Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Raising The Roof!

There seems no end to the reasons that Bhutanese find for a good come-one-come-all celebration!

Today a note went round inviting all the staff to lunch at one of our office staff Mr Norbu's house to celebrate the roof being put on his house extension. It so happened that Bob and Remy had been visiting the school before lunch and of course they were welcomed for the ride! Everyone found a lift with a teacher who had a car, and off we went to Dhomkar village.

It looked so different today - warm and sunny, the fields and trees green - no sign of the festivities of Tsechu we attended there a week or so ago.

Mr Norbu's family home was off the main (unpaved) road of the village - a very heavenly place to live. As it turns out we were literally celebrating the roof being put up- the roofers were at work as we arrived! As we stood outside the home which is still at the wood-frame stage, many teachers exclaimed that this is their 'dream home' and it certainly looks like it will be a very pleasant, large and comfortable place for the family to live.

We went inside and sat on planks covered with mats on the earth floor. A group of monks were in attendence, performing the religious rites for the event with loud cymbals crashing and horns. Remy was fascinated by the large altar, elaborately decorated and with seven large bowls full of snacks, lollies and treats made as offerings to the Buddha. He really wanted those lollies, and created a bit of a fuss. I explained to him that the lollies were an offering for the Buddha. He looked around and said  'Where is the Buddha?". I showed him the Thankas (traditional paintings) hanging on the altar with images of the Buddha which Remy is rather familiar with after four months in Asia. He thought again and asked "How will Buddha eat those lollies without a real mouth?" Later Xavier chimed in with similar questions - they were both very concerned about who was going to eat those lollies and when!!!

We were first served tea with an assortment of crackers, puffed crispy rice and deep fried biscuits. The boys enjoyed this stage and embarrasingly searched through the platters of biscuits to find the few chocolate biscuits!

Next, a buffet lunch was served that included an impressive range of vegetable and meat dishes, all heavily spiced with whole chillies. Homemade wheat noodles seasoned with chilli were a real treat.
In true Bhutanese style, ara was served after lunch for those who felt they could head back to school with a bowl or two of ara under their belt.
Outside, a plate of doma (betel nut) was shared with teachers, an after lunch refresher to set us on our way (not that I partake, I can't see the appeal of chewing doma!). And back to school we went, having missed 5th period. I must admit this very relaxed attitude to work is growing on me!

To colleagues at home, it may seem that I've had quite a few of these social events to report on lately (and look out for another after Thursday, our school Rimdro), and you may perhaps wonder how we are fitting in the important task of teaching in amongst all these holidays, celebrations and even a funeral in the community that occupied most staff for three days last week.

All I can say is that I agree, and find I am spending less and less time teaching at the moment! With unit tests looming, I wonder how much new content I will have taught to be able to assess in four or five weeks time! I was told that teaching in Bumthang would be like this, and here is the proof of the pudding, but I am sure we will all have to knuckle down next week. I have been told that in Bhutan participation in family and community events is of utmost importance and takes precedence over work- which is so different to the 'protestant work-ethic' that most westerners like me grow up with.

At first it was hard to adapt to this very different working environment, but day to day, it seems like this may be an important component of Gross National Happiness - taking time to enjoy, celebrate and commemorate the important events in life with friends and colleagues, breaking up the monotony and hard slog of work. There is no doubt I have never been more connected in a community as I am now, and it is lovely - and hard to imagine going home to our house where I have never spoken to our neighbours. Food for thought!

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