Sunday, September 6, 2020

Nationwide lockdown and key takeaways: things we can learn as we step into the new normal

When I opened my eyes suddenly it was raining outside the window. I don’t remember how long I had fallen asleep on the couch, I must have fallen asleep reading as the book was lying face down on my chest and my neck was sore. The clock showed 5:30 in the afternoon. 

My immediate wish was to go back to my nap listening to the sound of the rainfall. Ah! Who doesn’t love sleeping to the sound of rainfall? Instead, I shrugged the idea, quickly got up, and fixed myself a cup of coffee. With coffee in hand, I sat by the balcony to watch the rainfall because that’s the farthest hangout zone for now.

I don’t exactly remember the last time I sat outside like today to watch the summer rainfall. When was that? Was that when I was a freshman in college? Because that’s the only vivid memory I have of sitting by the window on rainy summer evenings with coffee, reflecting and writing my journal or reading a book. 

That was some 15 years ago. Wow! Where did the years go in between? 

It took 15 long years for me to sit down for a self-reflection. Had the nationwide lockdown not happened on August 11 with the first community transmission detected outside the quarantine facility, I wonder how long it would take…

Although the sudden lockdown of 21 days caused great inconvenience to everyone, I’m sure everyone has had the time to reflect on the new reality and has emerged a little more skilled at everything; be it at baking, culinary skills, gardening, reading more, and exercising and bonding with family which one may have never gotten. 

Personally, it came at the right time - I could get some much-needed respite from office work, ample time for self-reflection, and endless sleeping and reading time. I could finish books from 9 months ago and got enough rest and exercise. Just like how our body needs rest to heal and rejuvenate, mother earth needs the same thing. It was a call for us to pause and heal; mentally, spiritually, and physically and come out with a renewed sense of purpose to make the world a better place.
The first week was a whirlpool of emotion and it was overwhelming for me to process the gravity of the situation when every essential good was flying off the shelf of grocery stores. It was mayhem everywhere and I’m sure patience was our middle name. However, the most natural and good thing is humans learn to adjust and adapt quickly and we tried to adjust accordingly. By the end of week 2 of lockdown, I’m sure everyone was settled in comfortably.
We are living in such a strange and unprecedented time in history. If you had told me last year how 2020 is going to be, I would have laughed it off. With so much progress in human history over the last couple of centuries, humankind has never expected such a tumultuous time in history where hugging, hand-shakes, and any contact that is less than 6 feet distance is a threat.

Doesn’t it seem like a scene out of a dystopian novel/film for that matter? In a span of six months, everything changed. Social/physical distancing, quarantine, lockdown, mitigation, shelter in place are the new buzzword that reigns our lives now. Welcome to the new normal!
The geopolitical situation of Bhutan

Waking up every morning to the increasing case of COVID-19 cases is the new normal. Community transmission was inevitable given the porous border we share with India, with one of the highest COVID-19 cases and deaths and the hotbed of the pandemic besides the US and Brazil. Not to forget the border we share with China in the north. 

It’s kudos to the exemplary leadership of His Majesty the King and the relentless efforts on the government’s part that Bhutan did not see community transmission for the first six months given our strategic location between the two Asian giants and how globalized we have become in the 21st century. I feel extremely blessed to be a Bhutanese where His Majesty’s visionary leadership has guided us thus far as he has been at the forefront like a warrior in every response of this pandemic. Thankfully, at this point, Bhutan has not had a single death.
With almost all the countries under lockdown and healthcare facilities overburdened, anxiety, fear, and panic looming over, times are scary and hard. Never in human history, people must have consumed so much news and become confused and anxious. When should the country ease down on the lockdown and open its international borders? The pandemic is not just a health issue, it’s a profound shock to our societies and economies that unravels untold human sufferings. 
Lessons learned and the key takeaways

As offices and more businesses open from tomorrow and more cars are allowed on the road in an effort to step into the new normal, we have a lot of takeaways from the 21 days of lockdown, it’s a lesson on the functioning of society and the governance. Just as the war exposes the weaknesses of a defeated nation, pandemic exposes the weaknesses of their system. One of the key takeaways was food insecurity.
Despite 70 percent of the Bhutanese population dependent on the agricultural sector, 8.1 percent of the households experience food insufficiency (National Statistics Bureau, 2017). According to the World Bank (2017), nearly one out of three Bhutanese suffer from food insecurity despite importing 34% of the country’s cereal needs. With the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, I’m sure these figures have escalated indefinitely. In the United States alone, nearly one in eight households doesn’t have enough to eat in this pandemic economy. A food insecure life means a life lived in fear of hunger, and the psychological toll that it takes. Like many hardships, this burden feels disproportionately hard on the vulnerably poor and those living on daily wages.
With no fresh vegetables and fruits in the market following the days of lockdown and prices of essential goods escalating like nobody’s business, we all have experienced the taste of Ema Datshi (Chilly and Cheese) without onions and Alu Dam (Potato gravy) without tomatoes. Unlike in the west, freezing of food is a non-existent concept in this part of the world. In fact, Bhutanese always insists on freshly prepared food, and freezing of food is most often discouraged which is good in a way as our Emergency Department at the hospital doesn’t report many cases of stomach bug and food poisoning nor we hear such reports on the news on a daily basis. Partly, this discouragement must have come from the absent culture of freezing of food in a cold storage facility in most Bhutanese homes. I was pleasantly surprised to see my friends in America freezing/storing away the extra fish we caught for consumption for winter.
While much emphasis has been given towards agricultural production in the past, it’s high time for the government to shift its attention towards the postharvest loss (PHL) system. This system comprises interconnectedness activities from the time of harvest through crop processing, marketing, and food preparation, to the final decision by the consumer to eat or discard the food. 

Interventions in PHL reduction are seen as an important component of the efforts of many agencies around the world to reduce food insecurity. There is a whole lot of research on PHL and merits a different science and technology in itself which this post wouldn’t suffice at all.
The 35th FAO regional conference held this week called for agricultural digitization. While this way forward is an investment in smart agriculture, I hope our policymakers are reminded that the majority of our rural communities are illiterate and as the targeted beneficiaries customized innovative policy interventions will be in place for improved livelihoods and sustainable agriculture practices.
Development of e-commerce platforms and postal addresses
As a developing country, e-commerce is still in its infancy in Bhutan. A typical experience is how it took 5 days for my essential goods to arrive during the lockdown despite repeated follow up. While I understand that it was an overwhelming situation for the store but generally speaking, e-commerce really needs to step up their game now. For e-commerce to venture into this pandemic situation, accurate postal addresses are a must requisite. A copious amount of time is lost in searching for the location and it’s a headache and waste of time for both the customer and the delivery guy to discuss the location of the delivery address. I’m sure we all have been there.
The development of house postal addresses is one of the criticisms we have always heard about that requires a lot of serious rethinking. It is old wine in a new bottle analogy. While it’s understandable that the country has other important priorities to look into but it doesn’t hurt to start somewhere or pick up from where we have last left. As we all know, compelling beautiful plans are already there in place, it’s time that we take ownership of the implementation and accountability that Bhutanese are way capable of. It need not be some hired consultant from outside who will initiate the plan for us.  I sincerely hope this happens during my lifetime.
This Coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that nothing is certain, it’s transitory as life itself and the most important thing is to be mindful of our actions. Six months of Coronavirus, which is almost half a year of pandemic and it still feels unsettling to write because much remains unknown and mysterious as to the world during and post CoVID-19. Is there going to be a post-COVID-19 world? So far scientists say that we will have to live with it for a long time, in fact, the virus may become another endemic virus and it may never go away although news from China confirmed that the country is back to normal with no social distancing and mask protocols in place. Just one thing is certain; the future of the world is never going to be the same.

Disclaimer: Thoughts expressed here are the author’s own and don’t represent any institution or organization.

Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 : The Year in Review

Beginnings are really obscure. Like writing this blog post after a year-long hiatus. But the very reason for this beginning is to take a step back and do a self-reflection. 

Yet again, it’s that time of the year – a time to take stock of the things of the past one year and reflect upon it. A time to set goals for the new year ahead and a time to move further into the abyss of life.

Perhaps it’s the long cold winter nights or the dry chill in the air, it often becomes quite murky and lonely deep inside me. It’s as if there has always been a cat lurking quietly and with the onset of the cold winter months, it's awakened up from a long hibernation stirring this very soul in me. 

But this cat, I consider it as a reawakening of the spirit in me, which is deemed to wake me up from a deep slumber, help me reposition myself and take charge of life. In short, it jolts me up from my often-battled existential crisis.

2019 was the year that I achieved my much-awaited dream of earning my Master’s Degree in Sustainable International Development. Graduate school was such a fun and great learning experience. I don’t mind going back to grad school and start another program all over again. 2 years went by in a jiffy. It was also a year of traveling and discovering boundaries beyond my sheltered comprehension.

It was a year of making the much-debated decision Рof settling back in America or returning home. In a twist of events, I took the latter decision and moved continents to be back with my family and work. I believe that everything happens for a reason, as clich̩ as it may sound.

It’s a year that a new little member joined our family – my adorable nephew Samphel was born and it’s a joy to watch him grow. He’s growing cuter by the day. Of course, our pet Chelsea is super jealous of him and stays clear of him every time they meet. Time will clear this jealousy, I’m sure.

It’s a year of understanding who my real friends are. Perhaps, with age, this comes naturally. It’s also a year of new-found diverse friendship and support.

It’s also a year of starting work in a new organization and the realization that no matter how hard you try in the civil service, bureaucracy is going to remain the same – as sloppy as ever. It’s either you exit the system or join the pack of wolves and become one of them.

On the reading front, it’s the year that I read the least. I could read just 13 books, of which mostly were memoirs and non-fiction, but were really good ones and I enjoyed a lot. Finishing up grad school and moving continents and picking up from where I left two years ago is not an easy feat, at least for me. Yet, it’s all over now and behind my back.

I can’t wait for 2020 to begin, it’s a new era.  It’s time to start a dream passion project that has been on my mind for the longest time. 

Wising you all a great year 2020! May you all be blessed with abundant love, prosperity, good health, and happiness. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Hello! It's me again

Hello Hello! The last entry in this blog was March 15, 2017, and I’ve been missing from this space for the past one year and nine months in which I wrote two blog entries in another blog by the name the BLOG. Why so much drama, right? I agree. Well, this girl of yours forgot the password altogether for this blog account and no matter how much she tried to remember Gmail simply wouldn't let her through since the phone number associated with this account was from Bhutan which she no longer has access to it. 

I’ve been miserable all this while since I’ve been blogging in this space for the past 7 years and this happens. It was like I lost a part of myself since I could neither delete it or keep using it. It was like dinosaurs to me - the idea that the blog once existed but now it’s extinct. I tried so many ways to remember and retrieve the password. The recovery email associated with this account also didn’t help. I gave it up! Farewell thee, my little blog. Then all of a sudden, this morning, an epiphany hit me! Ever so carefully, I typed my password and BOOM!!! It worked, just like that, as simple as that. Goodness gracious, I couldn’t believe it. It was such a moment of joy - to be able to access all my written words on the internet for the past 7 years. This blog has been part of me, it has helped me define my life and keep stock of my life’s events – be it in times of sadness, grief, happiness, and heartbreaks. It has also helped me connect to all the fellow bloggers from all over the world. It was innumerable hours spent thinking and writing and reading - the things that I enjoy doing the most. In short, it was my hard labor of love. Well, we all understand what it means in this digital age. I apologize for all the unanswered emails.

This past year I’ve had a couple of terrible email account experiences including this one. My official RGoB email account has been deleted! Yes, all those 8 years of experience of working in the civil service is down the drain. I was devastated and depressed. My IT officials thought that I wouldn’t need the email account anymore when I didn’t respond to their emails. Now, it’s very clear that I’m on study leave for 21 months and I don’t have time to access that official account given my hectic program. To save 30 USD per person per year, they deleted my account, just like that! Now, when I’m back I will have to start from scratch, thanks to my brilliant IT staffs who could have used a lil’ bit of empathy from their side. I didn’t want to argue about it further and nothing could have happened, my account couldn’t be recovered so I left it as it is.

So, 2019 it is and I hope to write more and keep stock of things in this blog, discover more of you guys and read more of you. Ah, it feels so good to be back, like a homecoming. I’ve missed you all and I hope to see more of you. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hike to Phajoding / Dungtsho

"I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink." 
                           Hannah Kent, Burial Rites 

Well, that's how I feel when I remember the hike to Phajoding last month. Phajoding was on my bucket list for some time now. Six years to be specific. Until I crossed it off on 22nd February. Phajoding lies at an altitude of 2500m to 3600m and is 5.7 km hike uphill. Our itinerary was:

Day 1: Hike to Phajoding top most monastery and halt for a night
Day 2: Hike to Dungtsho which is about 8.1km (according to our walking speed) from the base monastery

We were blessed with absolutely good weather for the entire hike. The weather was sunny and warm with clear blue skies, perfect for the hike! We started at 9am in the morning from Sangaygang as the base and reached Phajoding by 12 in the afternoon. After a quick lunch we hiked up to the top most monastery which took us about an hour. 

Since we were banking on the monks for a place to halt for the night and if possible some supply of food and warm blankets we reached there by early afternoon. It was already freezing then! The kind monks gave us a room to stay and some hot tea with biscuits. It felt heavenly! If you’re planning to carry your own tents and food supply, it’s better to start in the afternoon and reach the top most monastery just before dusk.

With nothing to do the whole evening, we had a quick dinner and got into bed by 8pm. Mice ran over us in our deep slumber. So it’s better to cover your entire face like a ninja and curl in bed.  By bed, it means that we slept on the floor. We waited for the dawn to come. Literally counting the hours. Soon sleep overtook and we had a good night rest despite the mice running over and the dog bark at night.

My alarm was set for 5:30 am the next day just before sun rise. I had been meaning to see Thimphu enveloped in the morning mist. Unfortunately, mist is a thing for monsoon and not winter. Nonetheless, I got to experience the glorious sun rise from the monastery at 6am. The morning air was dead silent and far from the horizon, marmalade strips of sun started appearing. The wonderful silence just hummed my ears. The moon from the previous night was still there. However, the sunrise soon overtook it. The night battling the cold and mice was totally worth it!

The coffee that made the morning sunrise even better
We had some quick breakfast and started at 7:30 towards Dungtsho, our final destination. After half an hour hike, we reached the topmost point from where you see snowy clad mountains and rhododendron shrubs and valleys and valleys of mountains. The mountain air is absolutely thin here. We were equipped with basic medicines for headache and chocolate bars to beat the altitude sickness. 

Then we faced the most difficult part of the route. And the most worthy as well, now that I look back. A long snowy downhill trek. Later we found out that it was a short cut route which cut down our time by half an hour. Skidding and shrieking and playing, we were finally able to descend the snow clad mountain. 

After an hour’s hike also, we couldn’t come across any tsho (lake). Doubt started to creep in and the fear of being lost started to shroud. We hiked a little further and crossed a mountain and that’s when we encountered the first tsho. Good heavens! The feeling was almost ethereal.

After that, it just became more heavenly. Tshos after tshos, a total of five tshos before we finally reached the final one – Dungtsho. Without any proper trail and directions, one needs to solely depend on one’s intuition. We were a lil’ confused on the route when we finally found a small plate that points the way towards Dungtsho. The uphill climb was treacherous, but it did not deter us. After 3.5 hours of treacherous hike we finally reached Dungtsho. The feeling was out of the window! 

Travel always teaches me new things; endurance, patience and a different outlook in life altogether. It makes me appreciate my country even more and I always always emerge with a positive outlook in life. It makes me feel blessed. I'm grateful for this little life, always! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to make time for reading

Four summers ago, I made a pledge to read 55 books by Fall 2016. I love books and I cannot deny it. Not only did I beat the challenge but completed 67 books.  This is the only achievement I am proud of! Just like everyone else, I had a busy work life from 9-5, family obligation etc. Everyone I meet says ‘Hey, I want to make time for reading but I simply cannot. I’m too busy!’ For those busybodies who thinks that there is no time for reading, these tips may help you to kindle your love for reading. Now that fall is here, what could be the best thing than to curl up with a book with a steaming cup of tea by your side?

1. Just Read anything

A general trend among the Bhutanese is they prefer nonfiction books particularly self-help and management books. Well, there is nothing wrong in reading these genre but these books lets you lose off your track very easily. What I would rather suggest is go for the books that you actually enjoy. Be it a trashy romance, a thriller, a cookbook or a history, read something that interests you.  What I normally do is I read several books at a time. If I am at work and I want to relax a bit or take my mind off something, I read a light fiction. If it is to wind down at the end of the day, I pick up some biographies or history.

2. Cut down your time in front of the TV screen or scrolling through Facebook & Instagram

Most of the time, we sit infront of the tv screen for hours and hours and spends hours scrolling through facebook and Instagram newsfeed. There is no value addition. I’m equally guilty of this.  Time is not invested wisely here. So make a pact with yourself to read at least 20 pages which you would rather lose it watching tv or scrolling though facebook. Reading goes a long way towards increasing your intelligence level. It reduces stress, helps you to experience multiple emotions and teaches you a lot about many subjects.

3Set a reading goal

Setting a goal and tracking your progress online helps you to track your reading progress. My personal favorite is, an online account in which you keep your overview of the books you are reading. It helps you set reading challenge and helps you focus on your reading. Give yourself a specific challenge to hold yourself accountable and motivate yourself to reach that goal. You can find a plethora of book recommendations you have ever imagined to find here.   

I hope these small tips will help you pick up a book immediately and start reading.
Happy reading! 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Untitled thoughts

The sky last evening. Magnificent, isn't it? 
I often wonder where this life is heading...

I have not read a newspaper for six months now, haven't watched television but have seen two movies at least. I have just been to one social event. I’ve measured my life between workplace and home and occasional visit to my parents.

I live inside my own bubble, completely oblivious of the world around. Friends insist that I go out and explore so that I get to meet akin people, open up and build romantic friendship. You may say that I’m lonely or a workaholic. And that I’ve no personal life. I understand that. Does it affect me? Not at all!

I’ve abandoned writing also. This is the first writing in three months. I feel okay. Perfectly okay!  

Sometimes, I get this feeling of being in transition. That ‘Bardo’ concept of Buddhism. 

My whole perspective towards life has changed. I give my best and leave the rest to the things which are beyond my control. I have learned to accept the art of letting go. It’s beautiful to have come to the terms of acceptance. Does this mean that I’m breathing only? It may seem like that at the outset. But I’m living also. 

I have not abandoned reading. I read a lot. A lot. I often get lost into the world of books and its characters. Which leaves me with no time to indulge in gossips. You are what you read, they say.

I have not envisioned my life ten years from now. The path forward seems clouded mostly for now. But I’m okay with that too. If its meant to be mine, it always will. 

Have a lovely weekend! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Conversations: the very essence of Human Relationships

He wakes up from a splitting headache. The bedside clock shows 3am. The night is as still as the sea. It’s as if one would wake up a sleeping baby if you breathe a little louder.
The headache is from the cheap red wine he had with her last night. 

"We are cheap drunks," she says as she pours the wine like a craftsman at work. "But I prefer drinking straight from the bottle," he thinks as he watch her take a sip of it. They had gone out for a couple of drinks after work. 

Their conversation on society, culture, politics, religion, humanity, arts, ideas, beliefs and literature always excites him way too much. 

He has seen her for the last two decades yet it makes him anxious to see her again. Beads of sweat appears on his forehead at the thought of seeing her again. Being with her is talking excitedly about his passion. She challenges his thoughts, dreams and excites his soul.  

He still cannot fathom what it is with her. Is it the way she perceives the world? The way she tries to express about a thing? The way she puts it, ever so articulately? Those dreamy eyes and her porcelain skin. He can never get over it, he thinks as he listen to her describe the outline of the book she’s planning on writing. 

At times he thinks she is the strongest woman he has ever known. Invincible! No force on earth can subdue her. Yet when he look deep into her eyes, he’s convinced that there’s a fragile child deep inside whom he wants to protect and seal her forever in the tablet of his heart.

Conversations with her always surrounds on books, writings and philosophy. 
The mundanes of life ; growing up, going to college, getting married by 25, making babies, saving for the old age and finally leaving this planet seems things of another life. There’s stillness of time when with her. 

Adele’s ‘Hello from the other side...’ is heard softly in the car’s stereo.  
How can one be so satisfied this one moment? He often thinks. Yet when he is with her on that spot overlooking the valley in the distant city lights, away from the humdrum existence of life, this is what it should feel like, when I breathe my last, he thinks as he stare at her lips and hands talking about the surrealism of life.


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