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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Dorji Gets a New Jacket

A couple of months ago I was invited by my colleague, Madam Tashi, to visit the local temple here in Chamgang which has just started housing novice monks. She was suggesting that since our school is becoming increasingly well resourced, perhaps some of our fundraising money could be spent at the local lhakhang. There are nine boys, all under the age of ten, who have just started living there. 
 
Head Teacher, Lama and Young Monks

 I haven't had time to research and think too carefully about what's involved in placing girls and boys into monasteries and nunneries at such a young age - it strikes me as being a little bit young - but sometimes the families can't care well enough for the children themselves so the practice of placing them into a religious institution has become very widespread in Bhutan. 




The Lhakhang
The Dorm
 As it is a small local monastery, it survives on donations from the local community and gets no stipend from the central monk body (or so I'm told). As the monks get older they will be able to perform more and more services and more money will be given to the monastery in return. At the moment, however, the monastery is effectively working as a kind of proxy orphanage.  


When I went to visit the young monks looked pretty miserable. I'm not sure exactly why this is, whether it's because they're young and they miss their families or whether it's because the head teacher there is super strict with them and beats them for their misbehaviours and/or inability to learn. Corporal punishment, sadly, is still very common in both secular and monastic schooling. 


We were particularly curious about the plight of one small Indian boy, "Dorji", who had been brought to Bhutan to be someone's "babysitter" (read: house slave) but when that family couldn't get the right papers for him (and presumably his family in India couldn't keep him??), he was taken to Chamgang's monastery. He cut a pretty forlorn figure as the smallest of the boys, struggling to learn Dzongkha, uncertain about his future in Bhutan. 

When I asked the lama what they could most use, he said a hot water system so that they wouldn't have to keep making fires to heat stones to heat their water for bathing. He also said a fridge would help them keep vegetables fresh for longer in summer. I have to admit that the young monks' unhappiness had made me a bit wary about how much the lama and head teacher were keeping the monks' best interests at heart but I couldn't be sure so tried to give the benefit of the doubt.

Lama and Cat
 I was, however, still a bit suspect on the hot water system idea as I had a feeling that it would only be used for the lama and head teacher's showers because many people I have met here are crazy about saving money on electricity bills. However I reckoned it would take an almost superhuman level of resource mismanagement not to put a bunch of vegetables into a fridge, for the teachers and the students. I also suggested that sports equipment and library books could be useful for the students in their free time on Saturdays and Sundays and might help them to enjoy themselves a bit, to which he agreed.

Some dear friends in Australia who had generously donated $AUD500 to the school agreed to have their donation redirected to the goempa and the day after mum and dad left we finished doing the shopping with the help of our school vice principal, Madam Tandin: warm jackets for all the monks and two teachers, badminton rackets and shuttlecocks, footballs and volleyballs, a big stack of English and Dzongkha books and a brand new fridge in monk-ish maroon.


Shifting the Fridge


Dorji Gets a New Jacket
 The monastery committee insisted on a nice lunch for us which despite being super tasty, later gave Lucy and I some momentous food poisoning (ah, the irony). Most of the monks were still looking pretty unhappy when we went for the formal presentation of these gifts but they lit up when we busted out the badminton rackets for an impromptu game. They were also really happy that the book purchases included the comic version of Bhutan's first animated kid's movie, Ap Bokto, which is a currently a huge hit here. Perhaps a temporary job, but a job nonetheless. 


Receiving the Stuffs


Dorji Gets His Rafa On


Havin' a Hit
Happy Dorji

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Chamgang Community Guiding Program


Since we’ve been back in Bhutan I’ve been working with my Class VII students on a unit of work which could probably be best summarised as a very simple junior guiding program. It arose out of the many excellent experiences we’ve had when visiting our students’ houses or being guided by them through the local forests where their passion for their local culture and environment really helps them overcome any misgivings they might have about not being able to adequately communicate in English.
 

The program also grew out of our observations that many of the students here in Chamgang often have extremely poor spoken English skills compared to their reading and writing skills, a consequence of lack of real-life opportunities for practice and the fact that many of their ‘English-medium’ classes are often translated into Dzongkha.

As part of the program I wanted to give students the opportunity to develop the content knowledge, language skills and conversation skills necessary to conduct such a program. So alongside our regular program of reading short stories, exploring essay writing, improving our reading comprehension and tackling grammar, spelling and vocab, we also began conducting a talk-rich ‘guiding program’ to equip the students with the skills necessary to guide their guests on a half day visit around Chamgang.


First of all we brainstormed and discussed what kinds of activities we could offer to our guests as part of a visit, then settled on three of the most interesting and achievable: a visit to a traditional rammed-mud house, a visit to the local goempa and a guided walk in the forest. Next, students engaged in a range of language and talk rich activities designed to equip them with the verbal skills and content knowledge necessary to guide guests during these three activities.

These activities included using flow charts to complete information sheets about Chamgang’ trees and houses, cloze activities to improve reading skills and content knowledge, essay reading, summarizing and note-taking to improve content knowledge and organisational skills, the learning of necessary vocabulary words, spelling practice and of course lots of role plays in which students either played the role of the guide or the guest.

Information sheet on Chamgang's trees - used in conjunction with the flow chart below.

A cloze activity to build knowledge, vocabulary and reading skills.
Information sheet on Bhutanese cultural items!
Item number 6 especially got a few giggles even though they walk past them every day.
Another flow chart
I was tempted to add urgency and extra relevance to these activities by telling the students that guests would indeed be coming soon to the school and that the students needed to make sure their skills and knowledge were top-notch. But I held off on doing this, knowing that if I wasn’t able to organise the guests, the students would be deeply disappointed and I would lose all my credibility with them.

When some friends of ours – an Australian couple who first brought Lucy’s mother, Lekkie, to Bhutan in 2011 and who have been running very culturally sensitivity and authentic photography tours every year since, told us that they would be returning this year, I sent them an email inviting them to Chamgang for a half day tour of the village led by the students.

The details of the trip are best recounted in the words of this article from Kuensel, the national paper.

One unique program with twin objectives

IMG_2191
Learning: Students and tourists interact during the tour program last Saturday
The Chamgang junior guide experiment has the added benefit of teaching English

Tourism:
The chilly morning gave way to a bright sunny day.  Yangchen Gatshel LSS in Chamgang, Thimphu was swept clean and ready to receive their guests on October 25. Thirty-six class VII B students, who were to act as guides for the half-day program to tourists, waited in the assembly ground, some rehearsing their lines.

The tourists, including about a dozen Wheaton College students studying in Royal Thimphu College, three Australians, two from the Philippines, among others, arrived in time for the assembly. The assembly over, students were divided into groups with two foreigners each, and headed for a two-storey traditional house in front of the school gate.


A big colourful phallus on the wall of the house was the first thing the guides-on-training introduced their tourists to.
“This is a sacred thing and symbolises Drukpa Kuenlay,” a student said, blushing as he spoke.
“Who’s Drukpa Kuenlay?” asked the tourist.
“He is a god,” came the swift reply.
“Women can become pregnant with his blessing,” the young boy continued, while his group mates stood giggling behind him. Other groups came and went through similar experiences. While the tourists looked serious and attentive, the guides speaking to a tourist for the first time acted nervous and shy.

The groups then drifted around the house, and the groups became louder and conversations shifted to other symbols painted on the house. From there, they walked to the local temple and were served tea in a traditional Bhutanese house.  The tour was wrapped up with a stroll through the forest to see water driven prayer wheels nearby. The guides, thereafter assumed control of the tour, giving mature and detailed explanations to any query.  The group members took turns to talk.  Other members supplementing occasionally.


Their English teacher from Australia, Matt Stretton, who came up with the idea, kept an eye on the groups and stood ready to help. Matt said the idea for the program arose out of the many excellent experiences he and his wife Lucy had when visiting their students’ homes, or being guided by them through the local forests.

“Those from Dagala exhibited a strong passion for their local culture and environment, which really helps them overcome any misgivings they might have about not being able to adequately communicate in English,” he said.



The program also grew out of their observations that many of the students in Chamgang often have poor spoken English skills, or are afraid to speak in English to a native speaker, a consequence of lack of real-life opportunities for practice.

“Once they speak with foreigners, and those foreigners understand their English well, it would give the students confidence, which would encourage them to keep speaking,” he said.

The students performed well.  Their research and practice for days had paid off.
“Some of us were reading our essays from morning and getting ready for the tour,” 15-year old Suk Bahadur from Dagana said. A native of Chamgang, Chimi Wangmo and her friends had anticipated the visit and learnt their terms well.  The vocal girl even convinced her mother to serve tea to the whole group of more than 50 people. Tourists, fully convinced and impressed, spent a long time after the tour shaking hands and bidding farewell.


Josh and Noah Sutton, tourists from Australia, who arrived just three days ago, said it was a good way to start exploring the country. “The students were very confident and knew a lot about their community. They’re polite and jovial, so we enjoyed the tour around the community,” Josh Sutton said. Among the tourists was the executive director of the Bhutan Canadian Foundation, Nancy Strickland, who suggested the students write down their experiences and also about the community.
“The program is a win-win situation, as the students improve their spoken English and the tourists get to learn about the community first hand,” she said.


Matt conducted the same program with a group of 20 tourists from Australia a week ago with class VII A students. “It was a success,” Matt said. For those not familiar with Bhutan or Chamgang, it is a unique opportunity to see a slice of life that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see and a good chance to contribute to the education of the students here, he said. Among the students, Matt said, there is also a strong representation of first generation yak-herder students from Dagala and Lingzhi so such tours could be an interesting insight into a very unique way of life.


Matt is a volunteer teacher who came through the Bhutan-Canadian Foundation on a two-year contract. “I’ve already talked to an Australian tour operator who has agreed to bring tourists to this community, so the school could continue with the program even after I’m gone,” he said. Chimi’s mother Tandin Bidha said that she was happy the students got to learn in a different way.
“Despite being on the trekking route to Dagala from Thimphu, we don’t see a lot of tourist visiting our village,” she said.


As for the students, they wished the program was longer and more frequent.
“Talking in English with a foreigner is not a difficult task, besides I’ve learnt a lot about our culture,” Nima Buthri, a girl from Lingzhi, said.
“I don’t want to be a guide in future, but my English speaking improved a lot because of this programme,” another student said.

By Tshering Palden



Lastly, a letter written to all of our guests by Suman one of the Class VII students after the program had ended.

A letter written to all of our guests by Suman one of the Class VII students






Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I could curl up and sleep here in this road


Midnight on a Saturday night, climbing back up from the school to our new house, thick fog swirls around the gravel lines that edge the road, moonlight mushrooming in the silvery cloud.

I have a moment for myself and for Chamgang. No kids, no teachers, no family. The shouts, synthesizer riffs, clammy body odour and whiffs of excitement or is it cheap perfume that hung outside the school hall after the concert fade behind me and all that lingers is my diagonal view of the world, courtesy of some mind-blowing ara smuggled into the concert by the teachers and dished up over oily fried rice after all the kids had gone home.

For the first time in what seems like ages I give myself time to look at the silhouette of Talakha ridgeline, sloping down from the peak to the monastery, backlit by the phosphorescent moon.
I could curl up and sleep here in this road, surrounded by the comfort of dust and cloud and nature.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Amusing Conversations in Bhutan

Before all this baby madness started, I spent some time trying to record some of the amusing conversations I've been involved in whilst in Bhutan. I'm sure if many of my neighbours had blogs they'd be posting madly about all the ridiculous things that I say in Dzongkha. Sadly, I'm not even aware of how unintentionally ridiculous I sound in Bhutan's national language.

Recently I asked some of the other BCF teachers whether they had any other funny pieces to share. Here they are in no particular order. Conversations come from Sarah D in Trongsa, Mr Mike in Nangkor, Angela in Khaling and myself. Some are repeats from my FB page. 

_____________________


1. Written History

Having just caught a student with dates and events written on his leg during an exam:

Me: "Ugyen, what subject is this?"
Student: "Oh. History. But this was from exam last Saturday. "
 

_____________________

2. 50% Muffler

Shop assistant (pointing to a handmade scarf): Sir likes this one?
Me: Yeah, it’s nice.
S.A.: It is 50% table runner and 50% muffler.
Me: Yeah right. This one’s also a table runner?
S.A.: Oh no sir, that one’s 100% muffler.

_____________________

3. Fairy Vacuums

In the middle of listening practice:

Student: Sir, do they have broms in Australia?
Me: I'm sorry, what?

Student: broms sir, you know, for sweeping.
Student 2: I heard there were no brooms in Australia only vacuum cleaners.
Me: actually we have these very small people only about this big who come into our house and clean everything for us.
Student 1 (puzzled but sincere): Are they human sir??
Student 2: Do they use the vacuum cleaners sir??

_____________________

4. The Meaning of Beauty

Class 1 students in assembly this morning:

Student: Sir! He pushed me!
Me: Hey! No pushing!
Pushy student: Sir, you are so beautiful!
Me: Hmmm. Still, no pushing.

_____________________

5. Puppets

During a meeting about upcoming school concert:

VP: We need to be amazing this year. We are doing this as a fundraiser. We cannot take everyone, only the best dancers. Or people will not come.
Principal: Okay. Let's do a puppet dance. That would be fun.
VP rolls his eyes and chuckles under his breath.
Teacher 1: Sarah, you lead puppet dance. You are always moving arms, very active. Same like puppet

_____________________

6. Postal

To my grade 5 class: If I want to mail a letter from Bhutan to Canada, first I go to the post office in Trongsa. I give the letter to the friendly postman. Then what happens to it?
Student 1: Canadian sir will come pick up letter in our Bhutan.
Student 2: Airplane mam! Parents will pick up in Canada. Parents come to airpot.
Student 3: Mam flies in airplane 
Rest of Class: Just stare wide-eyed, utterly confused.

_____________________

7. Show me the MONEY!

P: Mr Matts, I have won 50,000 pound stirling in cash.
Me: Really? How?
P: I received a message on my mobile.
Me: Oh. Well… You know there are lots of scammers out there. Who make up these kinds of scams just to get your personal documents.
P (bullish): Oh no, no. This one is genuine.
Me: You didn’t send them any personal documents did you?
P: I sent them my passport. That’s OK isn’t it? 
  
_____________________

8. Tea

Me: If you don't stop talking I am going to pick you up and throw you off the mountain all the way to Samtse!
Talking student: Yalamaaaaaa!!!!
Student 2: Oh throw me miss! I want to have tea with my grandma in Samtse!

_____________________

9. Curls
 
Student sizing up my curly hair: Miss has comb at home?
Me: Yes.
Student 1: Miss uses comb?
_____________________

10. Dates

After putting March 11th on the board:

Student 1: Miss! March 10th. It's March 10th!
Student 2: I agree. It is March 10th Miss!
Me: No, I really think it is March 11th today. I will check the computer…. I think I should get a prize! I just won against 40 of you! March 11th it is!
Student 3 turning to girl beside him: So what happened to March 10th?
Girl beside student 3: I ATE it!
Me: What did March 10th taste like? Did it taste really good?
_____________________

11. Rubbish Disposal

Me: Hey P how do you get rid of your rubbish at school?
P: Is it organic matter or non organic?
Me: Non organic, I suppose.
P: I put it in the pit at school.
Me: Oh OK. What do you do with organic matter?
P: I put it in the pit at school.

_____________________

12. Thunder Grundies

T: Sir, sir, can I ask one question, sir?
Mike: Sure.
T: Sir, how often does sir change sir’s underpants?
Mike: My underpants? Uh, everyday, I guess. Why?
T: No, no sir, not your outside pants, the inside pants. How many times does sir change in one week?
Mike: Ummm, like I said, everyday.
T (incredulous): No, no, sir,  in one week, how many times. Everyday, not possible.
Mike: Can I ask you how many times you change them?
T: Oh once in a week sir.

_____________________

13.Yak
 
At shared lunch in the staff room:

Colleague: Mr Matt, do you take liver?
Me: Ah, I'm kind of still a bit funny about liver.
Colleague: How about yak? You take yak, right?
Me (spooning some onto my plate): Sure, I'll try some yak.
Colleague: Yak head.
Me (rapidly reverse spooning): Did you say 'head'?

_____________________

14. Rambo Meditation

Teacher on duty: Students, we are now going to do a Rambo meditation together
Me: Rambo! Sweet!
TOD: Close your eyes and imagine all the colors of the Rambo.
Me: Oh. 

_____________________

15. Too Many Sarahs

Me: "Who is the author?"
Student 1: "Sarah K…."
Student 2: "Yalama!"
Student 3: "Everyone in Canada named Sarah?"
Me: "Everyone? We have millions of people in Canada. Is it possible everyone is named Sarah? Yalama!"
Student 4, eyes wide open, shrugs his shoulders.
Student 3: "Yes."


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Fundraising Update

Greetings from a rain-drenched and verdant Bhutan! Here monsoon showers have turned paths into streams, pot-holes into frog ponds and our lounge-room into a makeshift Chinese laundry that apparently specializes in cloth nappies and brightly-coloured Swedish baby clothes. 

Summer means rain and rain means rainbows!
This post is intended to give financial supporters and other interested parties a bit of an update on how the fundraising efforts at YGLSS are progressing. The gofundme site is still live if you want to contribute or if you know someone else who would like to. It can be accessed here. If you’re curious and would like to hear a bit of what it’s been like to back in Bhutan with a baby,check out this earlier post here..

Resources for other Schools

This year has seen me working part-time ina new role as a resource teacher within the wider Thimphu Dzongkhag, visiting the four other schools involved in the project and working intensively with theYears 4/5/6 English teachers to help share more interactive teaching strategies than just sitting and copying off the board. During Term 1 I focused on enhancing speaking skills through a series of different talk-stimulating activities.

KMSS students discussing a sequencing activity.
KMSS students playing a communication game.
KMSS student sharing his group's findings.
Jamba Sir reveals the answers...

This role has been quite a challengefor me professionally, as I feel awkward going into schools positioned as ‘the expert’ when really I have sooo much to learn about teaching, but I really felt that so much of students’ disengagement and difficulty with learning has to do with expectations of what it means to be a learner that is picked up very early in the classroom.

The enthusiasm of the local teachers I havebeen working with has of course varied enormously but so far the results of the program have been encouraging – at best, teachers have embraced and adapted the suggested strategies with enthusiasm, creating their own excellent teaching resources, teaching wonderful lessons and remarking afterwards that they have never seen their students so engaged and motivated. At worst, some teachers are resentful of having to do the extra work involved in creating learning materials and adopting new strategies, but they complete the work anyway and the students enjoy a more interactive, student-centered lesson.

 And sometimes I have the pleasure of looking through a students' book only to find that they were talking about me during their letter writing practice. Such as in the example below!
 

As part of the program, I intend to print, bind and laminate copies of the learning materials used in the initial lessons, as well as create a bank of English resources appropriate to the Bhutanese context such as annotated sample essays (amazingly, there are none in the text books!), listening and speaking games and grammar and spelling resources. I will also give packets of coloured chalk and magnets to the participating teachers - small teaching innovations that the kids love! I will use some of the fundraised money to create and distribute these.

Lopen Sangay whips out his patang to fix the duplicating machine.
Duplicating Machine 

At YGLSS, the effectiveness of last term’s exam period was significantly enhanced by the use of the school’s new duplicating machine. Last year teachers had to take the exams down for printing in Thimphu making printing errors hard to correct and leading to many situations in which the kids would be left with badly printed exams riddled with mistakes – as if they weren’t facing enough challenges with such an exam-focused system!

With the duplicator, I was worried that once the ink and master copy roll ran out that the school would wait for me to buy new ones and that (worst of all) once I left the machine would sit in the principal’s office as a kind of unused vanity project for the school. But I’m glad to say that while we were in Australia the school used its own recurring budget to buy several months worth of copying expendables, increasing my hope that use of the duplicator will become in grained in normal practice.Some of the more pro-active teachers have been leading the way by using the copier to create their own resources which is fantastic.

Lopen Sangay has proven himself to be a spectacular copier-in-charge, even whipping his traditional Bhutanese knife out of his gho pocket to help cut the master roll to meet the machine's specifications. An awesome intersection of traditional and contemporary technologies...


Boarding students from the remote region of Lingzhi turning up the heat
Me Sir! I'm having best smile, sir!
Heaters

The heaters have been working well in the girls’ hostel over winter. The boys were so enthusiastic in their use of the heaters that they blew up the electrical wiring to the hostel, something that took a fortnight, lots of slightly alarming trench digging on the part of the boys and the tracking down an electrical expert from another village to fix. It’s a times like these that I wished I had paid more attention during science (electronics??) classes so that I would know how much current the lines could take without being destroyed. Anyway, the current plan is to make sure the boys keep the heaters on a low setting next winter or risk losing all their power again. I have also said that some of the money will be used to build washing lines for the boarding students.

Sports Equipment

The village green: our football field sprouts a growth...



In terms of sport, I’m glad to say that thestate administration has spent money repairing the football field’s retaining wall which had collapsed six months after completion, leading to severe erosion of the field and perhaps more worryingly, the road above it. 

To give you an idea of how jobs get done around school here, during my first week back at school, the football ground was divided into quarters and students were assembled in their house groups, given a bunch of picks and hoes, and instructed to plant grass seeds on their quarter of the field. Because everything has to be a competition, the winning house will be judged in six weeks time based on how well their section’s grass has grown. Needless to say, football has been off the menu for the last little while at least but we’ve allbeen having fun watching the grass grow… 
A big thank you from the girls' football team!


I have been periodically adding to thestock of sports supplies as needed using the fundraising money and the girls' were particularly grateful to all have a pair of football boots to take to the sports meet which starts this weekend. At present schools are not allowed to request particular items from the state administration, they have to just accept whatever equipment is sent to them each financial year, whether it duplicates what they already have or not. So having money to fill gaps in these equipment lists allows for more meaningful and effective training programs.

Recently, YGLSS played host to a group of high school students from Cushing Academy in the US, the school where Bhutan’s current king His Majesty Jigme  Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck completed his high school education. They donated $8000 to the school to be used for ‘greening’ and construction of a new toilet block for the boys to replace the barely worthwhile wooden shacks previously in use (the girls’ block was updated first in 2010). In addition,the kitchen facility is due for a state-sponsored upgrade which will hopefully improve the sanity and nutritional value of the food being consumed by the students. If funds are needed to help improve the quality and longevity of the kitchen then I will look to put some of the funds in that direction.

Anyway, I hope this gives you a sense of how some of your hard earneds are being spent.

Many, many thank yous again from all here at YGLSS,

Matt






Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Baby in a Frontpack in Bhutan


Lily does a few blockies (koras) around the Memorial Chorten, Thimphu
I’m sitting in Thimphu’s Clock Tower Square as I write this. Our two month old daughter, Lily, is asleep in a carrier on my chest and my wife Lucy is catching up with her colleagues in a nearby hotel. The square is filled with the usual faint clamour of a Friday night in Thimphu: dogs squabbling by a rubbish bin, cars and taxis sounding their horns, a children’s football game being played across the cobblestones of a disused fountain.

It feels strange to be back in Bhutan, after almost ten weeks in Australia for Lily’s arrival. Strange to be somewhere so familiar but also so completely different. I felt prepared for everything to be different when Lily arrived, especially as she was born in a city I had never visited before. But I realize now that I had been subconsciously expecting Bhutan to feel familiar, somewhat more known. But it’s not.

The serpentine road etched into the side of a cliff that leads up to our village used to thrill and excite me with its beautiful cross-sections of exposed rock and dramatic views down to the forested valley below. Now, in my parental-anxiety-addled mind, fueled by jet lag and overnight REM-sleep interruptions – the same road leaves me seeing only eroding cliff edges, potential threats to Lily’s safety and a gleaming question mark asking, “Why did you bring her back here?”

Similarly, the unlikely prospect of encountering a bear during a walk in the forests around Chamgang used to lead me to a sudden feeling of excitement, a few shouts of ‘Yo! Bear!’ and a quick mental reassessment of my Himalayan-black-bear-survival flow-chart (a chart that mostly dove-tails into ALL CAPS instructions: ‘Run home screaming and praying for bear-spray’). Now my reaction to the idea of a bear is one of almost pure terror and defenselessness (although I still do the shouting and praying for bear spray).

Our previous life in Bhutan also involved a wonderful leap-frogging between the energy, diversity and indulgence of regular time spent in Thimphu, and our everyday life spent in the quiet, parochial community we felt so much a part of in Chamgang. But given how bumpy the drive is and Lily’s intermittent dislike of car travel, I wonder if we won’t be instead spending more time camping out at home and enjoying a somewhat more limited range of entertainment options.  

Lily, Lucy and some of the Ambient Cafe crew (Jigme Namgyel, Junu and Jigme's sister/cousin)

But on my first day back at school, as I walked into an exam hall that just coincidentally happened to contain all of the students I have taught over the past 18 months (classes VII and VIII), I was reminded of one of the reasons why we chose to come back to Bhutan. Risking a clip around the ears or an accusation of cheating, students smiled broadly when they saw me and looking up from their exam papers whispered heartily, “Wel-come back, sir! How is your baby? How is Madam Lucy? We are very much missing to sir and we are happy to meet you!”  

This warm reception was mirrored in all parts of Bhutan, with teacher friends in the village picking us up at the airport, offering to cook us meals on our first few nights, friends in Thimphu offering us baby clothes and accommodation, expat medicos offering their attention and expertise and the wonderful owners of our favourite cafĂ© organizing us emergency accommodation and support when our quarters proved to be not quite ready for baby-habitation. 

Besides all this, Bhutan is also phenomenally beautiful at the moment. Whilst the mountains surrounding Thimphu often look barren and harsh during the dry seasons - red, rocky soil scattered only with the spindliest of pine forests - during monsoon they pulsate with a verdant lushness that brings warmth and softness to even the most remote and inaccessible mountain peak. The walnut and apple orchards seem to have erupted into a carnival of weeds, birds and fruit and the lively spectacle of watching village and city-folk negotiating the intermittent storms is as entertaining as ever.
Outside Madam Nancy's
The heading of this post is a tribute to the fun travel memoir Baby in a Backpack in Bhutan by Australian writer Bunty Avieson.