30 March 2016

The Moment with His Majesty the King

It was the last day of Paro Tshechu and my team was celebrating our four days of success, having delivered our mission of providing clean toilets to thousands of people and literally putting an end to open defecation in the place of worship. 

We were paid a surprise visit by His excellency the Prime Minister and the honourable chairperson of National Council among others. They didn't go to VIP toilet but our public toilets were kept so well that we could impress all our esteem guest and our Prime Minster. 

Thank god His Excellency visit before we faced the water problem. There was about an hour of water shortage and within that short time our toilets were overwhelmed by problems. When I heard the arrival of His Majesty to the Tshechu ground I was anxiously running after people to get the problem fixed. I was sweating and panting. I bothered every official I knew in the area and finally we caught hold of the plumber, Ap Jochu, the only person who knew how to fix it. I nearly kissed him. 

By the time I caught my breath back I was told His Majesty was leaving. I didn't even get a decent chance to look at my king. From the extreme corner we were located at I saw waves of people struggling to get closer view of His Majesty as he left. I could have joined the crowd and pushed myself forward to get a glimpse too but we were running low of Toilet Paper supply. So I had to run to a shop nearby to purchase toilet paper rolls. On the way, from above the wall I saw His Majesty briefly on the last turn on the road down to the valley. 

I reached the other toilet to check if they needed toilet paper. Just then I got a call. It was Dasho Zimpon. He told me that I was summoned by His Majesty. I couldn't believe this was happening. I ran to the location Dasho called me to and down the valley we followed the entourage. I was flying in the air. We got ahead of the royal entourage and Dasho made me wait on the bridge. I was the only person kept on the bridge and the next person I would see was His Majesty. I could see thousands of people on both ends of the bridge waiting to get a glimpse of His Majesty. I was frozen, I didn't move an inch even though no one was watching. 

Then came the moment, I couldn't look up directly but I could make out from the radiance that His Majesty had come. I bowed down to pay my respect and froze back to stillness. His Majesty congratulated me on my teams' work during the Tshechu and told me to walk alongside him across the bridge. 
The Moment that will live with me forever

I had crossed that bridge thousand times in my life but even in my most beautiful dream I haven't seen myself walking with His Majesty the King and talking about the work I am so passionate about. I could share Bhutan Toilet Org's Roadmap and the challenges faced in maintaining public toilets. His Majesty talked about the importance of behavioural change in making our efforts sustainable. And at the other end of the bridge His Majesty spent some more time blessing my dream with his guidance and assurance of royal support henceforth. Everything seemed so possible suddenly and I couldn't wait to tell my team. 

To make this priceless moment live with me forever His Majesty granted a Kupar with me with the permission to share it here. I shall look at this photograph and stay motivated for the rest of my life. And this picture shall remind me each day that I can't take rest on my dream anymore.
My Asset, Motivation and Reminder 
For making this priceless moment possible I would like to thank His Excellency the Prime Minister, my toilet team, my volunteers across the country and all those people who believed in me and supported Bhutan Toilet Org.

28 March 2016

Toilet Experiment During Paro Tshechu

Tshechu being the oldest and the most popular festival in Bhutan brings thousands of people together. It happens in every Dzongkhag from three to fives days every year. That gives Bhutan Toilet Org the perfect setting for our Toilet Experiment. Actually it’s more than an experiment, it’s a campaign to provide clean toilets to people and make them appreciate the experience and learn to play their role better in keeping the toilets clean.
We call it experiment because after our November 2015 Nationwide Public Toilet Cleaning campaign we gathered some myths about Bhutanese toilet habits. Therefore we wanted to see and hopefully breaks those myths. 

1. Would our people put in a little effort to look for toilet when they need one?
2. Would people go inside the toilet when they find one?
3. Would people flush if the water were available?
4. Would people use toilet paper if provided free?
5. Would people wash their hands after visiting toilet if water and soap were provided?

Our first successful experiment was conducted in Paro last week during the Paro Tshechu. In preparation our staff and volunteers visited the event ground three days ahead of the Tshechu and in collaboration with the Dzongkhag Administration all the three toilets around the venue were cleaned thoroughly, all damages were repaired and each toilet was furnished with buckets, jugs, waste bins, soaps, room fresheners, and toilet paper (Hung right on the doors). Maps showing the location of the three toilets were placed strategically in the ground and on the routes. Direction signs were put at various points to guide people to our toilets.
Toilet Location Map 
Throughout the five days of Tshechu the three toilets were maned by at least five volunteers and with support from community police all corners, which were used as toilet in the past, were block.

We found out over 10,000 have visited our toilets but we had to redirect hundreds to our toilets from open spaces. Old habits of doing in the open reduced drastically by the third day. By word of mouth most people have heard about the availability of clean toilets.

Only about 150 rolls of toilet paper were used, which was quite less given the number of people. Most people took toilet paper only after verbal reminder. We had to remove only one stone.

People flushed very well in the toilets that were supplied with buckets and jugs but in the toilets that were equipped with flush tanks there were several case of un-flushed pots. Our people seemed to have issues with flush systems.

Use of waste bins inside the toilet had to be verbally advocated because despite the availability of bins we had to remove several sanitary pads from inside the toilet pots and window frames.

Washing hands after using toilet was found to be a rare habit among out people. Doma spit caused much of stains in the toilet pots, washbasins, toilet floor and walls.

We also found out the there should be more chambers for women because unlike men they need to get inside a chamber whether they pee or poop, which led to over crowding outside women’s toilet.

One-hour water shortage on the last days in two of our toilets caused a huge problem to our team. Several toilets were blocked and they started stinking almost immediately. Next time we are going to have a backup plan because without water everything can go wrong within no time. Thank god, the officials helped us find the plumber right away to solve the issue.

We received enormous appreciation from our users. Some happy users took time to tell us how things used to be in the past. They told us that they could hardly find a space to put their feet among the open faeces down the hill. They shared how the change in wind direction would bring the smell onto the tshechu ground. It was natural for everyone to fall sick after the tshechu.

But this year we changed it all. And on the other side Clean Bhutan volunteers from Paro College managed the waste so well that the ground remained clean throughout the event as if no one threw any thing at all. They have collected over 250 bags of waste.
Visit by Prime Minister
Because we maintained the toilets so well the organizers didn’t have to worry about having separate toilet for VIPs. We have the honour of serving the Prime Minister, the Chairperson of National Council and the Cabinet ministers among others and impress them equally. We have received very good feedback from tourists and their tour guides expressed their pleasure lavishly.

Dasho Dzongda and Dzongrab personally monitored out activity and expressed their appreciations and gratitude for doing them proud. Their officials made sure that our team had our meals and refreshment on time. But beyond everything, on the final day a magical moment happened, that’s my next blog.
Our Volunteers and Staff
Our volunteers were from Yeozerling Higher Secondary School and I must thank principal Chencho Tshering for sending a group of amazing young people. In five days they have showed their endurance, patience, and positive attitude to work. They have inspired me so much that I shall keep our organization’s door open for them in the future because they are they kind of people I want to work with.

I would like to thank our following friends for financially supported our activity

1. Tashi Namgay Resort (Karma Jigme)- Nu.5000
2. Chencho Handicraft (Choki Wangmo) – Nu.5000
3. Bhutan Made (Tshering Penjor Shaka)- Nu.3000
4. James Brady- US$. 100
5. Indo General Store: Refreshment worth Nu.1600
6. Sangay Wangmo T/khang: Refreshment worth Nu.500
7. Yeshey Dorji Central Store: Refreshment worth Nu.310

26 March 2016

Mother's Sweet Revenge?

I saw an elderly woman completely drunk and making scene near Paro Dzong on the first day of Tshechu. Everybody was avoiding her. She was flat on the ground crying and cursing, occasionally begging to be taken to hospital or home. She was wearing a complete set of Tshechu clothing, except it’s all covered in dust. Like Cinderella she has left one of her shoes some distance away from her.

My son Jigme and I went close to her and asked if she really needed to go to hospital. A nearby shopkeeper cautioned us through her window, 
“Sir, stay away. Just let her be. She is drunk.”

I didn’t feel comfortable leaving a woman of my mother’s age in that condition even though she was wasted. I picked her shoe and like prince charming tried it on her foot. It was a perfect fit. Lol.
Tshechu is full of Show

“Ama, you must have come to watch Tshechu, why are you becoming the Tshechu yourself? People are watching you perform here.”
She tried to crawl but fell back heavily on her back. We brought some cardboard pieces and gave her a thin layer of mattress and pillow.
“You don’t seem to need hospital, you need to go home and sleep. Where do you live?”
She pointed in random directions. I knew she was totally disoriented. She stopped throwing tantrum and began paying attention to me. We bought her water knowing very well how it would feel.
“Ama, if you must drink you should wait till the evening, reach home and enjoy your drink. Here in Tshechu you have made a joker of yourself. And where are your friends? Even they have gone into hiding.”
She would laugh and cry at the same time and cursed her friends for leaving her. Not surprisingly she was in agreement with my suggestions, like all seasoned drinkers.

Then it struck me that she might own a mobile phone. So I asked if she had one, which I could use to get her people pick her up. She dug into her hemcho for the longest time and took out a cold drink and handed it over to me.
“Don’t drink this. It’s mine.”
“Give me your mobile phone.”
She went into her hemcho again and came out with her purse, then few changes but not her phone. So I helped her search for it. Bingo, it was just there.

I went into her call log and dialled the most recent number. It was someone in Punakha. Then the next, it didn’t answer. Then I checked her contact list and surprisingly there were names saved. So I read out each name and asked her whom to call. She suggested a lady.
“Sir, I’m in the town. I have to be here for a while.”
“Can you tell me whom I should call to get immediate help?”
“Try her son and nephew. They are both in the Tshechu.” The lady gave me their names. I checked back in her contact list and found the son’s number.
“Hello, you mother is here near a shop beside the Dzong. She seems too drunk. Can you come and take her home.”
“Sir, I will send her nephew immediately.”
I put back her phone, purse, changes and most importantly her cold drink into the safety of her hemcho. While waiting for her nephew I casually remarked,

“Ama, you have to understand how your children would feel seeing you like this and embarrassing them in the crowd…”

“Dasho, my children are not like you. They too must understand how I feel after all these years of raising them… they have done their share of embarrassing me!”

I didn’t have anything to say after that. It seems embarrassment was mutual. Her son and nephew came and took her home. They were thanking me but I told them to be more thankful to their mother.
I am hoping the shopkeeper lady who cautioned me to stay away must have learnt how to help. I am also hoping my son would have learned something because I have learned something.

On the last day I saw the woman again. Not drunk.

08 March 2016

Publishing PaSsu Diary; Blog to Book

My favorite Oscar Wilde said ‘memory is the diary that we all carry about with us’. Another wise man said ‘God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.’

It’s already June in my life and spring flowers should keep blooming in my head till December but given my punctured memory I don’t think I can remember the color of the rose I picked this morning. I often meet familiar people on the street, shake hands, pretend to know them and wonder how I knew them after they are gone. They talk about a fond family incident I am clueless about.

As if I knew this was coming I never really trusted my memory, perhaps I never had a good one I could trust. I scribbled everything all around and one day in June 2006, in Ms. Loh’s class, I began this blog PaSsu Diary. It was just another classwork. I never thought it would go on with me for ten years and become my memory keeper.

Talking about so many years I am wondering how the hell a decade passed with nothing so significant to call as my achievement. Did I sleepwalk across years? I’m still struggling with the first car loan I ever took and every month it’s the same old tale of endless compromises.

But then I look at my blog archive and there are over 620 fragments of stories telling me that I have lived in little moments for little things. There are over a million hits telling me that the little things mattered. O’ I shall have roses in December after all.

I think I owe my blog something for its 10th anniversary and this is where the idea of publishing my blog into a book comes. But I swear I am having hard time picking the best 100 articles for the book. If you have been reading my blog I am sure you would have liked some articles. Please let me know your favourite PaSsu Diary article(s) and help me narrow down my choices. I hope it has at least 100 articles worth publishing into a book. 

Draft Book Cover
Note: I am aware of my terrible grammar and typos. I trust my editor Nawang Phuntsho to deal with that. The cover is just the first draft. Our designer Che Dorji will have to work on it and I may have to sit with Chimi R Namgyal for another art work.