I was deeply concerned that Martha’s brothers, John and Robert and a dear friend, Sigrid were in Bhutan and travelling east to be a part of the 49th day ceremony and that all of us who live in this zone of the country would not be able to attend due to a prior commitment. Months ago we signed up to participate in the Sherig Century Walk and the 2 events clashed. In what can only be described as Bhutanese fashion a reprieve at the 11th hour meant that it would be possible to be present at the ceremonies in Dungste Middle Secondary School and still do the walk.
This welcome news also set me thinking about what exactly we could say that would assist these people to make sense of what happened. I am not sure that I have managed to do that for myself yet. I have to admit that I had trepidations about actually meeting face to face. What did I really know? I wasn’t even there at the time!
Nonetheless I jumped at the opportunity to interact, which is my nature and after a long day at school on Wednesday November 7th Ian and I stromped up the “hill” to the monastery guesthouse to meet them and Karma over dinner.
For us the prospect eating out in Bhutan is always somewhat daunting, as we are veggo and endless meals of chillies and cheese and rice is not our idea of a balanced diet. However we were surprised at the excellent meal that we shared and the affable and non-confronting exchanges that took place over that meal.
Having already sought leave from our respective schools the next day we were back up at the guesthouse well before we would ordinarily have arrived at school. I had volunteered to help Sigrid get into kira for the occasion and as it turned out also helped Karma dress the brothers.
It is no mean feat for someone unused to this clothing to get it on and persist with wearing it all day and I was impressed that they had all decided to take up that challenge on that particular day, given the emotional and unknown nature of what lay ahead.
I have been up to Phongmey several times now but this was a very sunny, blue-sky morning and the views, which are truly breath taking were even more so in the soft light of a spectacular Autumn morning. The harvest long finished in Rangjung was still underway and the fields were glowing gold with the ripened rice crop. This time of year is a photographer’s dream with the cool crisp clarity of the atmosphere. The cloudy and foggy scenes we arrived to in winter and the ever-darkening skies of summer have totally different light qualities but this is the season of stunning beauty.
The rituals and ceremonies of the day were reasonably familiar to me, though there were few unique touches. At this point in time, the tent erected on the school grounds, the chanting monks in the MPH, the offering of butter lamps, the constant supply of food and tea, the endless rounds of introductions and polite conversations punctuated with official duties, all seem exactly the way to honour the occasion but I was constantly wondering what the 3 chief guests were making of the whole scenario. There was a sudden realization that now I understand and can predict this culture so much better.
There were plenty of staff and friends gathered as well as the students and I felt that John, Robert and Sigrid were given the time they needed and wanted to ask questions and resolve concerns. I truly hope they felt the same way.
My heart soared when I discovered that we were really going to consecrate some of the huge white vertical prayer flags that fly from the upright poles. We see them everywhere. I love the majesty of these memorials and I have never seen the ritual of consecration before.
From the beginning of this tragedy I had hoped that a stand would be erected for Martha and they were. I can’t say I enjoyed stumbling through the undergrowth to get to the spot that was chosen or climbing back through the barbed wire fence in my best kira was very much fun. But I can say that the area with its wide vistas and ancient chorten, which is the exact view Martha would have had from her quarters, was clearly visible to the students from their hostels and tranquil and fitting. Now I want to go back and visit them one more time before we depart.
The day turned out to be so much longer than I expected as it included a second breakfast, lunch and dinner but it ended much like a wake with lots of friends, colleagues and dignitaries gathered together chatting and even laughing .
The long drive back to Rangjung in the dark gave me ample time to contemplate on the proceedings and feel a sense of closure.
Bless you Martha. Tashi Delek!