Saturday, 22 February 2014

Amelie's Post 22/02/14

This is one of my first days of school with some of my friends Sonam Choki, Yeshi and a few other girls (I keep forgetting their names!!). We usually skip, play running races and play icy poley (icy poley is like tag/tiggy but not exactly the same).

Going over the school gate and walking home with Sangay. Sangay is one of my best friends here and I nearly always play with her.

This is the school assembly. Spot the blondies!!!!

Walking out of the nunnery with all our friends (one of them we only met today).
The way back down the hike is always the best.

Thomas's Post 22/02/14

This is our school uniform, it is the Bhutanese dress. The dress that I am wearing is called a gho and the one that Amelie and Lois are wearing is a kira.

This is the gate that we go up to get to school everyday, it is so high so the cows can't get into the school.

Yesterday we went on a hike to a small monastery with my friends. We had fun especially sliding down the hill.

There is a prayer wheel that is close to our house that is spun by water, the water is so cold that there is some ice that freezes.

These are some of  my friends that we went with yesterday on a hike, thier names are Sonam, Tshewang and Rinzin.

Lois's Post 22/02/14

On our first day of school we stood in front of a classroom. We skipped on our first day of school and had a look inside the library.

These are some of the friends I have made.
We only had to go to school for half a day because it was the King's Birthday. We went for a hike in the afternoon. There was a big muddy puddle on the way. On the way back some of the boys put a stick in a big cow manure and started singing happy birthday. I didn't feel like eating a piece of that cake, I would rather eat a proper chocolate cake!

All of the girls together on the hike.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Justine's Post 21/02/14

After Lois completed her first year of school last year, all three children were well and truly able to dress themselves each morning. In Bhutan we've gone back to me having to dress them in their school uniforms and to add to the morning rush hour, I have to dress Paul as well! 

Dressing in the national dress takes a bit of getting used to, lots of wrapping, folding and pinning. On the first morning of school we managed to dress Thomas in his gho, but I got completely confused trying to dress the girls in their full kira. 
The full kira is basically a long piece of fabric that gets wrapped and folded around the body from shoulders to ankles.Now do you start with the first pin on the left shoulder, or was it the right? Is the fold to the back or the front? Amelie was getting dizzy with me turning her around trying to figure it out. Lois was looking on in despair, thinking “I’m next”.

With kiras in hand and girls running down the stairs in their thermals, we knocked on the door of the lovely lady in the shop downstairs. In no time at all she had both Amelie and Lois all folded and tucked into their school uniforms and looking very smart.

We thought we would cheat a little.....when we got home from school, I undid one pin on the girls uniforms and they were able to slip out of them with most folds staying in place for the next morning. 

I was more successful in dressing Thomas, Amelie and Lois on day two, although some re-adjustments were required enroute to school. I didn’t tie Lois’s belt tight enough so she started to come apart. Then when we got to school one of the male teachers kindly pulled Thomas aside to readjust him and perfect the pleats at the back of his gho.

No doubt, practice makes perfect and we have some time to go but in the meantime there are lots of helping Thomas was walking home from school his gho started coming apart, the teenage boy across the road ran across and fixed him up. It is wonderful to see the Bhutanese take such pride in their national dress.

Paul's Post 21/02/14

The King's Birthday

Today was the King's Birthday, so that called for a school celebration and half a day off! Also, very importantly, we were given Saturday off too. Yes, in Bhutan you have to go to school on Saturday mornings too. Personally I think they should shorten the very long winter holiday and give everyong Saturday's off in return - but I digress. The morning rush was even worse today as I had to wear my gho for the first time since arriving at my school. I accidently put Thomas's gho on first - they are such large garments that I thought it was the right fit for me. After Justine spent 5 minutes trying to dress me, we realised the error -needless to say Justine wasn't very impressed.

All the gho! - looking very snazzy in the national dress
When I got to school, I asked a friendly teacher to straighten my gho up and he practically re-dressed me. I'm glad I made the effort though as it really is a special day and the teachers all seemed to appreciate the gesture. After a speech about the King from the Principal we all went to the school hall for praying/chanting in Dzongkha which was very moving. As I looked around the large, cold hall I did not see one student giggling or talking during the prayers. There is a beautiful shrine in the hall and I was invited by the principal to light a butter lamp. It was a solemn, religious occasion in which the school monk took a leading role.

A monk prepares the butter lamps

Teachers cover their mouths as they light the butter lamps

A local toddler has a sneaky look at the proceedings

Once the ceremony was complete, we went to the playground for a generous helping of spicy rice, all washed down with a cup of butter-tea. It's a kind of pink tea with a large dose of salt. The rice was delicious but I don't think I shall acquire the taste for salty tea anytime soon.

Waiting patiently for rice and butter tea

Don't I look smart!

Thomas, Rinzin and the gang queuing for their spicy rice
 All too soon it was time to go and we headed home for a cup of salt-free tea before heading out on a short hike to a local nunnery with some of the school kids. Unlike the kids back home, these kids actually want to hang out with the teachers in their spare time. As we headed down the street, I felt like the Pied Piper as more and more children joined our merry throng.

One boy Rinzin only has the use of one leg and supports himself with a crutch. He refuses to exclude himself from any activity or let anyone help him. As I struggled to climb a particularly steep section of the hike I watched in awe as Rinzin almost flew up the hill.

A brief stop at a water powered prayer wheel

Thomas with his new mates
 I've seen a great deal of monks in this country but no nuns so far. Sadly when we got to the nunnery, there was just an old couple who explained that new living quarters were being built for the nuns and until then they would stay in Thimphu. Nonetheless, it was still a beautiful walk and lots of fun was had chatting to the excited children.

Let's hear it for the girls.

Our motley crew of hikers

On the road back home

A brief stop to watch some archery

Justine and I rounded off the day with a toast to his Majesty the King, with a shared bottle of the local Druk beer. It was our first drink in 2 weeks. I think I should write a post on our changed diet sometime soon. Until then - Happy Birthday your Majesty! Cheers!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Paul's Post 17/02/14

As usual, this is long overdue. Well it’s been quite an interesting few weeks. We left the very pleasant temperatures of Bangkok in January and boarded our Druk Air flight to Paro, Bhutan (near the capital Thimphu).  There were several  other volunteer teachers at the airport and everyone was very friendly despite the earliness of the hour. Having successfully made it to the airport by 5am the next big worry was getting onboard with all our bags. Needless to say there was quite a bit of excess baggage and we were doing all our usual tricks, wearing our heaviest clothes, several layers each etc. We’d been told that Druk Air were quite strict because the planes are quite small but to our amazement we got onboard without any hassles. 

Most airports tend to look quite similar but when you land at Paro and see the strange and beautiful architecture, set amidst stunning mountains, you know you’re somewhere quite different. The next thing that catches your attention is the clothing the locals wear. National dress isn’t something that is worn by a few locals on high days and holidays, it is part of everyday wear, the male attire is called a ‘gho’ and the ladies wear a ‘kira’. They look great but they aren’t something the uninitiated can just put on, in fact even locals often require a friend to help them put them on properly.

As a teacher, I can choose whether or not I want to wear the gho at school. Considering school starts at 8.15am, I think I’ll be sticking with shirt and trousers for the time-being as I don’t think I’ll have time for much faffing around in the morning.

Thimphu is an interesting capital city. There are no traffic lights – apparently they were installed at one main intersection but nobody liked them so the old traffic policeman was brought back. Another thing you don’t see are any chain stores whatsoever - needless to say there are no McDonalds or KFC. It’s a bit of a rabbit warren of a place with lots of narrow alleys and small shops that are impossible to judge from the outside. Needless to say, shopping can be quite time consuming – there is no one-stop-shop and it is easy to fill your days shopping around for supplies. Our merry band of volunteer teachers were based in Thimphu for 2 weeks for a combination of training, shopping and acclimatisation. At 2500 metres, we aren’t that high but you soon notice that the air is ‘thinner’ when you walk up 3 flights of stairs to your room and find yourself gasping for breath.

We were all to be sent to different corners of Bhutan with varying degrees of Western comforts. Basically, we needed to get most of our supplies in Thimphu or risk arriving at a location where they simply wouldn’t have them.
As the only ones who had travelled to Bhutan with kids it was no surprise that we bought more stuff than anyone else. We were the only ones to buy a washing machine and a vacuum cleaner but we couldn’t imagine having to do all our washing by hand. The vacuum cleaner was bought mainly because we are hoping to avoid the scourge of fleas/bed bugs in the warmer months. This was a huge issue for the volunteer teacher who was at our house last year and she said she simply couldn’t get a good night’s sleep because of the problem.

 Our fellow volunteer teachers are a great bunch and our kids quickly grew very attached to them. It was a great opportunity for Mum and Dad to off-load the kids onto a willing team of nannies.

After 2 weeks at our hotel in Thimphu, it was time for our convoy of buses and goods vehicles to head east on the long and winding road across Bhutan. There are very few roads and they tend to be narrow and skirt around mountains. There are no tunnels, and vehicles rarely exceed 60kph. Everyone was in great spirits, excited to finally be heading off to our various destinations. It was only once the first teacher (Jessica) was dropped off that the reality started to hit us. We were being dropped off into a strange and (at least initially) lonely place. The general mood soon became more serious as one-by-one teachers got off the bus.

I really admire the adventurous spirit of my fellow teachers. I am so glad that I am here with Justine and the children, I couldn’t imagine being here on my own. Our house in Chumey, Bumthang is very pleasant. We have a Western style toilet, shower and hot water on tap. It is however extremely cold. Be bought a bukhari (wood fired heater) which heats one room but the rest of the rooms are very cold. As I write, our bedroom is 10deg C and it will probably drop a couple of degrees overnight.
We had about an inch of snow last night which made everything look beautiful. Our kids had seen snow before but they’d never seen it fall. They were very excited and quickly ran off after breakfast to make a snowman. 


I haven’t actually started teaching yet. Last week was entirely spent in meetings, much of the meetings are in the national language Dzongkha and so it can be hard to understand what is going on at times, but the Principal and some of the other teachers are very helpful in explaining the gist of most discussions. Today was going to be the first day in which the students attended, but because of the first snow of the season, it was declared a holiday. I’m told that normal lessons won’t really get going for several more days due to general organisation issues and preparations for the King’s birthday. I must admit to being a little confused about what I should be doing right now but the other teachers seem very relaxed and so I’m not going to stress about it.

Afternoon tea in Chamkar with Mr Tandin
The school in which I am placed goes from kindergarten to year 10. The principal is responsible for all of these grades and there is no formal separation between primary and secondary school. A friendly and helpful colleague Mr Tandin told me that he taught Yr 9 last year and this year he will teach PP (kindergarten). I can only marvel and think – rather him than me! Mr Tandin has been very kind and helpful and took the Divers into Chamkar (the main town of Bumthang). I told him that I was having trouble finding a can opener in town and sure enough we enquired at a few more shops without success. How do they open cans in Bumthang?

Lois's Post 10/02/14

Today I went to the Umsang with our new friends . When we got up there, there were some books we read that were donated by the Australian family that was here last year. On the way back it was steep. I was holding Yeshi’s hand on the way back.


This is a view of our place, top storey left side.
Everyone worked up an appetite for noodles.

Amelie's Post 7/02/14

On the bus we went past our house but the bus driver, Dorji called Karma and Karma told him where to go. We got to our new house but we wanted to stay the night with everybody else so we stayed at the River Lodge in Chamkar. In the morning we said goodbye to all the other teachers and stayed in Chamkar. We bought the bukhari, it’s like a fireplace but it doesn’t go in the wall. It’s got four legs, a door and a little thing like a drawer where the ashes go. The bukhari has little holes in it where the ashes fall into the drawer.
Finally we got to our house in Chumey, which is about 45 mins away from Chamkar.

Lois at our first overnight stop at Kichu Resort in Wangduephodrang
Amelie & Lois by the river in Wangduephodrang

Thomas just before going for a chilly dip.

On the rocks ;-)

We all enjoyed a bonfire by the river.

Walking around the chorten 3 times, even cars drive around the chortens on the road.
Paul & Thomas with our wonderful driver Dorji. Amazing to see how he can manoeuvre a bus on such narrow roads, just don't look down!