Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Most Romantic Losar

    The lights of the city get smaller and smaller below us as Sonam’s tiny Indian made Maruti barely makes it up the winding mountain roads. As we climb, stars approach eye level and I realize that no matter how long I look, I won’t see an airplane flying over us. Two airplanes land in this country on any given day and both arrive in the morning. Sonam and her friends sing in Nepali at the top of their lungs as we skirt thousand foot drops. No guard rails in sight. When we arrive at the top of this massive mountain white prayer flags flap furiously in the wind and tiny little lights of Thimphu, Bhutan’s largest city, look like a quaint mountain village.  At three o’clock in the morning, the road is surprising still lined with cars as people head to Buddha Point to celebrate Losar, the Bhutanese New Year. It was an especially romantic Losar, falling on Valentine’s Day eve. We celebrated at Club Ace, Sonam’s favorite Disco. I told Carris this morning and her reply was, “What?! Bhutan has a disco? I thought it was a tiny Buddhist kingdom tucked in the Himalayas!” Yes, it is, but it can also have a nightclub. And what a nightclub it was. For hours we danced to everything from Hindi music to American hip hop to Reggaeton. I am unexperienced in the Bhutanese way to dance to Hindi music so I got some tips from two guys who looked particularly practiced in this fine art form. I noted that a passionate facial expression is essential to looking authentically bollywood. I was approached often by people curious about how I found my way to Bhutan. Everyone I talked to happened to know or be related to one of my coworkers at the Early Learning Centre.
    I am going on week three in Bhutan. Every day has been adventure, complete with lessons from our principal on how to take a shower and do laundry. We arrived on Monday, and Tuesday morning we began inservice at school. The school is private, owned by our principal who conducts the daily professional development sessions. Each session revolves around the ever-prevalent theme of Gross National Happiness. This is the concept that the Fifth King of Bhutan introduced when he imposed democracy on his admiring subjects several years ago. The idea is that such a small country that values its pristine nature and humanity so deeply will always attempt to prioritize collective happiness above monetary gain or gross national product. This vision is radically transforming the education system of Bhutan. Meditation is now required in every school. Our professional development seminars have included an expert intervention from the local Lama (Sanskrit word for teacher, or “highly learn-ed monk” as Sonam explains). We received instruction on how to properly meditate and how to inspire children to integrate mediation in their lives. We begin each session with several minutes of mediation and close each day with a prayer in Dhzonka (Bhutan’s national language). The last thing we do each day is recite the Gross National Happiness Invocation.    
    This local Lama has become central to my life here in Bhutan. He holds weekly mediation class on Tuesdays and on Fridays screens indie films to encourage critical thinking and create a community of people interested in the Middle Path. Sundays are ‘Wisdom Tea’ where we huddle around an electric heater to read Buddhist literature and have a question and answer with the lama while drinking tea and eating lemon flavored popcorn.
    I want to devote a paragraph to talk about my gratitude for the people who have made the landing in Thimphu such a gentle and comforting experience. After our first day at ELC, two smiling faces offered to pick Cara and me up from our house and take us to dinner. The two smiling faces were sisters, Sonam and Cheychay. The took us to dinner at Ambient cafe. A wonderful restaurant/cafe/hotel/gathering place. Since then they have done something kind and generous for us every day. One day they invited themselves over for dinner. I was embarrassed because I had no idea how to feed them, but wanted to do something to return their generosity. They ended up coming over, making us dinner, cleaning our kitchen and then preparing teaching materials for us. Cheychay said it had been a scheme to get into our house and make it feel like a home. Mission accomplished. They have introduced us to their friends, invited us for meals, included us in their lives. They have taken us shopping, to the hospital, various ministries to clear our visas, and made our existence ever enjoyable. So thanks to them and to everyone else who has been so open hearted (Kueron, Namgay, Mme. Deki...)
    The first week I got here a brand new yoga studio opened. Cara (my roommate) and I attended one of the first classes and left having found a new favorite place and new friends. Since then we have spent almost every day with the people we met there. Michael and Noam are musicians who have provided many hours of entertainment. Even watching the two of them have a conversation is amusing, which is why they also have a radio show. Last night they put on a Valentine’s Day concert at the home of the local radio producer. Now it is Sunday and I am sitting at a very American feeling cafe. I just finished breakfast of hash browns and eggs. Michael and Cara are here. We are going to go for a walk across the river and then to the yoga studio tonight to watch our yoga teacher’s favorite French film called, “Bleu”. Tomorrow there is no work because of Losar. Life is good.


  1. I am so glad you have already made dear friends (no surprise) and that you have found (1) the disco, (2) the yoga studio and (3) hash browns and eggs. Sonam and Cheychay are, indeed, gifts to you and Cara. But, you already know that.
    Love, Ann

  2. I heard Bhutan is ranked one of the happiest places in the world. I was going to ask you about it....but this post explains a lot! Looking forward to your future thoughts on the subject!
    Love you!

  3. I love that you're blogging about your adventures in Bhutan. Hope you have a wonderful time!