Monday, August 29, 2011

What we do when we are NOT teaching.

Although we are at week 9 of a 5-month semester and the holidays seem a very long way off, this semester is less stressful than the last since we now have some idea of how things work. 

Rangjung LSS, Monastery and Rangjung HSS from Bidung side.

I guess the really big news is that we have lodged our paperwork to extend our contracts here for another year. We have always had the view that 2 years is the minimum with these kind of postings as it is not until you are into the second year and able to predict the upcoming school events, social calendar and other related commitments that you really get a clear picture of the place. Thailand proved to be the exception to the rule and we know that we have never had to work this hard before but we still feel that the settling in period and adjustments to a new culture and environment are now largely over. We actually didn’t have to deliberate very long about the decision. Although we toyed with the idea of trying for a posting in a different town, we finally decided that having visited several friends in other locations, we have always returned to Rangjung thinking that we had been blessed with our location and climate so staying put was probably the best decision. Well done to BCF for placing us in the most Aussie friendly zone in the country.

Here we experience many kinds of commitments that go well beyond our teaching schedules and since it has been a while since I last recorded what we have been up to, I will outline to last few weeks in terms of non- teaching activities.

Two weeks ago we had the Chairwoman of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) come and speak to the whole school and her team showed a Power Point Presentation on the work they do reducing and addressing corruption. I was personally impressed that the whole session was conducted in English and so the students also participated in English. Teaching staff were required to stay afterwards and chat with her over momos and tea. Despite the fact that she did try to get everyone involved, it ended up almost like a second lecture. As one of the few women here in a position of power, she was happy to express delight that so many of our girls were vocal in the question and answer session that followed the presentation and that was a feather in our cap as a school.

A week later the Opposition Leader, Tshering Tobgay appeared for a similar session and expressed the exact same sentiments, so Rangjung girls must be something of an exception. His presentation was in Dzongkha but it was interspersed with English and he also commented on the girls preferring to use their English language skills. He gave out his Facebook account details, Blog address and several other Web pages to all the students inviting them to engage in political debate and even wrote on his wall about their participation the very night that he had addressed them. For me however it was another 12-hour day that had included a long period of standing around in the school car park waiting for his arrival.

MPH with the students in full swing.

On the Friday following our ACC visit, at lunchtime a notice went up that the Garab Rimpoche (read much adored local religious leader) was back in town so were all required to meet at the school gates at 3.30pm and go up to his residence, just out of Rangjung. He raises funds abroad and sponsors many local community projects as well as providing retreats. This visit required obtaining a white scarf like I am sure you have seen the Dali Lama being offered, and then presenting ourselves with said scarf to him for the blessing and nullification of our bad karma. We have been through this before and had some idea of what to expect and a dread of how long we it might take as it was for several hours last time. I was in traditional clothes but without the "rachu" that is required at these formal occasions as I had no way to go home and get mine so there was a bit of a stir until a female staff member with a spare was found. Luckily Ian's school and mine both went together and there was an important meeting that evening, so we were able to make a quick get away this time.

Car park routine

Then the very next day (Saturday night no less) I was required to meet in the MPH (Multi Purpose Hall) of my school for a dinner to welcome a new baby! On this occasion the mother and baby weren't even present so it seemed even odder than usual. One of the SSO's wives had had a bay girl earlier in the month so we all needed to assemble and pay respects. We have also been through this a few times before so I knew the routine. Meet at appointed time and wait for up to an hour for those who proudly claim to be on BFT (Bhutanese Flexible Time). Then tea and biscuits and a round of awkward sitting around before the principal announces how happy we are to be there and then gift of a carton beers, which are mostly consumed there and then and a baby outfit and nutritious food for the mum are handed over. A round of the hideous local brew called ara that smells like dry cleaning fluid is then served. I do know other BCFers have taken to this noxious drink but I have a total aversion to it, and despite saying I don't want it I am forced to accept some every time.
When it comes time to eat, everyone defers to everyone else about getting up to serve themselves with the meal provided on tables out the front, until someone decides that I should go first and we all stampede forward and form a queue. As usual there was pork, and dried, deep-fried fish, which I was happy to have a legitimate excuse to avoid, as it looks totally unappetising. Since both fish and meat are rare in this cuisine, it is popular. Then there was the usual cheese and chillies, (national dish emadatse) which is unbelievably hot but the only thing I could add to my rice. The other dish was also fried cheese and red chillies and the oil slick on top indicates that it is a cholesterol nightmare to be avoided at all cost. Luckily, like the Chinese, once the meal is over the Bhutanese just flee, so after our 6.30pm start I was home again by 9pm!! 
During that week we were also delighted to host Charly, who was doing the rounds of BCF teachers out east to escape the monotony and boredom of being in Mongar without much to do as the partner of Julia the special Ed teacher there. He timed his arrival perfectly between visiting dignitaries and public meetings to avoid both and enable us to spend the maximum amount of time with him. He amused himself well enough and spent a bit of time in each of our schools but decided to head off with a Bhutanese friend wanting to utilize his carpentry skills on Saturday morning, just before our next pressing community event.

Rimpoche arriving for football on a previous occasion.

After the first round of VIP visits and social obligations, we were once again summoned to the MPH the following Saturday night. Ian had to attend the meeting with Rimpoche and all the local residents on the topic of “double purity”, which was held at my school but my principal only insisted that the national (Bhutanese) teachers attend from the beginning (2pm after finishing school at 12.30pm) and we non-nationals, meaning the Indian teachers and I, didn't have to be there until the dinner at 6pm. The hall was packed when I arrived and every local business was closed for the day for that reason. Although we had been told there would be a meeting we had no details about the time, until the notice went up at about 10am on the day.

The whole meeting was in the local language Sharchopka not Dzongkha so Ian was at a complete loss. Not that either of us would have understood any more had it been in the national language. By the time I got there he had been sitting in the very overcrowded and overheated hall for over 3 hours and the proceedings went on for another 2 and half hours before dinner was served. The Rimpoche himself called us up to his honored position at the front of the gathering for a chat immediately after he spotted us. We have now met him several times and he has excellent English as he is out of the country fund raising a lot of the time: in America and Taiwan mostly. 

Some of the RLSS kids did a short skit which was a highlight of the afternoon session according to Ian and my school's dance group performed a few pieces at the end and while we were eating dinner. After that, the finalists from our Rangjung star (Idol type competition) all got up and sang. We were keen to escape before it turned into a fund raiser, not that we weren't prepared to donate but....... Ian's friend Samdrup explained that you could nominate anyone to sing and pay a fee (200 ngultrums) so they then had to sing, as the money would go to the monastery. We could both guess that we would be nominated despite not being able to sing and therefore fled. 

Rimpoche deep in conversation.

Last Monday the Royal Wedding Cup began with an opening ceremony conducted by the Rimpoche and the first of the games. It has been one game after school every night and 2 games on Saturday and Sunday ever since but I can honestly say that I have witnessed only 5 of the 9 games that have been played thus far. Before arriving in Bhutan I had never seen a single game so this in itself is an achievement for me.

Football heroes Principal Sir and Chogyel Sir.

For us as the hosts this means that we get to see a whole lot of BCFers who come to see their team play or the manage them. Nick from Khaling was the first to arrive with his team last Thursday, Natalie appeared just before the storm on Saturday accompanying the Sherubste Collage non-teaching staff team, and John and Maureen materialized to report the hail that they had driven through about an hour and half later. We snatched a quick conversation with Nick before he and his team departed for their 3 hour drive back to school after a 6pm finish and we hope to see him again as his team won.  Luckily we managed to spend part of the afternoon with Natalie and more of it with the Wamrongers (John and Maureen) who stayed overnight, after their team narrowly beat our Rangjung HSS team in the second of Saturday’s games. Unfortunately for the boys one of their players was badly injured and removed from the field on a stretcher. He is now waiting in Mongar Hospital for surgery, as his leg is fractured in 2 places. The RHSS staff team’s victory on Sunday lifted the spirits and cheered up the students no end after that unwelcome mishap.

My home class IXC in all their glory (this is one photo I didn't take).

In my spare time I have been taking all the class, staff and ancillary staff photos for the school magazine!

Rice swaying in the breeze.

Finally a weather report: We are getting the odd day that is cooler and have had more rain in the last week than the whole rest of the monsoon season. Of course, because the football is in full swing, there have been some incredible storms. Not the least of which was last Saturday when thunder, lightening and even hail didn’t even disrupt the game schedule. Just when I thought that it was almost over, I discover what the monsoon season is really like. Still it is nothing compared to the nightly, torrential downpours of Thailand. The zone directly above the rice fields is full of dragonflies in the mornings, the rice sways under the influence of strong and welcome winds, cooling us off after sweltering afternoon sessions and we have seen 3 spectacular rainbows in the last week.

View from our living room window!

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