After starting the day at HiO, I met up at Oslo Gardermoen at 11.30 with my fellow travelers. The group consists of Roar Nordby, a fellow coworker from MediaLT and Einar Kippernes, the former Principle and founder of the Blind School in Kalinn. At the check-in we had to weigh our baggage. All of us had gone quite close to the allowed limit, but we made it through. The whole group was excited and in high spirits to finally start this trip which had been in the making for a long time.
After a total flight time of a shy 10 hours we arrived in Bangkok, Thailand at 6 o'clock in the morning. None of us had got any sleep during the flight so we arrived quite tired. The time consuming part of getting through passport control, baggage control and getting a taxi, we finally arrived at our hotel at 8 o'clock local time. This was now in the early morning, (Bangkok is six hours ahead of Norwegian time) but in our bodies and all of us were really tired.
After checking in (and getting the best orange juice known to man) we got in to our separate rooms. Since I was not able to sleep, but just tired, I tried to take a bath to sleep. After an half an hour, Roar called and asked if I wanted to join him at the pool, since he neither could sleep. We then spent the whole day at the pool, falling in and out of sleep, getting a small, but noticeable sunburn! After a terrific lunch, dinner and massage we went to bed. An excellent start for a hopefully excellent trip!
At 03.30 in the morning we got up to catch the taxi to the airport. The flight from Bangkok to Paro (the airport in Bhutan) were scheduled at 06.40, and we wanted to arrive in due time. When we arrived at the airport over two hours earlier than the take off time, we found our self in the back off a long queue. According to Einar, a lot of the Bhutanese used Bangkok as a place to buy and collect computers, TVs and other electronic equipment. This again meant that they met up early to check in all of their excess weight and packages. Even though we had a long queue ahead of us, we were able to get a seat in the left side of the plane.
Einar had been in Bhutan several times before, and knew all the tricks. Or as we would say in Norwegian; ("alle triksa i ludo"). Since he suggested that we got seats on the left side of the plane, we then had a magnificent view over the Himalayas when we flew into Bhutan. We had a view of Mount Everest in the distance, which itself was beautiful to behold. After a danger close flight path into Paro airport we landed with the sound of flutes on the airplanes intercom. This made it to be one of the single most powerful and awe-inspiring moments of my life.
After arriving in Paro, we then started with the tedious procedures of getting right of entry to Bhutan. Since Bhutan is a very strict and reserved country, only people with an invitation are allowed into the country. Although we were invited by the ministry of education, and all the paper works in order, we still had problems with getting all the correct stamps and official documentation. One of the larger problems seemed to be that we only were allowed access to the 30th of January. This was a problem because our flight was to leave at the 6th of February. This again meant more paperwork on Einar's behalf.
This turned out to be less of a problem than first anticipated because Einar had lived so long in the country. He was widely respected and has a huge network of friends and peers, in addition to knowing the language. He was thus able to get in contact with the Ministry of Education which would try to sort this misunderstanding.
After exchanging currency at the airport from US$ to Nultrum, we then turned to our driver Dawa Tamang. After delivering some gifts in Paro, we were on our way to Thimphu, the capitol in Bhutan and our first stop in Bhutan.
The hotel in Thimphu was a pleasant stay, with small nice rooms and excellent service. This was also our first meet with DrukNet, the Internet Service Provider of Bhutan. When we first connected, the connection was slow, close to 512 kbit. After we got back from lunch and a small trip to the market, the connection to the internet was lost. The problem was with one of the transmitters on the roof, and a technical serviceman was to check it the next day. This meant a day without internet, which for an internet addict like me was pretty much like going cold turkey.
The first night in Thimphu Roar and I went out to take a beer. We then woke up early the next morning to get breakfast and check out. After a short meeting at the Ministry of Educating where we had to deliver our passports to acquire the correct visa length, we started our journey to Gelephu.
Our driver was a very skilled and mild mannered man with a Toyota Landcruiser. We started to drive, only to stop when we passed a sighting worth taking picture of. As it would seem, those moments came many times!
We then drove for a while until we ended on a top at Dochu-la (all mountain passes in Bhutan ends with -la) were we stopped for a photo opportunity. This was at ca 2900 meters, almost 500 meters taller than the tallest mountain in Norway. The view of the Himalayas was simply amazing, making this to be one of the most extraordinary places I have ever been.
After driver a bit longer we stopped in the region of Wangde Phodrang to eat food and recuperate. This was our first meeting with the simplicity of this country. For me, who has never been east of Sweden and only been in Western Europe or the USA, the concept of going to the bathroom in a whole in the ground was different to say the least. Although a pleasant restaurant, the whole in the ground and no running water was a definite shock to me.
We then drove further down the valley, almost never exceeding 30-40 kilometers per hour. On this drive we explored some of the most extraordinary terrain, competing even with the western part of Norway with view.
Finally a bit later than six o'clock, 8 hours after we set off from Thimphu, we arrived in Gelephu and then proceeded to drive straight to the school. Here at the front porch of the school we were introduced to each of the teachers, staff and students. Some of the teachers had in 2008 spent time in Norway were they had received computer training at MediaLT. Especially for Roar, who had trained and worked with them at that time, this was a great get-together.
We then drove to the guest house which was only a 3 minute drive from the school. We were then lodged into our separate rooms, and we finally went to bed.
We woke up partly rested and after breakfast we started to go to the school. However the route and location of the school was a bit unclear, so we went in the wrong distance for some time. This again meant that we arrived at the school a tad late. We then went into a class meeting where we were asked to introduce ourselves and give a short presentation about ourselves. All the students went through the curriculum of the course so far, and what they had learned.
After a short presentation by Pema, the leader of this workshop, we were assigned classes. It then dawned on us that the wishes and expectations to us were different and greater than we first expected. Roar and I were set in charge of two different groups. We had one group of advanced students who had completed the normal course in half the time. This meant that they completed a 4 week course in less than 2 weeks, and even finding this a tad boring and unchallenging. They now wanted to know how to use excel and power point, because they needed this to work. This group consisted of Kuenga and Ambrit, which is completely blind, and Sangay, a low vision teacher. Together they all wanted to learn Excel.
The other group was in what we refer to as the Resource Group. This is a group consisting of teachers and technical competent people. The two we had assigned to us, were Srimann and Wangchuk. They had no background in teaching the visually impaired computers and no background from using computer tools for the blind. Roar then started to teach this group with Jaws. After completing a day's session we ended the day with meetings. This day was very exhausting, so when we arrived back at the guest house, all we could do was sleep.
Today me and Roar changed the groups and started sharing classrooms. The day before, we had used separate rooms. This was a hassle for many reasons, but the main issue was that it was difficult for me and Roar to communicate. So we therefore moved the two classes together.
Roar continued on teaching excel, but I started with teaching the resource group. The programs we are using are somewhat advanced, and goes deep down in the windows screen stack. The resource group needed practice on how to install and configure the programs. This, in additional to some unstable software make it so I don't want to install it on my personal computer. The solution for this was Virtual machines.
We virtualized Windows 7 on my computer, and cloned it. The first one was a clean version, the second version had MS office and Jaws screen reading software installed. The third one had Magic screen enhancement tool installed. With these virtual machines we could teach the resource personnel elementary installation and basic startup configuration. Both Magic and Jaws can't be installed on the same computer, so we could now easily switch between the different Virtual machines.
This turned out to be a great way to teach students, where we actually could use the exact same version of Windows. Roar and I use a Norwegian version of Windows 7, but with the virtual machines we used English. This made it easier to translate ad configure the different settings. It also let us experiment in greater length. The resource group could also try to install and configure the software as many times as we deemed necessary.
When we got back from the school around 6 o'clock we were all tired and wanted to rest and take a shower. However the water pressure in our guest house was very low, which meant to not take the shower head above knee height. This meant flexible shower positions where we had to crouch to get completely wet. We then finally found out that the most effective solution was to use a bucket. As a side note, the showering and hygienic part of the daily living is important. The temperature is close to 25-30 degrees, which means perspiration is common.
Got up early and for the first time for almost a week I felt rested. We started the day like every other, with a meeting with all the students. Every day a student is picked to give a short presentation of the matters discussed the day earlier. It is then discussed the teaching plan for the day. Roar and I teach a more advance group, so we do not follow a particular curriculum.
This day we worked further more with the use of Excel, exploring Jaws and the different types of functions that exist in excel.
In class we today had focus on repetition. For a blind individual, it is difficult to orient in an excel spreadsheet. The size, layout and style of the sheet can be difficult to fathom, but our students were exceptionally skilled and understood them in an amazing pace. We then gave exercises according to what they want to use excel to do. Sangay, one of our students is a teacher. He wanted a spreadsheet that calculated average score, pass/failrate etc. This was a good task for the students to do.
After lunch we started working on diagrams, and we went through the different styles, forms and functions.
Originally there were planned classes the first part of the day, then meetings the second half. However, because of a loss of power at the school the meeting was pushed forward. The meeting was about the administrative part of the workshop, and was a possibility for the group to communicate better. It was also decided that there should be no more classes that day, so me and Roar went home early at 1 o'clock. The first short day. J
Neither Roar nor I had shaven in the time we were in Bhutan, so we went to a local barber for a clean shave. This is something that is quite uncommon to do in Norway, so we wanted to explore that possibility. The son of the landlord showed us a local barber and we then got a clean shave. The total cost of a shave was 30 Nultrum, which is the equivalent of 5 Norwegian kroner. We then decided to do that more often.
Today we met at the school at 10.30 were all of the students and teachers took the school bus to a local hot spring in the Gelephu area. The hot spring is believed for having healing powers and is especially good for people with bad backs, knees etc. This was a good possibility for us to talk and get to know the other students and teachers.
On the way back we stopped at the riverside and had a wonderful lunch under the open sky. The meal was rice, pork and a lot of other types of food that I cannot name. On the road back to the school, there was a fantastic spirit in the bus, and all the students and teachers were singing.