, honest, and a wiggle worm when it comes to studies.  He frequently sprints into a classroom, comes to a screeching halt in the doorway, and looks around for someone to tell the latest third grade news to as if he were Cramer from Seinfeld.

One day over our 2-week summer break, I was in a car about 30 minutes outside of town.  I heard a small voice and noticed a little chubby kid covered in mud shuffling over to the car.  “Mam.  This is my house and this is my dog,” he proclaimed as he gave the scruffy mutt two firm pats on the head.

A week later, upon arriving back to school, the little guy ran up to me again, this time saying, “Madam... you were at my house.... you met my dog.... and your 6th graders... they are like family to me."

There is something about my sixth graders that the kid loves.  I once held a tutoring session with a group of sixth grade boys and I was pleasantly surprised when I looked over to find Karma sitting at a desk, his feet dangling from the oversized chair.  The bad teacher in me held back from asking him what study session he was ditching to come hang out, just to see what his intentions were.  After about ten minutes of listening in silence, he casually walked out and picked a playful fight with his best friend in the hallway.  My sixth graders excused themselves from my study session to go and break it up, and the day carried on as usual.

Karma, who is constantly sucking up nose danglers, once told me that the King is more handsome than him because "the King has less snot".

When I asked my sixth graders to ignore another student’s challenging behaviors and just set a good example, Karma, who was nearby replied, “You should probably start ignoring me as well.”

At meditation, I can’t help but hear the mission impossible song play in my head as I see Karma creep in the direction of a teacher and stop to do a fake meditation every five feet so as not to disturb the people around him.  He typically wants to wash the mud he was playing with during morning prayers off his round little fingers.

The phantom knucklehead slips into my room and quietly joins tables of sixth grade boys eating lunch.  On the schoolyard, he convinces the boys twice his size to hop onto his back for a quick spin around the schoolhouse.

I guess what I am getting at here is that, Karma’s honesty, self-awareness and confidence to not give a damn what others think is admirable.

When one of Karma’s classmates brought in a smourgesbourg of food for her birthday, I asked Karma if he thanked her.  In the middle of shoveling cake into his mouth he explained, “Actually, she is my total enemy, but I just said thank you anyways to be polite.”

While holding back my laughter, I said, “Oh, wow Madam Jessica, Karma shared something interesting with me.”

In the middle of the party, Karma pulled me aside, well aware that Madam Jessica has the loudest laugh at ELC, and said, “Madam, please wait to tell Madam Jessica when she is outside of the classroom.”

The kid is classic!

I don’t know if it is the fact that I have seen him noogie the tallest sixth grader on the playground… or the fact that when he does a karate kick, his running start, and the momentum of his kicking foot pick his pudgy body off the ground so that both feet are in the air.  Whatever it is, I like it.  And that my friends, is Karma.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

One Phallus, Under God, With Liberty and Justice For All.

On the Fourth of July, I went to the Devine Madman’s Monastery.  The Madman, or Lama Drukpa Kuenley, is a figure from the 15th century who is a bad ass to say the least.  He blessed women by having sex with them, and he is the reason Bhutanese paint penises on their homes.  Along with celebrating sex and fertility, legend has it, Drukpa Kuenley created Bhutan’s national animal, the takin.

When it comes to saints, in my book, this guy wins.  Being the smart ass he was, when some people asked him to perform a miracle, he decided to have some fun.  He looked at his lunch, which was a goat and a cow, combined the two animals, and created the takin… maybe the dumbest and ugliest animal to ever exist.  The Takin is in a taxonomy category of its own, and science tells us the Devine Madman is cool because of this.

My Fourth of July was spent at the Madman’s monastery of fertility.  While you were BBQ-ing and watching fireworks, I was being blessed over the head by an ancient wooden phallus and a bow and arrow.  No hamburgers or beer for me, but at least I got a wiener.

Friday, August 5, 2011

100 Bucks, Beers, Ringing Bells, and Dowries… Almost Vegas

My friend KP is awesome.  A few lines in a blog cannot do this kid justice, but to sum him up in a few short lines, I’ll just say the following.  You can spot him from a mile away in Bhutan.  He will be carrying a book and he will not respond when you call him because he will be wearing headphones.  He is one of two men in Thimphu with an afro.  Between my chillipness and his modern look, we get some great stares when we walk together after work in our traditional gho and kira.

Summer break means camping, so KP and I packed some backpacks, boiled a few eggs, and threw some crackers into a bag.  Off to Punakha.

We had things down pretty well… I watched the packs while KP made any purchases to avoid the chillip price for cabs and such.  We arrived at a campsite.  Two kids approached us to collect our fees for the night.  We knew the Bhutanese rate was 25 bucks (about 50 cents).  The kids saw me popping the tent and immediately said, “200”.  KP struck up a conversation with them in Dzongkha.  I chimed in a few Dzongkha phrases, and they said, “Okay, 100 bucks”.  Then KP said I was a teacher living in the country.  The younger of the two boys smiled and said “50 bucks”, at which point his older friend nudged him and gave him the evil eye, saying “No, 100”.

We tossed them a 100 dollar bill.  From that moment on, the two boys became known as “50 bucks” and “100 bucks”.  50 Bucks and 100 Bucks helped us carry our sleeping bags and told us they could lend us a pot to cook with for the night.

KP and I took a short walk and we came acrossed a tiny, one room monastery.  We walked passed new puppies to the front door, where a small boy let us in.  We paid our respects and spun the large prayer wheel out front.  After our stroll, we were happy to return to camp and join 50 buck and 100 Bucks around a campfire.

Later, some other men joined us all around the campfire.  The men were from India, and had been working near by as laborers.  KP spoke with them in Hindi.  They explained that the building they were constructing was for the upcoming royal wedding.  They told us they enjoyed our company because not many people hang out with them.  They spoke of their families, and one of the men said he was working to pay his daughters dowry.

A dowry is dependent on income.  These men made about 4-5 US dollars a day, and the going rate for a dowry in that income bracket was a bed, a cycle, and a small lump sum of money.  One man told us he was happy to have 3 boys because he is getting three beds and three cycles.  (Listen closely Mike Adams.)

The men asked KP if I was his wife.  Though I do not speak Hindi, I understood the question through the context and the look on KP’s face.  I told KP to tell them I could not afford a bed and a cycle and therefore we were friends.  They laughed.

The men expressed their surprise and concern upon discovering that I moved to a new country alone as a single woman.  We took turns throwing wood on the fire, we shared food, beer, and laughs, and then we retired to bed.

In the morning the Indian men invited us to breakfast.  We watched as one of the men guzzled down clay colored water straight from the same river they used as a toilet and bathing area.  KP asked if they boiled the water.  In Hindi, the man replied, “we did not know if it was okay to drink when we arrived, so we drank it for a week and it seems fine.”

After breakfast, KP and I took an amazing hike along a paddy field lined road.  We hiked up higher this time to another monastery in the hills.  Miles of paddy fields being ploughed by oxen and the sounds of dinging prayer wheels sucked me into craving a simpler life.  Our walk was a treat and when we reached the top, we meditated with our backs to the monastery and our fronts to the mountains across the valley.  The monastery was impeccable and as we sat on the large, clean walk way, the only sound we could hear was the occasional clicking of a large dung beetle carryon his business, and not looking twice at the giant praying mantis basking in the sun to his right.  Not bad… not bad.

As we were packing our belongings to leave that evening, 50 Bucks and 100 Bucks ran up to us.   “Why are you going?  Are you bored already?”  We explained how our tent would not be able to withstand a storm and the rain appeared to be coming.  The boys helped us carry our belongings to the roadside.  They sat with us for a half hour or so while we waited to hitch a ride to town.  100 Bucks recently finished the 6th grade and does not plan to go back to school.  He aspires to become a rafting guide, and he never plans to get married because if he dies on the river, he does not want to leave behind a family.  50 Bucks is in the 3rd grade, aspires to be a movie director and plans to have a nice wife some day.

We flagged down a car, thanked the young gentlemen, and we were off.