Thursday, April 7, 2011

And now, the ramblings of a traveling man…

April 7th, 2011

The D Word

An interesting phenomenon that I did not expect to encounter is diarrhea. Now that I’ve got it out on the table, let me break it down. I don’t mean personal diarrhea, I mean diarrhea as an excuse. Without fail, in every single class, every day, one student will rush up to me mid-sentence and ask: “Sir, can I go toilet? Emergency. Diarrhea.” While this is certainly worthy of an interruption, I’m mostly surprised by the lack of reaction from the class. No one cracks up, no one giggles; instead, they support their afflicted peer. “Sir, he needs to go!” In fact, they support him or her so strongly that I am surprised that I don’t have students standing up in the middle of class and declaring, “I HAVE DIARRHEA!” which would then be followed with cheers, whistles, and “Yes we can!” chants. The unfortunate consequence of this frequent excuse is that, when I believe a student, and actually allow them to go, I am then hounded by 5-10 students with the same problem. It becomes a classroom epidemic and I am faced with a diarrheal choir, a fecal affair. It’s just something I never counted on and I’m pretty sure would mean ostracism in an American classroom. Such is a Bhutanese life.

Bucket Showers

Bucket showers! I can’t even remember what it feels like to stand under a shower tap and let water cascade over me….oh wait, yes I can, it’s AWESOME. Unfortunately, my days begin with a bucket ‘o water, old timey style! Now before you start feeling too sorry for me, I at least get the luxury of a warm bucket shower. Having spent 8 months taking cold bucket showers in Uganda this is a VERY important distinction. However, it does come with its own drawbacks. Simply put, I have to stick a metal rod into the water and connect it to a socket and run electricity through the water. If you haven’t majored in a science or passed the 3rd grade, you might not know that electricity and water is a match made in death. So each morning, when I am the least alert, I have to delicately place and remove an electric stick into my bucket of water. Our director forcefully told us: “Do not stick your hand in the water to test if it is warm before you remove the electric rod, you will be electrocuted!” Wise words my friend. Luckily I haven’t had any mishaps and should they occur, it’s not enough of a shock to kill you but you might feel a slight “tingle” (a.k.a. see smoke rising from the top of your head).

Hostel Emergencies (very different from hostile emergencies)

“Sir, emergency.” Ahh, the life of an assistant warden charged with the safety and well-being of 200+ boys. I get called to the hostel quite a bit with “emergencies” or “problems” in full swing. I carry my med kit with me each time and so far I haven’t used it’s more intense components (gauze, latex gloves, suture kit…). I’m still figuring this culture out but I’m pretty sure the Bhutanese like to play up the drama. Most of my calls follow a pattern. Boys run ahead of me to the emergency to which I walk briskly and in control, med kit at my side (check! ). I walk into the room and boys are freaking out everywhere. It takes a few minutes to find out that some boy has a minor headache or is dehydrated or has lost something. I then tell the captain (boy in charge) instructions for solving the issue. Granted this can be a bit annoying but realistically it is quite a necessity. Just last night I was called away and entered the room only to find a boy on the floor writhing in pain. As you recall my last email mentioned Bhutan as an ulcer haven; this boy’s ulcer (he’s 15…yeah) was causing him an unbelievable amount of pain. I kept him talking (best he could), calmed the boys (can’t even explain that scene), and scrounged up a ride for him to the hospital (45 minutes away on a dirt road). The report is that he is doing fine. That certainly was a shocking experience and I felt bad that I couldn’t do more than offer some antacids and some sips of water for this boy (pain relieving medicine makes the situation much worse). But in the end, while you have 200+ boys that can get into trouble or get hurt, there are also 200+ boys to help in real emergencies.

Being ‘Handsome’

Handsome. I usually hear this more commonly used in a sentence like: “Hand some of that beer to me will ya?” or “Give me a hand, some of these boxes are really heavy.” However, Bhutan never fails and I am called handsome at least 2-3 times a week. Most people celebrate this because they are attractive enough to receive actual compliments on their divine features. I, however, am more confused by it. The other week I wore my dress clothes and a tie and about all of the 500 students called me handsome. I got my hair cut recently, that too made me handsome. I wore glasses…handsome. I had snot on my face, handsome. I admit, the first time it felt pretty good, but I quickly realized it is a common comment and one that doesn’t seem to carry as much weight here as in our culture. “Sir, your bloody nose makes you look so handsome!” If only. Bhutan tends to lift you up with comments like these, and then let you down when you actually figure out their use and frequency.


I feel like I have a lot to say about cars and my experiences in them so let’s see what comes out.

Yesterday I was getting a ride down my mountain to the local town to pay some bills and purchase a few luxuries (TOILET PAPER!) when I noticed why there were so many flies in the car. The driver thought it was a terrific idea to wrap some raw meat in newspaper (he did an awful job of it) and leave it on the dash on a hot spring day. Big mistake buddy. Luckily the window rolled down (not a given here) so I could at least breath without inhaling flies.

Roads are ‘bumpy’ here. Basically, you need a Humvee to drive the roads but the most common car is a sedan that is slightly bigger than a Smart Car. So as you drive along, you start to not notice your face smacking different surfaces in the vehicle and begin to dismiss the alarming sounds of what could only be parts from the car falling off. It’s a bit like listening for thunder after a lightning strike; you know that some gigantic dip in the road is going to shake you silly but you just can’t predict exactly when. And when it finally comes, you’re just as off-guard as when you started listening which translates to a new bruise on your head.

As for the day to day, things are going on as usual and nothing terribly exciting has transpired. However, I will note that I just got back from watching my students act out Billy Shakespeare’s Othello in Dzongkha. They have to put together a 20 minute skit for a Drama competition on Saturday and of all things, they chose one of the most complex, challenging English plays to reenact. It was actually awesome to see, especially since my students LOVE to fake die. Oh and Shakespeare is not part of the readings in our curriculum, they straight up chose that out of the blue and did a good job with the plot. So theater is alive and well in Bhutan my friends.

Wishing you all the best,


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