25 March 2012

Refereeing A Social Fight

Courtesy: oahuleague.com

Last Saturday I was rushing for my evening class when I was stopped by a fight in a rustic local bar. A man held a woman by her hair and pushed her to the ground. He was calling her a 'shameless thief'. She didn't quite look fit for his description but I was yet to understand the story.
I witness the fight from the first minute but I couldn't interfere because I had my adult students waiting for their after-office class.
He went on dragging her around, demanding answers.
Then the woman said, "That's my house too and I have the right over things in there."
The story soon unfolded before me. They were divorced recently after 8 months of marriage. The fight started when the woman, who had moved out, went and took two blankets, which he claimed was his.
I was still weighing weather to run for my class or to be a referee. There were over ten people watching the fight and except for pushing the man out of the bar, nobody said anything. The man went on, "When did we ever get married? Who says you are my wife? I already told you that I don't want you, why are you following me like a dog?" That's when I jumped in.
"Sir, you can't humiliate the lady in public." He was silent. Everybody went silent. "I think your marriage is not working and you have chosen to go separate ways. But there are procedures to settle it peacefully. Have you followed any course of action to settle the matter locally?"
The lady was quick to answer, "No sir, he ran away locking his room when I went to talk with my jabmi."
"In that case sir, you can't claim those blankets or any other things in your house as your until the case is solved because those things belong to both of you. And most importantly you have no right to assault her. There are these many witness to what you have done to her and therefore you could face charges."
By then I was joined by several other elders and the man eventually calmed.
I turned to the woman and suggested her not to do anything that to lead to such fight until the case is settled. And I advised her to seek help from police or RENEW if he assaults her again.
I was 30 minutes late to my class and took another 5 minutes explaining why I was late. Later I wondered if I was even allowed to do that, because I often heard people denouncing the interference in marital affairs. What would have happened if the man turned violent against me? These were some things I didn't bother at that moment but I am happy that I did something wise people won't do. And that makes me a fool!

22 March 2012

The Best School in Bhutan

After the declaration of Board Exam results, it's interesting to see and hear how people make bold judgement on schools. Which school is the best in 2011? There is yet no official research done on this though, but Bhutanese society must have already declare their result by now. And I am not even curious to know the result because I know the foolishness with which the result is drawn. Even the official declaration of "Top Ten Schools" last year amused me, because even they thought it wise to judge schools by their academic results.
Bajothang in Summer
My school is one among the few schools decorated with ill reputation by the public, and therefore they want to take away their good performing children to schools with good reputation. This is an annual trend and many of our academic toppers leave for "better" schools. They don't stop for a while to reflect on which school made them who they are, not even their parents. Their ticket to "better" schools are confirmed because they are going with outstanding marks, and therefore keeping up the reputation of that school.
But here we begin again with new set of students, and the best part of my school is that we don't look at their past- their character certificate and mark sheets. If we are so hungry about reputation we would just take in students with good marks and stainless character certificate but we are not.
Not every child is born with intelligence, not every child is born talented but if a school wants the intelligent and talented students where would the less gifted majority go? Children are young and innocent and aimless, therefore they can be naughty, aggressive, violent and mannerless but they have the right to education, they have the right to grow and correct themselves. If a school denies them admission, where would they get time to fine their way in life?
My school takes in just everybody because it's the school's moral responsibility to educate every child- not just every good child. It's not about building and keeping reputation of a school, it's about children's right to education. And in keeping with this national interest we land up having disciplinary problems, and sometimes poor academic result. And that's how we get our ill reputation by doing good. Should we mind?
School is just an open stage, students themselves are the magicians. And my school is a stage where all magicians are given equal space and time- often some magics are different but magic is a magic after all, god made it that way, and we have learnt to accept that.
Going by the result my school is not the best school in 2011, but going by what I know of my school it is the best school and I am proud.

20 March 2012

Under 16 Nuisance in Wangdue

There were two explosions in my school earlier this month and you must be wondering if I didn't hear them. Of course I heard them and I even gave my statement to police. But I didn't want to make it public so that police could do their job at peace. But now that the news has already been reported in two papers I see no harm in writing about it.
I have nothing different to tell from the story The Bhutanese and Kuensel covered but let me run the narrative as unfolded before me. At about this time, 11:40 on March 1, I was working right here when I heard the first blast. I ran to my window and surveyed the campus. Nothing was out of the ordinary. I was lost in my works again when I heard the second blast. After spotting nothing unusual, I thought it must have been army firing at Tencholing.
Only in the morning I found out that it was right at my friend's door. But even he didn't realize it was there until morning when he found his door latched from outside. Upon opening the door he found three sheets of warning notes pasted at his door and on the school notice board. We reported it to the police and police requested army to identify the remains of explosives. They concluded that the devices used were those used in construction works.
This ordeal raised two big questions: How did the explosives land in the hands of children? How safe are teachers in doing our duties? While the first question would be answered soon by the police, the latter shall remain unanswered. This incident has sent a wave of question across the teacher community and some were talking about thinking thrice before disciplining children. Our friend, who was attacked that night, is still weighing his moral duty as a teacher against his personal safety. He was our backbone when it came to keeping the students on track but now the backbone seems to be cracked even though the Dzongkhag education officers came here to give him and all of us their support.

As the story unfolds I was shocked to hear that two boys, who were arrested after they broke into a store, were the mastermind of the March 1st blasts (Read in Kuensel). I know the two boys for last four years, and one joined our school last February. They are chronic thieves and everybody in the town knows them by their name. They can break open the best locks and find cash from the safest corners. They seem to have the database of every dweller of the town because they know who is out at what time of the day. No matter how careful you are when they walk into your shop, you will always find something missing after they are gone. One time they were caught red handed and guess what, they assaulted the house owner and escaped. They are never worried about getting arrested, as long as they could run away and enjoy the cash, because they know that once the case is gone, it's gone.
Interestingly they were caught and arrested 90% of the times and been to jail almost every week but they were released because they are under 16, which they know and are taking advantage of. If they were kept locked up Bajothang is a better place altogether but even police is helpless. Now this time they have crossed their highest limit and I hope they won't roam freely among us.
I know they are just kids, they have dreams but they are not ready to change themselves yet. They are going bigger and bolder with time and forgiveness. They must undergo so sort of special correction before releasing them back among general public. This asks for Correction Camp of young lawbreakers. A prison where classes are taken so that inmates don't lag behind when they finally come out as good citizens because we can't afford to let them walk free if they are going to keeping having fun at the expense of public security.

19 March 2012

What More is Terrorism?

Fake Nu.1000 notes.(source: BBS)
In such times, when the country is struggling to survive a financial crisis, how could our own people assist outsiders in printing and distributing counterfeit Ngultrum notes (on BBS)?  I am saying outsiders because Bhutan can't have such printers. What more is terrorism to a country? This can't be the first time these brothers are doing this, and they may not be the only Bhutanese men involved it.
The sixteen Nu.1000 notes may be just a part of a bigger plot and these men must take police to the root of the fake money. It's our national luck, as always, that the activity was discovered before it could affect much. However, there could be many other innocent victims that may be known by tomorrow following this timely news on BBS.
For now, we must double check every Nu.1000 note that comes in and goes out of our pocket to be sure.

18 March 2012

Black Money Heaven

It's funny that black money is not black in color, it can be of any color but obtained illegally or undeclared to authorities, and therefore untaxed. During the BBS discussion on rupee crunch the Governor of Royal Monetary Authority explained why it all happened. The man was straightforward to the extend of declaring everybody as ignorant and irresponsible. Of course, everybody know who's been irresponsible.
What was so disturbing was the figures he shared of our import and export. Going by the record he mentioned Bhutan is a rich country with export far exceeding import, and record he had was our national record, which means import figure is insanely understated. Nu. 25 Million is so much we imported? Later on Twitter I got to know from some learned Bhutanese that we import 9 Billion worth of fuel, forget all the other things. Now it's simple maths to solve and see how much money is unaccounted for. When unaccounted, it is untaxed and that's black money.
For the population of ours, and the economy health, so much black money is outrageously too much, and so far neither authorities made any stringent law to stop black money nor we thought it would impact this big, thus Bhutan was the heaven of Black Money. If every import was declared and taxed we would have never reached here. And now I am worried if there is anybody who knows how to get out of this mess.

16 March 2012

Out of Syllabus

This article appears in the latest publication of Student Digest, and unlike other stories I wrote this exclusively for the magazine.

4th Issue
Would you spend an hour reading a chapter that is out of syllabus? Would you do an assignment your teacher would not mark? The answer is obvious, there is hardly enough time to study what is actually important. What makes something important? The high probability of something coming in exam is considered important. Do you study only for exam? When will you study for your life?
These are some questions I didn’t ask myself when I was in school, but today as I reflect and realize I begin all over again. I make my students question themselves often between their chapters. I make them question every page in their book. While every school has an elaborately decorated vision that encompasses every aspect of life, they lack the freedom in bringing their vision alive. The written syllabus creates a narrow tunnel through the school, from exam to exam.
Exam has become the license to so many offers in life and therefore everything in school should revolve around exam, and there is no way other than the narrow tunnel. One day we reach at the end of the tunnel with good marks in hand and a job ahead of us, but then we realize that everything around us is out of syllabus. Nobody would want to wake up unhappy for the rest of our lives, despite having a passed so many exams and having gotten into a good job.
We must realize early in our lives that life is not bound by syllabus; we must dare to go out of syllabus to pursue real life.  We must go beyond mere collection of information to processing information and invention of ideas, so that we don’t feel stagnant. We must discover our natural talents and polish them because we all come with our own unique gifts. So many strangers gather in one place called school wearing same clothes and there is no better place to build relationships, respect differences, work in teams, and learn leadership, for these are the elements of life that could guarantee us happiness. We should love to learn every new skill that comes our way and try to master some, for we never know what life has in store for us.
Millions die every year yet we don’t even know but when Steve Jobs died world stopped for a moment. What makes him so special? He discovered his natural talents, spiced it up with his ability to lead, supported it by his courage to rise from failure and went on to make an almost perfect technology. iPhone was not in his syllabus, he created it. He literally went out of syllabus by dropping out of school. Walt Disney was another drop out who now lives forever like his characters. If Albert Einstein studies within the syllabus without dropping out at fifteen would we remember him now? Bill Gates is a living example of someone who went so much out of syllabus to create Microsoft and become a billionaire. Who remembers his classmates who were lucky then to be able to complete their college?
When the time is right, don’t sleep in the syllabus. Wake up to life’s calling. For if you land up in a good job you must know how to work happily and if you remain jobless you should know how to create job- these are not in your syllabus.

Get your copy of Student Digest @ Nu.65. If you are in Wangdue and Punakha, just get it from me.

15 March 2012

Thank You and Goodbye SIF

Yesterday a two member team from Singapore International Foundation visited my school to say a formal goodbye after three years of working together. They spent the whole day here auditing the Bhutan WIREd Project they undertook. 
The project identified five schools- Drukgyel HSS, Chhukha HSS, Punakha HSS, Yangchengatsel LSS, and our school Bajo- and trained five teachers from each school in use of Information Technology in teaching. The project donated ICT equipment to set up a collaborative classroom in each school and brought in six teams of trainers to train 25 of us during the project period. The project also walked the extra mile in taking all of us and our principals to Singapore to give us exposure to how schools there use technology in teaching. Each year the brought in a volunteer and left them at our disposal. These three people, Kong Ming, Jermain and Louis, not only survived our culture and discomforts, they also made their places in the hearts of many Bhutanese teachers. Louis came back again to wind up the project and it was then that I realized how deep an impression he has made on me. I felt like a brother returning home.
And now the time has come for them to say goodbye to us and let us walk our own journey. It's no more difficult to walk independently, the project has done its magic on us and I am saying my goodbye happily. In my final words to our Project Manager Ms. Deeksha, "Please say my thanks to SIF for the finding us and making differences in our lives. I am still amazed at the generosity your organization in a faraway country coming all the way to invest so much in our country." Ms. Deeksha smiled and said, SIF's vision is "making friends for a better world", and I couldn't agree less.
It didn't seem to me that SIF is saying their goodbye yet, they may come back with different project anytime soon and I already committed that if they are going to take WIREd project to other schools we are available anytime.
My love and gratitude to SIF and Singapore!

There are 5 Articles on Singapore in my blog, if you wish to read.

12 March 2012

My Rupee Worries

Even without any knowledge on commerce and economy I always saw this problem coming, I am not bluffing, and I am surprised some are only waking up now. I was in Phuntsholing last winter and had the misfortune of seeing how those four ATMs ran out of cash every hour. Our money was going to India as if Bhutanese economy was suffering from shooting diarrhea.
RMA's sudden measure to curb rupee crunch send panic waves across the country; Import business are threatened, constructions sectors are stunned, industries are shocked... and for once I thought out central bank is trying to cut off the neck that pains instead of healing it. Only today, after Dawa's show on BBS I saw the light, the light that should have been shown long ago. But now is not a bad time either.
However, this temporary measure, I fear, might cause permanent damage to our trade relation with people in Jaigoan. With Indian businessmen already shying away from Ngultrum I foresee sudden inflation in daily commodities in few days time. I have to gamble on weather I should already fill my kitchen with cartons of milk powder and cooking oil. I have already fueled my car -as if the problem would be solved before I run out of fuel again, and that sort of shortsightedness is prevalent among us Bhutanese. And even the central bank.
During the discussion, I didn't hear them talk anything about dollar. But some of us on twitter did a little talk of our own, where we mentioned why not use dollar to buy rupee. The problem is with rupee and we are supposed to have earned good amount of dollar through tourism, why can't we use it?
Without taking long term measures the economy diarrhea will never stop, and the current measure is just a radish corked in the bottom, only to build the pressure of outflow after it's been removed. We may have to look at agriculture seriously so that we don't land up importing what we could grow at home. We should revisit our tourism policy and bring some wise reforms. Our daily tariff of $250 scares many potential tourist from coming and spending in our country.
Of all the things we pride in so much, hydro power puts me to shame. We counted on it to rain rupee on us but the funny export agreements for 30 years with outrageously low tariff would making any difference to our economy during our time. By the time we have full ownership the walls of the dam may fall apart and new projects may have to begin again- followed by new agreements. Last winter's news of importing power from India shocked me 440 volts full.
The only two options we could play with are agriculture and tourism: Agriculture for controlling import and tourism for building economy.

06 March 2012

Father's Name

My father died in 1984, a year after I was born. He shouldn't have jumped into the river, because rest of the passengers survived that fateful bus accident near Katso bridge. I only saw a picture of him when I became 16. Now I am 29, one year older than my father when he passed away but in last many years I had to write his name over a thousand times. From admission form in school, to security clearance form, to job application form,  to income tax from, to promotion form,... every paper on earth seems to want my dead father's name. Sometime I feared it might not let my father rest in peace.
My poor mother gave me the life I am living today, but nobody seems to place any importance in her except myself. No paper ever had a space to write her name. I wish someday we acknowledge the role of a mother in a child's life and ask her name.
My Mother GAKI!
Emotions aside, even if I didn't have a father who held my fingers through life I at least had his name. Let me write it one more time: Lt. Phub Dorji. And some people would read it Lieutenant Phub Dorji. But there are hundred others who have their fathers alive but don't have names to write. These children are victims of so many deprivations in life and the only thing they generously get is humiliation. And I don't think I can write comprehensively on the influence of humiliation on life.
Therefore, I would like to join women activist Kesang Chhoden in seeking government's attention on the 178 cases she brought forth from the dark shadow around Kanglung College. While her demand for DNA Bank may not be easily possible, I hope she has some very practical proposals in place to take the matter ahead. Government should be wise enough not to try and justify the legitimacy of the children or defend itself, rather join the cause for change, so that long after today history will remember them.
Mathematically speaking mother is a constant, no one will ever question the mother of a child,  while father is just a variable and therefore questionable. Finding x can be very difficult and I wonder why all the papers want the name of a variable than a definite constant.

03 March 2012

How Does the Flood Siren Sound?

I live close to the bank of the Punatshangchhu river, and the area was declared red-zone by the experts who were also kind enough to let us know that eight glacier lakes were waiting to burst downstream on to us anytime soon. I am surprised to find myself having a good night's sleep everyday even after knowing that my bedroom may become the riverbed someday soon.
Astrology has pointed at many natural disasters this year, especially flood, and I think I should stop my Bhutanese complacency and strive to know a few things in preparation for the year. I have heard of GLOF mitigation project, where hundreds of people were engaged in lowering the water level of the potential lakes.  I don't know what finished first- work or the money! I also heard of installation of lots of early warning systems, where by people could be alerted before the flood reaches them. Awareness programs were conducted among people living in red zone, to let them know that they are at risk. However the most important piece in the whole puzzle is yet to come in and I wish to know when is it coming.
Three days ago, it was cold and raining and I was working late into the night as usual. When I was about to go to bed I heard a siren. What was it? Any ordinary Bhutanese would ignore it but I live in the red zone and I know there is an early warning system in place, which immediately made me panic. I went out to confirm the source of the siren. It seems to come from the police station or may be the hospital. I waited for a long time before I finally convinced myself that even if it was the flood it may not reach me.
So the missing piece in the puzzle is how does the flood siren sound? How different is it from the sound of a fire engine or an ambulance? If we can't make out the sound of the flood siren, what it the use of investing so much money in having them? When is the right time to tell us the secret of the flood siren?
A mock drill in the red zone should be possible when mock election was possible across the country, and the right time to do it may be now because  natural disaster may not wait for us to prepare.
And as I was sleeping that night I also wondered where to run if at all the flood comes. Yes, where to go? Have we identified the safe place to run to? And who will come to give us instructions- Police, Dzongda or the Gup? Or are we going to repeat the mistake we made during the last earthquake of listening to rumors and spreading them in the absence of proper information dissemination system?
Well, experts were kind enough to let us know the bad news that we are trespassing the way of raging water but I wish they also told us the good news of how we could keep ourselves safe.