Bhutan

Saturday 10/13/07 - Free day in Shelmakha

Yesterday, Dorji had asked us what we wanted to do with our free day. He had suggested a 6 hour hike to the village where his father was raised. We would have loved to see the village, but we weren’t up for more hiking, either physically or mentally. My knee was still bothering me (getting up and down the steep staircase was difficult enough). We assured Dorji that we would find ways to entertain ourselves. After all of the activity of the past week or so, some down-time would be nice. I could write in the journal, we could sleep late, walk around town, etc.

We slept until about 8:15 am. Poor Yeshey seemed to have had breakfast ready for our usual 7:30, but he kept it heated and we enjoyed it very much when we finally got up. Phub Lham and Phub Zam peeked in at us through the kitchen door and smiled and giggled, but kept their distance. We could see mom Deki Pem outside working in the fields.

Yeshey heated a bucket of water and we were actually able to wash our hair (and Craig was able to shave) outside. It was so refreshing! Never has a shampoo been that enjoyable. The sun was hitting the flowers along the house - bright yellow marigolds and sunflowers, pink roses...and the view of the surrounding valley was gorgeous. We also scrubbed our hiking boots clean and packed them away for good. The mud had dried up enough by now that sneakers would be fine. I sat on the deck writing in the journal, and Craig wandered around taking some pictures. We contemplated climbing the ladder up to the empty space between the house and the roof, where hay is kept, but the ladder didn't seem sturdy enough to hold up to our bulk. The last thing we would need would be to break our host family's ladder! Not to mention that if the ladder broke, we would tumble down to th edeck and probably fall an additional 10 feet to the ground. We noticed a clay sign hanging above the front door which must have been made by one of the children. It read "Well Come You All".

Yeshey cooked lunch and while we ate (at noon) Dorji put the radio onto "Kuzoo FM". Bhutan has two radio stations - one is an NPR-type of station with topical news stories. The other is the more eclectic Kuzoo, whnich caters to the younger, hipper crowd. The DJ's choose their own programming, and rely heavily on caller requests and dedications. There are themed music shows as well as occasional odd little essays and interviews. It was “heavy metal hour” and we heard some Guns and Roses, etc. It was really interesting to hear. There was only one commercial - for a restaurant in Thimpu famous for now selling wine by the glass. This would not be the last time we listened to Kuzoo. Lunch was spinach and cheese, chicken, rice, potatoes, cheese, mushrooms, beans, carrots, and pears for dessert. You never go hungry with Yeshey around!

After lunch, Craig and I decided to go for a walk. We brought our Frisbee, hoping we might be able to play with some kids. As soon as we left the house, we attracted the attention of kids. Some of them were hanging out at a mani wall and started to follow us, including one little guy in a pink baseball cap who appeared to be around 2 or 3 years old (which probably meant that he was 4 or 5). We got down to the teahouse and there were folks sitting on the bench outside enjoying a snack. We scanned their faces and were delighted to find that one of them was our friend Apple! She was there with her dad. We were very excited to see her, as she had disappeared yesterday at the tail end of the festival and we hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye.

We showed them all the Frisbee and asked if anyone wanted to play. The older boys accepted immediately. Craig and I formed a circle with them and started playing. They really enjoyed it. I soon stopped playing to take photos and interact with the girls and younger kids who were watching the game. Apple gave me a piece of fruit gum. The littlest boy was eager for photos “Madam! Madam!” The puppies made good props as kids held them for cute photos. Apple and a friend sat in some marigold bushes for a photo. Kids climbed and hung from fences. Every time I broke out the camera I heard a chorus of “Madam! Please, miss? Photo?”

I walked over to the school building to take a look. There were drawings and poems strung up like prayer flags. There were drawings of how the children envisioned the school would look in the future. I was very impressed by the English poems, which had very good grammar, rhyming, and scansion. Once in a while the spelling was a little off, but that made it even cuter. “We are plooters..." Plooters? "...We don’t care. We make messes everywhere.” Oh, polluters!

We Are Plooters
Poem

We are plooters
We don't care
We make messes
Everywhere

We strip forests
Bare of trees
We dump garbage
In the Sea

We are plooters
We enjoy
Finding Beauty
To destroy

We intrude
Where creatures thrive
Soon there's little
Left alive

Under water
Under ground
Nothing safe
When we're around

We spew poisons
In the air
We are plooters
We don't care

Sonam Jobgay
Class VI


This was my favorite of the poems. It was a good message, especially since even in Shelmakha, litter is a problem, odd for such an environmentally aware country. It was the only real disappointment of the trip. The Bhutanese pride themselves on their country's conservation efforts, yet people think nothing of throwing a wrapper on the ground. We would see this time and time again, in the cities as well as in rural areas. It was not something we had ever anticipated.

Dorji appeared and joined the Frisbee game. After a while, some of the girls and younger boys got up the confidence to try playing. The little guy in the pink cap (whose name, we found out, was Tshering) sure had an arm on him – he could throw that thing like a pro! Craig coached the kids who were having trouble, and they in turn coached other newcomers. Everyone had a lot of fun. One of the boys who really enjoyed it was Phub Dorji, the 11 year old from our host family. After several hours, the game broke up, and Craig and I talked to some of the older teens about the USA, politics, Bhutan, jobs, etc. One of them had divorced parents and seemed very sad, without many job prospects. We had a nice chat and showed them our photos. Various people gave us snacks such as gum and fresh carrots. Apple gave us some Indian snacks she had purchased at the tea house. Someone offered us betelnuts as well, which we politely declined.

We were really enjoying the scenery; we were surrounded by green mountains as we sat in a circle next to a woodpile on the perimater of the schoolyard. It was such a gorgeous pastoral setting, and it seemed like a shame that so many youngesters were giving up the rural farming life and heading to the cities for jobs. Across the dirt road, a woman climbed up onto the tea house roof and arranged bright yellow squash on the corrugated metal to dry.

Meanwhile, Dorji was sitting on the ground playing catch with the Frisbee with little Tshering. When they were done, Phub Dorji brought the Frisbee back to me. Although I didn’t know how much English he understood, I held it out to him with both hands and said “We are staying at your house. We want you to keep this.” He looked unsure, but I nodded, and he accepted it with both hands. Craig saw him smile and give the Frisbee a kiss before hugging it to himself. It was getting cool in the shade so we all moved to the sun and continued our chat.

Dorji came over and said we had been invited “for tea and a film”. The people who owned the teahouse had invited us. We needed to use their bathroom first, and some young girls showed us where it was. In the distance I saw some women working the fields in the late afternoon light. I took a photo and they waved me over. One girl (whom I didn’t know spoke English) said “Ma’am, they want you to come.” We walked over and it turned out that the women wanted me to take their photo up close. I did so and thanked them. As we walked back the girl said “They would like you to send four copies. One two three four. Four copies for them.” It took a while for both kids and adults to feel comfortable enough to try out their English, but I was always amazed at how good it was. “This is my cat,” she said. I pointed out that it was much smaller than my cat (which she had seen in our photo album). She agreed and laughed. “This is my house” (the tea house). She asked me to take a picture. I used the bathroom and we headed inside.

Dorji was sitting on the couch, and tea and cookies were ready for us. Bruce Lee's “Enter the Dragon” was playing on the DVD player. The DVD player (like the radio at our farmhouse) still had its marketing stickers attached. A group of kids were sitting lined up on a bench, intently watching the movie with their arms around one another. Craig and I had never seen the movie. It was fun, and the ‘70’s-ness of it made it pretty campy. The DVD had a bunch of digital screw ups, but that just added to the charm. The sound was a little bit out of synch with the visual, so it gave the impression that the English was dubbed in.

One of the women in the family came in to join us. She seemed very apologetic. The kids explained that she was sorry that she didn't know English. We felt that we were the ones who should be apologizing for not knowing Dzongkha; we were the foreigners. We heard someone arrive and we heard voices in the front room. About an hour into "Enter the Dragon", the movie stopped. One of the boys explained that the disc needed to be switched. He got the disc which was labeled as part 2 and put it in. It was a Bruce Lee movie, but it was a different movie – a comedy this time. After a few minutes they noticed this. It appeared that this was supposed to be the second part, but was actually the wrong movie.

It was getting late, and Dorji suggested that we head back. It turned out that the visitor had been the Lama, dropping off raffle tickets to benefit the Shelmakha monastery. We bought a 100 Nu raffle ticket, and Dorji said if we won, he’d make sure to get the prize to us. The prizes were a washing machine and a 27” TV. Tell you what, if we win, you can keep it, Dorji!

We headed back to the house. Dorji took us on a tour of the house. In addition to the kitchen and guest room, there was a little storage room, a sitting room/bedroom, another bedroom, and an altar room, which was amazing. It was so elaborately decorated, with silk hangings, scrolls, statues, butter lamps, etc. This was the room where Dorji was sleeping. We asked if we could get a photo with the family. Dorji rounded them up. Mom Deki Pem seemed nervous, and in her haste to get ready, she put her kira jacket on inside-out, She found this to be very funny, pointed it out to all of us, laughed, and fixed it. We got a good photo. Mom shook my hand and held it for a long time. They seemed to be getting really comfortable with us; it was a shame we’d be leaving tomorrow morning.

The kids wanted to watch TV with us, so they brought the family TV into the kitchen. The kids watched Jean Claude Van Damme while we ate. The movie was extremely violent and fraught with horrible language and it seemed sad to us that these gentle people were watching such violent exports from the USA. We were embarrassed as little Phub Lham and Phub Zam leaned in close to the TV paying very close attention. We ate our dinner of vegetable soup, lo mein, potatoes and cheese, beef and radishes, and cherries for dessert.

Eventually there were digital problems with the uber-violent Van Damme moving and they ejected that movie in favor of another...which was...wait for it..."Enter the Dragon"! Too funny! We got to see the very beginning, which we had missed earlier. It all made so much more sense now! I gave the kids some M&M’s. Phub Lham seemed to really like them, and her siblings were making fun of her for eating so many.

I wrote in the journal. Dad Karma brought us some walnuts. Disc 1 of the movie came to an end, and they put in disc 2, which, surprise, was the Bruce Lee comedy. Phub Dorji was confused and took it out. He then brought in a disc of some Bollywood music videos, which were quite entertaining. After that, Mom Deki Pem put on a disc of traditional Bhutanese music and dance. Craig recognized the dulcimer player and singer as her sister Choden. We pointed and said “Choden?” Deki Pem seemed thrilled that we noticed, and proud of her sister. Their brother was also in the group. It was a great video, and we wished there was some place we could buy it. By the time it was over we were exhausted. We all got ready for bed, and Deki Pem got a bundle of sticks, lit them from the wood stove, and used them as a torch as the family made their pre-bed outhouse trip. We said goodnight to everyone and went to our room at 10:00. After they came back, we made a trip to the outhouse as well. I wrote in the journal some more and went to sleep at 10:40.
Ruins viewed from our family's house

Ruins viewed from our family's house


Steph journaling on the porch

Steph journaling on the porch


Hanging around in front of the tea house

Hanging around in front of the tea house


Frisbee

Frisbee Game


Little kids

Little kids


Apple and friend in the marigolds

Apple and friend in the marigolds


Craig with a captive audience

Craig with a captive audience


Women working in the fields

Women working in the fields


Altar room

Altar room


Our host family

Our host family


Deki Pem makes a torch

Deki Pem makes a torch


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