Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tashi Delek!

I am once again struggling to believe that the end of the year is nigh and it is time to wish all our family and friends a wonderful holiday and break. 2014 has been a tough year for many of us and now that the worst does indeed seem to be over, even if everything is not yet resolved, we can only hope that 2015 will bring more laughter, more joy and more fulfillment. We value the times we have been able to share in the past and hope that you all continue to keep us up to date with your lives. Perhaps our paths will once again cross in the not too distant future. Wherever the upcoming year takes you may you be blessed with good food, good friends and adventure, achievement and success as well as the ability to recognize the blessings you have been bestowed. 

Our time in Samtengang is coming to an end. Exams have been and gone. Papers have been checked and graded by the communal marking system that seems to be officially sanctioned despite its huge drawbacks for both students and teachers. All the students I taught in the middle school have returned to their villages and families and Ian’s little friends make periodic appearances at school for National Day rehearsals and Socially Useful and Productive Work (SUPW) in addition to the younger ones, who live nearby popping in to visit Sir at home. They invariably go away with skipping ropes or paints or something that will keep them amused and no doubt inspire them to return again soon. Mine are more prone to Facebook and SMS messages just to chat once they have ascertained that they passed and will be promoted to the next level next year.

As usual we are wondering why it is that we must remain at school making only brief and often purposeless visits until after National Day on December 17th, more especially as we are now receiving a constant stream of BCF colleagues and their family too in some cases as guests and day visitors. Others seem to have easily escaped their schools and are taking time out to travel and see some of Bhutan as they make their way back to the capital. On December 18th those students, who live near enough, will attend result declaration and I personally will be very glad to see them one last time before we too make a beeline for Thimphu that very afternoon. I guess we could have argued for being allowed to leave but it seems unfair to expect this privilege when it is not possible for national teachers. Although there is little left to do at school, having time to just relax, take slow strolls through the local environs to savour the views and familiar landscapes, cook in a frantic attempt to empty the pantry and just unwind is certainly welcome. 

There is no doubt that this has been a difficult year in terms of the relative isolation and poor access of this location and the often-antagonistic management style in my school in particular. It was certainly complicated by Ian’s injury and subsequent frequent visits to Thimphu to receive treatment but I have already blogged about our final reflections on our schools and lives in Wangdue Phodrang District so I will not repeat myself and instead assume anyone who is genuinely interested will have already read the details or still can at http://intheshadowofthemountains.blogspot.com/.

We are ploughing ahead with plans to work in Thimphu in 2015 and though the paperwork has still not materialised, being old hands at the slow pace of Bhutanese bureaucracy, we are assuming it will eventually happen and we must simply remain positive and move forward with our own plans. Ian was approached by Deki School and met the husband and wife founders, builders and directors as well as the principal and staff just after the summer break. It proved to be less of a job interview and more a formal invitation to join the team as he was immediately offered a position and wheels set in motion for acquiring approval and visas. I hesitated to apply anywhere for a long time and toyed with the idea of having a year off on a spouse visa, before finally seeing an advertisement for the Early Learning Centre. The reputation of this establishment is legendary and I had been advised to apply to them by several friends and colleagues as they are expanding to include junior high school and high school grade students next year. It is a completely new, private, purpose-built school as is the one in which Ian will be employed. I was wary about whether they would accept me or not but my fears were quickly allayed after a brief phone conversation with the director, which ended in my paperwork being forward and the approval process launched the following day. Now yet again everything is in the hands of the powers that be and we are playing the waiting game.

Time is ticking on and we are eagerly awaiting the arrival on Saturday of a dear British friend, Katja, who we met in Monduli, Tanzania. She will spend a fortnight travelling with us in the kingdom and we are looking forward to having some time on our hands, the road ahead and the wind at our backs, after the long hours and hard work that has been required to complete this academic session.

Our brief spell in Thimphu is timed to allow us to attend the final wind up session with BCF colleagues and staff and the Ministry of Education, (Perhaps a personal plea to speed up that approval process for our applications and visas for 2015 is in order), make one more trip out to the orthotic manufacturer in Gidakhom, see the American physiotherapist in the capital before his imminent return to Boston, view a possible apartment in which to reside next year and hopefully sign a lease, as well as obtaining the necessary road permit for Katja and us to travel. A busy 3 days there and we will be off on our much anticipated road trip and adventure.

All that remains is to wish you all a safe, healthy and fun-filled silly season and every happiness in the year to come. Tashi Delek!

Peace and love always,
Vicky and Ian xxxxxx

Saturday, December 6, 2014

oNe PhOtO a DaY NoVeMbEr


1.           SOMETHING BLUE: This is the location of the staff picnic held today. The Mochu (or River Mo) is certainly something blue blessing Punakha district and the mountains in the background seem to have taken on a blue hue too

2. I SAW THIS: Just after breakfast this morning, I saw this little long tailed minivet when it came to perch just outside our window on a neighbour’s tree

3. WEATHER: With crisp cool mornings and evenings that are becoming colder and colder, the sunny blue skies of the middle of the day are delightful but late afternoon the dramatic skyscapes herald the sudden changes that mark the transition from autumn to winter and it is apparent that the full brunt of the winter weather is just around the corner

4. CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT: Ian is what immediately came to mind. I can’t think of another thing I couldn’t live without and I often tell him “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” and his response its usually “Ditto Maxine!”

5. 8 O’CLOCK: The deadline for being inside the school gates and a couple of my day scholar boys only just made it this morning. I do love that with exams about 10 days away they are still smiling and looking carefree and relaxed.

6. MADE ME SMILE TODAY: The irony of boldly and confidently painting on the academic block a slogan that is grammatically incorrect when any number of teachers might have been able to set them straight. This is a class nine group working at 8am before the assembly to complete their class project by the deadline in 2 days. The brief was to beautify the school campus ….. maybe they missed the mark, but it is a nice sentiment

7. ON THE FLOOR: This is the kitchen that feeds over 400 students 3 meals a day at my school and a lot of the preparation and cleaning takes place on the floor due to lack of space. Note the wood fired cookers in the background!

8. A PLACE: This is a place, very near our school.  My class and I adopted it along with 2 others in our clean up Samtengang campaign. It was also the place where our annual school picnic was held today. Our newly installed bins got a thorough workout and we were assigned the task of keeping the area clean as our class task for the day.  Easy as, given the practice we have had all year!

9. HECK YES! : Am I going to miss these views next year, when we no longer live in Samtengang - Heck Yes!

10. I DO THIS EVERY DAY: Well 6 days a week anyway! I wear national dress and stand with a piece of chalk in hand, in front of a green board, in a classroom heavily decorated with images of Bhutanese royalty, trying to impart some of the basics of English grammar to my students.

11. A SET: of passport photos for each student in my home class to use on all the official documents they require for school purposes just arrived today and I currently have the whole set for my class

12. NORMAL: In my school and many others across Bhutan this is normal procedure for testing students and to stop the cheating or copying. I have even resorted to it myself.

13. LETTERS: We used all but 2 of the letters in our game this afternoon. I have always loved this game and I couldn’t resist buying it when I saw it in a local store recently

14. FOR ME: Unfortunately exam papers to mark are what are currently waiting for me. At this time of year it is best to get them done as soon as possible as in total the English Department will have 24 class sets of papers to grade in just 11 days and only 4 of us participating in the communal marking process which follows every exam.

15. HOT + COLD: Our hot water system, known locally as a geyser, decided to stop functioning without warning just as the cold winter weather took hold. These days we have an immersion heater in one bucket and after an hour and a half wait we combine one hot and one cold bucket in a tub to bathe. Luckily we bought the immersion heater not knowing if we would have a geyser or not at the beginning of the year. Even this is pampering when boarding students and most locals just bathe in cold water all year round.

16. AFTER: Five months after the terrible accident that has impacted on Ian’s mobility since June, we are hoping that this orthotic will help correct the ‘valgus deformity’ which has plagued him ever since the plaster was removed. It was created from a mold taken 3 weeks ago at the Gidakom Hospital by the only 2 medical technicians with the skills to make orthotics and prostheses in all of Bhutan.

17. COOKING: Whilst these may only be the raw ingredients, on our final medical mission in Thimphu we have loaded up with enough supplies to hopefully see us through the next few weeks and allow us to get cooking again once we are home tomorrow.

18. I LOVE THIS: I have always loved a good market and I love this outdoor, Sunday market in Bajo as much as any I have ever seen. With its fresh supplies of locally grown produce and carnival atmosphere it is a place where the community gathers and socializes.

19. WHOLE: After a whole day invigilating and checking exam papers and knowing there is more than a whole week of it to come, there is nothing quite like vegetarian comfort food for dinner!

20. BRIGHT: This class IX boy is as bright as they get and articulate, polite, charming and engaged with it. He is a joy to teach and his score for the final exams brought a smile to my face.

21. SHOES: school shoes in the styles that are compulsory for students here in Bhutan and my foot in a boot just for good measure.

22. A FAVOURITE THING: The favourite snack of many of the students and mine too- samosas. These are made at the school canteen and sell for Nu 5 or just under10 Aussie cents each and at exam time you have to be quick to get a share.

23. I MADE THIS: set of teaching and learning resources for my students this year.

24. I NEED TO DO THIS! : In fact I have needed to this since March when we bought about 80 books, 12 posters and flash cards with the money Paul and Robyn Brown donated to supply much needed resources for the Samtengang Primary School library. Finally on the last day of final exams for the year I actually remembered to do it

25. TIME: Sometimes it seems that time has stood still in these parts. When I saw this team of packhorses loaded to transport goods locally, I thought it was perfect for this prompt. I saw this team on my way to work and saw them again at exactly the same point relieved of their loads, on my way home.

26. WALL: This ancient wall containing sacred objects is near Bidung in Trashigang District but they are a common sight all across Bhutan and like chortens they need to be circumambulated in clockwise direction an odd number of times, if you are of the faith

27. I’M THANKFUL FOR THIS ….. : beautiful family who have been our landlords, friends and neighbours. They embody the true Buddhist spirit of compassion and have always offered assistance unasked and been kind and generous. We shall miss them and the sense of community they offered us in Samtengang

28 BLACK: In “Tshechu” this character personifies evil and it is he who leads you to hell after those sitting behind have made their judgment on the merits of your existence after death.

29. SO, THIS HAPPENED: The national exams for classes VI, X and XII started today and since Ian is in a primary school and the class VI papers are marked in house (unlike classes X & XII) so, this happened immediately the students had finished writing their papers- communal marking in the sunshine overseen by the principal

30. I BOUGHT THIS: This scarf, hand woven and sold by the women’s co-operative Sabah, is the last thing I bought myself and that was back in early October, lucky winter break is coming up and there will be plenty of shopping opportunities then