Saturday, April 10, 2010

winds of change

yesterday i sat in the clock tower singing to a new student at VAST while we both removed tiny nails from some pieces of wood. "oh the winds of change have come...the winds of change have come....hooray hoorah for the winds of change and the change that is sure to come..." everyone surrounding us got a good laugh and of course he got an even better one. "madame, when you sing you sound like donkey." i let loose a nice big laugh and said "ok about this..." i took my masterpiece up a couple of octaves and he burst into laughter again. "no, madame. cat. you sound like cat...suffering cat." i couldn't help but laugh...and stop singing of course.

the seasons are changing in Bhutan. i'm not so used to distinct and very characteristic seasons. el paso has it's changes in weather...but for the most part it gets a little cold around winter (if you asked this desert gal when winter actually begins...she wouldn't be able to tell you) and then somehow march, april and may mix together, there's a lot of wind..and then it's summer time....there were never too many obvious signs of the world's journey around the sun. it always seemed to me that before i knew it another year was up and it was time to reflect on what i had done and what had happened. but here, in this relentless place the sky changes, the temperature changes, the sun gets brighter, flowers bloom on every tree and crickets and birds come back to life...and the spring rain falls softly at different intervals of cloud-filled times. spring is everywhere...light is everywhere descending in Thimphu valley...ILLUMINATING EVERYTHING.

witnessing the changes of three seasons in my almost eight months in Bhutan i am realizing that, along with all the many oh so many things that have been overwhelming, evidence of the passage of time has also been very overwhelming. there is no way to ignore nature and its movement in Bhutan. there have been so many times that i've found myself at its mercy...awkwardly existing in a place that will always be larger than any human could ever be. awkwardly existing in a place that is not always a reflectin of its people. and of course, witnessing these changing seasons has also led me to examine myself and the changes that have occurred in me. i arrived at the end of fall...the monsoon season let me witness it's last cry...its tears filled Thimphu valley with water. at that time i was staying with a dear friend's family in a rural village outside of Thimphu called Babesa. i remember navigating my way down a thin path, rain everywhere and mud begging me to slip slide down down...which i did a couple of times. i can't help but notice the metaphor now...between that begging pleading mud and some of the circumstances of this journey. there's always chances for us to fall...always things that ask us whether we want to stand back up and keep heading down these crazy slippery slopes.

monsoon/fall ended and winter began to take its seed. looking back at it now i realize that because i have never really really known three months of winter, i kind of didn't figure "hey xoch! this is the season known as winter" i guess i just figured "oh bajeez! it's pretty chilly up here in these mountains". and so, winter brought the cold, isolation, and joint pain with it...along with the children's holidays and major signs of goodness and progress with them. it also brought, what i now recognize as the "land-locked blues". had it not been for all the wonder and joy the children and i shared with each other, winter might have been more difficult. lots of my Bhutanese friends often remarked that winter was depressing...every year it was the same situation. i imagine it might have something to do with the mightiness the mountains possess as they linger in cold mist and frosty air...they turn a dark shade of brown...they command everything and you can't help but feel invisible and teeny tiny. every year, they are happy for the arrival of spring and its blossoms. in many ways i can understand what they mean...spring is here and sweet joy seems to be everywhere. children are roaming about playing and laughing, archery and dart games are a plenty...and of course there are blossoms everywhere. i feel different-for many reasons that may not be completely dependant upon the change of season, but are more clear to me because the season has changed again...and time is so clearly dancing shifting and moving.

many things have come to pass, each thing carrying its own specific qualities and character with it, each thing functioning in a very different nature, each thing connected to the other things.
some very good things and some very bad things have come to pass.
i wake up every morning and think, ok...spring has come and illumination must commence! often times i don't quite know what is coming, what is ahead, but i go forward and leave such things at the mercy of the winds of change.

looking at it presently, the winds of change are working well. a very refreshing change in things has arrived. Fregmonto Stokes (what a fantastic name!) a young man from Australia arrived recently in Bhutan and is working on a project that helps young people find the power of their voice and expression using performance. he’s using a system of teaching that is based on Augusto Boal’s approach to political action and involvement using “legislative theatre”. he asked me to join him in the workshop and help contribute in whatever way i could and i happily agreed. (it was more like xoch jumped on the opportunity the way my younger brother’s golden retriever used to inhale his dog food in four bites)
Freg is carrying out his internship/workshop with the Youth Development Fund (YDF) which was founded by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck. (

i'm infinitely excited for this opportunity!! it will be wonderful to share the experience i have in performance work, the ballet, the contemporary dance, the character, and the performance art, the sculpture and prop design with these young people. OH THE JOY OF RECIPROCITY!!

initially, we weren't sure exactly who would be attending this workshop. the group would consist of members of YDF, young folks who are abusing substances were invited from the drop in center in Thimphu and members of the Happy Valley performance group based in Thimphu would also take part. we've started our second week of workshops and things are going really well. the group is enthusiastic and YDF is very supportive of the workshop. we are hoping to coordinate the performance with the Young Zoom on Garbage Festival but are waiting to see if that will work out. in the meantime, we are preparing diligently for a total of 9 performances to take place throughout the central region of Bhutan. the performances will be geared toward the social issues that are affecting youth in Bhutan. i think it's easiest for me to simply share some of my notes with you well as some of the brainstorming we've been doing with the participants in order to get our minds working out the conceptual framework for the performances. it's been an incredible couple of weeks. a long awaited sense of enthusiasm from people who are in their late teens and early twenties...
while i have shared a lot of wonderful and very valuable things with the children at VAST, a spirit of activism, drive and enthusiasm from young people in this age bracket (late teens and early twenties) has been difficult to find. this work shop seems to be applying to and penetrating some of the youth issues that pose great danger as Bhutan moves forward.

Below, i share my notes with you all!

Performances sessions based on Augusto Boal’s “Theater of the Oppressed”.
idea of legislative theatre—using theatre, young people can act out laws and the legislative process.
…causes and effects, why the laws are necessary, what the laws will do, what the laws will improve…in a sense a second reality is created that poses an alternative future and an alternate present…

what do young people want to change in Bhutan?

Freg: Australian, intern at YDF, studying Politics, Spanish and Visual Art at the University of Melbourne
xoch: on a mission to find the questions that will help others find questions, someday leading to answers that will help provide a fantastic and wonderful and fair life for young people.
Tandin: young man, passionate about dancing, wants to be a dancer, from Thimphu
Dichen: young lady, from Eastern Bhutan, enjoys dancing and acting
Karma Choden: young lady, loves dancing and “everything”, from Eastern Bhutan
Tshering Dorji: young man, a founder of Happy Valley, participated in a crash course on performance in the Phillipines, enjoys dancing, singing and especially acting
Karma: young lady, sometimes feel very shy but enjoys acting and singing more than anything.
Namgay: young man, enjoys acting
Sonam: young man, former camera man in the media, currently edits video for Happy Valley, enjoys acting

Happy Valley: a street performance group that functions as a cooperative
-democratic approach that gives everyone an equal say in what the group will do and does
Began with 38 members and now has 18.

Laws they want in place:

Namgay: regarding CSO salary, 1st priority should be given to “unemployed" and less popular jobs should have an increase in pay to help supplement and support the dignity of the labor

Tandin: regarding dignity of labor, sweeper salary should exemplify and speak for the dignity of the job, it should not take the dignity away.
Regarding youth, youth need rights and opportunities. Proposals that are initiated by young people should be heard and considered.

Dichen: regarding government vs. private school certificates, both should be valued equally. (presently government certificates hold more merit)
There should also be a restriction on increases in private school annual fees.

Sonam: regarding a free media—remove the very tight restrictions that are placed on the media.

Lungten: regarding salary increases, the private sector should offer higher salary

These young people want to start a youth forum that tackles youth issues as they are seen and experienced by young people. They would like to initiate “The Youth Forum” which will allow young people to have a forum discussion on issues as they are raised in Parliament. They feel this will not be allowed in Bhutan…and if it is allowed they feel it will be controlled and monitored, therefore negating the intention of such a forum.


Sketch some of the problems that you think will arise in Bhutan in 20-30 years:

--drinking water problem
--air pollution

drastic changes—buildings, factories, air pollution, deforestation, climate change, flood storm and all its effects. Increase in population will mean more vehicles, sound pollution and a lack of space.
more gang fights, more drugs, suicide cases will increase (drugs—N10, marijuana, pills)
more fights, more party freaks, more unemployment
more fights, more drug abuse, suicide cases increase, “masters of drinking” will sprout up
DEAD—everything. No trees, no people, no animals
Increase in population, increase in bad waste management

with good governance: forest cover will be fine, more people on bicycles, tall buildings but good maintenance, clean air, crime rate same as now (now is alright-not so bad), farms will be protected, drug free, education for everyone
With bad governance: dead trees, export will be prime, cars, pollution, big big buildings, crime rate will increase, drug use, alcoholism, violence, suicide, lack of water, farmers losing land, land dying.

From this develop a dream sequence.

Good dream—education, fun, farming preserved, good job, traditional dance and song…all things co-existing, mutual appreciation for one another, no land taken from farmers/farmers not forced to sell their land.

bad dream---fighting, violence, poverty, lack of dignity of labor, drugs, farming disintegrating because of climate change and poverty, land being taken from farmers—farmers selling land out of desperation, imminent death due to violence, drugs, alcohol and/or unstable living conditions.
Merging of good and bad dream
Protest happened when government intervened and promoted deforestation “we want fresh environment” “government will kill you”
farmer’s co-op was formed to challenge government.

how can we engage people in order to spark some sort of action, be it protests or simply voicing opinions?
Things will be very difficult for us if we protest or speak out.

In this session---housing issue has come up as well. Cost of living as well as a system lacking enforcement is making it impossible to afford basic rent and is without any regulation as to rent increases and changes in tenant contracts.


Possible Issues for Performances:
(to take place in Thimphu, Tsirang, Bumthang and Punakha, at the Thimphu Rehabilitation Center, and at YDF)

Employment exploitation and discrimination
Restraints on Personal Voice and Personal Expression
Pressure to wants THINGS
Lack of Enforcement to protect young people

Starting with a still frame, produce a short performance that depicts:


frame produced:
scene 1 “mis-promise”- scene begins “in town”, children are found and offered a “nice home, food and a pleasant life”. scene moves to a house-husband and wife beating servant, husband encourages this interaction, children afraid.

Scene 2 begins with a young girl asking her father with excitement if he is going to put her in school. father says he would rather find her a job in Thimphu because he can’t afford to keep her in the house. The father goes to meet his friend who agrees to look for a job for her in the government and take her in as his own daughter. father thanks him and leaves his daughter. her “new father” immediately orders her to polish his shoes and explains to her that a government job will be impossible to find, she will have to stay and serve him as a helper.


[examine the causal factors and the point at which the situation could change]

must have permission-without permission the action stops dead in its tracks

scene 1 of a “healthy” minister saying “no”
when performed scenario 1 is depicted as an ad- “first impression is the last impression” says the minister, as the young folks are bowing

scene 2 of the middle rung saying ‘no’ to young woman. she cannot speak to the minister without getting through this middle rung. (implications of corruption and unfairness in this process)
when performed-scenario 2 is depicted in the style of Tsechu dance. Masked dancer plays the minister, young woman is a court dancer. The middle rung does not have a specific role but seems to be a confused mix of a masked dancer, court dancer and a jester.


“performing for the deaf”

only action (emotion and gestures) can be used.

to date, young men in the group have directed the young women. exercises are geared toward self-exploration and self-confidence and a developing of ideas individually
emotional depictions of inner struggle develop…love and hate for others, self, desires, actions and circumstances.

understanding of situations of power and place and the emotional, social and complexities that exist in both.

differences in physicality of people in different positions is very clear


yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Dasho Karma Ura,director of the Center for Bhutan Studies, give a short lecture on Gross National Happiness…i'll also share a bit of those notes. i have about four pages and it would just be a bit too crazy to share it i will share only the last few remarks that were capitalized letters you'll find responses i wrote.

it is important to instill a sense of appreciation in young people for what is in ALL living things. instead of this, it seems young people are only being overstimulated with television, ads...images of things that are not ACTUALLY living...IMAGES OF A REALITY THAT IS NOT ACTUALLY REAL.

how many Bhutanese think of things that don't have to do with income?

assessment of the world has been forced to be so rapid that values are easily overlooked and instilled with great difficulty.

it has become more important to secure your own position, condition and place


GNH is based on the idea of a collective happiness. it is dependant upon 72 factors.


if the government uses economic growth to help measure Gross National Happiness, the government is negating the very principles that are the foundation for the philosophy.


in order to establish psychological well being: emotional balance, mental health, quality of life and spirituality have a minimum level.

basically it is important to develop contentment, what is in front of you must be viewed as heaven, changing fundamental structures will completely altar the world, it already has.


as always...there is more to come

i send my warmest greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan


  1. Xochiti - Frist I would like to tell you how proud and excited to read and see the pictures from the article from the UTEP publication.I have alway have had a love for this culture and how special they are and then to read about your journey, makes me so very happy.I have to say this really make you such a beautiful light and very exciting to find you in this light.Thank you Jimmy Perez

  2. i'm so very happy to be able to share it. it has been incredible and i'm certain that the next two months will only make it more incredible. i'll be sure to keep writing...

    thank you for your interest and your excitement...i feel so fortunate.