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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Death in the BCF Family

On September 20th I was informed that one of our Canadian BCF (Bhutan Canada Foundation) teachers, Martha Ham, had passed away in Mongar hospital due to an E. coli infection.  So I would like to use my blog space to send my condolence to her family and to ask anyone to say a prayer for her soul, her grieving family as well as her students that she left behind at Dungste MSS in Trashigang, Bhutan.

I would also like to share some positive memories I have of Martha.  When I first met Martha, she was carrying an enormous travel backpack that was larger than me.  I thought that she was very strong and she spoke about her travels to India.  She seemed like an interesting lady full of travel stories.  Additionally, one thing that I will remember about Martha is that she was an outspoken person who was not afraid to say what was on her mind.  Most could admire her frankness.  I will also never forget that over summer break, Martha said that her students would often come to her for medical assistance or advice every time someone was ill.  There was no doubt in my mind that she loved and cared for her students dearly.  Additionally, I saw her working hard over break correcting papers while most of us were enjoying our free time.  I thought that she was very dedicated to her students.  Overall, Martha loved her Bhutanese students dearly and all the BCF teachers are extremely sadden by her death.  Please feel free to say any kind words about Martha or to her family and students.

Some Members of our BCF Family
Martha is in purple sitting to the left who is clapping

Saturday, September 8, 2012


My Fifth Graders
A couple of weeks ago, a sad event turned into a unique day filled with beautiful moments that I will never forget.  It all started one morning when I arrived at school and was unexpectedly swarmed by my fifth graders.  All at once they informed me that one of their classmates father had passed away.  I felt terrible for my student’s loss and I wasn’t sure what the proper Bhutanese costume was to send my condolence.  However, my fifth graders knew exactly what to do and they rose up like an army of leaders while I followed.

Walking along the paved road
First, they told me that we would walk to a few temples to light butter lamps for their friend’s deceased father so he could find his way to heaven.  Therefore, they simultaneously agreed they would each bring twenty ngultrum’s in order to buy butter for butter lamps, snacks to offer the deities at the temples and incense candles as another offering.  Then whatever money we had left over, I would also add some money to their pile to give it to my student’s family to show our condolence (Bhutanese custom).

So on a Saturday morning we gathered in front of the school ready to embark on our two-hour walk along a paved road leading high up into the mountains to some temples.  There were no such things as parent consent forms, a list of emergency numbers or chaperons.  It was just my students and I with their backpacks filled with offerings for the temples, lunch and water.  In addition, I wasn’t too sure how to get to the temple, so I was following them.
Hiking in the forest

As they led me up a windy road, it turned out to be the most beautiful day in August.  However, the powerful sunrays slowed us down causing us to take many breaks.  Exhausted from the heat, my students begged me to let them take a shortcut along a trail through the shaded, cool forest.  Since I was also feeling hot dressed in layers of the Bhutanese national dress, I agreed.  However, once we entered the forest, my students started to make loud, wild noises and I instantly knew what they were doing, which made me regret my decision.  They were making crazy noises to scare off any nearby bears.  Fortunately, we never came across any bears, but we did come across the scariest bull I had ever seen and I will never forget our encounter with him. 


He is larger than me
When I saw the white, splotchy bull, I was astounded by his huge built as though he was on steroids.  He was also missing one of his gigantic horns, which I interpreted as a warning that he was a troublemaker.  Surprisingly, my students crept by the bull with ease, but when it was my turn to creep by, I hesitated out of fear.  My students could sense that something was wrong with me and they all stopped to watch their frighten teacher frozen in her tracks. 

Then my class captain yelled across the trail, “Miss, what’s wrong? Why are you just standing there?”  Without even thinking, I blurted out, “I’m scared!”  The whole class thought this was hysterical and they instantly caused the forest to echo with laughter.  My class captain promised me that the bull wouldn’t do anything, but if the bull did, he would protect me.  So I mustered up some courage.  As I started to sneak pass the bull, my class captain marched up to the bull and pointed his finger in the bull’s face while saying, “Don’t you hurt my Miss or else…” My heart started to pound faster and I whispered to him, “Get away from the bull, you are going to make him angry,” but before my student could listen to me, the massive beast lowered his head to the ground, stomped his legs and started to charge towards us.  Our quiet little tiptoeing turned into lightning speed sprinting accompanied by dying screams.  Once we realized that he was no longer chasing us, we stopped to catch our breath and we were all shaking like a leaf.  Nevertheless, we laughed at how fast my class captain ran away while forgetting to save me.  


Finally, the trail ended into an open grassy bank of what was once a rushing river.  It was phenomenal!  My students were so excited to share this beautiful piece of nature with me and they ran around me shouting, “Miss, look, look, it used to be a ocean… this is my best spot… I want to build a house here… do you like it?”  We sat for some time imagining what the river must had looked like by the empty groves.  There was something special about this place and I enjoyed watching how it nearly hypnotized them into buzzing insects.  In fact, I had to practically pry them away to continue our journey to the temples.    


Small Temple
Once we reached the first temple, we made a caretaker/grandma’s day to see a bunch of kids coming to light butter lamps.  She eagerly opened the small, old temple for us where the students, in unison, immediately started their prostrations (bowing down to the floor) all while keeping one eye on me to make sure that I knew how to prostrate.  Then the strangest thing happened, all at once without words we sat down on the temple floor without a plan.  We just quietly sat next to each other looking at the beautiful altar of statues and colors while every few seconds they would glance at me to exchange a smile.  Finally, one student broke the silence to suggest that we meditate like we do in class.  So we meditated for several minutes.  Then another student led a beautiful Buddhist prayer for their friend’s father.  Instantly, everyone cupped their hands and closed their eyes to pray.  However, I couldn’t close my eyes because I was in awe observing these precious children praying so diligently for a father to find his way to heaven.  The purity of their hearts and their peaceful energy made my eyes become misty.  

After the prayer, the grandma eagerly helped everyone light incense sticks.  As I was thinking that there was something so warm about the grandma, my students also picked up on her loving energy.  They came up to me whispering that they wanted to give some of the left over money to the grandma.  When the students gave the grandma some money, again I felt my eyes becoming watery at how loving as well as giving they were. 


The pinata tree
Next, as we ventured further up the mountain to another temple, my students spotted an apple tree and I didn’t have the heart to stop them from raiding somebody’s tree because I had never seen children so joyful to see apples.  They looked like children hitting a piñata at a birthday party by the way they whacked the branches with huge sticks, causing the apples to rain down like candy bursting from a piñata.  Then the students would cheer in excitement as they rushed to collect the fallen apples in the fabric of their kiras and ghos.  

Just as my conscience started to really eat at me for letting them take so many apples, my students spotted a lady in the distance walking towards us.  As a result of being guilty children, they all started to run away leaving me behind to face the possible owner alone.  However, I became just as bad as the children and I started to run away too out of embarrassment of being an apple thief and I couldn’t help but chuckle when I realized that I was screaming, “Ahhh wait for me kids.”  For us, apples are luxurious and it was another moment I will never forget as they each offered me an apple once we were out of sight from the possible owner.  


Walking around all the stupas
Finally, when we reached the second temple, the students whispered to me that they didn’t bring extra money for the second temple to make an offering, hinting that they needed me to sponsor them.  So I gladly took out a single ngultrum bill to share with them and they all passed it around pressing it to their foreheads while saying a prayer for all sentient beings before we placed it at the altar.  It was the sweetest moment watching them pray their hearts out into the money and I got little goosebumps due to their pure sweetness. 

Once we left the temple, we walked around several large stupas five times before we headed to a grassy area to have a picnic.  We have had many picnics together, so they know the routine: sit in a circle, keep your rice container in your lap, but pass your curries to the left, take a large scoop out of the passing curries onto your rice and enjoy.  Picnics always turn into bonding family time and we grub like there is no tomorrow.


Some monks in the distance
After lunch, as we started to leave the temple, we were walking towards many monks gathered under a tree for lunch.  At the sight of the large number of monks, my students shocked me by saying, “Miss, you should cover your face with your umbrella because all the monks are going to stare at you when you walk by them because you are soooo beautiful so they will want to look at your face.”  They continued to beg and beg me to shield my face from the monks peeping eyes before we passed them.  One student even threatened that he was going to tell the monks their eyes would fall out if they looked at my face while another student swore that he would demand them not to stare at my face and to follow their monk beliefs or else.  

To my surprise, all the worrisome talk of men looking at me caused all of them to become very protective over me and they started to cling to me as we walked closer to the monks.  Again, they said with such pain, “Ohhh Miss they are going to look at your beautiful face.  Nooo please noooo…”  However, this made me laugh and I told them that it was ok if the monks looked at my face because my face wasn’t that great (wink wink).  Then when we walked by the monks, sure enough they were all staring at me, but surely not because my face was beautiful.  Instead, I thought that they were staring at me because it was unusual to see a foreigner with a flock of Bhutanese children closely surrounding her.  So I decided to shock my students and I graciously shouted out to the monks with a big smile, “Kuzuzangpo La” (a kind greeting) and all the monks laughed.  This calmed my students down and they grinned.  Next, in a low voice I told my students, “See, it’s ok if the monks look at my face, really, it’s no big deal” and we all giggled some more.  (Later, they further explained that some monks are naughty boys and they couldn’t bear hearing males talk about their Miss in naughty ways since they perceive me as beautiful – beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder.) 


Finally, when we reached our village, I was surprised to find my student whose father had passed away was waiting for us along the road in front of his house to give us juices (he didn’t come with us because he had many guests).  Unexpectedly, he insisted that I come up to his house for tea.  At that very moment, a couple of my friends who were also related to him were passing by and seeing that I was a little nervous, they accompanied me to the house filled with grieving people.  My friends translated my words of condolence to my student’s mother as I gave her my class contribution.  It felt right to end the day by saying my condolence in person and my heart swelled knowing that this was a day that I would never forget: a day of adventure, love, giving, prayers, learning, laughter, and misty eyes…

If you were able to read this to the end, please don’t forget to say a prayer for my student’s father to find his way to heaven.  
A very hypnotizing place:  My little buzzing insects
Their favorite spot

My student being silly

Walking home 
I love them
One graceful sunflower

My class captain 
Pass your curries around the circle
Beautiful scenery