Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BCFers last sightings in Bhutan-tears of sorrow

Early days 2011

Most of the 2011 group and a few of the returnees from the 2010 intake, with whom we parted company in December last year and whom we have sorely missed this past year. 

As much as the scenery and the amazing students, one of the great privileges of working in Bhutan has been meeting so many likeminded people. They are a diverse group of individuals who share a passion for teaching and a commitment to life long learning. We spent a lot of the limited social time we had together discussing our students, our lessons, our methodologies and the Bhutanese system as well sharing our educational insights and our varied and wide ranging experiences in the classroom in an assortment of countries. We are all passionate about what we do and I would like to honour them in this final blog. It is our fervent hope that we remain in contact with such truly inspirational and dedicated people.

Simon was last seen at the Sherig Century Walk on November 11th. At that time, we still had the exams and end of year procedures before us and since then we have all gone our separate ways, but he is an inspiring educator and a champion of the cause of learning.

Tim appeared briefly in Trashigang on November 24th, when we were there for the Tshechu and he was well aware that it would be our last opportunity to socialize together due to the impending exam commitments. In his first teaching position, since qualifying, this year he has really blossomed and shown huge commitment to his students.

First to leave was Jean Daniel (aka JD) our nearest neighbour in Bidung and fellow "classmate" of the 2011 teacher intake.  JD has been a role model to other teachers and a saint in the eyes of his students, having dedicated almost all his non teaching time to engaging them in a huge range of activities. We last saw him on Dec 5th at 4.30am in our home in Rangjung bound for Trashigang and the bus to Thimphu. Bidung will never be the same without him.

We managed to meet up with Ashley for her birthday celebration and last saw her in Trashigang on the big day Dec 10th while we were all still in shock about the procedures necessary to facilitate our departures from our schools. She, like the rest of us, delights in spending most of her free time with her students and they are frequent guests at her home.

First day on the road and a very auspicious day: 12-12-12, we were able to have a final lunch with Scott in Mongar. Becky was travelling with us and we loved that despite leaving late, in keeping with BST, we all literally bumped into each other and returned to a hotel we had all stayed in earlier in the year. Scott has lived on campus and become a tutor in a variety of subjects, a listening ear and friend to many teachers and students, as well as being a guiding light in Maths and Science for the last 2 years.

Since all other BCFers live or more correctly lived, on the western side of Thrumslingla we have had almost no chance to share experiences with them.

That same evening, after a hair-raising ride through snow over the 3,700 metre Thrumsingla pass, in a Bolero with no heater or demister and an inexperienced driver, who seemed to have never driven in those conditions before, we met up with Tara and Martin. En route we had picked up an elderly woman who was scared out of her wits, as were we, but our flip-flop wearing driver got us to Bumthang in the dark and we shared a final dinner together in the warmth of River Lodge with the bukari (Bhutanese potbelly stove) blazing.

Iman and Noorin joined us in Lobesa for the last couple of hours of our 2-day trip. We dropped Becky there and they got in for the run into the capital and we got to share some special time together in Thimphu. Finally saying goodbye on Dec 17th along with so many others.

 Sheal unexpectedly called from the bus to inform us that she would soon arrive in the capital when we were wandering around the Weekend Market and that meant that we managed to share a couple of meals with her before parting on December 17th.

Reidi was the first to check with us about where we were staying in Thimphu long before the journey west began, so as to be able to join us for that final night and she was the last to arrive. We are so glad that she made the effort to get there and wasn't tempted to stop at the many tempting locations between her placement in Autsho and the capital. Yet another dedicated teacher who will be remembered forever in the hearts of her Bhutanese students.  

Becky has been a special friend as she was a close neighbour and we spent time in each other's homes and shared favourite local spots with each other, in the last year. 

She is a well-recognised and well-loved member of the local community. Her students delight in roaming with her and we have benefited from the local knowledge she has acquired on these sorties and often observed the close connection she has with the Phongmey community. In her first ever teaching appointment she has made a huge impact. She too was last sighted in Thimphu on Dec 17th. 

It seemed fitting that BCF Executive Director Nancy kindly dropped us off at the airport in Paro on our final morning in Bhutan. Our last sighting was the very person who made it all possible. 
Thank you Nancy.

Certainly not the final sighting but a memorable moment for us, early on day 2 of the road trip back west.

Goodbye Bhutan! We are certainly going to miss you and remember the incredible experiences, scenery and people forever.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tashi Delek

Tashi Delek and best wishes from the Land of the Thunder Dragon

We are now winding up our time in the beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan and there is a lot that we will sorely miss.

Top of the list would have to be the students. They are such a wonderfully inspirational blend of innocence, motivated curiosity and diligence for the most part. I have become extremely close to my home class and even though I know that right now they are busy studying for the board exams that they have worried and sweated about for months, I cannot resist the urge to interrupt them daily. I find small excuses to visit the girls in the hostel compound where they must stay and locate the boys at various sites scattered all over the campus trying to avail themselves of the sunshine to thaw out.

They have taught me much more than I could ever have hoped to have taught them. Almost to a man and woman they embody perseverance, patience, contemplation, faith, compassion, a sense of fun and cheerfulness in the face of adversity, the capacity to fend for themselves in the most basic and trying circumstances, resilience, the power of a positive outlook and an open heart, and the ability to appreciate simple pleasures while struggling to survive. These are the  traits I most need to learn from them, but I can't honestly say that I have. Whatever I may personally think about GNH I cannot deny that I have never known high school students who giggle so often, and are so prone to bursting into laughter.  Without a doubt they are more likely to respond with a smile than a frown and always able to see the benefit of enduring a difficult situation. I can honestly say that I think they are genuinely happy.

The scenery and spectacular rituals, festivals and ceremonies are also burned into our memories and recorded for prosperity in thousands of photographs. For the past month we have been savouring long last looks at the everyday sights that have punctuated our days for the greater part of the last 2 years, whilst simultaneously making the effort to return to favourite local spots before we depart by road from Rangjung. I can no longer imagine a landscape without towering prayer flags, giant prayer wheels, ancient chortens, majestic monasteries or forbidding Dzongs. These sights are so commonplace that for a time we failed to notice and appreciate them. Now the certainty of departure makes them once again dominant.

The seasonal changes in the paddy fields, the arrival and departure of exotic and once unknown bird species and the ever evolving cycle of nature, have entertained and educated us from the comfort of our living room window. We can now identify many bird species by their calls as well as their glorious plumage. We are able to appreciate the labour of love that culminates in the rice harvest and delight in knowing whose rice we are eating tonight. Simple pleasures long lost in the supermarket economies we knew before arriving here.

There will be a sharp spike in the profits at the local post office for the month of December as we have spent almost the equivalent of both our final monthly salaries in postage in the last 3 days! Treasured and precious though not valuable items acquired in our time here are already bound for Oz and more mundane but essential teaching resources and items to facilitate an easy and inexpensive resettlement in Tanzania are also inching their way in that direction. Our fervent hope is that we will get to see them all in the not too distant future in their respective destinations and that a miracle will ensure that they not only make it but also beat us to both places.

I am foolish enough to believe that we will still want to wear the national dress that has been our school-day attire for our time here and find it impossible that it once seemed so alien and medieval. For that reason and the fact they are simply such unique and visually appealing items there are several outfits inside those Australia bound boxes.

Before the exciting new challenge of teaching Maasai students in Orkeeswa School near Monduli we are thrilled to be able to have some time to travel in the States and some much needed downtime in Australia.

We hope that the Silly Season finds you in good spirits and surrounded by loved ones and laughing. We wish you all the very best in 2013 and hope that we continue to stay connected and that the global village emulates Bhutan at least in the pursuit of happiness.