Friday, November 4, 2011

"Haa"ppy Birthday!

With Angay (grandmother) in Haa
In late September we took a trip to a village in rural Haa to stay with our tour guide’s in-laws. While the rest of the group went hiking, I stayed behind in the house and spent time with the family. As it was my birthday on the 24th, I had the unique opportunity to celebrate my birthday in the Bhutanese tradition. Bhutanese will usually go to the hla-gang or temple, to light a butter lamp. I went with one of the family members up to the nearby hla-gang and lit a lamp and listened to the stories that the lama told about that monastery. One of the stories I found most intriguing was one about the local diety of Haa (Eup Chundu): A short time ago some robbers came to steal some sacred relics from the shrine room of the temple. The caretaker, who was away that night, found the robbers the next day tied by invisible ropes by the prayer flags. The robbers could only be unbound when they returned the relics and were given permission from the caretaker to leave. The lama also said that the Buddha statue in that shrine was predicted to speak in the future. Another statue had already spoken.
In Haa there are many stories of their powerful protective deity. It is understood that the reason the last horse in a group will always be tired because the deity has chosen to travel on it. When arriving in Haa (or any new place where one has arrived) it is expected that offerings be made to the local deity. Although this practice has become less commonly practiced, I never fail to see at least one person at the dining table throwing a bit of their food or drink on the ground or table for the deities.
I spent the rest of my time in Haa learning Dzongkha from the family--the son in law of the family translated for me as the Agay and Angay (grandfather and grandmother) didn’t speak any English. I found the most useful phrase of the weekend to be Nga doh mahp ya si!  “My face has become red!”  used in response to Agay whose flattery made me blush! (It’s been so long since I’ve seen such a beautiful girl I forgot to say my Om Mane Padme Hum! (Compassion mantra repeated many times over prayer beads.) The day of my birthday the cook spent all day cooking a cornbread and writing “Happy Birthday Nunu” on it. He even placed a butter lamp on top! This year I didn’t blow out my candles, instead I put the lamp on the family alter and made my wishes to the Buddha image and protective deities that this year bring happiness and good health for myself and all beings. This birthday I learned that there is more than one kind of family with whom to share special moments.
Celebrating my 19th birthday with our host family
Despite my having been here for more than three months, I still feel enchanted by the magic of Bhutan. Although I’ve learned that thunder dragons and talking statues aren’t the only kind of magic found here—the greatest magic I’ve experienced  is the relationships I have made with people here—from the deaf students teaching me sign language at Drak Tsho to my sister- roommates here at RTC.
Photos by Ellie Angerame

Majors in Anthropology and Asian Studies
Class of 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment