Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bhutanese Experience with My Hair

The scene in my dorm room on Saturday August 27 was an interesting one. One of my Bhutanese roommates and my next door neighbor had decided to straighten my hair! This was funny to me at first because I cannot straighten my own hair and when I try to, it takes approximately 4-5 hours. I told them I didn’t think it was a good idea because I didn’t want to put them through that much work and trouble. Most of the Bhutanese I have met have very straight and silky hair so I couldn’t imagine how they were going to deal with my very thick and curly hair. But I 
finally agreed and kept insisting they stop once they felt tired.

Once they started I got nervous because I thought they were going to end up tangling it and I’d have to deal with the problem of detangling it. They started straightening and battling with my hair and after about an hour, I could tell they were tired but they were determined on finishing it because they said it was “interesting”. After about an hour and a half, they were completely done with it and exhausted. I was completely surprised with how they had been able to manage it. They told me that this was a “lifetime experience” they’ll forever remember! I don’t know if they’ll ever ask to straighten again after that experience but we’ll see.

The day before one Bhutanese schoolmate came to my dorm at night asking whether I could braid her hair in cornrows. I was surprised and told her I didn’t know how they’d turn out because cornrows aren’t easily done with silky hair. She didn’t care; she just wanted them done and to see what she looked like with cornrows. I tried it and she really liked it; she’s hoping to be able to braid cornrows by the time I leave Bhutan because she wants to keep doing them.
Coming to Bhutan, I was nervous about how people would react to my hair because it’s different from what Bhutanese know. I’ve however gotten a lot of curious people who are interested in knowing about curly hair and how I manage my hair.

-Noel Manu (Anthropology Major and Class of 2013)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Asian, Yet Foreigner

My name is Nanako Ota, a junior majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Education. I am writing the second blog article in honor of Aaron Bos-Lun, who kindly decided to use my name in the log-in password of this blog.

It has been about five years since I moved to the US by myself to pursue my academic career away from my home country, Japan. Being away from home is now easier because I have come to understand English better, and at Wheaton I do not feel intimidated by being surrounded by both ethnically and culturally diverse students.

Here in Bhutan, I guess I have been going through very different cultural-adjustment process compared to the other ten members. Arriving at Paro on August 1st, I felt rather nostalgic looking at the sceneries of this country, where the people put much effort to protect their beautiful nature. In other words, I felt as if I needed to ‘come back’ here and see what my country used to be before Tokyo took over. Taking a deep breath from the transparent blue air, I certainly could feel myself being purified.

My life at Royal Thimphu College has been too great because of my two roommates (Love you, PemPem and LhamLham). It is exciting as well as strange for me to be in a school setting where the most students are Asian because my school days in Japan seem so long time ago; however, it is certainly comfortable being with the Bhutanese students here. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I would say the biggest reason is that the Bhutanese students can naturally understand me and my culture. I do not mind them speaking Dzongkha (Bhutanese national language) in front of me and laughing to tears, because I know that they are feeling happy, and the fact that they are happy just makes me smile. (Of course I laugh out loud with them even though I understand little Dzongkha…well this is what I always do when I do not understand what my American friends are saying in English, so not a problem at all.)

Last evening, I was walking down the street after visiting the JICA office (my fieldwork site), and I heard kids laughing on the other side of the road. Their laughter was cut by the noise of the cars passing by, but their presence just made me smile. Then I heard one boy saying, “Ashim! Ashim! (Sister!)” When I turned back, what I saw was two boys standing still. One boy was holding a bouquet in his hands. He said nothing but just pushed the bouquet toward me. I became speechless. “Really? Are you sure?,” I said. He and his friends just nodded, smiling shyly. I figured out that they were elementary school students living near the JICA office. I nervously said, “Thank you, Kaadinchey La” to them, but at the same time, I felt that I was not smiling from the bottom of my heart.

It was not just because receiving a bouquet from a boy/man never happened to me before (to be honest); it was because I knew that I have nothing to give to them. Since I came to Bhutan, all the people I have met here welcomed me so generously, and I have not felt uncomfortable or offended at all here.  Now it feels like I went back to my childhood again because people treat me so well, too well. I honestly feel worried because I do not know what I can give to my roommates, the RTC students, and Bhutanese people. But hopefully I can figure it out soon and do as much as possible in the next thirteen weeks. One of my goals by the time I leave here is maybe to find the little boys again and hug them warmly.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Week 3: The Group Blog

This is Aaron writing.  We have just created this group blog, which will be a space for us to all contribute our different experiences as a way to keep family, friends, and the larger Wheaton community to see how we are doing in Bhutan.

So far we have already had an amazing variety of experiences and have not even been here three weeks.  We have adjusted to our role as international students at Royal Thimphu College, have been blown away by the friendliness and warmth of roommates (and get into arguments about whose are the best, the correct answer being, of course, mine).

In addition to adjusting to daily life, we have already been able to witness and experience extraordinary things: climbing to the famous "Tiger's Nest" Buddhist "Dzong" (essentially a temple, and I may have mispelled that), attended an international conference on Gross National Happiness and Development, half of us participated in a meeting with the Prime Minister (picture to the right), and just two days ago had dinner in the home of a Bhutanese Princess, the 4th King's sister and current King's aunt.  Believe it or not, this just scrapes the surface.

We have been very busy and have been both grateful for the friendliness and graciousness with which we have been welcomed into this country.  This will be a space for us all to share our voices and experiences, and we look forward to keeping everyone in other parts of the world informed about our time in "the land of the Thunder Dragon".