HRH King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk turned 32 the day before yesterday. This auspicious day is also Education Day in Bhutan and that is so very fitting considering His Majesty’s support and sponsorship of educational initiatives in Bhutan. Along with every other school in the country we celebrated. This year’s event was described as “small” to me and I guess that compared to hosting the celebration for the region as we did last year it was smaller but is was also very much more moving and intimate. I loved it.
The students set up the hall the evening before and as we all sat around consuming a dinner to mark the marriage of 2 young, popular and very competent Bhutanese teachers, I could see young men from the class XII group standing on stacks of plastic chairs, in order to reach the ceiling of the balcony area to hang the colourful cloth fringes and thankas either side of the altar of butter lamps they had previously arranged. With just a friend standing by and reaching only up to their ankles, I was very concerned about their acrobatics but they were as nimble and confident of a troupe of monkeys and the balcony was soon prepared.
The next morning the sun was shining and the stage set for a celebration and a show of affection for their benevolent and revered king. After the students were assembled we teachers were all invited into the hall and requested to light the butter lamps along with the senior student counsellors. It was by far the most beautiful part of the celebration. The whole school faced the back of the hall and the balcony and chanted prayers while we filed past and lit the lamps. No matter how many times I hear this chanting of prayers and I do every morning, it still moves me. Once we had all returned to our places in the hall and the mature voices of the Bhutanese staff joined the chanting it was truly enchanting.
The rest of the morning was spent with class groups all performing cultural items and delivering speeches in both English and Dzongkha on the topic of education. Of course I was a member of the judging committee for the English extempore speeches and was also called upon to join the staff and teachers in several dances. The first of which was enough to have all the students in stiches. We had not practised at all and despite being assured that we would perform the same steps we had the previous night at the wedding celebration, we did a piece I have never seen before and I spent the entire time fixated in the feet of the person next to me trying to copy their moves. When I had almost mastered it without warning they would all turn and I would find myself face to face with the principal being the only “dancer” who didn’t know which way the turn. As they alternated sides so did I always finding myself going in the wrong direction!! I guess it was amusing for the students and just like last year when I wore my kira backward to this celebration, I can truly confirm that on that day I contributed the GNH of the entire school population!
After the beauty of the expertly performed final dance by the class XII dancers, our enthusiastic principal once again summoned us to the stage. This time we did perform the same piece as the previous evening and even I looked like I knew what I was doing.
There were huge smiles on the faces of my home class, in particular and the student cohort as a whole, when we broke for a special lunch provided in honour of His Royal Highness. I guess the icing on the cake for all of us was that not only was the rest of the day free, but the government had extended the 2-day holiday to mark Losar (Tibetan New Year), to 3 days. We had big plans for that but that is another story……….