Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Señales y Sonrisas, Signs and Smiles

Smiles, dancing, laughters and sign language from the Drakso School is what made me feel like I found a place where I want to spend some of my afternoons. I just started attending on Wed. and Fri. Drakso School, which is a vocational school for people with disabilities.They do amazingly creative and beautiful things there. They teach students how to paint, weave, carve and be fluent in sign language.
On my first day I sat next to a youn man who was painting the eight auspicious signs. He did every sign which such care and precision that it was just mind blowing. That same afternoon we all went to the patio and danced with them a Bhutanese song they are practicing for the Special Olympics event and we then also danced to modern music and we attempted to do some break dance ( and to be honest they were by far much better than I was).
Last Friday I went by myself. As soon as I came into the school a little boy rushed me to one of the rooms and started pointing at different images and doing the equivalent of them in sign language. We must have been there for at least half and hour and he taught me about 20 different signs, from signing toy box to stove.
 On that same day I had decided to take my camera with me and to my suprise all the students were very intrested in my taking pictures and videos of them. We basically had a photoshoot with them and just seeing how happy and comfortable they were about my presence there made my day. After it was time for all to leave I went down into town with three of the guys from the school and we sat in a cafe and had tea and momos ( dumplings). Two monks walked into the cafe and suddenly my friend got super excited and signaled me the sign for monk ( which is a combination of red + prayer). I learned so much  about them through that experience and I felt so lucky to be there with them. It is on days like these that it seems surreal that I am in Bhutan.
These  pictures are from rom that amazing day.

by : Marijose Vilá 2013

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vishwakarma Puja

This past Saturday as I was walking in RTC I noticed a car that was decorated with balloons and colorful ribbons all over it. At first I didn't think much of it, I thought that maybe someone had a birthday and the car had been decorated by friends. When a few minutes later I noticed that people were decorating motorcycles and other cars,I knew something different was going on.... but what? I asked my roommate and she told me that Sept 17 and 18 Vishwakarma Puja is celebrated by Hindus in Bhutan

Vishwakarma is regarded as the God of technology, architecture and engineering. In fact as a son  of Brahma, he considered to be the divine draftsman of the whole universe, and the official builder of all the gods' palaces. Vishwakarma is also the designer of all the flying chariots of the gods, and all their weapons. My roommate even told me that I should be thankful for the existence of laptops to him. I decided to take a bus into town and see for myself how this was being celebrated. As the bus starts descending into town I notice that in auto shops and constructions sites, colorful shrines are being built and the statue or image of Vishwakarma is being venerated by workers dancing and chanting ! What a view ! Offerings of food and money were being made and of course once we reach  the city bus stop I noticed that they had their own shrine as well.On the highway other cars, taxis and buses were also decorated and people were honking as they passed us.

The next day I went into town and I thought that by now the celebrations would be over, but little did I know it is a 2 days celebration. As I was standing on the street a construction bus rushed by with workers on  the back dancing, drinking and singing ( they even carried palm trees on the back of the bus with them). They were also carrying the statue of Vishwakarma. I saw a couple of more buses heading towards the same direction, and it turns out that the celebration culminated in the river bank where the Vishwakarma is thrown into the river and washed away. It was hard for me to understand why an image that was venerated was being thrown into the river after the festivities were over. What does that symbolize ? That I still don't know.

Marijose Vila 2013 ( pics by me ) 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Am I in a dream?

By Nurit A.

By Nurit A.

I wake up, look out the window and think "is this real?" I have this desire to take you all on this special journey with me. It almost  feels too overwhelming to tell you everything because I am afraid of not being able to express it right. As Adam was saying the other day, “not even the pictures can show the exactness of the beauty of this place.” Now that I feel like I am truly part of Bhutan, that I am living my life here, I think I can start sharing with you what it has been like.
I have travelled to many places in my life, but I have never encountered such a magical place. My ears are wide open; everyone here has something to teach us. Just this morning as a friend of mine, Kinga, woke me up at 5:30 am to practice for the marathon; we saw sunflowers and she asked me “Do you eat sunflower seeds in your country?” I told her we did, and that it was delicious when it was grilled with salt. I asked her if they ate the seeds here and she said “no, it is considered a sin because it is said that if you eat one seed it is as if you were killing 500 monks.”  There are so many beliefs; so many sayings and each teach us about what it means to be human and to be part of this world while respecting the environment we live in. She also told me that Bhutanese are taught not to eat honey because each bee puts in so much work in making it, that it would be considered as stealing to take it. While we were running, she kept on stopping in the middle of the road in order to move the caterpillars back onto the grass so that people would not step on them. After our run we went to her room to have some green tea. While the water was boiling she sat crossed legged and started her morning prayer. Then she opened her eyes and asked me if I wanted to join her in meditating. I gladly accepted and we meditated facing the window overlooking the mountains.
Being surrounded by nature makes all the difference in my life. It invites me to find my inner peace in such a natural manner. Its so easy to forget that there is a whole other world that exists outside of Bhutan. I think its because I have been so concentrated on my life here. Every day feels like weeks because so much is going on. We are lucky to be surrounded by a forest and a  river. This gives us the opportunity to escape into the wilderness for some alone time. "I feel like a fairy," is what Ellie said the last time we went for a walk near the river. She's right, so many times I have felt like we were part of this fairy tale where anything could happen and it would feel completely normal. But this is real life, and yet I still can't get used to it.  
By Adam Goldberg

Ludivine de Rancourt (class 2013)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 36, still going strong...

This is Aaron writing again; it feels both like much more and much less than a month we have been here, and I am speaking for more than just myself when I say we have been much busier than we anticipated prior to arriving.  Between our studies, internships, independent lives at RTC, group responsibilities (ranging from numerous dinner invitations to practicing a traditional Bhutanese dance for a show for the Royal Thimphu College student body), many days we are quite literally occupied from waking up until going to bed.

Last weekend the group went on a trek, which I hope someone else can comment on; I stayed back because I was sick, and spent the weekend reading, watching movies, and recovering.  I enjoyed my time by myself about as much as you can enjoy being sick alone for a weekend (which I do not mean sarcastically--I actually very much enjoyed the alone time--but I was still sick).

It has also been an adventure to have what I call a very "21st century experience" in Bhutan, made so not just by the timing of our experience here in relation to Bhutan's history and development but also because technology is making all corners of the world much more connected.  I often laugh to myself when I think of if Lewis and Clark, or Christopher Columbus, or insert-your-own had access to digital cameras, skype, Facebook, cell phones and text messages.  As I learned when I tried to resist it a few years ago in South Africa (the first time I was living independent internationally), it just is not possible to have an experience  anywhere in today's world without friends and family from all other parts of the world being able to maintain contact with you.  I'm not yet fully sure what this means for the future of the world, but I have no doubt it will continue to bring profound changes in the way people interact with and understand one another.

I think the same thing every time I see a reminder of how truly interconnected the world is here--I have two favorites tied for first place from our time in Bhutan so far.  The first was when we were in a welcoming ceremony of Royal Thimphu College, where the college director (who holds the rank of Dasho in Bhutanese society, which denotes royalty) was giving his opening speech.  All the students--including the eleven of us from Wheaton--were wearing the national dress, kira for women and gho for men.  The Dasho's speech focused on Bhutanese tradition, modernity, and now democracy and preparing for embracing it all through acquiring a college education.  At no less than three points, students' cell phones went off--once with a ring tone of "What's My Name" by Rihanna (an international pop hit), and another ring tone playing Enrique Iglasias.

The other was when we had the good fortune to attend an international conference on "Gross National Happiness and Economic Development", co-chaired by Jeffrey Sachs and the Prime Minister of Bhutan.  As Jeffrey Sachs summarized the outcomes of the conference , a high-ranking Buddhist Lama sitting on the inner panel of VIP's, (who had just a few hours earlier spoken of the importance of spiritual edification alongside economic development) started scrolling through his messages on his BlackBerry.  I don't know for sure, but I like to imagine he was also checking his Facebook, all while Jeffrey Sachs exalted the leadership of Bhutan's Kings in bringing happiness to global political attention.

The 21st century really is--and every day only more so--a radically different world from what has come before it, and it is amazing how much of this is brought about by things like cell phones and Facebook.  It's the little things that remind me of this in Bhutan, a country which has a unique relationship to the changes taking place in all corners of today's world.