Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back in the USA

Hey everyone (if you're still reading, you have the patience of Job)!

Well, I got back to the United states about three weeks ago, and got sucked right back into the busy life here. I was home in California for about a week, and got to see my familia (which was great) and then it was off to Boston to spend a few weeks with Jake, my boyfriend (which has also been TOTALLY great). So here I sit, in Boston, and it's already been almost a month since I returned. Where does the time go??

Now, I'm sure both of you left reading are wondering, if I'm in the US, what the heck do I have to write about? Well, I feel that I just left this blog unfinished, you know? Not that the dog-bite-in-the-butt story wasn't good (it's healing nicely and I'm all done with my rabies shots! Woo!) but it didn't really feel very conclusion-y. So, just so that you're all forewarned, this is probably going to be a very touchy-feely-gooshy reflective type of post, so you should get out while you still can.

Okay, onto the mushy stuff!

I think it's still hard to say what impact my time in Bhutan had on me... I was only there for two months, but it really was a definitive experience. For one thing, it was the first time I had ever moved to a place all on my own without a built-in transition time (which college definitely had) and I'll admit it, I was really scared. What if I didn't make any friends? What if I was way too homesick? What if I hated it? Worse, what if they hated me? (Never mind that I didn't even know who "they" would be...)

Well, none of that happened... for one thing, the Bhutanese are about the friendliest people on the planet, and it felt like everyone in Thimpu was doing their best to make sure I felt as welcome and as at-home as possible (and it totally worked!). It's nice to know, though, that I can manage being dropped off in a country that's pretty different from my own, accomplish what I went there for, and have a really awesome time into the bargain. Doing something like this really forced me to be introspective in order to examine the types of fears mentioned above. Once I realized what was at their roots, I was able to propose (to myself) solutions that not only addressed those specific concerns but more deeply rooted ones that I was carrying unawares and to a certain extent, still carry, but knowingly. I really learned a lot about myself in Bhutan; some good things (I like to make friends!) and some not-so-good things (stick me in an apartment with television and I will have to resist the urge to watch it for HOURS even though I'm in one of the most beautiful places in the world). But since the whole point was a bit of education, I'm happy I picked up some stuff about me along the way.

I also managed to learn some things about the world around me, one of the biggest being that people are very much alike, even if they come from countries that are very different. Bhutan is certainly not America (I don't think anyone would argue with that) and the two countries have two quite divergent cultures. However, I couldn't help but notice how many times I thought "Gosh, X from home would really love to meet Y from Bhutan-- they have so much in common!" I realize that this is super cliche, but it's also true: people are people, no matter where they're from. This is something I've believed for a long time, but it was reassuring to see it so starkly borne out. It seems to me that the troubles begin when we become "the public;" it's like we transition from thinking as people to thinking as a mass, and while people are smart, masses are not. (If anybody has any kind of solution to this problem, please, shout it out.) I realize that this isn't some kind of new or original thought, but for me, it became much more real as I spent more time in Bhutan.

There are many more lessons I picked up in Bhutan (do not trust a Bhutanese person who tells you something is not "that spicy" ; be nice to stray dogs but don't assume they're all just waiting to love on you; walk around a new city as much as possible and ignore the dang TV; try not to miss out on any travel opportunities; accept every invitation that is not sketchy) but it would take way too long to write them all out and examine them. But, using one last Bhutanese philosophy, I'm happy to just let it be. All that learning can nestle inside of me and inform my choices and my self for years to come.

Holla back Bhutan, what what???



Monday, August 17, 2009

My Butt = A Steak Dinner (according to Fur Face, anyway)

Hey everyone!

So I had a few fun things I wanted to blog about from this weekend. I went on a hike up one of the mountains surrounding Thimpu with my two awesome neighbors, Tashi and Supe, to a monastery to visit their guardian deity. I got to be a part of a live show called Ode to Ovaries showcasing female musicians (I told jokes in between songs) and listen to Kesong and Yangchen, two friends of mine, rock like no other.

But then I got bit directly on my booty by a stray dog, and all that went right out the window. Because honestly, that is one of the funniest things I can think of (note: funny, not fun. Nothing about the experience was fun in any kind of way, except possibly when I realized what a good blog post it was going to make).

So, the story:

I was walking over to my friend Liz's apartment, where we were going to meet up before walking across the street to Yumi's place for dinner. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, given that the day before I had gone on that hike, thus proving to myself that I'm not totally out of shape (my thighs were/are killing me, but that was/is beside the point) and the music show had been such a good time. Ensconced in this glow of well-being, once I got past the pack of hellhounds that live up in my neighborhood (they know me by now, so they just sort of stare me down as I walk past, so that I know my place) I stopped paying attention to whether or not there were dogs in the vicinity. It was getting pretty dark as I turned down the street leading to Liz's apartment building, but I was preoccupied with thoughts about whether or not I had left the brownies I was bringing in the oven for too long, because the edges looked a little crispy and maybe too brown...

Well, anyway, as I walked along, I heard a low growl from my left, in front of a small gate partially obscured by a bush. This didn't freak me out too much, and I even remember the half-formed thought "the dogs around here are all bark and no bite" beginning to float up to the surface of my mind. The reason it was a half-formed thought was because right about the time my brain got to "all bark" AIIIIIEEEEEEE a skinny black dog who had been crouching by the gate leaped at me, growling. After snapping at my heels and barking menacingly, he ran around behind me, jumped up and bit me: a direct hit to my right butt cheek. It all happened so fast -- the time from low growl to butt-bite was maybe ten seconds-- so I really only had time to scream as he went for the metaphorical kill.

As soon as he had made his views on my being on his road known and hit the ground again, he stood behind me, barking his furry little head off. I was so surprised (I mean, doesn't that sound like something that could happen to somebody else, but not to you?) that I just sort of scurried down the street, trying not to run in case Fur-Face took it into his head to give chase. It was only about thirty seconds to Liz's front gate, but it felt like I was in some sort of horror movie, and that any minute I would feel the hot breath of the butt-biter bearing down on my left cheek. Luckily for me, he just stood in the middle of the road, yelping at me like I had done something wrong.

Given my state of mind, I probably looked a little frazzled when Liz opened the door in response to my ringing the bell. I asked her if I could use her bathroom, which made her think I had some sort of indigestion or something. But when I told her and Kueron, a friend of ours who was there helping make food for the potluck, what had happened, they showed the dignity of their characters by not bursting into laughter immediately. They were actually the perfect combo; Liz was super sympathetic, which obviously made me feel like a total bad-ass (hah! pun totally intended) and Kueron had some mad first-aid skills.

Now, this leads me to ponder a pertinent question: why in Heaven's name did that dog decide to bite my ass? I mean, he had to jump to get to it; he could have bitten my ankle, or my leg, or my foot, or really any of my lower appendages with much greater ease. I’ve never really thought of my butt as the most attractive part of my anatomy; it’s just your every day, run-of-the-mill small female butt. The reason I ask this is because it wasn't enough that I had gotten bitten by a stray dog, meaning I would have to get tetanus shots, rabies shots, and probably a series of antibiotics. No, his choice of bite zone meant that any kind of bandaging that had to be done would have to be completed with me mooning whatever kind soul was willing to swab my buttocks with disinfecting soap and slap some cotton on there. Thank goodness Kueron is stout of heart, or else she would have collapsed with laughter during her totally professional treatment of the war zone on my booty.

So after she had fixed me up, Liz and I went over to Yumi's and had our potluck, while Kueron went to her previously planned dinner. I figured I would just go to the emergency room the next day and submit to whatever pokings and proddings were necessary to keep me rabies-free. But Kueron, being awesome, offered to pick both of us up after dinner and take me to the hospital, which really made me feel a lot more secure about my non-frothing-at-the-mouth future.

When we got to the emergency room, there was a short wait and then we were all ushered into the doctor's chamber. Thankfully, she was both a woman and a professional, so she didn't burst out laughing when I told her what happened, despite the fact that Liz, Kueron, and I were all giggling a bit at this point (what a pain in the ass! cracked Liz while we were waiting in line, and we burst into peals of laughter). The doctor inspected Kueron's expert bandaging, and said that I could leave it like that until the next day. I was then shipped off to the pharmacy for my shots and medication. After I got a tetanus shot in one arm and my rabies shot in the other, I was sent home with a bag of antibiotics, some painkillers, and a wash to put on my wounded behind to keep it from getting infected, which is the biggest fear at this point.

Now let me just paint a picture for you. My legs are sore from the hike. My butt is sore from the bite. And now, both of my arms are sore from their respective shots. Oh, and I also have a zillion bug bites on one foot, and I have no idea where they came from. If I stand up for too long, my legs start to hurt…but if I sit down for too long, my behind starts to hurt. If I lie on my side for too long, my arms start to hurt. I am in quite the condition... but hurray, I have painkillers!

Na, in all honesty, it's not that bad. I'm sure I'll be right as rain in about two weeks or so, and I got a darn good story into the bargain! Once I'm done with my rabies treatment on September 16th, one month from now, this whole thing will be like a really bizarre, mildly painful, uproariously funny dream. And from this day forward, I will take a version of Teddy Roosevelt's advice and walk softly but carry a big stick. Or possibly a stun gun.

Love to everyone from Bhutan! I hope you're more successful at avoiding potential rabidity than I have been, and I miss all of you!

PS: I had a realization today... since I've been here, I've intentionally killed both a cockroach and a spider, which must have given me some seriously bad karma. Sigh... I should have known that would come back to bite me in the ass. Hahahahahaha...

I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Babies! (or more accurately, Baby!)

Hey hey hey!

It's been about a week, so I figured it's time for a post! This one is kind of graphic (not visually, just verbally) since I was able to view a birth last week and I really want to tell everyone in the whole world about it because it was so cool. If the idea of birth is just too gross for you, well, just consider this: you're either going to do it yourself or to someone else, so you might as well be prepared.

Righto, so I'd been trying to watch someone deliver for about four days. The nurses all loved having me there, because apparently as soon as a someone comes to observe, the birth rate slows dramatically. Normally, they have about three births every day. On my first day, no one gave birth. On my second day, I left to get some dinner and when I came back I had missed a birth by fifteen minutes. On my third day, again, not one woman was delivering or even looking like she was going to during the daytime (and I wasn't allowed to bunk up for the night, although at this point I really wanted to). The staff found this hilarious-- I was like the anti-birth or something. Anyway, on day four, someone went into early labor around 11 AM, which meant she would deliver around 4 PM. I showed up at 3:30 and she was right about to give birth.

One of the nurses (they call them "sister" or "brother" here, which I think is cute) showed me into the labor room. It's the only one that they have in the whole hospital, and it has five beds, all in the same room and separated by curtains. The woman giving birth was lying on the center bed, surrounded by two female relatives and two nurses, and she was panting like crazy. (I'm fairly certain the father was hiding in the waiting room, not wanting to see this). When I walked in, she was in between contractions, so she looked okay... but about two minutes later, after I had put on surgical gloves and positioned myself to get a sweet view, she was hit by one. The nurses started going "Push! Push!" in English and Dzongkha, and the woman was pushing as hard as she could, her face twisted with the pain and the effort. From all this energy, all you could see was the baby crowning. Now this sounds adorable (awww, crowns!) but really it isn't at all. The top of the baby's skull is showing, but it's all squished from the pressure of the contraction, so it looks like the back of a dinosaur-- a very red, wet dinosaur. When I saw that, I was like, there is no way this woman is giving birth to a person; not only is there not enough room in there, but all I can see is a small dinosaur back.

After her contraction the mother-to-be collapsed back, totally exhausted and looking like she wanted to hit the nurses who were telling her to push (you could practically hear her saying "What does it LOOK like I'm doing?"). As she was laying there, breathing hard, the head nurse turned to me and said, "You have epidurals in your country, right?" which makes me think this woman did not have access to that miracle of modern medicine-- and it certainly looked like she didn't. I just sort of nodded dumbly (giving birth without an epidural???) and shortly thereafter another contraction hit. Again, the woman looked like she was about to pass out, and the dinosaur back reemerged.

This happened about two or three times, and I was really doubting that a baby was ever going to come out, especially since all that could be seen was the dino back. The nurses were going "One more big push! One more!" which I figured must be false encouragement or something, when, during one big contraction, a whole head just popped out! My facial expressions must have been hilarious; one moment I'm watching this weird animal-looking thing with a confused expression, and the next my mouth is literally hanging open in amazement as I stare a baby's head, complete with a face and ears and a small amount of hair. It was a miracle. Now, I know this happens every day, blah blah blah, but seriously-- watch it sometime if you can. It's like magic; it looks like some weird alien thing, and then two seconds later, bam! it's recognizable as a baby. I wish I had words to describe it, but I really don't.

Anyway, after that the mother only had to push one more time and SCHLOOP-- out came the whole baby in a rush of fluid and blood. It was a perfect little human, with teeny feet and hands, and then it opened it's mouth and screamed like crazy. The nurses all oohed and ahhed, and the mother flopped back with a "Thank the Lord" expression on her face. The umbilical cord was really icky looking; it was the color and texture of those dead bodies they're always fishing out of the river on CSI. One of the nurses clamped it down and cut it. For a brief moment, before they whisked the baby off to the pediatric ward to be checked out and vaccinated, the nurses placed it on the mother's chest, but she barely reacted. In writing, that looks really messed up (who doesn't want to see their newborn?) but that lady had been through an ordeal, and she just wanted to rest, and I'm fairly certain anyone would have done the same thing.

And her ordeal wasn't over yet. In the movies, that's where it ends, but there's still a placenta hanging around in there, and that can get infected. The head nurse grabbed onto the end of the umbilical cord and started pulling, slowly and gently, and every once in while she would reach in and readjust. I was still staring, and as the nurse pulled, a big purple blob of blood and fleshy material popped out: the placenta. It was like a big water balloon, and in my opinion, was less disturbing than the umbilical cord.

At this point, I thought for sure this woman was finally off the pregnancy hook, but nature had one more messed-up trick up her sleeve. The head nurse called for a surgical needle and thread, and turned to tell me that there was a "bit of a tear." She administered a small amount of painkiller, and then started sewing. Throughout the entire birth, from dinosaur back to placenta removal, I hadn't been lightheaded at all. Now, the day before, I almost fainted when the doctor showed me a woman whose uterus was infected after having a C-section (the doctor poked her swollen belly--it looked like she was still pregnant, it was that big--and it jiggled like it was full of fluid, and I had to sit down). The same sensation came over me as I watched the doctor sew up the wound... I had to go to the corner and sit on a stool periodically, because I just couldn't handle it. So apparently, watching a fully-grown fetus claw its way out of a woman's belly doesn't bother me, but stitches and bloated uteruses do. Go figure.

Anywho, after she was sewn up and washed, the woman finally looked comfortable. Her baby was brought over to her, and she started breastfeeding, and all was idyllic and maternal once more. I really wanted to give her a high-five, since that whole process took super-human effort (there is no way women are the weaker sex, just no way) but since she had no idea who I was or why I was even there, I thought that might be awkward.

So, I learned that while birth is an awesome, amazing miracle, it is simultaneously an awful, painful experience, so consider both sides of the issue before you get knocked up.

Hopefully you're all having as much fun as I am, even if you aren't watching babies be born, and of course I'd love to hear from any and all of you if you have time!



Monday, August 3, 2009

Bhutanese Rock Shows and Epiphanies

Hey there loyal readers!

Sorry to keep you in suspense about whether or not I get to stay in Bhutan... but I bet you already figured out that I'm staying in Bhutan (thank goodness!). I learned some good life lessons, such as "not renewing your visa means you get fined for being an idiot" and "when you don't renew your visa, people laugh at you". But if the University of Chicago has taught me anything, it's that learning lessons is more important than life itself.

In other, less me-being-stupid news, I went to a Bhutanese rock show Saturday night (aaaand the title of the post makes sense-- half of it, anyway). It was a bunch of local bands raging for charity; they were raising money so a small-ish village could put it towards building a monastery. I never though ACDC lyrics would be used to finance the building of a monastery, but it totally worked out. As usual with this kind of thing, some of the bands were a bit lacking, and some of them were absolutely awesome. One of my friends, who goes by Supe and lives right below me with his sister Tashi (who is a babe!), was the lead singer of his band, and as a totally unbiased party, he was great. Actually, in all honesty, his whole band was really good. Tashi and I sat up front-ish (the venue was a bar without much of a stage, so people were just crowding around) right behind the sound guy, so we got to see everything, including all the sweat and spit... but really, what's a rock show without sweat and spit?

Of course (feminist pants ON) I wish there had been more female musicians, especially since the next day, when I was hanging out at a cafe right across from the bar where the show had been, a friend of a friend (who is now a friend, according to the cool Bhutanese rule of "everyone be friends") busted out her guitar and sang for us. She was fantastic; like a Feist/Sarah McLaughlin combo. All this talent lurking in the mountain kingdom of Bhutan, and we never knew...

Okay, and now for the epiphany part of the title: my commitment to being a doctor is intensifying. Like for reals. Yes, I know, I did all the pre-med stuff except for Biochemistry (boo) and that probably looked a lot like commitment (especially the Organic Chemistry part) but even for all that I always hedged my bets. I always told people that I was keeping my options open, trying it out, exploring careers, yadda yadda yadda. But being here has really cemented my resolve-- kind of weirdly, actually. I mean, the doctors are all overworked, and by the end of the day they seem so harried and tired... but that just makes me wish I was a doctor RIGHT NOW so I could do something about it. That's the thing; the more people I see and the more I learn about the process of diagnosing and doctoring, and the more people that leave with a little less discomfort than they came with, the more I think to myself: I want that. I want this to be what I do. It just looks so darn fulfilling, you know? So look out world--I'm on my way, and I've got a scalpel.

Missing and loving all of you! Hopefully you too are finding your metaphorical scalpels, and if you haven't, you will.



Thursday, July 30, 2009

Look at this! This is the type of vicious creature that attacked me.

Short post, but these pictures take FOREVER to upload. More later!



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Facing deportation... again!

Hi everybody!

You know how they say that every day, you get a little bit more like your parents? Well, just yesterday, I was shining example of the truth of that statement.

For those of you who don't remember (or maybe haven't heard) a few years ago (I am so old, oh my gosh) my mom and I went on an awesome trip around the world for the sake of food. On that trip, we meant to go to Brazil, to eat at a place called Marius (which, for the record, is insanely delicious). My mom, being the renegade, devil-may-care kind of lady that she is, didn't realize that we needed a visa to get into Brazil. When we arrived at the immigration desk, sans visa, the officer was a bit put out; our passports were taken away from us and we were detained in Brazil, with the authorities threatening to send us right back home. Luckily, thanks to the fast talking of a United worker, we were just shipped off to our next destination. No harm, no foul, right?

So yesterday, I went with the family of a doctor friend of mine to the Royal Botanical Garden, and we had to pass an immigration check-point. No worries-- I had my visa, which extends until September 3rd, my passport, and a letter from the Secretary of the Ministry of Health. Once we reached the check-point, my doctor friend (his name is Ratna) parked the car, got out, and went over to a little building on the side of the road with all the above-mentioned paraphernalia. After about five minutes, he walks back over to the car with a concerned look on his face, and says I have to go talk to the guy. (Wait, what?) So I walk over, and the guy looks at me and, waving my passport in my face, tells me that my visa expired a week ago. (Wait, what?!) He then goes on to inform me that I have to go to the immigration office on Monday, but that there's no telling what they'll do-- they might fine me, or detain me, or even deport me. (Whoa whoa whoa, WHAT?) I'm desperately trying to explain to him that I thought it was all taken care of by the Health Ministry, and that I'm a little confused, since the paper I have says I'm legal until September 3rd, and unless something has gone very wrong somewhere, I'm pretty sure it's still only July. Mr. Immigration Official then starts telling me that when he wants medicine, he'll go to a doctor, but for immigration things, I should go to the immigration people. Right.

This goes on for awhile, until Mr. Immigration Official's buddy, who is also in the little building, takes a moment to look at my actual visa, and points out to Mr. Immigration Official that it does in fact say I'm allowed to stay until September 3rd. It turns out that Mr. Immigration Official was looking at the stamp in my passport, which, in his defense, did expire a week ago. Apparently, however, this little stamp is really, really important (why? I have no idea... but it's not like US immigration policy makes any sense either, so I'm not really willing to start pointing fingers) so I still have to go to the immigration office on Monday and plead my case. This will consist largely of me explaining that while the woman at the airport told me to renew the little stamp guy, the folks at the Ministry told me it was all good, and since I'm lazy, I believed the Ministry people. My bad.

Once this all becomes clear to Mr. Immigration Official, he starts laughing at me! Seriously, he's chuckling his head off, and repeating all the stuff about my getting fined and whatnot, and then goes on to let me know it was good that I had the paper visa with me, or else he would have had to detain me there. Then he wants to know why I didn't listen to the lady at immigration, to which I really have no good answer (I'll admit that was stupid) and when I say as much, he starts laughing more! At this point though, I have to admit it is kind of funny--I mean, it's like something out of an episode of "I Love Lucy" (I'm Lucy, while Mr. Immigration Official is clearly Ricky)-- and so we all started laughing at my dumbness, including Ratna. Which, now that I'm writing about it, makes me feel dumber, if that's possible, but whatever. I mean, at least I'm not in jail... yet. I still have to go to the office tomorrow. Ah... Mom, I hope I did you proud.

Well, after our hearty laugh at me, Mr. Immigration Official (who wasn't so bad, actually) let us all go on ahead to our picnic in the Royal Botanical Garden. It was so fun; one of Ratna's friends and his family came along, so it was like a big family get-together, plus, you know... me. Ratna is from Southern Bhutan, so he and his family speak Nepali to each other. His mother is this older Nepali lady, with a nose-piercing and some seriously intricate earrings. She is ADORABLE, and speaks no English, so our conversations, if you could call them that, are entirely in gestures. Ratna's wife is also from the South; she's a teacher, speaks great English, and is completely bodacious, so we totally jived. Since the two of them got married when Ratna was 20 and she was 19, they are now in their 40's with kids around my age. Their daughter, who is in class 12 (the equivalent of a senior in high school) was there, so we hung out and played some badminton, and they have one more son who is away at school. All in all, it was a really fun day, even taking into account my brush with the law.

Whew... that is a long, emotionally trying post. I'll let you all know how it goes with the immigration folks tomorrow; fingers crossed for another good laugh at my expense! It's better than the alternatives.

As always, loving and missing each and every one of you! Keep it real wherever you are, and if you get some time, drop me a note!



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Further Adventures

See, I AM getting better at this blogging thingy.

I'm currently sitting in a cafe in Thimpu, which is at this point my favorite for two important reasons: 1) I can find it and 2) it has free wireless! It's about a million degrees outside (this might be an exaggeration, but it certainly doesn't feel like one) so I'm cowering inside, trying to psych myself up for the trek back to my apartment. Ooh-- but fun update for those who know about my total lack of directionality: I'm developing the ability to know where I am! Thimpu is ideal for this because there are two directions, up and down. So I can generally figure out that wherever I'm trying to go is down and to the left, or up and to the right, or whatever. It's all very exciting, and I'm thinking my next step is learning to tell my right from my left... but that's a high aspiration.

Okay, so storytime:

The other night, I was walking over to a friend's apartment for dinner. It was about 7:30, so it was pretty dark (it gets dark early here... maybe it has something to do with the mountains, or the altitude, or something) but I wasn't too worried, since Thimpu is pretty safe. I mean, Hyde Park has way more muggers and stuff. But one thing that Hyde Park does not have many of, and that Thimpu has a lot of, and that I completely forgot about, are stray dogs. LOTS of stray dogs. In the daytime, these dogs lounge around in the shade, looking completely benign and adorable. They'll come up to you, tails wagging, eyes begging for food.

But at night, the dogs wake up.

So I'm walking along, minding my own business. To get to the main road from my place, I walk up a street that curves a bit. I could hear some snuffling and other doggie noises, but since all my previous experiences with the dogs had been so relaxed, I didn't really think anything of it-- until I rounded the curve, and all the dogs that had been nosing around in the garbage dump for food suddenly looked up and RAN at me, all at once, barking like crazy. They come hurtling out of the darkness at me, and I swear I can see their fangs glistening, and my horribly mangled arm is clearly pictured in my mind... and then they run right past me, towards a gated driveway where there's one dog, presumably a pet, yapping away at this pack of gigantic wolves. After my initial moment of frozen terror, once I realized the dogs really didn't care about me at all, since I was neither canine nor edible, I just kept walking. But I was still really freaked out.

In the morning, when I left for the hospital, there were only six small-ish dogs sleeping in the sun. One was a puppy. I still can't figure out where the renegade band of three hundred enormous slathering fiends went, but I'm sure they're around somewhere.

I'll keep this brief, since I've been here for a while and all I've ordered is a strawberry smoothie, and the guy behind the counter is giving me the "are you going to buy something?" look. But again, missing all of you! Loves and suchlike.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

Late Update

Well, I've been terrible about keeping this blog updated... although I guess the guilt associated with that is based on the assumption that people actually read this, which may or may not be true. Either way, my bad, potential readers!

Okay, so, onto the good stuff.

I've been going to the Thimpu hospital for the past couple of weeks, which has been interesting, inspiring, and sad all at once. The hospital is very crowded, and people have to wait for quite a while to see a doctor. The way it works is there is a front admissions area where people get a ticket with a number. Then they stand in line to see a general practioner, who will treat their ailment if they can. If not, the doctor sends them along to a specialist, where the patient waits in line again. It's a decent system, and usually everyone does get to a see a doctor (the doctors I've observed will stay a little late if necessary) but it's hard to watch all these people milling about, sometimes in pain, waiting to see someone for about five minutes.

On the good side, the doctors that I've seen are all really compassionate and professional. Sometimes towards the end of the day, on patient 79 or whatever (doctors see anywhere from 80 to 100 patients in a day) they can get a little cranky, but generally they're really nice. I think the conditions and the pay sort of weed out the type of doctors who just want to get in, get out, and get paid, which is certainly a plus. On top of that, since they do see so many different illnesses, the doctors here are hard to stump. Finally, everything is free-- almost all medicines, all the tests, the doctor visits, inpatient care, delivery... yeah, everything, and that is great.

So yeah, it's been fun and challenging, even though I'm just sitting and watching, and talking to everyone as much as possible. However, my non-medical student status has gotten me into a couple of fun situations. It's pretty rare for someone to just come and do research, so people just assume that I am in fact in medical school. On my first day with the general practitioner, the administrative official who explained to the doctor who I was told him that I was a medical student. I was totally unaware of this, since the whole conversation as conducted in Dzongkha (the national language) so I sat down with my notebook in hand, ready to lurk in the corner and observe. The doctor, however, had other ideas, and waved me over to his desk where he was examining patients. He then indicates to the guy who is poking his head in through the examination room door (people are really anxious to make sure they get to see the doctor, so they tend to open the door and peek in) that he can come in and sit down. The patient does so, and then the doctor and the nurse give his paperwork to me and look at me with these expectant smiles. I, of course, am completely baffled, so I just sort of smile blankly back. This went on for about five hundred years (or that's what it felt like) and then the doctor says, "Go ahead-- you can see him now. I'll check when you're done to make sure you were right,"and the light dawns. So then I had to explain that I was just a student in college, not medical school, and so perhaps me examining patients was a poor choice- -to which the doctor agreed. He did teach me how to take someone's blood pressure though, so all in all, it wasn't too awkward. Then, in true Bhutanese style (he was a native doctor) he invited me back to his house to eat lunch with his family, which was really great.

Well, speaking of the hospital, I should probably go there now and hang around. More pictures are forthcoming, I promise! And again, I miss all your lovely faces.



Sunday, July 5, 2009


I've been in Bhutan for about two days now, and I have to say-- I definitely dig it.

First off, let me just explain the title of this post. The people of Bhutan are absurdly beautiful, in my opinion. They have these delicate features and sort of dusky skin, and it seems like every single one of them is slim and graceful. I have so many girl-crushes, it's out of control. Even with all that, it seems like every time I'm introduced to anyone, beautiful or not, I end up jabbering on about Jake-- which come to think of it, is something I do all the time anyway. But still, aesthetically speaking-- wow.

Yesterday my parents and I just wandered around the town. Thimpu would be pretty unremarkable, were it not for the fact that it's nestled in a valley surrounded by these huge hill/mountains that are covered in evergreens. It's 360 degrees of beautiful, and when you take the people into account, look out! The buildings all have the trappings of traditional Bhutanese style (by law, actually) and there are people and stray dogs all over the place.

The people here, aside from being stunning, are also super super hospitable. Our guide, whose name is Sonam, and our driver, whose name is Ugyen, look physically uncomfortable if we try to do anything for ourselves--order something, buy something, carry something, anything. I actually started making a game of trying to beat them to my backpack before they could snatch it up and refuse to give it back. At first I thought this was just part of the hotel's schtick, and they were required to act that way, but then this morning we went to a house consecration.

After a Bhutanese person builds a house, it has to be consecrated. This is after the foundation has been blessed, and yet another blessing must be made on the house before the roof has been put on (it seems like there's a lot of consecrating going on in Bhutan). Anyway, we drive up to this house, a three-story structure made of wood, with beautifully painted window frames and covered with colorful flags. There was a tent out front with people singing and dancing, and chairs for people to watch the show. Inside the house was just as colorful, with prayer flags and all kinds of adornments. As soon as we stepped onto the property, the nephew of the man who had built the house rushed up and thanked us for coming, and accepted our gift of a six-pack (which is part of the tradition, apparently). He then insisted on seeing us into the tent where the dancers were performing and brought us food and something to drink. My mom almost refused it (you know my mom-- she's picky :) ) but Sonam gave us one of those meaningful eyebrow lifts that people give you before you're about to make a huge faux pas, and we all accepted. Sonam explained that it's considered pretty rude to refuse the offer.

The rest of the people there were just as nice and accommodating, and seemed to enjoy practicing their English on us while pressing even more drinks into our hands. That would have been okay, except for the fact that they were mostly alcoholic drinks (which explains the beer thing, actually), and I really didn't want to be the drunk American at the house consecration, you know? So I had to start refusing, which Sonam said was okay since I had already accepted a good amount.

The house consecration was amazing-- there really is no other word. There's a room in every Bhutanese house (I think it's in every house) that is dedicated to a shrine for Buddha. In this room were about eight monks, chanting in Sanskrit and playing instruments. There were two monks playing two huge horns; they would blow in unison for about thirty seconds, take a breath, and then keep going. I was honestly surprised they didn't pass out. These two guys were accompanied by a man with cymbals and three other men playing instruments that looked like flutes. There were a few monks in there not playing instruments (they were just helping with the chanting, I guess) and one of them who looked about my age busted out a cell phone from his robe and started texting. My mom saw him and pointed him out to me, but when he saw us looking he got all sheepish and put it away.

Amidst all this chanting and horn blowing and whatnot, two men in masks at the center of the room were dancing around with bundles of grass, the ends of which were on fire. Every so often, they would throw dust (apparently gathered from rotting pine trees) onto the flames, causing the fire to burst up in the same way as when you spray a lighter flame with hairspray. The men in masks then went from room to room, blowing the flames around in the wooden house. My dad and I were nervous; my mom LOVED it. The masked men would also blow the flames at people, people like ME-- but they were good enough at it that nothing (including myself) caught on fire. The flames are supposed to purify and cleanse the house of all the evil spirits, and if they get blown at you, then you're purified and cleansed as well. So I think they were trying to be nice, since it's considered a good thing to have the flames of a blazing sheaf of grass purposefully directed towards your flammable person. But it was so much fun, and like I said, the people were incredibly hospitable.

Okay wow, this turned into a total novella-- but frankly, there's not that much to do at night in Thimpu. I'll try and get some pictures up, especially of my SWEET pad, which has three bedrooms and two porches and is basically super-swank.

I miss all of you, and am very touched if you've read through all this blather up to this point. Keep it real stateside, and I'll try not to catch on fire over here.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Pursuit Begins

Hey everyone!

So tomorrow ( in approximately 9 hours) my plane for Bhutan will take off... and with any luck, I'll be on it! I am SO SO SO excited and, truth be told, a little bit scared. What with the language barrier, the uncertainty, and the whole monsoon season thing, the nerves are a bit a-jangle.

But hey, then I remind myself that this is a SWEET opportunity, and that the whole point is to hang out in an amazing, original place, to broaden my horizons and to gather a teensy bit of primary material for my BA. Really, how simple and awesome is that? Pretty simple and awesome, I'd say.

So, partly in an effort to be hilarious and partly in an effort to remind myself what the heck this whole adventure is for, I have named my nascent travel blog "The Pursuit of (Gross National) Happyness."


Oh whatever, you all love it just as much as I do.

Anyways, this was just a taste of the linguistic brilliance that awaits, so check back in whenever the mood strikes you. I'll have access to email, although it will be somewhat sketchy, so holla at me when/if you can, because I would love to hear from all of you about your lovely selves! So do it.