We returned to Jakar from the Choekar Valley along the bumpy but just-passable road, and went straight to our work site at the Koenchog Sum Lhakhang, where we were to volunteer for three days. I wrote about this experience for our group blog here, but there are a few more details I'd like to share with you. The Lhakhang (Lhakhang translates to 'house of god,' but that isn't exactly what it means) burned down a few years ago when a curtain blew into the flame of a lit butter lamp and caught fire. Reconstruction is expected to be finished in 2018.
|moving rocks to the upper level of the Lhakhang|
|a monk standing at the source of the mortar|
I'm really fascinated by the gender roles of Bhutan, and have yet to solidify any observations. Excitingly, one of my classmates is doing his research paper on this topic, with particular focus on views of homosexuality in Bhutan. The gender roles do seem pretty rigid, for example in the commitment to the traditional national dress. Yes-both boys and girls do both partake in t-shirts and pants when they wear Western clothes, and yes-what it means to be 'manly' or 'womanly' is defined differently here. For example, it is very normal for men to hug, sit on each others' laps, and share beds here, while these wouldn't be seen as normative 'manly' behaviors back home. Yet, on some level, I think it was very confusing for the men of the construction site (I didn't meet any women outside our group there) to engage with us. I think, because we were pushing the gender roles, and especially since I wasn't dressed particularly 'like a woman,' many of them couldn't gender me, and this earned me quite a few stares.
photo by Bruce Owens
I admit, I took some satisfaction in this, and it motivated me even more to keep truckin the rocks along the rickety scaffolding, and working my muscles to the furthest extent I could. A few of the other women in our group experienced some snide comments about becoming the workers' girlfriends, and I was proud at how cleverly they deflected these remarks. My favorite, an exchange that took place entirely in Dzongkha between Sara and a male worker, in which he asked if she wanted to be with him, she hauled up a rock onto her shoulder, looked him dead in the eye, smiled and said simply, "Mitup." It translates somewhat to "no thanks," but has a pretty wry connotation.
|a building next to the construction site|
|in front of the construction site at the end of the work days|
Photo by Bruce Owens
After the three days, and many rocks moved and many cartloads of mortar made, we took the long road back to RTC campus. Surprisingly, the 11 hour bus ride went by very easily. I still don't understand the rules of driving here: I think people use blinkers to signal each other when it is safe to pass, and I still do double takes when I see an empty seat, or a kid sitting in what I think is the driver's seat. No, Carrie, they drive on the other side here. Get it in your head.
So, many hair pin turns and several eco-zones later, we made it back to our temporary home in Ngabiphu. I do miss my real home, though. Many adventures lie ahead of me before I return there, however, and I am looking forward to them.
P.S. I forgot to mention: I was in the newspaper! Check it out here.