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Thursday, October 11, 2012


My Fifth Graders!
I am the class teacher of fifth grade at Chumey M.S.S in Bhutan, which means I am responsible for anything that regards class five students.  Every morning, six days a week, I start my day teaching them English for about an hour and every morning I feel like the luckiest teacher because to my eyes they are like sparkling jewels.  In fact, I often refer to them as my little babies and sometimes I feel like a mother hen when they flock around me and my arms spread out to huddle them in.  Indeed, I have fallen deeply in love with them and it seems as though they are quiet fond of me.  I knew that I was blessed to get such a magnificent group of students, but I had no idea how lucky I was to have them until I got a terrible fever. 
So one morning, I started feeling sick as I entered the class.  The students instantly picked up on it, as I wasn’t my cheery self.  Additionally, I never teach while sitting down at my desk because it’s not my teaching style, but on this day I was feeling so weak and feverish that I sat down holding my head.  My students looked worried and so I confessed that I was feeling sick.  “Miss, you must rest,” they all insisted but somehow I managed to get through the day.  However, the next day, my fever increased and I felt too sick to go to school.  It was one of the first days that I had ever missed first period.

I was laying in my bed feeling like I was going to die; yet wondering if my students got my lesson plans.  Just as I was thinking about them, I heard a bunch of little kid voices.  As the voices started to get closer, I thought that I recognized the voices as my students.  However, I thought that there was no way it could be them since they were all supposed to be in school.  As I continued to strain my ears, the voices approached my window and to my surprise I saw a little hand throw back the curtain and the top of a head peek in.  Then all at once, my curtains started dancing as many hands started to come through the window as well as the top of several jumping heads.  Instantly, I sat up in bed and smiled as I heard, “Miss, Miss, are you in there” accompanied by dozens of little knocks on my door.  It was my fifth graders!

I hurriedly wrapped a scarf around my nose and mouth to try to prevent spreading the flu to them before I ran to the door.  I opened the door in my pajamas and I had wild looking bed hair.  They looked just as shock to see me not looking so pretty sporting a “scarf-mask” as I was stunned to see all twenty-five of them huddled at my doorstep.  They gave me no choice but to step back while they all pushed their way inside to present me with a big paper bag of goodies: chips, juice, apples, etc.  I was touched that they came to see me when I was sick and at the same time I was shocked.  I said, “Thank you, thank you, but what are you kids doing here? Why aren’t you in class? It’s second period! Does your second period teacher know you’re here?” 

All huddled in my living room
All at once they started to sit down on my bare wooden floor as they explained, “Miss, when you didn’t come to first period, we were worried.  Then we heard that you were sicker.  So our science teacher let us come after we begged him because we really wanted to come visit you and bring you food so you can get better.  We collected money from each other and went to the store to get you some stuff.”  I was overcome with gratitude and I felt terrible as their little voices shouted from one corner to the next, “Miss, it’s so lonely and sad without you...ya it’s boring without you… please get better so you can come back tomorrow.”  

In my living room, I sat on a bench staring at all their little faces that were staring back at me.  Then I couldn’t help but laugh thinking that this could never happen in America.  For instance, my American students would have to go through a lengthy process to get permission to use the school bus to come see me, they would need chaperons, parent signatures and on top of that I would have to be literally dying in order for them to be able to visit me.  Missing one day of school due to a fever would not permit a class visit to my home.

Then my mind quickly returned to the room and I said, “Wow, thank you so much, but you kids should be getting back to school because my fever is contagious and I don’t want to get you guys sick.  That’s why I didn’t come to school today.  If you stay here with me, you might get my germs.” 

But like an intimidating army they swore, “No Miss, we don’t care if we get sick.  We want to keep you company, so you don’t get lonely.”  I frowned a little knowing that they weren’t budging.  Then another student chirped in, “Miss, you have no mother and father here in Bhutan, so we have to take care of you.  We love you Miss!”  Immediately, my eyes felt teary and my heart became all gooey and soft.  They were right, I didn’t have any immediate family in Bhutan and it felt nice to know that they were treating my like a family member.  So I decided to welcome their presence and appreciate the fact that I had a group of little people who cared for me dearly.

They continued talking all at once and suddenly I had twenty-five voices shouting at me, “Miss we want to take care of you…Can I sweep for you?  I want to cook the noodles for you?  I want to make you tea?  Miss, do you have some dishes in the sink, I want to wash them…Miss, we can sing you a song to make you feel better…Miss let us do work in your house…we will make it look beautiful…”  
My burning head was spinning from being bombarded by so many requests and I gave in saying, “Ok ok ok, but when the bell rings for third period, you all have to go back to school.”  With that being said, they swarmed around my house like a beehive that had been broken spilling out a frenzy of bees.  Zoom Zoom they went buzzing around from one room to the next. 

We were not in the classroom, there were too many rooms, I was sick, thus, I had no control over what was going on in my house.  All I could do was stand back and chuckle at the madness that had taken place:  I had kids in the kitchen washing the dishes, wiping the countertop, peeking in the fridge, begging me to let them cook.  In the bathroom, some boys were storing water for me and putting buckets of water into my washer machine so I wouldn’t have to do it later.  There were kids in the hallway lodging stones in the cracks of my floors and kids in Dawa’s room lining up her shoes to perfection.  In my sitting room, kids were sweeping and shaking out the rug. 

Then I realized that there were a dozen of kids tidying anything they could get their hands on in my little bedroom.  I could barely squeeze through the crowd to get to my bed so I could sit down and observe this crazy scene.  As soon as I sat down, I noticed that my students had just discovered my clean laundry in a corner that I hadn’t put away yet.  My eyes popped out watching my laundry fly everywhere as each kid fought to grab a piece to fold.  Then as the clothes were being tossed to each other to be folded this way and that way, one of my underwear’s flew up to the ceiling and landed in the middle of the floor.  One of the kids shouted, “Umm what’s that?”  Suddenly, the room got quiet with a few giggles and instantly a circle was made around my underwear.  

Once I processed what just happened, I screamed, “Ahhhhhhhh that’s my underwear!”  I dove across the floor through legs and feet to bundle up my underwear and stuff it in a drawer. 

All the kids screamed in laughter and then they said, “Look at our Miss, she’s turning red.  Hahahaha” 

“Oh my! Kids, please don’t fold your teacher’s underwear.  Ahh this is so embarrassing!” I yelled while searching the room for the rest of my clean underwear.  Although I was laughing, I was serious and my students thought this was hysterical.  Thankfully, the boys were just as embarrassed as I was and they all ran out of the room while the girls helped me stuffed the remaining of my underwear in my drawers.  

Fortunately, just then the third period bell saved me and they all scrambled outside to put on their shoes.  I walked them to the bridge, thanking them and waving goodbye to them as they headed across the way back to school.  They all screamed from afar, “Miss we love you.  Get better so you can come back to school…”

When I went back inside and shut the door behind me, I leaned against the door with my homemade scarf-mask still in tack and I finally had a quiet moment to absorb what I had just experienced: twenty-five of my students leaving school to bring me food and to clean my house all because I was sick for one day and I had no mom and dad in Bhutan to take care of me. 

Next, I walked around my house admiring how impeccably clean they had made it, especially my room.  I also laughed to myself as I refolded my underwear that had been stuffed in every drawer.  Then later, I realized that there were a few get well letters in the brown bag that they had brought me and my eyes again became watery as I read them out loud, “I wish to God…to become tomorrow you are well with no sickness yet you are sick.  We are so sad.  Our class is lonely with no happiness.” 

I realized how blessed I was and that sometimes teachers are more than a teacher, they are like a family member who may need some TLC when they get sick.   Upon this realization, the strangest thing happened: My fever dissipated and I felt better! So thank you to class five at Chumey M.S.S. and I love you all.  

Our colorful classroom
I love them
They are the best
Class five 
A read aloud
My chalkboard

They are putting on their shoes to head back to school
Across the bridge to school
See you tomorrow
Love you! 
All the goodies they brought me

The get well letters

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Cute Short Story on Beauty

Yesterday Sonam called me to narrate a cute story that grandma told her about little Jimmy, which I have slightly exaggerated the details of the story below.  Ha!  The story came on a day that I was feeling far from beautiful; I had been analyzing a new wrinkle, cringing at some white hair sprouting from my head and pouting about how someone referred to me as being fat (If you are not stick thin or if you have any curves on your body, its seems as though the Bhutanese culture would label you as “fat” and some Bhutanese people are not shy to inform you).  So I appreciated the story about little Jimmy because it shows that it doesn’t matter what you look like since beauty is really in the eye of the beholder.  Here’s the story:

A wise monk came over little Jimmy’s house and the first thing Jimmy did was pose a tough question to the monk.  With a twinkle in Jimmy’s eyes, he looked up at the tall, bald monk draped in maroon and asked, “Who is the most beautiful person in Bhutan?  No, wait, who is the most beautiful person in the world?” 

The monk thought that this was some kind of quiz question to embark on his profound knowledge from his many years of Buddhist studies.  So the monk quietly sat for a while searching his brain for the most thoughtful, intelligent response.  Meanwhile Jimmy took a seat in front of him, patiently waiting and studying the monk’s contemplating face.  Finally, the monk brought his attention upon Jimmy and sat up tall to give his best answer, “A child is the most beautiful person in the world because every mother thinks her child is the most beautiful.”  Then with dotting eyes, the monk softly smiled at Jimmy thinking that Jimmy would be very pleased to know that he was one of the most beautiful people in the world simply because he was a child.

However, Jimmy looked him straight in the eyes and sternly stated, “No! You’re wrong!” 

The monk’s eyebrows instantly lowered into squirming worms and his dreamy expression was now shattered into confusion.  The monk looked at grandma for an answer, but grandma shrugged her shoulders in bewilderment.  Now the monk was half embarrassed, but half intrigued by being told that he was wrong from a little eight-year old.  At last, he gasped, “Oh, then who is?” 

Jimmy grinned, stood to his feet and proudly claimed, “Miss Sabrina is the most beautiful person in the world.” 

Little Jimmy
Now the monk was even more perplexed scratching his head wondering who could this person be and why hadn’t he ever heard of her.  He assumed that this person must be very famous in order to be the most beautiful person in the world.  He thought maybe she was a famous actress or super model, so he said, “Sabrina! I’ve never heard of her before.  Who’s that?” 

Then Jimmy gave him a funny look like how could he not know who Miss Sabrina was and responded with a hint of boastfulness in his voice, “I know her!  She’s a teacher in Chumey and she is the most beautiful person in the world, don’t you know?”  (LOL)

Dear little Jimmy,

Although the monk has some truth to his response, I want to say thank you for making my day and seeing what I can’t always see within myself.  I love you!


Miss Sabrina

P.S.  I think that you are beautiful too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Blessed Rainy Day

Some of Sonam's family members
Blessed Rainy Day was on Saturday, September 22.  At first, I had no idea what blessed rainy day was, but it sounded like a special day.  So I wanted to spend it with some people I had come to love dearly in Bhutan:  Sonam’s family.  

Since all the schools got the day off to celebrate it, my friend Norbu the monk, Dawa and I headed to Gangtey Village on a Friday evening.  Dawa and Norbu are from Gangtey village as well as Sonam’s family.  Hence, I was going to be reunited with little Jimmy, which we hadn’t seen each other since he moved to Gangtey in July after Sonam moved to Canada. 

I was so excited to see little Jimmy that Norbu and I sang the whole way and it seemed as though nothing could burst my bubble.  However, when we were almost there, Sonam called me from Canada to deliver the bad news: she found out that Jimmy was sick with a high fever.  I was bummed!  Nevertheless, we continued our journey.

Grandma, me and little Jimmy
Due to the thick night fog, we reached Gangtey around 1:00 a.m. to find Sonam’s mother, who I call angay or grandma, waiting up for me.  She ran outside to hug me and held my hands as she led me into the house.  Even though grandma only speaks Dzongkha, I have a weird “heart connection” with her that makes me feel like we can communicate without speaking the same language.  For instance, when I went inside, I knew that grandma was insisting in Dzongkha on waking little Jimmy up to see me and at the same time she knew that I was begging her in English to let him sleep.  Although we were talking to each other in different languages, we somehow knew what the other was saying due to this loving connection we have.  Needless to say, grandma won the argument. 

As she woke Jimmy up in his bed, I was shocked to discover that his little face was as red as a tomato and his lips were dark purple.  At first, I thought that he got a severe sunburn, but then I realized it was from the fever.  Although his scary fever should had repelled me to run away, surprisingly it had the opposite effect on me.  I immediately rushed to his bedside and put my hand on his forehead to gauge his temperature.  He was burning up and I quickly removed some of the blankets from him.  I was overcome with worry because he looked worse than I had imagined.  He was so sick, he could barely give me a smile and he was whispering for water. 

Little Jimmy
He wanted to talk to me so badly, but all I could hear were little muffled Dzongkha whispers.  His mom, Pasang, told me that he was whispering that I came to see him because Sonam must had informed me that he was really sick and I must had been worried.  So I said, “Oh, yes, yes, I came to see you because you’re sick” and I gave everyone a wink.  I wanted to hug and kiss him, but I refrained myself so I wouldn’t get his germs.  Instead, I sat next to him for some time placing a cold rag on his head and he seemed to perk up a bit trying to tell me all about his new school.  Then my eyes filled with tears when Pasang pointed out how happy he looked to see me and that sometimes when he comes home from school he says, “Mom, lets talk!  Lets talk about Miss Sabrina…” and he often says “That’s not how Miss Sabrina does it…” for any little thing like baking cakes.  A part of me was worried that he was going to forget about little old me, so it was nice to hear that he hadn’t.   

Then after an hour or so of chatting, I went to sleep for a few hours only to be woken up by a loud speaker of Buddhist prayers being poured over the valley from the monastery nearby.  I tiptoed out of the bed and Pasang instructed me to go outside to scoop some water over my head from an open barrel that had some beautiful, colorful flowers floating inside.  She explained that pouring water over my head under the open sky while praying at dawn on Blessed Rainy Day would clear my sins (we would do this several times throughout the day) because Buddha was also taking a bath in the sky and would bless the top of my head from above.  She also said that all water was considered holy on this day.  Additionally, I learned that the day marked the end of the monsoon season.

So I eagerly crept outside onto the balcony in the cold towards the barrel of water.  Although the sun hadn’t quite pierced the sky, the tinge of the blue was just light enough for me to get a peek of the million dollar views I had remembered seeing in the winter.  However, this time everything was greener and I thought the summer monsoons had upgraded it to billion dollar views.  It was that spectacular!

For several minutes, I stood outside on the ten-foot high balcony by myself pouring cold water over my head listening to the stream of Buddhist prayers mixed with the splashing of the cold water running off my forehead and I liked watching how the water tumbled off my head hitting the ground like a waterfall.  That’s when I suddenly got a flashback of the first time I went to Gangtey with Sonam and we were washing our faces out on that very same balcony with cold water.  I remembered the way it was trailing off my face pouring off the side of the balcony similar to that moment.  Then I could no longer deny the undercurrent of sadness I felt being back in Gangtey amongst Sonam’s family, but without Sonam.  For the first time in a long time, it felt like she was so far away and a strong wave of sadness came over me.  It seemed like our days together were such a distant memory and I started to miss her all over again as though she had just left.  So of course, a special prayer started to naturally flow out of my heart for Sonam, Jimmy and her family as I poured the last of the cold water over my head.  Then I went back to bed still carrying the heavy sadness in my chest. 

Front Row:  Grandma, Jimmy, me and Pasang
But when I woke up a few hours later, it seemed as though I had slept away the sadness because the first thing I did was head straight to Jimmy’s room with excitement and zest hoping that he was better, but I should had known that he wasn’t because he didn’t wake me up at 6:00 a.m.  Sure enough I found him still moaning in bed.  Again I felt his forehead with the back of my hand and he was on fire.  I was a little scared because I had never seen him so quiet and still before.  I took a wet cloth and told him that I was going to make his fever go down.  For about 15 minutes, I sat close to him dipping the cloth in a bowl of cold water every few seconds and placing it on his forehead, eyes, cheeks, head and neck.  The rag would instantly become hot from his burning fever and I had to keep re-dipping it in the cold water to keep it cool.  Sometimes we would laugh when I covered his eyes with the wet cloth and other times he would groan, “No more, last time, errr.”  All a while, all I could think was how much I missed him and loved him dearly.  I also laughed from time to time because he looked exactly the same from three months ago and he hadn’t grown a bit; he was still tiny and cute.  

Jimmy washing
his face on
the balcony
He felt better
While Jimmy dozed in and out of sleep, Pasang and I went back outside to wash our hair on the balcony to induce more blessings.  I squatted near the edge of the balcony while she poured water over my head and I lathered it with shampoo and conditioner.  Next we took turns helping each other rinse our long hair while we said, “Thri, Thri, Thri” (Blessed Rainy Day).  Then Pasang and grandma took Jimmy outside in his underwear and tried to give him a bath on the balcony in a tub of cold water.  He cried and cried begging to go back inside while I pleaded with him to get in the tub so the cold water could bring down his fever and grandma begged him to have a proper bath on blessed rainy day.  After a few minutes of grandma pouring cold water over him and him crying out loud, she let him go back inside.  Fortunately, the bath seemed to relieve his fever a bit because he started to walk around and he unwrapped the present I brought him.  However, I knew that he was still sick because Pasang and I played with the present more than he did and he didn’t eat any of the chocolate I brought him.   

Norbu, me and Uncle Dorji Lopen
Gangtey Monastery
Finally, after a breakfast of Thup (porridge), we all went to the Gangtey Monastery to circumambulate the monastery and pray.  Jimmy insisted on going because he was determined to get a toy gun at the shops that were propped up everywhere to sell goods on the special day.  Although he looked better, he still wasn’t his rambunctious self. 

At the monastery, all of Sonam’s relatives came up to me with warm smiles to say hello as well as all of Norbu’s and Dawa’s relatives.  The monastery was full of locals and dozens of tourists.  It was nice to see so many familiar faces within a large crowd of strangers. 

Moreover, we stayed at the monastery until the late evening to watch a mask dance.  During the mask dance, Norbu took me under his wing and explained the ceremony to me.  It was beautiful the way the monks in the masks spun around and whipped their masks from side to side and up and down subduing evil spirits.  I also forgot how fun it was to watch Norbu in his home environment; everyone greets Norbu with handshakes and nods.  He is the most popular monk I have ever seen.

Some friends
Later, when we got home, Pasang, Jimmy, grandma and I all huddled on the bed lying around, laughing and sipping Thup.  It was such a great feeling to be there and I couldn’t help but recognize how it felt like we had lounged around together a thousand times as if I had known them all my life.  At that moment, I thought that I must be the luckiest foreigner to be adopted into this loving Bhutanese family and I wondered how it was that I felt so comfortable in their presence.  Then Sonam called us from Canada and for a few moments it felt like she was physically in the room with us.  And although I didn’t tell her, I think that she knew that I felt grateful to her for welcoming me into her family.

Finally, the next day, I knew that Jimmy was better when he woke me up at 6:00 a.m.; he climbed in bed with me with his cold feet while blasting his toy gun in my ear.  I was happy that I got to see him healthy and happy before I had to go home. 

Uncle, Jimmy, me and Dawa
In fact, when it was time for me to leave, I had to remind myself over and over again that I would see little Jimmy and Sonam’s family again so not to cry.  I could feel the tears trying to bubble up within my throat and pour out of me while little Jimmy looked at me with big, sad eyes anxiously awaiting his hug goodbye.  Fortunately, I managed to swallow the tears away as I hugged everyone farewell on the side of the dirt road and I knew that a little nu could make any child grin.  However, I didn’t know that little Jimmy had also given me a present that would stay with me for a week: HIS FEVER! 

Although I was deathly sick, I couldn’t help but realize that there are two places in Bhutan that feel really special to me: Chumey and Gangtey.  Chumey, Bumthang is my home in Bhutan so it will always have a special place in my heart.  However, Gangtey resonates with me in a similar way.  I think that I love Gangtey so much not only because it is so dreamy, but also some of the people I have come to care about the most in Bhutan all come from Gangtey: Sonam, little Jimmy, Grandma, Passang, Norbu, Dawa, etc.  Also when I walk through Gangtey, I don’t feel like a foreigner because all of Sonam’s family, Norbu’s family and Dawa’s family greet me like I am an old friend and they make me feel like I am coming home to something very special.  Thus, I can’t wait for my next trip to Gangtey to see little Jimmy and all the sweet people of Gangtey.