Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Madness at the Book Fair - Wangdue #1

The Bhutanese ‘Bush Telegraph’ had been in overdrive in the past couple of weeks with rumours of the upcoming Book Fair in Wangdue. Outside of Thimphu there are no book shops (or certainly none in the area where we live) and so schools rely on this annual event to stock their school libraries. Since 2008 the government has provided a budget to each school based on the number of enrolled students, and consequently most Bhutanese schools have adequate libraries that in many cases would be the only library or place to find books in the whole community. As the primary school librarian it made sense that I be offered the chance to attend, and aside from that it was a wonderful opportunity for us as a family to have a get-away and see a bit more of Bhutan, and catch up with our BCF colleagues, many of whom had also convinced their principals to send them to the Fair.
We stopped on the way for a snack at a roadside stall - coffee, popcorn, boiled eggs and momos.

These yellow snacks were a perfect play telephone for Remy (and doesn't he look like cousin Lachie in this pic!)

 We always love seeing these water-propelled prayer-wheels.

When we arrived in Wangdue late Thursday afternoon it was pouring with rain and in a short time the roads had turned into rushing brown rivers. Our bus took us straight to the Book Fair where our friend Heather had already arrived from Chukha where she lives. I ran out into the rain and slush to find her and also briefly met up with Matt, another Australian teacher posted near to Thimphu. The Book Fair, which was set up in tents on a school sports field was being inundated with rain, boxes were piled high everywhere and people were scurrying about, trying not to get soaked.

We were taken to Bajo town, the modern new town of Wangdue and saw another long lost BCF friend there, Valerie who was stopping through on her way to Thimphu. As we chatted and reconnected after months of living in isolation, a teacher from Chumey saw us and came to offer us a lift to our hotel which was about 20km away. There was Bob, Heather and I and Xavier and Remy and our luggage including a stroller and a small hatchback already loaded to the roof with luggage! It seemed impossible, but we squashed in and were kindly taken to our hotel, which ended up taking a long time due to a landslide caused by the rain.
We were lucky to visit when Jacarandas are in bloom - this is a street in Wangdue.

We stayed at YT Hotel as it had great reviews on Trip Advisor and I read that they had a fruit orchard including avocado trees. Anyone who knows Xavier knows he is a terribly fussy eater, but the one thing he loves and will eat til the cows come home is avocadoes. We haven’t had one since we left Australia, and unfortunately it is not the right season, but I still wanted to see that avocadoes are grown here and perhaps later in the year we will be able to have them again.

The YT Hotel had beautiful displays of plants in pots - more inspiration for the garden I want to create back in Australia.

The hotel is a lovely respite from the modern, dusty, dirty town of Bajo, which could have been anywhere in India except for the Bhutanese facades of building blocks. A shopkeeper even spoke in Hindi when I asked the price of the grapes I bought and from somewhere deep in my brain I understood his reply. We also had a really delicious lunch of South Indian food – I had a masala dosa and Bob an uttapam with sambar and coconut chutney and real Indian masala tea. I realised that where we are in Bumthang, whenever we have an opportunity to eat outside our home, the options are limited to Bhutanese food, and I have really been enjoying it, but how nice to have different tastes and flavours!

But I digress, I need to tell you about the Book Fair itself. We were blessed with a sunny day Friday for our shopping day. The feeling of getting up and putting on sandals for the first time in months was really lovely and the feeling of warmth and heat as the day went on was quite startling.

Heading into the Book Fair I had a good sense of what I wanted to buy for the school. Along with the other English teachers, we have made a plan to start a Friday reading period and I offered to provide a set of suitable ‘learn to read’ books for each class. I also offered to perform Running Record reading assessments for all students! Well, in reality that may take me all year, but I will try to go class to class with my bag of PM readers and get a picture of reading abilities at each level and then provide books that are appropriate. At the moment the school library is very well stocked – we have a real bulk of books there, but to my mind, we were lacking books that children will be able to actually read – for the majority of students to about year three, simple engaging ‘learn to read’ books are what is needed, especially as English in most cases is a third or fourth language. Usually students choose books with nice pictures and flip the pages without reading! Also, I wanted to buy books written and published in native English speaking countries by favourite authors. The majority of books in our library are very cheap publications from India – the grammar and spelling and layout is poor and the content is invariably ‘moral stories’, ‘folk tales’ and ‘fairy tales’. I do think it is lovely that the students really resonate with these type of stories here, but I am hoping to turn them on to a new world of reading with my sets of Geronimo Stilton, Goosebumps and Dr Seuss.

I started the day by spending about an hour doing reconnaissance of all the stalls to see what was available. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everything I was looking for was there, hidden in among the masses of cheap books that the library is already filled with. Our school budget was low – about $700 total for the whole school, of which I could spend half for the lower primary school. I was so fortunate to have an extra stash of cash in my money belt, donated by kind friends at home who didn’t hesitate in seeing the benefit of donating money for this cause. To say it made all the difference is an understatement – my budget was doubled – and I was able to look beyond the cheap and nasty to the quality books I think will really inspire the kids to want to read.
Boxes labelled for schools all over Bhutan were in scattered piles - will they find their way home??

Not a cash-register or computer in sight - all bills were prepared by hand.

Stalls were set up in big tents - to shelter from rain and sun.

 Bob found some books for Remy's birthday.

Xavier wouldn't smile for the camera, but he was more than happy to sit and read books all morning.

I also found some lovely Big Books which will go perfectly in the library with the easel I have asked to have made – and I can see myself being able to offer ‘modelled reading’ lessons to the students – discussing behaviours of a good reader, decoding strategies, attending to punctuation and fluency. These books open up new possibilities with my teaching and that is exciting. One type of book that was really sadly lacking at the Book Fair was Bhutanese children’s stories. While we were in Thimphu we did quite a bit of book shopping and bought at least twenty local children’s stories in English. Our boys have really enjoyed them, and I wanted to buy multiple copies for the school library. It makes sense that the children will enjoy reading stories about people like themselves, in local settings and local storylines. I found only five titles of which I bought multiple copies, but that was a disappointment.

It took most of the day to finally complete all purchases and then carry the items back to the bus. Receipts had to be tallied and we scraped in right on budget, so that was good. In all honesty I would love to have been given the opportunity to also buy books for the upper school too as I would like to have again purchased the type of books that perhaps only a native English speaker with a lifelong love for books might buy – favourite stories and authors that are bound to ignite the teenage students’ interest.

I found out that the other passengers on our bus from Bumthang – teachers and principals from a variety of schools – had completed their shopping and were ready to head home today. I felt really disappointed as with all the hard work done I was ready to have a day of RnR in Wangdue before heading home on Sunday as had been planned. We had arranged with our teaching friends who live within a two hour radius to meet us Saturday and it was an opportunity too good to miss, particularly as we had travelled eight hours to be here!

I was musing over our options when a man called out – ‘Are you from Chumey?’ – he was the principal from Jakar High School and straight away informed me that he would be driving back through Chumey on Sunday in his car and had seats free to take our family home! What a God-send! Travelling with the boys on public transport could be hard work – asking to stop for the toilet and no breaks to stretch legs and fresh air – whereas travelling in a private vehicle means we can stop if we need to, and hopefully the journey will also be a lot quicker.

And just when I was already feeling elated, my phone rang from our favourite monk – Thubten Senge-la – the English BCF teacher who is an ordained Buddhist Monk. He was finished work for Friday and had asked for a day off work Saturday so he could come and meet us for the evening and Saturday. We arranged to meet at a rumoured pizza restaurant – things were really looking up!

Heather and I walked back to Bajo and met up with Bob who had had a long day entertaining the boys. It was time for an ice-cream and a sit down on the curb, to rest our legs and get a bit of a sugar hit after a long, hot exhausting day. We then headed up to the pizza shop and settled in with a well earned beer, and in no time a mysterious knock on the window was all the boys needed to hear to run out and embrace Senge-la who they adore for his loving cuddles, silly games, dancing and singing.
Senge-la, Xavier, Bob, Remy and Heather as the pizza arrived.

The pizza, at a cafe called Coffee Affairs, was the best that we’ve had in Bhutan – mushroom and olive – and we ordered French fries as well and it’s a cliché but it didn’t feel like months since we’d all sat around together. How lovely to speak in rapid-fire English, empathising with each other’s stories of life in different but similar villages and schools. We came back to our hotel and had fun dancing and singing – Senge-la providing some varied music from his iphone: classical ballet, The Cure and everything in between – it was a late night for all but exactly what we needed, friendship, joy, fun, music, singing and dancing. What a great way to recharge!
Xavier having ballet dancing lessons from Senge-la - a former classical ballet dancer! Unfortunately I don't have a photo of when Bob joined in and learned the moves for 'Tomorrow', from Annie.
It will take a few days for the books to be catalogued at the school, but will post photos of them when I can.

1 comment:

  1. How fantastic that you were able to get some new books - I'm sure your selection is excellent (and will be so fun for your students!!) Your hotel looked lovely ... and your boys - how handsome they are, growing up!! (And that is definitely a dark-eyed, cheeky Lachie-clone in that photo of Remy!!!) Missing you, glad you are having a fantastic experience xx