Saturday, April 23, 2011

The world needs more dump trucks and high-powered people fist pumping.

A friend and I decided to head out for a drink.  We walked outside our apartment where cabs usually drive by, and we waited… and waited… and waited.  Around the bend came a dump truck, and almost in unison we shrugged, “Why not?”

Moments later, I was struggling to get my foot high enough to reach the ladder of the beastly truck.  Off to the bar!

When I arrived at the bar, I ran into my homeboy, the Ambassador of Kuwait.  He is an older gentleman, who everyone seriously calls “Your Excellence”.  Obviously, I decided I needed to teach him something new.  The “fist pump” it was!  The memory of holding a glass of wine in one hand and pumping my other arm in circles to the song “I Got a Feeling”, all while His Excellence arm pumped in unison next to me, is a memory I will never forget.  It turns out, it is pretty fun calling out your friend’s name while arm pumping with the ambassador, and seeing the look of surprise delight on your friend’s face.  Forget teaching or charity work… how about being a good friend.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Shave Your Head? Ridding Yourself of Attachment While Wearing Hair Accessories

I am moving in a month.  Still haven’t found a place.  Tonight my friend told me about a place 15 minutes out of town.  It may be available if a monk is not living in it.  Supposedly, the home is a bit out of the "chaos" of the city and very quiet.  My friend told me I would begin to like cats because they are everywhere there.  While I am not convinced I will begin to like creatures, the place has come to sound very appealing.  When in Bhutan, right?

While the idea of moving to a small hut, meditating, and yogaing, sounds pretty damn nice, I think it also may be in the book What White People Like, right in between “moving to third world countries” and “watching kids in uniforms sing Buddhist prayers”.  Tonight, as I shopped at the mini-shop up the street, I asked myself if I would be better off ridding myself of attachment and social constraints by purchasing one of the many large, colorful scrunchies sold everywhere, and rocking it at all the local chillip hangouts.  It may even go nice with my beige shorts and ultra functional footwear that look like water socks.  Again... when in Bhutan.

But hey, I am blond, and my name is Jennifer Adams… white as they come.  Does this mean I conform to a white stereotype and become a crazy cat lady who retreats to a mountain getaway for a year?  Perhaps.  Or, with a name from the list of most popular names to give your 80’s baby, should I do a better job representing my decade of birth?

Taking votes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I am a jerk. Maybe you like it.

What I have learned to do when people speak of ‘perspectives’ and think they are so enlightened they should teach everyone (a lot):

Zone out.  Say little.

What I do when I get called out for this behavior:

Respond accordingly.

Here is the message I received tonight after a long one-sided conversation:

Him: “Hey there, make my day, prove me rite - be a dumb blond and give me your cell number.”

(Let the pissing contest begin.)

Me: “Bummer you weren't in my class when I taught my students not to overgeneralize the "magic e". Rite? We all know overgeneralizing is not good.”

Cliffnotes of a long paragraph response from him:  Blah blah blah… “touched a raw nerve rite ... all this just comes from a culture that does not even have a word called - 'low self esteem'” blah blah blah… give me your number if you want to hear about me.

Me: “Heard all about it. Any other questions? Oh wait... Cheers. Goodnight.”

Maybe he thought it would be a better idea to hit on the English teacher and not the dumb blond.

Him: “So what is the magic e?  I always liked ornithology.”

Me: “The study of birds?”

Him: “No the study of words like ‘splash’ and ‘crash’.”

Me: “Well, I am teaching onomatopoeia next month after I teach the study of birds.  Onomatopoeia will be a 10 minute mini lesson because there is not much to it.”

Him: Can I come?  Can I get your number?

Me: “Gotta get to bed. Good times.  ‘Bam!’ ‘Crash!’ ‘Wow!’  I know how you like your onomatopoeia "Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!"

Him: “But no really… can I get your number?”

Dear bird loving, onomatopoeia scholar:

If you are reading this, please know that it is only a “perspective”.  All in good fun… and no, you cannot have my number.

P.S. I know an English teacher who can define self-esteem for you.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Teaching Compassion Through Confusion

I have a vivid memory of fighting with my sister as a young kid and my father walking in to break it up.  In anticipation of being scolded and having a talk, I can remember being horrified by the next thing that came out of his mouth. 

“Why don’t I just leave you guys in this room and lock the door until one of you kills the other one.  Then it will be solved.  It looks like that is what you are trying to do anyways.”

The words were so horrifying and so Mike Adams, that it made me realize how truly stupid I was acting.  He won.  The fight was over.

My students, "The Firecrackers", know that empty sorries are pointless.  We discuss the fact that it is nice to follow up a sincere apology with, “What can I do to make it up to you?”  They also know the importance of even checking in a bit later with, “Hey, are we still cool?”

As a teacher, I know that my hormonal mini people are still getting the hang of kindness and compassion.  It is my job to foster these communication skills.  It is also my job to stay sane by entertaining myself a bit…. Soooo… once in a blue moon, I switch it up.

The umpteenth time I hear ten kids come up to me and tattle about “one kid saying such-and-such to so-and-so, who said that he loves so-and-so who in reality, really loves so-and-so”, there is sometimes only one answer.  The answer is the less traditional mediation route, which involves bursting into a related song such as “Who Do You Love?” or “Love Me, Love Me, Say That You Love Me.”  All of this occurs as I fling my hands in the air to simulate dorky teacher dancing.  This usually solves the problem because the students either laugh until they forget, or figure I have greater issues than they do.

Times like these are equally as fun when a child knowingly asks me a ridiculous question.  I have found that now and then, when the kids can find their own answer, it is alright to bypass the teachable moment.  Instead, I reference something that will fly over their head and get them to stop asking stupid questions.  The more ridiculous the better. For example:

“Why can’t I stand on the chair next to the two story window?”
“Because then Eric Clapton may have to write another song.”

“Madam Jennifer, are you and Madame Jessica (teacher and my roommate from New York) friends?”
“Ever since Biggie died it has been a little rough.”

“They won’t share the basketball.”
“The phone goes green, green, and I pink it up, and say ‘yellow!’”

Please know, that nine times out of ten, my students hear a traditional, hearts and flowers response in regards to making friends.  The other one time, I can’t lie.  I enjoy seeing the kids shockingly smile and laugh when their teacher use a less traditional approach like saying, “Save the drama for your mama,” or “Excuses are like butts, everyone’s got one.”

You Know You Are in Bhutan When: Part 3

You are sitting in clock tower square, soaking up sunshine, and eating delicious ice cream from the only ice cream parlor in Thimphu.

You have no water in your apartment for 48 hours

People throw the word “love” around very liberally because there is no Dzongkha word for “love”, and they haven’t quite gotten the hang of it.  There is also no word for “goodbye” or “cheers”.

Nobody is ashamed to tell you they need to go to the bathroom because they have diarrhea or a “runny tummy”.  If a kid has to go to the bathroom, they say, “I am very pissy” or, “I am very shitty”.

You are drinking whiskey with the Ambassador of Kuwait and he makes a joke that “Kuwait is not the country you are bombing”.  As the party goes on, everyone gets saucier, and he asks you to teach him the appropriate time to cheers and the appropriate time to drop an F bomb into conversation.

You buy a bag of eggs, only to find that they are all rotten.  (I will laugh very hard the next time I see someone return brown lettuce at Trader Joes.)

Giardia is to Bhutan as Chlamydia is to Isla Vista.  A quick round of antibiotics and you are all good.  You are not afraid.

You are having drinks at a bar after hours and the King’s brother walks in.  The weekend after, you have drinks with his cousin.

You see a kid taking a dump on the side of the road.

One of your students asks for your parents' contact information because her mother will be visiting CA and would like to meet up.  Why is the student so striking and familiar looking?  She is related to the Queen Mother.

You see a group of children playing and spinning each other around in an old cement mixer, as if it is a merry-go-round.  You imagine the lawsuit that would happen in the US.

You get excited when you come across Herbal Essence Shampoo and tampons with applicators.

Your are running up a mountain covered in prayer flags.

Players Gonna Play

A student came up to me one day out of the blue and told me that it is a shame we all grow old.  He said he thought it would be better if we all started out old and grew younger.  I liked this thought.

When I was just getting into the field of special education I applied for a job doing at home therapy.  The awesome woman who interviewed me told me that all was a go, but the only thing she needed was a video of me playing with a kid.  She explained that she could teach me all the skills I needed to teach the children, but playing is something you either have or you don’t.  As I continued in the field, I came to find this fact very true and a little bit sad.  As adults, pretend play becomes unnatural. I know this is true because there were days I would leave work more spent than the kids.  Creating silly and fun moments is something kids are good at, while I had to expend more energy because it is something I was relearning.

I’ve recently noticed that play has a strong relationship with inhibitions.  Small children could care less what people say or think about them.  We learn insecurities as we grow up and these insecurities fight with our ability to be silly and create new ideas.  We start with no inhibitions, and as we grow, we become more aware of the "cool factor".  Basically, we have the ability to mess around and we lose it.

My teens and early twenties were the highlight of my "cool factor" years.  Now as I get older, I have begun to give less of a rats ass about looking cool and I have begun to have more fun.  I have learned that a good player is somebody who goofs around for their own joy and not the joy of those around them.

When I started out, I played to engage students.  I played to build relationships.  I played to be the cool teacher.  The more I taught the more I played.  Practice, practice, practice!  Now I can officially say that I go out to the playground because I feel giddy when I tap a student on the shoulder furthest from me, and hide while the student looks in the wrong direction.  This makes me laugh.

My skills have taken hours of practice, but I know they have paid off because my laughs have become more guttural, my repertoire of cheese ball jokes has flown off the charts, and I officially play for me!  I am happy to say I feel as though I am moving backwards and growing younger.


I recently heard a teacher described as a strong teacher for the specific instances he turns into teachable moments.  This has stuck with me over the past week.
Everyday the teachers at ELC are served tea during the first break.  Today, a student came hauling into my class, bumped into me and spilled my piping hot tea down my arm.  I seized the moment.  In my pained state, I loudly asked the class to return to their seats despite the break time.   I did not mention the fact that my hand was crispy, so as not to embarrass the student.  Instead, I took a deep breath (maybe more than one), and I calmly explained that we all make mistakes, but our school emphasizes mindfulness. 
“What does it mean to be mindful indoors?”  It was not hard to elicit the proper response: move your body slowly.
Seeing as though many religious rituals serve purposes, Bhutan makes you realize that mindfulness has its place in life.  Don’t be careless or you may step off the curb and fall several feet into Bhutan’s drainage ditch system. If you don’t mindfully consume your food, you may bite into a rock as my roommate did and find out that it takes 3 people, 2 Novocain shots and 1 hour to yank a tooth.
More importantly, I have learned to be more mindful of precious moments I know I will never experience anywhere else.  Where else will I be shaded by a flowering apple tree, listening to a quad of students sing the afternoon prayers in Dzongkha, while I am gazing out toward the beautiful clouds hanging lower than the mountaintops?  Visa extension please?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dog vs. Chillip Round Two

I met an ER doctor here who told me that the most common thing she was seeing was dog bites.  She also mentioned the high risk of rabies here.  I have known all this, but I feel it is always a treat to be pleasantly reminded of such facts.
Today, as I shuffled to school in my kira, books in one arm, coffee cup in the other; I had a second run in with the gang members of “double turning”.  There they were: the two dogs I have grown to fear, but have to pass every morning.  I watched an older woman pass and the dogs barely raised an eyebrow.  A little jaded still, I crossed the road until I had sufficiently passed the dogs.  I crossed back onto the other side and then I heard them.  I turned around as they came running and barking my way.  This time I didn’t run!  Instead, I stared them down.  They stopped dead in their tracks.  My face said it all:  Spill my coffee and I will spill your insides.
Moments later, a car stopped and I heard, “Madame Jennifer, would you like a ride?”
In Bhutan, to say something is “tasty”, you point only your index finger to your cheek and twist your wrist.  “SHIMBE!”  As I sit and look out my kitchen window at the devil dogs, I can’t help but wonder why I’m the only chillip that seems to make their mouths water.  I am pretty sure that one of the dogs just noticed me, raised his head, pressed his paw to his jowl and whispered “Shimbe” to his friend.

Do you take powdered milk in your instant coffee?

My principal very kindly asked me to not bring my to-go coffee cup (old Prego spaghetti sauce jar) to morning meetings.  She explained that in Bhutan, you rarely see people drinking from to-go cups at meetings.  I guess I just didn’t notice it, since many teachers in the US will tell you that meetings and coffee breaks are almost synonymous.  Those are the same teachers who see their to-go mugs as permanently connected to their upper appendages.
My principal proceeded to explain that instead, Bhutan has tea break.   I refrained from the inner monologues such as, “Will it be a problem if I consume it intravenously from a bag under my kira?”  Or better yet, “Don’t be surprised when you find me railing Nescafe in the teachers’ lounge.”
Long story short, I drink my coffee as I walk to school.  I’m all for relaxing to eat meals mindfully, yet my to-go mug is one chillip habit I do not plan on breaking any time soon.
And on a side note, please refrain from drinking from a Starbucks Coffee cup when you Skype me.  Meredith learned the hard way when I was so jealous I could not be happy for her.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Washing Away Sin

 I was grocery shopping today at Shop 7 (think 7-11, not Costco), and I saw that Bhutan carries “Virginity Soap”.  Ha... and California thought they were progressive when they started selling the Morning After Pill over-the-counter.  I am going back tomorrow to buy some bars of purity!  Good news mom and dad… I will officially be able to wear white at my wedding!  (If you don't sacrifice me first)

And in other sex ed news, my students did a skit today in which they said smoking tobacco gives you “HIV Aids”.  I stopped them dead in their tracks and kindly cleared that one up.

Later the boys of Class 6A were all sitting around snickering at a National Geographic magazine that featured semi-nude art.  They hid it from me as I walked up, hoping I wouldn’t confiscate it.

“May I see?”

“No mam”

(teacher face)

(student shows me the magazine)

“Yah… you’re in sixth grade.  You all know men have penises and women have vaginas.” (shrug with raised eye brows.  walk away)

The boys imitate my shrug as if to say, “Yah, we’re cool with that… so mature right now!”

When I hear radio hosts tell me that they can’t even get women to own up to using birth control in an interview, I think about balancing morals with the idea of getting kicked out of the country.  Then I decide not to teach a unit on sex ed.  Or at least wait until it gets later in the year.

Video Killed the Radio Star

There are a few radio stations in Bhutan.  One of them is BBS radio.  BBS has a new kids program, which is their third most listened to program.  This week I was given a few days notice that I would be helping some students air a show on poetry.  The fact that we were reading from a script, and we had little time to plan, made it feel a little like Barney on crack.  However, I am hoping our next show will be a little less cheeseball and much more exciting.  Apparently all of Bhutan can tune in to hear a chillip and children around noon on Saturdays.  How did I get here?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Blue Fingers and Hot Pink Pills

 Day One Of My Hospital Fiasco

A pretty popular saying they have in Bhutan is, “What to do?”  It can mean several things, but the meaning I have found most frequently used thus far is interchangeable with, “We’re F***ed!”  I try and not throw F bombs here because it sometimes feels like the country of no cursing.  Lets just say the sideways head nods came more naturally than the “What to dos?”… Especially today!
They don’t have doctors’ offices here.   Everything happens at the hospital!  Some people get teeth pulled in the same building they were born in.  When you get sick, you go to the hospital; more specifically the ER.  Consequently, I saved up my symptoms of a few different things before I decided I needed to draw the line and let a professional have a look.
This is the deal:  I have been cruising around with an enlarged, swollen pinkie for the last few weeks… maybe an infection or bite.  The tingling, numbness, and swelling has moved down my arm, and my limbs just feel wacky.  Oh, and I forgot to mention, I have a little irritated lump near my tailbone.  A doctor in the US said it is no problem.  It has gotten larger here, and I mentioned it in passing to my roommate.  Off we went!
On my walk to the hospital, I got to talking with my roommate about the one ambulance they have here.  “You’ve seen it?” I asked, as if she were a first grader who had seen Santa.
Then I realized why it took me so long to go to a doctor.  I also thought about my next weeks lesson plan, realizing that teaching articles in Bhutan was going to be different, because instead of saying things like “an ambulance”, you say “the ambulance”.
            We got to the hospital and I went into a little room.  I was walked in on several times while talking to a nurse.  I listed some symptoms… tingling hands, fat pinkie finger, etc.  Lucky for me, my roommate insisted I not leave out the lump on my upper butt/lower back.  Love that chillip!
            The nurse sent me to the ER.  I walked in and everyone stared.  I asked where to go and I was directed to the only doctor in the room, who was a man who looked just older than myself.  He directed me to one of the 7 beds.  There were newborn babies, older patients and now 2 chillips.  Since everyone could see everyone in there, I refrained from poking around in all the containers labeled with tape and sharpie.  I can’t lie that I was horrified when I saw 2 regular waste bins out in the open with signs above them written in magic marker, reading “Hazardous Waste” and “Nonhazardous Waste”.  The only thing more horrifying was when a nurse disinfected a tool of some type by pouring a fluid on it and letting the remnants of the fluid fall into the hazardous waste bin.  Lovely!
            After telling the doctor my symptoms, he told me he’d like to see the lump.  Within seconds, someone was carrying over a tiny green room divider to hide the scene at hand.  I froze up a bit and the doctor said again, “I’d like to have a look.”  At this point I said to myself, “You’ve seen one ass, you’ve seen them all.  I guess they are as open about doctors visits here as they are about breast feeding”.  I unhooked my kira and began to unwrap.
The young doctor gave me a look of terror!  I cringed.  I was not sure if he had expected me to be wearing pants under the kira or some Big Ol’, White Jolly Joes, aka granny panties.  Then, I noticed the second green divider coming around the corner.  Should have known TWO green dividers was kosher here!  The Bhutanese in the ER have officially been exposed to Victoria Secret.  I guess they don’t see undies like mine on clotheslines outside the homes here.  Whoops!
            From there, picture an Austin Powers scene from the opposite side of the curtain with a shadow of me bent over and someone poking at my rear, and asking, “Is this the spot? Have I found it yet? Here?”  All the while….no gloves!
            Next, because of my tingling limbs, the doctor wanted to do an EKG.  The green curtains returned!  F!  Two female nurses and one male nurse came over and began to hook me up with an old school machine.  At this point they knew I was a freak show.  As they cinched the metal pincher devices down onto my wrists and ankles, I couldn’t help but make a wise crack about feeling like I was undergoing shock therapy treatments and asking if I should remove the metal broach used to seal my kira.
            Joke was on me as they stripped me down and began to hook me up.  Next, the man asked me if I was married, at which point I refrained from telling him, “This is not a good time for a pick up line”.  Instead I said “no,” and he then instructed me to remove my bra.
I didn’t hold back this time around.  “Wait a minute.  If I were married, could leave it on?” I asked.  Good lord.  They hooked me up and got it over with.
            When all was said and done, I couldn’t help but peek at the doctor’s papers he put in front of me while he tended to another patient.  The EKG said “normal” and under the list of symptoms which included tingling limbs, enlarged pinkie finger, chest pain, etc., it said, “looking well”.  That must be the scientific diagnoses.  Then I was discharged with blue hands and chest pain.  Sweet!
            I was sent to the pharmacy.  I walked into the crowded little room, and there, before my very eyes, were tons of open containers of fluorescent pills lying on the table in front of me.
The man scanned over the smorgasbord of colorful gems and found a container of yellow ones.  He took a ballpoint pen and labeled a baggy “B Complex”.  Then, without gloves, he casually eyeballed a handful of pills, which he put into the bag.  Then he filled a bag with some white ones.  I am still a little unsure as to what they are.  All I know is that it is some type of painkiller; could be Tylenol, could be Vicodin… sweet surprises.  I thought the last time I would see a plastic bag of unidentifiable pills would be in IV.  I grabbed my baggies and left.  On my way out of the hospital, I saw “the ambulance”.  It is fabulous!  Use your imagination.
In conclusion, I am not really one to freak over nudity, but it is safe to say, I have an aversion to green dividing curtains.  Tomorrow I go in for the blood work.  What to do?  Stay tuned!

Two To Make It True

“Where do I get blood drawn?”
“Oh, diabetes?  That way.”
"Thank You!”
I walked up to a window in a large waiting room.  I was handed Poker Chip 19.  I sat in the crowded lobby next to anyone in Thimphu who also needed blood drawn.  I graded test papers.
When I heard the loud ding and saw my number, I walked up, gave a woman my chip and plopped down into the chair in front of anyone who cared to watch.  As a kid, I fainted with needles.  Now I have become less amused, only slightly squeamish.  I sure as hell was not about to be the chillip on the floor in a kira due to one small blood test.  I laid my arm down on a padded thingy with a little dried blood on it, and I looked away.  It seemed longer than usual as the man toggled the needle a bit, but nothing weird.  Pretty standard.
“Come back tomorrow for the results.”
Off to teach.

After school, my friend told me she had gotten in contact with a neurosurgeon whose daughter went to our school.  He could see me right then and there.  Back to the hospital.
A tall, straight faced, and elegant older man in an army uniform came into the room.  He is a top neurosurgeon in Bhutan.
In between each symptom I listed, the doctor said phrases such as, “Huh?”,  “Oh man!”, and  “That’s weird.”  Finally he said, “Wonder what this is.  What do you think it is?  We better look it up.“  At this point, he pulled out his iPhone and a hospital intern walked in.
The doctor grinned ear to ear and said, “I know what is wrong, and now I’d like to see if my intern can figure it out.”  Right then and there, I thought to myself: “You got me sir.  This man is genius, hilarious, and doesn’t look horrible in a uniform.”
I have what they think is Raynaud’s phenomenon and arthritis.  Raynaud's is a vasospastic disorder (crappy circulation) common in women and triggered by cold weather.  Basically, reddish blue limbs that won’t heat up, chest pain, blah, blah, blah.
The doctor prescribed me three medications.  He told me to bring him some blood work results in the morning, and he said, “Don’t have drinks until at least two of us can join you.”
He followed it up with, “If you want to come back at ten a.m. tomorrow with the test results, great. If not, go to hell.”  He smiled and added, “Oh, and if it gets any worse, don’t call me.”
From there, more blood work, then back to Willy Wonka’s Pill factory.  I was given one pill bag that had three circles on it, and another with two.  Now I know to take the first one three times a day and the other twice.  The special education teacher in me, who believes in creating access to all, really enjoys this simple fact.

Third Day’s A Charm… Right?

By the third day, I kind of enjoyed the central heating, as the hospital is one of only several buildings in Bhutan with this luxury.  However, the smell had come to drive me batty.  I would have taken a bleached, cold, sterile hospital to that warm sour smell any day.
Right smack in the middle of the waiting room, was a bloody stretcher, and nobody looking twice at it.  I walked around a bit, looking for the doctor who helped me the day before.  There was a stray dog that had wandered into the hospital and clearly gotten lost in the maze of chambers.  All around me were signs labeling the different wards.  Scattered among them were signs that said “No Spitting” (red doma).  One blue sign said “Patient Clothing Drying Area”.  Just out the window hung any type of laundry you can imagine except a single hospital gown.
It is amazing how desensitized you become to the interesting things around you.  It feels all right until you have moments when you flash back to reality, cringing at the stained hospital bed sheets you lied down on the night before remembering that most laundry here never sees hot water.  Then the sicko in me says, “What to do?”, and returns to the game, count how many places you see dried blood.
Finally, a random man in the waiting area asked if he could help me. He put out his hand.  Without hesitation I handed him my doctor files (3 papers).  Again, things are weird here.  Everyone trusts everyone, everyone helps everyone, and handing a random person your medical history ain’t no thing.  I’m surprised the man didn’t read “ass lump” and run for the hills.
Long story short, I found the doctor I was looking for, and I handed him my results.  “Hmmm, looks like they ran out of the reagent they needed to test these two main things in your blood.  Get back to me in a week, and they may have it then.”
What to do?  Two hours later, I left the hospital, passing the same bloody stretcher I had seen on my way in.
Off to the pharmacy in town.  I needed one more medication for dizziness.  I tried four pharmacies and nobody carried it.  This should have irritated me, but in a sick way it put me at ease.  Can’t be that important if they don’t have it.  What to do?
Perhaps American health care professionals could learn a thing or two about keeping their patients calm here.  Great care, kind hearts, few resources.  Details…
I went to the market, bought the first fresh asparagus I have seen in months and used that high to trek back up the hill to my home.  Shimbe! (Tasty!)

Oh yah.  And the lump… I stopped inquiring.  You would too!

Since I Am Here In Bhutan, It's About Time I Write About GNH...

Bhutan is currently trying to educate students for GNH, which is a hot topic on many levels.  One conversation about Gross National Happiness in Bhutan may bring about passionate attitudes and optimism in regards to a country scrutinizing many aspects of its cautious growth.  Other conversations may evoke rolling of the eyes and talk of “tourism propaganda”.

In a journal entry and a class discussion, I asked students what GNH meant to them.  Some of the responses were interesting.  “Mam, Gross is disgusting.  National is country.  Happiness is feeling good.  Gross country feeling good.”

The concept of GNH is abstract, making it challenging to contextualize into a curriculum.  It is better explained in actions.  When I see it happen, I wish I could bottle it up to quantify for the students around me.

Everyone knows teachers should be intrinsically motivated to work with children for the love of the job, because you make little money teaching.  To state the obvious, I think it is totally awesome and hilarious working with kids!  I’d also be lying if I said I never thought my paycheck sounded tiny and delightful, after taking a smack to the face or writing IEP goals all afternoon.  There is a fine line between loving your work and shitting rainbows.  I am being taught everyday to become more mindful of the moments when I am engulfed in childlike laughter, or better yet, asking myself, “How did I get here?”

The American in me taught my students that it takes “hard work to retire some day”.  It usually takes a member of the “maintenance staff” one week to retire from the position if the chairs get stacked and the sweeping is done at the end of the day.  Many of the students would prefer the “environmental consulting” position, which entails checking the suggestion box in regards to our school’s “no packaged food 4 days a week” policy.  However, there are many jobs and chores in life that we must make the most of.

The two smallest boys in the sixth grade joined the “maintenance staff” the first week of school.  They hopped around the room together, sweeping, wiping down tables, fixing things in the classroom, and laughing the entire time.  They even asked to stay on as volunteer maintenance staff for an extra week.

The boys explained how they have grown up learning together in school.  They looooove to teach me Dzongkha phrases and praise me for learning.  On the playground it is not uncommon for me to feel a tap on the shoulder and turn around to both of them standing behind me smiling goofy little smiles with their eyes tightly squinting and their teeth hidden.  They still frequently ask to volunteer on maintenance staff.  They enjoy every second of it.

My favorite part of every interaction I have with them is that without fail, whenever it is time for them to leave, Ugyen looks at his friend and says, “C’mon Kuenga.”  Without any other words, they help one another gather their belongings and they bounce off.

I wonder how they became whom they are, and if they have a GNH curriculum I could borrow.  Kids like them make me question whether I will ever retire.  But then again, ask me in 20 years.