Bodhi Santa – A Christmas Story

I wrote the story at the bottom of this post for the “Christmas” celebration here at Tsoknyi Gechak School. The staff and students love celebrations; a chance to do performance, decorate, tell stories and have fun.

Home made dolls inspired by our story tellers from Ireland.
Little mice.
Dancing puppets under the direction of our storyteller.
Class 6 shares their creations and a little present with me. Boundless enthusiasm!

I was asked to tell a Christmas story but couldn’t find one that I thought the children could relate to, so I wrote my own and shared it with all the children.

It was fortunate that, last week, the school hosted 2 storytellers from Ireland who helped the girls create their own stories. They were very good at empowering us all to express our stories.

Bodhi Santa

Christmas is a time of giving. A time when giving and helping others can bring us happiness and other surprises.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived in a village in the Himalayas. This little girl was very happy and tried to make friends with everyone she met. In the summer she lived with her grandmother who was very poor. In the winter she returned to her parents home.

As winter came, she decided she must begin walking to her parents house. It was getting cold and soon there would be a great snow. The problem was that while she had warm clothes, she had no shoes. The walk would be very cold for her feet when the snow fell to the ground. As she walked, she prayed that she would find some shoes or that some kind person would give her some.

On the first day she met a man. The man sat by the side of the road crying, “Where is my sister? How will I get to my home?”
“What is the matter kind sir? Why don’t you get up and walk?”, asked the little girl.
“I cannot walk. My sister helped me to walk here, but she left to help her children. Can you help me?”
The little girl looked around. At the top of the hill was a great tree with strong branches. She quickly ran up the hill and returned with a stick, so strong and straight that it gave the man the strength to walk. Together they continued on the road to her parents house.

On the second day the girl and the man came upon a woman laying by the side of the road crying, “Someone help me. I have not eaten in weeks and have no strength to continue on my journey”.
“That is so sad.” said the little girl. “Everyone needs food to make such a journey. Here is my last bit of bread and cheese to help you regain your strength”.
And so she gave the woman her last piece of bread and cheese and rested until the woman was able to walk. Together they continued on the road to her parents house.

As they did, the snowstorm came closer and the little girl wondered, “How will I continue to walk if I have no shoes.” Though she was afraid of the coming storm she walked slowly with the man and woman down the road.

Soon the snow began to fall, slowly at first, but soon it was so strong the man, the woman and the little girl had to take shelter in a cave. The night was cold but the 3 travelers huddled together and found that the cave kept them warm. It was warm enough to lay down for a good night’s sleep. As they fell asleep the little girl began to worry, “The snow is getting deep and I will not be able to walk in the morning. I may have to stay in this cave but I have no food, no water. I may never see my parents again.”

As the girl slept, she dreamed beautiful dreams. She saw colorful lights and ornaments and green trees. She also saw a great being with a beautiful face and light shining all around. The being spoke with a sweet voice, “I am Bodhi Santa, the Protector of Children, the Spirit of Giving. Though you are young, you have done many good deeds. You have lived like a Bodhisattva, caring for others as if they are your mother. On your journey home, you have been brave and taken care of the people on the road. Your actions have brought you great merit. You will succeed on your journey to your home as you have succeeded in your desire to help others.”

As Bodhi Santa’s words faded, the girl awoke and found herself alone in the cave. The man and woman were gone. In their place were 2 shoes. These were not ordinary shoes but warm boots made from the hide of a yak. One of the boots had the drawing of a tree; just like the tree from which she made a staff for the man. The other the was adorned with drawings of yaks and wheat, from which came the nourishment of bread and cheese that she gave to the woman.

“What wonderful gifts!”, the girl exclaimed. “Now I can finish my journey to my parents home, where I can spend the winter.”

And so it was. The girl left the cave, trekking through the deep snow in her new boots. When she arrived at her home she told her parents about her journey and the dream of the great being. She vowed to remember her meeting with Bodhi Santa and to live her life with compassion for all beings.

Teaching with Anis

Learning the names of different fruits with youngest girls. We got to taste them as well.

Looking back on what I’ve shared to date, I realize that I haven’t really described our work with the Anis, the girls who live and learn at Tsoknyi Gechak School. This is due, in part, because I have been trying to figure it out and haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts on the subject. Our work seems to change and expand as we get familiar with the people and the structure here. Interestingly, in the last week or so, Joni and I have become more involved in working with the older Anis of the Trasang and Shedra as well.

Art competition in the yard of the school.

As I have mentioned, most of the children who live in the school have come from the hills and mountains of Nepal (on the northern border). They have come here to get a proper secular education (reading, writing, math, 3 languages, social studies (including moral education or right behavior), and Buddhism.  The Trasang group is separate from the school and is made up of young women from India who are focus on the rituals and practices of Tibetan Buddhism and who do much of the daily chores around the Gompa. The Shedra is also separate from the school and is made up of young women who devote their time to studying all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism; philosophy, meditation, practice, ritual, language (Sanskrit and Tibetan), and many aspect that I don’t know how to describe. They also have some housekeeping duties around the Gompa.

Shedra Nuns finishing a year of Tibetan with their Venerable teacher.
Editing Photos with the Trasang Nuns.

The bulk of our “work” is in the school with the children; class LKG, UKG (lower and upper kindergarten), Class 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 7A. Joni works with classes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. I work with the rest. We both focus on English by weaving in the content they are learning in other classes. We’ve also created lessons that emphasize spelling and speaking the most common words in the English language (Fry words), phonics, rhyming and such. Like most jobs, our teaching job has required some time to get a sense of how things run. We are learning how the teachers work, what the goals of the school are and the skill levels of the students. We’re feeling more confident now that we have established a working relationship with the primary English teachers. English is not their native language and unfortunately we DO mis-communicate from time to time. Over time we’ve become a better team, sharing the lead for instruction and working together to switch between speaking English and waiting for translation when necessary. It is my understanding that the recommended way to teach any language is immersion; in the case of English instruction, making students communicate in English only. This is difficult if the teacher is not totally proficient in both languages. Unfortunately, we aren’t proficient in Nepali or Tibetan and the teachers still lean on their native language over English.

Older girls reading to younger thanks to the efforts of Joni.
Younger students posed as a group during our field trip to the zoo.

All the technical details aside, we have come a long way toward establishing a relationship with the teachers and the students. The result is a level of humor and trust. We are becoming more relaxed and willing to approach one another, despite the occasional barriers of language and custom. Joni brings her experience as a classroom teacher and this is being recognized by the teachers as she creates lessons that are focused and based on her observations of the student’s competence. She has some tricks and methods that she models for the teachers and shares with me. I expect her ideas and influence will live long past her time here. I have limited experience with teaching English or curriculum. I believe my strength is in engaging with and building relationships with the teachers and children, playing, and understanding their needs. My skill in writing and speaking, spelling and grammar are also a bonus – though the “rules of grammar” evade me at times. Mostly, I try to learn from Joni and the teachers I work with.

Our time outside the classroom is just as important as our time in the classroom as we play games, chat and joke with the girls. When we first came it was difficult to get the girls to look at us. Most of them would cover their face or mouth with their robes when they addressed us and would seldom look us in the eyes. Now they greet us as we come and go, calling us by name (“David Sir”, “Miss Joni”). They say, “Good morning”, “How are you”, “Sweet dreams”, “See you tomorrow”, etc. When Joni left to go back home to visit her mom last Friday, some stood on the wall waving her goodbye. We are becoming part of the big family.

While our relationship with the young women of the Trasang and Shedra has developed more slowly, we often get evening room visits from them now; to request help in editing their English writing. This began when the class 5, 6, 7 and 7A students began bringing penpal letters to edit. What started as a trickle, a single student knocking at our door in the evening, has become a flood. Some evenings we have 5 or 6 girls standing in line for feedback. I have to admit that I sometimes cringe at the late night work. But when I see their commitment and willingness to take feedback and their devotion to learning, my resistance fades. I want to do all I can while I can.

The Trasang nuns are writing stories about life here in the Gompa, their decision to come here and their hopes for the future. The idea for writing started in a photography class that I’ve been running with them. The school teacher that I collaborate with agreed that we could capitalize on our photography lessons by mixing writing and photography. The hope is that they will maintain a regular newsletter for the school, with stories of the children in the school and activities in and around the school. Writing about themselves to begin the process seems like a good place to begin.

All of the nuns, young and old, have incredible skills in concentration and memory. I’m not sure how this has evolved exactly but it is reflected in the youngest students who spell and say words with great speed (I ask them to slow down sometimes). As we have spent time with them we’ve realized that the ability to spell and say words is very different than understanding the words or linking a string of words into a sentence. Consequently, we have made it our mission to teach in sentences and question them on the meaning of words. It has been a wonderful learning experience for all of us.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year – 2017

Rather than send you a Christmas card in the mail this year, challenging for me even when I’m home in Colorado, I am sending a “card” via my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

This year has been full of changes and firsts for Joni and I as well as for Hannah and Megan. We are fortunate in that, though change has it’s challenges, these changes have been welcomed and invited.

Our year – 2017

As Joni and I were making plans to come to Nepal (in 2016), we got the news that Megan and Adam were going to get married. We were very happy to hear this as we like Adam very much but we were concerned that the date might not work with our August departure. We didn’t have to wait long before Megan announced June for the wedding and we began calculating how we would weave the wedding and connections with other friends and family into our journey.

With the inspiration for travel in the air, we sat down with our calendar and charted the months remaining before our August departure for Nepal. The idea of going to Nepal and being gone for many months made us more aware of the people we were leaving behind. We knew we would return, but we would be leaving our familiar orbit and loved ones. With that thought, we wanted to take time to see as many family and friends as we could.

Looking toward spring, we decided that a trip to the Utah desert was a must. Fortunately we were able to arrange a trip with our friends Paula and Frank and their daughter, Savannah, husband  Brandon and 4 year old daughter Avi. We always enjoy staying at their friends Yurt in Castle Valley where we can enjoy their company along with a few conveniences. Being with Brandon, Savannah and Avi is like being with our own kids and grandchildren. Another big bonus is enjoying the serenade of Frank’s guitar and vocals. I tested a new microphone on my camera and took the opportunity to record Frank playing in one of the Canyons (see YouTube below).

Soon after our March trip to the desert we were off to Sparta, Wisconsin to see our friends, Andrea Hansen and Curtis Miller. They were in the middle planning a May wedding for their daughter Chloe. We’ve know them since our days in Wyoming when we were newly weds. As our soul-mates in Rawlins, Wyoming, they were the first friends to hold our new baby Hannah. Curtis also performed Hannah’s wedding ceremony in 2010. Since we knew we couldn’t make Chloe’s wedding in May, so close to Megan’s wedding, we decided to visit them in April. We enjoyed our time catching up on life’s news as we toured around Sparta and the surrounding area. It was fun to see their house, visit Andrea’s mother and meet some of their friends in and around Sparta. We even had an evening of music in a colorful little tavern in the area.

Spring passed quickly as we worked on the house, recycled, sold and donated as many of our possessions as was practical. Once I got started, I became enthusiastic about discarding things. In the normal course of living, things build up and gets stuffed away. The “stuff” is layered and diverse; from old files and photos, electronics, furniture, kitchenware, knick-knacks, magazines, and on and on. We think, “Oh, I may need that.” or “This brings such wonderful memories”. While all this might be true, we probably will just continue to keep it in a box never to be seen or appreciated. I recommend purging your possessions if you are so inclined. The funny thing is that, in the process, you find things that you thought were lost and are really are worth keeping.

June, the wedding month, came very quickly as we were still busy with our jobs while putting the house in order. On our way to Walla Walla, Washington (where Megan and Adam live) we stopped halfway, in Salt Lake City. Once again we got to see Savannah, Brandon and Avi briefly. They graciously gave us a place to rest our heads for the night.

It just so happened that before the wedding we had the opportunity to see Megan graduate with her Master’s degree in Social Work. This was also an opportunity to spend time with Adam’s parents and discuss wedding plans before all the people arrived.

The wedding was wonderful (of course); with all the emotion, activity, confusion and beauty you’d expect. While the wedding was a do-it-yourself affair, it was very elegant though down to earth. The ceremony was held at Tranche Winery, among the fields of grapes. Megan and Adam worked tirelessly on the details and invested the help of family and friends as they arrived. This made it an opportunity for families to get to know each other while working side by side. Joni found a house where most of our family could stay together and enjoy more time. It was a joy to see my brother Rob and Joni’s sisters under one roof.

Wedding Album

With the wedding complete, Joni and I returned to Glenwood Springs to finish the house details. Our goal was to get some things stored, clean the house and turn the house over to our friends, Ben and Namrata by July 22nd. With 3 weeks left this seemed realistic. This schedule would allowed us to drive to Missouri to see my Mom, drive to Mississippi to see Hannah, Kyle, Lilly and Charlie, return to Missouri, and finally fly out of St. Louis for parts east on August 16th. The good news is that all of this worked as planned. Even better, my mom agreed to travel with us to Mississippi so she could see Hannah’s new house and bask in the glow of her great-grandchildren.

That’s right, while we were busy preparing to leave, Hannah and family made the leap from Lafayette, Louisiana to Starkville, Mississippi. As we got news of the wedding and plotted our travels, we got news that Hannah and Kyle were taking jobs in the Starkville area and would be buying a new house. As the Matron of Honor in the wedding, Hannah was determined to get it all done and make it to the wedding on time. With her usual determination she continued her “move” in the midst of the wedding festivities, working on the closing of her home loan. By the time Joni and I got to Mississippi in August, they had moved in and (short of a few boxes) made it HOME.

Our visit to Missouri and Mississippi were an opportunity to decompress from all the packing, moving and travel planning. Nice to have some distance from the gravity of all our attachments and work in Colorado. With this distance it became evident that we were actually leaving the country.

While in Missouri, we enjoyed visiting my brothers and sisters-in-law and a few of my nephews and nieces. In Mississippi we got to explore brand new territory; Hannah’s neighborhood (and the beautiful lake), Mississippi State University, Hannah’s workplace, and of course the shops and restaurants. Best of all I enjoyed watching my family together – Mom and Joni hanging out with the kids and the adults catching up with each others lives.

So, there you have it. Most of the story of 2017. Joni and I are truly blessed to have our health and the resources to travel and spend time with the great people in our life. We hope that you and your family members are also healthy and blessed with similar gifts. In our day to day routines, under the barrage of news and information that has become common, it is easy to forget our blessings. I pray that you can enjoy the energy and beauty of this life and that your joy showers your friends, family, strangers, and even your “enemies”. It is time that we push back the negativity of selfish individuals and agendas.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year!

If you’re interested, here are more pictures of events for the year 2017.

Rafting with Jim Eason and the Conner’s

Rockies Baseball with High School Friends

Necessity – the Mother

It is Thursday morning at 5:30am. I am standing over the long bathroom sink staring into a bucket of cold water. I carefully pour the soap so that it isn’t too thick and sink a select bunch of clothes into the mix. It is 43 degrees outside. Given we have no heat, I assume it is the same temperature in the bathroom. The first cold dive is the shocker. I can’t believe how much colder the water is than the last time I did my wash (just last week). But after 5-10 minutes of clothes “agitation”, I relax, look into the mirror, and concede that this isn’t so bad after all. In fact, I realize that this is easier than it could be. It is easier than doing it on the street as many locals do in Kathmandu. Not only that, I realize that this and the other challenges here, are gifts, helpful lessons. I hope I will remember them when I jump back in the Western fast lane.

I realize that choosing to go backward from convenience is not everyone’s idea of meaningful. My mother has told me that she would never want to go back to the old ways on the farm, without modern washing machines, refrigeration, and stoves. I appreciate that. At the same time, I think she appreciates her conveniences much more because she has experienced the absence of them. Growing up in a world of convenience didn’t give me perspective or an appreciation for them. My Nepal experience does.

Another difference is that my mother didn’t choose to live without convenience but I did. While I couldn’t have anticipated all the challenges, I knew full well that I would be doing without and that I would be uncomfortable at times. This idea of “planned abstinence” is very familiar to me. Since my days of working with kids in outdoors, I’ve realized that doing without is a good learning experience. That said, I find it difficult to give things up in my regular day-to-day living environment. I’m not that disciplined. So, I choose to put myself into situations where I have to swim or sink; where there is no easy escape to the comfortable. Where I have to invent, adapt and settle into the experience.

Just 2 days ago I wasn’t waxing so philosophical about the beauty of challenge. I don’t remember all the circumstances but the final blow was the destruction of my precious coffee press. Picking it up off my bedroom table, the already fragile glass, slipped out of it’s sleeve and shattered on the floor. It was the first time I’ve shouted profanities since I’ve been here (I may have mumbled a few). After sweeping my room I resigned to return to instant coffee for a while. Shit happens.

It all boils down to our state of mind right? The longer I live, the more my aches and pains increase and the more I enjoy life’s sensual treats; the sight of natural beauty, the sound of music and children, the smell and taste of good food, the touch of my grandchildren on my lap. Through it all I realize that my perception is the key. My emotions and my thoughts – the way I interpret my experience is key. Granted there are times when conditions converge and I am overwhelmed by the situation. At these moments my awareness is pushed into confusion and I forget to breath., forget to listen to my heart. Fortunately, most of the time, my practice helps me see these situations for what they; the movement and gathering of clouds, that come and go.

The main point is that we have a choice. Not everyone would choose to sleep on the ground or go to Nepal. You don’t have to go to that extreme. Some people are born into more difficult circumstances. But all of us face unexpected circumstances no matter what our age, gender, or social status. The difference is that some don’t realize (or deny) their part in the play. I choose to believe that my choices AND my interpretation of events bring happiness and or suffering to myself and others. I choose happiness. Thanks to my teachers, I also know it takes regular practice to remember this.

It is days later now. It is getting colder. I have a cold. I am homesick at times. Clouds come and go…

Here is a collection of photographs that I have shared on Instagram and Facebook. I want to share them here for my non social-media friends. Someone on Facebook commented that one of the photos appears unreal. I must admit that some of these photos were created in HDR (high-dynamic-range) process. What this means is that I took 3-5 photos of varying exposures and combined them into one. This allows me to capture what I am seeing (the range of highlights and shadows) more accurately than would be possible with a single exposure. I have tried to maintain the actual ambience of the place and scene and avoid a contrived, psychedelic look. I hope you enjoy them.


This week marks the end of 3 months here in Nepal. I know this primarily because I had to renew my VISA yesterday at the Department of Immigration. You would think that this process would be pretty straightforward. They provide a website where you can complete the details of who you are, passport information, and how much longer you wish to stay. Filling it out successfully yields a bar code page that allows them to access this information. Take the barcode form into the Immigration Office, pay the fee and continue to enjoy the people and places of Nepal. Simple right? Not!

As with many things here in Nepal, one must rely on local friends and fellow travelers for advice and help. First of all, the online form requires a current address. Problem is, it’s difficult to determine your address. One person told me, “Just enter some random information. They don’t really care where you live.” That would be easy except for the second point; they don’t just ask for a street and number. There is a whole string of information they require, with no explanation of what the fields represent.

Thankfully, one of our kind administrators at TGL, Dolkar, provided me with a reasonable answer for each box.

Now, I’m no stranger to long forms on the Internet. For 14 years I filled out a 20 or 30 page Federal eRate application for my school district. I’d have to say that this one page Immigration form was more daunting.

I won’t go into specific problems or the technical details of why it sucked so bad but I entered my information 5 or 6 times (I really lost track in the midst of my frustration). Each time I was rejected and required to re-enter the information with very little feedback as to what was wrong. Finally I gave up – or delayed my frustration really (the opposite of delayed gratification) for another day.

Pressed up against a November 22nd deadline, Joni and I began asking people for the secret method for overcoming this hurdle. Fortunately we were at a teaching with Chokyi Nyima Rimpoche (Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s brother) in Boudha where hundreds of “immigrants” just like us were being blessed by his wisdom. The best advice and assistance came from a young lady who had learned that it is best to use a phone rather than a computer for the form. Skeptical but thankful for her help, I used her phone and relied on her advice and persistence to get a positive return – the precious bar code. The end result was a form that didn’t have accurate information but it did have all the required boxes filled in to the satisfaction of the computer database that accepted it.

Guardedly relieved by our success, Joni and I managed to get to the Immigration Office over an hour before their advertized closing but were told they had closed 5 minutes before we got there. After making a sarcastic remark to the guard about “Nepali time”, we exchanged smiles and I went on my way.

The following day, I got another exciting motor scooter ride, from a TGL staff member Kechok, to the Immigration office in Kathmandu where our magic barcodes were accepted – but not without some cajoling in Nepali by Kechok. Following him, I moved from window to window listening to negotiations on the details with various bureaucrats. It was only through his determination and experience with Immigration that I was able to get Joni’s form accepted without her present and get their final stamp of approval. The irony is that Kechok is a 29 year old Tibetan who, because of his heritage and age, has no national identity whatsoever. He can’t vote, isn’t a “citizen”, and has no papers for travel abroad. Despite his national limbo he was my hero for the day.

VISAs in hand, Kechok treated me to a ride back to TGL, with a stop at his home in the Tibetan Refugee Camp. This was my second time at the Camp. Last time he showed me the small school and home for the elderly in the camp.

This time, he gave me a tour of the weaving and spinning business that supports the people and services in the Camp. As you can see from the pictures, there isn’t much room for them to work but this doesn’t prevent them from putting in long hours contributing to their community. All the proceeds of their work support the school, the elderly home and the people and services of the community. The temperature in the weaving building was very pleasant yesterday but, the number of looms and the number of fans on the ceiling indicate that it is probably stifling in the summer.

Our time here in Kathmandu is going fast now. We have spent quite a bit of time in the city lately. We stayed in Thamel in the company of friends from the US  one weekend. This gave us some time to shop, eat good food and relax in the comfort of our hotel. We walked to Kathmandu Durbar Square, one of the largest of the Durbars in Kathmandu. The walk was interesting with scenes of commerce and tourists packed into the narrow streets (that feel like alleys). It was a treat to show our friends where we live as we returned home for work on Monday.

As I mentioned, last weekend we attended the teachings of Chokyi Nyima Rimpoche. He is the oldest of the 4 sons of Tulku Urgyen Rimpoche, one of the greatest meditation masters of our time. His brothers include Tsoknyi Rinpoche (my teacher), Mingyur Rinpoche, and Tsikey Chokling Rimpoche. This coming weekend we will attend a teaching with Mingyur Rimpoche.

In 2 days you will all be enjoying Thankgiving dinner. I hope that you have a wonderful holiday with friends and family. We all have much to be thankful for don’t we.