Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Out and about for the weekend

After the slow and concerted start we made to writing exams it was something of a shock to discover that the exams had been ‘preponed’ (I do know that that it isn't a real word but Bhutan doesn’t) and all the deadlines moved forward by a couple of weeks. We should already be used to the nonsensical and arbitary administrative decisions that are often made but we weren’t. The elections are the reason for the shift and that of course means silently comply. We frantically did all that was necessary to meet the new deadlines but when we discovered that our holidays no longer match up and we probably won’t be able to travel anywhere I hit rock bottom!

As usual the only pick me up that came to mind was take a break and go somewhere now! Armed with fresh coffee from a recent package arrival and chocolate from a local source, as well as a few other treats we took ourselves to beautiful Bartsham.

We escaped from school as soon as possible on Saturday and went downtown to look for a ride. Unlike last time we decided that we were not going to stand around forever. After momos for lunch I saw a taxi and asked and he gave me an inflated reserved price and I just accepted and decided that given it is a bit more than $10 for 2 of us it is fine. We got to the gates of my school and picked up 2 other teachers there, even though he would have driven right past them and had already done exactly that to another potential customer in that short distance.  We said to pick them up and then further down the road another man jumped in and then 3 nuns in their Buddhist robes joined us too. The idea that no-one wants to go to Trashigang on Saturday afternoon is obviously a fallacy.  When we got there the others, with the exception of the nuns, contributed the usual fare and we still paid over the odds but it sure beat the crazy waiting around and hoping and their contributions brought the price down for us. 

We bee-lined to the photo shop and ordered up all the prints I wanted for the photography club and then had a quick scoot around to see if any of the little luxuries we were hoping to take with us were available but both the shops we wanted were closed so we took the first taxi we saw that was heading for Bartsham and it took off within 15 minutes of me spotting it. That gave us enough time to find some alternative treats to take to Julian and Shauna and we were loaded into the front of the 4-wheel drive with an English speaking driver and a full load of passengers and luggage crammed into the 2 rows of 3 seats behind us.

Ian texted Julian as soon as we took off and before we even got to the turn off from the "black top" everyone on board knew who we were and where we were going and most were also acquainted with Madam Shauna and Julian Sir.

We thought that it would take 2 hours but is was only a little over one and most of the route was unsurfaced and therefore we were travelling at an even slower pace than usual. 30kms per hour max and still bumping and jostling around inside the cabin. Before we even got to see the main street we were unceremoniously dumped on the roadside below Julian and Shauna's place and we started clambering up the hill with our backpacks, quilt, bakery items, juice, boxes of muesli, some fresh asparagus and a good amount of good cheer. 

Bartsham is like a fairytale village. It is so pretty and so quiet and friendly that you could be forgiven for thinking that you have travelled back in time. There are huge peaks all around it and even in what seemed perfectly clear conditions we were told that there were still higher peaks hiding in the clouds and they are still snow covered! We reveled in the cooler air and the spectacular views, as it has been so hot in Rangjung for the last few days. After dumping our stuff in Julian and Shauna’s gorgeous renovated house, we took advantage of the remaining light to do a brief tour of the town and even met a couple of the locals doing likewise. We enjoyed the smallness and the views immensely, but mostly we settled in for a good chinwag and a few beers. It was nice to laugh again after what has been the most stressful week thus far in Bhutan. 

It was so nice to wake up on Sunday knowing that we had the whole day before us and we could really relax. A real weekend after what seems and eternity of endless commitments!  We took off for a walk after a great breakfast and a chat with one of the neighbours and her gorgeous little baby girl. We were told that we were going to do a circuit around the mountain top chorten and up to a ridge and then down to the local temple and Shauna's school. I am sure for J & S it wasn't even a hike but we found some stretches quite difficult and needed a couple of ridge top rests and time to catch our breath. We stopped at a family home for tea and then again at Shauna's principal’s place for a few beers before finally getting back at some time after 5pm.

The bath scenes are from that family home and the second one is to show the setting. Amazing! We could hear those girls squealing with delight as we approached. Once we were home again the neighbours and kids dropped by again and out came the drinks so it was quite the party. 

Monday morning we headed off in a taxi that Julian and Ian booked the night before and we didn't have to reserve the whole vehicle but just paid the usual rate for our 2 seats at 8am. Once we were in T/gang we ordered up another round of photos for the Bartsham crew, did a bit more shopping, paid the rent, and the internet fees and both got haircuts. I went to the barber that Ian has been to a few times and he did a pretty good job. I even took the last of the dye I had so I feel so much better about the way it looks now. Deepak the barber was chuffed to get the business and even called today to see if I was happy with the result as there are no washing facilities and one must go home and shampoo the dye out for one’s self. I wasn’t overly concerned about taking the public bus with the dye still in and a heap of shopping and luggage but our luck was with us on this occasion.

We had spotted the man that lives downstairs from us as we arrived in Trashigang that morning and gave him a wave. To our surprise just as we were thinking that we would get momos for lunch he spotted us and offered us a lift home! We jumped at the chance and we piled into his car with all our awkward collection of luggage and shopping just after midday. It was therefore somewhat different from our last run into T/gang and back as far as the transport was concerned. 

If all else fails we might be able to repeat the journey to beautiful Bartsham in our shared week of holidays or else we might be content to stay at home and see who comes out east to visit us!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cluster Sports meet

We have been a bit quiet of late and that is not because we have been snoozing. Here In Rangjung we have very little free time and such a lot to do that we feel pressed to find the time for things we enjoy: like keeping up with this blog. This weekend I put aside the 3 half finished exam papers I am currently writing and the final set of 40 class XI reflections that I should be marking and decided that I would watch the district sports meeting being held in our school when I wasn't involved in an official capacity that is.

I certainly wasn't alone in my spectator role and Rangjung being Rangjung it was hot and sunny and we were clinging to whatever shade was available on Saturday.
When I put up my hand to run the table tennis team I didn't really understand that that would make me T/T co-ordinator at the cluster meet. In fact I wasn't in the least bit confident that I could umpire even if there were only 3 schools involved and we were stationed in a hut out near the boys toilets! The regular club members play for fun and are largely rank beginners with whom I feel very comfortable. There is a competitive element in the boys group and they lobbied immediately for not being left in the hut but relocating the table to the stage in the hall. To their credit they also did the work that that involved and found students better able to fulfil the umpire and scorer roles too. When I first discovered that this would be my responsibility, I was a little surprised to discover that last years national girls doubles runners up were out there somewhere in the school cohort. But they came forward as did other non-club members and the team selected itself as it were. The better players have emerged in the last 2 weeks and we had a frenzy of after school practices last week and the real test was yesterday.

The boys doubles team strut their stuff on the table relocated to the stage.

During the practice sessions I decided to try my hand at sports photography, but was also inevitably distracted by those who just have to have "one snap madame" and so in lieu of more descriptions  I will attempt to convey the feeling of the last 2 days with my feeble attempts at capturing the mood and highly competitive spirit of the event.

Those schools who had travelled to be at our campus were every bit as supportive of their school efforts as the Rangjung students were.

Kezang has learnt a bit of discipline and the need to have a strategy and not just slam every shot in the last 10 days and that saw him through to the next stage in the boys singles.

Despite her previous track record and stirling effort Sangay was beaten by in the girls doubles.

The boys volleyball was a huge hit with the spectators and Rinzen put all that lanky height to good use at the net.

Ever the showman Jamyang was the star spiker and these boys will get to play at the next stage too.

The Rangjung boys badminton doubles also breezed through to the next stage and Youten kept his cool while maintaining a very aggressive strategy.

Girls soccer (oops football in these parts) did't get there despite their valiant efforts and having been beaten two years running by Dungste Middle School, there will be a real battle next next year to save face and honour.

Great to see some parents out there watching the action today too.

Boys football was a sensation with 6 goals scored in the first half and the boys in green proving themselves a formidable team.

There is never any shortage of students capturing one more photo opportunity!

As for me I am hoping that the Class XI Science A group won't mind waiting a couple of extra days to get their papers back and that the glowing red face and lower arms I scored today when the conditions were overcast will fade quickly, without too many long term effects. Being an Aussie I thought I had learnt my lesson about sunburn a long time ago but Bhutan got me one more time today. Ian and I even got in a few hits this evening during evening study and when the table was safely back in its hut position and the normality of school routine had returned to RHSS.

Monday, May 9, 2011

When getting home is twice the battle

I have heard of getting there is half the fun but I recently learned that getting home can be twice the battle.

On Saturday as soon as our teaching commitments were over Ian and I headed off to Trashigang to do a spot of shopping and get the photos for the Photography Club processed. When I say headed to Trashigang we actually went to the main street of Rangjung and waited around looking hopefully at any vehicle that came down the main street in the right direction hoping to snag a lift. There are “taxis” available locally. Here a taxi is 4-wheel drive or minivan with its roof painted yellow to indicate that, if there are empty seats and they are going to your destination, then you might be in luck and be able to pay the share rate with any other passengers going your way. It is also possible to book a vehicle but only if you speak the language and are prepared to pay for all the seats yourself!!

By Saturday afternoon when we become free there are never any such taxis going in our direction and the locals are happy to tell us that they all leave early in the morning, as does the only local bus. That of course is when we are teaching.  Anyway, after stopping every likely looking vehicle on the road, and flagging down ones who weren’t going in our direction, one of Ian’s grade 4 students took to pleading with a driver parked at the end of the street, to take us. He looked completely disinterested in us and the prospect of going any where, so she gave up and we for want of any better option, when we had already waited an hour took off in the direction of the main gates of my school, on the off chance that another teacher might be heading to Trashigang.

Before we got to the gates the very same driver happened along and motioned to us to get in. At this we were all smiles and weren’t in the slightest bit fazed when he stopped 5 minutes out of town and the only other passenger informed us she was just getting something from her house and we could wait for about 15 minutes. She leapt out and left her handbag on the seat to prove that she was coming back and bounded down a goat track to one of the collection of small huts directly down the cliff face and on the river bank. We settled in for the wait joyous at the success of having our journey there sorted and confident that the local bus would be able to bring us back. When she arrived back in less than 10 minutes we were all set. In fact another 4 kilometres out of town we stopped to pick up 2 more passengers in front of the Vocational Training Institute. That meant that there were now 4 of us crammed into the back seat and off we bumped to Trashigang.

This regional centre has a few shops and restaurants and hotels and our prime destination the photography shop. Ordinarily an hour of shopping would exhaust one’s interest in what was available but with 700 photos to print it took half an hour just to program in how many of each shot we required. We knew that local bus left for Rangjung at 6pm or thought we did, so we spent the next 3 hours doing the rounds of the various shops and then dropping back into the photo processors to see how they were going. At about 5pm I could see that they weren’t going to finish this print run in time and began try to hurry them up. Futile as that was. By 5.45pm I was out of patience and about to abandon whatever had not been printed yet, knowing full well that the students would be bitterly disappointed as some of them had already waited almost a month since the shots were taken. At that point one of the staff suggested that we could leave him to print the rest and it would be a simple matter for any of the drivers going through Rangjung tomorrow to drop them in at the high school. Problem solved we paid up for the full quota and rushed of to the bus station.

We had about 3minutes to spare when we got there and there were 3 local buses in the parking zone but all of them in much better condition that the old rattler that we have taken home twice before. Jamie Zeppa in “Beyond the Sky and the Earth” vividly described this bus as the vomit comet! That’s our local service in a nutshell. We looked around a little puzzled and then a knowledgeable young man who seems to hang out in the station informed us that the schedule had changed on May 1st and that the only run back to Rangjung now leaves at 3pm and that of course meant that it had already left for today, just moments after we arrived in fact.

The taxi drivers all sitting around outside their vehicles chatting now suddenly began to take a slight interest in us. We had no option but to take the only van prepared to offer us a lift at the full vehicle price for a return trip, as he would have to come back empty! No choice, so we piled in and off we went. 5 minutes out of town he declared that he forgot to get fuel and that we would be returning to T/gang!!! He asked a driver on the road if he was going our way but he wasn’t and so we were unceremoniously dumped back near the photo shop! We actually think he just lost interest in the fare but we were then starting to worry about how we would get home. At that exact moment we ran into the husband of another teacher from my school, with the same dilemma and we 3 decided to head back to the bus station to see if a driver might be more interested with 3 passengers.

At this point someone informed us that an old beat up truck with 2 bench seats running down both sides and open sides was going our way and as soon as it had off loaded it would be leaving. Music to our ears! The driver actually had his head buried in the engine and it didn’t look very promising but with no other option we stood around the plie of bamboo stakes, buckets of other building materials and gunny sacks of chillies trying to look as optimistic and hopeful the rest of our soon to become travelling companions.
Just as darkness descended on Trashigang we bumped off towards home with a few elderly farmers and their chillies and a couple of day labourers and their supplies and tools. We 3 chalkies were the only ones that didn’t buy some of the chillies before finally getting off the bus/taxi/truck at the gates of my school, but we were greeted by students expectantly asking if we had the photos.

Yep most of them, and it only took Ian another 2 and a half hours and several phone calls on Sunday to discover where the driver had left the final instalment of them, when they weren’t at the school as we expected.

I only wish I had had my camera with me to photograph the weird and wonderful vehicles we travelled in but then again it was because of photographs that the whole dilemma had started.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Teachers' Day

After the torrential rain the afternoon and evening before both our school's big celebrations, Ian and I were both fearing that the effort of the all students in the last few weeks preparing for this huge day in Bhutanese schools would all have been in vain. So it was with great delight that we awoke to a clear cool morning with fog hanging over the mountains and no rain in sight.

After my first walk through the muddy fields to school I arrived to see banners flying and students busily setting up for the performances and speeches to come. Both the assembly area and the Multi Purpose Hall, MPH, had been decorated with banners and glitter filled balloons and there was a definite air of excitement. I took up my usual position in the staffroom and began my morning marking ritual only to be shooed out by students who wanted all staff to assemble in the parking area. One day without marking would actually be a treat so off I wandered. We were to meet up with other colleagues and be presented with a rosette by the student  counsellors.

We also took the opportunity to take a few photos of the staff who were decked out in their finest for the day while we waited for the late arrivals.

Within a short time we were summoned to the assembly area where students had ben patiently waiting for 45 minutes. As we walked down the banner decorated path these two traditional musicians set the mood for the coming celebrations.

After we were all greeted and assembled, the speeches and flag unfurling took place. From the folds of the flag fell hundreds of rose petals and once homage had been paid to the goddess of wisdom, balloons were burst showering glitter over the officials. Some speeches were delivered in both English and Dzongkha with the twist of the Dzongkha teacher delivering in English and the Indian Math teacher delivering in Dzongkha. He was also especially decked out in a gho for the first time and this delighted the students. Then it was time for the welcome dance in which the whole student contingent participated.

We teachers were served tea by the counsellors while the students completed the final touches on the MPH. There were teachers from nearby intuitions and a group of ex-students now studying at university level who had returned for the event and they joined us so it was quite the undertaking to accommodate us all in 2 separate locations but the counsellors and senior students made it all seem very effortless. Since the staff were really in their best traditional clothes including boots for many of the men I suggested a staff photo before we moved off.

As we entered the MPH we were directed upstairs to the balcony to light butter lamps while the whole school sang. I am impressed at how moving these mass choruses are and how committed and heartfelt the students' involvement is.

Once inside a full program honouring each of us with tributes, gifts and ceremonial scarves began the proceedings and I was very impressed that every single staff member, teaching or otherwise, was included. I would have to say that the loudest cheers went up for the head cook and the driver and it speaks volumes for the work that these 2 and the many other cooks and equally well appreciated other ancillary staff do, that 600 students wanted to express their heart felt gratitude to them. More speeches and short film clips and a single song took us to lunchtime and the program of entertainment had barely begun. It was then that I discovered that we would be served lunch and that 2 football matches would divide up the remaining entertainment which was scheduled to take place on the soccer field after lunch.

One of the ironies of the day is that it is a public holiday except that we teachers spend the usual long day plus some hours at school.....

Meanwhile down at the Lower Secondary School...

I gave a speech about Teacher's day and education in general, I don't think many people listened or really were capable of understanding but I gave it my best shot! I was by no means the only speaker on the day.

Different classes gave performances, usually dance numbers and mostly of a traditional nature to honour and please us teachers. The whole day started for the 'captains' around 5.30 am when they began decorating and setting up the area. Messages were stuck onto the wall of one of the classrooms and balloons were strung up giving the whole place a really festive atmosphere, well done captains!

It really was quite a difficult logistical operation, but cooperation between staff and students and a lot of hard work on the day ensured success.

The dances were one of the few times that boys actually interact with girls in anything other than a combative manner, ours is a Lower Secondary school remember...

I was never this shy when I was in grade three was I???

The audience loved the whole celebration. Each of them received some biscuits and a glass of orange cordial which added to their enjoyment.

Even the resident school dogs put in an appearance on the day although unlike some mornings during the National Anthem, they remained pretty quiet.

The class four girls stole the show with their rather modern dance. I wouldn't be at all biased just because I am their class teacher... The boys flatly refused to have anything to do with singing or dancing, instead preferring to remain as spectators. 

The most embarrassing moments were when the students were handing out their presents to teachers. I got a swag of pens, mainly red, a good half dozen coffee cups, a lovely scarf- hand loomed no less, a household ornament which was for both madam and sir, and a neat little photo album. I told all the kids today that were naughty, crestfallen looks- that they shouldn't be buying me anything, they should keep their money for themselves- righteous indignation at that idea!

All in all, an excellent Teachers' Day at both schools.