Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Good Eats at Ann's

This might not seem very exciting to those of you who have access to any kind of food you might desire. Well, that is certainly not the case here in Mongar. I quickly tired of the typical Bhutanese fare of rice and ema datse, so I keep expanding on what is actually possible. Banana cake, pizza, and pasta with homegrown basil have all been done. I needed to try something new.

I’ve been doing some mighty fine cookin' the last few days. First there were the pumpkin pies. I managed to get all of the ingredients that I needed. I bought a beautiful purplish-skinned pumpkin at the market and cooked it until it was soft. Cream was of the tinned variety. The cinnamon sticks and cloves had to be ground up, and the ginger was fresh gingerroot, but it worked out fine. In fact, it was delicious. The teachers and my neighbours all enjoyed their first ever pumpkin pie, and even Nancy had a piece when she was passing through Mongar.

pumpkin pie

Chimi,Chundu,friend enjoying pie

Sunday morning I made buckwheat pancakes, with flour which Karma provides from her village of Ura. I do that every Sunday, but these pancakes were even better, because I had them with maple syrup which Lynda’s mum brought from Canada.

I was on a roll. I’ve been gradually improving my bread, and I made the best ever whole wheat bread yesterday. Saturday was a rare occasion at the vegetable market when I had been able to get fresh lettuce and tomatoes. With some shrink-wrapped bacon from Canada (what a fantastic idea!), Hellman’s mayonnaise from Nancy, black pepper from Richard...guess what I made? Yup, a BLT, and it was scrumptious!

Today I made some delicious potato soup. In fact it was basically kewa datse (local dish made of potatoes, chillies and cheese), but I added more water and used a hand blender to make it relatively smooth. Now that the evenings are getting cooler, it is nice to have a bowl of homemade soup. Now I’ve got plenty for lots of cool evenings.

soup and sandwich

I think my next project will be an apple cake. I’ve got a bag of apples from Bumthang, and since I’ve already made a couple of apple pies, I think it is time for an apple cake. All of this baking happens in the flying saucer electric oven which I borrow from Chundu on a regular basis.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Picnic at Yakpogang

Class 6A invited me to join them for a picnic last Sunday, organized by their class teacher. I was delighted. Our destination was Wengkhar, which is an agricultural research centre I’d been hoping to visit for some time, and this seemed like a great opportunity.
Luckily it was one of the few dry days we’ve had. We started off at 8:00 a.m. in a mix of sun and cloud, which kept the temperature quite comfortable for the hike. I walked with the kids, but the other teachers all drove. (Young wimps) It was about 8 km there, mostly uphill. Our route involved a shortcut into a subtropical ravine, across a stream, and up the other side. Down there it sounded like the jungle, with all kinds of very loud bird and insect sounds.

typical house

I was looking forward to reaching our destination and having a snack and a drink, and mostly, a rest! Just before we got there, we encountered students already retracing their steps, and reporting that it wasn’t a good place for a picnic. They were heading back a couple of kilometres to a better spot. I needed a break, and I wanted to see Wengkhar, so I kept going on my own.


At Wengkhar, there were lots of greenhouses, and terraced gardens built on the side of the hill, and a very pretty view, but unfortunately, since it was Sunday, there was no one to give me a tour. I did meet up with the class teacher though, and we got a ride with a lama back to the new picnic spot in Yakpogang.

It was definitely a better spot, with wood to gather for the fires, water in the stream for cooking, and room to play. As usual, everyone pitched in to get things ready for lunch.
Each of the 42 kids brought a bag of rice, which amounted to a lot of rice!


It was quite an elaborate lunch with rice, ema datse(chillies and cheese), dahl, potato curry, boiled eggs, papadams, ezay (more chillies) and to my surprise, disgustingly huge chunks of butter!! It was all very tasty ( I didn’t have any butter), but I ended up with my first case of Bhutanese diarrhea, what they call “shooting diarrhea”. I’ll spare you the details, but I will tell you that the walk home was quite uncomfortable, and I just made it to the toilet!

“Respected Madam,
It was truly an amazing day. Before picnic, our class teacher collected Nu. 50 from each student. Then my class teacher and class captain, that would be me, went for shopping on Saturday.
The total money collected was about Nu. 2000 and we bought vegetables, eggs, snakes(sic), juice and some spices to add in curry. Me and Karma Lhazin, the other class captain invited teachers and of course, Madam…
…We also made tea and it was sufficient for all of the students. Then at the time of 3:00 p.m. we ate our lunch, and it was really tasty. Then my friends and I played gymnastics and had lots of fun. I hope madam had also enjoyed a lot.” ~Thinley Lhendup

chopping onions

“It was a very hard journey because we walked to Wengkhar and to Tongsang and again back to Yakpogang. We invited some other teachers but they came in vehicle later. We made oven and cooked food using firewood. I cried while cutting onions and ma’am clicked our photo while I was crying.
While I was walking home I was lifted by vice principal.” ~Chimi Yuden

chopping chillies

“…When we reached at Yakpogang we swam in the stream. We made many delicious foods. We ate and ate and we were very tired and lazy. I went to pick up litter with Madam Ann and then we played the badminton.” ~Cheki Dorji

writing diaries (note the cell phone)

playing chess

“…After finished ating the lunch we wash pots and our plates. I saw old man sitting near river. Then I told my class teacher I want to gave the food to old man. Then I put rice on the plate with different curry. Old man was about to go. Then I sent one of my friends to wait him. Then he sit on the grass and I gave him food. This man was very please to me. He said me that thankyou a lots. This man was telling to me that study hard. I will pray god for you. I was very happy that he was telling nicely to me. ~Tshering Choki

By the way, badminton was played in the middle of the trans-Bhutan highway. Whenever a vehicle was sighted coming around the bend, someone would shout, “Car!” or the Dzongkha equivalent, and everyone would get out of the way. Just like road hockey.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bikram the Bullied

Bikram is one of my special education students, and is, well, special. He comes to my room for two periods a week, and is always prompt and eager to be there. We usually work on his articulation skills and reading, both areas in which he is very weak.
Bikram is 15 years old and in grade 7, which is not unusual. He has cerebral palsy which has damaged his left side. He walks with a limp, and his left arm is usually bent, his hand twisted, and his fingers gnarled. He is known as a bully at school, and a fighter, but I have never seen this. When I have asked him about his reputation, he always tells me that the other kids tease him, and yes, he strikes out at them. This results in a fight, and he usually gets blamed.
Last week, Bikram came to my room a bit late, and sobbing. It made me very sad to see him so upset. At first he couldn’t speak, because he was crying so hard, but then he explained that it was the usual: he was being teased, he hit someone, but this time two grade 8 boys beat him. I asked if he was hurt, but it seemed that it was his feelings that were more hurt. I offered to go and speak to the other boys, but he was afraid that he would get in trouble if I did. I have spoken to the staff on several occasions about Bikram being bullied, but the staff seems to think he is to blame.
Bikram was too upset to focus on reading, so it was a good opportunity to do some dictated writing instead. I acted as his secretary (his writing skills are very poor) and told him to tell me again the story of what had happened. Although he didn’t touch on the events of the day at all, I think perhaps it shows the depth of his sadness –that he had been so happy when he first came to our school, and now he didn’t feel like he had a friend. This is the story he told me:

Picnic with My Friends

When I was coming for the first time in this school I was very happy because I made many friends. One day my friend told to us, “We have to go to picnic.” When we finished eating the picnic we went to our own house. Next time friend told to go to Gangola to swim. When we are reached at Gangola we were very happy and we had to undress and swim. After we finished the swimming we ate the lunch and friend told to go home. When we were walking to the home suddenly we saw a snake and my friend killed it.
~Bikram Rai

I have a computer in my room now, so I taught Bikram how to use it to type his story. He caught on very quickly, and with some practice even managed to hit the shift key with one finger of his gnarled hand to make capital letters. I told him he looked like a “dasho” working in his office, and he was very pleased. When I printed out his story, he was very proud, and eager to do more next time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

I had the opportunity this week to do something new. I was invited to another community, called Drametse, to do a workshop on English language instruction for a group of 30 teachers from k to 10. The workshop was for a “cluster” of schools, which meant that some teachers walked four hours from neighbouring villages to come to the workshop! That’s dedication.

Sherab, the young principal of the school came to Mongar to pick me up on Tuesday. We left here at 4:00 p.m., and with one brief stop to have a snack overlooking a beautiful river valley, we arrived at his house at 7:30. The last hour was constant zigzagging on a dirt road to the top of the mountain. I didn’t count, but apparently there are about 40 switchbacks in the 18 km climb. I didn’t get sick, but I was feeling a little woozy by the time we got there.

I was welcomed into Sherab’s home by his young wife, and their two young children. We had a late dinner of rice, curried vegetables, and fresh fish. No one is ever very clear about where the fish comes from, because it is illegal to fish in Bhutan. Maybe from India. Any way, it was tasty, and I am still alive.

The kids watched television for awhile, and I was very amused to see “Power Rangers” dubbed in Hindi. How old is that show?

The kids had been moved into their parents’ bedroom, so I had my own room. I’d like to say I was comfortable, but I wasn’t. The bed was a two-inch thick (thin) mattress on wooden boards, which is rather hard for me. It was very peaceful though. Not even any barking dogs.

Wednesday was a very full day. First I was asked to speak at the morning assembly to the 500+ kids in PP(K) to grade 10. I read them “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, because it can be appreciated at different levels. It was a big hit.

The workshop went very well. We divided the day into three hour and a half sessions with tea and lunch in between. The teachers were keenly involved in various games, activities, and group presentations. There was lots of good-natured laughter, and they seemed to learn a lot.

After school there was an “Inter-Cluster School Quiz” in the Multi-Purpose Hall. The four teachers who had walked from other villages had each brought two students with them, so with Drametse’s two there were ten competitors in all. I was amazed with the amount of preparation which had gone into this quiz. It was very professionally done, using a computer, projector, and sound system. The five teams each had a buzzer and coloured light bulb for responding to questions. There were six categories: English, Maths, Science, Social Studies, Current Affairs, and General Knowledge. I was very impressed with the knowledge of the students. I think the only category in which I would have beaten them was in math. That was not their forte.

The ADEO (Assistant District Education Officer) was there for the competition too. He had spent a couple of days walking to visit these remote schools which can only be reached on foot. He was a very chatty guy, and quite a colourful speaker. I think he had probably had a fair bit of arra during his day of trekking from community to community. He said something about our main goal as “senior educators” being to “spread our educational experience, much like spreading HIV Aids”. Mmm-hmm. Anyway, he said that he hopes I will go to other communities to do other workshops. I said I would love to.

The vice-principal, a young woman named Tenzin Wangmo (an ex-student of Nancy’s), joined us back at the house for arra and dinner. This was the hot version with egg fried in butter. I had a bit to be polite, but after my previous very bad experience with arra, I couldn’t enjoy it. Tenzin could really put back the arra though! I was a little concerned because I knew she would be driving me home the next day.

In the morning, Sherab walked with me to the Drametse monastery which is the biggest in eastern Bhutan. It is famous for the Nga Cham drum dance, which was proclaimed a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage” by UNESCO in 2005. I was hoping to see a rehearsal, but it wasn’t the right time. I will have chance to see the dance at the Mongar tsechu in November.

Tenzin was in fine shape, and reached me safely home by noon. The ride back was harder on my system, and by the time we got here I had to lie down for a couple of hours until the world stopped spinning. As I lay there, I wasn’t so sure that I would like to go to other communities to do workshops. But that is forgotten now, and only the fond memories of the experience remain.

VP Tenzin Wangmo, viewpoint on the drive home