“Gang violence?” I said, after overhearing Sonam (aka, anonymous) speaking to his friends. We were sitting comfortably around a low table in the attic of a restaurant. Gusts of chilled air came rushing through an unclosable window. In my hands I was caressing a warm cup of tea to stave off the cold.

Sonam looked at me. “That’s dumb!” He laughs. “What could they possibly be fighting for? Drugs? Money? Territory?” I’m reminded of my naïvity. “Ego, you know,” he explains. “Someone looks at someone wrong, or at a girlfriend, and that’s it.” My friend places his hands about a foot and a half apart, “they carry machete this long,” he continues and I look away. Though I will always be a proponent of (absolute!) gender equality, I wonder whether boys just need to find reasons to fight.

It’s not the first time I hear of gang violence in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, but I still find myself frustrated, even shocked. Everyone I’ve met has been so friendly, that it’s difficult to imagine prevalent gang violence. Several of my friends were involved in gangs and became accustomed to carrying machetes concealed under thin hoodies. Always ready for action.

Gang violence has decreased a lot, they say. I find their words reasonable. Every city has problems, but I have not felt threatened in Thimphu. Another friend, Sonam II, tells me that the police have cracked down hard on gang interactions, patrolling the streets and ready to rush dance clubs at any sign of trouble. Only then did I realize that I have seen many police men walking the streets at night. I suppose that, since I grew up seeing military personnel everywhere, it just didn’t strike me as odd.

Ironic, isn’t it, how in the land of Shangri-la, police men are needed to patrol the streets? More ironies emerge: that to travel to another part of the country, one must first get authorization and a “travel permit” to do so; that people are submissive to authority, hardly questioning the status quo; that there is one version of history, accepted and recited by the Bhutanese?

A member of the opposition party spoke to our group. He told us that the opposition party was born out of a need to have an opposition in the elections. “What are your opposing views?” we ask, but there aren’t many. “Do you try to find opposing views and represent them?” we ask. “No, we don’t oppose for the sake of opposing.” I paused, thinking… An opposition party that was born out a need to oppose, but not for the sake of opposing…

I don’t know what this means but can’t help but speculate. Maybe the government is trying to teach its people standard bureaucratic skills. Maybe they are trying to preserve order while guiding the country’s development. Maybe there is no need for dissent. Perhaps I’m making the classical error by postulating one thing and finding only that evidence which supports me… Or maybe there’s something else going on.

Either way, look at this little nun. Isn’t she so cute? 

I don’t say this to distract you. I constantly need to remind myself that life is filled with good and bad things. We have questions and search for answers, but sometimes what we find isn’t too beautiful or easy to digest. But regardless, we need to stop and enjoy what we know to be beautiful. Like this nun. Peace!


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