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K2: Horsemen from Damchena

23 november, 2010 – One wears a perpetual smile when talking, trudging hills or even at jokes of most shallow punchline, while the other sans smile all together even at the most rib-tickling jokes that sparks an uproar among those around him.

They are the horsemen from Damchena village above Paro Ta dzong, Passang Dorji Sherpa, 22, and Chencha 27, who ensure our tents, luggage and ration reach safe and on time at every campsite on our journey to Lunana.

Passang wears a cream-colour cargo pant, a black ankle-length basketball sneaker, a grey sweatshirt with a green tee over it, inside out, and a David Beckham faux hawk hairstyle to go with his dry, rough face.

His childhood friend Chencha wears a similar colour jean pant, a white sneaker, black-polyester jacket over his brown sweater and a grimed monkey cap that only leaves his sun-tanned face uncovered.

With an earphone plugged into his ears listening to music playing from his mobile phone, Passang usually sings along as he steers the mules through the trails, while Chencha rests his arms on a walking stick made from a tree branch running across his shoulders.

Passang enjoys strumming the guitar and singing Enrique Iglesias songs, the joy beaming through his grin as he plays, while Chencha holds a dranyen and sings zhungdra and boedra, wearing as solemn a look as the songs he sings. Passang learnt to strum watching others play during his class in his fifth grade and Chencha learnt on his own at 12 when in the woods with his cattle.

Chencha said he made his own dranyen, while Passang borrowed guitars from his friends.

Since he left school after class eight, Passang has been a horseman for the last six years and spanned almost every trail within the country.

He said he lost his father to alcohol some seven years ago and his mother, memory of whom he never had, died when he was still a baby.

“All that remains of them is the framed photo in which my father is holding a beer bottle,” he said with that eternal smile on the face.

He said a family friend from Paro took him in following his parents’ death.

“They’re horse contractors and that’s how I became a horseman,” Passang said. “I’m out about 15 times a year with tourists and local officials mostly in spring and autumn seasons.”

In a year, Passang said he earned about Nu 85,000, which he gave the family.

“They give me money whenever I ask,” he said.

A horseman is not what Passang wants to be his whole life.

He said he wanted to become a sub-contractor, while also helping start a small shop for his girlfriend undergoing computer training, whom he wishes to marry soon.

Chencha, a father of three said he spent most part of his childhood among mules and cattle and that instead of rearing some 80 cattle his family owned, he preferred travelling with his nine mules.

“My mother did the same in her younger years,” he said. “She started with three mules.”

Although the money he earned from the tours to remote parts of the country was lucrative, he said, with a family of his own, the job was causing inconvenience.

“I also want to become a sub-contractor,” he said. “They say it’s a profitable venture.”

Every year both Passang and Chencha look forward to the winters when they moved to the warmer climes of Phuentsholing with the mules transporting mandarins.

“We never miss the annual dip in the Toorsa river,” Chencha said. “We bliss out, even if momentarily, after a year of hard work,” Passang added.

By Samten Wangchuk

K2: Twice Woman Of the Match

 

23 november, 2010 – Devika Darjee was only seven-years old when she held the willow bat for the first time. Nine years later, at the recent Asian cricket council U-19 women’s championship in Singarpore she was awarded the prestigious women of the match twice.

Devika, 16, from Dechencholing middle secondary school in Thimphu was one player, who made a difference in this year’s games. Bhutanese girls cruised into the finals, a spectacular game which was battled out, but lost to Nepal.

Though, she and her teammates were not able to bring the championship trophy back home, they brought fame for themselves.

With her superb fielding and bowling skills, Devika was awarded the women of the match twice. Devika was also awarded women of the match in an international game she’d played earlier.

At home, like any normal teenager, Devika enjoys hanging out with friends. She was planning an outing her teammates, when K2 spoke to her. “This is how we spend our weekends and holidays,” she said.

Devika may be tall and athletic but she exhibits a quite and shy demeanor. Apart from cricket she also enjoys playing basketball, football and volleyball. But cricket is her passion.

The fielding aspect is what attracted her to cricket. Ever since she started playing, she toiled and worked hard on this interest, and presently, she is the opening bowler for her team. “I don’t know why fielding and bowling attracted me, but whatever the reason I worked hard along this interest,” she said.

Playing cricket has demanded getting herself organised. “I do things in their alloted time. I play cricket when it’s time to do so and study when it’s time to study,” she said. “Otherwise I won’t be able to manage everything.”

Her parents have been supportive of her endeavours. “And I’m happy I am able to do them proud at this age,” she said. Her friend and fellow teammate, Yeshey Choden, praised her management skills, “She’s well organised therefore she is able to perform well in her studies, apart from the cricket pitch.”

Devika hopes to continue playing cricket and bring back home a trophy. “When I play, I feel like I’m doing something good and constructive.”

The cricketer feels that one of her best performances was against Thailand, where she managed to pick up four wickets and gave away just five runs in four overs. “It was a fantastic feeling and I was happy I could perform well in the stadium.”

Like most other players in the national team, Devika doesn’t even own her own bat. Devika joined the national squad in 2008. Till then she was an active player for her school’s girl’s cricket team.

By Sonam Lhamu

K2: Ask Boaz

 

23 november, 2010 – Last month, a few remote villages in Laya gewog were added to the B-mobile network (just in time for the Miss Bhutan SMS voting!). When I read the news, it struck me that life has now changed forever for the Layaps. Obviously, they can now reach and be reached by a mobile phone, which is an incredible achievement by itself.

 

However, mobile connectivity is much more than phone calls and SMS. Wherever there is mobile coverage in Bhutan, GPRS is also available. GPRS, which stands for “General Packet Radio Service”, is one of those acronyms that engineers invent to scare away ordinary people. But wait, don’t leave! I’m here to help, and so I’ll tell you what it means: The availability of GPRS means that if you have a laptop with a data card, or a compatible phone, you can connect to the internet using the mobile network.

Thus, the internet has reached Laya: The remote gewog has now officially joined the information age. It’s not only Layaps or the Facebook-chatting Thimphu office-dwellers, who are experiencing the changes that come with exposure to the internet. As the reach of information and communication technologies expands, the entire Bhutanese society will be affected. Technology is a double-edged sword. The potential is enormous, and so are the dangers.

On the one hand, mindless, ignorant or inappropriate use can and will cause harm. Computer viruses, Internet scams, social isolation and cyber-bullying are just a few examples.

On the other hand, mindful use benefits individuals and society in a GNH-compatible way. This new tech column is for you, the reader. I will answer questions and share knowledge about various internet, computer, and other information technologies.

What does the “4 GB” on my pen-drive means? Will the new iPhone work in Bhutan? How do I control my Facebook account? Should I get rid of my fixed-line? How can I provide free WiFi at my business? Upcoming columns will answer your submitted questions.

Boaz Shmueli is a faculty member at the Rigsum institute of IT & management He blogs at www.ThimphuTech.com

 

K2: Common among women

URINARY TRACT INFECTION 23 November, 2010 – Ever get the uncomfortable urge to urinate often, even right after the bladder has been emptied. Noticed anything else like cramping of lower abdomen or back, fatigue, fever or burning sensation while urinating.It might be urinary tract infection, a common gynecological problem among Bhutanese women.

Other symptoms include cloudy or bloody urine, which may have foul or strong odour, chills and shaking or night sweats and nausea.

It can happen anywhere along the urinary tract and is caused by germs, usually bacteria, present in the faeces, which enters the urethra and then the bladder. It leads to infection, most commonly in the bladder, or can spread to the kidneys.

Most times the body gets rid of the bacteria, but certain conditions increase the risks of having urinary tract infection.

UTI is common among women because their urethra is shorter and closer to the anus than in men. Because of this, women are more likely to get an infection after sexual activity, or when using a diaphragm for birth control. Menopause also increases the risk of a UTI.

Other conditions such as diabetes, advanced age, urinary retention (because of brain or nerve disorders), insertion of catheter in urinary tract for a long time also heightens the risk.

Chances are also high during pregnancy and while staying still for a long time; for example, while recovering from any lower limb or hip fracture.

For diagnosis, a urine sample is usually collected to perform various tests, like urinalysis and urine culture.

Sometimes blood count and blood culture may be done. A kidney ultrasound or a CT scan of the abdomen is necessary to rule out other associated conditions.

A urinary tract infection is uncomfortable, but treatment is usually successful. Symptoms of a bladder infection usually disappear within 24-48 hours after treatment begins. If there is kidney infection, it may take a week or longer for symptoms to go away.

Repeated urinary tract infection is preventable by taking adequate water and proper hygienic measure; and sometimes by double voiding and evacuating the residual urine in the bladder.

Dr. Bhaskar J. Paul,
Gynecologist

K2: Ask the doc?

23 november, 2010 – I eat well and my weight is also normal. But I often faint and feel very weak and dizzy all the time. It has been about two weeks now. I went to the hospital and took medicines, but the giddiness doesnt go.
Deepa Sharma, 22You have to see a medical specialist and also a psychiatrist. These can be because of some other reasons also.
Dr. Ballab Sharma

The skin under my feet peels out like a boiled potato skin. It also burns a lot when I play in water. It has been more than six years. I have taken all kinds of medicine and applied on the burning part. It is never getting better. What do I need to do now?
Dilu, 18

The peeling of skin can be because of some inflammation that leads to production of dead cells (it peels as scales). It may either be due to irritation or fungal infection. If its due to irritation you need to find out the cause and avoid doing so, and if its due to fungal infection then you need to take medication orally and topically. You should see the Dermatologist once.
Dr. Pema Rinzin
Dermatologist

K2: Brewing up a storm

23 november, 2010 – Maiki Shaw, checks out a new addition to Thimphu’s café’s menu, the pumpkin pie. “This is good, not sweet but very scrumptious,” she says after a bite. “I’m glad I tried it out.”

However, this is not the reason for her being at the café. A daily dose of expresso and americano is a ritual for Maika and her husband Hal Shaw.

For some, it’s the quiet ambience of the café, where they can catch up with friends without having to meet at a noisy bar or a restaurant, where they’re obliged to order something heavy.

It also provides space to those, who’d like browse the net or read a book with a cuppa freshly brewed coffee at the table.

Junu, the Ambient Café proprietor, is pleased that she transformed her restaurant into a café. “It’s interesting, customers come in, they read books, use wireless internet, apart from interacting with each other,” she said.

Several other cafés in Thimphu like Café Klein, Khamsha Coffee and Karma’s Coffee provide such space. Most of the proprietors have café experiences from abroad.

The cafés around Thimphu serve light meals, have assorted cakes and pies to go with their warm drinks. It is the working group that come in to hang out with their friends or grab a quick but light lunch.

For Deki, a recent graduate, the chicken platter at the Art Café is something she enjoys with her family. With friends, she frequent cafés around Thimphu so they can can sit and relax over a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Like Deki, a growing number of Thimphu residents visit cafés for coffee. Some even order takeaways for long journeys. The coffee beans are ordered from India, Thailand and other countries.

This culture is really picking among Bhutanese, especially the working group. Bhutanese are becoming more particular about the coffee they drink. “Earlier we served instant coffee but, with more customer demand, we brought in a coffee blender,” said an owner of a café.

Cafés also provide different and innovative products and activities for their customers. It is not only for the coffee that customers roll into cafés. For Phuntsho, delicious and flavoured Darjeeling tea brings him back to his favourite café frequently.

Some simply enjoy the customer service. “They’re usually customer friendly and it always brings me back to the café,” said Tshering, a regular coffee drinker.

By Sonam Lhamu

K2: How I kicked the cancer stick

A smoker of 40 years shares on how he quit

23 november, 2010 – Its been just three months since my last smoke and there must be many, whove given up for ages, better qualified to write such a piece. Still, for what its worth, heres my tuppence of empirical advice.When tobacco business was banned in 2004, although a smoker I welcomed it. A spell of instant cold turkey, I thought. Unfortunately, by banning only sale and not use, both still go on.

Motivation

The first step to abstention is to have incentive. And my motivation may be summed up in the 3-letter mnemonic – KHU (short for tangkhu): K Karma; H Health; U Usage. The cost to each of these is considerable.

Take karma. Its bad to smoke, not so much because it offends Guru Rinpoch. Hed be more put off with bad neighbours, boozed-out wife-beaters and sexually harassing bosses than smokers! No, the real sin is the one against the temple that is ones body. Not to mention second-hand smoke; which, by the by, vehicle-owners emit as a matter of course.

As far as health goes, the link between cancer and nicotine is common knowledge. So, why belabour the obvious?
The legislation against tobacco sales sent the trade underground and prices through the roof. Smokers now pay through the nose for the luxury of poisoning their lungs. The use of tobacco has become prohibitively expensive, yet its products remain freely available.

A Trigger Event

The next thing one needs to make the clean break is a trigger event, the reminder of ones mortality, like catching pneumonia. For me, though, it was the passing of my old man (at the ripe old age of 102). From that turning point forward, my process of leaving off was launched.

The Process

I did not stop the vice dead in its tracks. Thats never easy or even advisable after 40 long years of abuse. No, my process was gradual.

First, I put off my first fag of the day. Which for me was the one that went with (Excuse my French!) the morning dump. That smoke was deferred till after breakfast, then lunch and so on.

By the end of a fortnight, I was down to a couple of coffin nails a day.

Now, all it took was to make the final break.

The Occasion

This last escape is facilitated by an occasion. For me, it was the lucky coincidence of my birthday and the Turning of the Wheel of Dharma falling on successive days. I treated myself to the last fag of my life on my birthday, and trusted to the good offices of Lord Sangay to see me do without on the next day and beyond.

You know what? Touch wood! Its worked so far.

Substitute

Oops! Almost forgot to scratch that orally retentive itch (which means the need to have something in the mouth), chugo makes for a handy substitute. I myself am partial to the variety known if Im not mistaken as Haa gi ruto!

John Chiramal, literary editor with Kuensel, is a former teacher who taught for more than two decades in schools across the country

K2: All about peace and love


 

Youth: 4th Int’l Peace Fest 17 November, 2010 –

It was a moment of pride for Bhutanese students at the fourth international youth peace fest in Chandigarh, India which started on October 14.  Garbed in gho and kira, they were the center of attention. 

 

The Bhutanese participants were students of the Chandigarh chapter of Bhutan students association (BSA).  It was the second time BSA students participated in the peace fest.

The peace fest is organised every year to spread the message of peace and love through music.

“We were busy moving around, interacting, taking pictures with other participants,” said a BSA participant, Sithup. “We couldn’t help but smile and be happy.

Participants from other countries talked about Bhutan as a violent-free and peaceful country.  Bhutanese students said that they were proud to hear good things about their country,  “I was happy to explain to other country delegates about our peaceful country,” said another BSA participant. “Most of them love Bhutan and are looking forward to visit our country sooner or later.”

Besides musical events, the participants witnessed plays, seminars and peace parades.

The participating youth came to understand the significance of “peace and unity,” said a participant.

According to the BSA (Chandigarh) president, Ngawang Lotey, the festival was a huge platform for youth to increase cross-fertilisation of ideas through interaction with different youngsters from around the world.

“We were privileged to share the vision of our former kings, Gross National Happiness, our culture and tradition,” he said.  BSA participants performed traditional dances in national dress.

Thousands of youth from different Indian states and 22 other countries participated.

Participants were awarded with certificates. The five-day youth festival was organised by Yuvsatta India.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

K2: In Their Twilight years

16 November, 2010 – The two silver haired angays and an agay were sharing old jokes, as one ground betel nut and lime in a small iron pestle, after circumambulating the memorial chorten in Thimphu, when a young man appeared.He asked one of them if she was ready to go. As Angay Pema slowly stood up to leave, she remarked, Ill see you next year if Im still around.

Youll live, replied Ap Gomcho Hati. Well pray for you.

Angay Pema, 91, was leaving for her village, Pangtsho, in the warmer valleys of Punakha where she has family. She stays at Thimphu in summer and moves to Punakha in winter. In Thimphu, her family is spread around the city, so she takes turns to live with them.

Like her, Angay Rinchen Dem, 78, was bound for Sha Kazhi in Wangduephodrang from Thimphu, where she lives with her son, who is a police officer.

She was going back to the village to help her daughter, who is a farmer and needs all the help she can get. I dont go into the fields, but I cook for the workers, she says.

Ap Hati, 83, lives in his maternal house in Thimphu with his sister and her
children. He has no children of his own. His family drops him off to the memorial chorten in the morning and picks him up at lunch.

Nearby, a son walks his father to the chorten entrance. Do you want some cash? the son asks. Dont wander off; please stay at the chorten, the son says.

Another woman from Paro has taken the day off from babysitting her daughters baby. She came to Thimphu a few months back to help her daughter with the new addition to the family.

Being old is lonely and there are times when a deep sadness takes over, said Abi Choden, 64 from Wamrong. Coming to the memorial chorten, where many elderly people gather, is very comforting, she said. Abi Choden came to the capital to seek medical help and look after her sons children.

The sadness isnt because were disappointed with our children or our grandchildren, said Abi Dechen from Trashiyangtse, who lives with her adopted daughter in Thimphu. On the contrary, life is much better now; whether its food, clothes or shelter.

With childhood memories tied to their villages, elderly people usually yearn to go back to their villages. But we move around with our children wherever they get transferred, said Abi Choden. Sometimes it feels so sad to see other friends leave with their children, because we might never meet again.

But, with changing lifestyles and values, the tight knit social fabric is showing signs of unravelling. Parents and grandparents being left behind in rural Bhutan as the younger generation migrate is not a new story.

In urban areas, more and more grown-ups prefer to live separately from their parents. Some live close by, so they can eat at their parents home, but still have the privacy of living on their own. Some rely on their parents to baby-sit their children when they are at work.

People, who have served in government, have something to fall back on when they retire through the pension scheme. Drangpon Jigme Zangpo, who retired in June this year, wants to be independent and is returning clothes or shelter.
home to Mongar with his
wife.

The pension and provident fund head, Sonam Yeshey, in his thirties, thinks it would be selfish to depend on his children when he gets old. Theyll have to meet their own needs, he said. But occasionally he is tempted to ask his children if theyd support him when he got old. My daughter said yes, but my son says hed like to live separately.

So Sonam Yeshey has roughly planned his future. Hed like to open up a consultancy firm after retirement. We need to be proactive and engaged even after service, he said.

The secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Karma Tshiteem, feels that caring for older people is not an issue at the moment. Bhutan is mostly rural and the informal institutions are strong, he said. Only five percent of the population is 55 years and older. In reality, 65 is quite young; and its only those above 70 years who need looking after. According to the 2005 census data, people 70 years and over make up only 2.9 percent of the population.

Even if Bhutan came to a state, where institutions were required to care for old people, it should be developed in a manner that is sensitive to the culture, said the secretary. Meditation centres in and around temples across the country is one idea, he said.

The pension scheme started in 2000 provides some cushion for those coming out of service, but the scheme covers only six percent of the working population. The governments rural insurance scheme pays some compensation at the time of death and covers rural homes.

More than anything else, it is the transmission of good values to the younger generation that will keep informal institutions strong, according to Karma Tshiteem.

There is a rented two-storied home in Thimphu, where five generations of a family live together. The eldest is 96 and the youngest a five-month old girl. Those members, who are employed, support and provide for the whole family.

However, when K2 spoke to them they were looking for a place to move into. Its difficult to find a place big enough to accommodate them. With such external pressures the eldest daughter of the family, who has a family of her own is moving into a separate apartment. The other four generations of the family, still hope that theyll be able to live together.

K2: The new old age

16 November, 2010 – It was like any ordinary farewell gathering. There was food and wine, elders and children and a bit of happiness and sadness. But the ones going away werent bound for an exotic city abroad. They were homeward bound, back to their rural roots.The recently retired drangpon Jigme Zangpo, 60, from Depong, Mongar moved into a traditional farmhouse in a small community called Masangdaza, under Saling gewog in Mongar. When K2 spoke to Jigme Zangpo and his wife, they were in the midst of packing and the impending emptiness. Living with his children aer his retirement was not an option, although their children, like anyone else, expected them to continue living in the capital. The former drangpon had other plans.

His return to Mongar was not because of childhood memories or sentiments, but more of an assertion of independence and self-reliance. Having no assets or the capital to invest in Thimphu was a strong reason for moving.

My pension wont be enough to sustain us, said the drangpon. Ive looked aer the education of my six children and, being the eldest with an education and a government job, Ive also looked aer the education of 27 nieces and nephews, he said. This responsibility withheld me from accumulating savings, which would be beneficial in my retired life he added. However, Jigme Zangpo expected no returns for these investments.

His six children persuaded that they live here, but the decision was made. One of them even offered to
pay the house rent but he refused. It was an emotional turn for the family. The children also tried different tactics, like coercing high level government officials, who were friends of the family to talk him out of his decision.

But with a strong-headed stand on his decision, the children have now come to terms with the change.

Its very difficult to adjust with different personalities, he said. Id love to live with my children and their children in one house, but this isnt possible with different tastes and choices.

The retired drangpon said the notion of extended family is fast fading in our Bhutanese society.
Initially, his wife, Jigme Zangmo, was also a bit taken aback by his idea and decision.

I was reluctant to go, because our family is here; and I was unsure if wed be able to readjust with the rural lifestyle, which is devoid of health and other basic amenities, she said. But with intense discussions with her husband, she has agreed to embark on a new journey.

Im excited and looking forward to our new life, she said. As for now, Jigmi Zangmo, who is an ardent gardener, is enthusiastically waiting to work on their orange orchard and fields.

The drangpon, however, may not be able to fulfill his wish of farmer lifestyle due to his back problems.
But living an inactive life is not his wish. He has already thought out his village responsibilities. He goes back with two missions on his mind. Id like to serve my new community on two fronts, give guidance on climatic change and the pitfalls of drinking, he said.

Jigme Zangpo, retired in July this year after working with the government for 40 years. He started as a primary school teacher in 1970. He served as the dzongda in Bumthang and Paro, after which he was the secretary for the National Assembly Secretariat. He also served as a drangpon in the high court for four years.