Thank you Ama

We don’t celebrate Mother’s Day in Bhutan. But 160 countries do. And 79 of them celebrate it today, the second Sunday of May.

I think we should celebrate Mother’s Day too. Like the rest of the world, we should dedicate a day to thank our mothers for their love and affection, and to acknowledge them for the huge influence they’ve had on our lives.

Bringing up children is a difficult job at the best of times. But my mother raised six of us – all boys! She did so single-handedly. And she did so on a shoestring. That meant that she had to work hard, and she had to work continuously – she would feed us and clean us; she would tend to the cows, chickens and the occasional pig; she would work in her garden growing all sorts of vegetables and fruit; and she would take care of an unending throng of guests.

But in spite of all her work, she always seemed to have time to tell us stories. And most of the time, she told her wonderful stories while she wove for the family. Yes, she made our clothes too! She knitted our caps and socks, and scarves and pullovers. And she wove our ghos, every single one of them. But that’s not all: for several years she wove tsug-thrus, heavy but warm and furry blankets, till each and every one of us had our very own comforter.

For all that, and much more, six men got together to say, “thank you Ama!”

Water and food security

Fields of gold

Students and teachers of Thimphu’s schools came together in Changangkha to commemorate World Water Day on 22 March. The celebrations included a wide array of well-thought-out presentations and entertaining performances highlighting the importance of water.

I was given the opportunity to talk to the students. So I told them a story, one that is relevant to this year’s World Water Day theme: “water and food security”. But one that is also relevant to the current rupee crisis.

Here’s a quick summary of my story:

Nob Gyeltshen is 77 years old. He hails from Dorithasa, a small village in the southern extreme of Haa, slightly above the Samtse border. Dorithasa is not connected by farm road. So it still takes at least two days to get there.

As a child, he, like all the other children in his village had two main responsibilities. One, he had to collect water for his household every morning. And two, he had to look after his family’s cattle during the day.

Every morning, little Nob Gyeltshen would get up at the crack of dawn, and rush to the water source, which was located about half an hour away. That water source was a small pool, a puddle in fact, and Nob Gyeltshen and his friends had to race there to arrive ahead of the cows. If a couple of thirsty cows beat them, there would be no water left, and the children would have to trek for another half an hour to the next water source.

Nob Gyeltshen could carry three bamboo flasks of water. Each flask measured about 3 feet long and was 6 inches wide. They weighed heavy on the little boy, but on most days, he would have to travel several times to the water source.

Water was, indeed, a scarce commodity in his village. And so was food. Nob Gyeltshen grew up eating pancakes made from buckwheat or millet. When he got lucky he would get to eat maize grits or enjoy roasted maize kernels. And when he got very lucky, he’d get to feast on rice. Rice was precious, because Dorithasa, and all its neighboring villages, did not have any paddy fields.

When Nob Gyeltshen turned 17, he joined the army. That’s how he left Dorithasa. And that’s how, at an early age, he got to visit Paro and Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdiphodrang. Wherever he went, the young soldier saw paddy fields. Every valley seemed to be endowed with endless fields of well-manicured terraces, capable of supplying any amount of rice that the people could have ever desired.

Wherever he went, Nob Gyeltshen collected paddy seeds. And he sent them to his home in Dorithasa. But none of them grew successfully, till he sent 10 dres of paddy from Bjena in Wangdiphodrang. Only 2 of the 10 dres made it to his village (the rest having been consumed by the couriers!) but that was enough. The paddy from Bjena took root, grew easily and yielded a surprisingly generous harvest.

When he heard the good news, Nob Gyeltshen sent his entire savings – about Nu 150 – to build paddy fields and to construct a simple irrigation channel to his village. Suddenly the entire village was growing paddy. And before long, they were producing more of it than what they could consume. When, several years later, Nob Gyeltshen returned to his village for the first time since joining the army, he saw that the entire Dorithasa community was growing more than enough rice for themselves, and that the extra rice was being bartered for other essential provisions.

He also saw that the little children did not have to travel long distances, very early in the mornings, to collect water. The irrigation channel provided an easy and constant supply of drinking water.

 

Sexual harassment

My wife and our daughter, aged 12, walk home every afternoon. They enjoy their walks, but they’ve been harassed by all sorts of men including commuters, taxi drivers and even school students, in uniform, younger than our son.

The eve-teasing is offensive and hurtful. Yet, they’ve continued to walk, even if they have to suffer sexual harassment, hoping that, sooner or later, we, men, will learn to respect our women, and permit them the freedom and simple pleasure of walking home from school or work.

During their walk today, they met the procession of vehicles carrying effigies and other remnants from the Jana Chidey prayer ceremonies. The men yelled catcalls at them; then they threw some remnants at them; and when my wife protested, they bombarded them with even heavier remains from the prayer ceremonies.

And who were the perpetrators? A couple of monks, in robes. And four policemen, in uniform.

My wife and daughter were harassed by monks, whose mission it is to spread the dharma, and by policemen, whose job it is to protect our citizens.

So they’ve decided to stop walking. They’ve given up. They’ve realized that eve-teasing in Thimphu is not just offensive and hurtful – it’s dangerous. They’ve decided, wisely, that, even in the middle of the day, Thimphu’s roads are not safe for women.

 

Deserving parents

What good parenting does

Dago Pema Retty deserves to be congratulated. Dago, who is a Class VII student at Pelkhil School, recently participated in the 9th International Clubs Open Taekwondo Championship in Vietnam. He bought home a bronze medal from that tournament.

Dago’s parents, Aum Pem Dem and Gyambo Sithey, also deserve to be congratulated. They spotted their son’s interest in taekwondo, and went out of their way to cultivate that interest. They hired a private coach for their son. And even though Dago was the only Bhutanese participant in the Vietnam tournament, they sent him there, and they bore all the expenses.

Our children are naturally talented. And we, parents, must nurture their talent. But too few of us do so. That’s why most of our children end up with mediocre standards at best – unable to fulfill their potentials.

If we want our children to become artists and musicians; if we want them to excel in games and sports; if we want them to do well in science and mathematics; if we want them to become wholesome citizens with well rounded values and a sense of civic responsibility; if we want our children to be able to compete and succeed internationally … we, parents, must take parenting more seriously.

Yes, our schools play an important role in developing our children. And so does civil society, like, in Dago’s case, the taekwondo federation. But we can’t escape the fact that, if we want our children to excel, we, parents, must ultimately take the biggest responsibility.

Aum Pem Dem and Gyambo Sithey are doing their part. Are you?

Photo credit: Bhutan Today