Monday, November 5, 2012

Chillips Running Amok

"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."
      -Gilbert K. Chesterton

Just setting out on yet another hiking adventure

Martha’s death overshadowed most of what happened immediately thereafter, but there have been many fun and interesting things to report. Before that happened, I had made plans with Ashley and Iman for them to come here and we would all spend the holiday of Blessed Rainy Day together. I did get to see them, plus some more friends on that day, however unfortunate and incidental the circumstances may have been. Blessed Rainy Day was the day after Martha’s cremation, so I was in Rangjung and had the pleasure of enjoying the comfort and company of Sheal, Scott, Becky, Tim, Ashley, Iman, Martin, and we stayed at the always-fun-and-hospitable casa de Vicky & Ian. All things considered, it was the best possible scenario and I am so glad I was able to see everyone again.

Martin and Iman came back to Autsho with me; so Iman got to come after all, like we had planned. Martin was just an added bonus. We (and by that I mean Martin and Iman) made a lovely dinner in my humble little room and we talked and talked. The next day (Sunday), Martin was supposed to leave on the bus that runs from Lhuentse to Thimphu, but after waiting for a couple of hours and some detective work, it was ascertained that the bus driver was “taking rest” after the prior day’s festivities, so there wouldn't be one. With a smile and a big hug, and no hesitation, Martin set out to hitchhike all the way back to Bumthang. What a spirit of adventure and good attitude! He called later that night, having made it safe and sound, 6 rides later, elated about his day’s escapades and sights.
Iman and me in our matching outfits; and my doggy, who follows me to class
On that Monday Iman came to all my classes, plus a couple extra, and she taught an impromptu lesson on Haiku using the book she recently published and gave to me as a gift. In one class, we subbed for P.E. so we took the kids out side and did some simple yoga. We wore matching kiras and wanjus, purposely wanting to look like “sisters.” We were a huge hit! She’s got a fan club over here now.
Iman leading us through chaturanga dandasana
My dance group
Then, the power went out for over a week. Radio silence. Our school had been planning to host its first-ever variety show, that kept getting postponed because we had no electricity, but the first day it came back, we were in business. I coordinated a group of students and taught them a dance to LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem. I have to brag just a little bit here. It was awesome! I will go so far as to say it’s the most fun, worth-it thing I’ve done here this year! We practiced a ton; it took a lot to teach 15 kids how to do totally new, really faced paced dance moves, but it was well worth it. It was a showstopper. Since it took so long for us to learn, we only did one song (we were supposed to do two), but it was such a hit, that after the first night, the program coordinator requested that we go again, and that I would participate. Twist my arm! I’ve always been something of a performer; love a good song and dance routine! I enthusiastically skipped out onto the stage that second night and busted some shuffling moves with my kids. Everyone went wild and the kids told me later they have never done anything so fun, or been so proud of themselves.  It’s moments like that that I joined this profession for. And just when I thought my heart couldn’t swell any bigger with pride and love for them….
Everyone's so excited!
Free styling

The weekend after that there was a Long Life Blessing in Lhuentse that I went to at the crack of dawn. There, I received a package that had been sent months earlier by my Australian friend Bobby I met when she was touring Bhutan in May. She took a keen interest in my students and me and took it upon herself to make 40+ big tote bags, with her sewing club, for the students to carry their books in and some more books to donate to the library. The package had fallen off the truck and was sitting on the side of the road until it was picked up by a man I had never seen or met before, who had it for who-knows-how-long, just waiting to meet me to give it to me. Everyone knows who the one and only foreign teacher is here. It was so quintessentially Bhutan. Here, it’s all about luck. Bobby, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU! You’ll be getting pictures and a more detailed account of the gifting of the bags and book donation very soon.

Me, Melanie, Andy
One weekend, I had some unexpected visitors. On a Saturday, as our school was hosting an open volleyball tournament for the whole Dzongkhag, I got a call from new friends of Martin and Tara’s, who had just come from Bumthang, where they had been filming Martin for an educational TV series they are voluntarily producing. They were cycling from Mongar to Lhuentse and wanted to drop in and say hi. They are from London and named Melanie and Andy. They called to just come meet me, but after coming up to my school and into my little room, we decided they should stay and explore around here a little bit. They were the perfect guests, and aside from David, the only Brits I’ve ever met. Such adventurers! They’re voluntarily working for 4 months in Bhutan, and going on a year-long tour around the world, basically, as an extended honeymoon, after quitting their jobs and selling most of their possessions in London. Sounds familiar. Birds of a feather, eh?
Andy took these cool shots on their fancy camera. I got some great pictures of the Autsho area from them!
A spider we saw on the way to Ladrong- colored like a tree frog, sitting in its yellow web
Trekking through the jungle
They asked a couple of my students to take them to Ladrong, one of the most remote villages in Lhuentse District. They wanted to collect information for a potential future funding project of the school. Incidentally, that is the same place I found myself the following weekend. My friend Sonam and I decided we wanted to do something different, and she has a friend who teaches there, so we decided to go. What an ordeal that turned out to be! It was a 5 hour trek and some of the most spectacular land I have ever gotten to see here. The wildlife, and natural scenes were breathtaking. However, for an out-of-shape girl, it was quite a haul. When we got there, the first thing I heard was “Madam Reidi!!!” some of my students from AMSS who live there had returned the previous night and were more than excited to have me show up. We played volleyball, watched a football match, and enjoyed the day, beauty, and people of Ladrong immensely.
Sights of the hike to Ladrong

A typical village, Jarrey: 6 houses, some animals, and a chorten

Ladrong school, and students coming to watch our volleyball skills
Some students who took me up to the prayer wheel and Lakhang above the village, amazing view!

Ladrong, tucked away
Loaded in the back of a tipper. This is turned out to be the scariest thing so far this year!

The trip back was a whole other story. To my chagrin, we were coaxed into spending the night. We left around 8 in the morning, thinking it would take about 4 hours to get back and could be back by lunch so we could have the day to prep and get ready for the upcoming week. There isn’t a road that connects the village with the rest of the country, but one is being currently blasted into the side of the mountain. After walking for about an hour, we came to the place where the road was being made; a truck was about to leave and go all the way down. Score! A ride! Several of our students were also there, so we happily climbed in. After a short time, we realized that our driver was totally inebriated. He insisted on driving as close to the sheer cliff drops as possible. A few times, rocks would ping off the side of the road and bounce down the drop, which allowed us to visualize the full depth of a plunge. Horrifying! So much so, that my friend Sonam and I decided we had to be responsible for not only ourselves, but the lives of our students. Much to the driver's dismay, we got out. That left us stranded on the highest, steepest, most dangerous road I’ve ever been on in Bhutan. And that’s saying something! We spent most of the afternoon carrying the boxes and bags that the students were bringing back from their homes, walking up, up, up, freezing, waiting for another ride to come along. At no point did anybody I was with ever seem alarmed, or even out of good spirits. We made a fire because it was so cold, and had to huddle together to keep warm. All were laughing, smiling, and singing throughout the whole day. Quite a typical scenario: something unplanned, potentially dangerous and aggravating, but nobody fusses or minds. What I saw as an inconvenience, they were happy too see as a grand adventure. I love peoples’ attitudes! I've been here for almost a year, and still continuously am reminded that there's more to learn about patience and perspective.
This is taken from where we got out of the truck, miles up. At the bottom of the valley is Autsho
Our roadside fire
The next and last big foreigner adventure has been my mom visiting me here. She came on the 18th of October, and spent two days in the West, touring around Thimphu and taking in all the sights and activities there. She met my friends Mel and Andy, only through a fluke run-in with Niall, the man I met and stayed with while I was in Thimphu over summer break. I love that Bhutan is small enough that all the foreigner chillips know each other in one way or another: that goes for everybody, actually. Then, she came to Bumthang, where I met her and we spent the next week staying with Tara and Martin. Ashley came too and we attended the local festival of tshechu to see the masked dancing and get a blessing. I loved getting to introduce her to some of the culture and history of Bhutan, and introduce her to my friends. After days of lounging, eating, walking, cooking, and generally making merry, we headed back on the bus to Autsho together. This was personally my favorite part of having her here- getting to show her my village, school, and most importantly my students. They were more than polite to her, and melted her heart as much as they have mine. She brought dimes as a small gift from our country to theirs, and spoke to the whole school at the morning assembly. She came to all my classes with me and spoke to my students about our home, family, and shared pictures of our land and me when I was their age. They absolutely loved her; the night before she left, my room was flooded with kids coming in and out, wanting to wish her safe journey and bringing her gifts. Here's something a student wrote about her in a journal: "She looks simple and nice. She talks soft, kind, and smart. We think it's our good karma to meet her..." If it’s going to be anything like that when I leave, I don’t know how I’ll actually bring myself to get on the bus and go. I was very moved, touched by the kindness and warmth with which they welcomed her; I know she felt the same way. (I really wish I had more pictures, but they were accidentally erased in my ongoing battles with my technology!)
My beautiful mama, all dressed up in the national dress

That pretty much brings it up to date. I have really glossed over the details of everything because there was so much to cover. Now, we will head into the exam frenzy. Now knowing how long it takes to mark papers, I am well prepared and just hoping to avoid another computer (or any other kind of) catastrophe! Fingers crossed! Overall, life has been treating me extremely well, and I am so grateful for the lessons and experiences this year has brought me, and cherish the remaining time I have left.

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