Sunday, February 27, 2011

It’s Official: You Can Use Powdered Milk in Anything!

In Thimpu, they have bakeries, but lets just say, the delicious aroma of soy lattes and fresh whole grain loaves never invites you in.  Most of the time, white bread it is!  Or, the baked goods just sit on the shelf until they sell, and you never know what you may get.

Tonight marks the official night that I had had enough.  I wanted some fresh, steaming bread!  So, I took matters into my own hands, reminiscing back to my backpacking days and the days of making tortillas after elementary school.  The result was a scrumptious, and not so politically correct masterpiece, called: “GHETTO BREAD”.  The recipe is as follows.

3-4 handfuls of flour (depending on your hand size of course)
2-3 pinches of salt
2 small Coffeemate-To-Go packets

1 splash of oil (whatever the cheap stuff they sell here is)
Water until you make a dough-like consistency

Next Steps:
1) Mush it up
2) Flatten it out to pancake width (maybe on the thicker side)
3) Butter a pan
4) Turn off your smoke detector if you have one (We don’t)
5) Throw it in the pan
6) Flip until golden brown on both sides
7) Add butter if you want

I have to admit, part of me pretended to be a latchkey kid in my parents kitchen as I threw whatever I could find into the bowl and thought to myself, “Someone out there may frown upon this if they walk in right now.”  GUILTY!  But I licked my fingers to taste the dough, added a bit more salt, and thought, “Hey, what the hell.” 

Now I can’t wait to go to the store tomorrow and buy some whole grain flour… Maybe even some cornmeal… Imagine the possibilities!

Yes, No, Maybe So

When I first arrived in Bhutan, one thing I found particularly hard to get use to was the way they said “yes”.  Instead of nodding up and down, the Bhutanese nod their heads from side to side, the way that an American may say, “Eh, not now,” or, “Maybe, we’ll see”.

I would order a tea and see, “Whatever, if you insist”.  I would ask if they have eggs and see “Fine, I guess I’ll check.”  I would even try to do the sideways head nod myself, and the unnaturalness of it would make my brain rattle.

The other day, as I was trying to order an extra side of hot sauce at the restaurant because my stomach can officially handle the amount of chili I crave,  the waitress double-checked that she had understood correctly.  That was when I realized shortly after, I had become a subconscious, sideways head-nodder.  I wondered how long I had been doing it for, then I chowed down on my omelet.

When I get back to the states, don’t assume Bhutan has turned me into some nonchalant person who only responds with “I don’t care” or “Eh, whatever”.  In reality, it may be a “yes indeed”, or “sounds good to me”.

Instances like this remind me to capture the hilarity of my surroundings and share them with others, sooner rather than later, before the interesting becomes natural and unnoticed.

You Know You Are in Bhutan When: Part 2

  • You find out the only pharmacy in Thimpu carries one size Band-Aid, so you don't have high hopes that they will have Benadryl for your full body rash. Happy scratching!
  •  The school you work at is also the permanent residence of stray, adorable puppies.
  • Your student runs into your classroom to proudly show you the rat he caught in a waste basket
  • You are crouched over with your mini, twig-broom and dustpan sweeping up bugs off your living room floor, 40% of which are still alive and living in the wood of your wooden house.  Also a treat finding bug eggs next to the head of your bed.
  • You check out a man in a dress (aka gho).
  • You are eating traditional, local cereal.  You bite down on a rock, spit it out, and continue eating.
  • You can look at the license plate of a car, and know who it belongs to; diplomat,  police officer, of even the King (his plate says BHUTAN).
  • You can go to jail if you are smoking cigarettes that have entered the country illegally.
  • You are doing a traditional Nepali dance in a kira.
  • Holding your ears and doing frog jumps for extended periods of time does not count as corporal punishment.
  • You have invented more hot water drinks than are found on a Starbucks menu, because hot water is clean water
  • Instead of saying "slug bug" and punching the person next to you, you are saying "chillip in a kira"
  •  You hear small voices yelling “Hello” from 50 yards away, and the children at the park call you “Aunt”.
  • The kamikaze pigeons begin flying their crazy circles in the Himalayan winds.
  • Teaching the game Red Light, Green Light is potentially a “splinter skill” that leads to nothing, because some kids may never see a stoplight.
  • You are looking down at the city at night and you can only hear dogs and running water.  Not a car in sight.
  • The sun sets behind the mountain range transitioning the city from light to dark in moments.  You sleep, then wake up to silence and warm sunshine... perfect.

Fashion Police

Bhutan is in an interesting place in terms of development, technology, cultural preservation, and growth.  The country places a high value on maintaining culture, however, all the students learn English because the king believes the country must move forward from it’s days of seclusion, becoming part of a greater global community.  There is much evidence of this, given the country has recently developed a democracy, introduced the Internet and TV, and is putting a large emphasis on education reform.
Personally, I secretly delight in the awkward clashing of cultures when it comes to things such as national dress.  As I sat and ate lunch today, I watched a teenage boy practice his “popping” dance as two smaller boys in “ghos” admired his moves.  Better yet are the young people who wear Kiras by day and crop tops by night.  Nightclubs are full of young people wearing outfits that look like the were shipped in from Hot Topic.  Monks can be seen spinning the same prayer wheels in the main square, as young kids in skinny jeans and Crocs.
However the most hilarious fashion trend I have seen thus far, began in the H1N1 days.  My coworker informed me that, while the surgical masks were once used to serve a purpose, they have become a new fashion statement, as evidenced by the fact that they come in different colors.  AWESOME!
I can envision you hoping my next blog post has nothing to do with a “chillip in a mask.”  Don’t worry, I’m usually never up to date with the latest fashion trends anyway.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Learning Lessons the Hard Way: Dogs and Chillips, The Other White Meat

When I go running I am careful to walk when I approach a dog.  When I come home in the evenings, I am careful to avoid the pathway 20 yards from my house where the neighborhood pack hangs out.  This afternoon, I let my guard down for one second.  Idiot!

The sun was setting as I left for my run.  I threw on my most non-sexy, long, beige shorts in an attempt to be appropriate and not offend anyone.  Ew.  My ipod was on, and I didn’t notice the pack of dogs to my right.  I heard barking and saw the alpha male of the pack 25 feet away, running full speed at me, barking, and growling.

I remembered what a friend told me to do.  I looked around for a rock.  None.  When I  remembered to reach for a pretend one, the dog was already too close, and I was afraid to bend over.  So what did my dumb ass do: ran more.

I think it may have been a blessing in disguise that I ate shit on a rock.  I was afraid that any second I would feel a bite, but all I heard was growling, and I realized the motherfucker was standing five feet away snarling as if I was too pitiful to eat.  Cars stopped in the road and a man had opened his door, about to get out to help me.  I walked away slowly.  More cautious and humbled.

My legs are rallied, and I just chomped on a bit of leftover sand, but no bites and no rabies shots.

The second lesson I learned today was that, the only thing more entertaining to watch than a chillip running, is a chillip in beat ass, beige shorts, running with bloody knees.  F my life.

It's Harder to Covertly Pick a Wedgie in a Kira

I pretty much live for moments when I have to hold my breath to keep from laughing, and instead bust out a “teacher smile”, trying to act appropriate.  Yesterday I had one of those moments.  My students were writing speeches to recite for the King’s Birthday Celebration.  As a writing teacher, I try to be very encouraging of my students’ creative sparks.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of the student’s speeches, I decided to run it by a veteran teacher to see if it was standard.  It looked something like this:

“I am very excited to be celebrating the King’s birthday.  I saw him at the swimming pool and on the basketball court.  He has a nice body and I like how he plays.  He came to our school and meditated with us.  I want him to come again.”

My mind flashed to the poster I had painted and hung in my classroom, which reads, "Honesty Is The Best Policy."  So... the king has a nice bod, in case you were wondering.

In celebration of His Majesty, I wore my new kira.  It is a floor length, wrap-around skirt and a jacket-like top.  I have been informed that the small spot on your neck, where the collarbones come together to create a small dimple, is sorta sexy, along with maybe even a little ankle now and then.

The new look brought me back to Easter morning as a kid, reaching up under my itchy dress to adjust tights that kept falling down to my knees.  I squirmed, readjusted, and may have cursed under my breath once or twice as I walked to school to celebrate His Majesty’s Birthday.

My kira was on, but I had forgotten to buy pins to close it over my tank top!  I held the top closed hoping someone would have a pin to loan me. I arrived to school disheveled, but with a smile, hoping it would hide the hot mess underneath.

There is a couple that works at my school, who have a two-month-old baby.  They speak very little, but their soft demeanor is gentle and welcoming.  They are the type of people who would possibly go unnoticed in the states, but I find their presence nice to be around.  They have been welcoming in their own way, such as when the mother and I shared a quiet teatime in the sun, while she nursed her baby.

Today, the father looked at me in my scoogi wobin attire, and told me in the most sincere tone that I was looking "very beautiful in my new kira".  I had no choice but to say "kaadinchey la" and think to myself, “haven’t figured it out yet, but at least I tried.”  Moments later, his wife walked in with one of the sixth grade students and the two of them made me presentable.

In the sea of kiras and ghos that walked the streets to celebrate His Majesty’s Birth Anniversary, I felt almost like part of the crew until a young passerby whispered to a friend, "chillip in a kira”.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shark Attacks in Bhutan

One of my students told me this joke today.  “With marriage there are 3 rings.  The engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the… what’s next?”  I had no clue.  “The suffering”.  Just another reason I love Bhutan!
The idea of marriage and relationships here is interesting, fabulous, and just downright hilarious.  One minute you hear stories of marriages that involve simply moving into someone’s house.  Greatest country ever, right?
I thought so too, until I gave my number to a friend, who proceeded to call me 3 times a day for the next week.  Or better yet, when a Bhutanese guy nonchalantly asked me to be his girlfriend after knowing me for a week.  Looking back, I realize I may have been a little rude upon saying, “Ha.  That’s not how we are in America.”  At least I didn’t say what I was really thinking, “This is my nightmare, this is my nightmare!”
This is absolutely not a post tooting my own “chillip” horn, but merely a post to explain the culture shock (and horror) I have experienced.  I explained to my roommate that I feel culturally ignorant while complaining about it.  However, for the time being, I prefer cultural ignorance regarding relationships, to a “stage five clinger”.
At this point, I just feel happy to live in Thimpu and not the east, where the men partake in “night hunting”, or crawling through a women’s window at night to establish a courtship.  Yikes!

Whiteouts + Blackouts = Cold Apartments

Last night, my roommate and I had a few friends over for dinner.  It began to snow.  Shortly after dinner, the power went out.  Of course I didn’t remember where my flashlight was!  Instead, I opened the curtains to reap the benefits of the occasional car that drove by with headlights on.  Outside on the street, one of the cows had parallel parked himself between two cars to be shielded from the wind.
Right as I was thanking my lucky stars that I had spent the first half of my teaching salary on a blanket to compensate for blackouts with no space heater, the lights came back on, and I got a text from my principle proclaiming tomorrow would be a snow day.  Life was good.  I went back to hanging with friends and learning to write in Dzonka until 2 in the morning.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shout Outs!

Yesterday I sat down to morning meditation.  Next to me was a 6 year old with a jack-o-lantern grin and shaggy long hair.  He smiled and settled into his meditation posture, where he proceeded to meditate for four minutes alongside the adults and sixth grade students.
I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of someone so young enjoying the moment.  And the fact that he sat perfectly silent for 4 minutes was impressive.  In school, the Bhutanese believe it is important that children learn to live mindfully, embracing the present.
Avoiding the rat race of going through the motions is readily accessible here because that’s just how it is.  On my lunch break I go out to lunch at a place called “FAST FOOD”, choose between 2 menu items, then sip tea and chat for 15-20 minutes while they cook the “fast” food.  That being one of the few options leaves me no choice but to sink into a seat next to a space heater and enjoy the company of new friends.
That being said, while the present is all fine and dandy, I am constantly reminded of my friends back at home and frequently chuckle under my breath (trying not to look too crazy), while wishing my friends were here to share the moment.

·      When I heard about the tiger they had to capture and put into a garage in Thimpu until it could be relocated, I imagined Lauren whispering in my ear:  “WE CAN’T LEAVE THE BABY.  THERE’S A F***ING TIGER IN THE BATHROOM”
·      While dancing at one of the only nightclubs in Thimpu, (which burnt down last week) I thought of Mere, because not only is she is the best dancer of the Adams, but she would have found the Alvin and the Chipmunk Song hilarious!
·      As I heard a little rat gnawing at the ceiling in my classroom, I thought of my neighbor Addie and the “Mouse House” diorama we made together.  I think it would have gotten more use here.
·      When I see the neighbor boys riding their makeshift skateboard, I think of Addie’s brother Jackson.
·      While I was at my friend’s house, I couldn’t help but notice the JLO poster amidst the traditional knick-knacks and religious symbols.  I thought of all my friends from the hood.
·      Whenever I see someone with a red mouth from the beetle nut, I think of the time we all crammed coca leaves into our mouths upon hopping off the plane in Peru, and Heavy proclaimed, “I think we got some bad shit”
·      When I am bouncing around on the winding roads, passing tractors and equipment that look like they haven’t been used since the roads were first built, I picture my dad who claims to be “building America”, and I wonder who builds Bhutan.
·      Whenever someone refers to me as a daughter, sister, or cousin, I think of my mom, who is empty nested, but always has kids running in and out of the house.
·      As I ran by the closest thing to a lab puppy, I could hear Mo sighing at how cute the Little Lewis was.
·      Mr. Ramirez would have loved the Thai massages.
·      When my legs and armpits get a little too hairy for comfort because showering is chilly, I think of Michele and remind myself, it doesn’t even compare to our 3-week backpacking trips.
·      When I am at the shop where you can buy designer wallets and Machetes, I think of the Korrisons and all the times we joked about getting Machetes
·      As I was giving a presentation on Positive Behavior Support I thought of all my ESC buddies and how horrified they would be to know Bhutanese schools are just banning corporal punishment!!
·      When I see teen angst teenagers in skinny jeans and slicked back hair, I think of my friends who teach Jr. High/High School, and who, like myself, have an amazing appreciation for all things awkward.
·      My co-worker wears a jean jacket with fur lining, and I constantly ponder what I can barter for it in one year, so I can bring it back to Waffle.
·      My students love the mix on my ipod, which includes Dynamite, courtesy of Rachel, who lives for trashy mixes.
·  As I sipped the Bhutanese wine, I felt no older than my underage neighbor (anonymous) who I bought a jug of Carlo Rossi for a few months back
·      As I sip whisky apple juice at a bar, with an out of place Christmas tree next to the dartboard, I salute the Leucadian.
·      Until Karaoke comes on, playing O Bla Di, O Bla Da, in which case I travel back in time to Saigon Slursdays
·      Last but not least, when the King (K5) drove by my house last night, I thought of all those who not so secretly want me to come back royalty, or at least with a royal bun in the oven.  You creeps know who you are.

I can’t help but want everyone I know to come visit me.  Even those of you who aren’t too keen on roughing it or peeing in a hole (Aunt Patrice).

Much Love from Bhutan

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wine You Can Drink and Water You Can't

Last night my teacher friends and I piled into a van that looked like a mini VW.  We stopped off at a bakery and bought some mushroom turnovers, and we grabbed a few bottles of wine.  I was super excited to open the bottle with the label that said “Santa Barbara”.  I found out they pronounce it “Santa Baury”.  Should’ve read the fine print to see that it was Indian wine that resembled cough syrup.
We headed up a huge hill that overlooked the city and parked near the Giant Buddha, which is large enough to be seen from the valley of Thimpu.  We laughed, ate, drank, and sang along to some Bhutanese favorites such as Sheryl Crow.
We crashed at our friends place and all woke up cursing the Indian wine.  I asked my friend to pass me the pitcher of water next to her.  “You can’t drink that!  It’s the holy water they use to pray at the cheshun” (which is the place in their room that they pray and give offerings).  Instead we had boiled water, which was a double edged sword as I tried to drink the hot water as fast as my esophagus would let me.  For someone who is not very religious, holy water sounded damn good!

Apparently It's Easy To get Thrown in Jail Here, But Even Easier to Get Bailed Out

Living here sometimes makes me feel like I am watching a movie.  Tonight I sat at my kitchen table for an hour and watched cows dig through the trash, picking up whole cardboard boxes and tossing them aside.  (I know… exciting right?)  They are locals at our trash site and I named them “Filet” and “Mignon”.  The dogs woke up and joined the cows shortly after; the same dogs who sleep all day and bark all night.
Every now and then, I take a hiatus from the movie, like the night when we had an earthquake and my 3rd floor apartment shook me back to reality.  Or the morning I woke up to an apartment full of gas due to a gas leak.  This place is a trip.
Tonight a friend came over and explained that kids get a few days off school each year to uproot the marijuana from their school campus, pile it into trucks, drive it up the hill, and burn it.  He also told me that because you can’t kill a cow here you push it off a cliff instead.  Hearing stories like this remind me to try and be open minded.  I guess I shouldn’t act that shocked, seeing as though up until 2005 you would get thrown into a police truck and sent to jail if you were seen in town out of national dress.

Have Your Butter and Drink It Too

My dad emailed me asking what I eat here.  The answer is: all things spicy!  All Bhutanese food has chilies! Today we decided to have a break from the local food and try an old favorite.  We ordered a pizza from the only place in Bhutan that delivers.  We were so excited to open the little foil wrapped packets in the corner of the box hoping for Parmesan, ranch, or tomato sauce.  Nope!  Chile paste.  F!

During the day I pay a few bucks to eat at a canteen, where I get delicious Indian food that has probably been sitting on the shelf a few days.  No problem.  I am beginning to get a stomach of steal, which is much deserved after my first two weeks here.

I have to say, I am loving tea times, the Darjeeling tea is awesome.  I also enjoy the lemon and honey in hot water.  Even the buttertea, which you drink to welcome someone, isn’t too shabby in small doses if you set aside the fact that you are drinking butter.  Boozewise, it’s whiskey and ara.

There are no addresses here, only landmarks, so if anyone wants to ship me a soy latte, some grey goose, and chocolate, hopefully it will make it to the “Chillip” (white person) with short blond hair.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Forget the Drugs, Real Badasses Smuggle Yaks

Couldn’t help but notice the headline in today’s paper.  Men Caught Smuggling Yaks into Tibet.  Some detectives were notified when not one, but THIRTEEN yaks went missing!  The detectives proceeded to follow the yak tracks and human tracks, and found the men who stole the creatures.  The men had to pay $200 dollars.

I guess the moral of the story is: Yaks are relatively cheap here if anyone is interested in purchasing one… Or you can notify me, in which case I will do my best to smuggle one back to California.

I guess the other interesting point is that Marijuana grows wild here... but that's used as pigs food!  I'd have to imagine yak smuggling gives more of an adrenaline rush.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You Know You’re in Bhutan When:

  • The newspaper does a New Years spread recounting the year, and the first caption reads:  26 LIVESTOCK KILLED BY TIGERS.
  • You cannot use the phrase “Karma’s a bitch” because Karma is a common enough name that people will ask which Karma you are talking about.
  •  People call your cell phone over and over until you pick up.
  • You see children cremating a dog on the side of the road.
  • You see the only fire truck in Thimpu, and it reminds you of an antique you would see at an Encinitas street fair.
  •  Everywhere you go, you feel like you are paying in monopoly money.

Top Down... Chrome Spinnin'

Today on my run, I came across 8 kids carrying two large sticks.
“What are you building?”
“We are driving a car Madame.”
Of course they were driving a car seeing as though they were in two rows, holding the two large sticks on the outside.  It was no Barbie Jeep or Hot Wheels Convertible, but it was a car; a stick car.  The oldest boy in the bunch must have been the driver, as he was holding the front of the branch where it split into to two parts.
In the field of Special Education, you hear endless conversations about appropriate, imaginative play.  I have to admit, the sight of a “stick car” made my Special Ed heart sing.  Sights like this remind you that you’re in Bhutan.  The only thing that could have made it more of a Bhutanese moment happened next.
“Drive safe!” I yelled, to which I got stares of complete confusion.  Driving safe is a semi-foreign concept here and obviously the phrase was new to these kids.  I refrained from my standard kid goodbye, “see you later alligator”, knowing that it would really throw them for a loop.  The driver of the car blew me a kiss and I waved goodbye.

What I Have Learned Now

It’s easy to forget the little things we take for granted in the states.  I am learning new things everyday!
·      When my bathroom flooded because I forgot to put the washer hose near the drain of the sink, I learned that bathrooms are built at a slant and all the water goes to one place.
·      I have learned how to kneel and balance the portable shower head between my knees so the warm water hits my stomach while I lather my hair, so I don't freeze.
·      I’ve learned to wake with the sun and open the curtains for heat, so as not to run up the heating bill.  Along with this, I’ve gotten use to always keeping doors closed to keep the heat in.  Also to shimmy quickly through the hallways to the heated rooms.
·      After I exploded popcorn all over the kitchen and then held the burning pot outside the window so as not the fill the apartment with smoke, I learned to hold the pot further from flame, and even splurge on a pressure cooker to cook my corn kernels.
·      I’ve learned to love the hot chilies because they warm you up and you can’t escape them.  And to stay away from chilies and cheese.  Enough said.

The spoiled brat in me has to admit that here are few times in my life, when I have actually felt fortunate for simple luxuries such as hot water and electricity.  I am literally thankful for every warm shower I take and every space heater and warm blanket I own.  These are the things that eat up my teaching salary.  I make just enough to get by, and I am only one person who is not sacrificing for children or family.  The thought that my education beyond grade eight, may be the difference between a hot shower and a cold one in the winter, is eye opening to say the least.
Things are different here, and they make you think.  My co-worker’s family passed away from TB over winter break.  Half the schools in Bhutan don’t have access to clean water.  Some villages take 7 days to walk to.  In the remote villages, providing them with newspapers and cell phone towers actually becomes a financial loss to the providers.
The trash systems are still developing, therefore, people dump their trash into bins, which overflow into piles, which cows and dogs snack on, and which gets burned now and then.  Since the bins are right outside the homes, it becomes astoundingly apparent exactly how much waste is produced in a week.  Seeing the trash pile up everyday makes you very aware of the fact that putting one trash bag out per week instead of two makes a heap of a difference.  It sounds super cheesy, but unlike in the US, where your trash is out of sight out of mind, a pile outside your house makes you extremely aware of the amount of packaged food you buy.  I truly believe that if Paseo Ancho had a pile of trash that sat for a month before being picked up, we would think twice about our consumption.
The same goes for buying local.  Unlike in the states, it is totally obvious what is local and what is shipped in.  It is completely common to see cereal boxes that look as if they have been rolling around in the back of a pickup for hours before hitting the shelves.  While it is impossible to buy everything local, the prices of the shipped items, the wear and tear on the boxes, as well as the mere fact that you know they don’t manufacture DC Shoes in Bhutan, makes you think twice about your purchases.
All I can really say, is that making sustainable decisions has become a greater part of my repertoire because the effects scream at you; either by sitting outside your apartment, leaving you broke, or simply because a sustainable option is the only option.  I have to say I feel happier.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Would you rather... be mauled by an ox or be shot by an archery player who has had too much ara to drink?

Today I went for a run.  Initially I thought the altitude may be a force to be reckoned with… Ha.  I ran down a dirt path, passing several adults and children on my right and three stray dogs on my left.  Over the music on my ipod I heard a scuffle and witnessed my first dog fight.  Nobody flinched or looked twice, at which point I tried to play it cool and not shout, “Is anyone seeing this?!?!  We all good here?”
            I felt relieved to be on a paved road moments later.  The roads in Bhutan are quite narrow.  There are few cars on the road, but everyone honks at you as they pass.  Not a “Hey baby, going my way honk?” honk, but more like a, “It looks like I am about to run your ass over, but I see you, so I may just come close.”
            Last night at dinner, I was fortunate to hear the story of an old women who was mauled to death by her ox, which her family consequently sold.  Luckily oxen don’t come with Carfax reports in Bhutan.  No wonder the next scene freaked me out a bit.
            As I took in the lovely scenery during the downhill portion of my run, around the corner came two cows.  Behind them were four little boys chasing the cows with sticks.  I still have a hard time telling how old the children are here, but I am getting better.  In the midst of the whole scene, all I could notice was that they were about shoulder high.  My mind was jumping around to more applicable thoughts such as, “Holy crap!  Those cows are hauling!  They are on each side of the road and I will have to go through the middle of them.  They each have horns; sharp ones.  Will I get the wrath of the irritation these kids caused?”
Traveling teaches you to read the faces of the people around you to assess situations.  As I saw the boys laughing I tried to play it cool, but in my head as I crossed through the middle of the beasts I thought silently, "F***, F***, F***, No throwing F bombs in Bhutan, Jennifer, but F***."    
            The cows passed and each boy smiled, shouting a greeting.  The last of the four kids used his little hand to give me an endearing swift pat on the shoulder.  “Hi!” he smiled, but I knew in the back of his mind he was thinking, “Got ya ma’am, should’ve seen your face.  See you again this time tomorrow!”
            On my way back up the hill, I saw what appeared to be the same cows below me caged up.  I thought, “Who’s laughing now”, at which point I had to instantly check myself and laugh at my ridiculousness.
I think I will pitch an idea to  NBC when I get back to California: Wipeout Bhutan Style.  Why leap through man made spinning obstacles when you can take on a pack of wild dogs, while dodging the arrows of real archery playing children in ghos.

What do you get when your king plays basketball? Lakers, Trans Formers, & Unicorns

Today I walked to town for the first time.  I felt something brush up against my leg.  Just a stray, no biggie.  He stopped in front of me, and I passed him.  Again, he brushed my leg as he zipped past.  Funny little games these mutts play here, and this guy was particularly spunky.  He crossed the road and began to bark.  It was like a chain reaction.  I felt like I was watching 101 Dalmatians.  “Sound the alarm!”  Dogs ran out from the all the buildings and hopped into their packs; big ones, small ones, long-haired, short, ones you may pet, and some you would cross the street to walk around.  You can’t help but wonder how the heck all these breeds got up here into the Himalayas.  And there use to be more.  I heard that a while back, a truck came and rounded a bunch up, throwing them into a ditch so as not to directly kill the dogs.  After all, Buddhist culture does not believe in killing.  Apparently this was very controversial here, as many people love animals.
After some shopping and lunch, my roommate and I walked home by the events center.   We had heard about a pool and were particularly curious to see what it was all about.  As we arrived, we had no idea where to go, so we stopped and asked some guys.  It went like this:
“Do you know where the pool is?”
“Hmmm.  Oh the swimming pool, it is closed.”
“When will it open?”
“2 months”
“Is it warm?”
“Yes, pretty warm.”
“Do many people swim?”
“No not really.”
“Well, looks like we may be some of the few.”
“We will come watch.”
I am still trying to get use to people watching me and I hope it will lessen as I am here longer.  I am the blond that runs here.  It’s a rare sight.  The children run up to me in the streets.  “Ma’am.   Do you have a man?  Where are you from?  Do you know it is Losar today?  This is my sister cousin.  Will you be our big sister?”  You can’t help but smile and answer the rapid fire questions, especially because most of the children are lugging around a mini version of themselves who is likely a cousin or friend, but always a “sister”.  My favorite thing about the children are the rosy cheeks, stung by the cold and kissed by the sun.  This alone, makes you want to gobble them up.
Today was also a big basketball tournament that had been in the paper every day this week.  K4 (the fourth king) really enjoys basketball, and now it is big here.  We were in for treat!!  It drew a crowd!  A small crowd, but a crowd none the less, and possibly a large one by Bhutanese standards.
At half court, a large picture of the king hung on the wall.  Around him were the banners with the teams names on them.  I was particularly shocked when I saw the banner for The Unicorns.  In the first match up we saw the Lakers vs. the Trans Formers (yes, two words).  The refs were from the men’s national team.  The teams warmed up for a total of 8 minutes and then the whistle blew to begin.  Well, it blew a few times because this is Bhutan, and people are laid back and flexible about time.  Several minutes into the game, a group of spectating monks entered the stands.  I learned that they play only at the monastery and sometimes during half time at the tournaments.  Who knew? What a day!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Welcome home!

Today’s turn of events was interesting, mind-blowing, hysterical, and telling of my year to come.  Here are a few snapshots of my day:
I boarded the plane to Paro and took my seat next to two beautiful women in kiras.  I reached for my ipod, running my fingers over the touch screen, scrolling through the songs.   The women nearest me reached for her prayer beads rolling her fingers over them as the flight lifted off.
Landing in that airport was a tell tale sign of why the two women prayed.  Lets just say, if you are afraid to fly, Paro will not be a favorite.  I didn’t realize this until I saw the wings of the plane adjust to land, and heard the wheels screech into place; all the while, with no runway in sight.  The plane weaved precisely though the towering mountains.   The squeeze became increasingly more snug, as the Himalayan corridors closed in on us.   I remember a particular hard left the pilot took, to avoid grazing the earth with the wing.  It was beyond exhilarating.  After one day here, I have already realized, I will make this flight into Bhutan many times in my life.  By the end of the flight, the two women in kiras had written down their number for me and told me they would be my mothers in Bhutan. 
Because there are only a few flights a day into Paro, which are usually at the same time, the slight change in today’s flight schedule left me stranded at the airport with another American (who had coincidentally gone to UCSB. Weird!)  Lucky for us, a man asked if we’d like a lift to Thimpu.  Why not?
            He asked who was supposed to pick me up.  I responded, “Madame Deki, from The Early Learning Center."  Two phone calls later, he handed me his cell phone to speak with Madame Deki, and within the next ten minutes I was in Madame Deki’s car.  “That was the old Mayor of Thimpu who offered you a ride Jennifer”.  This was my first glimpse into the fact that Thimpu is SMALL!!!
            Over lunch, we spoke of a movie we were going to see.  Little did I know, Thimpu is also the Hollywood of Bhutan!  On a much more interesting scale of course.  A man painting a mural in the restaurant had been in the “feature film”.  He introduced himself and welcomed me to Bhutan.  One hour later in a delicious ice cream parlor, I sat next to the two men who not only stared in the film, but were also on large billboard one block down the road.  Hours later, I had coffee in the same shop as the star from Travelers and Magicians.  I was beginning to see how this went, and also decided if I ever wanted to pursue a career in acting; Thimpu could take me to the top, fast.   And I would never have to deal with paparazzi!
            What the town is full of, however, is scruffy, dirty four-legged animals.  I can’t wait to get a dog!  And by get a dog, I mean choose a stray that hangs out near my place.  After all, nobody cages up dogs around here.  I figure I will pick a favorite, name him and throw him a scrap or two when I see him on the way home.  Almost as low commitment as a goldfish!  Fabulous!
            Lastly, a few words on my apartment.  I tell Taxis to drop me at “double turn”.  I am to take my trash out across the road, near the cows, who may nudge me, but not hurt me.  The babbling sewer system outside my window lulls me to sleep along with the barking of my soon to be pseudo-pets.  The view from my bedroom could be on a postcard!  The calendar of my Peru friends looks magnificent against the brightly patterned, hand-painted walls of my bedroom.  The warmth of the sun warms my house by day, and my little space heater and three blankets does the trick at night.  I am beyond delighted with my new home.