Prehistoric Pajama Party

Our home for the evening

(Alex) “Great!” Mom says as we are driving into the city (actually the size of a really small town) of Mongar. “We get to spend the night in a traditional farm house!” Well if that is great news to her, then I don’t know what bad news is. Oh how I am dreading a night of sleeping on the floor. And I am not the only one not looking forward to the farmhouse overnight; the rest of the kids are equally unexcited. But we don’t have an option; Mom has made up her mind, and we are staying at the house whether we like it or not. We try to get a good night sleep at the nice hotel – with beds – knowing that we have a rough night ahead of us.

Our village stay is in our guide Raj’s neighbor’s mother’s house in the small Bhutanese town of Yadi. We will be the first overnight guests our hostess Rinzin Lhamu (age 49) and her mother Sangay Zangmo (69) have ever had. So that alone is pretty special.

We arrive in the village of Yadi at about 4:30 PM, and I have no idea what we will do for the whole evening, night and next morning. But the time actually goes by too quickly! We make our way to the wooden, dark building where we will be spending the night. Rinzin greets us with a huge smile and warm tea with fresh milk from the morning. Little girls run all over the house giggling, running away whenever we look over and wave.

Andrew in pre-dinner meditation

Finally it is time for our chores to start. After all, the reason we are staying in the village house is to understand a Bhutanese farmer’s daily life. Chore #1: pick the garlic and collect the potatoes from the fields. I pick a stalk of garlic and after many tries, finally dig up a potato. We bring them back to our driver (and chef for the night) Pemba Dorji, who instructs us to “massage the potatoes” (in order to remove the outer layer of skin) and for Mom and I to peel the garlic. Peeling the garlic is fun, but my hands have a pungent smell for the rest of the night. When the night chores are finished, we gather in the warm kitchen building where we enjoy the most delicious dinner in all of Bhutan — all cooked over an open fire. Eventually our candles die out (did I mention that there is no power?) and it is time for the outhouse and bed. We are lucky – we are supplied with a very thin mattress, blankets and pillows; most locals sleep on bamboo mats with a blanket over them. As expected, the night is rough. There’s always a noise outside – dogs barking, roosters crowing starting at 2:30 AM! And at 5:30 it is time to get out of bed; after all, our hosts have been up since 5:00 churning butter.

Farmer girl grinding the corn

We start the morning with a nice warm cup of tea and begin the morning chores. That morning, we wrestle the hard corn kernels off hundreds of ears of dried corn! We develop many different strategies for removing every single kernel, finally creating a 45 kg (100 lb.) pile. The corn is then ground into flour. Two stones – one on the bottom and another on top with a wooden stick sticking

out to spin the upper stone — crush the corn into flour. It is not easy at the beginning, but I quickly figure out the pattern and am able to work pretty quickly. Finally our last chore – milking the cow. Actually, it is a lot harder than it looks. There is a particular way to squeeze the udder and pull so the milk comes out. I am not very good, but I manage to get a handful anyway.

The cow isn't happy either

Unfortunately, it is time to say goodbye to our new “charros” (friends). Even though we had a terrible night of sleep, our village stay makes Bhutan even more memorable. Especially since we are the first visitors. I have learned that being a farmer is really repetitive; she wakes up in the morning with the same routine everyday. It might seem easy to have the same routine everyday, but working hard to survive is very difficult. If the farmer doesn’t collect enough potatoes or corn to sell in the market, then she has no food or money to buy other necessities. To make things worse, as kids start going to school and becoming more and more educated about the Western world, the number of children who want to follow in their parent’s footsteps as farmers decreases dramatically. They see more opportunities to make more money in big cities. This may change the farmer’s way of life Bhutan. I’m glad I experienced it when I did.

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One Response to “Prehistoric Pajama Party”

  1. WOW….great description of your stay at
    “Ye Ole Farmhouse”….life is sure different than in the USA!!!!! We should all decide which one of the Whites will be reminded of this type of life when he/she complains about having to a chore at home in Dover!!!!! Happy Birthday to the boys. Also read Mom’s lists for the first time….really funny! When is a book of your adventures expected to hit the market?????????? Miss everyone, especially being able to blare the Peter Cottontail record over the phone to your MOM on Easter! AANXIOUS for your return.
    XOXOX and virtual hugs to all.
    bibi