Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Marijuana in Bhutan

This morning seems like a good time to write my last Bhutan post. Here in Melbourne the weather is fine - it is April weather, all the weather I was sad to be missing while I was in Phobjikha is right here, right now in May. And out one side of the flat is the gentle sound of construction and out the other side is the soothing melody of someone playing the bagpipe. For real. It is not a recording, it is a genuine damn bagpipe being played with skill and the occasional halt for breathing. I think it is a new neighbour, standing there in his black adidas trackies and white tshirt. I would take a picture for proof, but the leaves on the loquat tree are too thick for a clear shot. He has a goatee.

This is a post for my brother who wanted a picture of the marijuana that grows wild in Bhutan, right there in amongst the other roadside weeds.

There wasn't any in Phobjikha (that I saw - too high, too cold?). I think I saw some along the roadsides as we were driving back (my marijuana spotting skills are not great, so I'd never be sure of what I was seeing until we were past), but there was some right by the last hotel we stayed at.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Bhutan's national dress for men - the gho

The last few days have been like late summer here in Melbourne. The sky is high and blue, the wind is soft and warm and all the hipsters are out in their tailored shorts. I appreciate the tailored shorts because I am a great admirer of the lower leg.

Which is a big part of why I like the gho. I mean, there's the pocket. What a splendid idea! If I could work out how to have a pocket like this in all my clothing, life would be complete.

But mostly, it's the legs. All those beautiful, black clad calves. It seems improbable that so many Bhutanese men should have shapely calves, but the evidence is right there for the looking. Maybe it is all the walking up and down the hills.

And sometimes you'd see a little bit of knee, and sometimes that triangle of skin just beside the knee. I live in Australia! The sight of a knee shouldn't make me blush, and yet...

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Final days in Bhutan

We had Wednesday morning in Thimphu and went up to see the last day of the festival at Buddha point. There were men doing a traditional dance with drums. Their costumes were scanty and it was cold and they were dancing, leaping and twirling in bare feet, right on the concrete. They all wore masks, but there were two dressed differently, one with a red mask and one with a black mask. They were the jokers. They were there to help the dancers and fix any costumes that came adrift during the vigorous dancing, but they were also there as disruptive elements, I think. The one with the red mask had a giant red phallus on a white scarf. Some times he would dance along with the other dancers mockingly, or swing the phallus around and around on the end of the scarf, or hit them with it, or let it dangle amusingly from his belt next to his own John Thomas.

I'd been thinking about our own presence at the school, we were there for twenty two days and I wondered whether we were more of a disruption than a help (it would be interesting to hear from the teachers' point of view). But watching the dancing, I wondered if we weren't a bit like the clowns. Coming in to the orderly running of the school, helping a bit, disrupting a bit, but still a part of the dance. But with no swinging, um, thingy.

Then there was a debrief at the Ministry of Education in the afternoon. We are to write a report about our experience.

Our hotel in Paro is dreamy. There is an extensive flower garden full of every imaginable thing, foxgloves, gerberas, lupines that would make you cry, roses, tiger lillies, pansies, everything. At the moment I am sitting in our sunroom that looks out on fruit trees and the back hill and it is peaceful.

We climbed to Taktsang, this morning. Some of the tourists ride horses up the first part of the climb, so I followed the hoof marks and pretended that I was my childhood pony who was willing and game and sturdy and went slowly, but never stopped. The smell of horsepoo made me stronger. Karma had suggested we leave the hotel at 6.30am and it was a brilliant idea, we were the first tourists up there and it was still cool on the walk up. It smelled of dust and pine trees. Occasionally one of those horns that the monks use would ring out from above us. I don't remember what they are called, but they sound like a joyous fart.

We were blessed by the monks at the top with saffron water.

At lunch I ate the most in one go since I arrived here. I still wasn't exactly hungry, but it was like my stomach didn't notice for longer that I was eating before it shut down. Then I went for a walk and found some marijuana to take photos of for my brother.

And now I've just re packed and everything is set to go. I have one set of clean clothes left to wear tomorrow on the plane. I spoke to Karma about the fact I have a very short turn around in Kathmandu (1 hour and 40 mins) and he says he can fix it. I don't know what he will do, but he is very resourceful. And if I make that flight in Kathmandu, I'll be home in Melbourne at midday on Saturday. If the internet will let me, I'll download a few episodes of this West Wing Weekly I've been hearing about to listen to on the plane. I think there is also a Gilmore Girls one, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I feel sad and exhausted and glad that I'll see everyone in Melbourne again (and dance!). And I think this is the longest I've been without talking to my mum. 


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Love letter to Phobjikha

We have returned to Thimphu. The weather is dreary, cloudy, grey and I am cross with everything. I'm cross with the men wearing ghos because they are not my men wearing ghos. I'm cross with the women wearing kira, because they are not my women wearing kira. And I'm cross with all the students in their uniforms, because they are not mine.

I miss Phobjikha. It defies all sense. I was sick the whole time I was there, walking up the hill to school everyday got easier by the end, but it was still a tough slog. It was cold for all of a handful of minutes. I spent a lot of time wondering if I was behaving appropriately. And I could only have eaten another mouthful of potato stew if my life had depended on it. But the air was sweet and good (if flavoured with the aromas of mud and pine and cow poo - smells I have no problem with and prefer to exhaust and sewers [I'm looking at you Thimphu]). And the water had a touch of the divine. It burned cold in your throat and lit up your stomach. Aqua vitae indeed. On the final morning I got up early to see someone quickly before we left and there was a fine coating of frost on everything the sun hadn't touched yet. It felt like Phobjikha was showing me secrets.

And I miss the staff at the hotel. I wish I had taken more pictures. We left in such a rush that there was no time. I'll start to forget faces soon, but they were a little like a family. (Only a little, because I was still a customer at the hotel.) Their work is tough - everything has to be carried up and down the hill. Laundry, supplies, firewood, guests' bags. Some times guests yell and carry on (the old man who had forgotten that he had eaten something and refused to pay for it, the man who got mad about the water [a tap was dripping? it was hard to tell, he was yelling so loud], the man who got mad about the electricity [they say in the guide books that the electricity goes out in Phobjikha a lot, right?]). By the third week I was starting to see behind the screen, people would mention if they were feeling stressed, Nitup would cross her eyes at me if someone had been rude to her.

And I miss the staff at the school. As an aside, if someone invites you for a 'simple Bhutanese meal', don't eat that day. There will be so much delicious food and you won't want to stop eating. Make sure you eat the cheese one! I miss sitting around the wood stove, trying to keep warm, chatting to the other teachers or just sitting, letting the sounds of the language sooth and float by as they talk and tease and poke fun. I miss being reminded to take a cup of sweet tea at interval. Heading up for lunch - rice and dal and potato stew. Sitting around under the high blue sky. Once there was butter and if you mix butter, rice and dal it tastes just like hot buttered french bread stick. True.

Here, too, I was allowed to look into peoples' lives. The complaints and the quibbles as well as the delights and joys. The UTIs and the concerns for their kids, the pride and the hopes for the future. The teachers who held themselves aloof, the teachers who worked hard to communicate and be kind even if English wasn't their most best thing. The outrageous flirting, (which I wasn't sure how to take until someone did it in front of his wife and she basically called him a randy old goat). The curiousity about life and the great skill they brought to the classroom.

And, O! the students. Naughty, cheeky, quiet, brash, serious, brilliant, studious. The littlest ones full of beans and devotion, the oldest ones full of hormones and attitude (but still just babies).

The girls who walked home with me and practiced their English or asked questions through a designated spokesperson. The girl who told me English was hard for her, but she was smart in Dzongkha. The girls who avoided my eye when I called on people in class, but chatted happily to me outside during Cobblers Club.

The boys full of whimsey and the urge to belt the crap out of every flower that dared grow near the path to school. Who wrote about their fears and consistently wrote about being bitten (beaten) by bigger boys. (The girls feared exclusion).

Some hated school, some loved it. And I miss them.

The coolest boy in school was also the best dancer (I was informed of both these facts in hushed whispers when I attended the students' final rehearsal for the Teachers' Day dancing).

I miss all the classes. I played the clown a lot to make them feel more comfortable with talking. I miss them.

So, Phobjikha, goodbye. I've left you part of my heart. Tama che gey!