Sunday, 30 March 2014

Our First Bhutanese Festival

We were very excited that Paul got back from England just in time for us to go to our first festival together. It was the local festival for our area. Everyone wears their best traditional dress, it was beautiful to see all the bright colours. Amazingly the festival was so very traditional without any Western influences. I had to pinch myself that we were really there amongst it.

Balcony view to watch the dancers.

Oooh, what happened to my husband???

Mr Hatton, the kids PE teacher, with his Mum.

Festival Goers.

Everyone kitted out in their best for the festival.

Some of Paul's beautiful year 3 boys.

Paul & Thomas enjoying momos (dumplings) and chilli.

Momo for me, momo for you.

Thomas looking very smart in his gho.

Paul looking even smarter!

Everyone happy & warm after chilli momos.

We were kindly invited to join a teacher we met from another school and his family for a picnic lunch.

Look at the colour coordination with the background!

The picnicers.

The colourful dancers.

Us with Mr Hatton's mother and some high school girls who offered to nurse Amelie.

All aboard the Chumey Express for the journey home.

Thomas trying out his new slug gun along with every other boy at the festival.

Justine's Post 30/03/14

Amelie's birthday at the beginning of the month was the same day as the Bhutanese New Year, which is called Losar. It is a time for gathering with family and celebrating with traditional foods. In the lead up to Losar we could see people making preparations and there was lots of spring cleaning going on. We were invited to our neighbour's place to celebrate Losar and for baby Rinzan's 1st birthday. Our neighbour is a lovely lady that everyone calls Ama, which means Mother in Dzongkha. Rinzan is Ama's grandson.

This is the altar in Ama's place with all the offerings for Losar.

This is Ama's son Mr Tenzin, his wife Wangchuk and their children Kuensel, Choki and baby Rinzan.

In Bhutan, much to the kids delight, sweets are served before the main meal when going to someone's house. At Ama's place we first sat around the bukhari (wood fired heater) and drank tea with specially made deep fried little pastries. Then we went into the altar room and sang happy birthday to baby Rinzan. Again, much to the kids delight, our plates were piled high with birthday cake and lollies. We thought that was going to be our dinner, the kids weren't complaining. Then the main meal of rice with various vegetable and meat dishes were served. By this time the kids were complaining, they were already full!

The following Sunday morning we awoke to the sound of chanting. There is no insulation in the timber panelled walls so we often hear Ama praying in the alter room next door. There must have been quite a group of people gathered as the chanting was vibrating into our place. It was a soothing feeling. The chanting went on for most of the day, which amazed me. At this altitude I struggle to hum out the National Anthem at school assembly each morning. Speaking of which, I am proud to say that Thomas has picked up the Bhutanese National Anthem and joins in with everyone at school assembly everyday.

March Snow in Chumey

Is there a bad case of dandruff going around? Did someone forget to empty out the tissues before a clothes wash? No, it's snow!
Amelie enjoys a pose in the snow at school.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Paul's Post 30/03/2014

As usual, it’s been a while since my last post – but of course much has happened. I returned to England for a week for my Dad’s funeral, and it was also nice to spend time with my brother and sister and see my old Birmingham friends.

My route home from Bhutan was: a 12 hour drive to the Capital (Thimphu), an overnight stay at Nancy’s house (the boss of BCF in Bhutan – they are the charity that organises for us foreign teachers to volunteer in Bhutan). After an early morning drive to the airport in Paro with possibly the world’s slowest taxi driver who barely exceeded 30kph until I finally asked him to put his foot down - I was on my way to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Now, if you ever take this flight, I strongly urge you to get a window seat as it must be one of the most stunning plane rides available. Imagine my excitement when the Captain announced, “If you look out of the window on the left, that tall peak with a cloud hanging over it is Mount Everest.” My elation soon turned to desperation when the captain shortly afterwards announced that due to fog in Kathmandu we couldn’t land, he then said that they would circle for 15 minutes and if the fog didn’t clear, we would return to Bhutan. Now, my connecting flights were with Qatar Airlines, this flight was Druk Air. If I didn’t land on time in Kathmandu, I would lose my seats and have to buy another ticket – something I could ill-afford as a volunteer. It was at this point that I began to pray, I can’t remember what deal I made with God – I only hope I have kept my side of the bargain because He certainly kept his. After about 25 minutes the captain calmly announced that we would be landing after all. Thank God!

The rest of my journey went without incident. I then flew to Doha, Qatar (very dry and sandy from what I saw of it) and then onto Heathrow (very pleasant weather thank you very much) where I was met by my brother at close to midnight on Saturday night, and driven the 2 hours to Birmingham.

I must acknowledge the great organising efforts of my brother (Enda) and sister (Marie). By the time I arrived nearly everything had been arranged but there were still lots of minor things to attend to that filled our days – such as visiting the various churches my dad attended and meeting with the priests.

It seemed to me that in the last 20 years or so of my Dad’s life, he was always attending funerals. Consequently, I was worried that there would be very few people left to attend his. On the day of the funeral, I was delighted to see so many friends and relatives come from near and far. Several came from Ireland, some nearly didn’t make it because of (you guessed it – fog) but God was still smiling and their plane too eventually landed. There was also a sizeable contingent from Swindon that I was delighted to see.

The service went without a hitch, for me the hardest part was walking away from my Dad’s open grave after the coffin had been lowered into it. It looked so lonely and exposed there – only now does it occur to me that he was finally re-united with my Mum.

Birmingham is a big city with all the usual problems and it is easy to be cynical and think that it is an uncaring place. I was so pleased to see so many neighbours turn up at the funeral – they also organised a generous collection that we donated to Dad’s care home entertainment fund. One lady, whom I did not recognise, approached me and told me how kind my Dad had been to her family over the years. I later saw that she had laid her own bouquet at my Dad’s grave and I wondered how it was that I didn’t know who this woman was. My Dad wasn’t secretive but it often didn’t occur to him to tell us things that were arguably quite important. My most notable example is finding out in my mid-twenties that my mum had been a nun for 3 years. My Dad never thought to tell me – my aunt just mentioned it in passing one day and of course I was stunned.

The ‘silver lining’ of the funeral was getting to see so many friends and relatives once more. It is the sign of a great friendship that you can pick up where you left off as if it was only weeks rather than years since you last saw one-another. All too soon it was time to leave Birmingham and the Western World and begin the slow journey back to Bhutan. This time, there was less stress as I didn’t need to arrive by a certain day. However, Justine had taken the opportunity to do some Ebay shopping (25 items sent to Birmingham) and I now had to carry it all back – plus several purchases (mostly from charity shops) of my own. I had a 30kg allowance with Qatar Airways and so my 36kg of check in didn’t raise too many eyebrows. However, at Kathmandu on the return flight, I only had 20kg allowance. There was much talk with colleagues, they asked to see my passport, my visa letter, my teaching permit. I stood by meekly hoping for another miracle and yet again I was in luck, they finally relented and let me onboard without an excess baggage charge.

On the return visit, I had to stay one night in Kathmandu and it certainly looks like an interesting place. After living in Bhutan, Kathmandu seems huge, despite being in the Himalayas it is quite a large area of comparatively flat ground. Upon arrival, my taxi-driver told me that, “Today is holiday.”
“Oh, a holiday!” I replied, “I’m glad you’re working,” I quipped.
“No, not a holiday, holyday,” he countered.
“Oh a holy day, is it a religious festival?” I asked.
“No, not a holy day,” he replied (frustration beginning to build in his voice).
We both wisely decided to leave it there, and I turned to look at this colourful city outside my window. I wondered why so many people were covered in bright colours – I saw numerous red, yellow and green faces. It was only the next day when I read my free newspaper on the plane that I discovered that the festival was called “Holi,” it is a crazy day that marks the start of spring in which people throw dye over strangers in the street. What a shame I’d missed all the fun by the time I’d landed.

After another night in Thimphu (thank you Nancy) it was time again to get back on the bus for the 12 hour drive back to my home in Bumthang (yes really). It had taken 3 full days to get home and I felt a bit like Santa arriving with my case load of goodies (mostly shoes for our rapidly growing kids). I had an incredibly warm welcome from my family and I think my kids in particular were trying to give me all the hugs that I’d missed out on by being away for 10 days.

Life in Bhutan is a lot tougher in many ways than in England or Australia – there are certainly a lot less creature comforts and keeping warm is still quite an issue. However, as I walked the few yards from the bus to my house – it struck me that (for now at least) this is home. And, was it just my imagination or was it a couple of degrees warmer? Since then it has snowed (just lightly) a few times, the snow still whistles into my classroom through the holes where my windows are meant to be but I have a new-found optimism, the rhododendrons are shooting up and spring is definitely in the air. I wonder if we will have a Holi day in Bumthang?

Amelie Turns 8!

On my birthday we went to Umsang river. Lots of people were invited but not everyone could come because of Losar. Losar is the Bhutanese New Year. Everybody celebrates Losar at one point of the day. 

I got lots of birthday presents from my friends. We walked on the rocks around the river. We even tried making stepping stones to the other side of the river. Some of the kids walked across the river but I found it too cold. I fell in and banged my knee on a rock. It really hurt!!

We had chocolate and vanilla cake. When we got home I got changed into my new trousers and my beanie. My beanie was from Kuensel and my trousers were from Yeshi. We had pizza for lunch, some of my friends were still here and had lunch with us. After lunch we had the rest of the cake, we all got a very thin slice because there was only a little bit left. 

This is Kuensel striking a pose.

This is Dechen, she is in Year 3.

This is Thinley, it was her birthday too. We celebrated together!

Mum and Dad gave me their birthday presents. They were three board games, a cricket bat, a green ball and a flashy ball. We went to the school football field with the kids that were left. We played cricket for about an hour. Mr Tandin came on to the football field and invited us to tea. So we sent all the kids home and walked up to Mr Tandin’s house. At Mr Tandin’s house I had juice but Thomas and Lois had tea and juice. Me, Thomas, Lois and Mr Tandin’s daughter, Sonam Choki played a game that Sonam Choki had. I had a really great birthday!

Thomas and Thinley.

Sisters, Thinley & Dechen, Lois & I, with Yeshi in the background.

Choki meditating on the rock.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Paul's Post 02/03/14

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the death of my dad - Thomas Diver.

Much as I love living in different spots around the world, of course the biggest regret is being so far from family and old friends. My dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease as well as a wide range of other illnesses and ailments.

He’d come close to death only days earlier and was given the Last Rites by a priest. Somehow he pulled through and seemed to make a good recovery. Sadly, he had a fall and was given an emergency hip-replacement operation - he died a few days later. He was 90 years old.

He was the last of his siblings, so it really feels like the end of an era. It’s hard to imagine the changes he must have seen in his long life. Born in rural Donegal in 1923 in a 2 bedroom thatched cottage, with no electricity or running water - life must have been very tough indeed. He had 2 brothers that died in infancy but 8 brothers and sisters survived.

Like so many of his generation, he left Ireland in search of a better life and arrived in London in the 1960s to play his part in the post-war building boom that was sweeping Britain. After surviving a horrific motor-bike accident that left him with a life-long limp he moved regularly around the UK, going wherever the work took him.

He finally settled in Birmingham where he met my mum Patricia O’Halloran at a local dance club (I think it was the Garry Owen), that was popular with the rapidly growing Irish community. 

Of course, at this time, my thoughts turn to the death of my mum who died in February 1978. She was only 44yrs old, younger than I am right now and I was only 10 at the time. It was the single most devastating event in my life and the ‘what if’ thoughts have never really gone away. As a parent now, I often feel a sadness that she never got to meet my kids and they never got to meet her. As a parent, I also realise what a huge task it was for my dad to bring us all up by himself following the death of Mum.

Both Mum and Dad were devout Catholics and firmly believed in the after-life. As such, my Dad never feared death – in fact I think in recent years he was looking forward to being re-united with his beloved wife.

Anyone who ever met my Dad could not have failed to like him. He was a kind and decent man who worked hard his entire life. He was generous to a fault and would always put the happiness and welfare of others before himself. He was a great role-model to me and I only hope that I can live such a good life.

Dad, you were a good and decent man to all who knew you and a terrific father to Marie, Enda and Paul – may you rest in peace.

As I write, the funeral date has not yet been set. I will arrive at Heathrow at 10pm on Saturday 8th March and leave on the following Saturday. I look forward to meeting any of you who can make it. Please contact Enda or Marie regarding any arrangements.