Sunday, May 31, 2015

oNe PhOtO a DaY:

 wEeK oNe MaY 2015


MONDAY 4th TODAY I SAW: After waiting 2 months, with a vast empty space in the living room, while we searched for a suitable sofa we waited another 2 weeks to find cushions for it and have covers made. When I saw this tonight it warmed my heart. No-one works harder or is more selfless than Ian in my opinion and the wait and patience was worth it to see our apartment really does have a comfort zone now!

TUESDAY 5TH RED: Today the red I have predominately seen is red pen and lots of it, checking essays and marking exercise books and I couldn’t make myself take a photo of that so…… this is a shot from just over a week ago. One of the children at school brought this stunning red poppy as a donation, to the greening the school campaign, because it was his birthday. It struck a real chord with me because it was just days before ANZAC DAY. It inspired me to want to speak at the assembly on the day and I spent the rest of the morning thinking about song lyrics related to those “green fields in France”

WEDNESDAY 6TH 10 O’CLOCK: Unfortunately Wednesday morning is exam time in my school and at 10 o’clock, this is where I was and have been for the last few weeks in fact!

THURSDAY 7TH KEY: Not so original but the key to the front door in the door! We only have one key to our new apartment so we have to try to co-ordinate to get home together. Since I am almost always last home Ian carries the key bearing my name daily!

FRIDAY 8TH FOUR THINGS: The four traditional Bhutanese items that were a part of my attire today include my white background maroon and black patterned light weight summer ‘kira’ (or skirt), my white wandue (or shirt), my maroon tego (or jacket) and the mulit-coloured little essentials bag I carry around with me daily. All made from traditional Bhutanese textiles and mostly hand woven. I happened to be wearing them all in the schoolyard when I took this shot and realized they were four things I really like.

SATURDAY 9TH PEACEFUL: There is nothing quite so peaceful, calming and kind as the Buddha’s face. Even non-Buddhists across the world are attracted to the imagery and here in Bhutan it is ubiquitous and pervasive. This statue is in Centenary Park in Thimphu and is apparently Thai in its iconography.

SUNDAY 10TH PLAYGROUND: The kitchen, playground of cooks and wannabe chefs. Any guesses what I was making?

 wEeK tWo MaY 2015


MONDAY 11th UPSIDE-DOWN: This one had me flummoxed for a long time but then I realised that the rash, hives, welts or whatever they are covering my body in an ever more pervasive manner have turned my life upside-down recently. Never before have I felt that my body was my enemy but now the endless itching is driving me crazy and making me want to claw my skin off. It is certainly exacerbated by heat and to that end I have taken to wearing the cotton dressing gown – or Yukata, as it is known in Japan where I bought it. Now after owning it and loving it for almost 10 years, I notice that alternating rows of characters (some of which I can read, though the text is not clear to me) are UPSIDE- DOWN is that what made it a tourist item in the first place??? This is the part of it in my lap today. I wonder how many others can see which are upside-down and which are right side up?

TUESDAY 12TH EYES: Well all eyes were everywhere when we were evacuated for the earthquake tremors today. I like the green / blue colour in my eyes: they change colour without me knowing so I’m always interested in what colour they come up in photos! In the car park once we were out, and knew that everyone was safe and sound we didn’t really know what to do next. Eventually once the epicenter came to light we opted for mass prayers right where we were! Extra photo of that below.

WEDNESDAY 13TH HANDS: My hands have been doing way too much exam paper writing, collating, stapling and checking recently but this was in one of the last papers I graded today and it also marked the completion of the first round of exams. It’s rare to give 100% for any answer and it definitely deserved it and the smiley face – Well done Tshering.

THURSDAY 14TH HEART: A truly beautiful story by one of Bhutan’s most talented and popular writers in my humble opinion. I have yet to find a child that didn’t see the good in this book and even our Maasai students in Orkeeswa, Tanzania, chose to include it in their reading to primary school students’ presntation. This somewhat battered copy is now going though the hands of Druk School primary students and being very well received.

FRIDAY 15TH I FOUND THIS: little Buddha with a totally serene face while we were travelling in Vietnam last year and instantly fell in love with it. The simplicity of the design and the instant sense of well being the expression on his face induces, is perfect for making me take a deep breath and relax. Currently he lives on top of the bookcase in a favourite corner of the living room and is a treasured part of our décor

SATURDAY 16TH CLEAN: Saturday afternoon, the apartment is clean and the fresh vegetables we bought in the market are clean and chopped ready for tonight’s salad for dinner

SUNDAY 17TH HOME: Our newly established relaxation zone in the living room of what has to be the best appointed and most comfortable home we have ever occupied in Bhutan. Trying to give the décor a Bhutanese flavour without busting the bank. We love it.

wEeK tHrEe MaY 2015


MONDAY 18th MUSICAL: Students at Druk are very fortunate to have a Creative Arts Co-coordinator when so very few schools in the kingdom do. As a part of the musical offerings both traditional and modern western instruments are taught. I found this gem in the music room today. I am not exactly sure what this musical instrument is called but it is called but it resembles as horizontal accordion.

TUESDAY 19TH MY MOOD TODAY: Hopeful- After a week of treatment I was again at the National Referral Hospital today, availing of the after hours clinic in the dermatology department and feeling hopeful that the miraculous lack of itching and reduced rash is the beginning of a complete recovery and an end of the torture my skin has been inflicting on me.

WEDNESDAY 20TH EQUAL: Nothing about these 2 groups of students is in the slightest bit equal but different as they are they still had a very engaging, sharing and learning activity this morning  as a part of Druk’s Design for Change program and I was fortunate enough to participate in it today too. Together they interact and engage in a very genuine and caring manner. 

THURSDAY 21ST IN A DRAWER: With all this stuff in a drawer there are no points for guessing I’m a teacher.

FRIDAY 22ND WEATHER: In the last 24 hours we have had gloomy skies, rain, thunderstorms and sunny, clear skies. I guess the weather is somewhat unpredictable as the monsoon rainy season approaches. At least the skies were blue and the clouds interesting above the school at morning assembly this morning. 

SATURDAY 23RD GOOD TIMES: We have had lots of good times here in Bhutan but this was a real social occasion in our new apartment and a lot of fun entertaining and playing host to guests from the hinterland as well as new and old friends. I’m sure it is just the beginning of the good times.

SUNDAY 24TH RULE OF THIRDS: The view from the temple steps near our house. Once a week I try to come up the steps and appreciate the view across the valley even though the wires do obscure it a bit.

MONDAY 25TH LUCKY: I’ve taken to wearing this “om” charm again recently and I think it is more of a blessing than a lucky charm but it does seem to bring me luck

wEeK fOuR mAy 2015


TUESDAY 26TH DAILY RITUAL:  A new daily ritual for me since joining Druk is to join my colleagues and drink boiling water throughout the day rather than room temperature or chilled water as I have always done in the past. Seems the health benefits are well documented too.

WEDNESDAY 27TH BORROWED: I feel like I am currently on borrowed time in Bhutan at the moment as my passport will expire in March and
that means I could only get a visa until September 9th.  Like most places these days, one needs more than 6 months validity at the end of the visa. For this reason we are going home in the summer break to get me another passport and it will be the first time we have been in Oz in winter for over 5 years! This is also the first time I have almost filled a passport: only 2 blank pages left and maybe the journey home will at least get a stamp on each!

THURSDAY 28TH PINK: Although we have very little space for garden beds at school there are currently blooms scattered all over the campus and I found these pretty little pink dianthus in the beds adjacent to the sports/assembly grounds today.

FRIDAY 29TH STARTS WITH S: This PP boy’s smile, with almost no teeth caught my attention while the whole school was on the grounds watching the Boedra (traditional Bhutanese dance) competition today

SATURDAY 30TH OVER THERE: is a whole herd of Takins: Bhutan’s national animal. They look almost prehistoric close up (as you can see from the one below)

SUNDAY 31ST HA HA HA: I have often giggled at this wall art in Thimphu and the caption in particular: “Downloading Plaz wait……” Ha Ha Ha

Second choice:
SUNDAY 31ST HA HA HA:  Ha is the name of a spectacular, and freezing district in the west of Bhutan. It borders Tibet and the snow-capped peaks can be seen on a clear day. The district’s capital bears the same name too, so obviously
Ha Ha Ha

NB It seems now that many of my photos are taken with my phone rather than my camera, I am joining the phone camera masses and mastering the art of the selfie

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Almost a DRUKIAN

I can hardly believe that I have been at Druk School for almost 3 months. Today walking home from school I suddenly started to think about the trepidations running through my mind on that first unfamiliar hike to school several months ago when the whole job was looming large before me. All of them unwarranted I can now happily say. I have now been walking that same route regularly twice a day and taking the opportunity to consider, contemplate and reflect on the homeward journey, when I am most often alone. It is not just the exercise but also the mental unwind that means it is the perfect end to the day.

Since beginning this job, I have wanted to blog about the many spectacularly impressive events that have been held at Druk School, but actually keeping the ball rolling and doing the job on a daily basis, with all of those events also occupying time and adding complications and distractions, means that that just hasn’t happened. However it isn’t the Graduation Day ceremony or Rimdro or the Annual Sports Day or the Shared Reading program or the Teachers’ Day Celebration that make me feel that I am almost a Drukian. It is the feeling that I am developing an understanding of how the place works and I have the feeling that I belong here. Three months down the track I have no less respect for the management or the teachers or students than I did in those first starry-eyed weeks when it was all new and wonderful as well as somewhat daunting and totally unfamiliar.

I have a growing sense of belonging because I can now predict certain events are about to happen, or be postponed and am very often hearing staff around me articulate my own thoughts. I am still impressed that the challenges that we face daily remind me more of the those I faced in schools in Australia and Japan, than those in the rural government schools I am more familiar with in Bhutan. That is no mean feat and a measure of the forward thinking and goal-orientated environment of Druk. Like schools everywhere there are those who accept the responsibilities and challenges and tackle them with energy and initiative and others who avoid anything not essential to their role and procrastinate over even the essential tasks. There is the silent majority willing the meeting to end and the vocal few applying themselves to the current issue that needs an immediate solution. There are the complainers, the compliers, the movers and the shakers as well as the committed and content and those who have to be lead by the nose to the change that is necessary.

I guess my biggest beef so far is the exam system. This is not a new one for me as I grew up and prospered in a system that was slowly reducing the significance and importance of exams and replacing it with ongoing assessment and research. I have long dreaded the emphasis that Bhutan places on exams over thinking and problem solving skills. The world-over the tables have turned and that requires teachers to once again test more than they teach. I strongly opposed and protested about the introduction of National Testing and School ranking in Australia but to no avail! I personally think this is a backward step for learning and developing a lifelong love of learning.   

Druk has 4 exams a year. To accommodate them, 2 hours on Wednesday mornings and some Saturdays are given over to exams. This ensures that by the end of each term all subjects have had their day and everyone has one exam under their belt before the mid- year exams commence. In theory it sounds fine, if you are an advocate of exams to start with, but in practice it means we are in a perpetual exam cycle. Once one exam is written, the checking and grading of papers takes over and before that is complete the next exam is looming on the horizon and there is never actually a moment when an exam is not on your mind.

I have written three papers and marked four in the last two months and my final paper was printed today in readiness for the Saturday’s exam slot, which means I still have one more to mark before the first cycle is complete. That takes hours of at home time when classes, and preparation and teaching as well as event management continue throughout this process.  I know I am not alone when I feel the pressure of these exams impacting on me. It is just one more reason to feel like a Drukian, and that IS a postive. I have struggled to ensure that I still prepare lessons, I hope will inspire but time is a real constraint.

Among my contemplations wandering home today were thoughts about what to include as the essay topic in the mid-year exam for class IX. I know that I will have to start writing the three papers I am responsible for soon as they will have to be submitted in early June, but I haven’t even graded my final term test yet and that is where my thought are wandering!  

Oh well at least the many more disturbing and frustrating worries of my previous schools are rapidly fading into the background and life as a Drukian has plenty of charm, if I ever really make the ranks!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

oNe PhOtO a DaY:

 wEeK oNe ApRiL 2015


MONDAY 6th A SHAPE: I just love the shapes involved in creating these “toma” They are butter sculptures produced by monks and this particular one is huge with the shot only showing a small detail of it. It is still in very good condition and has been in the upstairs resource centre since our purification ritual almost 2 weeks ago. The whole item is shown below

TUESDAY 7TH BEAUTY: There is real beauty in the whole school engaging in a shared reading program and older students becoming peer partners and relishing their role in teaching youngers ones the joy of books. Today we started the shared reading program, I designed for the national year of reading and it was a delight to see scenes like this all over the school for over an hour.

WEDNESDAY 8TH BREAKFAST: the breakfast I had this morning like almost every other winter morning was of porridge and black coffee what a contrast it makes compared to the one I remember best from our recent trip to Australia. The everyday versus the exceptional!

THURSDAY 9TH INSPIRED: I stumbled across this scene before school today We in the west might describe it as a "clothing malfunction" What I loved was the way these senior students came to her rescue and took the matter lovingly in hand and solved it: no fuss no bother. When I asked them she wasn't the sister of any one of them just a little kid who needed a bit of assistance. The ethos at Druk School shines through. This inspired me to go on believing, it's the little acts of kindness that can really change the world.

FRIDAY 10TH DARK: At the end of the school day we usually assemble on the grounds for evening prayers and today as the prayers were being chanted ominous, dark clouds rolled in.

SATURDAY 11TH THIS SMELLS SO GOOD:  Right now the wisteria is glorious in Thimphu and there is so much in bloom that you can actually smell it as you walk down the streets. This smells so good I don’t know why I have never noticed the scent before

SUNDAY 12TH SOMETHING GREEN:  This is a few days late because I have been waiting for the tailor and the right day to wear it. Green is just about my least favourite colour and I don’t think it suits me but at Druk we have Green Day every Wednesday and that means we have to wear green for environmental awareness and we also have to have something green in our lunch-boxes on that day to encourage healthy eating. It is a good initiative so I am complying. I was given the fabric for this new tego (jacket) by a new friend and colleague and I actually really like the colour so the day this was the prompt I took it to the tailor and got my new tego made, ready for the following Wednesday (15/4- today). I love the fact that my eyes turn the same shade of green when I wear it too. Thanks Anjana

wEeK tWo ApRiL 2015


MONDAY 13th PAPER: These beautiful origami papers are to create cranes with the classes that are reading “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” as a part of the reading challenge, I am doing with some of the senior classes in my school. I simply love this book and I have left copies in school libraries on 3 continents now. I am glad to say the many children I have introduced it too seem to love it as much as I do

TUESDAY 14TH UP: At Druk School Garfield guides the little ones up the stairs to their classrooms and encourages everyone to use the left side of the stairs so we’ll be accident and injury free

WEDNESDAY 15TH DINNER: mixed vegetables with tofu on rice is a regular, weeknight dinner in our place and it is just about always that Ian gets it on the table. Where would I be without him?  

THURSDAY 16TH WHERE I WORK: we do mindfulness training frequently and always at assemblies. This morning I noticed even the PP classes now know the correct stance and adopt the position when instructed. I am still in love with the way these little ones engage and interact at school

FRIDAY 17TH AN ORDINARY MOMENT: being in a meeting is unfortunately a very ordinary moment that is often repeated if we really want to get things right and keep moving forward with school events and daily routines

SATURDAY 18TH FLUFFY: A latte, the coffee I most often consume after a working day. It was prepared with love and decorated with a heart to prove it and it has all that fluffy milk on top. That and the raisin cakes were just what I needed after a long, tiring day of exams and graduation practice in the rain today: sometimes Ambient Café is a haven

SUNDAY 19TH TOGETHER: It took a lot of work together to pull off today’s Graduation Day celebration and there were ample opportunities for shots of people getting together and working together but at the end of the day it was this one with some of the hardest working and quietly committed and efficient staff sitting in the shade together at reflection meeting, when it was all over that most took my fancy. Still smiling and looking serene after at 7am start on Sunday. What a team!

wEeK tHrEe ApRiL 2015


MONDAY 20th THIS HAPPENED: By emptying the contents of the lost and found box onto a mat today and making it look like a jumble sale, a lot of kids and parents came ‘shopping’ for their own possessions. We almost managed to get everyone’s things back to them

TUESDAY 21ST SEASON: this is the season of blue skies, black clouds rolling in, torrential rains, spring flowers and snow capped mountains still visible in the distance. It’s the season of not knowing what season it is or wants to be.

WEDNESDAY 22ND MESS: Today at the Sports Day practice the PP classes were doing a synchronized drill and it did get into a bit of a mess but since they are so adorable and they were trying their best we just let them have their 5 minute of fame before the arrival of the rain.

THURSDAY 23RD SNACK: back in the same favourite café and this time with an excuse to buy a snack just to snap the shot. Ambient Café fave with expats!!

FRIDAY 24TH FILL THE FRAME: This tulip is about to lose its petals it is open so wide but it is still very striking when its fills the frame: just not quite as striking as the HM Ashi Jetsun Pema the queen of Bhutan after whom it is named.

SATURDAY 25TH I SAT HERE: In the rain at Sports Day I sat here: - at the recorders’ table under an umbrella and right next to the winning House’s Trophy. I was writing first place certificates all morning and feeling extremely lucky to be dry when most of my colleagues were drenched.

SUNDAY 26TH 4’OCLOCK: We moved apartments today and set ourselves the task of having everything in place and livable by 4pm. OK it was only a 5 metres across the hall move but we had reinstated everything in mirror image of how it used to be and were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves by 4 o’clock. Why would you do that you might ask? Well we love the location and the apartment but a new construction is going on in the adjacent block and that will eventually remove our view so now we get the keep the view, live in an apartment that is in better condition and see and hear less of the construction! Win, Win, WIN!

wEeK fOuR ApRiL 2015


MONDAY 27TH IN MY BEDROOM: We have just relocated everything but I did love the décor in our apartment so it remains the same and still by far my favourite thing in my bedroom is the Yathra woolen weaving we bought in Bumthang last year ( there is a good chance we will boil all summer because I won’t be able to bear to remove it!)

TUESDAY 28TH PREPARE: Prepare, produce and product – This is the picnic lunch we prepared and delivered to the best, most generous, and compassionate café owners in Thimphu. It was a small attempt to repay their kindness last year when we really needed it and this year when they have continued in the same vein.

WEDNESDAY 29TH I WALKED HERE:  This morning I had exam supervision and just out of curiosity I checked my favourite health app before I started, so, while these kids did their 2 hour exam I not only walked here (up and down these wooden floor boards) but I actually walked 3.5kms!! It compensates for not being able to walk to school because of the pouring rain and makes me feel better too.

THURSDAY 30TH NEED: I need this aloe vera to try to calm the intensely itchy, radically persistent and pervasive rash that is overtaking my body and has been for several months. The plant needs to be repotted really soon so that I have a regular supply. Thanks Madam Anjana for bringing it to me today at school and coming to my rescue.

FRIDAY 1ST WANT: At this point in time I want nothing more than the endless cycle of writing, editing and correcting exam papers to be over…… but with one full class set still to be checked and another blueprint and paper with model answers just finished and ready to submit that is nothing more than wishful thinking. This is round 1 of a cycle of 4 exams a year so dream on …….

SATURDAY 2ND FACELESS SELF-PORTRAIT: Today is Teachers’ Day in Bhutan and we teachers have to go to school. The students take full responsibility for organizing the day and it typically involves lunch and a vast array of singing, dance and other performances by students.  They genuinely do express their gratitude and both students and teachers don their finest clothes. Therefore I wore this borrowed and very expensive ‘kira’ today and teamed it with my favourite orange silk ‘tego’ and aqua ‘wandu’.

SUNDAY 3RD A CUP OF…… asparagus. It is fresh in season here at the moment and I have recently discovered that the best way to keep it fresh is to cut the bottoms and store it in a coffee cup half full of water