Thursday, May 17, 2012

This, That, and the Other Things

 “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Albert Einstein

Martha, me, Ian, Vicki, Becky, and Sheal at the bookzoo, I mean fair!
On March 16th there was a book fair for the Eastern side of Bhutan. I went a day early so that I could meet up with the other BCF teachers who live this side of Bumthang and also price paint/materials to renovate Autsho MSS’s library- a project I proposed to the BCF. It was a nice weekend. Scott, Vicky, Ian, Becky, and Martha all rallied and came from the even-further-East and Sheal met us there (as she lives very close). It was wonderful to see them. I feel lucky to be part of such a special group of people. Each person is good, helpful, supportive, and unique. I appreciate the work and attitude of everyone I’ve met so far through this experience and it felt darn good to commiserate and realize I’m not the only one who is bewildered and floored by some (maybe most) of the way things really happen here. 

The actual book fair was a dizzying, chaotic ordeal. There was a huge tent set up on the playing field of Mongar MSS and inside, the circus. I estimate that 20-30 book vendors (mostly from Thimphu) all came with their best selections laid out, prime for the taking. It was a zoo. Each school had been allotted a budget, funded by the District Education Sector, and needed to spend it. It worked like this: you go from vendor to vendor, picking out what you want, put it in a box, and get a ticket for the books. You then have to total the amount with the vendor, who will bill the DES, and then move on to see what the next one has, adding all your ticket totals together to see how much money you have “spent”. People were buzzing around, books were literally flying off shelves; it was crowded, jumbled, and overwhelming. I was lucky that a team of selected teachers from Autsho MSS came and met me and we all went on the shopping frenzy together. My fellow foreign cohorts did not fare so well, and were responsible for handling their entire school’s budget/buying singularly. Ooof!  Anyway, it was all well worth it to get to see everyone and I have been voraciously reading the books I picked out for my own, personal collection ever since. I wasn’t able to bring any pleasure reading books here with me, so it has been wonderful to have something to read other than my teaching resources!

Me at my desk in the staff room. I spend many hours here!
Our district administered “Unit 1” Exams, which was eye-opening to how extensive the exam-taking process here is. Although English is only one subject, it is broken into two parts: Paper I and Paper II. Although I know this is the structure of the Midterm and Final exams, I hadn’t been informed this is how the Unit Exam needed to be written and given, as well, until the last minute. It was scrambling to, essentially, write a whole other test and divide the questions I had prepared for my original under their respective parts. Doesn’t make sense? I know; I feel the same way. Then it took three whole days to administer all the exams. Then marking. Each exam paper was only out of 20 points, but I have 112 students, so that means 224 papers to grade in a short amount of time. It took, in total, about 12 hours (I’m estimating) to do them all, which isn’t terrible. But the midterm will be like that, only each “Paper” is out of 100 marks. I’m wondering: will I actually be able to put in 60 hours worth of work grading before my eyes start to bleed and/or I go insane? We’ll see…

Namdrupling Gonpa, the monastery just up the way
at Je Khenpo's Puja
Inside of the monastery with all the "duk"
The week of Unit Exams was a frenzied one, as we were additionally honored with the presence of the Je Khenpo at our local monastery, named Namdrupling Gonpa, just up the hill from school.  The Je Khenpo is like the equivalent of the king of all the Buddhist monks here in Bhutan. He stayed there for the full week, and everyone’s time and attention were split between preparing for the exams and attending to His Holiness. Each day of the week, students and teachers walked the several miles up to see him early in the morning and then right after classes ended in the afternoon and received blessings and made offerings (these traditional ceremonies are known as Puja). I attended the largest Puja ceremony that was held over the whole week. The entire school and most of the village went up to the temple and sat in His presence, chanted, and feasted for hours.  Inside the monastery, religious tapestries called duk (duke), pictures, relics, and brightly decorated textiles were draped and covering all possible surfaces. It was almost a sensory overload- the explosion of color, incense smoke, and the guttural reverberation of chanting monks. Over the week, the monks had accumulated a mountain of food that had been presented as offerings to His Holiness. That evening, they divided it all up among the people attending Puja and it was a feast! The proceedings went on until almost 11 p.m. at which point I caught a ride down with someone who had driven, and the students walked, skipped, and sang along the whole way down the hill, holding hands, arm-in-arm.

One thing that I have noticed is the playful attitude of the boys here, and their ability to be jovial and sing, laugh, or make any situation into a game. The women are more subdued and reserved, not as boisterous, but even they still all seem really positive. I love how affectionate people are with one another. Women, men, and kids all walk around holding hands, or will rest in an embrace if they happen to be standing next to one another for any amount of time. People support and accept each other here in a way I have never witnessed. Their ability to innovate is vital and life-affirming- a bottle cap for a soccer ball, a bed spread for a table cloth, a piece of cardboard for a frame. And it all works. Although, people have admittedly less than what many Westerners deem as “necessary” to exist, they seem so much more content, resourceful, and happy with it all. Obviously, I read and heard this before coming, but to be here, live in it, is humbling and a mirror for me, reflecting all my concepts of “struggle” or “need.” I realize I’ve been living my life with so much more, and in many ways, contrary to what people here do and believe. Yet another thing that makes me so very different from the people and culture; and, once more, I have a lot to learn.
Our girls chucking the deuce for the camera!

The crowd at the Sherig Century celebration
As mentioned in my previous post, the 100th anniversary of education in Bhutan (or Sherig Century Celebration, as it is called) fell on May 2nd- also Teachers’ Day. That day, our students put on a program here for all the teachers. It was great! They called me up to the stage to sing a song. I got really embarrassed and have never sang a song solo, in front of 500 people, without any music. I ended up reciting the poem I had written and was prepared to perform that night for the concert in Lhuentse instead. The MC said, “Thank you, Madame, but you leave us unsatisfied! We asked you to sing one American song!” I made the excuse that I’m a poor singer and wasn’t ready, blushing and laughing, I sat down. Later, I wished I had sung a song. Although I am not a great (or even good) singer, as a teacher, I should be ready to do whatever is asked of me. I ask my students to stand and speak to me in English every day- something they are extremely uncomfortable doing. Isn’t it the same? Also, something I have come to realize is that there aren't any traces of a malicious, competitive, or degrading spirit here that I have come to take as granted.  If you’re fat, you’re fat; or if you’re not good at something, you’re not good at it. Appearances are appearances and people do what they do. Character and physical traits are totally accepted and not really judged to be good or bad. It’s just a fact like anything else, like the way people don’t judge the sky for being blue instead of pink. They would have loved and appreciated me croaking and screeching off-key up there just as much as if I had been able to sing like Lauren Hill. What held me back was my own need for perfection- not theirs. Next time they ask, I will oblige!
Our students performing

Class 8 'B' and their English Madame
On the positive note, I ended up getting the funds from BCF I previously spoke about and I’ve had some breakthroughs with my class. I was recently reminded by my dear friend here Ashley how important it is to have fun. I’ve been taking this all very seriously. These kids are away from their families too and work all the time. Their entire day/week/school year is an extended form of detention (most of the time). If I can bring some joy and livelihood into their lives, I’m doing a lot. I need to quit worrying so much about how much/little they are academically learning and start focusing on how I can be more dynamic. With this in mind, I structured class differently this week and, lo and behold, one of my classes, the one I consider “the hardest to teach,” started teaching each other. It’s been the best week, teaching-wise I’ve had yet. It’s things like this that make me think, I’m actually doing good work here, hey, I can do this.
Thanks for the pep talk, Ashley!

Time is going by extremely quickly, and our Midterm break is almost here! I can’t believe it’s already May. It’s my parents’ birthdays are at the end of this month, and it was my grandmother’s May 8th. I always get very sentimental about home around this time of year because it had turned into somewhat of a tradition for me to make a pilgrimage back and have always come away with only the fondest of memories: eating outside, drinking cold beer pulled from a cooler, concerts, lake excursions, family adventures…For my money, it just doesn’t get any better than Nebraska on Memorial Day Weekend, and the smell of barbeques, freshly cut grass, and the faint thud of distant thunder in some clouds on the horizon, just before the nightly storm. To all the people who will be spending that time in a similar fashion: I am there in spirit!


1 comment:

  1. Hey- you CAN do this! You ARE doing great. Lovely post!