Rhadi is really a very pleasant place to be. Situated on one side of the valley, it offers wonderful views on the villages and paddy fields on the other side. The Rhadi people are mostly farmers, growing rice and maize, and their houses are scattered widely, surrounded by fields, orange trees and kitchen gardens, in which cows and ponies roam around lazily, trying to eat the vegetables until – ssshhhttt – they are being chased away.
The park office is currently placed in such a house, as its headquarters are still under construction. The little thermometer in the Pema’s office never shows more than 13 or 14 degrees, but outside the sun is shining every day and the sky could not be brighter. Therefore, I usually move my own office outside, which means that I place myself in the garden, working with my little laptop on my knees, writing reports and – after having been through a couple of meetings – a first draft outline about the ecotourism strategy, which I discuss with Pema.
I can’t imagine a more peaceful and quiet place.
The most outstanding events are a calf galloping by, Pema’s little son visiting me from time to time to browse through the pictures of several reports that I am reading, and once, I am showered unexpectedly with Sangey’s – the financial officer’s – tea, which he throws out of the window without looking, and we both end up laughing a good deal.
The sun is shining as there had never been any cloud, but I know that in summer it is raining heavily and on my journey to Rhadi I have seen the frightening signs of the huge flood, which had destroyed great parts of the valley last year.
Due to deforesting and overgrazing in the highlands and excessive paddy cultivation in the lower parts, the water had rushed down the mountains with all its might and killed many people and carried away houses and fields as well as the street, so that the valley was blocked for almost a month.
Pema tells me that before this terrible event took place, he had written a report about the threatening possibility of landslides in the valley, but it must have been lost somewhere in the jungle of Bhutanese hierarchy and ended up in some disregarded drawer. This doesn’t surprise me, as all over the world disregarded drawers are the most likeable resting places for these gloomy kinds of reports.
The local people’s explanation I heard for the flood is that Ama Jomo – a powerful local deity, which is in charge of the weather – had being crying extensively because the Rhadi people had in our days ceased to perform a traditional religious ceremony for her.
I am quite sure that there must have been some religious follow-ups on this; however, the park was following up by supplying many bamboo trees to the sliding areas. But the afforestation, being extremely costly, is still insufficient up to the present day.
The first noise I hear every morning is a monotonous double tapping – tocktock! – which is being repeated every ten seconds. I soon find out that the source of this curious noise are the weaving women. They are famous for their handmade fabrics, out of which they produce kiras and ghos, the traditional Bhutanese dresses for women and men. Soon I become as used to the sound during day time as to the barking of the stray dogs at night time.
A little more time I need to accustom myself to the rats, which are so noisy at night that I quite have the impression, they must be eating up the wall with the yellow ducks. I keep on throwing my shoes into the direction of the disturbance, but they are not impressed at all. Even though I become used to hanging up all my food up to the ceiling, they always find some little crumbs and one morning I realize that my soap has lost much of its weight during the last night.
There are other things to get accustomed to.
For example, the washing of clothes in the fountain outside or the heating of water in the evening to wash myself, or the angry hissing of the pressure cookers, which I first thought to be a sort of life-threatening explosion.
But what is striking me most is the experience of rareness of goods, which I have never experienced in the same way before.
Even though I have money, there are no vegetables in the shops to buy, even though I have a tap in my apartment, there is most of the time no water coming out of it.
So I become used to asking around for vegetables among the owners of the kitchen gardens and to store water in big buckets. And the most curious thing to me is that I realize that I rather like it. This might be the case, because I do not feel any real shortage of anything as everybody is pampering me too much for that, but I do feel that things are becoming precious.
Every cabbage, every potato - not to mention such an exquisite thing like an apple – is giving me more joy than I could have ever imagined it before, as I would never have bothered about such common things as cabbages, potatoes or apples in Switzerland.
And not only food is becoming valuable, I pick up the custom to store every plastic bag, every piece of string, which I get into my hands, because I know, there is no replacement ready available, once I throw it. And anyway I have no idea, where to throw it, because there is no such thing as a rubbish-pick-up system in Rhadi. Every thrown food item is immediately gulped away by the stray dogs and the remaining rubbish – little it is, as most things can be reused in one or another way – people usually burn.
Did I really have to travel all the way to Bhutan to learn about the real value of an apple and a plastic bag and to learn what rubbish reduction really means? Did I have to sit in an airplane for more than 15 hours to realize, how careless and ignorant we are wasting food, goods and water, just because we have never experienced any shortage of it? And did I have to ride hours and hours on a bumpy road to shake the persuasion out of my head that every product must have a wrapping and a plastic bag around it, otherwise is will be impossible to bring it home safely?
On one of the first evenings I decide to take a walk around the village and very soon I meet three young women, carrying their babies on their backs while some toddlers are trying to hide between their legs, which produces a great deal of stumbling and laughing. “Kuzuzampo!”.
I greet them and cheerfully giggling they greet me in return. They invite me to accompany them on their evening walk and so we move slowly up the hill, while chatting. I learn that their husbands are all part of the park staff, and one of them, Dechen, who speaks English very well, turns out to be the wife of Kezang, the friendly, good-natured Senior Park Ranger, who I share the office with. Dechen invites me into her house for tea and I come to know her four lively children. Yangkee, the oldest one, is ten and the baby-girl, who she is nursing on her lap is hardly one year old. Looking at Dechen’s very pretty and very young face I assume that she must have been quite a baby herself, when she had her first daughter, which is nothing unusual in Bhutan.
Kezang comes home and they invite me for dinner and we spend a very joyful evening. They ask me to come back the next evening, to come every evening and soon I spend most my evenings in their house and enjoying their company as much as ever. I am feeling so grateful towards them, as they make my life so much more pleasant and easy, and well knowing that they would never accept any money, I bring little gifts from time to time, a bottle of beer or a kilogram of cabbage for instance, but still I feel very much that I can never quite compensate for what they are giving to me.
Yangkee soon develops a special liking for me and I do for her, as she is a very amiable, bright little girl. She picked up English in school very well and is soon teaching me the Sharshopa language with great earnest, only interrupting our little lessons with questions like:
“Is anybody counting the stars in the sky?”,
“Is Zurich bigger than Bhutan?”,
“Once I am big, are you going to be old then?”,
“How did the planets come to the sun?”.
“Would you like to fly to the stars?”.
When she is asking me a question like this, I would very much like to give her a hug and a kiss, but as it is not the custom to do so in Bhutan, I try to answer as well as I can instead.
But not only Kezang and Dechen are looking after me, also Saran and his wife Deki invite me frequently, whenever their small daughter gives them time to do so. She recently has entered the age of the destructive mood and - with innocent pleasure - is knocking down whatever she can reach and has the habit of spreading her lunch all over the apartment, which will drive her mother crazy, but reduces none of her cuteness.
Actually everybody is offering help to me and wherever I go, I will see a smile and people will share a few words with me, in English, if they can or otherwise I will try to make use of my very humble few Sharchopa words.
I never expected it to be like this and I know very well that I will miss them all very much, once I will have to say goodbye to them.
Today Pema and I are planning to drive down to Tashigang, because he has arranged a couple of official meetings. I haven’t brought any suit from Switzerland, but in Thimphu I’ve bought a kira, the national Bhutanese dress for women. As the procedure of putting it on is very complicated – I can never quite get rid of the thought that it must be somehow related to the Japanese origami paper-folding art: I fold and fold, but it always turns out wrong – I run to Dechen’s home for help. The kira is big piece of woven cloth, which has to be draped around the body in a most artful manner. So I feel quite like a exquisite birthday present, when Dechen wraps me up with the watchful eyes and perfect concentration of an expert, spotting every unnecessary wrinkle and eliminating it without mercy, while giving short and sharp commands to her daughters: “Hold there! Take this! Fold now!”. Then she ties a woven belt around my waist and pulls it so tight that I get a lively impression of the suffering of the corseted women in the European 18th century. “You don’t want your kira to fall down in front of the all the gentlemen in the Dzong, do you!” says Dechen. I hurry up to tell her that I do not have particular interest in becoming the joke of the nation and tell myself that it is still much better to faint due to breathing difficulties than to walk through the Dzong in underwear. A blouse and a short jacket complete the outfit and Dechen looks at her work with a satisfied expression.