Friday, August 5, 2011

100 Bucks, Beers, Ringing Bells, and Dowries… Almost Vegas

My friend KP is awesome.  A few lines in a blog cannot do this kid justice, but to sum him up in a few short lines, I’ll just say the following.  You can spot him from a mile away in Bhutan.  He will be carrying a book and he will not respond when you call him because he will be wearing headphones.  He is one of two men in Thimphu with an afro.  Between my chillipness and his modern look, we get some great stares when we walk together after work in our traditional gho and kira.

Summer break means camping, so KP and I packed some backpacks, boiled a few eggs, and threw some crackers into a bag.  Off to Punakha.

We had things down pretty well… I watched the packs while KP made any purchases to avoid the chillip price for cabs and such.  We arrived at a campsite.  Two kids approached us to collect our fees for the night.  We knew the Bhutanese rate was 25 bucks (about 50 cents).  The kids saw me popping the tent and immediately said, “200”.  KP struck up a conversation with them in Dzongkha.  I chimed in a few Dzongkha phrases, and they said, “Okay, 100 bucks”.  Then KP said I was a teacher living in the country.  The younger of the two boys smiled and said “50 bucks”, at which point his older friend nudged him and gave him the evil eye, saying “No, 100”.

We tossed them a 100 dollar bill.  From that moment on, the two boys became known as “50 bucks” and “100 bucks”.  50 Bucks and 100 Bucks helped us carry our sleeping bags and told us they could lend us a pot to cook with for the night.

KP and I took a short walk and we came acrossed a tiny, one room monastery.  We walked passed new puppies to the front door, where a small boy let us in.  We paid our respects and spun the large prayer wheel out front.  After our stroll, we were happy to return to camp and join 50 buck and 100 Bucks around a campfire.

Later, some other men joined us all around the campfire.  The men were from India, and had been working near by as laborers.  KP spoke with them in Hindi.  They explained that the building they were constructing was for the upcoming royal wedding.  They told us they enjoyed our company because not many people hang out with them.  They spoke of their families, and one of the men said he was working to pay his daughters dowry.

A dowry is dependent on income.  These men made about 4-5 US dollars a day, and the going rate for a dowry in that income bracket was a bed, a cycle, and a small lump sum of money.  One man told us he was happy to have 3 boys because he is getting three beds and three cycles.  (Listen closely Mike Adams.)

The men asked KP if I was his wife.  Though I do not speak Hindi, I understood the question through the context and the look on KP’s face.  I told KP to tell them I could not afford a bed and a cycle and therefore we were friends.  They laughed.

The men expressed their surprise and concern upon discovering that I moved to a new country alone as a single woman.  We took turns throwing wood on the fire, we shared food, beer, and laughs, and then we retired to bed.

In the morning the Indian men invited us to breakfast.  We watched as one of the men guzzled down clay colored water straight from the same river they used as a toilet and bathing area.  KP asked if they boiled the water.  In Hindi, the man replied, “we did not know if it was okay to drink when we arrived, so we drank it for a week and it seems fine.”

After breakfast, KP and I took an amazing hike along a paddy field lined road.  We hiked up higher this time to another monastery in the hills.  Miles of paddy fields being ploughed by oxen and the sounds of dinging prayer wheels sucked me into craving a simpler life.  Our walk was a treat and when we reached the top, we meditated with our backs to the monastery and our fronts to the mountains across the valley.  The monastery was impeccable and as we sat on the large, clean walk way, the only sound we could hear was the occasional clicking of a large dung beetle carryon his business, and not looking twice at the giant praying mantis basking in the sun to his right.  Not bad… not bad.

As we were packing our belongings to leave that evening, 50 Bucks and 100 Bucks ran up to us.   “Why are you going?  Are you bored already?”  We explained how our tent would not be able to withstand a storm and the rain appeared to be coming.  The boys helped us carry our belongings to the roadside.  They sat with us for a half hour or so while we waited to hitch a ride to town.  100 Bucks recently finished the 6th grade and does not plan to go back to school.  He aspires to become a rafting guide, and he never plans to get married because if he dies on the river, he does not want to leave behind a family.  50 Bucks is in the 3rd grade, aspires to be a movie director and plans to have a nice wife some day.

We flagged down a car, thanked the young gentlemen, and we were off.

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