Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Party, Party!

Mouse Tally: 89

Interesting fact: Polygamy (the practice of a man having more than one wife) is quite legal in Bhutan. Even more interesting, polyandry the practice of a woman having more than one husband is also legal and both forms of matrimony are still practised.

Now our village, Chumey has a few general shops that all seem to sell the same stuff, restaurants that don’t serve food and of course loads of monasteries. The nearest town is Chamkar and that’s 45 minutes drive away and the taxi fare is 1000 Nultrum for a round trip which is more than one day’s wages. Most people don’t own their own car because they are incredibly expensive in Bhutan when compared to the average wage. Cars are heavily taxed because when they were cheaper, too much money was leaving the country and not enough was coming in.

So, in short, there isn’t much to do in Chumey in the evenings, and if you want to go somewhere else it is quite expensive. Therefore, just like our grandparents, we make our own entertainment.

It really is very sociable living here. People are always inviting you over for dinner at the weekend which is very nice. Another great thing is the use of the school hall. Quite often someone will have a party or celebration and hold it in the school hall. The school cooks seem happy to cook an additional meal (for 50 or 60) and a group of boarding school students are always happy to work as waiters for the night in exchange for a much nicer meal than they would otherwise get. I’m sure they also enjoy the change from the routine and the opportunity to see some of their teachers, ahem.... in good spirits.

Happy Birthday Tom Tom

Happy Birthday Lou Lou
Thomas turned 10 on the 8th August and Lois is due to turn 7 on the 21st. We were going to have a party at our apartment but then one of our colleagues suggested we have it in the school hall instead. Why hadn’t we thought of that! How much less stressful will it be, to not have to worry about a house full of kids and colleagues. We will even ask the guests to bring their own bowls so that cuts down on the washing up too!
The school hall in preparation for the guests arrival

Interestingly, the Bhutanese don’t use cutlery very much. Now I’m fine eating fish and chips or pizza without cutlery but a curry without bread. How do you eat a curry with your bare hands? Needless to say we tend to bring our own forks with us. Mind you, we tend to forget that they are our own forks and we usually hand them in with the dirty dishes at the end of the evening.

As I write, Justine is in Chamkar (the big town 45 minutes away) shopping for the multitudes. I can’t go with her because I am teaching, but have a free period right now. Luckily she was able to ask someone who recently had a party to give her an idea on buying the right quantity of food and drink for the masses. She was supposed to talk to the school cook and check that he is happy to cater for an extra 60 people tomorrow. I wonder if she has.....

I will write the rest of this blog post after the party and let you (dear reader) know how the big bash went.

Part 2....

Saturday duly arrived and of course that meant more school for me while Justine, ever the Stepford Wife stayed at home and baked. Luckily it was a rainy day and so there were no after-school jobs like weeding that had to be supervised; so I quickly headed home before anyone changed their minds.

Although we’d escaped a huge amount of work by having the party in the school hall, there were still quite a lot of jobs to be done. My role was essentially ‘gofer’ - running back and forth between home and school buying supplies and doing all the jobs on my ‘to do’ list that Justine had prepared.

Now a lot of the stuff was heavy e.g. sacks of spuds, booze, cooking oil, and I wasn’t relishing the thought of carrying it all back and forth on my 10 minute walk to school. So, once again I have a tale of Bhutanese kindness. My neighbour has her daughter Sonam staying with her for a few weeks. We often say, ‘hi’ if we meet on the stairs but I don’t really know her very well. Well, Sonam saw me struggling with my heavy boxes and told me to put it all in her car. She then spent the next 3 hours with me ferrying supplies, borrowing flasks for the tea and generally being a life-saver.

Are they here yet???

When the guests began arriving, I quickly realised that this would never have worked at our house. There were more than 70 guests, most were invited but there were quite a few mystery people who acted as if they belonged, so who were we to show them the door!

Let the party begin
Of course from Lois and Thomas’s point of view, loads of guests means loads of presents. It is customary to put presents inside shoe boxes and so the gifts all looked beautiful on display. They mostly received gifts that you would find at any western party (clothes, toys) but some gifts were particularly Bhutanese. My personal favourites were 2 highly realistic toy yaks. Somebody also gave Lois a giant, inflatable penguin which was quite a hit with the kids.


Now, these parties are always good fun but there isn’t usually much dancing at them apart from a few young kids. We wanted to change that and so we decided that the people needed ‘loosening up’. Thus, Justine organised one of those games where teams standing in line, compete to get a balloon from one end to the other without using their hands. The game had the desired effect and the guests were soon in high spirits.

Kids hit the dance floor

So, when the music was cranked up, there were quite a few strutting their stuff. It’s hard to get too many of the ladies on the dance floor because many are worried that it’s just not respectable behaviour. A funny thing last week; when I visited two of the female teachers I noticed they had no T.V. or music players. I asked if they played cards for entertainment. They seemed shocked at the very suggestion. They told me that they would quickly get a very bad reputation if people knew they were playing cards, even if it wasn’t for money.

So, the night wore on, some of the guests headed home but there was a hard-core contingent on the dance floor till well after 11pm which is super late by Chumey standards. I have to say, our kids were still in good spirits despite the lateness of the hour, I wonder if it had anything to do with all those presents.

The waitresses were all herded back to the hostel by matron but the boys were allowed to party on. They are aged around 16-20 and it was no surprise they were highly interested in our pretty Japanese friend Mami who happily laughed the attention away. Many of the boys came up to us and said it was the best night of their lives which was a ringing endorsement by any means. I think that they are normally so strictly controlled that they were just so happy to have a bit of freedom for a couple of hours.

Go Mami, go go go

That night we had seven guests sleep over at our house which was fine, except of course the next day we had no running water. Luckily we have learnt to hoard a bit of water for emergencies and that got us through. The walk up the mountain to find the source of the blockage is a very pleasant one and there were still a few wild raspberries to be picked along the way. There’s nothing like finding the silver lining in the cloud.

So, another great night in Bhutan and one which Justine and I (and I’m quite sure our children) will remember for the rest of our lives.

Yakkety Yak, Amelie and Lois with their menagerie


  1. Sounded like a lot of fun! Wished I could've joined in the festivities. Belated birthday to the two clan members!
    - Carmelita

  2. Thanks Carmelita. We wish you could have been here too to have a boogie with us!