Tuesday, February 26, 2013

School Begins!

It is amazing how things can change in a week or two. Bit by bit our apartment that was still a construction site 3 weeks ago is taking shape as our home. We feel settled here in Chumey and have new routines to adapt to the different ways of life.

School has started for Xavier and I, and life as a house-husband has begun for Bob. After nearly 2 months of travel we are ready to get back to ordinary life, and yet I would hardly describe our new routines as ordinary.

We wake early to get the fire going and if we are lucky to have both water and electricity we can get started on tea and breakfasts. Without power or water this takes a little more time, but we can handle it.

I get dressed in my kira which is still a tricky manouvre, and move on to dressing Xavier in his gho. I know I need to improve my technique as the teachers swoop on him when we arrive at school to fix him up.

Walking to school is a complete pleasure, a contrast to strapping kids in the car for the 40 minute peak traffic commute at home. Here Xavier and I have a leisurely five minute walk down the national highway, which is as quiet as a country road. We pass peaceful cows and villagers going about their morning chores of washing hair and dishes in the sunshine.

Yesterday I had two arms full of things to take to school and a lovely year 9 student immediately offered to help. We walked all the way to school with her and learned she hopes to become a doctor. She seemed mature, intelligent and with impeccable manners and I wish her all the best to achieve her goal.

All along the way students from class pp (prep) to 10 make way for us to pass by standing aside, bowing and saying 'Good morning, Madam!' with not a parent in sight to give them a nudge. It feels like the full royal treatment and shows how much teachers are respected in Bhutan.

School begins with a Buddhist prayer in Dzongkha, all students standing reverentially in rows, many with eyes closed in concentration. Next comes the national anthem, again in Dzongkha. I need to get my hands on a version in roman writing and a translation to get the best of the experience, although I find myself humming the tune through the day.

My students in class 2 range in age from 6 to 9 years old and I have 27 in total, all squeezed into a tiny room on little wobbly stools, three to a desk. Like students anywhere, those at the front are eager and bright, the ones at the back more reluctant and rowdy.

Lunch time is interesting too: children run from classrooms to find a place in the sun as mothers, grandmothers and younger siblings scale the interesting ladder over the fence laden with rice cookers and picnic baskets. Extended family and friendship groups sit together for a picnic in the sun, and all is quiet as everyone tucks in. Xavier and I have our own picnic lunch that Bob packs for us (Xavier has vegemite sandwiches and watermelon just as he would at home) and we catch up on the morning. I know even if we were both at the same school at home, we wouldn't have this lovely time together.

Lucky for us, after just two full days of school we have a two day holiday! We took the opportunity today to attend the tsechu (local festival) at a nearby village called Buli. Yet another sun-drenched day greeted us, the skies vivid blue. We took a taxi to the monastery off the main road, up on top of a hill with awesome views of the valley. I can't get enough of these himalayan views, with snowy peaks in the distance, colorful prayer wheels and flags in the foreground.

We spent most of the day being entertained in the monastery courtyard by a succession of ritual dances performed by monks wearing elaborate costumes and masks. Between these performances a group of women in vibrant handwoven kiras performed traditional dances and sang haunting melodies. Their ages ranged from twenties to perhaps seventies or eighties, and the oldest lady seemed to have the most spring in her step even as the day got late.

The audience was relatively small, everyone had a' front row' seat, and the mood was casual and fun. A team of monks dressed as 'atsaras' ran around to amuse the crowd, a bit like bawdy clowns. Carrying large wooden phalluses, they behaved in a surprisingly lewd manner, which didn't seem to bother the locals at all. They enjoyed hamming it up for our cameras and at one stage Xavier joined in with them, performing his ninja moves.

It was an awesome day and we still have tomorrow off from school and work for more local exploring, hopefully checking out the nearby Chumey Nature Resort for lunch.

I'd like to add I have written this blog using the blogger app on my phone as we don't have internet access on our computer yet. As far as I can tell I can only load photos at the end of the post and can't caption them, so use your imagination!

Bhutan, tsechu, Chumey, Bumthang, school, volunteer teacher, Buli, children, local festival, atsara, Dzongkha


  1. I love that I also send Max off to 'school' with a Vegemite sandwich each day, just like his cousin Xavi in Bhutan ;-)

  2. What a lovely life you're experiencing! I love the thought of all the families coming to school for lunches! and your walk to school with X - what lovely times.
    Xavier, you look very handsome in your gho at school - love Emi