Saturday, March 28, 2015

Visiting Museums in Bhutan

I have seen too little of the world outside Bhutan but that little experience away from home awakened my appreciation for the depth of our own country. Now I desire to travel deeper in our own country and its history than anywhere away.
Isn’t it sad that we have nothing much written down as history. We say we are rich in oral literature and history but if you realize, much is lost in transmission from one mouth to another and one generation to another. More than losing is the threat of manipulation as stories travel through time.
What hasn’t been changed, what hasn’t been altered are the stories stored in objects from the past. But sadly those stories are collecting dust in museums, and much of what people had in their homes have flown to Nepal through black market routes and rest are waiting in the handicraft shop to be sold out to western tourists.
So considering that our villages are transformed, though even if they were intact not many of us spend time there, museums are our only hope of finding original stories that are rarely heard, or never heard in its truest form.
Sometimes the mystery of our unclear history is frustrating but other times it turns out that the same mystery defines what Bhutan is. It is that desire to explore the unknown, which makes life all so meaningful for some of us. It’s the urge to travel in back in time and not just live life forward but also add a backward dimension to life. Life becomes so much bigger.
While time machine called museum is as cheap as Nu.20 per adults and Nu.5 for students; a pizza can fund a class of 40 students to any museum in Bhutan but in my 7 years on Facebook I have seen thousands of pictures of children posing with pizzas but not a single picture of child posing outside a museum.
Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor Heritage Farmhouse, one of the private museums I visited was confused when my group asked for visiting fee. They have never received any Bhutanese visitors and therefore haven’t thought of an entry fee for Bhutanese. The lady was so happy to receive the first group of Bhutanese visitors that she offered us ara and suja like she did for fee paying tourists, all for free. We were so touched the we offered no less than any tourists.
Dear parents take your children for swimming to given them the best physical exercise, take your children to a library for the best mental exercise, and take your children to a museum to exercise their imagination. Take them back in time because so many answers they may seek in the future are buried in the past.
Following is a list of Museums I have visited. It’s just a list for now, specifics of each will be written in the following blogs.
  • National Museum of Bhutan, Paro
  • The Tower of Trongsa, Trongsa
  • Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor Heritage Farmhouse, Paro
  • Folk Heritage Museum, Thimphu
  • Simply Bhutan, a Living Museum, Thimphu
  • Druk Home Museum, Paro

National Museum of Bhutan
The Tower of Thongs
Druk Home Museum


Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor Heritage Farmhouse
Simply Bhutan, A Living Museum
Folk Heritage Museum


Saturday, March 14, 2015

La Ama- A Book Review

Book Title:  La Ama ... a mother's call
Author:        Chador Wangmo
Publisher:    Miza Books
Published:   2015
Pages:         198
Price:          Nu.250
 La Ama is perhaps the first book I have read completely in a long time. And the very first book I have finished in on sitting. I am a very slow reader and 198 pages would usually take me over a week but Chador Wangmo has begun her book with a tight knot of suspense and I didn't want to put down until I untied it. Soon I found myself too engaged with Dechen Zangmo and wanted to be by her side until she wakes up.

Chador has invented a unique plot that is strategically woven to fly us across time and places and put us in exactly same state of being as the narrator. Chador's mastery over English language brings out the strong waves of emotions that the story has to offer.

The story is about a girl who is abandoned by her parents and abused by people in whom she places her trust. She has surrendered to her fate and hungry husband, until one day it becomes too much for her. In her attempt to escape from her brutal husband and with nowhere to go she meets with an accident. In that deep unknown space between life and death, she finds herself with her mother putting together the pieces of puzzles from the past and reconnecting with her. She discovers that she has been reliving her mother's mistakes.
"was there any reason to fear the outside world when brutal predators existed within the family walls?" (p.126)
I don't want to risk writing any more about the story lest I land up looting the charm from your desire to read yourself. Chador Wangmo has subtly and creatively exposed the secrets hidden behind the closed doors of our society. It's a book every Bhutanese woman must read to find the strength to make right choices at the right time, and it's a book every Bhutanese man must read to ensure that it happens but not as a favour, rather as natural as it should be.
"I wonder if marriage was a union of two souls as it is often said or merely the ownership of one soul over the other." (p.172)
The only problem I saw in the book was on page ii, where she disclaims that "Any resemblance to actual person, living or dead is purely coincidental" When it should read, "Any resemblance to actual person is intentional, and if you are offended you know where to go."

The book has impressed me in more than one way; I loved the title, the cover design, the size and promotion, the paper quality, and the general design. Chador has left no page unturned in the publication of her debut novel. Thank you for writing La Ama.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Crime Hidden in Pine Forest

In 2003, I was severely ill in the first week I reached Sombaykha Primary School. I wanted to run back home but I was officially four days away from everything familiar to me. I knew I was going to die in the place so new and so remote. Everything about the place made me lonely. It was then that I accidentally broke a thick red ruler in headmaster's office. You won't believe how the scent of pinewood that came from the broken ruler suddenly made my heart race. I took the two broken pieces with me and kept them hear my pillow. From the next morning I felt more alive than ever.

Coming back to Paro and living among the Pine trees is a gift of natural happiness. I know the trees, I grew up with them, I played on their branches and slept under their shade. The scent from the free sends me heart dancing. I am home. But wait, what's under those trees?

Below my training centre in Dop Shari, there is a small patch of pine trees. It's too small to be called a forest but the small group of trees seemed to have survived so many human interventions. Between the trees and the road there is clearly a pit overflowing with garbage. It doesn't seem like a recent activity but now that we live and work in that area, people could easily blame it on us. My colleague Ram took it on to himself to clear that area as part of his social initiative. He got us gloves and sacks.

We thought an afternoon would be enough but as we dug we discovered that the place was used for ages. The waste was obviously from a hotel- countless wrappers of milk, sugar, biscuit, frozen chicken, wine bottles, broken plates and glasses, carton boxes,... It doesn't require much intelligence to analyse that the former occupant of our office was responsible. This place was earlier a tourist hotel, and evidently a very irresponsible one.

Tip of Plastic Iceberg
What we discovered later broke my heart completely. Beyond the pit, cleverly hidden under the pine trees was a secret world of plastic. It was clearly years of intentional and irresponsible dumping of plastic waste, which should be a criminal offence to the nation. It's a wonder how the authorities didn't spot at least the pit that was just below road to Paro Dzong.

The bigger question is, where are other hotels hiding their waste? I have seen a few patches of landfill here and there in Paro. Above Gaptay I have seen a depression in the woods filled with hotel waste, and above that I have seen at least three hotels. It seems to a trend in Paro to hide their waste in the woods. I would therefore like to alert National Environment Commission and Tourism Council of Bhutan to investigate this issue in Paro and perhaps elsewhere in the country. 

Revealing the Hidden
In Paro the problem must have cropped from the failure of the Dzongkhag Municipal. I assume that they can't possibly assist the hotels in managing their waste when they seem to fail in managing the waste in the middle of the town. The waste collecting trucks are small and manually operated, and the frequency of collection seems very less. The bins placed at prime locations are small even for a single user, and therefore are seen overflowing perpetually. Everything seems so half hearted.

Wherever the problem is there seems to be a serious need of intervention. This beautiful country we are so proud of may soon lose its countless adjectives, and our proud environmental efforts may just turn into myths on paper. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

I'm Scared of Him No More

I knew Au Sonam since my days in Gaupay, way back in mid 90s. He was a terror. He lived outside our school gate with his father and stepmother. His muscular body, complimented by fluent English made him a fearful star in the neighbourhood. He was always high on his substances and would be surrounded by bunch of bad boys from our school. Every little problem in school will reach him and he won't hesitate getting into our campus and solving it his way.

Once even I was on his hit list. Someone went to the godfather and he came looking for me. I was in the dinning hall over lunch. It was like a typical scene from Bollywood movies, where the villain comes to the college and nobody says anything. Even the teachers won't want to mess with him, so there I was on my own. He found me out and to my surprise he said, "Jada, he is just a kid. Give me some big guys." After that day I, like hundred other avoided being seen by him.

Over the years, I have seen him in Thimphu, Paro and Phuntsholing, always alone and high, swaying from one end of the road to other. There weren't many people, even from across the border who dared offend him, let alone Bhutanese.
With Au Sonam (Center)  After so many years here he was, as our honourable guest speaker at the Royal Academy. Well dressed, well spoken, very committed and very open with his thoughts. He was invited to speak to us about his life and to give us insight into the minds of addicts. He is now one of the successful recovering addicts who is doing everything to help those who are headed into the direction he once was. 

He said he hated his stepmother, and went on to give her hard times after he grew up. She passed away and his father also left him few year later. He got married and gave his wife hard times too, and she left him. He became father and never justified his role as father. Everybody closed their doors on him. He slept on streets, begged from friends. He went behind the bars several times. He wanted to stop everything and live a normal life but it was no more in his hands. He relapsed several times, and in his low days he got beaten by his rival gangs. Once when he had his withdrawals he had walked from Paro to Haa and his relative there sent him away with Nu.100. On his way back he hallucinated and jumped of a taxi. The driver left his bag on his still body and drove away.

He said that's when he hit the 'Rock Bottom', the time in life where you turn around and see nobody and nothing. You are alone in the world. He said the pain of addiction is not the beating you get from gangs and cops, it's not the pain from hunger and cold, it's the not the pain from the withdrawals. The real pain is realising that all the doors are closed on you. That's what he called the rockbottom. There is now one important decision to make- to leave or to live. And he decided to live.

Now here he is clean and a respectable man, though still fighting his personal battle with his past and its implications. He vividly remembers those last individuals who opened their doors for him and he is striving to do the same for those in need. He is working with Chithuen Phendhey Association in Paro. Of all the people I never thought he would make it, he is an inspiration. 

The one regret that he says will always haunt him is his misinterpretation of his stepmother. He realized that the problem was never with her, she had tried her best. She raised him. But he lived with the stereotypical notion of stepmother, which never allowed him to understand her and love her. He admits that any mother would kick son like him out, but she didn't. He wants to say sorry and hug her and thank her for trying so hard but he has waited too long.

NOTE: His office in Paro has established a Pre-Rehab centre at Shari, the place where they keep their clients before finding a suitable place and funding. And he is looking for some recreational tools, like books, carom board and computer to keep them occupied. If you wish to donate please come forward.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Life in Prison

When police announced their intention to frisk youth in Thimphu, I smiled with approval because it came right after I read a piece on two parking fee collectors being robbed by a group of boys. Perhaps police grew desperate because of the similar incidences, which I am sure they must be encountering everyday. But desperate measures are often clouded and shortsighted as this was.

A Moment from Camp RUF, Dagana. Youth in action
At the TEDx talk, my 22 year old colleague Tim Huang opened his presentation with a slideful of recent headlines from Bhutanese newspapers, which more or less told the world that Bhutan is plagued with youth problems. He goes on to justify "Bhutan don't have youth problem". (I will share the link when it's available on YouTube) And now the new headline will scare the world.

At this point it will be interesting to compare the number of youth with drug problem with number of adult with alcohol problem, youth involved in fights with adults involved in domestic violence, theft cases involving youth with theft cases involving adults, youth fraud with adult frauds, corrupt youth with corrupt adults, and I sometimes find it funny how we the minority adults decide what, how and when to do everything for the majority youth population. We are playing god with them.

I know a boy who went to prison one too many times. He was first caught breaking into a grocery store at night. He cried, begged, he promised, and did everything to avoid going behind the bars. He is now a regular. He doesn't cry or beg anymore. He rather goes in and brings out best prison stories. He gets into all sorts of problems just to get arrested. He likes getting arrested when the dinner menu in the prison is chicken. Prisoners get three confirmed meals each day with strong roof over their head. Their diet consists of nutrition that majority of Bhutanese living freely don't have the luxury to enjoy. How many families are lucky enough have meat on their plates twice a week?

Only thing that they are deprived of is freedom, which is quite subjective though. Because what's freedom without the means to make a decent living. Therefore the boy I know loves to remain in prison more than anywhere else. Life in prison makes more sense to him when on the contrary life outside should.

Now the question is how do we make life outside prison better for youth? How do we guarantee them freedom in real sense? Or may be who are we to think and decide for them? They are not our future, they are our present. Give them the chance.

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