BHUTAN
BHUTAN
woman holding permissons
On Sept 11th, my hand stretched
through the bars of the immigration
office gates centered in Addis Ababa.  
Like a hundred others, I reached out to
beg ..... I mean truly  
gravel.....un-bothered and
un-enthused immigration workers to
receive our visas in order to leave the
country.  (As odd as it seems, Ethiopia
must be only nation which will keep you
in the country if your visa has run out.)
 My organization had requested a new
residence ID from the government  six
weeks earlier, but as any good
bureaucracy no word had been given
until the day before my departure.  Of
course that day was the eve to the
Ethiopian new year.......not just any
new year but the new year to usher in
the second millennium.  
The company lawyer was told by
immigration that they would be open
throughout the afternoon ..... of course
as the skeptical  seasoned African
traveler, I went to the immigration office
a couple hours early.  Low and behold
the government granted all its workers
the rest of the afternoon off for the
holiday.    It is at this point that comes
the fit of desperation from the crowd
outside the gates hoping to jump on a
plane in the next two days.  Needless to
say, with a brush of sweat swiped off
my brow, I got visa and enjoyed the
new millennium with style before
heading to Asia to meet my mother and
brother for an epic journey to Bhutan.  
(Maybe saying that it was an epic trip is
a stretch too far.  But, it was a fantastic
vacation through little Shangri-la at the
base of th Himalayan foothills.  
Each house has a fallus painted on the wall, hanging from the roof or
perched above the front entrance to symbolize fertility.
My mother, brother and I spent 17 days trouncing around the
Buddhist kingdom.  Bhutan is quite unique.  It has taken on a rather
focused approach to tourism, trying to avoid the culture shock of
absorbing tourists that Nepal has experienced over the past 40-30
years.  They have tourist quotas and a daily fee that needs to be
spent throughout your visit to the kingdom.  This basically keeps
shoestring backpackers  begrudgedly away and the retired flocking
in.  In, essences my brother and I were the youngest foreigners in the
country as far as we observed.
three generations
Bhutan is unique in other ways as well.  With the little
press that it gets, It often described as a backward
isolated kingdom which is slow to enter into the modern
world.  When I got there I didn't know what to expect.     
(As usual with many of my trips I know very little about
what I'm getting into.)  Recently the press scoffed Bhutan
for having mock elections.  The king is trying to push the
country to adopt a democratic monarchy, but the citizens
of Bhutan are a little reticent.  They like their monarch and
they don't understand how healthy opposition works.  If
the King wants it, they say it's fine with them.  In fact the
King wanted the constitution to add that the all monarchs
must step down after 65 yrs old.  The Government
rejected this idea.  They said that the King must be for life.
 When the King threatened to abdicate they relented and
put the provision back in the constitution.  This mock
election was to prepare the country for elections that
should happen in 2008.  We were there for some of the
campaigning
Bhutan is progressive in some other ways.  One of the reasons that mainstream press derides Bhutan is
because they refuse to open up and modernize.  They are not opposed to modernization, but they want to
modernize gradually to ensure that all people benefit and try to avoid many of the mistakes made by other
countries as they develop.  The cornerstone to their approach to development is based on a Gross
Happiness Index (GHI).  Unlike the GDP which measures wealth, Bhutan is skeptical of such an indicator
that emphasizes money over a spiritual and social fulfillment that is balanced within the confine of the
natural environment.  Instead they use the GHI as there measurement.  How does one measure happiness.
 The Bhutanese have 4 pillars to the GHI ........  promoting  equitable and sustainable economic
development, preserving cultural values,  balancing development within the constraints of a healthy natural
environment, and  good governance.  That is why there is a push for more transparent government and a
move towards democracy.  Cultural festivals are celebrated as holidays.  Citizens are expected to wear
traditional cloths in public and buildings are built using traditonal craft and aesthetics.  Access to schools
and medicine are free.  The mountains need to maintain 70-80% forest cover.
Tucked away in the Himilaya
foothills, the British felt it too much
of a bother to incorporate Bhutan
into the India Colony.  Since then,
it is been protected as a buffer
between India and China allowing
this kingdom to evolve at it own
pace.  

In general it was a fantastic trip
(minus the 7 days I was down with
malaria that I brought over from
the Somali Region in Ethiopia)  It
was great to travel as a family as
it is rare that we get to come
together.  And our guides Karma
and Gimpo kept us entertained
and well informed throughout our
journey
Tsongas are traditional monastary, administrative building and fortress.  
thery are still the used to day for all these functions