Friday, March 26, 2010

When the King Comes a-Knocking...

the students go a-hopping
the teachers go a-stalking
the entire school goes a-gawking

    We got the call on Monday and had one day to prepare for His Majesty’s visit. We got started on the mysostics IMMEDIATELY. For those of you who aren’t in the know, a mesostic is a type of acrostic poem. Instead of your everyday acrostic though, a mesostic makes a complete sentence. Japan can have their haikus, Bhutan will popularize the art of mesotics. Mesostic poems are the way that the Early Learning Centre expresses itself. The King’s first name is Jigme. His second name is Khesar. His third name is Namgyel. I was assigned to create the mesostic for his last name: Wangchuck. I was busy for a while. As other teachers laboriously glued tiny beads onto letters to make him a framed mesostic, I toiled in the corner to come up with the perfect Wangchuck poem. 3 hours later I was satisfied:

             Charitable and
     farsigHted; The people of
          BhUtan are
          sinCere in their admiration of this

    The news reached the students the following day. I have never seen kids so enthusiastic to clean a toilet. “Madam, what if his majesty needs to relieve himself while visiting class six?!” I try to picture His Majesty using our squat toilet. “He probably brings his own,” I think to myself. But I don’t want to crush their dreams so I reply, “Yes, students, most definitely you should go clean the toilet.” And off they go scrubbing and polishing ‘til evening.

    When I arrived to school today, security were already stationed at their posts. Most officers carried rifles, but His Majesty’s closest assistant carried a saber. I wonder where one receives training to maneuver a weapon like that?

    Students were asked to arrive early, shoes polished, noses cleaned. At 8:15 we started preparing our most engaging energizing activities: The Penguin Dance, One, Two, Buckle my shoe..., The Welcome song. The students were only half-watching, there was too much to be seen with all of the photographers, guards and important looking people with clipboards buzzing around. An officer approached me with his clipboard, “American, right?” Yes, how did he know? Maybe because I am the only woman in a 5 mile radius standing over 5’5 and looking incredibly askew in a kira, repeatedly practicing the correct way to bow. At 8:30 sharp teachers formed a receiving line. K-5’s (Fifth King’s) arrival was announced by the stomp of an army boot and a stern salute by his leading guard. He appeared through our humble gate looking majestic and kingly. Graciously, he shook each teacher’s hand warmly.

    We performed our penguin dance for him, shaking our booties and sticking our tongues out as respectfully as possible. I led the mediation and he sat down cross legged on the ground nearby saying, “Let’s try this out.” After the morning program he spent time laughing and talking to students. Then he made his rounds to EACH CLASSROOM. Can you imagine, he took the time to come to each class and interact with all students. When I got the message that he would be arriving to our class next, my heart started pounding and my hands were trembling. He entered with his entourage, (including the man wielding the saber) and in a soft but assertive voice began speaking to the students about some of the village schools he has visited. He explained how students walk barefoot two hours to school, two hours home. They carry their shoes around their necks as they walk so that when they arrive at school, their shoes are clean. He told my students that these are the  people they will be competing with for jobs someday. “Do you have that kind of determination?” He asks my spellbound students. “If someone asks you why you go to school, would you say it is to serve your parents? Or to someday provide for your younger brothers and sisters?” My students look around in wonder.  He closes by telling them that education is like a loaded gun. It can be terribly dangerous when put in the wrong hands. With education comes power and influence. That is why Gross National Happiness ensures that values and morals are at the core of Bhutanese education. He advised students to keep their strong values even when they grow up. “You may go on to get tattoos, like a dolphin jumping across your arm, or an ‘om’ sign, but that doesn’t mean that your values will change. Even me, when I was a teenager I had three earrings in one ear.” I giggled at the image of this stately and elegant man as a rebellious teenagers with three earrings in one ear . The students did not laugh. They looked at me wild-eyed like I had just killed his puppy. The King looked at me and smiled kindly. Yes, eye contact with royalty.

    I think His Royal Majesty was quite pleased with his visit to The Early Learning Centre. How could he not be? He received over 150 cards with his names represented in mesostic poetry, a gift from each student. He strolled through halls lined with the letters of his names represented in the witty lyricism that only a mesostic can evoke. And if that was not enough to make the visit worth his time, he received his very own framed mesostic, each letter created from beads no larger than a bug’s eye.

    The visit may have been just another day in the life of K-5, but at the end of the day, as I stood on the basketball court with the teachers re-living the day’s excitement, I knew that several people (myself included) will be forever reminiscing of the day the King came to call.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

we made it...somewhere

It's All Happening

    It happens when you open your eyes after meditating with the students in the school yard. The mountains of mythical proportions now are familiar and comforting. It happens when one day you instinctively turn and respond when a child cries out, “Madam!” in the street. It happens when late one night when you are returning to Thimphu on a bus and you think, “Almost home.” It happens in the middle of the night when you wake up and you no longer have to remember, “Where am I?” It happens when laughing sincerely around the dinner table with a group of people who just a month before had been unfamiliar faces in a staff meeting. When you leave the city, climb a mountain and really see with your eyes that you have done it, found the place where nature reigns. Where humans have not harnessed it in national parks and greenbelts. It happens when spending thirty dollars in one week seems like a small fortune. Or when you realize that you lived on three hundred dollars in a month, rent included.  The last couple weeks have been filled with moments like this, when I understand that it’s all happening for me.
    When you leave home, what are you looking for? I know that when I left, what I wanted was to know was what is revealed when layers of familiarity and comfort are removed. In these small moments I am finding that what is revealed is definitely not fear and worry as we anticipate in the unknown, but rather new forms of familiarity and comfort. Happiness is to be found underneath and the excellent news is that happiness is not dependent on everything that you think you need at home but exists abundantly in the world at large. So when I say, “It’s all happening” I mean that over and over the universe is proving to me that it provides graciously.
    Spring is seeping through all of the cracks around here. Bright pink blossoms on trees pop out of the dusty landscape. Between uncharacteristic thunderstorms the sun shines. Going outside or to bed no longer requires three layers, beanies and gloves. I like this new side of Thimphu.

    School is three weeks underway. Today a parent walked through the gate during the all-school assembly. “Where is your son?” Asks Madam Deki, the principal. “He’s not coming today. He had very bad diarrhea all night,” replies the parent in front of THE ENTIRE SCHOOL. I wait for the thunderous laughter. It doesn’t come. I think about the lifetime of social ridicule that would have befallen an American student who’s father made such a comment in front of their entire peer group. Later in the day a student doesn’t have his homework, “I didn’t do it, Madam Kellie, because I had diarrhea last night.” That’s a new one, much more believable than the dog eating it.