So, this past month I was travelling to the East. I guess it was the second major tour of my career, and a first time travelling on my own program.
I had to plan the dates and timings accordingly, since I had to meet with many stakeholders (my coordinators in the field), book an hour of their time, and also keep in mind the travelling distances and road-blocks (if any).
Keeping in mind all of these above, and also the fact that my kids are in Bumthang, my parents in Kanglung, and my village is in Trashiyangtse, it was of a “chhu jowai zhokhar rangthang dri” kind of deal. I spent three nights at Bumthang, four nights in Kanglung and a night in Chorten Kora.
Bumthang, my second home
At Bumthang I stayed at my in laws’ place, which is a farmstead in the middle of Wangduechholing Village. They have a very large vegetable patch, which is one of the largest private vegetable ventures that I have seen in Chamkhar area. Rows and rows of Broccoli, Beans, Chilli, Radish, Tomatoes, Sag, Potatoes, Asparagus, Maize, …you name it, they plant it. And the locals come to buy vegetables from her, where they can take them right off the field.
My 2-year-old daughter stays at home with Meme and Angay, while my 4-year-old son attends the local Early Child Care centre. They are there at Bumthang because back in Thimphu, I don’t have a sitter to care for them during the day.
Babysitters and domestic help
The dearth of babysitters is a huge issue in urban Bhutan which is seldom given its due urgency. The only consolation is that our elderly parents are there for us. They did their part in raising us, but now they are burdened with an additional responsibility to care for their grandchildren. I know of many colleagues who have their parents looking after their children at home, while they go to work.
Who wouldn’t pay for domestic help in Thimphu? Many people are in the lookout for day-sitters and domestic help in Thimphu, but they do cost an arm and a leg. I once ‘arranged’ for a school-dropout sitter for 5000 bucks, with free lodge, food and a smartphone, but was rejected. I know my offer was comparatively higher than the national minimum wage rate.
Back at Bumthang my kids were super excited to see me, but their excitement wore off after a while and they returned to their nene Sonam, who is my wife’s younger brother’s wife. She practically raises our kids as her own, along with her husband and my in-laws. I don’t know what I would do without my Bumthang family to care for my children, the sacrifices they do. I know I will be indebted to them forever.
Kanglung, the place of my childhood
My own parents are at Kanglung with my younger sister, while her husband is pursuing his higher studies in India. With two school-going children (one is brother Samten’s son), a toddler at home, and a full-blown career as a lecturer in college, she has her hands full and requires my Ama to be with her at all times. I guess parents prefer to be with their daughters than with sons. My Apa is a travelling salesman who is constantly on the move, but spends more time at Kanglung. My sister is also on the lookout for a sitter.
So I spent four nights at my sisters place but I was also constantly on the move during the day, travelling to Khaling, Trashigang, Rangjung, Radhi, Bartsham etc, but returning to Kanglung for the night. I was also constantly keeping an ear out for potential sitters. I still am.
I visited two former schools of mine; Trashigang Middle Secondary school, then was known as Trashigang Junior High school. I studied my level VII and VIII there. I even went to Jigme Sherubling Central School, and she was celebrating her Foundation day. It was a High school then in 1997 and 1998 when I completed my level IX and X.
In both these schools, I felt so different. Back then I was the smallest kid in the class, so everything and everybody seemed gigantic. But not today.
Chorten Kora, my hometown
And I also spent a night at Chorten Kora. For the uninitiated, Chorten Kora is the name of the capital-town of Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag. The town gets its name from a stupa of the same name located at the edge of the town. My Apa has rented a small apartment at Bayling area, which is used as a transit camp by my brother Samten during his travels to the town.
My brother stays at the village, caring for our ancestral home at the village of Zamadung under Wogmanang chiwog of Bumdelling gewog. He has his wife with him in the farm. His eldest son is in Bayling central school while his youngest daughter is studying with his wife’s sister at Bumthang. His second son is studying in Kanglung primary school.
The reason why I am narrating his story is that the nearest school from my village is almost an hour’s walk uphill, through closed jungle. And being too far, the children would have to start to school quite early in the morning, and reach back home very late. They would tire after reaching back home, and would fall asleep, without even writing their homework. So that’s why his children are staying with relatives.
People and Places
Anyways, to get back on track, I was travelling in the east, and I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with a lot of my colleagues, all working in schools. We either worked together or we were in college together. I also hung out with some of my former students who are now adults and have a family of their own.
I went to new places like Dungtse and Bartsham…great places to visit and if I had some more time, I would have written more stories about these new amazing places.
But as I was driving the backroads of Kunzangling, I nearly got knocked off a cliff. The only way I could save myself and my car, was by rubbing against the big boulder which had taken refuge on that part of the road. I now have a wonderful tattoo along the top of my right back-wheel of my car.
Some more photos along the journey
To sum up
Babysitters are not available in Bhutan, but wherever you go your friends are always there for you, offering you a meal, a drink, even a place to crash for the night. Though the offer for a beer was the maximum.