Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In the Beginning

In The Beginning

We might wonder why we are here and just what is going on.

It is always good to be reminded of the purpose of education.

I guess the start of the school year anywhere involves a lot of sorting, dividing, allocating, volunteering and being volunteered.

Samtengang Primary School is no different.

Firstly a variety of captains must be chosen including boy and girl school captains, house captains, mess captain, time captain, prayer captain a health captain and possibly other captains too.
Sometimes it is a little hard to differentiate between democratic process and mob rule!

Students here are voting for one of the captains. The hand count was estimated and often the loudest response indicated the winner!

Students must be divided into classes and houses and textbooks distributed.

Neither do the students choose their houses, nor the houses choose the students.
Madam chooses!

The piles of new and used textbooks piled up in an orderly fashion prior to distribution to the students on a class wise and subject wise basis.

Woo hoo, some NEW textbooks from Sir’s store.

At the same time those students who depend on the World Food Program for their school meals must be looked after.

It’s a tough job for the cooks to provide healthy and nutritious meals for the students on a regular basis given the dearth of anything resembling fresh food available here in Samtengang right now. This breakfast looked pretty good however, rice and chickpeas with ‘ezzay,’ spicy Bhutanese salad.

I guess when we are in full swing, students will take over the responsibility of serving up. Right now, one of the cooks makes sure everyone gets their fair share. The meal is accompanied by a full cup of piping hot water.

And is eaten and enjoyed with friends in the adjacent dining room.

This early part of the year coincides with the celebration of His Majesty the King’s birthday so cultural performance rehearsals are in full swing around the country.

Our School Captain and standard bearer leading the primary school students in the March Past practice at the nearby Middle Secondary School. Not wanting to be outdone by their bigger brothers and sisters, the primary students performed admirably.

Left, left, left -right-left. Cultural in Charge, Ms Dorji is setting a fine example here.

That is us, classes 4, 5 and 6 from Samtengang Primary School.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lekokha/ Gelekha / Samtengang- Nyisho Gewog –Wangduephodrang –BHUTAN!

We have only been in this small community for 5 days but already we seem to be settling in to the rhythm of life. Some might think we are a little slow but just yesterday we discovered that although we are on the doorstep of Samtegang Primary School we actually live in the village of Lekokha.

On arrival it was immediately obvious that we would need to be visiting the larger township of Bajo, 20 kilometres away if we needed even the most basic of supplies. Madam Nancy’s parting words as we departed Thimphu were, “Make sure you get vegetables in Wangdue.” This was confirmation of the fact that we thought there would be no local Sabji Bazaar (vegetable market) However 2 trips to Bajo in the first 4 days has ensured that we have just about everything we could desire well and truly in stock and that our enormous house is already starting to feel like home.

Just as well too as now all 4 of the tiny general stores we saw as we dropped our possessions in the house on day one, have been demolished! The land is to be returned to the primary school, we are told, and to my current knowledge the small shop on the middle school campus and the one directly below us might just be it for local shopping opportunities. 

For a small community there certainly seems to be a lot going on and we are in no danger of becoming bored. On Friday we were invited to join the villagers who were diligently winding up a 3-day celebration that had been taking place in my school. Via this first walk through the crowded hall with Ian’s principal we instantly became known to the locals and have since been enthusiastically greeted by passersby on every outing.

On Sunday we were setting about the pressing business of constructing simple clothes racks from the hardware supplies we had bought the day before when we were given advance warning of the imminent visit of a local monk. He wandered in and murmured prayers while pouring holy water from a brass vessel onto the floor, in each room of our new abode and then departed to do the same in each of the other apartments. As he scampered off down the ladder stairs, we dutifully made a donation and decided to take a look at the process of blessing a new house. Cypress branches were being burnt in the yard and pungent smoke wafted over the house, while prayers and offerings were being conducted in the altar room of the upstairs apartment adjoining ours.  It was at this point we discovered how much bigger our place seems to be than any of the other 3 apartments in this new building. My western sense of design had expected them all to be mirror images of each other and identical in size.

By mid afternoon the racks were constructed and our suitcases emptied. After over 8 months on the road this was really a total joy. We cannot exactly claim that there is “a place for everything and everything is in its place” but we do feel we are home now. All that remained was to warm up via a brisk walk to the enchanting little village we can clearly see from our balcony.

By far the oldest and hugest rammed earth structures I have ever seen in Bhutan or any where else for that matter greeted us as we strolled towards Gelekha and once we had arrived it was even more gratifying to see so many of the local residents pitching in together to construct a new building in that very same style.

In fact there are many new, rammed earth homes being constructed within sight of our home and we can only assume that this is the best season to get the work done. With both the drier weather and the reduced demands of the fields, it would make sense that winter is the time for construction. Some young lads were curious enough about us to strike up a conversation and we took the opportunity to ask them about the name of the town and the various local sights and trails we could see thus discovering that we in fact live in Lekokha and that the path we hadn’t taken would lead us to the village of Samtengang.

Today we both headed off towards our schools feeling a lot better prepared than we had on that first day in Rangjung in 2011 and our previous experience and prior knowledge served us well. I was not in the slightest bit surprised to find that not another teacher was in sight as I approached my school and I was equally unperturbed by the waiting around in the sun until proceedings got underway. Although I was somewhat amazed to discover that we had covered the business of the day and were set free for the afternoon.

The session began with calling for volunteers for various roles, responsibilities and tasks and yet again I was the first to volunteer, having already decided that I wanted to be a class teacher. When given the choice of which class I would take I let the HOD (Head of Department) decide, stipulating that I wanted to teach whatever class I was allocated. I am sure I will soon come to know Class VIIIC and I won’t regret that decision. Before we broke for lunch teaching loads had been allocated and club coordinators decided. Yet again I put up my hand for table tennis and it seems there will be several of us in this role! Although I couldn’t be more pleased with what I have been given I am also very aware that many changes are likely to occur before this is actually final.

In a bid to warm up before the sun set, we set off to discover the real Samtengang this afternoon. It too is a village of impressive and enormous rammed earth buildings and it gave us birds’ eye views over the valleys and across the mountains to both our schools and much of Nyisho Gewog (sub district) and the neighbouring area. Once again a local resident who was more than happy to stroll along with us and explain the history and folklore of the area, greeted us as we approached the settlement. In fact he turned out to be a NFE (Non Formal Education) teacher which explains his excellent English and vast local knowledge, despite hailing from Paro.

To end our afternoon stroll we revisited each of our schools together and discovered the Nyisho Community Information Centre. This small building almost opposite my school offers photocopying, laminating and Internet services. With a bit of luck and a fair wind we may well be able to avail of the latter to attempt to post this blog tomorrow! Good news indeed if it works, as it is unlikely that the service in our home will improve in the foreseeable future.

Wow! We seemed to have achieved so much in such a short space of time.

Friday, February 7, 2014

First impressions of our new home in Wangduephodrang District- a brief Photo Essay!

Just 3 hours from Thimphu is the Chuzomsa township where the turnoff onto the farm road to Samtengang leads us to our new home.

9 kilometres winding and bumping up and we are there.

Our traditional design but modern home is just a stone’s throw from the Primary School where Ian will work.

We arrived to a brand new, empty but for a few simple pieces of furniture and magnificent beyond our expectations, 2 bedroomed apartment on the second floor.

There is a lot of wood in these traditional designs.

Perhaps the most daunting aspect of the house is the near vertical ladder style stairs leading to the front door.

The bigger of our purchases had to be unconventionally transported to the upper level due to the steep ascent and narrow openings.

But once indoors the blessing was that with no concept of what furniture would be included in the rent, our mattress miraculously fit the bed frame exactly.

Another joy for us was the promised geyser (hot water system) had already been thoughtfully installed before our arrival. The bathroom may be basic but with hot water we are set for a comfortable residency.

The views from the windows highlight our rural, mountainous location and as the principal joked the squeaking front door will alert Ian’s students to his imminent arrival.

My school is just a short 15 minute lakeside stroll away with the option of a slightly longer walk along the road also a possibility.

When we first visited the premises rituals were taking place and the MPH (muti-purpose hall) was decked out in its finery and all the villagers devotedly participating and the kitchen feeding the masses. 

In the 3 days we have been in residence we have begun to make the place feel like home.

Hopefully the photos will give you a glimpse of our new lives.

We are currently in Bajo and making use of the Internet connection there, to get this out as service at home seems erratic and very slow