03 March 2012

How Does the Flood Siren Sound?

I live close to the bank of the Punatshangchhu river, and the area was declared red-zone by the experts who were also kind enough to let us know that eight glacier lakes were waiting to burst downstream on to us anytime soon. I am surprised to find myself having a good night's sleep everyday even after knowing that my bedroom may become the riverbed someday soon.
Astrology has pointed at many natural disasters this year, especially flood, and I think I should stop my Bhutanese complacency and strive to know a few things in preparation for the year. I have heard of GLOF mitigation project, where hundreds of people were engaged in lowering the water level of the potential lakes.  I don't know what finished first- work or the money! I also heard of installation of lots of early warning systems, where by people could be alerted before the flood reaches them. Awareness programs were conducted among people living in red zone, to let them know that they are at risk. However the most important piece in the whole puzzle is yet to come in and I wish to know when is it coming.
Three days ago, it was cold and raining and I was working late into the night as usual. When I was about to go to bed I heard a siren. What was it? Any ordinary Bhutanese would ignore it but I live in the red zone and I know there is an early warning system in place, which immediately made me panic. I went out to confirm the source of the siren. It seems to come from the police station or may be the hospital. I waited for a long time before I finally convinced myself that even if it was the flood it may not reach me.
So the missing piece in the puzzle is how does the flood siren sound? How different is it from the sound of a fire engine or an ambulance? If we can't make out the sound of the flood siren, what it the use of investing so much money in having them? When is the right time to tell us the secret of the flood siren?
A mock drill in the red zone should be possible when mock election was possible across the country, and the right time to do it may be now because  natural disaster may not wait for us to prepare.
And as I was sleeping that night I also wondered where to run if at all the flood comes. Yes, where to go? Have we identified the safe place to run to? And who will come to give us instructions- Police, Dzongda or the Gup? Or are we going to repeat the mistake we made during the last earthquake of listening to rumors and spreading them in the absence of proper information dissemination system?
Well, experts were kind enough to let us know the bad news that we are trespassing the way of raging water but I wish they also told us the good news of how we could keep ourselves safe.

26 February 2012

I Question the Medical Judgement

When my cousin brother was diagnosed with tuberculosis about twenty years ago, his parents didn't give a second thought and started the long treatment. About five months into the treatment they discovered that the little boy wasn't suffering from tuberculosis. His parents were only thankful that it wasn't TB. Five months of heavy dose didn't matter to them. As years went by the ill effect of heavy doses of wrong drugs showed on his physical features and his mental efficiency.
That was a long time ago and everything was forgiven and forgotten even though my brother is still paying the price each day for error in medical judgement some people made. Over the time everything changed and technology came into hospitals to reduce human errors. But machines are just tools and its the human at the end who has to pass the judgement.
Over the years I was shocked at the number of rumors I heard of people being wrongly diagnosed with TB, and some paying the price with their lives. Advancement of human resources and technology seemed to have made no difference to Bhutan. May be all the rumors I heard are wrong, therefore I may be wrong too if not for what happened early this month.
Photo from  fabulousnurses.com, edited by author   
My nine year old sister was diagnosed with TB from Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital. She had some swelling below her chin after a long toothache and after series of checkup it was confirmed that it's lymph node tuberculosis called Scrofula. My mother was asking me if they could begin her treatment. I am not a doctor, I am but a loving brother, I don't want to risk my sister. I rushed to Thimphu and found out that all the test reports were negative including the biopsy, which I found from Google as a crucial test. Wikipedia tells me that she should have symptoms such as feverchillsmalaise and weight loss. As the lesion progresses, skin becomes adhered to the mass and may rupture, forming a sinus and an open wound." but she has none of these except the medical judgement of doctor. I trust the big hospital, I trust the big doctor, but on what basis should I trust this judgement?
I brought my little sister with me and took her to Wangdue Hospital, where I explained my fear and showed the reports to the renowned medical specialist. He checked her neck thoroughly, studied all the reports, took a fresh x-ray and declared that it's NOT tuberculosis. He prescribed her antibiotic for five days after which the swelling subsided.
Now I question the Judgement of that doctor who wanted to fill my sister's stomach with loads of drugs. I even fear that all the rumors I ever heard are true but they all landed nowhere because we Bhutanese are so forgiving. No doctor was ever taken to court for their mistake because we forgive, and because we forgive they take for granted.

23 February 2012

Festive Week

This week is full of celebration and I hardly know how to deal with them, therefore just like nothing is happening around I spend my time watching whatever comes on TV and dose off eventually. I have strange weakness you see, I can't take too much of anything. But as the glare of celebration dims I wish to wake up;
I humbly wish my king a very happy birthday, and take this moment to thank him for his vision, concern, and sacrifices.
The Bhutanese, the tenth news paper enters the market with a difference, with long term dreams and as a leader in good journalism. The mover and shaker Tenzin Lamzang already raised our expectations while his stay with Business Bhutan and with his own paper now we don't expect anything less. With each new paper we are seeing truer journalism.
Tshering Dorji, the boy I saw on YouTube received the blessing of trailblazer Mila Tobgay and today he showed the magic of his voice to the Bhutanese people. Wherever Mila Tobgay set his hands on that thing turns into gold. He is the extraordinary Bhutanese that makes me wonder. Congratulations Tshering Dorji for winning National Talent Hunt!
And Finally, Happy Losar to all my readers. Let the Dragon year bring you strength to live your life the way you want. May the Dragon year bring you opportunities to rise higher and live happier. May the newly married couples give birth to healthy dragon babies.
(c) Pema Gyamtsho

21 February 2012

I Quit!

No, it's not about me, don't worry. I saw "I Quit" scribbled on the wall in Joy Lobo's room in 3 Idiots. Call me crazy for watching the movie over thirty times and still wanting to watch it, but I have learned so much from it that if I had the power I would honour 3 Idiots with  the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Joy Lobo's song became my favorite and his part in movie portrays how weak students respond to challenges. He throws his great invention in the rubbish bin and hangs himself. Imagine if he completed his project and flew his spy-chopper into Virus' office, wouldn't it justify the delay? Of course it's just a movie, and if that happened in the movie the whole charm would die away. But what Rancho does with Lobo's rubbish is something we should applaud at.
From 3 Idiots 
On the contrary, I was shocked at what I saw on the hostel wall where I went to drop my son last week. "I Quit" was written in bold right at the entrance of his hostel, and I could only hope that whoever wrote it might have written it in good humor. Otherwise, look what our kids are picking on! Of the thousand good lessons in the movie, just that thing which was meant not to play with was picked on.

Seen on Hostel Wall

13 February 2012

Who Will Help Her?

About six years ago my wife helped a girl get a job. She was very innocent, beautiful and young but life didn't let her live her youth in peace. She was the eldest sibling and had a young brother in her hand. She had to leave her school and start earning. She was very happy that my wife helped her.
A year later my wife got a call from her family. They wanted to know where their daughter was. She went missing. We didn't know that by help the girl we bought ourselves the trouble of taking all the risk. But because she went missing my wife involved herself fully in the search. By the end of the week long search their only faith was in astrology, and that was the righteous decision they took. The astrologer said the girl was safe and hiding in the place they least expected, and that her captivator will confess it the next morning.
Yes, the next morning they visited her employer and as soon as he saw them he confessed that the girl was at his place. Her already married employer had lured the little girl and now she was talking his words. Despite all the warnings from her family the girl didn't want to leave the man. That was her fault.
In the last five years she was disowned by her family and her husband left his first wife. She still worked for him, only that she is no more paid. We often heard her story of paying the huge price for her mistake from her sister but she never complained. As long as she works fine in the office and works fine at home without questioning anything she was spared. But every time she makes a mistake, every time she was seen going out of office, and every time she asked a question, she was beaten blue and black. Last winter when we met her she wouldn't tell us much but pitifully told was that she wouldn't mind the beating if it weren't in public places, but it happened wherever he gets upset. I was very disheartened and wanted to help her but she didn't seem to need help, god knows why.
But suddenly, last week my wife received a call from her. She wanted to know the RENEW's contact number. She was scared after what happened that morning- her husband threw stone at her in a restaurant and when he missed his shot he booted her. I immediately rushed to my computer and looked for what she asked. I got it but I wasn't sure if she would dare to ask for help, so I made my wife ask her if it was ok for me to get her the help. She quickly yesed it. I went to RENEW website and since it was in the evening I knew there won't be people at office and therefore I wrote an email (to enquiry@renewbhutan.org ) just like I wrote it here with her phone number.
It's over four days now and I have checked my inbox umpteen times. When I finally called the office (02332159) a coughing girl on the other end told me that they don't take complains from email. I was asked to send the girl to their office. I explained how it's not possible. The girl on the phone then asked me to hold on, and then I heard intercom ringing. It went on ringing until I finally hung up. Who will help her?

Update 14 Feb 2012: My apologies to RENEW if my article affected anybody, It was my fault not to have tried different ways. But I am very happy that they took this seriously and reached out to me. They even said that they are going to put up the concerned Mobile Numbers on their website. For now if you have any complains get in touch with Dr. Meenakshi, Community Outreach Director at Mobile no. 17666955. And Thanks Kesang C Dorjee.

06 February 2012

Teacher: The Restricted Species

This vacation I have had the privileged of travelling different places and sharing my winter with variety of teachers at the expense of government. I had written program for what was to happen in the classroom and I have even written the report on what happen in last fifty days and how I used up nearly a million ngultrum that spent some nights in my bank account.
However the best part of the show wasn't these rigid official stuffs, they were but the joy of reunion of long lost friends, excitement of meeting new people whom I wish I had met ages ago, the jokes we crack over tea and lunch and the hope and promise of meeting again.
Today I said good bye and received generous acknowledgement from the last batch of teachers. And as I shut down the last computer in Punakha I stopped to reflect on the winter vacation that I didn't have, and from among infinite memories something stood out quite firmly which made me laugh. It's something about the change in human behavior after one becomes teacher, of course it's just my personal theory based on my crazy observations this cold season, that most teachers are fond of tobacco and alcohol.
These two intoxicating substances are the plots of all stories that teachers talk about. It's amazing how many hands come forward at the sight Baba khaini or cigeratte, and how promptly everybody joins you in a bar late in the evening. It's not even surprising to smell strong alcoholic breath from teachers' early in the morning. If you don't drink, and if you don't even smoke or chew tobacco then you are considered a saint or an abnormal teacher.
While I enjoyed the same bloodline I couldn't help wondering why we became so even after knowing all the ill effects in the world. I curiously asked a few of them, some say it's because of the huge population of teachers while I found more substance in the second reason we found- that these stuffs are forbidden fruits for teachers and the human inside us overtook the teacher in us. We are the restricted species among the humankind and therefore we are rampaging into our freedom.

21 January 2012

Hotel California in Punakha

Tea Break
I only heard of it like a story from a far off place, though I am into teaching for five years now, that it's such a fun at the winter correction camp in Punakha High School. They say it's like hotel California- "You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave."
I am in Punakha School as well but on a different mission. I am training teachers of Punakha and Gasa under Chigphen Rigphel Project. And this is the closest I ever came to the place from where my fate was decided years ago, from where fates of thousands were decided every year, and from where fates of many teachers are changed year after year- yes teachers make big money here, I only heard of it like a story you know.

What Makes it Hotel California? 

  1. All your lost friends suddenly reemerge from their isolation and it becomes the best vacation down the memory lane.
  2. Meeting old friends helps you forget your age, and this is exactly what happens in Punakha. Weeks in Punakha helps you fight aging and wrinkles better than Ponds Age Miracle. 
  3. The amount of money you make and the relationship you build here in the camp makes you feel like you belong to the place forever. Therefore most of the teachers in the camp are almost permanent staff, having booked their place for eternity, which so much connects with hotel California's closing line: "but you can never leave."
One Teacher One Car
Over hundred teachers gathered here to check class ten papers, and I am surprised to see so many familiar faces. They were surprised to see me as well- a new face among them in Punakha, but I confirmed them that I wasn't with them.

19 January 2012

Girl Who Found Her Way

These few months the news of youth going wrong never stopped taking the headlines. My month long stay in Phuntsholing gave me all the reason to worry about next generation of Bhutanese we are bringing up. From robbery to gang fights, drugs abuse to stabbing, lost of obedience to as far as homosexuality- they are leaving behind no bad stone unturned. I almost gave up all my hopes on them and just then I saw this 16 year old Yeshey Choden on Youtube, which gave me an insight into what is there beyond our eye and beyond the interest of Bhutanese media. Her magical voice and her very own lyrics held me stunned for a while. As I watch her fingers dance smoothly over the strings of her guitar I realized how guilty I was of those many assumptions.
While there are hundreds of kids who didn't find their purpose in life, and hundreds others who lost their purposes in the midst of influences but on the brighter side there are hundreds who found their way in life like Yeshey Choden. We just don't know about them because they are not put on the stage.

Update (2 Feb 2012): Yeshey Choden received an offer to sing for Yarkey Flim, on the recommendation of Bhutan Street Fashion.

17 January 2012

Why Everything Happens in Thimphu?

Night in Thimphu,   From  bhutanmajestictravel.com   
"Why everything happens in Thimphu?" was the question I often asked, sometimes in desperation, often in frustration and at times in sadness. Wherever our works begin it has to end in Thimphu, and without going there for umpteen times nothing gets done. From wherever the buses travel the road must end in Thimphu. Every taxi seems to head to Thimphu. All the offices operates from switches in Thimphu. Businesses find Thimphu favorable. All Jobs are in Thimphu. And therefore people move to Thimphu.
At one time we were scared of Thimphu, believing that the city spoils our children but now we know that Thimphu is scared of us because our kids are spoiling the city. Everybody wants to live in the city and nobody seems to take ownership of it, nobody cares about it. It's only now that I understand Thimphu is just an innocent little town who wants its dwellers to own her as their own. But the tragedy is that everybody just wants to use it.
So many stabbings, so many robbery, so many arrests, where are we taking Thimphu? It's amazing how much money is put on helping the youth, but the most amazing of all is the amount of effort kids put in running away from the helping hands. It's natural to be naughty at certain age but our kids have gone far beyond. They have lost their respect for humanity, they are out for kill and that was the last thing we were expecting from Bhutanese youth. There are more parents in Thimphu than Police, if every parent takes care of their child the problem won't be as grave. We have to be social police.
Why are these happening in Thimphu? The answer is in the question, because everything happens in Thimphu. It's time we realize that Thimphu is not the center of the earth, let there be limit to how much it can hold. Don't we have any other place for the IT Park? Are we still going ahead with the Medical College in Thimphu?
Thank god we don't have enough space in Thimphu, otherwise someday we might consider bringing all the Dzongs to Thimphu and make a Heritage Park there. Don't just Think from Thimphu, Think for Thimphu!

10 January 2012

The Other Gender

When you sign up for an account on internet you have to fill in a form, and I bet you must have wondered what that "Other" below "Male" and "Female" meant. I always thought Bhutan will never have to worry about it but looks like the time has come.
Funny No More
All brows in Wandue went up when Dechen first came there from Paro. She was the boy who appeared in headlines following an issue with her school not letting her be a girl. She set herself free by dropping out. Now she runs a BEauty Palour in Wangdue, where she is accepted as she is and doing good business. My wife wasn't very comfortable when I took her to Dechen's saloon for the first time, but later admitted that Dechen had the softest hand. I didn't see the other man people were talking about in Wangdue. He seems to be a taxi driver. who often dresses himself in kira.
While some people find it strange and unacceptable- denial of God's creation, I had to explain to many that they were born with woman's soul and they are NOT pretending to be what they are not. 
Bhutan government has already realized the change that is happening and discussed on the issue sometime last year. I don't know about the content of the talk though but I am happy that things are put into perceptive on time. Because after what I saw around me these days I am seriously worried. Dechen in Wangdue was just the tip of an iceberg.
During our lunch breaks we rest under the tree watching over two hundred girls practice football in Phuntsholing School ground, and the point of worry is that almost half of the girls have denied themselves as girls- from the way they keep their hair, way type of language they use, to the names they kept for themselves.  If it were a few of them I might sympathize with them just like I did with Dechen but here is the case of peer influence or a fashion of sort. Or is it the effect of Football on them? 
I wouldn't want to wake up one day and suddenly find my daughter wanting to be a boy just because it's a fashion. And I don't think the parents of these girls will want that either!