Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Holidays and enjoy the silly season

Once again the end of the year is here and it hardly seems possible that another 12 months have flown by. Let me begin by wishing you all a very happy, healthy and personally satisfying year in 2016. Merry Xmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. As always I will share our year with you and hope to hear back from you with the details of the year you have lived.

As far as our work is concerned we are approaching the final two weeks at school before the winter break. That, as usual means the exams have wrought their havoc, marking and correction of papers in the hotpot of common and communal faculty based paper checking is complete and the grades all tabulated. Only the final step of actually writing the comments on the report cards remains to be done. The final two weeks will be a flurry of meetings planning, preparing, and organizing next year’s start of the school year and including Award Day and Result Declaration, which means 13 consecutive days at school. So often I wonder at the beginning of the year why this or that wasn’t already arranged. Now, I remember as I do every end of year, it’s because we are exhausted beyond belief and in desperate need of some brain space and free time.

What a roller coaster ride this year has been. It seems to have been the year of paperwork, permits and documentation making the decisions for us.

The year began brilliantly with a celebration very near our old stomping ground in Samtengang, at a lovely little riverside resort. We were on the final leg of our whirlwind tour of central and western Bhutan, with our invited guest and good friend Katja and another mate escorting her friend around the kingdom, also joined us.  It must have been a grand celebration and drink fest as in the morning when we departed at 4 am to avoid the roadblocks, we spotted the empty bottles. All of us were hung over and much in need of breakfast by the time we reached Dochu La and thankfully the driver was patient and obliging. However, we did recover enough to get to Paro and climb to the lookout point of Tiger’s Nest before Katja departed. Ian was still using his elbow crutch at the time so that was the limit of the climb.

Summer in Australia was the usual mad rush to meet up with as many people as possible while also preparing for our new situation in Bhutan and cramming in medical appointments. Happily this was when Ian was fitted with a fabulous new orthotic and could finally throw away the crutches, but not before we availed of them as a means to acquire priority boarding for the flights back to the kingdom.

We love those mid summer breaks, after the biting cold of the Himalayan winter but this year at the back of our minds was the fact that we were still waiting for our visas to be issued. We had felt confident enough to have already leased an apartment in Thimphu and moved all our possessions from Samtengang there in the week before we departed. However as the weeks dragged on we grew increasingly concerned. Although it came down to the wire, Ian’s visa was issued just days before we commenced our journey back to the kingdom and mine took another 12 days most of which we spent twiddling our thumbs, with a growing sense of uncertainty in Bangkok. There was an anxiety-inducing run to the Australian Embassy on Friday afternoon, to get all my qualifications notarized with only 30 minutes to spare to get the visa issued in Bhutan and to us in Thailand the same day, but it happened. By the time we arrived in Thimphu both of our schools had already begun the teacher orientation process and students were just days away from arriving.

Thus the academic session of 2015 began with steep learning curves and surprising grade allocations. Ian was assigned PP (Pre Primary) and I had classes 6 and 7 in addition to the very familiar class 9s, with whom I have worked on numerous occasions. Both of us just accepted the challenges of new curricula and grade levels with which we are totally unfamiliar and set about preparing year plans and teaching materials as well as acquainting ourselves with our new school environments. I can honestly say those class sixes who I feared the most turned out to be the greatest joy of my classroom experience this year.

We were fortunate to be treated to a 2-day break early in the term so that we could attend one of the most auspicious and significant tshechus in Bhutan in nearby Paro. My generous principal put us up and insisted that we take leave to be able to appreciate the splendor and grandeur of it all. After hitting the ground running in terms of school this was very welcome and we once again had time to contemplate the unique culture and long standing traditions so embedded in the everyday lives of Bhutanese people.

Our beautiful new apartment, which is astoundingly well-appointed compared to all our previous homes in the kingdom was a delight, in those early months. We were at first sharing with another BCF mate who, like us, had traded rural isolation for a position in a private school in the capital, but he eventually moved on and we found ourselves happily back to only sharing our very spacious new home, with spectacular views with each other. 

Since then the demolition of 2 lovely old houses adjacent and the removal of more than 20 trees on the property has occurred. We have endeavoured to make a point of daily savouring the views down Thimphu Valley and the nightlights of Changgangkha Temple and the Memorial Chorten, which are clearly visible from 3 rooms currently. Knowing that our views will soon disappear due to the ongoing construction of a huge building right outside our door or balcony in this case, we are trying to be both mindful and in the present.  

Early in term one it became apparent that we would need to return to Australia in the summer break as I needed a new passport and it couldn’t be replaced earlier in the year as the paperwork we were sweating on was all tied to the soon to expire passport number. It was not our original plan but it turned out to be an excellent time to see winter in Adelaide; something we had not done for a long time. It was also a great excuse to start the rounds of social gatherings and catch-ups.  Funnily enough we found the winter quite mild and not dissimilar to summer in Thimphu. Thankfully the passport and accompany new visa for Bhutan were both issued in a timely fashion and the return a pleasant journey rather than a nail-biting experience.

By the time the Tshechu break of just over a week rolled around in September we were firmly committed to some internal travel that wasn’t in pursuit of paperwork and elected to avoid the nightmare of spending over 12 hours on horrendous roads. Though we did get the road permits to get there first, we finally decided to instead treat ourselves to the 25-minute flight to Bumthang.  It was the perfect time to be in central Bhutan and despite missing the Tshechu in Thimphu, we got to see an excellent one in a small village near Jakar, as a bonus. This district is one of the most historic in all Bhutan so there was ample opportunity to hike to temples and monasteries and explore the dzong and surroundings. Coupled with catching up with Becky who was our nearest neighbour and good mate from Rangjung days, this turned out to be just the battery- recharging we needed before the final month of teaching.

With only days of teaching remaining before the exam period commenced, we were given a 4-day break to celebrate and commemorate the Fourth King’s Sixtieth Birth Anniversary. Rather than attend the many formal events hosted in the capital, we took ourselves on daily walks in the vast nature zones that surround Thimphu. We cooked-up a storm, packed picnic lunches and hiked off into both known and unknown areas. With only one or one and a half-day weekends we are often so immersed in domestic tasks and ongoing school activities that we don’t take enough time to appreciate the here and now and this was a very pleasant reminder to ‘smell the roses’ more often in the future.

It would be impossible to close without mentioning that all the fear and trepidation I experienced about joining a private school, teaching younger kids and living in the capital has well and truly evaporated. This has been the best year yet in Bhutan and though not entirely due to, but surely largely as a result of, being in Druk School and working with our principal Madam Tshewang Choden Wangdi. She has been an inspiration, and is such a dedicated and visionary leader that I am thrilled to be coming back next year. She put such faith in me and not only encouraged me to meet her high expectations but also ensured I grew and developed into the resource person she and the school needed.

I think Ian has grown even more given the demands, challenges and obligations of teaching children with enormous differences in their competency in the English language and also in that all important first ever experience of school. It speaks volumes for him that he was recently approached by the most prestigious private primary school here in Thimphu and still chose to remain in his current one.

Therefore for the time being I’m at Druk and Ian is at Deki and we are so looking forward to the arrival of our visas for 2016 so we can get on with the all important task of planning a great break and a holiday without paperwork hassles come December 19th

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

Peace and love always,
Vicky and Ian xxxxxx

PS. Since this was written, and emailed a week ago, we have both received our visas and renewed our work permits, report comments have been written and in my case the results declared on Awards Day yesterday. I also realised that National Day is coming up on Thursday this week, which  means we won't actually work 13 days in a row - a small and inadvertent element of exaggeration. I have also unfortunately learned that my principal will not be with Druk School next year so a new experience awaits. We are certain that we will get to take a much needed break both travelling in Bhutan with a dear colleague and heading out for some warmth and sunshine. 

Tashi Delek!!

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