Thursday, October 31, 2013

Farm Visit in Punakha and the Beautiful Host

I am currently in Lobesa with a group of guests from School of Wellbeing Studies and Research from Thailand. Their main interest is organic farming and they take Bhutan as an example where organic farming is widely practiced and believes that Bhutan’s aim of making the country a 100% organic country is possible. So in this connection, we visited a farm in Kabisa, a village on the way to Gasa. Our host and interviewee was a 74-year-old man named Kencho Tshering.

He practices integrated farming where he grows different types of fruits and vegetables. He also has three cattle. Though integrated farming is common in Bhutan and it is what we have been practicing traditionally, for people from other countries, it is something strikingly interesting. From my interaction, I learned that organic farming is a farming with knowledge and when they see integrated farming in our farms, they see that our farmers have already been practicing a kind of technique that is encouraged in organic farming. Anyway, my purpose for this blog post is not about organic farming but the experience of the short visit to the farm.

A very pretty young woman received us. In fact, on the first glance you won’t believe that she is 28 and a mother of a six years old son. I instantly started my conversation with her because I wanted to know why she dropped school. And when I learned that the child who was with her is her son, I felt compelled to ask her age because she looked very young. She is Ap Kencho’s daughter. He has four daughters, and they all dropped school after class 10. She said that in the beginning, she regretted having left school, but she is okay now. Her husband was her classmate in high school and he is currently pursuing bachelors in medicine in Chiangmai, Thailand. She had to leave school because her father divided the lands among the four siblings and they were told that it was up to them whether they wanted to leave them fallow, or tend to them and make a living from it. And whether out of choice or compulsion, all of them dropped school and stayed home, farming.

I felt sad. It is not that I see farming as an inferior way to earn a living. It has its charms, its hardships, and its gracefulness. But honestly, I know that hardships and difficulties in farming is both mental and physical, and it is much, much more than what we might suffer in doing an office work. I also know that when we farm, the pride we get as we harvest what we have sowed is huge. They also have a sense of food security and food sufficiency that office goers don’t. They do not have to worry what is happening to the import of food (mainly the vegetables and food grains like rice). But counting that too, when I ask myself whether I would choose to go back to being a farmer, I can’t get an straight, definite ‘yes’. Despite the farm mechanization, despite the improved seeds and methods of farming, I know life in the villages is still very hard. And it was a surprise for me to actually meet two young women who had dropped school after their father told them that they would have to live in the village, carrying out the tradition of farming. At least in the case of the elder daughter, it seems she will be going away from the house anyway when her husband gets in the job because there is no hospital in the village where he could ask for is placement. Considering this, I think, it would have been better if she pursued her studies. Though she was very humble and told me that she was not a bright student, I got a feeling that she must have been one of the toppers in her class.

As I go on meeting different people discussing organic farming and food security, I hear a lot of people saying that our young people do not want to go back to villages to be farmers after they finish their schools. I think expecting them to go back and farm is a little too much at the moment.  I know that would be a better choice than staying in Thimphu looking for a job that is never going to come, but still, it will be a difficult choice for many. And I must be honest that if I were to be the one to ask them to make that choice, I would feel it is unfair. Why should it be the ones occupying chairs in the office to tell them that going back to the village is their best option, when they have not done it themselves?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Finally a visit to Bajo School

I have been reading everything Passu ( writes, and knowing from his blog about the interesting initiatives that he took at his school (Bajo Higher Secondary School in Wangduephodrang), I have been eager to pay a visit. And today was the day!

In the last minute, because of the manpower shortage, I was assigned by my office to take care of the guests from School of Wellbeing (based in Thailand). And it is because of this work that I got to go to Bajo school today. There are seven of them: one from Mynmar, one from France, and five from Thailand. I have been with them since 24th of this month and I am increasingly feeling privileged to be with the group. I learn a lot, not just from them, but from the different people I am getting to meet, in coordinating their itinerary in Bhutan. For example, I got a chance to meet the Ex-prime Minister of Bhutan, about whom I have only heard what people were talking about and did not really know where he was after the election. And another worth noting is the meeting we had with Madam Kesang from National Organic Programme. She is a woman filled with energy.

And today, meeting Passang Tshering (popularly known as Passu among bloggers) brought a lot of positive energy to the whole purpose of our visit. We not only saw what he has done in his school, like making a Wifi Park, but we also got an insight into what the school does in incorporating GNH – by which I mean, how the whole idea of ‘educating for GNH’ is implemented. He shared that, for example, words such as ‘killing’ and ‘stealing’ are taken out from the textbooks, so that students are taught only positive values. Another interesting example he shared was that, in mathematic problem solving, if there was a question like, ‘if a farmer had five cows and one was killed, how many cows are left?’, it is now reframed as, ‘if a kind farmer had five cows and he gave one away, how many cows are left?’ It is truly interesting that teachers like him use such creative methods to incorporate humane values in the curriculum.

He introduces himself as a ‘happy teacher’ and says he wants to change the perception of people about teachers in Bhutan. He wants to make teaching a coveted profession, and he seems to be on his way to it. In the meeting this evening where we share the day’s reflection, all the members of the group shared that meeting him and going through the campus, showing us what the school does in a short span of time was a huge insight for them and how education in Bhutan works. (Thank you Passu. Salutes to you).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thimphu Tshechu 2013

My family and I attended the first day of Thimphu Tshechu, which fell on the 10th day of the eight month of Bhutanese Calendar – which gave me the reason to plan to go on the first day. I felt, it would be more significant (can’t explain how) to go to a Tshechu on that date, which in my understanding explains the meaning of Tschechu. We left home at 9 a.m. and it wasn’t as crowded as I expected when we reached Tendrel Thang. So I thought, we went at the right time, but I was told that it is usually not crowded on the first day. I think it is true. On the second and the last day, I could see on TV, what a big crowd it was.

My reason to go to Tshechu was purely to let my daughter witness the masked dances, the different colors of Tshechu and the mood people swing in. It gives us a feeling of bountiful joy and it is that rare time when we can really have a family gathering and forget all other worries, such as our work pressure. I also believe that it is important to let children witness such religious activities, which will nurture a positive growth in them. I am a Buddhist who believes in ‘cause and effect’ and thus, about how it is important to build, ‘tendrel’ – which in my layman’s understanding means sowing seed, in order to give rise to a good relationship (it is all about interdependence). It is when we have sowed positive seeds that we will reap positive results. In the same line of thought, I feel it is important that our children hear or see people pray, see religious monuments, and visit authentic Rinpoche(s). I will leave these thoughts here for now and present to you some pictures from the Tshechu for your visual pleasure.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What you shouldn’t say to a mother

I must admit on the onset that despite my effort to be the best mother, I had had incidents where my daughter fell down from the bed, from the stairs and so on. Yesterday, she ran out of the bath and slipped on the floor – and hurt her head so badly. It scared me. It scared her daddy more because he blamed me that I had not taken any precaution, knowing that the floor was slippery. She has this habit. For sheer mischief, she runs away when she has finished her bath and knows that I am going to wrap her in a towel.

I cuddled her and stroked her hair, soothing her, consoling her that it will be okay. She stopped after a while. Children soothe much faster than adults. They forget hurt way quicker as well. This relieved me. There was no swelling, and she didn’t seem to hurt when I touched the area that was hit.

My husband’s repeated reminder to me is that it is very risky for children to hit their head. It could lead to any undesirable long-term effect. I am aware of that too. And it is not that mothers don’t try what they could to protect their children. Mothers know in their heart what their children want and they have a dream of how they want them to be grown. So, when someone blames them for not being good mothers, or when someone tells them that the way they tend their children isn’t perfect, they don’t welcome it well. And I would think it is only right to receive it that way.

It is not ingratitude that they expect after all the sacrifices they make – from the moment they conceive, to the day they are on their own. In fact, mothers worry about their children even after that.

A friend of mine rightly pointed out that it is perceived that children have more accidents when they are with their mothers because they are with them almost all the time. It is only at rare times that their dads play with them, and it is not surprising that they should have no undesirable surprises of accidents and commotion. I don’t want to generalize this, but if I must make this judgment based on my friends (90% of us have children aged 5 and below at this time), it is true.

Anyway, next time you are about to point out the wrong to a mother who happens not to be quick enough to stop her child from falling down, stop yourself. It is not what she wants to hear at that moment.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The choice that you make

I was 20. I had not delved in the thought of marriage, despite being in love. When you fall in love, you don’t question many things: you don’t ask whether the person is a doctor or an engineer; you don’t ask whether the person is from Tashigang or Paro; you don’t ask how much his parents’ earnings are. Moreover, despite the common saying that the face is the window to the soul, face doesn’t carry more than 40% weightage. That is to say, when you fall in love, you do without much knowledge of the person. (But at least in my case, the command a person has over his written language gives me a very strong pull).

Now, some would call that fate (Abi namshi gi kay thawa as Sharchops say). Some might have a different theory altogether – such as how one subconsciously makes all the judgments based on his/her experience. I prefer to go by the popular saying that ‘love is blind’. In fact, I don’t see why we would need so many reasons as to why we love someone.  Our heart knows best what our rational reasoning doesn’t.

So, yes, I was in love. At such age, you tend to drive into confusion because of the different things you hear from boys; the different things your elders make you believe, and the different things your peers prejudice over. But at the end, your heart always wins – and you have to be brave enough to follow it. I was in love with a humble guy who was going to be a physiotherapist. I had seen him thrice before the proposal came, but when the time came for me to make my decision, I had forgotten how he looked. So I braved my heart.

A doctor to be asked, ‘would you prefer a physiotherapist to a doctor?’ I could surely have sworn on his face, but I did not. 

In the course of your time, as you grow up, you will be confused about many things. But the best thing you can do is to believe in yourself, and follow your heart. Don’t give up if someone said that what you believed was not what everyone believed. And to those who have crossed that threshold and wonder if the marrying-age has passed, don’t marry someone because he is rich, or because he is good-looking. In my opinion trusting these qualities to buy you love is the worst thing you can do to yourself. So, grow up.

This is Bhutan

I moved to Adelaide, South Australia 10 months ago. This decision was driven by my belief that family has to be together and pursuing your c...