Friday, September 28, 2012

Photo essay: Martha in Bhutan

In the last week I have had more page views on this blog than ever before and I do not kid myself that it is because I write so well. I know full well that it is because people, especially in Canada but also in other countries, are keen to make sense of Martha's sad passing. With this in mind I have decided to post a blog of some of her time here. I know that it is brief but I hope it conveys some of the joy and adventure she experienced. 

Early days just weeks after she moved into her room next to the warden onsite at 
Dungste Middle Secondary School.

Our first real fun together was when she and Becky came down to Rangjung where we live for the King's Birth Anniversary public holiday. We all met at the half way point and then hiked down together from there: 16 kms for all of us in total and it was great.

On the suspension bridge just beyond the back gate to Rangjung Lower Secondary School.

I really got to know her and enjoy some down time with her when we all synchronised to be able to attend the book fair in Mongar together to buy books for our respective schools.

Martha was never one to do things in half measures and I
 just love these shots of her in in buying mode at the fair!

Not long after Sam Bythe the founder of Bhutan Canada Foundation hosted a dinner in Trashigang which several of us BCFers were able to attend though the notice was certainly late and we drifted in, in what can only be described as Bhutanese Stretchable Time.

There were also occasions when we all much to our surprise unexpectedly bumped into each other in what I like to call the "small smoke" of Trashigang town. Martha always chortled at that!

This shot is courtesy of Martin and at Burning Lake in Bumthang. She was torn between attending the BCF retreat and coming with Tim, Ian and myself to hike into Sakteng but she was very happy that she went with the majority of the BCF teachers and loved the retreat and hike they did.

The classes she taught waiting with anticipation at the cremation grounds. Dasho (the governor of Trashigang District)  is speaking to them

Her arrival from Mongar at the cremation grounds near Rangjung.

The BCF teachers and many but not all of the dignitaries present on the day.

The funeral pyre.

Nancy Strickland speaking to students who Martha taught.

The boy second from the right in the front row typifies the grief they felt. He was a special favourite of hers and I remember speaking with her about him at the sports meet at our school. I knew he would be there that day and when I approached him and gave him a photo of himself receiving at prize at that event, he said "With Madam Martha?" and looked at it and I instantly felt his disappointment that she was not in the photo.

Last night in Rangjung Monastery the 7 day memorial was held and we lit 1,000 butter lamps as is the tradition. I thought it was important that students were involved as that is why Martha was here and my home class XC jumped at the chance to accompany Ian and I. 

They had already held a ceremony at at school a couple of days ago but this time they collected money from many students in the school including their class to light this particular butter lamp that will burn for more than 2 months we are told.

After lighting the butter lamps last night at twilight in Rangjung in front of the monastery.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

memorial prayers to Madam Martha

A special evening prayer session was held at my school tonight sponsored by my home class XC in honour of Madam Martha. They made hundreds of butter lamps and handed out candy and gum to the whole school too. I just love them!

I have been on the verge of tears all week and this morning when they announced that they would sponsor a special prayer session for Madam Martha beacuse today was an auspicious day I immediately agreed that Ian and I would attend. I am astounded by their sensitivity.

They organised for us to sit in seats of honour and immediately took to the task that they had set themselves. Class captain Karma Tenzin did himself proud. He is a boy whose reputation precedes him but tonight he proved the pundits wrong. He was calm and in control.

 The girls too played and active role and I know that would have pleased Martha. They all continued the chanting with haunting dedication and devotion even when the whole hall was plunged into darkness, as the power went out. No-one moved and the whole student body just reverted to what they knew by heart without missing a beat. Even Ian and I were able to recognise one of the prayers.

Wangda Gyeltshen gently led us though what we had to do and when, with poise and composure. Although I can rarely get him to speak in class, here he was in his element directing us with expertise.

Ian was impressed with their organisation and I loved that they knew how much it meant to me. We have become so close to each other. Last Thursday in class different students jumped to their feet to share their own interactions with Martha totally unsolicited. "She talks a lot." "And loudly." "She laughs all the time." She talked to me at the Dzongkhag sports meet." I had to ask them to stop for fear of bursting into tears. 

On Thursday the 7th  day memorial service will be held in Rangjung and I know that many BCFers would like to be able to participate but XC will be able to accompany Ian and I to the monastery in the evening. Then monks will do the chanting but we will all get to light butter lamps together again. I thought that it was really important that students were involved as that is really why Martha was here.

Just when I feel most likely to fall apart they are exhibiting their resilience. I envy them their rituals and faith.