Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter for Expats

Not a single Peep or chocolate egg in a single shop and he only bunny ears in sight were the ones I bought for Losar: Easter would have come and went entirely without my notice except that I happened to head down to Kanglung, Trashigang Dzongkhag to see my BCF-BFF Natalie:

After a traditional Easter breakfast of shamu datsi we invited the children who live next door to come over for a candy hunt. I think it is the first Easter that I have failed to place first in a hunting event. I found only three Mangofillz while the winning child found eight. Maybe I'm getting old.

After a traditional Easter breakfast of shamu datsi we invited the children who live next door to come over for a candy hunt. I think it is the first Easter that I have failed to place first in a hunting event. I found only three Mangofillz while the winning child found eight. Maybe I'm getting old. We played with the children for a couple of hours: Duck Duck Goose, The Human Knot, and a simple game my father invented called Poison which was, as it always is in Canada, the biggest hit. We sang in Hindi and danced wildly and just had a wonderful time.

It was a great weekend! Unfortunately, I've come down with a touch of the typhoid and moved to the home of my Vice Principal, my mom away from mom, until I get better. It will be at least a few days of bedrest and fluids before I'm back to blogging. Try not to worry. I figure that if I'm going to spend my life teaching in the developing world, getting crazy diseases is just part of the job.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Updated Tour

I have completely reorganized and redecorated my home! Here is the new look:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Combining Triangles

There is not much to this entry, just some shots of my class combining pairs of identical triangles and seeing the variety of shapes that can result. (Well, not the whole variety. They did what most people do given this task and always fully lined up congruent sides instead of breaking that non-existant rule and making irregular hexagons.) I'm justifying posting these pictures with the claim that they're beneficial to prospective BCF applicants because they show a typical Bhutanese classroom. I'm really just posting them because my students are so cute when they're learning:

I brought the construction paper from Canada and I'm now officially out. I can't buy more of it in Trashiyangtse but I'm planning another trip down to Kanglung this weekend and I might be able to get some there. The glue I bought here for 20 Nu. per tube (44 cents Canadian) which was me being overcharged. The price printed on them is 5 Nu. (11 cents). No matter how low the price, the problem with "Fox Kidz Synthetic Gum" is that it has the same viscosity as water, which makes it difficult to use judiciously.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Goodbye, Grampa

For the first time since arriving in Bhutan, I wish I was in Nova Scotia. Today I received word that my grandfather Adrian Bates has died. It happened on the 16th but because I accidentally left my laptop’s power adaptor at school over the weekend, I found out just a few hours ago. It was the end of my lunch break and the clock was telling me to head back to school and review three-digit multiplication. I split in half. Part of me went up the road to fulfill my responsibilities. Part of me went a hemisphere and two days away to process the news. Grampa is gone.

Grampa. When I was a child, I knew only a few things about him. He played cards. He called me Tweety Bird. He was proud to be Irish and loved St. Patrick’s Day. He was proud to be a veteran and loved Remembrance Day. I got to know him a bit better in grade twelve when I finally talked to him about the war. He liked to tell the happy stories: meeting the princess, driving the British Prime Minister, catching a spy, giving presents to the children at the Liberation of Holland. He left the horrible rest of it to far-off looks.

When I grew up, I began to see his secret strength. He had a love for his family that allowed him to do impossible things. He was an alcoholic before I was born but the story goes that one day, without any word, he gave it up cold turkey. He was a smoker when I was little but he gave up tobacco in just the same way. If he had not had that strength and love, we would have lost him years ago. Instead, he was there for my wedding. In Matthew’s suit.

Grampa was Catholic and most of his family will take comfort in the knowledge that he’s in Heaven with Jesus. In Bhutan, of course, I hear a lot more about reincarnation than Heaven. Every time I do, I think of a Cape Breton song that Grampa had sung to him by many of his grandchildren before their voices changed and they could no longer hit a high F: “When the light goes dark with the forces of creation /Across a stormy sky / We look to reincarnation to explain our lives / As if a child could tell us why / That as sure as the sunrise / As sure as the sea / As sure as the wind in the trees / We rise again in the faces of our children…”

It is stormy here now. The power is out and my computer screen is the only searing brightness in a world that is darker without Grampa. But I don’t need to look any farther than my own face to see his features reincarnated. I am one of over seventy descendants who owe their existence to Grampa’s love for Gramma. We all bear something of his likeness in our smile. If we all have a bit of his character, too, a bit of his strength, a bit of his self-sacrifice, a bit of his gentleness, a bit of his diligence, a bit of his love, then I think the world really isn’t that dark.

In Bhutan, the passing of loved ones is marked every seven days for forty-nine days. I’m going to do that for Grampa. I just wish I could do more for Mom and Grandma. Those of you who are closer, please give them a hug from me.

More Visitors

On Saturday, I welcomed Raewyn and Kristen, the staff of the BCF's Toronto office, to Trashiyangtse.

I made spicy spaghetti casserole for them but some of my teacher friends felt that that was insufficient and so volunteered to prepare kewa datse, fiddleheads, rice, and dahl to go with it. It became quite a feast! I feel incredibly guilty over how small my share of the work was:

There were nine diners: Raewyn, Kristen, Nima, and Rinzin from the BCF and Devi, Dawa, Deki, Sonam, and myself from TYLSS. I had a marvellous time, and I think everyone else did, too.

The next morning, I took the Canadians on my favourite hike. It was a perfectly clear day so they could see my once-in-a-while mountains.

They made it all the way to the lookout. It felt cool to show them my whole town with a single swipe of my hands. I love having company and they were especially great company to have.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Fuzz and the Weed

My recent visitors remarked something about Trashiyangtse that I was cognizant of in my first few days here but have since stopped noticing and never blogged about, namely, the substantial police presence:

Today the local police head gave a presentation to my school's older grades on drugs, assault, vandalism, and gang behaviour. It is pretty tempting when you teach in a Buddhist mountain kingdom to believe that your students don't encounter issues of that sort but of course they do.

In fact, the "war on drugs" is a bit more challenging here than at home because marijuana grows in every ditch. The teachers perform mass uprootings of the plants around the school but it is quick to grow back. I didn't realize before now just how literal the word "weed" is.

Like all of the Bhutanese I've met in positions of authority, the police officer dazzled me. He is as articulate, knowledgable and firm as you'd hope a spokesperson of the law would be, but he is also bubbly and sunny and unabashedly thrilled to be alive. He's very excited about bringing a Police / Youth Partnership programme that has been a success across Bhutan to Yangtse. The aim is to break down the "us vs. them" attitude that youth worldwide have about police in favour of trust and respect built on personal relationships.

In many developing countries, police and military are something to be feared but in Trashiyangtse the constant sight of uniforms is a constant reminder that I am protected.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Now Druk, you should let everyone have a turn...

It is time once again for your co-curriculars update complete with house standings: 

The calendar of literary activites is in full swing. We recently held the year's first Dzongkha-language storytelling competition (Class VII & VIII) and English-language poetry recital (Class V & VI). The children incorporated so much action into their dramatic readings that the photos were fuzzy! Here, one of my students recites, with homemade wand in hand, "If I were a Fairy with a Magic Wand":

On the athletic front, we're on to volleyball. Did you know that it only takes about ten minutes for sufficiently industrious students to transform a parking lot into a volleyball court?

The trickiest part is moving the motorcycles!

As with football, I was amazed by the students' volleyball skills:

Druk house is currently waaay ahead in the standings:
Druk House: 4 (spelling contest, boy's football, English poetry recital, boy's volleyball)
Tak House: 1 (girl's football)
Chung House: 0 
Seng (Lion) House: 1 (Dzongkha storytelling)

Part of the reason is certainly the male School Captain who is a member of Druk House and an absolutely exceptional athlete. He is the one in the strips about to pop the ball:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Arrivals from Canada

Yesterday, I received my first mail since I've been in Trashiyangtse (not counting electricity bills). It was a care package from home containing Quaker oatmeal and jumbo chocolate bars! My favourite thing in it / on it, though, was my mom's handwriting:

Later in the day something even better arrived from Canada! Trashiyangtse welcomed the Founder and Chair of the Bhutan Canada Foundation [BCF] Sam Blyth as well as a couple of his friends, his daughter Maddie, her flatmate Mimi, and (the only one of the crew I'd met before) the BCF's logistical whiz Karma. Sam himself is not in this picture, unfortunately, but he was very much here and happy to be:

The evening and morning I spent with the Canadians were wonderful! Our discussions about culture, education, and the upcoming election at home were as delicious as the food we were given at the Karmeling Hotel cum Bakery:

I particularly enjoyed getting to know Maddie and Mimi, shown here soaking wet after our thunder showery circumnavigation of Chorten Cora:

It is pretty amazing to work for a Foundation the heads of which care enough to come all the way to Yangtse to see me. I'm pretty remote here, but visits like this show me I'm remembered.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bambooless Valley

As you've surely noticed, I've change the look and title of my blog. There is really not much bamboo in the Trashiyangtse Valley, which I thought there would be when I chose "Bamboo Valley." In fact, the only bamboo I've seen in town is this little cluster at the tip top of the Dzong hill:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Lama with the Yellow Umbrella

Chorten Cora is a rainbow of special flags. The seventieth Je Khenpo is in town! He is the spiritual leader of Bhutan, the head of the central monk body, and the only person beside His Majesty permitted to wear a saffron kabneyJe Khenpo is not the #2 person in Bhutan; he is tied with the King for #1:

We all went down to recieve his blessing. As he moved through the rows touching our heads, there was a breif, gentle fall of rain. This is considered very auspicious, a blessing on the blessing. And it meant that I got to see the Je Khenpo's umbrella which, surely not by pure coincidence, matches his kabney: 

After he physically touched us, we each recieved a sacramental piece of breadish buttercake and a little wine. It felt very much like Christian Communion. I like the Buddhist way of giving the wine better, though. It is poured into your hand from a teapot. You bring it to your lips to taste then touch your hand to your hair.

We also received blessed purity cords to wear around our necks:

Partway through the event, I happened to notice one more eye on the chorten than I'd ever seen before. I asked Madam Sonam about it. She'd never noticed it before today, either, and she's been here for years.  

Isn't it interesting that a symbol of Enlightment can be painted plainly on a giant white structure at the centre of your life and you still don't see it? It reminds me of the story that Principal Sir told in this morning's assembly....

One day while walking through an open market, a group of good boys came upon a woman who was bent over scouring the ground. "Are you looking for something, ma'am?" they asked. "Yes," she said, "my work is mending clothes but I've dropped my one good needle." Their response was cheerful, "We will help!" and they looked and looked. After a very long while of very earnest searching, one boy said, "are you sure you dropped it near here?" "I dropped it at home," she replied, "But it is so dim in there and so hard to look that I decided to search outside where its sunnier." We look outside ourselves for happiness, but that can only be found when we brave the shadows inside.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

But, Protagoras, can virtue be taught? [This one definitely goes out to Eleanor]

I love coincidence! I'm working my way through a series of fifty audiolectures in philosophy which I listened to a few years ago but I wanted to refresh on. On the very same day that I reached the lecture "Can Virtue be Taught?", I found out that I'm getting a new course in my docket. I will be conducting class five Value Education.

I'm really excited because I have free reign in how I fill the one period per week allocated to the subject. We can do drama. We can read stories. We can play games. We can do art. The only specification is that I explictedly inculcate good human values which build Gross National Happiness. Can virtue be taught? I guess we'll see!

Rather than have an entry with no photos, this is just a snap of my walk home from school.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I certainly do teach English, too!

Today is Wednesday, which is when I usually post about Maths Club. In my father's most recent email, though, he said, "your blog always seems to be about math. I thought you were teaching some English, too..." I guess it's high time I give an update on Class VII English!

The most important concept for students to wrap their heads around this year is metaphor. Most of the pieces of literature we study centre around one well-developed comparison. In 'Advice to a Girl' by Sara Teasdale, a piece of advice (specifically, "no one worth possessing can be quite possessed") is compared to a stone. A girl possessed by anger, it explains, can be calmed by good advice just as her hot cheeks could be cooled by a smooth stone. Once calm, she can meditate on the wise words just as she could study the stone's beautiful complexity. Needless to say, the poem appealed strongly to the intensely-emotional geologist in me. My class sevens selected their favourite proverbs and wrote them on smooth stones:

A more involved metaphor project was to prepare a poster comparing themselves to any object of their choice. I think they did a wonderful job!