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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Go with the flow and learn as you go

My friend Sonam (she is always
helping me) 
When I first arrived to teach in Bhutan, I discovered that it was normal to feel a little confused at times because there was so much to learn about Bhutan and the Bhutanese school system.  So instead of stressing out and drowning myself trying to learn infinite amounts of information, I decided to go with the flow and learn as I go.  However, I didn’t know that my mantra was going to have some serious flaws to it, such as, “as you learn as you go, you may incredibly embarrass yourself because you don’t know what the heck you are doing.”   I came to this realization after my first day as Teacher On Duty (TOD).

One day I learned that I was going to be TOD for a day.  What is TOD?  I had no clue!  My friend, Sonam Choden, tried to help me by telling me that I would first report to school at 5:45 a.m. for a morning prayer, then I would monitor morning studies, next supervise breakfast, also lunch and finally attend evening studies, which is all for the boarder students (grades 7-10).  She also told me not to worry because the students would help me and it was easy.  I felt like she might had forgotten to tell me some important details, but instead of asking a million questions, I repeated my favourite mantra:  Go with the flow, you will learn as you go.  No worries! 

At first, my mantra seemed to work because not only did I go to bed with no worries, I woke up feeling confident about my first day as TOD.  When I arrived to school, I discovered that Sonam was right about one thing:  The students were more than helpful teaching me my morning duties.  I learned joyfully as I went along with the flow.

After completing my morning duties with ease, I went to one of my favourite classes to sit in while the students studied and I eagerly waited for breakfast time.  I couldn’t wait to eat breakfast with the boarder students because my stomach was in a terribly nasty mood from being woken up so early without its favourite food:  RICE.  In fact, my stomach was letting out a series of gigantic grumbles that were echoing across the silent classroom and causing my sleepy eyelids to pop wide open.

Finally, by the time the bell rang for breakfast I felt famished.  Thus, I was the first one out the door hurrying along the students so we could go eat.  We all hurried to the school kitchen and I followed the girls into a small storage room where they rummaged around for plates and cups that were in large buckets.  I noticed that all the plates looked dirty with food stuck on them from the last meal.  I asked a group of girls what everyone was doing, but they seemed too shy to answer me in English.  I turned to a another group of girls and I decided to ask a yes or no question, “Is this where I get a plate to eat?”  The girls nodded their heads yes and with that I started to look for the cleanest plate.
I thought that I was lucky because I didn’t have to search very hard; right in front of my face was a shiny clean plate with a matching clean cup and spoon.  I silently gasped, Wow, how did I get so lucky? How did all the other students miss this beautiful plate? Oh well, it’s mine for the day! I like going with the flow…  I should have known that there was a reason why so many girls didn’t snatch this clean, cute set. 

Hot water to clean your plate
Next, I observed the students scooping a cup of hot water out of massive pots and swishing the hot water around in their plates.  I started to resist the flow by going into denial mode that this was how they washed their plates.  I asked the students, “Where is the soap?  Do you have sponges?  How am I going to sterilize this cup and spoon?  How do you wash your plates with only a cup of water?”   The students didn’t know exactly how to respond to my questions and they demonstrated how to do it.  Then I remembered my mantra and I decided to use the hot water to splash on my plate too.  I started to feel grateful that I found the cleanest plate since I only had a cup of hot water to rinse it off.  Again I should have realized that my clean plate was too good to be true. 

Students get big scoops of rice
Nevertheless, I got in line with the girls to get a mountain of rice on my pretty plate as well as to fill my new cup up with hot tea.  The smell of the steamy rice was making my mouth water.  I could no longer resist my hunger pains and I started to eat the rice on my way to the Multi-Purpose Hall (MPH), which was where the students ate their meals.  As I walked while shovelling rice into my mouth, I noticed students giggling at me.  I thought that they must have found my American way of eating funny: “eating on the go.”  I didn’t know that these giggles were indicating that I was just minutes away from having my “go with the flow, I will learn as I go…” mantra being shot down.

So here is how it went down:

Breakfast:  Rice!
A few minutes later, I stood outside the MPH and ate away while I waited for all the students to enter.  Then one of my dearest students who is bright, loving and outspoken came up to me smiling from ear to ear and chuckled, “Miss do you like the rice?”

As I continued to eat it like a starving person, I said, “Mmmmmm, Oh yes, I love the rice!  It’s so tasty!  Where is your plate of breakfast?  Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Ummm, well I’ll eat later after you finish eating because you have my plate, cup and spoon.  Do you like it?” she asked smiling.

My jaw dropped and some rice fell out of my mouth at the realization that I unknowingly “stole” her only plate, cup and spoon.  I felt terrible and embarrassed.  I immediately said, “Oh my goodness!  I’m so sorry!  I didn’t know that this plate had an owner.  I thought it was first come, first serve!  Can I finish my breakfast quickly and then I will wash everything and give it back to you so you can eat too?  I’m sooooo sorry.”  

My bright, loving and outspoken student who I adore
She laughed and laughed and insisted, “Miss please take your time.  Don’t worry!  It’s ok!  I want you to use it.  I can share a plate with my friend and eat with my hands.”

“Oh no, I’m almost finished.  I feel so bad…I’m really sorry…” I said with a bright red face. 

Then after she entered the MPH, I grinned as I thought, how could Sonam forget to tell me that I had to bring my own plate, cup and spoon to eat with?  She is going to have a good laugh at this.  Ah ha, now I get why nobody took the cleanest plate; it wasn’t theirs.  Hmm is that why all the students were giggling at me?  Well I am sure learning as I go.  Now I know:  bring your own plate next time your TOD.  Whoops!  However, I didn’t know that I was still in for some more learning as I went along with the flow of breakfast.  Hence, that wasn’t the only reason why so many students were giggling at me. 

Furthermore, I was determined to hurry up and finish my plate to give it back to its rightful owner because I felt horrible.  I hurriedly entered the MPH with the last of the students and sat down at a random table.  I began to eat faster than I had ever ate in my life.  As I was pouring the rice down my throat without chewing, I found that the girls at the table were giggling at me to the point that they couldn’t even look at me.  I thought that I just looked like a funny, starving foreigner so I didn’t mind their giggles. 

However, I noticed that they weren’t eating their bowls of rice.  I thought that maybe they didn’t want to eat in front of me because I was making them feel shy.  I insisted, “Please eat, it’s ok, don’t mind me.”  They nodded while trying not to laugh and refusing to touch their rice.  I asked, “Why aren’t you eating?”  They were struggling to speak English and all they could do was mumble a few words through their giggles, which I didn't understand.  I thought that if I left their table then they would eat. 

So I moved to another table to sit with my student whose plate I took.  I told her that I was just a few more bites away from being finished and she would have it back it no time.  I was finishing up my last scoops and guzzling down my tea when I realized that the same thing was occurring at this table that I had experience at the last table; the girls were all giggling at me, trying to look away from me and not eating their bowls of rice.  Finally I thought, What is going on?  I must be doing something wrong again.  I looked around the entire MPH and my eyes bugged out as I realized that no one was eating except me. 

That’s when I got a sudden flash of insight, Oh my goodness, everyone isn't eating because they must be waiting for some kind of prayer.  Ahhh I’ve been eating the whole time… ever since I got my serving… all the way from the kitchen.  This is so embarrassing!  I must look like a pig!  Ahhhh this is why they are giggling at me.  What to do?  Just as I realized this, the morning prayer began and I shamefully hung my head down and put my hands into prayer position asking Buddha to forgive me for not praying before eating.  Now I know:  Don’t eat a meal without praying!  Whoops Again!

Although I love my mantra, I discovered that sometimes it is flawed at protecting me from making mistakes and feeling a little embarrassed while learning as I go, but it sure does ring some truth:  Whatever you don’t know, you are bound to learn when you go with the flow of lifeJ

Kitchen - huge electric rice cookers

Steaming rice cooker
Rice cooker using firewood
Boys in one line for breakfast; Girls in another line.
Black tea

Breakfast is served!


  1. I just missed my old boarding life in Drukgyel High School, Paro.
    It is really difficult for students to wake up in the morning- do the cleaning at hostel, wash our face with the cold weather and study before even having any tea or water but this life becomes part of our life as a boarder student. We enjoy every moment of being friends with larger group of friends unlike day-scholars.

    I am really missing my old times despite the infinite complaints about the strict rules, early waking up, the cold and the food (it is sometimes not delicious) but I made it for 4 years in boarding school.

    Anyways, you go with the flow and there is nothing wrong in eating others plate. It happens!

    Have a good time.

    P,S, The students are looking bright and beautiful. The school dress is familiar but where is this school at? Anxious!

    Cheers! Keep updating!!!

  2. Yes, boarding life can be tough, especially in winter when you are freezing in Bumthang or Paro. Nami Sami Jamay! I'm often amazed at how well the students can follow their strict schedule.

    The other day I went into the girls hostel and they looked like they were having fun bonding and chatting. I could only imagine how they must form close friendships. I think that is one advantage of being a boarder student.

    So my school is Chumey Middle Secondary School. I love our school uniforms! They look sharp! When do you come home from your studies? Where is your home village?

  3. Oh, Okie!
    Life isn't tough as long as we stick with the rules. Everything is easy and goes with the flow.
    So, it is Bumthang. No wonder I didn't know about the school and even the uniform. I am sort of alien to central schools and students though I occasionally enjoy the cold and scenery during my visit to Mongar passing by Bumthang :D

    I am from Mongar, currently in Australia. I might probably reach Bhutan by Nov.
    Thanks for asking!
    In between, when are you returning to America (I suppose it is your home?)

    1. Do you use the word mate now that you are in Australia? LoL One of my favorite friends is from Australia and now I always use the word mate, bloody, bugger, cheeky lol.

      Great you can stop by and visit me on your way to Mongar! Hopefully you will be home before the black necked crane festival (Nov. 11?). I have no idea when I will return to America because I am having too much fun. It's up in the air right now lol.

    2. Australia is full of mate and people here usually say, "mite" for "Mate". I think you are pretty much aware of Aussie Accent. It is fun and it is interesting.

      You sound so much fun. I would love to visit you anytime. I don't think I will be able to make up for the festival though. And to let you know, I haven't attended any ceremonies or functions in Bumthang. But I love Bumthang so so much. :)


    3. Ok great! I can't wait to see you!

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  6. Lol! Hella funny! Sorry to laugh , I can just picture it.

    1. No your entitled to laugh, it was really funny haha