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

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