Ranger was ecstatic when we returned from Bhutan! Jumping for joy hardly gets close to describing his expressions when we walked in the door after our two weeks in Bhutan and then the day-and-a-half return travel experience.
In the days it took us to all readjust to being on this side of the world, thoughts spill through our heads and conversations.
Ranger: “So did you find what you were looking for? Is Bhutan really going to be a model for sustainable development? But before you answer that very serious question, tell me if it is true that Bhutan has a wild dog problem.”
Me: “It does! In the cities and towns, dogs are simply wild. They are ignored by people, and do their own thing, which is to sleep all day and prowl around at night looking for food. We saw small children playing with some dogs, but that was rare. The government is now making some attempts to spay/neuter these dogs, but it has a long way to go to get the situation ‘controlled.'”
Ranger: “Wow…. no leash? I could go for that. But scrounging for my own food? Not so much. But now get serious about the bigger issue of sustainability.”
Me: “I hardly know how to address that, Ranger. Bhutan’s prime minister talks about how their country is a carbon sink for the world, since almost 80% of the land remains forested. Huge national parks sprawl over the country. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
Me: “The reality is that Bhutan may need to make bold moves for independent development for fear of being in the same boat as Tibet. China, as you probably know, simply took over Tibet. Could the same thing happen to Bhutan? I think the government under the King, along with the elected prime minister, understands this political reality and has elected to make ‘progress’ happen in ways that make it strong as well as peaceful.”
Ranger: “So what are they doing?”
Me: “First off, every kid (everyone!!!!) must attend school through 12th Grade, no matter how remote their village. And while in school, English is a required subject. So nationally, English is the language that unifies. Another thing that allows a national identity is the requirement that everyone must wear the national dress. It’s like a school uniform for everyone in the country. Boys/men wear the ‘gho’ and girls/women wear the ‘kira.’ That put me off at first, but after a few days I began to see the beauty of the arrangement, and the effectiveness. If you’re Bhutanese, you wear this.” And of course, in order to make any kind of development possible, there needs to be roads. The first roads connecting villages were built in the 1950’s, and the effort continues. In a country with a population of under a million, the government began to contract with Indian road building companies so there would be enough workers. That brings in many Indians, but the same rules apply. Kids must be in school six days per week.”
Ranger: “Speaking of India, why India and not China?”
Me: “That took me a while to puzzle through, frankly. India is culturally, geographically and religiously much closer to Bhutan than China. It is not viewed as an aggressor. Bhutan is Buddhist, India is primarily Hindu. Those are religions that are ‘live and let live,’ much more than Christianity, for sure, and much more than anything you would find in China. So Bhutan walks a razor edge on this all: determining who to trust and how to find a way into the modern world without going the way of Nepal, for example.”
Ranger: “So let’s agree that we continue to watch this situation from afar for now, okay? You’ve been gone far too long and I need you to stay here for a while.”