Tuesday, November 2, 2010

October 24th: Dewormed, etc

So Friday was deworming day. All of the students received their biannual worm pill and once again I thought, “Better safe than wormy.”

Yesterday I invited two of my friends/colleagues, Yeshey and Karma, for dinner. I think they enjoyed the food, (potato soup, pasta, cole slaw, banana cake) although I don’t really know if they were just being polite. They did add quite a bit of salt to my dishes, and Karma seemed disappointed that I hadn’t put oil in anything. We had an enjoyable evening, with lots of laughing.

Yeshey shared some funny stories about the Bhutanese social network called “Druknet”. It seems that the site is now blocked for civil servants because they were spending ridiculous amounts of office time chatting on-line. Apparently it is very common to use a fake identity, posing as a foreigner, a person of the opposite sex, and often a different age. I guess those things happen on all social networks, but it seems more common here.

I know that Yeshey and Karma are vegetarians, and take their Buddhism quite seriously. I didn’t know that they don’t use honey. They said that since the bees work so hard to prepare the honey, they wouldn’t like to take it away from them. I apologized for being so cruel, but to make me feel better, Yeshey said that even her father, who is a respected rinpoche, uses honey.

Today, after cleaning my house thoroughly, I felt like going for an exploratory walk by myself. I wanted to check out a road which I pass every day to and from school. The road goes steeply downhill from the main road, and looked as if it would go down to the river and up the other side of the valley. I thought it would be fun to get to the other side and look back at Mongar from a different perspective.

I started down the road, past some simple wooden huts. I heard a few voices inside announcing that Madam Ann was walking by, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had company. When I came to a fork in the road, I took the smaller, rougher choice, but soon ended up looking down on the municipal landfill site. Back up the hill, and this time I took the newer, wider tine of the fork. It was actually the best road I have seen in Bhutan, outside of Thimphu. It is brand new, and still being worked on. One thing I noticed is that the road slopes away from the cliff drop-off, which makes it look a little safer. When it is complete, it will be a new route to Lhuentse in the north.

Two girls joined me for the walk. One is Tshering Choeki from Class 6a, and the other was Jamyang from the same village. Tshering is 12, Jamyang is 16, and together with Jamyang’s 12 year old brother, Sonam Norbu, the three of them live in one of the wooden huts I had walked past. They have been living together and looking after themselves for the past four years. I spoke to Yeshey about it, and she says this is quite common for children from remote villages, so they can live near a good school.

my walking buddies

We walked for two hours, over three streams. Despite the fact that it was Sunday, there was a lot of road work going on. The work crews were a mix of Indian and Bhutanese labourers, mostly men, although I did see one Bhutanese woman. There was gravel being loaded, moved and dumped. There were mesh cages being filled with rocks to stabilize the stream banks. Concrete was being mixed for the sides of bridges. Quite an amazing process to put a road in the side of a mountain.


After two hours we turned around and walked back. The girls were great company, and we talked about lots of things. They identified many trees and plants along the way, and told me various uses for them. One of the plants is good for treating "demon scratches" the red marks which some people wake up with in the morning. The girls also described how much the route had changed in the four years they have been going back and forth to visit home. It used to be just a footpath, and at times the streams were raging currents for them to cross.

view of distant village

Jamyang would like to be a journalist one day, because she loves to write, and would like to have the opportunity to travel. Tshering doesn’t know what she wants to do. I mentioned that she might use her cooking skills. She had done a great job as head cook for our “Wet Picnic”, the one when I didn’t get sick.

The girls told me stories about growing up in their village. It sounded quite idyllic. They described many different fruits and vegetables which grow there. Jamyang was teasing Tshering about how she used to drink milk straight from the cow’s teats when she was a little girl.

They would like me to go to their village with them the weekend after next. It is another two hours further along that same road. They said that one of their dads might be able to pick us up, but I suggested that we could walk there, and perhaps get a ride back. We’ll see what happens.


As we returned to their hut, they asked if I would like to come in, so of course I accepted the invitation. The whole hut is built of wooden planks, with rather large gaps between them. There is no glass is the windows, nor even wooden shutters. The floor slopes at quite an angle. They have two rooms. You enter the kitchen, where there were a few vegetables on the floor in one corner, and a fire pit for cooking in another corner. I think there was just a piece of metal to protect the floor from the fire, but it was hard to see. The smoke just goes out through the cracks in the wood.

Through a doorway is their bedroom, with three narrow wooden beds, very close together. I was invited to sit on the bed and look at their photo albums. Much to my surprise, at least half of the photos were of Korean celebrities. The fellow at the photo shop downloads them from the internet, prints them and sells them for Nu10 (about 20 cents). Korean culture is a huge influence on young Bhutanese –more so than Indian pop culture or Western pop culture. They are keen to copy the fashion and hairstyles from the singers and actors they see on television.

Jamyang and Tshering Choeki

It was an enjoyable walk, even if it wasn’t by myself, as planned. We did go for enough to look back at Mongar from the other side of the valley.

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