Friday, September 27, 2013

On a wing and a prayer flag

Our 3-day trip to Trashiyangtse was great. We had been there about 4 times previously and had always enjoyed ourselves greatly. After we arrived we called the local BCF teacher, Lee, based at the Lower Secondary School to arrange a meeting. As it was a long weekend- to celebrate Blessed Rainy Day, Lee was hightailing it to the big smoke of Trashigang to surround himself with all that regional capital has to offer.

Trashiyangtse, or simply Yangtse as the locals call it is the gateway to a National Park where the endangered Black Necked Cranes spend their winter months. While it was way too early to see them, the natural beauty and unspoilt wilderness of the place was quite enough for us.

We were lucky enough to return to the Traditional College of the Arts- the Zorig Chuusum, where school was in and we could visit classrooms and see the students practicing in their chosen fields. We saw students sewing and making ghos, the national dress for men and cloth decorations for temples, offices, school rooms and homes. Others were in the painting class and they were busy trying to perfect the scene their teacher had presented them with. We also saw some woodcarving and metal smithing. The mask making was a real highlight. Seeing the familiar mask faces emerging from an inanimate block of wood was quite something. The skill of the sculptors was apparent as they moulded and coaxed their clay into something beautiful and significant.

The college in Yangtse is part of the nationwide set of Technical Training Institutes and like the College of Natural Resources, seems to be such an excellent way of looking to the future while respecting the past and providing a definite pathway to employment, fantastic.

Displaying creativity beyond the bounds of their artistic pursuits - when IT turns to TT

Bumthang was also a real treat. We were able to take a day off from the treacherous roads and just kick back and relax. Visiting the historic monasteries and strolling along the riverside paths gave us the time out we needed and set our minds pondering. It impresses us every time we go there, as it is the heartland of Bhutan. Although we have no say in our posting for 2014, if indeed it happens at all, we would be over the moon to be placed in this central location with so much to offer. 

In Lobesa we caught up with some more of the RHSS students who are now scattered around the country either finishing high school or embarking on tertiary studies. The student we met up with there has always been a go-getter even as a boarding student in class XI. She, and a few of her friends are now students of the College of Natural Resources in Lobesa, central western Bhutan. She is studying Animal Husbandry with a view to becoming an 'expert in the field' in a few years time. She will study at the college for 2 years, give 5 years service, then return to the college for another 2 years to complete her degree course. Some of her friends are studying the Agriculture course that has a similar structure to hers. One 'highlight' will come next year when they have a pig project. They will borrow money from the college to buy a piglet, take care of it, house and feed it and make sure it stays healthy until the day comes when, in their groups they have to complete the circle of pig rearing by dispatching it and preparing the meat for sale. One of her friends, interestingly an Agriculture student, told us the Animal Husbandry students would have to murder a pig next year, by their very own hands!!!!

Agriculture and animal husbandry are so very important here in Bhutan. If they are to be able to feed themselves in the years ahead given their dearth of arable land and maintain and improve nutrition across the board, they need modern techniques, new knowledge and experts with the motivation and energy to bring about change, to add to the wisdom passed down from generation to generation. It seems to be an excellent, vocationally focused course that the girls are already beginning to really appreciate. Whilst she once wanted to be a doctor, she is now relishing the opportunity she has and is looking forward very much to the Veterinary side of her training.

We met the girls this morning after their morning classes were over. Together we took a taxi to Chime Lhakhang, a major tourist destination as well as a deeply holy site for the locals. Drukpa Kinley, also known as the Divine Madman, founded the Lakhang. While I am not a historian in any way I do think that perhaps it was he who has made the image of the phallus so conspicuous and ubiquitous here in Bhutan.

This Lhakhang is the place couples go to in order to receive special blessings to help them start a family. While none of us was in the position of wanting to start a family, stories abound of formerly barren couples now 'blessed' with children. We took heart, especially for the two girls that, fortunately you cannot get pregnant by being tapped on the head by a wooden phallus no matter how devout the Monk's intention. Vicky said something to the girls on the subject of pregnancy and she was told that to achieve that end, a totally different visit was required, good.They are both overwhelmed with the freedom their college life affords them. 

While boarding in high school their lives were totally controlled by school rules, regulations and arbitrary decisions by Matron or the Warden. Often, as high school students, they were confined to the girl's hostel area only being allowed out for meals, study, prayers and other essential engagements. Imagine their shock at college where there is no clear delineation between male and female hostels, where boys and girls are equally free to go and do as they please. "They treat us as adults here," she told us. It was really gratifying to see how all that hard work at high school had paid handsome dividends for these students.    

Hi tech surveyors in Lobesa

Their college was also a feast for the eyes with its traditional architecture, beautiful grounds and spectacular views over the river and beyond to the newly established town of Bajo. 

"Just like a Dzong" we were told.

Yet again interaction with former students made for an informative and fun day and broadened our perspective on the pathways available at the end of secondary education.

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