Settled In

I've come to one of the few coffee shops in town in search of a decent wifi signal. Upon choosing a table outside I am immediately joined by a very small little girl dressed in patterned fleece leggings, jean jacket with sequined strawberries, fuzzy red boots and a high pony tail atop her head. (Of course I didn't bring my camera.) Her tiny teeth are rotting in her mouth and neither her Ama or her Auntie are anywhere to be found. Her brown hands are wrinkly and dry, like those of an old dwarf farm worker. I've managed to gather that her name is Nisha. We're playing a hilarious game of ducking under the table and squealing as we pop up. After she spilled my cappuccino I taught her to say "coffee is good." I tried to entertain her with markers and paper to draw on but she is much more enthusiastic about stirring my coffee, licking the spoon and trying to stick it back in my cup. She did finally managed to dunk the contaminated spoon with only a sip left. I drank it anyway and she tried the last few drops making a face that expressed serious doubt in my beverage tastes. Two ladies at the table next to us just ordered her a brownie (after I offered her a handful of cashews and she threw them at me) and with no further ado she ran away. Later, I spotted her running hand in hand through the parked cars with the parking attendant.

The living room is filled with potted plants and in the past two weeks I witnessed two orchids bloom. Our little green children add a real sense of home to the place. Life is starting to feel more normal. I have my preferred veggie venders and have memorized the stock of the three import grocery stores. I've established a bit of routine tutoring for a French family and teaching Spanish twice a week. After a month of dancing with strangers on the sidewalks I've finally gotten used to passing people on the left. I still wave at the kids hanging their heads out the car/bus windows but no longer gasp when drivers stop without warning in the middle of the street to answer their cell phones (it is illegal to talk on your phone while driving, but okay to abruptly park your car in the middle of traffic). The Gohs on motos are my favorite, whizzing by with their helmet heads and knobby brown knees exposed between skirt and sock.

 Yesterday I ate a pomegranate directly off the tree in our yard. Today I found a litter of eight trash dump puppies.

favorite look; goh paired with fresh Nikes and flat brimmed hat

I will never tire of the human rainbows that form when a group of women walk down the street in jewel hued kiras, and continue to marvel as they climb asphalted hills in stilettos, stepping down strategically from the three foot curbs. This is the only place I've ever lived where the women actually smile at me when I walk past, and where a female doesn't have to brace herself for a slurry of cat calls when approaching a group of men. The only verbal bombardments are those high pitched 'hi, hello, good days!' that burst forth from gaggles of children. I always try to time my afternoon strolls with the final school bell, as the streets fill with kids in their tiny gohs and kiras toting picnic basket lunch boxes. Anxious little guys immediately drop the top half of their goh and tie it around their waists for a more comfortable after school look. The teenage girls always grin sweetly and the boys, shy but respectful, smirk and giggle when I pass. I make faces at the bobbling baby heads strapped to the backs of their mothers, their sideways raindrop eyes staring back curiously. The babes old enough to walk tumble around the streets like little Michelin tire men, barely able to stand in their mini puffy coats, furry hats and fake Uggs.

I haven't made any Bhutanese friends yet, but am hopeful that I will eventually win their trust and pass the threshold from formality to friendship. I still haven't quite gotten used to being called 'madame' by everyone. Our Nepali cleaning ladies are two of my favorite people here. We always manage to joke and tell stories in Nepali, broken English and charades each afternoon when they come to tidy up the apartment. I was invited to celebrate Diwali with Jashoda and her family a few weeks ago.

Jashoda dancing
with Pooja Mishra and Jashoda
twins, Ram and Laxman

Joshada sent me home with leftovers and a mala for Michael
hiking with Lindsay and Vivi
We do have a nice little group of chillup friends; Ayesha from Los Angeles via Whidbey Island, who works as a conservator, preserving ancient paintings and wall hangings in the surrounding monasteries; Signe (pronounced Cina) from Copenhagen, working as a freelance writer reporting on the state of Bhutan as it relates to the Danish people (Denmark has had a Foreign Aid office in Thimphu for ten years); Lindsay and Rebecca and their daughters Ceiba, Layla and little Vivi, here from North Carolina working as a forester and nurse anesthetist. We all tend to shy away from the larger community of 'white people' in Thimphu as they are largely made up of self-touted 'Legends', but it is nice to have some like-minded people around to share in the many frustrations and hilarious encounters.

Halloween bonfire and pumpkin carving
the apartment kids

The pumpkins were eaten the next day by the Bhutanese families
his very first Jack o' lantern!

Michael's new favorite buddy. Not sure she would say the same about him.

Team Tandem playing in the final match of the futbol tournament. They won second place

kid at halftime

the country just celebrated the 4th King's birthday

We've had plans to go camping for the last two weeks, but some sort of Bhutanese virus ruined the first attempt, and the following weekends socked in by clouds and fog made the idea of sleeping at almost 4000 meters much less appealing. Finding gas tanks for camping stoves has also proved impossible so yay (!) for eating cold meals at freezing temperatures. While my tent eagerly awaits it's Himalayan debut, the day hikes have brought us face to fang with some mean ass country guard dogs, jingle belled pack ponies, the new tween crush boy band, the future Bhutanese bobsled team and many painted penises...

fall colors amongst the evergreens
post harvest rice fields

country living

we gave him the 1...2...3...jump!

Bhutan's new heart throb sensation, The Jirry Boys. yeeeeah jerry

slum kids havin' blast

genius. making something from nothing.

Bhutan Bobsled Team. Kickstarter campaign to follow

complete with steering foot pedals

As I sit in another coffee shop trying to publish this post, the world outside has turned into cotton candy. Every evening at dusk, the setting sun washes the sky in shades of sugar spun pink and purple, the mountains recede into shadows and the temperature drops faster than the sinking sun.

I'm dragged back inside coffee shop world by the two Legends behind me team writing the next heart stopping, adjective injected book about the one and only, BHUTAN! Back and forth they toss one prophetic statement after the other. The cleverness of their descriptions is mind numbing.
This is where the wide world of chillups gets their information about Bhutan. Let this be a lesson to you all the next time you read something about the Thunder Dragon.

Leave it to the burro to keep bringing you more real talk from this crazy place.