life briefing– meet my roommates

I have two roommates, Tashi (my age), and Karma (a little older). Karma is married and has two sons. He’s worked in the government sector for about 8 years before being sent to study. After school, he will return to work for the government. There are many like him, “in-service” students, that are sent here to get an education before continuing their career in gov’t. Being a well-fare socialist state, the better jobs in Bhutan are considered to be in gov’t. They provide job security and good pay, while work in the private sector is a little more sketchy and not as prevalent.

Karma sleeps by the window in our room, and during the week sets the alarm to 4:50. Usually he doesn’t wake up… so I spend a couple minutes shouting “karma! karma!” and occasionally flicking the light on because it’s right by my bed. I doze in and out of sleep… one moment I see karma leaving the room for the bathroom and I dip back into sleep. The next moment the blinds open and light is spilling into the room; karma is crossed legged on his bed, chanting Buddhist prayers from a small prayer book, to the Deity of Wisdom, Jamyang. He has turned his desk into a little shrine, with pictures of His Majesty the King and prominent religious figures. Karma is a pious man with a very warm heart. Despite our inability to communicate well and his tendency to wake me up early, I admire him very much. Perhaps he reminds me of the piety I have grown to look up to. He spends much of his time studying and re-writting his lessons, as well as playing the popular traditional sports of Bhutan, archery and darts. And when it comes to these sports the Bhutanese are no amateurs.

There are two types of archery. One with a traditional bow made from a strong wood, and the second (more modern) complex bow, with the target 145m away from the archer. Archery is very popular among government officials, and any man worth his title is known for exceptional archery abilities. Standing shoulder with apart, the archers slowly train the arrow toward the distant target (with is no more than a speck). Their motions are slow and controlled, their faces serene and calm. This is a form of meditation and mindfulness practice, and the best archers are those that are most serene. When an arrow strikes the target, the other team cheers and performs an incredible dance, chanting metaphors to praise the archer and his success. Karma promised to teach me traditional archery. We’ll have to see how that goes. I know very little about darts, except that they are nothing like the popular darts found in sports bars. The targets are probably around 50-60m away, and the darts themselves are about 10 inches in length with a thick wooden body.

My other roommate, Tashi, is nothing like Karma. While Karma wakes early to start the day, Tashi can sleep through anything! And that’s impressive considering how difficult it is to sleep in here. The culture of Bhutan is very interesting in this respect. It is not considered rude to talk loudly or have friends (shouting and yelling) in the room while someone is still asleep. People go in and out, answer the phones and talk loudly, open the blinds, leave the lights on and door open, and play music very early in the morning. They do this and its not considered rude! And surprisingly, I don’t find it rude that they do this. Probably because there isn’t a negative stigma attached to it. This of course means that I can come in late at night, turn on the lights, make noise before going to sleep and it would be considered %100 ok. So there are highs and lows to it.

Anyhow, Tashi is more like the other students here. Interested in girls, going out to town, drinking (but not like us American students) and having a good time. I haven’t yet been able to spend much time with my roommates because us Wheaton students have been so busy. I’ll write another post about that to catch you up. Tashi (and Karma) are studying economics and business. Since I have some background in economics I’m actually able to help out a little. They are currently studying globalization and the effect on domestic/international economics.

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