Sunday, June 20, 2010

"meeting and departing is natural phenomena"

thick clouds are swallowing the mountains again. soft rain falls and the occassional car drives slowly down the sloping road outside the window. there's a stillness and a silence laying itself over the city...and in my own calmness and stillness, i remember, "xoch...share!"

i have no idea where to begin! since i last wrote many beautiful things have happened in this crazy himalayan land. i'll focus on one particular stream of events...Freg flew away back to Australia on Saturday. i sat back trying to figure out what i was feeling having said goodbye to the second very dear friend I have made in Bhutan. The Reb stayed for four months and looking back it almost seems like she was only here for a blink. Freg was here for three months and i'm sure with a little bit more time, his time here will also seem like a blink. just as, i'm sure, when my time here ends i will feel as though it was also a blink (probably longer blink, but a blink nevertheless). the beauty about these blinks, however is that they're not like a regular blink. they're not the normal involuntary action our eyes perform to clean themselves. these blinks are the kind that allow your eyes to open back up to the sun. I would never say i was seeing darkness before all of this, but i can absolutely say that after having met both of those beautiful people i can see a little bit more clearly now. there's a little bit more sunlight behind this Himalayan mist.

the Four Friend's Theater Club had its final performance (collaborating with me and Freg) and it was incredibly successful! Her Majesty the Queen Mother Tshering Pem Wangchuck attended YDF's foundation day celebration as the guest of honor. Along with Her Majesty, His excellency Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley was in attendance as a distinguished guest. Ministers and heads of government were also in the audience as well as teachers, writers and a handful of young people. Her Majesty was very pleased with the work Freg and I had accomplished with the "Four Friends Theater" participants and bid Freg and I her farewell for the night with thanks, hugs and kisses. it was a huge honor to be able to show her what the 13 of us had accomplished first hand. I have to thank Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan's Opposition Leader for his participation in the performance...he did a wonderful job.

these last three months were the most touching, difficult, beautiful and powerful months i have been a part of in Bhutan. if there is any higher honor than to be given an opportunity to share our work with Her Majesty I would say, with confidence, it was my greatest honor to have the opportunity to work with such incredible young adults. having met the members of Happy Valley has revived my hope in the joy of sharing, learning and giving. the co-operative itself, faces a lot of internal issues. each member is an example of one or more of the many faces and levels of the "youth problem" in Bhutan. they haven't been paid in months, but they go forward clinging to the hope that the work they do will help someone and eventually provide them with a means of survival. since i've met them, they've lost two members of the co-operative and tshering, the blow horn, never fails to fall silent for a moment when he reflects on what may become of Happy Valley. i always only smile and reassure him that such beautiful things always way or another.

i could never be more grateful that they were willing to donate their time to working with me and freg through YDF. the more familiar i become with their situation and each member individually, the more i understand the sacrifice they made to make the project a success.

we spent three months together, thinking, analyzing, questioning, imagining and planning. youth issues were our main focus. we DISECTED the "youth problem" in bhutan as thoroughly as possible and to the best of our combined abilities. we pulled together our observations (which were incredible to witness as they came together, considering the different perspectives that were working together), we pulled together personal experiences and most importantly, we learned about each other's lives. the final product of the workshop was a drama depicting a group of four friends (honoring the traditional Buddhist story of the four friends, Thim Pha Pin Zhi) who were trying to start a youth co-operative in Bhutan. Considering the group of young people who were participating in the workshop-all Happy Valley members and the bright and engaged Sonam Wangmo-we were able to frame the drama accurately according to the problems Happy Valley has faced as Bhutan's first co-operative organization and according to the problems each participant was facing or had already faced at some point in their lives.

The four characters in the drama were the elephant, the monkey, the rabbit and the bird. Each character was dealing with their own issues...issues which were interfering with the organization of the youth organization. the elephant, who was given the task of recruting new members for the youth group faced substance abuse issues. the monkey was assigned the task of fundraising for the group, but failed to do so when he caved into materialism and the loss of a value system. the rabbit had trouble focusing on organizing the youth group because her circumstances forced her to seek work in a drayang (entertainment bar) which led to her exploitation as a dancer and singer. the bird, who was the leading figure in the co-operative faced obstacles working with the bureaucracy in Bhutan while he tried to help his three friends overcome the issues they were dealing with.

the performance was based upon forum theater, which you can read about in one of the previous blogs. each time the participants performed for an audience, we called on members of the audience to replace these main characters and make the choices that were necessary to change the outcome of each act for the better. thanks to support from YDF, the performance was offered to "Young Volunteers in Action" (another program intitiated by YDF)in Thimphu, Punakha, Bumthang and Tsirang. Each performance in the different dzongkhags had its incredible moments as youngsters acted out their own real life solutions to the problems we were presenting in the drama. there are, however, two particular performances i know i will never forget.

The Early Learning Center in Thimphu invited us to have a rehearsal performance for their students about a month ago. The elementary school is the only school in Bhutan educating its students through a value based curriculum. There are beautiful things happening at the ELC and the folks there deserve great commendation because they have taken the idea of Gross National Happiness and are educating their students with dedication to the principles of GNH. We were a little bit nervous, considering these children were younger than our intended audience of YVIA (young volunteers in action) members... but we were also very excited because the innocence of children always offers some of the world's most valuable lessons.

During the drug addiction scene, a young boy who was maybe about 8 years old took to the microphone with enthusiasm, replacing the naughty elephant. the elephants friend, who was overweight and glued to a video game, was the target for the elephants recruitment efforts on that day. whhen the young boy took the stage he tried to distract his friend from buying drugs using several different methods. finally, the clever boy grabbed the television and ran off with it. the overweight friend, of course, wound up leaving the video game parlor where the drug dealer was and chased the boy who was running off with his t.v. it was a beautiful sight to behold! such a simple act pointed to so many more complicated levels of the problem. the little boy understood that the environment was as poisonous as the drugs would be. he understood that by removing his friend from that environment he could more easily place him in a healthy environment.

i also witnessed a very beautiful moment in Tsirang.

after hours of acting out possible solutions for the scene which addressed drug addiction,the final solution that resolved the issue was meditation. a young man took to microphone and immediately refused to give his friend money to purchase drugs. he invited the drug dealer and his friend to join him in meditation instead. he sat down beside them, on their level and led them in meditation. the two supporting characters finally calmed down (they had been pushing the boundaries of their characters for a few hours...resisting the solutions the Tsirang students were offering). Within a few seconds, i looked around and realized that the entire room of 150 students had joined the meditation. the entire day had been filled with laughter and sound, and suddenly, the entire auditorium fell silent. as i write this nearly three weeks later i still feel goosebumps spread across my skin.

this solution was beautiful for a few reasons. the drama of that moment was absolutely breathtaking. this solution also silently addressed the idea that it is difficult to take help from someone who is not willing to place themself beside you but instead prefers to help you while towering above you. a young lady had tried the same solution but did not sit with the two young men. she stood above them and instructed them in meditation. when the second volunteer took the mic, he immediately sat between the two young men...and they immediately closed their eyes with him. The solution was also beautiful because it was a very Bhutanese way to solve the problem. a solution like this would probably never work in the U.S., but the moment i heard silence come over the room i knew...we've done it!

the remainder of our day in Tsirang was spent singing and dancing together. we were careful to select only the scenes that depicted problems that were relevant to each group of youngsters. in thimphu, all four scenarios are relevant, however, in smaller and more rural dzongkhags like tsirang, the only scenarios we felt were appropriate were substance abuse and materialism. the shortened performance schedule gave us an opportunity to split the group of 150 into smaller groups to discuss the issues they felt were most relevant to them. i was pleased to share a discussion with a group of about 15 youngsters who, by the end of the discussion, understood that the issues they are facing having many causes and effects. they understood that the issues they are facing are multi-layered and that it is important to understand the MECHANISMS that propel problems forward. each group was able to develop a short act on the issues they discussed. alcoholism, which led to divorce, which led to youngsters joining gangs was a common thread of issues. through discussion, the group i worked with proposed that perhaps, in order to stop the gang problem, issues of alcoholism could be addressed that would lower divorce rates and therefore lower gang membership. they proposed a law that called upon "owners and servers at bars to have a limit on the amount of alcohol they serve their customers. if a customer was already intoxicated, they should not be served more." HOORAAAYYYYY!!!!

after this, i jumped up and down several times and we made a slogan to help them think about things simply in the future (in case no one was around to think about things with them).

"what is happening
why is it happening
what do i want to happen!?"

we closed the formal portion of the workshop with all 150 YVIA members asking these questions in unison...and then came the fun!

the youngsters sang for us and danced and by the end of the day (nearly 10 hours later) they were asking me to teach them ballet. by seven o'clock in the evening, i stood before 6 brave kids, teaching them the basics of classical dancing.

after about an hour and a half, i decided to end the ballet class (so as not faint!) and go outside to enjoy the jungle. the night was spent with eyes wide open hiding within my sleeping bag. tsirang is warmer so there are bird-sized mosquitos in its jungle...iill avoid going into the details of the other flying objects i saw...but am happy to share that, with my AMAZING luck, i had the fortune of sleeping under a very confused very humongous flying object. for fear of it falling on me in my sleep i opted to stay awake. (a great portion of the morning was spent laughing at myself with the girls who were sharing their room with me).

the next morning we loaded ourselves on to the bus hesitantly. we did everything we could to prolong the goodbye. we sang more songs...we took photos...we told more stories and exchanged addresses. after some time i realized i should board the bus before any waterworks started going down, so i made my way for the bus door. as i approached it, beautiful young Jamyang approached me with a note in her hand for me. i held it tightly and promised i would read it on the road. hugs were had and we headed off, feeling full of hope and full of sadness that we couldn't stay longer...

as we made our way around the first bend...i opened up the note Jamyang had timidly handed me.

it read:

"Dear Sochi Sister:
I, Jamyang Sekar would like to thank you all for a wonderful programme. Yesterday we enjoyed a lot. Now I can make out what to do and what not to do. I especially enjoyed your dance (ballet dance).

As a saying goes "meeting and departing is natural phenomena". So have a safe journey and hope to meet you all soon.

We will be missing you all.

Love you, miss you
and please take care, Sister.


as always...there is more to come.

i send my warmest greetings from the ever lovely Kingdom of Bhutan...

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