Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A marriage is everything in a woman’s life

Dechen Zangmo is a Politics, Philosophy & Economics Major undergraduate student at the Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh. It’s quite inspiring to know that Dechen (along with her six college friends) had spent her entire last summer break in Merak, Trashigang. They visited this remotest place to do their two-month long Summer Project on Understanding Teenage Pregnancy in Merak. They have conducted an extensive survey visiting and interviewing women and collecting information. And their findings shocked them.
The natives were unaware of the importance of education and health and hygiene, and were also ill-equipped to deal with different complications during the time of pregnancy and delivery. Teenagers need lots of positive re-enforcement in order to develop their self-esteem. 
That’s why Dechen and her friends taught at Merak Primary School for one month, raised awareness on family planning, menstruation, contraceptives and cleanliness, and dietary tips for pregnant women. 
One such finding (prepared by Dechen Zangmo), a story of a 65 year-old woman, I’ve post here. If you care about women (who are suffering in sullen silence) and empathize about their problems, you must read this finding.
When going around the community surveying and interviewing different women and girls, I reached a construction place.  There, I spotted an old man breaking a piece of rock. And nearby him was a woman almost the same age of this man. A lad sprinted out from a makeshift hut next to the construction site with an empty bucket to fetch water. I went closer to this woman and greeted her with a smile. This family was living at this makeshift hut as their house was, then, under construction. Surprisingly, this old woman, 65, was so agreeable and welcoming. She spoke so frank that she shared everything unlike other women who tend to hide and give us the wrong information. Below are her answers to my interview questions.

"I was the only child to my parents. I wish my mother had given birth to a few more siblings, so that at least I could to go to school. Always, I had a big dream of becoming important person in life so that people would recognize me. But my life never progressed the way I had fervently wished for. In fact, it took me into an unexpected different turn. 
When I was only 10, my father passed away. After that life had become a struggle and painful for my mother as she had to handle everything by herself. In 1961, when I was 14, my mother insisted and influenced marrying a man because she needed someone to herd the cattle. I couldn’t reject this decision of my mother. It was very painful to see my single mother struggling everyday. We were only two, me and my mother. And without a male member in our family, we had to fight against the poverty all time. We were very poor without the decent three meals a day. Every time, it was the same as every harvest would always leave us with inadequate foods. Everything about our life was a struggle. There was no sunshine in our life, and we never knew what happiness in life is.  
Eventually, I had accepted to my mother’s decision to marry at early age. However, the marriage denied me my hopes and shattered all my dreams. My husband wasn’t what had I expected him to be. He was three times older than me. My mother’s intention to relief herself from all those suffering after my marriage had bizarrely turned out to be even worse for her. After the marriage, as our culture would have, I stayed with my husband rather than staying with my widow mother and helping her. 
At my in-law’s house, I had to carryout all chores-both household and field works. However, I was lucky that my husband was very supportive and caring. He would help me in my chores and sometimes send me home to meet my mother. But my in-law parents were very authoritative and commanding. Even after the marriage, I was considered a minor. I was not allowed to speak unless necessary. Even, I could never raise my head at them. Again, even after the marriage, it’s the same. My husband’s family, too, was poor. The poverty seemed to never end in my life. 
Those days, there wasn’t any BHUs or hospitals in our community. I never heard of any birth control contraceptives. My mother, my in-laws and my husband were unaware of the consequences of early marriage and teen pregnancy. In total, I gave birth to 12 children. 
My first pregnancy was a sheer accident. I even didn’t know that I had conceived because there was no BHU where I could go for checkups. Also, I didn’t’ know about the due dates. 
That’s why I gave birth to my first child while I was on the way to my pastureland. It was raining hard, and my husband was with me. I was suddenly attacked with an unusual pain in my lower abdomen, and I was unsure how to deal with the situation. I fell off on the muddy ground. My husband immediately covered me with a plastic sheet that he used to protect himself from rain. The pain was unbearable, and still I can’t say precisely what the pain is. I could hardly breathe. 
After the pain, I started experiencing vaginal bleeding. Nothing did stop me from bleeding. In a while, I was totally drenched in blood, and of course in rain and mud. Even my husband could do nothing to reduce my bleeding and pain. There was no other escapism. We didn’t know that we have to refer hospitals. 
After a few hours, I felt way worse pain and pressure in my vagina and that is when I realized that my baby was coming out. In a sheer terror of pain, I screamed and tried hard to push out the baby. But halfway, the baby got stuck. Then, my husband pulled off my skirt, spread wide my bloodied legs and he started pulling out the baby. That’s when I became complete unconscious. 
I regained my consciousness only when my newborn daughter gave a sharp cry. I was still lying on the muddy ground. I saw my husband taking off his jacket and covering with it our baby girl. In fact, seeing this baby of my own brought me an enormous light of joy and happiness. I looked at her adoringly as her father held her in his arms. By looking in her eyes, I saw the paradise and unconditional love. Lying down right next to her, I wanted so much to give her the life that I had always dreamed of. I wanted to send her to school so that she can grow up be a good person, a free person, and an important person. 
The brutal truth is that I wasn’t relieved from pain even after giving the birth. A clump of flesh kept hanging down between my legs. It was placenta coming out after 5-6 hours of pain. Hours seemed like ages to me. And the pain was getting worst and it was unusually scary. 
The nearest place that I could seek for shelter and nursing was our cowshed, about a couple of hours walk from the place where I gave birth to my daughter. And I walked to this cowshed, my body still paining and bleeding. Even during such time, we did not have good foods to eat and warm clothes. My husband had prepared porridge and made me to drink it. After that I gave birth to two other children. 
My life seemed like a string of accidents, one suffering begetting another. After this, another disaster knocked me off. My husband passed away, quite unexpectedly. I had become a widow at very early age. And it had cut me like a knife when he walked out of my life. How can my kids grow up without their father? I felt hopeless and handicapped. 
Despite all this miseries, I had always tried hard to be positive and aspire for things to happen in my life, but every time, it was all struggles and pain. It’s like a bullet on my heart. Nothing did change my life and mend my broken heart. Every time, I would be staring out into those dark nights only trying to hide my pain. 
Hoping a better future for my children, I married again. I was 17, then. But this second marriage brought way worse misery to me and my children. My second husband was an alcoholic. I gave birth to nine more children from him. We had never experienced harmony in our family as always our day would begin and end with incessant quarrels and fights. But he never changed his habit of drinking, not even for the sake of his children. Tears never stopped filling my eyes. My second husband never quit drinking. Poverty never left us. I always had a very difficult time with my 12 children. I would hide my tears even when I hear and see my children crying out of hunger and cold. Our main source of income was from cattle. But we had a few of cattle. 
Today, we don’t keep cattle. We depend on construction works for our livelihood. The income now is much better as some of my children work for wages in the construction works. In the past, education wasn’t common in our time. I never thought of sending my children to school. Out of 12 children, I could send only one child, the youngest one, to school. 
Now, I can see and feel the importance of education everywhere we go. Only education can empower and rescue people from ignorance and poverty. I’m happy to see many individuals and organizations that are creating awareness on importance of education and medical facilities. Today, schools and all kinds of medical facilities are available here. I would love to see all teenage girls making good use of medical facilities to prevent themselves from unwanted teenage pregnancy, health complications, and miserable life like I had lived. 
I am 65 now, and I know I can’t expect and do anything more in my life. But I wish best for my children. My children, all of them, were born and brought up in a cowshed and pastureland. They know nothing more than what I do. They are no better than me. My life is all about sufferings, struggles, regrets, mistakes, and poverty. But, as always, I will keep holding onto my last hope-that my children find better life and live in bliss and plentitude. I am here today, and it’s just a matter of time only. I know that I would die sooner or later."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I love fall

Winter is slowly creeping around here in Thimphu. And with every day, it seems unassumingly cold. You walk outside, it’s raw and chilly and you shiver uncontrollably. This is another time of transition.  I can feel us moving to another season, a cold winter. But quite wondrously, autumn, season of fall, is apparent only now in Thimphu.
Tree leaves turning yellow and falling on the ground, the sky becomes outrageous blue, all clear. Flowers withering. People, their cheeks turned red, are seen in woolen clothes and boots and mufflers around their necks to keep themselves warm. These are the pictures I took this autumn.

I don't know what's it...but I spotted in my office garden. This red nut, all its leaves felled, remained stunningly mesmeric.  
It was last week when I was at Tashichodzong...I saw maple trees, all turning dark red. I had no camera, then, so I plucked a leaf, brought it home. And here, it is.  
It's a gate light I spotted at Motithang. It's all covered by leaves that turned yellow. Autumn, you can even see here. Simply gorgeous!
This is awesome colour. Perfectly red-yellow.
To my wonderful readers, I wish you all a wonderful day!

Friday, October 12, 2012

A young man of poise, confidence and power

I was home, last August, when I received a phone call from my friend, Tashi Namgay. He had a good news, “Hello Riku, oye, Bhutan Kidney Foundation is certified today as public-benefit organization with the CSO Authority.” Yes, I could feel his heart exalting, reveling in his coveted achievement, his dream come true. You don’t know how much it meant to him and of course to me. By the way, it took him almost seven years to get his Foundation registered as CSO.

I congratulated him.

The Bhutan Kidney Foundation (BKF) provides a new hope for all those poor kidney failure patients who are at the jaws of death by providing quality health services and financial supports. And through its comprehensive and preventive measures, BKF works towards reducing the incidences of renal and other lifestyle diseases in Bhutan. Today, there are over 120 kidney failure patients in Bhutan and its number is alarmingly increasing.
                                    Pic: With the Education Secretary, Principal of ELC, and Lhamo Drukpa 

I’m very proud to have become associated as a friend with 27-year old Tashi Namgay, the Founder/Executive Director of BKF. This Foundation has been born out of his vision, relentless effort and sacrifice.

A Class X graduate of Jakar HSS and former civil servant, Tashi is a kidney transplant recipient since 2006. He was only 18, in 2004, when he was diagnosed both of his kidney organs failed. However, fortunately, with the help of a kind donor, and the RGoB that financed his travel, surgical and medical expenses, his renal transplant was success in April, 2006 at Christian Medical College, Vellore, India.

Through his own experience, Tashi discovered that there were many inherent problems and shortages associated with renal diseases and health services in Bhutan. This, according to him, led kidney failure patients and their family members and relatives suffering hopelessly. There was lack of counseling and moral support service for kidney failure patients, and shortage of dialysis machines and trained health staff to operate the machines in Bhutan. Also, there were lots of hidden expenses incurred (which were not covered by RGoB) while patients were sent away for renal transplant in India. Sometimes, patients had to extend their stay in India due to medical complications.  
                                                      Pic: With the patients at JDWNRH

Moreover, without Act of Law for Organ Donation and Transplant in Bhutan, many people were misappropriating money collected through fundraising activities, and the illegal commercialization of organs was growing rampant. Most shockingly, there was no proper advocacy programmes on diets and lifestyle diseases (diabetes, hypertension, obesity) which are the leading causes to kidney failure incidences. The RGoB has been spending millions of ngultrums for renal medical treatments and travels which otherwise can be prevented.

Soon after his renal transplant in 2006, Tashi Namgay started googling for kidney organizations of other countries. He was quite inspired by the way they were contributing to wellbeing of kidney failure patients and prevention of renal diseases. It was at that moment when he thought of establishing one such organization in Bhutan.

However, only after a handful of months later, this young man learned that what he was trying to do was not easy at all. This project, in fact, would cost him millions of ngultrum that he didn’t have. It, too, would require him better qualification, skills and experience. He was only 20, then, had qualification of Class X and very fresh in job. So, Tashi Namgay started looking for other kidney transplant recipients in Bhutan who had good qualification, expertise and experience to form an NGO for kidney patients.
                                                           Pic: With Amrith Bdr. Subba

Tashi phoned each of them, met them, and discussed establishing this aspiring project. In 2008, they held their first meeting where 21 interested members (all kidney transplant recipients) attended. The participating members showed great interest about establishing the Foundation. As desired, the meeting formed a Core Working Group consisting of five members to draft legal documents of the Foundation.

But sadly, the consecutive meetings miserably failed. Most members of the Core Working Group didn’t turn up for the meetings. Mail sent, but no reply. Phone calls not responded. And his requests fell on deaf ears. Just like that, a solid year gone.

In the mid of 2009, Tashi conducted a mass meeting where, again, he called all kidney transplant recipients who had attended the last meeting. This meeting discussed and resolved to form a new Core Working Group. This new group failed, too. It was same again: some members transferred to other dzongkhags; others remained busy with their families and jobs/business.
Pic: With Erika Terpstra, the former Olympic Gold Medalist for Swimming and now President of the Dutch National Olympic Committee. 

It was taking long enough. Four years had already gone, without achieving anything. Tashi Namgay had stood anxious, sad, and mostly helpless. He couldn’t sleep at night. All nights, he would be tossing and turning around in bed, thinking about his project and those people who were suffering and dying from kidney disease. Several times, he thought of quitting his project because every time, it was for nothing. Alone, he could do nothing. And no other individual was coming forward to help him in his endeavors.

But each time he’d come across people suffering from kidney failure disease, he was again rejuvenated to keep working for them, never to quit his project. Because he knew that those kidney failure patients always lived at the jaws of death, depressed, and without any means of escapism or outside interventions. And the NGO he wanted to establish would certainly reduce their sufferings, rescue them from untimely death, and prevent from the renal disease.
                                                             Pic: With the Prince of Sweden

In desperation and worried, Tashi Namgay started hunting for different senior bureaucrats, corporate employees, businesspeople and other popular local celebrities for support. He shared the problems of kidney-related diseases and his aspiring project to them. Many showed interest and assured him to provide necessary help in his project. But in reality, it’s far from that. No one did bother to support him, not at all. It’s always the same-nothing happened, nothing achieved.

By then, Tashi had expensed a huge amount of money and five years of time in his endeavor to establish NGO. Once he told me, “If I had invested such amount of money and time for a business, I’d have become a millionaire today.”
                                                              Pic: With Kelly Dorji

There was a bunch of people (including his own relatives and colleagues) who had demoralized him from working for kidney failure patients. They blatantly criticized him that he was becoming “too ambitious”, acting “over-smart”, and trying to “become popular”. Similarly, many other people questioned and challenged his capacity to establish NGO, about his qualification and experience. This had brought stunning upset in him; his hopes flickered.  

Others insisted Tashi Namgay to quit social works and this project which according to them seemed out of his reach. One person told him, he narrated it to me, “If you cannot stand on your feet properly, how you can you help others. Better quit what you are doing and prioritize your own wellbeing and family.” As he shared this to me, I saw a drop of tears in his eyes.
In fact, those people were right, matter-of-factly. Tashi Namgay had no house of his own to live in Thimphu, no car to drive, and all time his bank balance remained negative. The meager salary he earned finished before month’s end. And he could hardly treat himself with new clothes, shoes, and good meals. His family members were always upset with him because he could do or bring nothing at home. Always, he walked lonely, mostly broke and hopeless.
Ask him where he had spent his salary. Almost twice a week, Tashi Namgay would visit the Patient’s Guest House at JDWNR Hospital where about 30 kidney failure patients who were undergoing dialysis were housed in a catastrophic condition. They were poor, homeless, orphans, without relatives, and no good food to eat. More sadly, they were depressed, dispossessed and merely waiting for the death in a lamentable display. Tashi Namgay would visit there with grocery and other basic necessities for the patients.

To those patients, he seemed so rich that they imagined he could give them everything. One of the patients told me, “Many Lyonpos, Dashos and Aums promised us hope and forgot when they go back. But he is very promising.”
Here, Tashi Namgay, adorned with compassion and love, always sat happily surrounded by the poor patients. He hugged each of them, nursed their wounds and shared their plights. As he gave them tender loving care, he also cried with them. In his every visit, he counselled the patients on their diets and mental health and fed hopes and aspirations upon them.

If those people had a belief in God, Tashi Namgay was the true manifestation of God for them. I’m not exaggerating. Those patients felt that only Tashi Namgay could bring difference in their life and redeem them from their unending sufferings. All his efforts, in fact, had brought a drastic change in the lives of hundred of kidney failure patients. The faith, hope, and expectation they had upon him; however, offered a bigger responsibility and gave him a resolute confidence never to quit what he was doing oblivious to his own problems.
The year 2010 arrived, five years passed, and there were no hopes of establishing NGO this far out. The first time I met Tashi Namgay was in the mid of 2010 when I joined the office of Department of Youth and Sports. Here, I also met another friend of mine, Amrith Bahadur Subba. It was as if the fate had brought three of us together for a cause, for kidney failure patients of Bhutan.

Three of us started getting along very well. Often, especially on weekends, we would whisk out for outings. There, Tashi Namgay used to share to us about the problems of kidney-related diseases and sufferings of those patients. Sometimes, smacking on momo and over cup of tea, he used to consistently talk about his aspiring project to establish a kidney foundation.
Also, he’d take us to the Dialysis Room and Patient’s Guest House at JDWNR Hospital. Other times, he would invite us to his house for dinner where we used to always talk about establishing his project. Tashi Namgay has neither much education nor the knowledge of the Book, but he knew his mind, understood the reality and apprehended the system. And always, he delights me with his wide-ranging worldview, astute critical mind, and entrepreneurship talents. All this interested me to work along with him, in his endeavors.

In November 2010, a new Core Working Group of the Kidney Foundation amongst three of us was formed to draft CSO documents. This team, though very small, worked all holidays and weekends and sometimes after office hours. At times, we stayed late night brainstorming and drafting the documents. It’s quite surprising that none of us has missed a single meeting. And one by one, we complete drafting the CSO documents of the Bhutan Kidney Foundation exactly in six months.
                                                          Pic: With Board and executive members of BKF

Meanwhile, a few local film celebrities and other individuals came forward and helped drafting the documents. They have also supported kidney failure patients in providing financial and other contributions. Tashi’s natural talent to do the talking could convince and impress many businessmen, bureaucrats and powerful senior citizens. And people started coming forward with cheque, cash, and contributions in all kinds. Even the His Majesty Secretariat Office supported the Foundation editing and making necessary changes in the documents and processing the BKF’s CSO application to the CSO Authority. By the end of 2011, it was applied for legal registration to CSO Authority, and last August it formally got register.
                                                              Pic: With his family

Tashi Namgay proved all his critics wrong. Today, he could register his NGO and more importantly, he has become the Executive Director of Bhutan Kidney Foundation. He showed to others that a young man, without much qualification and experience, if driven by altruistic passion, hard work and confidence can become a leader and bring positive change in our society.

Lastly, Tashi Namgay’s efforts and difficulties are in service of hundreds of poor patients who are at the jaws of death and for the country. And we, even if we cannot support him in his service all time, it’s our natural responsibility to encourage and provide him moral supports, or at least, say a prayer for him. May God bless him today, tomorrow and always! 
                               Pic: With Go Youth Go members (He is also the Founder of GyG)

Pic: With Junior Chamber International Bhutan members (He is one of the Executive members of JCI Bhutan)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thank you, Sir!!

This film is different and superhit. Thank you, Sir!! a film by Tshering Gyeltshen, shot in the beautiful valley of Trashiyangtse with Bayling HSS as the grand central setting, is a real cinematic treat for you. It’s a film that you take home, and reminisce and relish for days, or even weeks.  Believe me.   

Its genre, drama, the film is for all: young or old. Its storyline, acting, music and cinematography are exceptionally good, very professionally crafted and executed. You won’t grumble, frankly speaking, after coming out of cinema hall.

Most shockingly, Thank you, Sir!! is the most expensive local production ever with a direct cost of Nu 9.5 million. A total of 750 cast and crew, the largest so far in a local film, this film is shot over a period of seven months (Oct 2011 to May 2012). The director of photography was hired from India.
Let me tell you Thank you, Sir!!, an educational/social movie, is all about a passionate teacher Jigmed Lodhen (Tshering Gyeltshen) who believes that a teacher dedicated to his/her calling can change the world. After his graduation, Jigmed Lodhen arrives at Mendrupling HSS (Bayling HSS) like a breath of fresh air. He is extraordinarily filled with passion and an earnest zeal for his life's calling - TEACHING. He believes and is prepared and determined to prove that teachers dedicated to their calling and passionate about their work will make all the difference...or the critical difference.

As Jigmed's life unravels in Mendrupling in the course of five years we come across a beautiful and sincere geography teacher of the school, Mendrel Yutsho (Tshering Zangmo) who has crush on Jigmed. We also come across the principal Ngelhey Dorji (Thinley Wangchuk) and "SIR" Naalha Tashi (Cheten Wangchuk) who play the roles of deadly villains. They are portrayed mostly in satirical and comical scenes, but you will love their roles, especially Cheten’s. Along with him, Cheten makes you scared, thrilled, cried, and laughed.
                                                              Pic: During the premiere show

In the supporting roles, Lhaksam Longdroel (Karma Samdrup) and Lekzeen Reengsel (Namgyel Lhamo) play very important roles as students. These two characters gave very powerful performance, and I am confident that they will bag home an award each.

Many social issues have been reflected in the film: a teacher-student affair, women who gamble with their husbands’ hard-earned money, people with vanity/accented English and a rumour-monger society. This film is very bold. The Dzongda of the dzongkhag illicitly keeps an affair with a school student. One time, with his friends and officials, the dzongkda comes to the school, drunk, and teases girls in the school basketball court. This, in fact, (what I feel) represents a true story of the Samtse College of Education where the dzongda and a few officials involved in similar case at the college.
However, Thank you, Sir!! has an unexpected climax that you will land up choking, all tearful. Go and watch it at City Cinema, you will love it. An outstanding film ever made by a Bhutanese!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Nothing small is ever small

I’ve been sitting in front of my PC, writing nearly all afternoon. And I can’t tell you precisely what a beautiful thing is this simple uninterrupted time. To write. There’re no friends of mine visiting my place who would insistently whisk me out for oodles of drinks. No dating, he-he; no such kinda thing happening in my life these days. And no phone calls from my parents and office.

I love this uninterrupted time to just write, ah. And as I write here, this afternoon, I get caught in a cycle of thinking that I felt off in any way. I’ve this urge, as I always do, to anticipate for something new, next big thing. A different job, a bigger income, achieve big things, a posh lifestyle, travel all over the world, meet new people, and settle down abroad. Yes, I’ve been anticipating for this next big thing for a long time. I wanted, always, something big to focus on up ahead as if to keep myself zestful and moving and to keep ordinary away.

But oddly, quite wondrously, my mornings start with the same beginnings. As usual, my alarm rings at 7:30 am. I run into the same kitchen and cook my breakfast-mostly tea and bread. After the wash-up, like always, I do my hair and wear gho. And the route I walk down my office greets me with familiar sights. The same road cleaners, the same trees and buildings, the rush of cars, and the same people marching towards their works. All day, in my office, I meet same colleagues, ring phones, and same works.

My days also end with the same closings. After 5 pm, I return home, drink coffee, watch TV, read books, cook dinner, and sleep. Also, there’re other everyday rituals which are purely mundane. I call my parents and friends, sometimes a brief talk; other times, a longer conversation, but mostly insignificant chat in particular. I check my mail, log on/log out of Facebook and Twitter, wash dishes, water flowers, and rummage my closet.

Always, it’s the same. Everyday. In fact, so inevitably, I get upset over all this mundane things I’ve to do every day. That’s why I anticipate (or more aptly, I aspire desperately) something different, something big, something that would change my life altogether.

But eventually, gradually, I’m learning that our life doesn’t have to be so full of big things, big change. Instead, I’m realizing that all this insignificant activities are part of me. These activities are so ordinary, yet offer deep sense of comfort and peace. All through my mundane routine, there’s an umbrella of comfort that accompanies me. It provides an overriding sense of belonging, comfort, and grace.

And any next big thing will just happen as a result of truly living those small things. Some days I even feel I could write a book on what I’ve been taught through all my mundane activities. I must say that nothing is really small anyway. That’s what I think, at least for now.