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Zhemgang: Working in the middle of nowhere
Separating grain from husk by winnowing
As dark clouds gather above Dali village in Bjoka gewog, Zhemgang, the principal of the village community school starts to frown.

"Clouds are a real nuisance," says principal Lungten. "The radio will not be clear."

The radio is the only link to the outside world for civil servants like Lungten, who work in remote lower Kheng.

Cellular clogging and slow Internet speed are not yet an issue for them nor are power black-outs.

One must cross Dirung chu, the river that runs between Bjoka and Dali, nine times to reach Dali. Lungten said that during monsoons, when the river swells, the village was completely cut off.

Teachers working in Dali and Barpong travel a day to reach the nearest health unit and three days to the Panbang hospital. "My wife got sick last summer and we went to Weringla in Mongar, which is about a five-hour walk from Dali, rather than to Bjoka's basic health unit," Lungten said. Serious patients are carried on stretcher for days, according to the health assistant, Tshering, in Goshing.

Living in a bamboo hut, a teacher in Kaktong community school, Pema, said that staying up late on evenings to correct homework and make lesson plans was difficult without electricity. "We try to make full use of the only solar lamp our school possess but it's hardly sufficient for the students," he said. "Bamboo huts can catch fire very easily and I am scared that my hut might get consumed in flames one day.

He also said that getting to read newspapers once in three months was a treat. "We let our students read last year's Kuensel."

Living in remote areas is not cheap either.

A bag of rice, which goes for Nu 450 in Thimphu costs about Nu 1,200 in Barpong, Dali, Bjoka, Panthang, Goshing and Kaktong. "Transportation cost is high here," said a shopkeeper in Panthang. Principal Lungten said paying more was not a problem if the diet was good.

"My family had to sustain on kharang (corn-grain) and pacha (rattan-shoot) for the entire summer," he said. "My children must have forgotten the taste of momos."

People like Lungten get a paltry sum as 'difficulty allowance' for working in remote corners, but he said that it was the smile on the faces of his students that keeps him going. "I get job satisfaction here," he said

This article was contributed by Tashi Dema KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2007
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