Seizing Possibilities During Covid-19

Selfie
Ramesh at workstation
Screenshot of Bhutanese Literature website

I am one of about 600 former refugees from Bhutan who got resettled in Norway as an UN-quota refugee in 2009. Nearly 100,000 Bhutanese refugees have relocated themselves to different parts of the USA as a part of the UN resettlement program. The Covid-19 pandemic disaster came when these people were struggling to redefine themselves as students, employees, owners of small businesses, and start-ups.

The lockdown situations resulting from widespread infections gave rise to an elevated new normal for most of these people. Schools' decision to shift to virtual classes of the children demanded augmented parental responsibilities and new parenting skills that left even the educated parents mostly bewildered.

When Italy and Spain were hard-hit by Covid-19, not a single case was reported in Norway until February 28, and we were still enjoying a regular schedule. On March 6, interpreting the exponential model prepared in an IB mathematics class, I suggested that the daily cases would cross 137 in a week should the situation continue. My students laughed in disagreement, but this was the beginning of abnormal weeks and months that would follow the remaining academic session. Norway recorded 157 new cases on March 12, and the schools went totally digital from the following day.

Following the usual year plan in mathematics in a completely digital environment was one of the most demanding tasks I encountered in my teaching career. Though this metamorphosed situation posed challenges, it also provided an opportunity to learn and adapt to a dynamic and innovative teaching-learning arena. This experience would also be a significant asset that I could carry to a Ph.D. project that focuses on integrating digital tools in teaching mathematics that I started at the University of Stavanger, Norway in August 2020.

Sharing knowledge and experiences amongst colleagues (also digitally) and a more comprehensive teachers' community across the globe through different online discussion forums and webinars was instrumental in enacting the constraints posed by digital teaching environments.

Despite being compelled to move along a steep learning curve of the digital teaching environment myself, as a practicing teacher in a pandemic digital school, I wanted to share my experience with the larger Bhutanese communities in different countries. At the time when many schools closed their doors for physical classes, it was necessary to inform the parents about the possibilities they have for effective home-schooling of their children. I was requested to co-present with a multidisciplinary team of researchers from McGill University, Boston College School of Social Work's Research Program on Children and Adversity (RPCA), and George Washington University about home-schooling of the children. The team partnered with Bhutan News Service, a community-based news site operated from the US, to reach out to a broader Bhutanese audience.

Pandemics are not new to humankind. A lot of pains and miseries from pandemics like the Spanish flu, the Black plague, and alike are well-documented, both in demographics and in literature. Though the demographics paint a vivid picture of pandemic situations and the changing human population, literary works speak volumes of experiences, feelings, emotions, and mindset of the people affected by the pandemics. For instance, Albert Camus' The Plague (a novel) is one of such masterpieces that narrates the cholera epidemic of 1849.

I have been devoting many hours weekly to run a literary website, Bhutaneseliterature.com, that I co-founded in 2009. Established with the main goal to preserve and promote Bhutanese language, literature, and culture, the website has archived about 3500 articles so far. As the Covid-19 started overflooding the health facilities and claimed many people's lives, we deemed it necessary to document the pandemic emotions and agonies through literary writings.

We created a separate section for Pandemic Literature on our website and started publishing articles of all genres. From March 2020, we have published many articles reflective of different genres. While some of these articles are filled with imaginary fiction, others are poignant poems containing praises to the front-line workers. Some articles appeal to the stakeholders. Some stories also reflect the fear of the pandemic pregnancy and personal stories of combating the virus.

The elevated normal that we are knocked down to by the pandemic was not our choice, and the escape was not possible either, but we can still extract the possibilities from the adversities we are dealing with. As we all look to seize those possibilities, I also like to hope and wish that the new normal is right around the corner.

Ramesh G, a former refugee from Bhutan, is a Ph.D. Research Fellow at the University of Stavanger and teaches mathematics and physics at St. Olav Upper Secondary School, Stavanger, Norway.

This story is part of a Refugee Communities collection.