Saturday, March 26, 2011

This Developing Country

I see Bhutan developing all around me. I see non-material changes like the education system's switch from emphasizing memorization to promoting deep understanding. And I see material changes. Buildings and bridges and roads are being construction at an astounding rate:

Rarely, though, does my experience in Bhutan conform with what I thought it would be like to live in a "developing country." The term made me imagine squalor and desperation. My life in Trashiyangtse is, in almost every respect, as comfortable or more comfortable than my life in Canada. I have electricity, running water, and Internet reception most of the time. I feel safe in my home and in the streets. The children at my school seem adequately nourished, clothed, cared for, and supplied with what they need to learn.

To be sure, there is a lot less stuff here than in Canada. Children find entertainment without Nintendo DS's making jumbo legs with cardboard boxes or peeking in on the crazy Canadian woman:

And I have to find ways to teach without the learning materials I was accustomed to in Canada. Rocks, as it turns out, are a versatile resource perfect for division:

Only very rarely do I experience something that makes me go "whoah. I'm not in the first world anymore." Thursday brought two such moments, both related to public health. First, it was World Tuberculosis Day and the children were educated on the transmission, prevention, and symptoms of the disease. Before the presentation, I thought that tuberculosis was an historical problem that no one worried about anymore. In actual fact, one third of the global population is infected with tuberculosis mycobateria that will, if the immune system is compromised, become symptomatic. TB is especially dangerous, therefore, for adolescents, the elderly, and people with AIDS:

Second, I was tasked with giving my home class their deworming medication, a pill to chew and a pill to swallow which all students in Bhutan take several times a year to clear their systems of any intenstinal parasites they've picked up from unclean water or poor sanitation:

Mild side effects of the medication are common and include headaches and nausea. I now know what university professors feel like trying to lecture the morning after St. Patrick's Day.


  1. I think it is sad (Though happily not entirely true) to think that Canada is not a developing country- I figure a country should always be developing itself in some way

    Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that Bhutan is a rapidly developing country?

    P.S.: I think the Bhutanese kids may be better off with their boxes and rocks than Canadians with their videogames and indoor lives!

  2. On the topic of deworming medicine, have you noticed whether any of your students have any environmental allergies, food sensitivities/allergies, or asthma? I learned in my Immunology class about the benefits of parasites and their role in keeping the immune system in-check so that it doesn't get bored and start attacking dust mites and gluten.

  3. @Becca: There seems to be absolutely none of that here! The classrooms are so dusty that I can hardly breathe but none of the children mind. And I bring peanut butter sandwiches to school with no problem.