Friday, December 10, 2010

Lamas at Pizza Hut

Dec. 10

Muko weaving

This past week has been a blur of goodbye luncheons and dinners.

Muko invited me to have a last pizza dinner at her “Pizza Hut” this evening. Instead of eating downstairs in the restaurant, I was invited upstairs to her home. Muko already had guests –three lamas and a monk. Two of the lamas spoke some English, but one was too shy to say much. The lama from Autsho, who is 30 years old, was happy to answer my questions about his life.

He had become a monk at the age of three. His choice, he said. He went to school in Thimphu with other monks, and that is when he became friends with the lama from Tashiyangtse, who is now twenty-nine. They continued through school together, eight years of elementary school, and nine years of college doing Buddhist studies, also in Thimphu. Then they did three years of meditation in silence and seclusion, at a retreat near Dochula. During the three years, they have a servant who goes to buy vegetables, and deals with the outside world. Communication with even their servant is by writing only, because they must maintain silence. I asked if they were ever lonely, or scared, or wanted to give up. He said they didn’t have time for those thoughts. They were too busy meditating. They were awoken at 2:00 a.m. to start meditation, and meditated until 9:00 p.m., with breaks for preparing and eating meals. He said they were very tired by the end of the day and slept well.

The lamas were all facing the television, and were watching a changing array of programs from wrestling to Bollywood films. The Autsho lama was in charge of the remote control, while the lama from Tashiyangtse was listening to something on his mobile phone, while the third lama drank large quantities of ara. Muko’s little niece and nephew were cruising through, doing cute things. At one point, the little boy was chanting “Lama, lama, ???” which caused lots of laughter from Muko and the lamas. Apparently he was spelling the word for penis.

Muko served an enormous meal of pizza and all the traditional basics: red rice, ema datse, kewa datse, dahl and ezay. There was also chicken curry, dried beef and plain dumplings. The lamas ate huge quantities of food, including meat, which surprised me.

After dinner, I was offered a ride home by the lamas. I hesitated when I was being escorted to the vehicle of the lama who had drunk lots of ara, and instead went with the other guys. I do not want to end my days going over a cliff with a drunk lama at the wheel.


Dec 7

Picture this: You’re a nervous grade 6 kid, about to write the Class Six, two hour, English board exam (the same exam is written by Class Sixes all across the country). You’ve studied hard, and you are really hoping to do well. These are the instructions on the front of the exam booklet:


[I’ll skip direction 1 and 2]…

3. In this paper there are three sections: A, B and C. All questions in Section A and B are compulsory.

4. Section C has three genres: Short Stories, Essay and Poetry. Each genre has two sets of questions, Set I and Set II. Set l comprises of Question nos. 1a and 1b and Set ll corresponds to Question no. 2 across all genres. You must attempt one set of questions from each genre.

5. In Section C, you must attempt three sets of questions in all. Your choice must include one Set ll question (Question no. 2) from any genre.

6. In Section C, do not attempt questions from two different sets. Your choice is strictly between the two sets of questions provided for each genre.

[The instructions continue to 10]

To me this sounds like a complicated math problem and an instructional nightmare. If I had been faced with those instructions I think I might have just cried. And I’m good at math, and English is my first language!

Surprisingly, most of the students did follow the instructions correctly. About 15% of the kids missed sections or did extra sections which, therefore, do not get marked. In most of those cases, that meant they got a failing grade.

The questions themselves were not too difficult (for me!), but they were too difficult for many of the students. They particularly bombed on the language section, which is mostly grammar. It also seemed that they did not understand the essay, which was about ants, or the poetry selection, about a hippopotamus opening gifts.

The students had to write a letter as part of the exam, and many chose to write a letter to their mothers about their preparations, hopes and fears concerning their exams. Most of the letters talked about their desire to get a position (for first, second or third they receive a prize) and how ashamed they will be if they don’t pass. Virtually all of them asked their mother to pray for their success.

This is one of the best responses to an essay question about the upcoming holiday. I love what it teaches us about Bhutan -the blend of the old and the new. Looking after the cows and sending messages on the mobile phone. Playing khuru (traditional dart game) and watching television. Beloved grandma.

“My topic is about my holidays after my school ends.
After the end of my school I decided to go to the village with my cousin brother. His name is Yeshi Gyeltshen and he said to me that he will come on 19th December. I will go to the village and look after the cows same like what I did last winter break. I will give the foods to the cattle and play some khuru. There is one very special day that is happy new year. On that day I will write some message in mobile and send to my few friends. I will stay about 25 days and come back home. My grandma is very interested to listen my songs and story and I will sing a song for my beloved grandma.

I and my cousin brother will go to the forest to cut down the trees because our village is at the top of the mountain. It is called Chali Gompa. In the forest I will play the monkey bars (Tarzan). And at night I will come back and I will go to my friend’s house to watch television.

After 25 days I will come back to Mongar and I will bring many fruits to my brother. I am sure my grandma will give me many fruits to take to Mongar because my grandma loves me very much.

So lastly I think my winter break holiday would be more interesting vacation.
Cheki Dorji”

For more on exam issues, check Nick’s most recent blog posting. Lots of interesting observations.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dog Blog

Nov. 28

Dogs. They’re everywhere. All the time. I don’t even notice them barking at night any more.

I haven’t done a complete study, but it seems that even dogs have schedules, or at least routines. I often see the same dogs, in the same spot, at the same time of day, looking like they have an appointment to keep. They walk briskly with a definite focus.

Most of the strays here are medium-sized, similar-looking mutts, although there are a few unique ones. Most are in surprisingly good condition. Although I’ve seen a few with mange, a few with a limp, and a few skinny ones, overall they look pretty good.

The only time I’ve seen the aggressive side of these dogs is when one of them has some food. Unlike their human countrymen, the dogs are definitely not into sharing. A few teachers share their snacks with the dogs, or bring something to give them. The food tends to be just starch, but so is most of the Bhutanese human diet.

In late October, early November, many, many litters of pups were born all over Mongar. We have at least five litters of puppies on the school campus alone, and each litter seems to be about five puppies. They are so cute, as are puppies all over the world. I can watch their antics for ages. The mothers don’t have much patience with their pups, and I often see the pups chasing after their mums, trying to nurse while their mum keeps walking away. A few days ago, during morning prayer at the assembly ground, a little puppy took shelter under my friend’s kira. Very cute.

There is an open concrete drain, about eight inches deep, all around the school, and the littlest puppies have trouble jumping over it. Luckily, at this time of year, it is usually dry. When the puppies fall in, they are not quite big enough or strong enough to get themselves out. From my classroom, I often hear them whimpering. When I go out to check, they look so helpless, standing on their hind legs with their front paws on the edge, trying and trying to pull themselves out. I’ve lifted the same little runt out many times.

A few months ago, before I was deaf to the barking, the dogs were particularly noisy one night. It seemed that every dog in town was on a rant. I mentioned it at school in the morning, and a few people said that dogs bark when they sense death. There had been a terrible accident that night, just outside Mongar, in which a vehicle had gone off a cliff, and the six passengers, who were monks and lamas, had all been killed.The bodies had been brought to Mongar hospital during the night.

I’ve heard of different methods they’ve tried to limit the number of dogs in Mongar. One method I read about was to pay someone to collect as many strays as possible, and drop them off in another community. But then that community paid the same guy to bring them back here.
The second method was a mass sterilization of strays a couple of years ago. Apparently they docked the tails of the dogs which were done. One still sees a few of these “curtailed” dogs around town.
Last month, a third method was tried. All shopkeepers in the bazaar were responsible for catching and taking in one stray to the vet for sterilization. The shopkeepers were not happy that they were being forced to do this, so most passed the job on to kids. I don’t know how many dogs were done, but it is bound to help.

By the way, Tashi, a.k.a. Appy, the dog that I befriended when I first arrived, finally got spayed during last month’s blitz. My neighbour took her in. The vet had warned against spaying her months ago, because apparently there is a much greater chance of infection during the monsoon season. Appy got pregnant in the meantime, so the surgery was actually an abortion and sterilization. Poor thing. She looks very sad. But at least she won’t be increasing the puppulation.