Sunday, April 8, 2012

When the going gets tough the tough get cooking!

Spring is still with us but it is getting hot now

Let me begin by saying that my idea of a perfect day is to wake up with nothing but a guest list for dinner on my mind and then to walk to Adelaide Central Market. I buy what looks fresh and takes my fancy as I wander around and then after a coffee to contemplate the menu and any forgotten items, I head home and spend the whole day pottering around in the kitchen and finally while I am cooking I plan the table setting. With everything ready to roll, I hopefully create an original setting to match the food and delight in having a glass of wine before the guests walk through the door!

a huge pot of dhal with veggies 

Today was not like that but we started with vegemite and tomatoes on toast, which is a rare treat in these parts and real coffee, of which thankfully we have a supply. Ian prepared a huge pot of dhal with veggies (wholesome veggo food, we would have called it in Adelaide!) This is all the week’s packed lunches, and a survival must for us. While he did so, I cleaned and did the washing of sheets and towels by hand. Then I got a spin in the kitchen and turned out some Japanese onigiri for a picnic lunch!

Japanese onigiri for a picnic lunch!

My school and the monastery from the climb

The last week was nearly as hectic and a lot more frustrating than the previous one which I last blogged about so not wanting to sound like a constant complainer I will not go into detail. Let me simply say that the bureaucracy of education is remarkably similar in all 4 of the countries, where I have taught, with Bhutan coming in an amazing first place on the hierarchical, superiority front.

Our house and Becky's mountain

When I came to Rangjung, I never imagined that I would be so totally insulted by a toe-cutting official, that I would find myself shouting at him that his judgment and comments question the professional integrity of all the teaching staff and for me were motivation to simply leave Bhutan! The teacher sitting next to me began the 4 and a half hour meeting by encouraging me to be silent and patient and remain seated. By the end she was telling me, “Go on Madam, you are our spokesman” I am not sure if the “our” in that statement referred to the female staff, the expatriate teachers or in fact the whole teaching staff but if I hadn’t spoken up and taken to defending our school and teachers, I fear I would have exploded. The irony of being questioned and rebuked for the quality of our daily lesson plans, while we were being detained and not teaching up to 4 classes that we had planned, because we were in an “ad hoc” meeting with a VIP was not lost on me. Neither was the unsettling information that we would be graded lower as we had not met important deadlines when the person involved had also not made it our school before the end of March and kept us for 4 classes and over half of lunchtime when this meeting was only going to take two periods. What actually incensed me and many other teachers present, the most was that we were losing valuable class time with students who will be taking board exams and can ill afford the loss of instructional hours to be berated and demotivated! I inquired about what his name was, when we were finally allowed to leave, as “in the interest of transparency and accountability” – a phrase often bandied about here- I certainly want to remember it.

Enough said! I hiccupped my way through the afternoon classes having devoured my lunch in 10 minutes flat, knowing I had a double period and voting supervision before the Photography Club meeting that afternoon and therefore no hope of escaping before 5pm, when evening study starts. 

Photography Club cameras almost always requiring batteries to be charged-sometimes 3 a night!

Lhendup Gyeltshen playing for XC

During after school hours this week there were the usual round of sporting events held most nights and a surprise visit by a politician already on the campaign trail for the election next year I suspect; not that I attended that one. As well as the regular club activities, there was a staff meeting in preparation for the official visit about which I fear I have already said too much, but I might say this initial eye-opener was almost as infuriating, as the already mentioned debacle.

Sam Blyth and Dasho

I didn’t actually get to hear the political speech, as I was fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner with the founder of BCF Sam Blyth and his wife and several of the significant donors, who are currently travelling in Bhutan. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, as I recall last year when it was the first real opportunity any of us teachers had to catch up with each other and hear the news about everyone’s placements, schools, homes and woes! This year was no different except the number of us teachers in T/gang is lower and there were only 6 of us in total: Becky and Martha from Phongmey, Ashley from Kanglung, J-D from Bidung and Ian and myself representing Rangjung. (Wamrong, where Simon is placed, is still too far for him to make the party. Maureen and John were similarly absent last time.) With important guests from the district including the governor (Dasho) himself and a good 6 other high-ranking officials, including our toe-cutter from the previous morning’s meeting, and the BCF Canadian contingent, it was a lively and entertaining evening. We did our usual all get into separate groups and chat initially but then when we had all had some down time we were able to mingle more and made an effort to circulate and speak to more people. I am grateful that yet again the principals were all invited and they too seemed to enjoy catching up, as without them none of us would ever have been able to get there. Once again it was a late night with an early morning to come and also one of the few night drives back from T/gang that we have experienced. We fell into bed after midnight that night and we were a lot closer to home than most others.


This weekend there has also been a Science Exhibition for each class, with some really incredible display models, held in our MPH as well as both girls and boys inter-house football finals on Saturday. Today was a whole day Bhutanese darts (Khuru) game for the boys and I made two perfectly timed visits. The first was this morning when I really wanted to see my own home class boys playing. With 27 teams and no-one able to tell me the time they would be playing yesterday, that was a stroke of pure luck. As it turned out, we happened to arrive just 20 minutes before they finished their game and won!! Photos all round and then we headed up the mountain hiking again.

Power generation model

Hiking again

Yes, despite the fact that we have not had an opportunity since walking our legs off a couple of weeks ago, Sakteng is firmly in our sights. We even mentioned it to the Dasho who will have to approve our permits, on Friday night and he too wants to go this year at about the same time, so we might yet get to see the festival that only happens up there every 3 years! (naked dance festival, no less) Wishful dreaming perhaps as it is in term time we think but ….. Today our target was much closer and we ventured up the track towards Bidung, but did not do the full 2 and half hour climb this time. I had my sights set on seeing “Joyce’s Chorten” so named for a dear friend’s mother who passed away and for whom we flew prayer flags there last year. We have no way of knowing the real names of these places, so we decide our own. Becky's mountain is another as we can both see the same mountain but from completely different perspectives

“Joyce’s Chorten”

Having achieved that goal we pressed on and I remembered a little shelter that my class had told me was for travellers last year, when we all walked up together, so I hoped to get that far. As luck had it Ian recommended stopping for our prepared “omisubis” (Japanese rice triangles) with that landmark in sight so that was a perfect picnic spot and chance to cool off and catch our breaths. Even in this mild weather it is a steep climb straight up and I was red-faced yet again!

Traveller's shelter

The second visit to Khuru was after clambering back down the mountain, which interestingly enough took the same time as the heart thumping climbing.  Firstly we returned home and whipped up a frittata for dinner. Then we slipped back to school and the playing field was left with only 3 teams playing it out for game honours. We saw the last 20 minutes of the finals and snapped the finalists much to their delight. Even though there was no more dancing at every bull’s eye hit, they all did one final dance for the camera, “Video Madam” at the end of the tournament. Unfortunately our Internet will not allow me to post that!  XC will be disappointed to tell me tomorrow that they did not make it but all round excellent experience for players and spectators from what we saw. Dare I say why can’t the girls play too, when we have seen women playing in the villages this year?

The winning team

Dinner was delicious and yet again food and cooking has returned my good humour and spirits just in time for another week at the chalkface.


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