Friday, July 19, 2013

Living Bhutanese Year II--When you are a traveler, you are no longer a foreigner.

As I boarded my plane for year (2) I knew that I was coming home. I had been to Koh Tao with all my fellow BCFers from year 1 and now myself and three others were returning for year number 2 throughout Bhutan. This year I had thought to myself," Things will be different", "No more exploring" and this is your home now--you know the places, the people, what to expect and now I felt like I was a "villager" and no longer a foreigner. The students, my village, school life...everything would be routine this year. Little did I know this would be the one of the most challenging year of my life.
"Madam Ash is missing Bhutan" wrote in Koh Tao
Arriving in BKK, I was on cloud nine... I knew the airport and things seemed to be routine. However, little did I know at the time that my luggage would be lost with over $200 worth of school supplies and everything I "needed" to start off my second year in Bhutan. I had an 11 hour layover which I spent panicking until I saw a
BCF 2012 enjoying in Koh Tao for winter break
familiar sight in the middle of BKK-- A KIRA. I don't know why this calmed me at the time but it did, "Kuzuzangpola," I said as I approached a woman named Deki. She looked at me surprised and and returned the greeting. She spoke great English and it turned out that her husband had just graduated and they were returning to Bhutan after 2 years and they too had lost luggage! However, they were calm and collected and reassured me that things would work out (that's just the way things did in Bhutan) and they did. 
I arrived in Bhutan on February 9th and my luggage arrived on the 10th. I was greeted by familiar faces (2 Bhutanese friends) that I had kept in touch with picked me up and took me to my hotel in Thimphu. The following day they took me to Paro (an hour drive) to get my luggage that arrived safely in Bhutan (things just work out that way in Bhutan). The following days were spent shopping which included: a wash machine, food, and essentials for Eastern living in the more remote areas of Bhutan. My essentials--Olive oil, candles, Barbecue sauce, Tea tree oils, a new Kira, and much more.
As I rode on the bus with my fellow BCFers "2013 batch" I couldn't help but notice they all had made a connection and I was the lone returning volunteer. Of course, they were all very welcoming,but I realized I missed that feeling of my first year with the people I had came here with in 2012. On the other hand, I began to think I am not alone. I, unlike the others ...have a Bhutanese family waiting for me in Kanglung.  
With my Bhutanese in Kanglung, Bhutan
When I say I have a family, I mean last year before I left I shifted my home to one of my favorite t student's homes. Before I left they offered to let me stay in their home for free and keep my things safe while I was out of the country. I call them my Kota ( little brother), Ama( mother), Apa (father), and Abi ( grandmother). They are reason #2 of why I renewed my contract for a second year. First, being teaching the students of course. However, they had been calling me and awaiting my arrival. I knew I had to get home as soon as possible, I had even brought them gifts from America that I was excited to give them. All of my other colleagues had opted to stay in Trashigang which is the "city" outside my village that is 22 KMs away while I arranged a taxi immediately home to see my family.
 I arrived at 9:45 PM that night and it felt like I hadn't even left. I quickly unpacked their gifts which included clothes, baseball gloves, purses, games, kites, tools, and many other miscellaneous things. I was exhausted and before the night ended around midnight...I know I fell asleep with a smile on my face...I was home (my home away from home).
The next few days were spent with my students and making sure they hadn't lost their English conversational skills. Flying kites, lunches, dinners, shopping and laughing with them. I had an amazing time and before I knew it school was about to begin.
Spending time with one of my class 5 students and their family
The first few days were chaotic to say the least. The things I thought would change were the same at school; missing materials, crowded classrooms etc. I remember my Facebook update on the first day of school,"First week of school = Chaos, stress, missing materials, missing books, but on the contrary I met my 135 students for the year and was welcomed with belated birthday gifts, poems that stress their love for me as a teacher, spoke Sharchopkha in public at the parent meeting and received an applause (thank you Madam Tashi), met and enjoyed with my students and their families and realized AGAIN why I LOVE living in Bhutan. It is a trial everyday, but the challenges, teaching, and life here make me appreciate the fact that I wake up everyday in the misty mountains and live each day like it's my last." 
One of my class 7 students and their family
It is a struggle --lack of hot water, moldy clothes and food, communication barriers, and lack of significance put on education itself are all things that sometime make me want to scream. However, I couldn't be more happier that I am spending another year in this country. The people, the rice fields, the homes, the generosity,  the happiness, the simplicity, the food ( which I can't go a day without Ema Datsi) , the clothes, the many amazing views and the reality of taking your life "slowly" are all things that I keep in mind on a daily basis. There is no worry about time here, just living is all it is, and I can appreciate that. 
My love for my wash machine because I now have Sundays free!!

First day of school outside my home in Kanglung

My amazing view each doesn't get better than this! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My love for my Bhutanese students

"G-g-g- Morning Madam!" "G-g-g Afternoon Madam!" G-g Evening Madam!" Are now all  familiar quotes I hear on daily basis. I feel my days would be incomplete without a student rushing to greet me or stumbling upon me in a shop to only say what so naturally rolls of their tongue. What's more interesting is that sometimes they are in such a rush to bow and greet you that they use the wrong greeting in the complete opposite time of the day. We both laugh, not for embarrassment, but for pure humor and I graciously correct them, smile and walk on my merry way.

The students here are some of the best people I have ever met. How can I say that about a group of individuals who's ages range from 11-16? I have no idea, but all I know is that I will NEVER forget these youngsters and they have made a permanent imprint on my heart. Read small excerpts below to fully understand the impact children AND students can make on your life...

Singye Dema (Left)

Each morning I write on the chalkboard: H.E.R.O ( Have Everything Ready and Organized ), I write Good Morning, and below that: new spelling words, what we will do for the day, news that we should know about (Vitamin D distribution), AND a journal. The students love the journal and everyday each of them in their semi- broken English courageously gets up in front of the class and reads their journals. Sometimes they choose the topic for the day's entry and the subject matter can be a little touchy... Chosen by student Singye Dema May 18th, 2012. Journal: If you could go to America and be adopted by Madam Ashley for 6 years, would you go why or why not? (4 sentences). Well, as it turns out many of my students think of me as their parent already! As I was listening to many of their responses and why they would go with me, it hit me. These students have involved me more in this country than I have let my own self to be. They wrote things like Madam is like our god, "she is teaches so well", I love her, she is my best teacher, and much more. I sat there listening and almost got a little teary-eyed. That day at school I walked around with a little more pride and less frustration. I was beginning to see that even if I think its a rough day of 8 periods and seeing 150 students, who may or may not be comprehending...they love having me here not just as a teacher that may NOT be successful everyday, but as family member. P.S. Many of them still think I am going to adopt them and they already have their parent's approval! (I truly would if I could)

Not to mention in regards to the morning routine of what is to be written on the chalkboard...I have had my share of sick days because of my weak immune system ( feeling 100% nowadays), but when I was absent my homeroom class of 35 students would continue it for me. With that said, every morning a student would write everything identical to what I WOULD WRITE for the day and provide a journal for my students! When I would return I'd have "Get Well" cards waiting for me, as well students "showing-off" their journal entry that I had missed. Imitation, my friends, is the best form of flattery.

This is Chenning holding a photo of his god and  he of course has  my bag!
Each morning I hear a soft knock on my door. "It's me Madam!" Chenning Dorji my homeroom, "Key Holder in-charge" is at my house at 7:30 AM, Monday through Saturday to carry my backpack and walk me to school. He is the oldest student in my class six, at age 15 and walks the furthest to school (7KM!!) He was born to a family of farmer's, a product of divorce, goes to school all day and works and babysits all night, only to be at MY house every morning with a smile and a story from his last night's events. It has taken a lot for Chenning to become the student he has become over the last 6 months because he is expected to be a farmer and school is not a priority. I have successfully helped him to become more confident in his studies, ambitious, and instead of sleeping in class...HE PARTICIPATES!! Moments like that...will keep a teacher's heart full.

These are my picnic goers!
PICNICS. If you have ever lived in a remote location where T.V., computers, video games cannot consume your mind all day the only thing left to do is GO OUTSIDE!! Being born in rural Illinois and having to be told a million times ,"Go OUTSIDE" , I was quite used to the notion of going on picnics or outdoorsy time. No, this is not your typical picnic at the park! These students pick me up at 7:30 AM on a Sunday (my only day off) and we walk 7-10 KM to find the best picnic area. I literally live on the side of the mountain so sometimes flat areas are difficult to find. Well, when we find the best area my students are hard at work! My first time I was expecting a nice rest after we walked 10 KMs , but NOO they are chopping trees, building fires, washing vegetables, chopping vegetables, fetching water, and all I could do was watch them like worker bees , buzzing around with smiles and so happy we are on a picnic. It was hot that day and we are in an open prairie, but no worries my students chopped down large branches and stuck them in the ground so I would not be hot! That day I ate more chilies, more rice, and more ferns than I ever have in my life! These 12 year old girls not only cooked for us , they cooked for the boy's football team ( Kanglung upper market side, of course.) After being woke up at 6AM, cranky, and wanting to spend my ONLY day off alone... these girls and I had more fun than we had anticipated. Fire cooked lunch, Red Rover, Action Photos, "Girl-talk", and dancing...No regrets to a Sunday that could have been used for rest.

"Happy Journey, Madam!" is what I heard before I left for the BCF retreat in Bumthang over Summer Break. I was leaving my students for 2 1/2 short weeks and the letters, well wishes, and thank-yous came pouring into my house like a small flood. My students had written me countless letters and had drawn me so many pictures! I couldn't believe it. While on my trip my students also phoned me countless times asking me where I was, what I was doing, saying they missed school, and were already planning picnic outings for when I would return. To some those phone calls would be a lack of privacy and inappropriate, but for me it was a sense of comfort that has hit me very few times in this under developed country: HOME.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Traveling Bhutan...Heading to Autsho MSS

On the way to Autsho at the Chezom Checkpoint 
Autsho MSS, a beautiful Boarding School in Eastern Bhutan

         My first trip out of Kanglung on my own and to see one of the best BCFers and a great friend Reidi Smith (read her blog it's really interesting). Yes, I know it may sound simple, but in a place where "hitchhiking" is accepted and sometimes not a single vehicle will go through the villages it is more than a challenge to get around in the remote Eastern area of Bhutan. 
        I had few "surprise" days of leave and I decided that I needed to get out and see what Bhutan had to offer. I left on early Friday morning and there I was standing in the Lower Market of Kanglung at 6AM, with a backpack full of clothes, sunglasses, my mobile, and a camera. At the time I didn't have any money because my salary had not been deposited into my bank account. I was hoping someone would so graciously give me a "lift" to Trashigang (which is a 45 minute drive down the mountain) for free and I could check my account at the ATM when I arrived. Luckily, a friend of mine here, Tshering Ngedup arranged a ride for me and even treated me to breakfast, arranged another Taxi to Mongar, and helped to print off my road permit. I need a road permit to go anywhere in this country. There are checkpoints that check all visitors must go through and without that I cannot cross "borders" out of my village. He arranged a ride with his friend Karma and by 9AM I was on my way to Mongar with a Taxi driver that spoke NO ENGLISH and his friend Karma who helped me to translate. Mongar, is another largely populated village about 3 Hrs. away from me. This ride is not so pleasant and with my other experiences on this road I thought I'd better just sleep. The roads are more than narrow,bumpy, and some even unfinished. I slept about 2 hours of the ride until my taki driver decided to pick up another couple and I had to move from my comfortable sleeping position into "faced-Pressed" window position. I finally arrived in Mongar, not knowing how or when I was going to "catch" my next taxi ride to Autsho, which is about an hour or more out of Mongar. I was treated to lunch again by Karma and this time I wasn't so pleased. I have to be honest and trying to say," I enjoy chili's at every single meal I take", would be the biggest lie from any BCFer. Anyways, it was a lunch meal engulfed with chili's and I felt bad they had purchased it for me, so I took the whole meal. Inhaling the heat of the heat of the chilli's like I was hyper-ventilating the entire time. Embarrassing. These people take chili's like I take water. Yes, and after the road trip my stomach really thanked me later. So, I hitched a ride with this young cab driver named Chunggs. He was polite, spoke some English, and after passing a beautiful forest, many randomly placed Marijuana fields,and picking up more teenage "hitch-hikers", I had finally arrived in Autsho. 
          This is a very remote place compared to my location. There is about 6 shops (majority owned by the parents of students at Autshoo MSS), never vehicles, and it's a boarding school. This means that almost all the students have been away at school , away from their families, and trying to live life on their own as early as age 7!!! I could tell I was the right place when I saw this 6'0", white woman walking across the street. I screamed with excitement to the driver,"There she is!" I had previously told the Taxi driver all about whom I was going to go visit and if you know me I CAN and WILL talk to almost anyone. She greeted me with a hug and a big smile and YES... that girl can smile and it will light a room and make me laugh a little. She was shopping and purchasing things for my arrival. Now, when I say she "greeted", I mean that she is on top of this huge hill and she lives in the matrons quarters. The town is all down below her school, so if this girl needs anything she has to take a "small" walk up and down this hill. To answer your question...yes, I was winded when I reached to her small, what I would call hostel. 
Autsho MSS with Madam Secretary
            I was greeted with many stares and smiles. I am very used to being "on display" by now so I greeted them all back with a "Kuzzoo Zam po" which is the typical greeting used here. Being in her small, but comfortable room I realized that I am one lucky girl to have a 3 bedroom apartment. That weekend that I spent with Reidi Smith was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have had here. What I mean by that is that not everyone is meant for this Teach abroad thing, Boarding Schools are more than just educating, being happy and enjoying life no matter where you are, and that the people that My first trip out of Kanglung on my own and to see one of the best BCFers and a great friend Reidi Smith (read her blog it's really interesting). Yes, I know it may sound simple, but in a place where "hitchhiking" is accepted and sometimes not a single vehicle will go through the villages it is more than a challenge to get around in the remote Eastern area of Bhutan. 
          This is a very remote place compared to my location. There is about 6 shops (majority owned by the parents of students at Autshoo MSS), never vehicles, and it's a boarding school. This means that almost all the students have been away at school , away from their families, and trying to live life on their own as early as age 7!!! I could tell I was in the right place when I saw this 6'0", white woman walking across the street. I screamed with excitement to the driver," There she is!" I had previously told the Taxi driver all about whom I was going to go visit and if you know me I CAN and WILL talk to almost anyone. She greeted me with a hug and a big smile and YES that girl can smile and it will light a room and make me laugh a little. She was shopping and purchasing things for my arrival. Now, when I say she "greeted", I mean that she is on top of this huge hill and she lives in the matrons quarters. The town is all down below her school, so if this girl needs anything she has to take a "small" walk up and down this hill. To answer your question...yes, I was winded when I reached to her small, what I would call hostel. 
            I was greeted with many stares and smiles. I am very used to being "on display" by now so I greeted them all back with a "Kuzzoo Zam po" which is the typical greeting used here. Being in her small, but comfortable room I realized that I am one lucky girl to have a 3 bedroom apartment. That weekend that I spent with Reidi Smith was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have had here. What I mean by that is that not everyone is meant for this teach abroad thing, Boarding Schools are more than just educating, being happy and enjoying life no matter where you are, and that the people surrounding and supporting you are the most important things a person could ask for. That weekend Reidi and I shared advice, resources, music, made some unforgettable memories, cut some hair, and had lunch with Madam Secretary Aum Sangay Zam!! In one 3 day weekend we accomplished so much and both us departed with laughter and smiles instead of tears and feelings of loneliness.
          Thank goodness on my way I had set up driver to get out of Autsho. My driver Chunngs came and picked me up and he was 1 hour EARLY! In Bhutan people always say,” We are running on Bhutan Time.” This means rarely will people ever show up on time and even though I usually run on “CP” time I was pleasantly surprised to see my driver ready to take me to Mongar again in “early fashion.” I was so happy and I was thinking goodness I have set up a solid plan to get me back to Kanglung early and I will be able to make it to school the next day …well rested. As I said before, “Bhutan time,” I was unable to connect with my ride from Mongar to Kanglung until 4:30 PM and I had to talk this driver into taking me all the way to Kanglung instead of just Trashigang.  All it took was only 300 more Nu. to get me all the way back home (Kanglung) at 11PM . I was so happy when I returned and I hoped Reidi felt the same. What a great trip with an amazing girl and I believe we both helped each other to adjust more in Bhutan in just a few short days.

Morning prayer at Autsho MSS

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tsechu?? Yes, in Youngphula.

Kezang's family

After many hours and days working on the school newspaper, Teacher's Day, and all my "markings" ( grading papers) I was ready for a nice little break. Little did I know I would get it by spending more time with my students over my small 5 day break. I was asked by one of my favorite students and newspaper photographer to come with him and his family to Tsechu in Youngphula. Now, I must be honest that I have only read about this event and it was from the government mandated text, so I had no idea what to expect. However, if you know me or know anything about me I accepted the offer as soon as it was given. What was to lose and I NEEDED the    
break away from work. "Madam, I will come and get you at 9AM",
Kezang, who invited me to Tsechu with his family

"over sized" Kira

Kezang said. However, that morning I received a knock on my door at 7AM, making sure I was awake and a notice that we were leaving at 8:45AM from Kezang. "Ok", I said. half asleep. (One of the first Saturdays I was able to sleep past 9AM). I rushed around thinking should I pack a lunch, should I bring money for offerings, a Raichu or no Raichu, and many more random thoughts flowing through my head. However, by 8:30 AM I was walking up to Kezang's house without any expectations or any idea of how to act or what to even say. Dressed in my finest Kira there I was standing outside of house of people I had never met and only knowing the 12 year old who lived there. I knocked nervously and they greeted me with open arms and big smiles. I was asked to "take" breakfast, but I had already had an apple because my stomach was slightly unsettled. I walked into their traditional Bhutanese home and met his mother and father for the first time. They still are some of the most generous people I have met here in Bhutan. They showed me around, offered me tea, and even made Kezang show me his sister's photos of her graduation. After about 30 minutes of broken English conversations, Kezang's father told me that my Kira was too big and that I needed a "belt." I laughed it off nervously because my kira is "ready-made" meaning it was fit to size 3 months ago. ( I've lost weight as I have said before) Feeling more nervous they said it was time to go and they suggested I sit in the front seat of the truck. I agreed and if you know me I love "shot-gun." I sat in the truck waiting for everyone else to arrive with his grandmother who only knows Sharchop ( the local eastern Bhutan language) talking to her about my country, which she thought was Africa. I laughed it off, but only to realize that so many Bhutanese think I am from Africa because i'm brown skinned. ha! On the way I was able to talk with Kezang's father who talked about his job, America, and have other misc. conversations. He knows English so it was good to ask questions and he even stopped the truck a few times so I could capture the many beautiful sights on the way. When we arrived we he suggested I look around and he sent his neice who is 17 years old to help me translate and find my way around this event. Her name was Pema and she ended up being so much fun to be around. We shopped and she took me into places that I normally wouldn't have went to being too afraid. The day was by far one of the most memorable moments I have had here in Bhutan. The masked dances, the people, the food, and Kezang's family were more that I could have expected. Days like these in Bhutan make me feel so blessed and privileged to be here. I couldn't have been more happier laying my head down at the end of the day and I am sure I fell asleep with  a smile on my face. Thank you Bhutan for once again opening my eyes to something wonderful.

Tsechu in Youngphula: Masked dances

Warding off fear or death and sins...follow along closely friends.
It's beautiful

Teacher's Day in Yours truly.

From my class 6  students for Teacher's Day in Bhutan
After many deliberations and plenty of silence from all 22 of my colleagues, I volunteered to host Teacher's Day at Kanglung Primary School. Yes, I have only been here for 4 1/2 months and I had no idea what I was doing...I was up for the challenge. Teacher's Day celebrated on May 2, which coincides with the birth anniversary of the third Druk Gyalpo, is observed as Teacher’s Day in Bhutan. It is a day when students pay their tribute to teachers. I had no idea the magnitude of what I was getting into until I had groups of students begging me perform songs, recite speeches, and even perform dances as well. I had a whole itinerary set up for the event and let me say as they say in Bhutan,"Nothing ever goes as planned." So there I was 5 holidays due to Youngpfula Tscheu and no one to answer my many questions about what to plan, what to include, and how the day should go. I was on my own and panicking to say the least. Thank goodness for my colleagues Rika Tanteno and Sir Phutsho who I think I have mentioned before. Rika, the JICA volunteer had included many events through her Japanese club and Sir Phuntsho had decided to be the decorator and artist for the event. They both helped me out to make this Teacher's day at KPS a huge success. They say hard work pays off and by the end of the day, I couldn't have been more satisfied with the outcome. Although, I missed 5 amazing vacation days and a trip west, I have no regrets...what a memory and a day I will never forget.

My Best here in Kanglung, the JICA volunteer Rika Tanteno receiving her scarf

Dancing Bhutanese style

One amazingly humorous co-worker and the person who contributed the most in helping me during Teacher's Day

The host of Teacher's Day at KPS

Scarves of well wishes and a happy life given to the teachers.

Traditional dances Bhutanese Style...not rehearsed.

One of the many dances performed for the teaching staff

My principal serenading KPS

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Living Bhutanese...88 days down and 87 of them have been an adventure!

1/2 of my students in class 6B
           I have been here for 88 days and as many trials and tribulations I have encountered I am thinking about staying for another entire year because of my students. I will begin with how life has been here and I will call each portion by a certain aspect of living. These will include the teaching, living, and the eating.

  The teaching: Students equal consistent love, I couldn't ask for more motivated and energetic students my first year of teaching. My students are what get me up in the morning and the constant "bows" of "Good Morning Madam" will never get old. I think when I return to the United States I am going to expect the same from my western students. The respect they have for me is something that I never thought I would receive from ANY students. I have over 150 students between two grades and 88 days later I have FINALLY learned each name and I feel so connected to them that I prefer spending my free time with them! Majority of them have visited my home and have invited me to their Khuru Tournaments and its amazing that I spend 6 days a week with them and they still want to spend their only "free" day away from school with ME! I feel privileged to spend time with them and their families; they have truly made me feel so comfortable in this place that I now call home. Each morning we have the traditional Bhutanese Morning Prayer in my School (Kanglung Pry School) and this month was my student's turn to recite speeches. They are required to have (1) boy and (1) girl recite a speech either in the national language Dzongkha or English. This is a big deal in my school and each morning my students arrive early to make sure that I hear their speech first (even if it is in Dzongkha, which I cannot yet understand very well) and English... I help them with their 
English storytelling competition
grammatical errors or just plain public speaking aspects. They are doing quite well and not in a biased view we have the best class speeches thus far! I am also administering a weekly spelling test to each class. This includes my 5A, 5B, 6A, and my 6B classes. I usually try to assign 10 -12 words per week using the words found in our text and words that might be applicable from the dictionary. Recently, the students have asked for MORE words and even though some of them do not score as well as expected, they LOVE the challenge and being tested on things they enjoy. I am also the Literary in Charge. This means that I incorporate English competitions between houses. I know, what are houses?? HA! In my school at the beginning of the year the all the students are assigned to a certain group. These groups include Singye, Druk, Chung (my house- (4) teachers to each house), and Taag. The students then work together throughout the duration of the year in landscaping the campus, house competitions, morning work, and many other aspects of student life. These houses have captains that are in charge of making sure the students are doing their work and practicing for the upcoming competitions (usually a class 6 student.) We have had (4) competitions in my school (2) of which were English Competitions. I had no idea how this process worked and I happened to be in charge of the first competition of the YEAR!! hahah...I was nervous for the first time in Bhutan! Needless to say I survived and the competition went better than expected! It was an English storytelling competition... so this entitled the students to read a story judged on intonation, pronunciation, confidence ,expression ,and fluency. Yes, it may sound simple because the stories are quite short, but as an ELL student this is quite the challenge especially in front of the student body and the entire faculty. They did very well and my vice principal said that this competition was better than perfect! I was soo relieved and it made me feel much more confident for my next competition. Did I happen to mention that I am also continuing the Kanglung Pry School Observer?!?
Newspaper staff at KPS
This is a newspaper that was started by another fellow BCFer the prior year that was a huge success. I felt almost obligated to do it (considering I teach 36 hours per week) ,but I knew it meant a lot to my school, so I agreed. I have 20 students on my newspaper staff and only (1) has worked with a camera, computer, and has written an article! Yes, I have my hands full. I started from "square one" teaching them how to interview and we studied other newspapers like the Kuensel offered in Bhutan. My students, classes 4-6 have just finished our 1st issue after 2 months and I couldn't be more proud of them! Even though it took many  days of motivating and lots of work on my side...I am so proud of these students for pulling the whole newspaper together. I will say I could not have done it without my close friend Karma Tenzin , who is a student at the Sherubste College. He is head of the Media Society and produces a newspaper for the college called The Tower. He offered to help me format the newspaper, gave me ideas for articles, and even came to my class to motivate them on how far English writing can take them in this world. He has been more than a friend... I cannot thank him and his team for helping me on this project. They are a very prominent club in the college and they even travel to neighboring schools to show students how much of an impact Media can make on each of their lives! I traveled with them once and I was very impressed on the impact they were able to make on the students in such a little time and they even wrote a column on me in their college newspaper. Oh, did I also mention that I am also in charge of the Teacher's Day celebration? I know, again...what is Teacher's Day? It's actually a national holiday celebrating the impact teachers have on the students’ life. The students bring the teachers gifts, letters, and thank the teachers for all their hard work! I am very excited for this even though I am spending my holidays in my room planning for an event that I have never been 
Karma Tenzin (left) head of Media Society & (right) Kesang Om
to or heard of! I think this a great way to motivate teachers and remind them of how important we are to the the students' lives. I said earlier that my students are the reason I get up in the morning, well take note fellow colleagues WE are part of the reason the students come to class! However, the event is in (2) days and I have a whole schedule lined up for this program...I think my principal thinks I am going "overboard", but why shouldn't we celebrate educators in a big way? America: take note!! A busy life makes time fly and I feel quite productive so I am also incorporating a school wide Art Project celebrating 100 years if Education in Bhutan...yes I said 100, only 100 years!!! This project was funded by VAST, an art company from the country’s capital in Thimphu. I wrote them a letter of proposal explaining my plan (an artistic timeline made of pictures ranging from 1912- 2035.) They immediately wrote back and agreed. They recently sent over 10,000 Nu of art supplies to my school to incorporate this project. They included NEW paints, paper, chalk, paint brushes, crayons, markers, and much more! My school is now working on this timeline explaining through art how education has evolved in this country! Each picture depicts a milestone in education that Bhutan has reached. I am very excited and I hope my vision becomes a reality. My class students have the best ideas for how education will be in 2035 and I can’t believe their imaginative spirits! I have said this before and I will say it again,” Bhutan: your students and people have changed my life forever.” 
Dorden my landlord's son
            The “living” has changed my life forever as well. I am currently living in what I consider the “heart of Kanglung.” I live in the Upper Market ,there is the Lower Market as well. This means I live a few “blocks” up from another section of this village. I live in a small apartment above the Snooker hall and the Cheda shop. The Snooker hall means billiards in America and the Cheda Shop is one of the most popular shops in Kanglung. They sell everything from Nike shoes, cups, plates, laundry soap, shoes, buckets, toilet paper, carpet, and anything else you could imagine! They are also my landlords. They have the most adorable son named Dorden, who I am currently attempting to teach English. He is only 2 years old, but I must call him the “Golden Child” because he is just that cute. He brings a smile to face daily and I can’t imagine living here without him screaming my name across the street every day. My living quarters may possibly the most of my worries here.  Although I have successfully adapted to the living here I must say that, the quarters are something that stress me out. The construction of buildings here is quite different from an American home. They are usually constructed either with complete concrete and a flat  wooden sheet roof, and then a triangular tin roof or the traditional home made of wood, mud, and manmade bricks (this process is mind blowing). However, the roof is not really attached so the BAZILLION pigeons that live here have a great place to nest; right above me. Consequently, my roof leaks every time it rains (which is quite a lot) and the pigeon droppings so carefully run down the sides of my walls and into my room! I know this can be very dangerous and to me Pigeons are like living with rats that have wings. 
Where my "pet" pigeons safely fly "home"
I wasn’t too concerned until recently I became ill. I was sick with strep throat, fever, cough, cold, and vomiting for 3 and ½ weeks!! I took medicine from America, Japan, India and finally after missing (2) days of classes I knew I had to go see a Dr. I went to Youngfula (an Indian hospital) for a checkup. They prescribed Pain Meds (the strength of Tylenol and administered for EVERTHING) and antibiotics. The second week of sickness I went to visit this hospital I had already been on antibiotics for a week and with their prescription this would be week (2.) I took them and began to feel a little better, until after 3 days of being off medication I was sick again!! I went back to the hospital to see the same Dr. and he gave a referral to see another Dr. at Trashigang and another at Mongar. These are some of the largest hospitals in this country and from my knowledge they only have (3) major hospitals throughout this country! I have been to 2 out of the 3 as of today! Anyways,
prescribed medicine from Bhutan
I went to his Dr. they gave me a blood test and to my surprise it came back ABNORMAL! My white blood cell count was much too low and my SED rate which is supposed to be 1-15 is currently at a 37!! This Dr. at Trashigang had no answers for me, but once again prescribed me more antibiotics and pain meds. I eventually had to make my way to Mongar even though I was feeling much better; I had to know why my blood test was coming back abnormal. Mongar is a 3 hour drive from where I am, on unfinished, rugged, and narrow road. Boy, I never thought getting proper medical treatment would be such a hassle! It was!! I had said before that it rains everyday here in Kanglung and it’s not even Monsoon season yet!! Well, being that these are unfinished roads, due to the Indian laborers that are supposed to be widening the roads, but the work is not done making the wet roads terrible and dangerous to travel on! My Vice principal took me on the most epic road trip that I will never forget! This was a 3 hour drive that ended up being 5 ½ hours because of the landslides and treacherous road conditions! When I say treacherous I mean boulders that have fallen, roads washing away with no guard rails, and only one bulldozer to clear the debris! I have never been so scared in my life…here I was risking my life, to get to the hospital to “save” my life. The 30+ cars and trucks lined up trying to make it way west on the only road offering this direction was a sight to see. This is most definitely one of the most regrettable times I didn’t have my camera! We finally made it only to forcefully stay in a hotel. I paid 550 Nu for a one nights stay at the Druk Hotel, which ended up to be quite the adventure as well. I ended up staying at the same hotel as the curriculum specialist, Mr. Wangchuk Rabten. He is a very passionate man about education and very frank when it comes to any one who wants to discuss education in Bhutan. We spoke over dinner and talked about the differences of American Education and Bhutanese Education and possible improvements in the upcoming year. The next day was my Dr.’s appointment so I woke early enough to explore the town while I was here. WHAT A SIGHT TO SEE, much different form my “home in Kanglung.” First, the stares I received!! I am African American so I stood out like a “sore thumb.” Everyone was asking me where I came from and why I there. It was either because that is protocol for a foreigner OR because that was the only English they knew. I answered their enquiring questions and went on my way (looking for a Raichu,I may have misspelled this),
My ceremonial Raichu
 something you wear when you meet prestige religious figures. I ended up finding the ADO, instead! He took me to find Apples and fruit instead and there was no sign of what I was looking for! After, hours of shop browsing it was time for my appointment! Arriving at the hospital was another story. I was scheduled to see the ENT and then have another blood test. The ENT was 30 minute late, so I decided to go get the test I was scheduled to do, but to my surprise the test I was supposed to get they had ran out of supplies to test for it! So, there I was 3 hours from home and not getting the treatment I was scheduled to get! I ended up having another blood tset. This was not successful, seeing as my blood still came back abnormal. I am currently waiting on my throat culture test results and in 2 weeks I will go for another blood test. I received no answers from the Dr’s at Mongar hospital; I was just given more medicine! I am feeling much better, but I am still curious about what my body is fighting here; is the pigeon droppings in my lungs or am I just fighting the bazillion germs here? Still sitting uneasy until I receive answers and NOT just medicine! One great answer is that I found a new house to shift to after 4 months. In 3 weeks I will be proudly moving to home located on the Sherubtse campus! No more Pigeondroppings in my house!!
             On another happier note about living here I have met some of the most amazing people and friends. Two in particular are Sir Allan Smith and Madam Rika Tateno. Both are also foreign teachers that have helped me to adjust here and have been there for all my many ups and downs. Rika is a 28 year old JICA volunteer from Japan, who also works at KPS as a Physical Education Teacher. We connected immediately and she has helped to learn Sharchop, point out the best shops, and has introduced me to some of the most amazing people here. She has been here for 10 months and is well adjusted to living here. In fact, I am living in her old quarters, she suggest I move ASAP… haha! I spend every weekend with her and we are currently planning a trip to explore what Bhutan has to offer. I couldn’t ask for a better best friend here. Thank goodness I have someone I can relate to and fully understand what I am going through here! She also helped me with my first time hitchhiking! Yes, I said hitchhiking! Here in Bhutan it is called a “lift” and people are just accustomed to doing it. As she has taught me, all you have to do is put out two fingers, stand slightly in the road, and wave the driver down. It works! For a small fee you can get where you need to go and sometimes you may not have to pay for a lift. It’s much different than America you can trust the people here to get you where you need to go safely! I have thoroughly enjoyed the times we have spent together thus far and we both plan on making our time here worth the while together. Allan Smith, is a lecturer who teaches at the Sherubtse Collegealso head of the sociology department. He is like a second father here. When I have any problem or sickness he is there to help at any cost. He is from America and we have shared many stories and laughs about life here. He is someone I constantly “vent” to and is always there for a laugh, a dinner, and an ear. In addition,  there is another foreign teacher from California named Samir Patel. He has been here for 2 years and I met him through Rika. I consider him a very close guy friend. He is always there for an ear and not to mention he is one of the best chefs in Kanglung besides Rika. If he wanted to, he could open a restaurant in Kanglung. Carrot cake, pizza, garlic bread, and anything else you can imagine he can make it! He has an amazing “balcony” that overlooks the mountains that I utilize when I can. We also have about the same taste in music, so that aids in our friendship! Through them I have met many lecturers at the college who are my closest group of friends here. Rashme, Jamyang, Sonam 1, Sonam 2 and Poonam are all girls that I consider great people to be around here. We are all very busy with our work, but when we have a chance to meet, we ALWAYS have a great time together! Thank goodness for the people I have met here who help me to consider this small country my home. However, I can’t leave out my co-workers. They are great people as well. Baby showers ( here they celebrate AFTER the baby is born) , meetings, and our passion for education has all brought us quite close. Lastly, my neighbors and surrounding friends inviting me to the many Pujas ( a way to celebrate, bless, or receive well wishes for all people) incorporated on any given day with food, family, friends, and alcohol. Pujas may happen every day if they wanted. I think I may do this when I return for an excuse to get together with family and friends!

                The eating:  One of the most important traditions in Bhutanese culture is the eating portion. It applies to any occasion, at any given time. I must first comment on the use of chilies in every meal given to me. I could not take the chilies when I first arrived in Thimphu, my eyes, nose, and mouth all continuously watering. Everything in my body telling me chilies are not good for you! Then, after 1 month and 1 week in Bhutan, I PREFER very little chilies in my meals. I have even begun purchasing them at the stores to add to my recipes that I have brought from America. In addition to the chilies, one cannot forget to mention the rice. Red rice or white rice either is served at each meal of the day. I love rice, but in very small doses. There is very little nutritional value and trying to stay as healthy as possible in Bhutan, I would prefer to steer away from so much rice and firmly stay with the many fresh vegetables the stores offer. I have already lost over 20 lbs!! I have been blessed to have so many wonderful people cook for me and the restaurants here are just fantastic. The Shonzy being one of my first favorites and the second being the college favorite Keungor restaurant have both aided me in having meals on days in which I was too busy to prepare. I have learned three Bhutanese recipes and I plan on learning many more as my days continue in this beautiful place.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Eastbound...estimated time of arrival- 5 days!

 Before I even begin writing this blog, I want to inform all my fellow Bhutan Canada Foundation colleagues that this blog is for you. Those who shared (5) long days on a small Tashitse school bus will be able to relate and reminisce while reading this blog. I had no idea that a road trip across Bhutan would turn into some of the fondest memories that I have made.  I will never forget the most uncomfortable, hilarious, gorgeous, cramped, sing-along filled bus ride that I ever had to endure.

It all began on February 4th around 7AM in the morning. As you recall form my last blog…all our bags were packed and we were heading East, to each members postings for our final “Shu lay log ja gays” which is “See you later” in Dzongkha.  All teachers except for Davey, Sarah, and Noorin would accompany me on this scenic ride through Bhutan. However, luckily they were able to go along with us on our last tourist event to Dochula .  Arriving at this monument was the most magnificent sight. I couldn’t believe that this beautiful place was not even 10 years old. This was not only beautiful, but it was at 11,000 feet above sea level. As I began walking up the steps I started to feel extremely light-headed. I thought nothing of it and followed suite to remove my shoes and enter this fortress of blessing and memory. The Director of Institute at Dochula met us and began to explain the significance of every piece of artwork that showed the history of Bhutan. I began listening to the story of how this unique place  was founded; in 2003 by the Queen Mother in tribute and appreciation of a successful military coup in which Bhutan drove threatening insurgents outside its borders; her Husband and Son both fought in this battle and returned unharmed, thankfully. As I was concentrating on the history of Bhutan I suddenly had to focus on not passing out. A feeling that I had never felt before in my entire life, ALTITUDE SICKINESS!!  It was overpowering and before I fainted right in front of the Director, I kindly excused myself to Nancy (Executive BCF founder) and informed her of what I was feeling. She immediately pulled me outside and told me to sit, breathe, eat sugar candy, and drink plenty of water. I couldn’t believe this!! Here I am, invited to the most unbelievable place and I am outside about to pass out. My head was spinning a mile a minute and every time I thought the feeling had passed, it would come back to haunt me! I sat at the top of this beautiful monument feeling miserable. I mainly felt this way because I was missing out on the final group experience and I was unable to control this feeling of altitude sickness. Karma eventually took me down the long flight of stairs and the Director of Institute offered me tea and crackers. About 30 minutes later the altitude sickness finally went away.
 I was able to walk around the Druk Wangyal Chortens and have a personal conversation with the Monk about the 2003 conflicts in Bhutan. I was most grateful he took the time to ask how I was feeling, as well inform me on why all of this was built. After finally adjusting to the altitude, a stronger emotion took over when I had to say goodbye to (3) of my fellow BCFers. Noorin, Simon, and Sarah would not accompany us any further because they were all heading to the southern area of Bhutan, instead of East like the rest of us. It did bring a few tears, but excitement as well. I knew that the 5 day road trip was finally making headway deep into the heart of Bhutan.   

To say the bus over packed and uncomfortable would be an understatement. Martha, in the front seat next to our exceptional bus driver, Tim behind her, then a stretch of seats that included Simon, Sheal, and Sabrina, behind them Martin and Tara, and last seats included Becky and I. As luck would have it, I had the back (2) seats all to myself after Davey departed us.  The bus was a little quiet, but it was Martin and Tara that continuously kept my spirits high. After 30 minutes of silence and sight-seeing, it was music (karaoke) that helped this road trip move along. Before, I get to my sing- alongs, I must mention the roads, construction, death dropping heights, and beautiful sceneries I was able to witness on this road trip.

First, I must mention the roads. If you have ever watched Deadliest Roads, you may get a small idea of what I witnessed firsthand. Bhutan is an underdeveloped country as many of you may know and that means almost everything including the roads are under construction.  This does not mean in America where the roads are nicely paved and only one lane is open, this means they are tearing into the mountain to make this dirt road wider.  This was the craziest event I had ever seen. We were on the side of a mountain, packed in a school bus driving through dirt roads. When I say construction that also means that traffic is at a standstill. It’s no highway 64 heading into St. Louis, it is people of all walks of life getting out of their cars to stretch, eat, talk, and even walk up to see the construction workers doing their job. The people were so calm; enjoying the lush vegetation on the mountainside, chatting, and some even going to the bathroom on the side of this mountain.  I couldn’t believe my eyes! Everyone had some place to go and a specific time to be there, but no one seemed irritated or distressed that this road would not open for another 30 minutes. My colleagues and I took a leisurely stroll and by the time we heading back to our bus, the traffic was ready to move. The road would be open for 30 minutes and those who didn’t make it through would have to wait for a longer period of time. Did I mention my love for guard railing on roads now? There are few passes and sections where there is any protection from falling straight down into the depths of these valleys. Just having a window seat makes your heart flutter thinking of these insane drop-offs where you could plummet to your death at any moment. Oh yes, how could I forget the horn honking?! As I witnessed, it is protocol to honk your horn if you are going around a sharp curve. Yes, that means “HONK, HONK” I am coming so you better pull over and allow me to pass. It was such an experience to watch our bus driver maneuver this bus on these narrow roads. These huge trucks from India would “challenge” the road with us and Tara and I would make the western movie showdown music, without the Tumble weeds of course. It was like unknown rules of the road. Without even speaking the drivers would reverse, pull over, and allow the other vehicle through. I couldn’t believe it. Drivers were so considerate on these narrow, unpaved, and dusty roads. Thank goodness for our well accustomed bus driver who made sure we all arrived safely to our postings.
Flat tire

Lastly, the sights, the flat tire, and the many places we stayed. The first night after arriving in Trongsa around 9 PM, we stayed at one of the most beautiful hotels on the side of a mountain. It was like a scene out of a movie. We had hot water, marble floors in the bathroom, and the rooms were already warm! We were all so anxious to get off the bus and sleep comfortably, that none of us wanted to even eat dinner. All we wanted to do was bathe, talk, and sleep…which is what Reidi and I did. After long heart to heart talks with my girls Tara and Reidi, I slept the best I had slept since arriving in Bhutan. (Thanks Martha for being so understanding and “Keeping it real” with us) Waking up at the usual 7AM I was not a “happy camper.” The internet was not working, I did not want to get back on the bus, and “some people I know” took my seats on the bus, which made the continuation of the road trip even worse! I said goodbye to my long standing Yoga Queen and Roomy Iman who was sick, but now feeling better. I also said my final goodbye to Delaine, who is a mother of (2), who is missing her daughter’s senior graduation to educate students in Bhutan! I am still sending you gifts and love from Kanglung in May Delaine if you are reading this!   Bumthang Bound to drop off Tara, Martin, and Sabrina…estimated time of arrival 3PM, which meant 4 -5 more hours!

Bumthang Welcome sign
Princess quarters
On our way to Bumthang we saw monkeys, beautiful Pine forest, and a strong welcome sign as we entered Bumthang. It said something along the lines of,” Welcome to Bumthang, wrap it up, aids and HIV is nothing to mess around with.” It was a sight to see as we journeyed into the beautiful evergreen forest. The roads were paved and architecture of the homes was beautiful! Finally, we came to clearing and witnessed a middle secondary school where our colleague Sabrina would be posted. We met her principal, he offered us tea and refreshments, and then we began the big move. If you know Sabrina, or have read her blogs, she is a PRINCESS to say the least. Being that we were all a group, we all had to help unpack everyone’s items and help them move in. She had a beautiful home in front of a little river. One would have to walk across a suspension bridge to get directly there. It was pretty stable, but to move all of her items, while she videotaped was another story. We had lines of BCFers and townspeople helping, carrying, and cooperating…while she was videotaping and laughing. I am sure if I saw that video today I would look like an angry slave girl. However, like my favorite motto from Shelly Lopez,” Teamwork is dream work”, we were able to get the job done in record timing. I would eventually miss that Princess Sabrina and I am sure she’s reading this blog and laughing.

Saying goodbye in fashion (Martin & Tara)
  About an hour into Bumthang we would drop off Martin and Tara two of my “faves.” We were anticipating the beauty of their home and we were right.  Many bedrooms, wood burning stove, and wood floors. (Unlike my concrete floor) After playing a first day of school activity that Martin was so eager to teach us (he is perfect in that sense, always wanting to share ideas and resources) it was time to depart and stay in our hotel in Bumthang. A family owned hotel where each room had a wood burning stove and a hot shower, we were easily satisfied. I slept horribly that night and even after my dad’s many lessons of using a wood burning stove, the fire kept going out! I woke up freezing and my roomy Reidi woke up sick. We had to officially say goodbye to Martin and Tara that morning because even though they joined us for breakfast, that would be the last time I would see them until our July Summer break. I cried my eyes out on the bus that day, like I had just left my family at the airport! They were two amazing people that I still consistently keep in touch with throughout this journey. To say the least I was upset to leave some of the greatest Canadians who accepted me for the crazy brown girl that I am.

This is for you Reidi
After, a longer ride and a change in vegetation we drove into tropics of Bhutan and came upon a small village called Lhuntse. Before reaching Lhuntse I must tell you about the flat tire incident.  This is where I would drop off my closest companion here Reidi. I still remember pulling up to her castle-like school and meeting her principal like it was yesterday. I think about out last night in the only hotel in her small village, how she almost electrocuted herself using the heat immersion for the first time. I had to warn her not to stick her hand in the water to “test” its warmth. The night and day went very fast and saying goodbye to my P.I.C was more difficult than I had anticipated. I also said my first of (3) goodbyes to my friend Tim that day. He was slightly stressed realizing his rice cooker was left in Thimphu. Tim, if you are reading this, I use my rice cooker once a week…I’ll send you mine.

Beautiful Trashigang
After dropping them off it was a quiet ride on the bus including Martha, Simon, Becky, and I. Finally after a long 25 minutes the silence was broken with a stunning view of Eastern Bhutan. We were all anticipating arriving in Trashigang where we were all posted. Midway through our trip we stopped for lunch at a magical hilltop restaurant. I almost adopted the most adorable gray dog there. He immediately took a liking to me and he was the only “tame” dog in the bunch. Karma told me I could take him, but I didn’t know how I would take care of him teaching six days per week. Sadly, I said goodbye to the little dog and we continued to Mongar to greet our friend Sheal and help her unload her belongings. Funny thing about that “meet and greet” in Mongar, we had to tell our driver to turn around after we passed her posting. We noticed that we went right by her posting and asked the driver,”Are we supposed to meet at Sheal’s home?” He then phoned Karma and we had to back track 20 minutes to Sheal’s posting to help her move in and say our final goodbyes! It was quite hilarious, but if you know Bhutan like I do…nothing is planned and anything and everything can change in minutes. I am finally getting used to that.

Arriving in Trashigang was a beautiful sight to see. We had to show our work permits at this entry way and it all became very clear. After 4 long days you Ashley, you have arrived at your posting. However, things changed again much to my dismay. We arrived in Trashigang to a hotel that was not expecting us, to a staff that spoke little English, to unload all of our items in a hotel lobby, and say a surprise goodbye to Simon all in a matter of hours. Simon is one guy that reminds me of home. He can take my humor for what is worth without defense. Not only that, he can dish it back just as harshly. Needless to say it was hard to say goodbye to my new Aussie friend. Quick hugs and all that was left were 3 ladies. Martha HAM, Becky, and I were left in hotel in a foreign place waiting for the arrival of Karma.
            He arrived and took us out for the “last dinner” as he called it. It was filled with cheesy potatoes, spinach, rice, and normal Bhutanese food. We also were able to purchase bread here in Trashigang. It was like a treat. FRESH BREAD! I sure miss the small things in life and “no” it was not sliced my friends. That night Karma informed me that I could finally sleep in and he would drop off Becky and Martha at their postings while I stayed in Trashigang by myself. I was slightly apprehensive about being in a foreign place alone, but that’s what I came here for so I agreed.
               I woke up and the hotel staff had made us a breakfast of greasy tortilla cakes with honey, potatoes, and honey. I had none of this, but was up to send off my colleagues. I said my goodbye and missing them both as they left me in this huge busy foreign place that I would soon call home away from home.

A little messy,but this is my 1of 3 rooms
I set out for a walk after packing all my many belongings. I walked to the markets and received so many stares that no one would believe. After 25 minutes of this, I returned back to the hotel. The staff personnel were my age so I began to make conversation with them. They were so welcoming and wanted to know all about my life in America. I showed them many photos and we exchanged numbers. They informed that I “always” had a place to stay when I visited Trashigang. (This location is an hr away from my posting) Karma finally came to pick me up at 4PM that day and I was the last one in the group to be dropped off at their posting. After an hour drive up the curvy mountain roads I came to clearing and saw a younger man with a 7 yr. old son standing on the side of the road waving. It was my principal!! I finally made it!! After many sad goodbyes, hotels, and memories…I had made it to Kanglung. I still can’t believe I’m here, but I am happy. Kanglung, I think you were my destiny and I hope we have great things in store for each other over the next 10 months.
As for my colleagues and New Bhutan family …I hope you are all taking this experience one day at a time. I know the road is rocky and we may all stumble time to time, but we were all chosen for a reason. I hope that we can all make the most out of this adventure and be able to look back satisfied, proud, and amazed because from my experiences living in Bhutan it is not an easy task. Tashi Delek, my fellow family and I can’t wait to see you in July in BUMTHANG. Much love!