Published: October 7th 2011October 7th 2011
Some highlights from the last 2 months:
Pema Choki's Birthday Party
My weaving teacher, Phuntsho, invited me to her daughter's birthday party. This was a lovely opportunity to be involved in a celebration at a Bhutanese home, and I was the only foreigner. Many of the weavers came, along with family and friends, and there were too many people to fit into the family room except for the cutting of the cake, so we grouped into several rooms for the evening.
We were plied with a series of snacks & tea until about 8.30pm, when a traditional Bhutanese dinner was served, followed by arra and wine. The children ran around outside playing and adults chatted and laughed away the evening inside. Pema Choki was wearing her new pink princess dress complete with eye-shadow, and a large iced cake had been ordered.
The pride and pleasure in her daughter and being able to use her meagre earnings to provide a fairy-tale party and cake glowed on Phuntsho's face as we sang Happy Birthday.
I had almost given up being able to find either at Bhutanese flute to buy or someone to teach me Bhutanese
Yesss! I can see the mountains again :)
This was last month, as the monsoon began to retreat
flute (long stories that I won't bore you with - let's just say that it's hard to get accurate information or find anyone who will follow through!) But finally I found Dorji, who plays Yangchen (dulcimer) with the Royal Academy of Performing Arts ensemble and was offering flute lessons in the evenings at his hotel. He was able to sell me a pretty little flute that he decorated in Bhutanese style, along with a little book of Bhutanese folk-tunes that he had notated.
Lessons were a little difficult, as he didn't have much English and not much instinct for teaching, but he could play, and I copied and notated and videod and learned what I could over 4 lessons. The best lesson was the one he brought his own teacher along to, because he really did know how to teach, and was a better flute player. Dorji and his family also plied me with tea and momos after my lessons while Dorji got my help with English pronunciation.
Over the last few weeks doors have begun to open up, and I have been able to meet master weavers & artisans and musicians. Networking has never
come easily to me, but I have made a conscious effort and it has paid off. I gained confidence from the publicity of the news article, and even found that some of the weavers had been talking about me and speculating that I must have been a Bhutanese weaver in a past life
The master weaver at my centre has started to show more interest in my weaving too (from the day that he saw me weaving a flower that he had just used in a kira that he had woven as a wedding gift to the new Queen, and he wanted to know where I'd seen the pattern before!), and is dropping hints about visiting Australia if I can arrange a workshop where he can teach.
I still have my moments in the classroom at Druk School when I want to go home and not come back, but most of the time I feel positive about my contribution there, and the classes are learning enough for me to feel satisfied that my efforts are worthwhile.
This term we have been learning a few songs from around the world, and I managed to get
hold of a globe. You should see the children's eyes grow wide when they see how small Bhutan is, then they see India, then they see that Bangkok is not really so far (it is very far to them and they think it is a country). Then they get really excited about how huge some of the other countries are, and point to China, and Australia, and then I point out Russia - "Yallamaa!" But the funniest thing is when they say, "Mam Wendy, Madam, which is the blue country?" and when I tell them it is water, ocean, sea, they just can't wrap their minds around it. But I love seeing their curiosity fired and their horizons expanded. And so far I have them singing in Spanish, Greek and their favourite new song is in Mandango (from Senegal). They can sing a major scale with hand-signs in solfa, notate rhythms using crotchets, quavers & semiquavers, demonstrate piano, forte, crescendo, decrescendo, beat vs rhythm, sing call and response songs and almost manage a round (Bhutanese songs don't even have harmony, let alone polyphony) and they can almost
sit still and restrain themselves from calling, "Mam, Mam!" over any small dispute
Singing Happy Birthday to Pema Choki
(Jess, you would recognise many people here)
At Kilu Music School, Samten is still lapping up everything he can learn from me, and the Principal of Druk School is talking about having him take over my classes there next year, so I have been passing on to him everything I know that he might find useful. I feel better knowing that someone will follow up on all my hard work.
Trekking from Haa to Paro
Blessed Rainy Day is the Bhutanese New Year, and this year fell on a Friday, which created a long weekend - yay! So I posted on the Thimphu hiking group on Facebook to find others wanting to get away, and we ended up being a group of 6 Swiss, 1 Canadian, 1 Aussie and a Bhutanese guide, hiking from Haa to Paro via an old trade route that crosses a pass at around 3700m (which meant hiking up about 1000m and then down even further).
It really was pretty rainy, especially on the 2nd day, where I felt like I did more mud-skiing than walking and the trails turned into creeks, but it was really good to get out into the forest and amongst the many wildflowers
that were blooming.
We arrived at the pass to see only flat grey foggy cloud, but we had a break in the rain to pitch our tents and get a fire going, and in the last 30 mins of daylight, the cloud began to part, eventually revealing spectacular views in both directions. The most stunning part was that the last rays of light fell exactly on Tiger's Nest Monastery way down on the opposite side of the Paro valley. We were spellbound.
It was pretty cold on the pass, but we had warm clothes and good tents & a local who could light a fire even if it had been raining. Once back in Paro we trooped into the only cafe that has real coffee and good cakes, apologised for the mud spattered up to our knees, and indulged. Coming home to a hot shower and the knowledge that I still had Sunday off the next day completed a perfect weekend.
I've Gained a Flatmate
While organizing a group to go trekking, I was speaking to Nathan, a 28yo Canadian who, when he found out I was occupying a 3-bedroom apartment alone, asked if I wanted
a flatmate. Why not? So I swapped some furniture around so that he wouldn't have to walk through my bedroom to get to the bathroom or washing line and we installed a keyed lock and now I have good company and someone to share the cooking and laugh with when the water goes off. He is an environmental engineer working here for 6 months, well-travelled & his Mum is Australian so he understands (and even enjoys) my dialect. It's working well.
Today was the 2nd day of the 3-day Thimphu Tsechu. Being my 4th Tsechu, I was less interested in the dances and more interested in seeing the kushutara kiras, chunky jewellery & nice ghos that I had heard would be worn. While we were looking for an unclaimed spot to sit, the family members that live at the weaving centre spotted us and invited us to sit with them, and we sat in the fierce sunshine for 3 hours sharing food and drink with them, and learning new phrases in Sharchop and Dzongka from the children. I was a little disappointed in the kiras, but apparently the afternoon dances were the most spiritually important today,
and the best-dressed were probably just arriving as we were leaving. But I'll go again tomorrow.
I expect to be leaving Bhutan on 20th November, and taking a few days to travel overland by buses & trains to Gujurat in Western India. I will be based in or near Bhuj, volunteering with Kala Raksha (http://www.kala-raksha.org/), a women's cooperative of Rabari embroiderers and the associated design school for illiterate artisans, Kala Raksha Vidhalaya. I plan to stay there 2-4 months, and the director has a variety of ideas for ways I can contribute, so I dare say we will discuss those when I get there and work out which is the best fit for me. I'm timing my arrival to catch the end-of-year convocation and festival of KRV on the last weekend in November, so that I can get a picture of the end-product of the design school course.
Ever since I booked my train tickets, I have found myself on that emotional roller-coaster known as "letting go," finding myself swinging between being excited to move onto the next project, and happy to be finishing at Druk School and beginning a real break from music, and knowing
that I will have to leave all the people I have grown close to here in Bhutan.
There are more photos below