What a week it has been.
What with the mid term review at school and house guests for 2 nights, then visiting the most eminent religious figure in the local area after school on Friday and another "baby shower" last night. We have hardly had time to stop and collect our thoughts.
The review was a spectacular affair and as it involved the Prime Minister a great deal of preparation by both the school and the dzongkhag went into pulling it off. There were special gates set up in various areas of the school, and all elaborately decorated. Flags were strung from the entrance to the school all along the paths leading to the multi-purpose hall and out to the lunch area and playing fields as well as into the school assembly area. A red carpet was laid along the entire path and as I arrived at school on Wednesday morning the monks from the nearby Woesaal Choeling Monastery (which is the one we can see from our front door) were costumed up and waiting to perform for the dignitaries.
At the time that the usual morning assembly would occur the quadrangle filled with government officials and ministers and their secretaries and representatives from all over the district, including the hills tribe people from Sakteng and Merak, who wear gorgeous maroon handmade felt tunics and long shorts with knee high boots. Their clothes are quite distinctive and in my opinion gorgeous. Speaking of boots there were many of the officials also wearing their leather and cloth boots and I only wish I was privy to the meaning and rank displayed in the colours and designs. The respective ranks of high ranking government officials is declared in the colours and stripes of the kubneys that they wear over their ghos and this was explained to me again by one of my colleagues. Though I am still not exactly clear as to who is who.
I watched from the staff room as the assembly of dignitaries grew to over a hundred, regretting that I hadn't brought my camera to school but one of the Dzongkha teachers told me that I should not "snap," when I expressed that idea so I guess it was for the best. Before the whole ceremony began and the Prime Minister himself arrived, we were summoned off to classes to ensure that the students remained quiet and orderly, so I didn't see anything but like the students I was sorely tempted to stick my head out of the window to catch a glimpse of the proceedings when the long horns, cymbals and drums of the monks all started up, marking the beginning of their performance. Needless to say we all resisted.
That afternoon we did get an audience with the Prime Minister and although most of his speech was delivered in Dzongkha he did lapse into English on occasion and he was both eloquent and inspirational in his visions and advice to students. He asked and answered questions from the floor and even directly asked Ian who was sitting in the front row one question. At that point I was glad I had elected to join the students and was the only teacher from our school at the balcony level with 120 very well behaved and attentive students. All our hard work presenting the school in the best possible light seemed to be totally worthwhile in the light of the success it was later declared.
On Friday at school we were both told that the whole staff would be required to visit his eminence Dungse Garab Rinpoche, who is an adored local religious leader. Pictures of him adorn many walls, teachers’ work spaces, the school bus and local businesses. He is also is responsible for building the monastery and other training institutes for monks and lamas here in Rangjung, as well as making many generous donations to the schools in the district. He travels extensively and when he comes back here all the locals pay him a visit and are blessed. Without knowing exactly what it involved I tagged along with the rest of my school staff and was instructed as to what to do when by them. We arrived by bus, as his residence is part way up the mountain leading to Radi and I was trhrilled to see that Ian was already there with his staff.
The procedure was quite simple and although I was not obliged to, I decided to participate by prostrating 3 times as we arrived in front of him, and then lining up to walk towards him with a white ceremonial scarf carefully pleated in my hand and thrown out to cover both outstretched arms as we approached. He took the scarf presented and blessed each person and then returned it to them, around their necks. Several of the babies present had their first lock of haircut by him as it is considered to be auspicious. He actually spoke to me and wished me well with my teaching and thanked me for coming to Bhutan, after Lopen Sherab explained why I was there, so that was nice. Once these simple formalities were over we were served tea and given a small booklet about his teachings, which is in Dzongkha, English and Chinese. Then most of the men disappeared and it wasn’t until much later when Ian returned home, that I discovered that they were all completing against the monks in several rounds of Bhutanese darts.
This morning we woke up to an archery contest going on right outside our front door. There is loud whooping and cheering and dancing and singing that accompanies every arrow that hits the target so it is quite the spectacle and we are enjoying the sounds and the prformances. The distance that they shoot is huge and they use both compound and bamboo bows but the lot outside are all using bamboo so it is the more traditional and cheaper form of the national sport. Never a dull moment in Rangjung!!