Friday, April 30, 2010

Earth Day in Mongar

April 22 was Earth Day, and we celebrated in Mongar. I taught my Class 6A students the song "One Planet", which we had done at a primary concert at Hon. Earl Rowe P.S. a few years ago. The Mongar kids did a great job, although they insisted on changing the tune to make it their own, despite many corrections. After morning assembly, about 120 Class 7 kids and about 20 kids from the high school nature club, walked with me to the "Children's Park" in downtown Mongar. This park has been neglected before even being completed. It has a big drainage problem, creating a large mucky area. Mostly it is a garbage dump. No one ever hangs out there. The beautiful central park in Antigua, Guatemala, where I had my coffee every day, was the work of the students at Nuestros Ahijados, the school where I worked during my first visit to Guatemala. They had worked to get it back to its former glory. My hope is that we can do the same here, and make this a pretty park where people would like to sit and relax. The hospital provided the kids each with one latex glove to wear. The municipal garbage truck arrived as arranged, and we started collecting garbage and loading it on the truck. Some kids worked carefully, so as not to get too dirty, while others (boys) happily waded into the muck to retrieve plastic bottles and discarded tires. My friend Ugyen from the forestry department arrived with ten tiny trees for us to plant to mark the occasion. I was worried that the trees would just blend in with the weeds, but the kids encircled them with piles of rocks to protect them. Some of the kids also worked to dig up areas that will be flower beds. We will return in the future to plant flowers and shrubs. I really hope that the higher ups at the dzong will fix the drainage problem soon. I thought I had them on board to do that, but that part of the plan didn't happen. When we were finished, many of the kids were absolutely filthy!! I phoned Madam Principal and asked if the kids could have an hour to go home and get washed and changed. She gave her permission, so the kids went home, and reappeared at school an hour later in clean clothes. They were in clean ghos and kiras, but not their school uniforms any more, because they only have one. If I was in Canada I'd be worried about parents phoning the school to see what teacher had allowed their child to get into such a mess. Here there is no worry about that sort of thing.

By the way, our clean-up project made it to national television, thanks to my BBS friend Sonam, pictured here relaxing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Met the King Today!!!

I'm so excited that I met the king today! He has been expected in Mongar for the past two weeks, but his plans kept changing. Finally he made it here today. He was even more handsome in person. He has quite the pompadour, like a young Elvis Presley.

Even today, the plan was on and off a few times. He was going to be meeting local people at the Mongar public ground to give them title to land they had lost in a recent re-survey. This is a process called "kidu". Hundreds of rural people have been in town for a few days awaiting his arrival.

When I arrived at school this morning, the principal wasn't sure if we should go down to the public ground or if HM would be coming to visit the school. There were various phone calls, and finally the grade eights, their two teachers, the principal and I walked to the ground. A temporary shelter had been constructed to protect the people from sun and rain. We joined the crowd of an estimated 8000 people under the shelter. We sat crosslegged on tarps for about two hours before HM appeared. Of course, being Bhutanese, everyone was very patient and calm. The convoy arrived, and HM immediately entered the ground, dressed in a neutral-coloured gho, but with the royal gold shawl over his shoulder. The best part of the outfit was his boots. They were traditional Bhutanese boots, leather, up to the knee, with lovely designs in red, yellow and blue. Sort of like cowboy boots, but with a flat heel and round toe. I would love to have taken photos, but only the royal photographers were allowed to.

The king spoke to the crowd for perhaps half an hour, mostly in dzongka, but with a few parts in English. He spoke about the importance of life-long learning. The audience was enraptured. He seemed to be a wonderful speaker, and at times had everyone laughing.

After that he had an audience with various groups, and presented gifts to everyone: the landowners received land titles, monks received new robes and prayer beads, army veterans received blankets and ghos, teachers received golf shirts with the royal emblem embroidered, dancers received kiras.

While we sat, everyone received a beautiful copper and nickel 100 ngultrum coronation coin. It is encased in a folder with this info on the back:

Born on the 21st of February 1980, HM King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck officially assumed the duties of King on the 9th of December 2006 upon the voluntary abdication of his father. From his youth he earned the love of his people through his humility and graciousness and his determined focus on addressing their needs. Referred to fondly by his people as 'Khesar' HM is already known as the 'People's King'.

HM ascends the Throne at a time of profound change in Bhutan. Bhutan, through an unprecedented and historic process, has peacefully transformed into the world's youngest democracy in March 2008.

HM said soon affter becoming King, "Our work lies ahead of us. What we must do has never been done before. This is a special time in our country's history. The success of our democratization efforts will decide whether Bhutan's future will be forever secured. Today the immediate duty of every single Bhutanese is to bring about a successful transition to democracy. A good democracy will ensure that the aspirations of our people will always be fulfilled. This is the task that we must achieve. We must not fail in carrying out this sacred duty as citizens of Bhutan...If we succeed we would have laid the foundation for a sound democracy, for Gross National Happiness, and for peace and prosperity for all Bhutanese now and in the future."

When we went up as a group of teachers, I did not have the opportunity to speak to HM the King. Tsaden, his young public relations representative, had already introduced herself to Helen (a Canadian woman here for a month to work on tourism) and I, and promised she would introduce us. The King joined the group of dancers few lengthy traditional dances. Once again, there was a lot of good-natured laughter from the crowd. After the dancing, the King was leaving, but Tsaden had positioned Helen and I strategically in his path. Just as he was about to reach us, an old woman got up to give him a basket of food. It was so sweet to see the way he spoke to her and accepted her simple gift. She was obviously deeply moved.

Then he turned to us and Tsaden and introduced us. He shook our hands, and chatted for about ten minutes about his hopes and worries concerning Bhutan's future. He seems very intelligent, warm, caring and genuine. I was totally enamoured. He said he will be back in Mongar in a month, so I hope I will have chance to speak with him further. His final words were, "Lots of love."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Request for Sick Leave

I'm behind with my entries, because I've been sick and miserable. To take sick leave, one must visit the hospital and get a doctor's note. I did that. Without checking any part of me, the doctor said I had the seasonal flu and wrote me a prescription for acetominophen and a tincture of which I am to put two drops in a basin of boiling water and stick my head over it to inhale the fumes. It is quite effective. Today at school I was still feeling a little poorly, but I could see that a boy in the front row was feeling a lot worse than I was. At the end of class, he handed me this note:

Madam I am sorry that I am not able to attend my classes as my stomach pain is getting worst and worst. At morning I thought of staying home but I was worried about my studies so I came at school baring the pain, but my stomach is growling like water boiling. Madam I am really sorry that I am not able to bare the pain.
So Madam, please grant me leave as for my excuse Madam.
Your Class VI student,
Thinley Lhendup

I felt very sorry for him, but it was hard not to laugh at the note. Naturally I granted him the leave.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bhutanese Bureaucracy

April 7: After dealing with so many little frustrations, I guess this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In some ways it’s like the frustration we feel in Canada when we have to phone government offices, and after pressing this and that, you get put on hold forever, and then you might get cut off, or if you get through you find that the office is closed or that you have to call a different department. In fact it is a lot like that.

Today was my fourth trip to the dzong to try to figure out why my “salary” has not been deposited in my account. I always have to go during school hours, which is rather disruptive. Each trip is an uphill walk in both directions. Oh alright, it is only an uphill walk to get there. I counted the school steps today – 108 big concrete steps!

Yesterday I submitted all my paperwork yet again, and was told that everything was in order. I would have money in my account by yesterday afternoon, or at the latest, this morning. I called the bank this morning –no money. I tried to phone the DEO (Director of Education) and the Finance Officer at the dzong, but their phones both went to fax machines. I spoke to my principal because she was on her way up there to find out why we still have no water at school, and she said she would try to sort things out.

She phoned me a short time later to say that they were requesting copies of the same stuff I gave them yesterday, and could I please go up again. I went and was put into the hands of a secretary who was going to help me get it all sorted out. When I was taken to the same office as yesterday and asked for the same papers, I lost it! I said I was frustrated and angry, and I almost started to cry. I told them that I wasn’t leaving the office until I had a cheque in my hand.

Then I was escorted to another office (third one) where various phone calls were made, but not answered. The head of HR then handed me a multi-paged booklet to register as a civil servant. It required more passport photos, fingerprints, blood type, parents’ birthdates and occupations, educational background…. That’s when I lost it a second time. I phoned Nancy (the coordinator of the Bhutan Canada Foundation), and as I was expressing my frustration, I started to cry. Poor Nancy. I’m sure she was worried. She asked, “Have they at least given you a cup of tea?” to which I blubbered, “No they haven’t.” She spoke to the head of HR and made some other phone calls, and I ended up with, first a cup of tea, and finally my cheque!!
From there I went to the bank, deposited my cheque, and withdrew some money. Now I’m overflowing with ngultrums. Supposedly at the end of this month, and subsequent months, my pay will be deposited directly into my account. I hope so.

A couple of amusing asides: The dzong is the religious and secular centre for the area, and is a beautiful medieval looking fortress. Each time I visit, I walk past a bunch of young monks in the courtyard. Yesterday they were listening to Bhutanese pop music, and today a couple of them were on cell phones. It just looks so out of place!

Also, when I was waiting and waiting for the cheque to be written, one young clerk in the office offered me the use of his computer. When I sat down, I noted that he was on facebook. Hmmm.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Mongar Home

The front of my house, balcony and patio, which face towards town.

Steps to my upper level. From my place looking towards my neighbours' house.

My "en suite" washroom. My bed.

My living room. My kitchen, with "geezer" and gas stove.

The dining area.

Banana cake with bananas from the tree out front. That flying saucer is an electric oven, borrowed from my neighbour. It worked very well.

A night view from my balcony.