The past several days have been filled with a plethora of cultural experiences with locals in and around campus. While simply walking down the street can tell you a lot about the Bhutanese people, it is something else completely to spend significant amounts of time talking with a Buddhist monk or staying with a family. Luckily, I’ve been able to do both of those things in the span of a few days.
As part of a field exercise, we traveled to a nearby monastery where a major Bhutanese religious figure was believed to have visited 1,300 years ago. This monastic community was in many ways like the one I’m used to at Saint Vincent, and in other ways, so very different. None of the monks spoke English, so we had to communicate through translators who helped us pose our questions. We were welcomed with hospitality by the monks who dressed in dark red and orange robes with sashes across their chests that ranged in color from yellow to purple. For my time with the monk, I asked him two questions: what did he find most rewarding about his monastic lifestyle and what advice he had for a young American man? First, he told me that in his prayers and spiritual aid of others, he was able to help a lot of people he’d otherwise never be able to help. As for the life advice, he spoke for about three straight minutes. How much of the final product I got in translation, I can’t be sure, but here is the short version of what he told me:
“Be mindful of your actions and try to do the greatest good you can. Be careful of unmindful action and how it can hurt others. Give willingly. Don’t assume that others are always trying to take advantage of you, and instead, give with a loving heart. And be happy.”
The next day after my visit to the monastery, I had the rare opportunity to visit the home of a local family with another student. We were paired with a local Bhutanese student who attends the local high school in Jakar. Our student, Tsherink, is in 11th grade at the high school and she hopes to one day be an accountant. She showed us around her home and around the town below. I got to hear what she had heard about the United States (she said she’d heard it was lots of big cities and people that had a lot of money), and I got to tell her a little bit about an American’s take on Bhutan. She was in awe when my fellow student and I showed her pictures of where we’re from. She was especially impressed when I showed her a picture of where I go to school (“it’s so beautiful” came up a few times). We finished the day with a dinner of rice, potatoes, assorted vegetables and chilies before heading back to campus.
Neither experience was exactly in my comfort zone. It’s pretty hard to communicate when both parties have a limited understanding of what one another is saying, but they were experiences I’m extremely glad I had. Getting to interact with the locals up close has only reaffirmed my belief that they are some of the warmest and kindest people I've ever met.
Oh, today I started my directed research surrounding the effects of forest management on several environmental factors on the top of a mountain pass, but I’ll save that for my next post.