Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Aungsang in the Rain

I found out yesterday that we would be having five days off work due to the second round of elections in Bhutan. Most teachers from my school are on official duty as polling booth officers around the country, and many students (who are over 18) need to travel to their home town to vote, so that means another break.

It was nice to have a relaxing start to the day and pack our snacks for a walk to a village over the other side of the river, high on the hill. Aungsang is the home of a few students from school who walk about thirty minutes each way to school every day, and I was intrigued to visit. I also heard that Aungsang is a GNH (Gross National Happiness) village and has had assistance to build a weaving room and library. I was particularly interested to check out the library.

The morning was a bit overcast, but at least dry as we set out. We crossed the river and walked up the rocky road that had a very gradual incline. The boys were full of energy and it wasn't long before patches of bright red strawberries appeared by the side of the road and all up and down the hillside. Just the incentive that the boys needed to keep walking up the hill, racing to be the first to find the next big, juicy strawberry!

Crossing the river, near our house.

 Looking across the river to our apartment building on the right - shows that we really are living in among the trees!

It's only the beginning of the monsoon, but fields are green and lush.

Xavier finds the first strawberry!

Wild strawberries were everywhere!

More than enough strawberries for everyone!

About half way, the rain started to come down, and luckily Bob had brought our two big umbrellas so it was actually very pleasant to take Xavier's hand and walk up to the village, slushing around in the mud. We were nearly there, when we saw a family out in the rain preparing a large plot of land for planting. It turned out one of my class 5 students was there with her little brother, getting soaked but seeming not to mind. They escorted us up to the village (Bob lent her our third umbrella) and she was very excited to invite us to her house for tea. We were very happy to take her up on the offer to take cover from the rain and warm up. We spent some time enjoying tea and biscuits by the bukhari and meeting children of the family. When we asked about whether they had a vegetable garden, one girl immediately grabbed a bag and ran outside to fill it with spinach for us, and we were invited to come back in a few months when other vegetables and fruit will be ready.

A warm place to dry out by the bukhari.

Bhutanese cats always love hiding under the bukhari!

Our host and her cute son enjoyed posing for photos.

Xavier was fascinated by the little boy who enjoyed Bob singing 'Round and round the garden goes the teddy bear' and tickling him.

Looking out over the orchard of apple, peach and walnut trees.

Yathra weaving loom had a beautiful view and was sheltered from the rain.

Vegetables included spinach, cauliflower, carrots, spring onions, beans and sunflowers.

The rain cleared a bit and we went to visit the weaving house and library. Five looms were set up for women to use and a large adjoining room was bare except for some colourful alphabet posters that had been put up. I'm guessing this is going to be the community library one day. For now just seven books that were donated by Chumey MSS were on a ledge in the weaving room. I immediately started thinking of how I can get more books for this library and also how I'd like to give all our children's toys to the community when we leave. I'm guessing that through the week, mothers come here to weave and their children amuse themselves - how nice it would be to have some toys to play with!

Large empty room crying out for a library!

The humble beginnings of the library.

Yathra weaving on the loom - I really like the pink!

One lady was weaving when we visited - it looks to me like the yathra have designs embroidered over the top, but they are woven in.
And orange yathra.
Home near the weaving room.

I have two friends still working on fundraising ideas for the school and I'm thinking that if it is ok with them, I'd like to use some of the funds to buy a selection of books to kick this library off. The population of the community is very small, but seeing as they have this lovely building, it is a shame that it is still so empty. A friend I have made through FMS Photo-a-day is raffling two hand-made quilts and proceeds will go to our school. Anyone interested in buying a ticket, or simply making a donation can contact me and I will pass on her email address - the raffle will be drawn at the end of June. 

Aungsang temple.

Xavier and Remy always love spinning the prayer wheels.

Walking home, Remy wanted to 'mud ski' - the road had turned to slush very quickly.

And looks like tomorrow we'll be heading west to Trongsa for a couple of days catching up with Kyle, Sarah D and Valerie. Can't wait!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Nirvana at Nimalung

Today it is a public holiday in Bhutan to celebrate Buddha's Parinirvana - the anniversary of his death and entrance into complete nirvana. As the principal said at school yesterday it is a holy day, not just a holiday,  and all students were encouraged to visit one of the many nearby monasteries.

Bob helped one of the Class 9 boys with ideas to improve his science exhibit for the recent competition and so Tshewang enthusiastically invited us all to join Class 9B for their day trip to Nimalung Monastery and the picnic that followed.

Bob with Sonam Dorji, Tshewang and Dema Yangchen - our hosts for the day

The students were up very early to visit Chumey Pong Monastery on the hill behind our house - we watched them climb the hill as we ate breakfast. They then walked the 7km to Nimalung and we timed it very nicely that our taxi arrived there just as they did. I would love to have done the walk with them - up the hill through the pine forests which smelled irresistably fresh, passing occassional farm homes, surrounded by pristine mountain beauty, but we accept our limitations travelling with two little boys!

In one word, the weather today was glorious! We haven't had such a hot, sunny day since we've lived here. It was one of those days that the blue of the sky and the green of the trees and the bright colours of the girls' kiras just sparkled and radiated happiness. In every direction I looked I was just awed by the natural beauty and also at how the monastery and everything else in my field of vision was stunning. I took many photos, but of course they can never capture the 360 degree panorama of beauty all around.

Entrance gate to Nimalung Monastery.

Entering the temple.

Remy in his gho, soon after an Ama came and fixed his gho which I never do up tight enough.

We all sat down with Lopen Thinley to meditate.

At the start of the day Remy was just warming up to all the students, but by the end he was playing with all of them.


I felt thoroughly blessed to be here today, to have the opportunity to be invited to share the day with these mature, friendly and welcoming students. Their home-class teacher is Lopen Thinley Norbu, a monk, and recently we have developed a friendship based around discussing Buddhism, making friendly jokes, doodling during meetings, and helping him with his English. Like many Buddhist monks, he has a jolly sense of humour a huge smile, and it was wonderful to be able to have a guide to explain the various statues in the temple and generally talk to about the significance of today.

The feeling remained with me throughout the day that whatever difficulties I have faced so far this year, are more than made up for by days like today where we experience the very best of Bhutanese culture - hospitality, generosity and friendship. I actually remember reading the blog of one of last year's BCF teachers, Vicky,  who accompanied her class on their picnic, and dreaming of having a similar experience, and here we are!

The day had a relaxed pace: we spent some time at the monastery, visiting the two temples there and making offerings. Bob and I were given butter lamps to light in one smaller temple. I remember from years ago in India that when one offers light to the Buddha, you can imagine offering all the light in the world - I picture thousands of butterlamps, just as I saw years ago in Bodhgaya (where the Buddha was enlightened) and also wish for the light of wisdom to be lit in the minds of all beings. The feeling of peace that comes with those thoughts is wonderful.

We were invited to have tea and snacks at the monastery, before walking with the students just a little way up the road to a large cleared hillside. It was scorching hot in the sun - and dressed as we were in full kiras and ghos, it was uncomfortably hot. The students leisurely set to work to cook food for the picnic. They had carried all the ingredients and drinks up the hill, and borrowed large pots from the monastery. The boys made a fire while the girls prepared the vegetables for cooking, and tea was made and biscuits and chips shared.

Crowding under an umbrella to peel potatoes (and read a text message!)

Chopping onions, tomatoes, potatoes and spinach for the kewa-datsi.

A huge pot of rice to feed the crowd.

More wild strawberries!

The girls wore their bright and colourful kiras - I love the golden taego!

 Lopen Thinley found quiet moments to meditate and chant while lunch was prepared.

It was scorching hot in the sun, but the water in the stream was icy cold, felt like my feet were freezing to iceblocks!


I love the way that Bhutanese picnics and social events flow - I love how tea and biscuits are offered first and enjoyed while the meal is prepared - and I said to Bob that I would love to have a Bhutanese style party for friends when we get home.

We went hunting for wild strawberries up on the hill, and joined in with some Bhutanese traditional dancing while the lunch was cooking. We also did the hokey pokey, heads shoulders knees and toes (in English and Dzongkha) and rounded off with the heel and toe polka! No one seemed to be a hurry at all, and the students needed no guidance in executing the preparation of a meal to feed more than 30. They worked together without any conflict, boys and girls interacting in a very natural and mature way. It was a pleasure to watch!

After two serves of lunch, we called a taxi to come and collect us as the boys were tired, but started walking to meet the taxi on the way. Remy and Xavier were carried or entertained most of the way, and Bob and I had a chance to enjoy the mountain air and scenery.

It had been a very special day, and I am really looking forward to return to Nimalung in only three weeks time for the three day Tsechu (festival) that will be held there and that we get a holiday from school for. Happy days!


Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Afternoon Art

By the time we get to Friday afternoon, I think most of us are ready to wind down. According to my timetable we have Library and English time after lunch on Friday- so I think of an artistic endeavour to end the week on a creative note. 

So that no-one can accuse me of not giving my kids their full dose of English for the week (believe me when I say I really feel like I fill their little brains with English at every opportunity) I find a way to make a loose association between the art and the English text we are working on at the moment.

We are coming to the end of a two-week block working with a play version of Snow White, so I asked the kids to paint their favourite part of the story. The kids have loved it so much - and I am blown away that the majority of the students have been able to read and comprehend the text and participate in a couple of sessions where we acted out the play. Some are natural actors, and one of my sweetest students relished the role of the evil Queen! It was interesting that the book had a couple of Bhutanese twists to the story - before the Queen killed Snow White with the poisoned apple she sold her a kera (kira belt) and tied it so tight around her waist Snow White fell unconscious! Also the seven dwarfs were not miners as I remember, but worked in the fields, and they checked that Snow White knew how to cook 'rice and meat' before they let her move in.

After drawing pictures from Snow White, they moved on to whatever they wanted to paint, and bit by bit, children from all the lower classes joined us until we had about 100 kids spread out on the grass painting!

Some of the boys love drawing ships - this one is beautiful - out on the sea, with a Bhutanese flag of course!

What a lovely place to paint - out in the school grounds.


I really loved Xavier's picture, with mountains topped with flags (everything in Bhutan seems to have a flag on the top) and a house with smoke coming out the chimney - a very Bhutanese landscape.

Speaking of fairy tales, our first full-school reading period was a success this week - with boxes of books taken to every class (including the year 9s and 10s) from the primary school library for a half hour reading session after school Thursday. I was a bit concerned that the books I supplied to the Class 9s and 10s wouldn't hold their interest - they were mainly children's picture books. But when I asked students leaving school in the rain afterwards, they were very enthusiastic and said they found the books really interesting. I was told that many of these students did not get to experience the joy and wonder of picture story books when they were children as the library was not operational then, and so they are making up for it now.

For both the art and the reading ventures again we are so grateful to friends and family who have made all sorts of contributions. Thank you cards have been made and we'll send them as soon as possible.