Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Coasters, Mahindras, Prados, DCMs and Altos with maybe a bicycle or two – road transport by any other name!

Transport is a curious thing in Bhutan. When we lived in the east and in Samtengang it was always an issue.  Nothing was possible unless you could get a lift and that often involved calling up a venal driver who wanted more than the going rate because we are ‘chillips’ after all. Sometimes the best option was summoning up a driver from out of town and paying double because he would come to you empty. Other times just when you were about to abandon all plans to go anywhere a colleague, a friend or a complete stranger would materialize from nowhere and be thrilled to have you on board. Such is the chaotic and random state of transportation in the kingdom, especially in the rural areas.

When we moved to the capital I was initially surprised at the number of people who offered us lifts. In the first few days at Druk prior to the arrival of students at school, complete strangers just seemed to have a second sense about the fact that I was desperate to get to our apartment and back to school in as shorter time as possible because I needed something trivial from home and no taxi was in sight but later it became a positive plethora of offers from parents, who recognized me and knew where I lived and were going my way when they spotted me walking. Most of these offers were politely turned down as I do genuinely like the walk home and the opportunity to unwind it affords me. I am also somewhat obsessed with trying to clock up 10 kilometres a day on my feet so that would usually motivate me to politely say, “No, but thanks for offering. I really do enjoy the walk” often to the bitter disappointment of some small child, who I don’t teach but for whatever reason wanted me in their car. In the pouring rain or heavy hailstorms or simply in an exhausted state I do accept rides from one particular colleague who lives nearby and any parent who offers, but generally as the Chinese like to say, I take the number 11 bus! (Imagine your fingers walking)

Last year in the evenings after long late meetings, events or celebrations it was always protocol to ensure everyone had a ride home before we said our farewells and transportation for early morning starts was similarity judiciously prearranged. Here, in Thimphu, taxis abound and it is cheap and convenient to avail of them - once the 10ks have been achieved that it is! We make it a point to walk whenever we are unencumbered but still utilize the taxi service regularly.

This week has seen a bit of a turn in events on the transport front.  Yesterday while walking home the younger sister of a couple of boys, who I do teach, came running across the road to tell me her mother wanted me to come in their car. I was exhausted and knew I still had a couple hours of exam paper writing ahead of me and therefore decided, “OK I will!” I recognized the dimpled smile of little Miss Class IV, from the school concert last week, in which she bounced her feet off , in my personal favourite the Chilli Dance. I chatted with the children and got to hold the new puppy in the car and mum pointed out (in English) that she couldn’t speak English while I responded also in English that I really couldn’t speak Dzongkha. The kids enjoyed being translators and having better skills than two adults. Win, win, win! It wasn’t until I got out of the car that it occurred to me that there are very few places in the world where you would get in a car with some you hardly know and yet despite our total commitment to walking, we have done just that individually and together a couple of times already this year. In fact many BCFers see it as the only transport option. –“Just walk until someone offers you a lift”

Tonight however on the way home from school things went a little differently. I was focused on getting out of the gates and across the bad intersection near the school as I had already received a message from Ian saying he was there and waiting for me, so we could walk home together. One tiny, little, gho-clad individual waved and said “Bye-bye Madam Vicky,” several times and I responded without thinking much about it. A few moments later I realised this same miniature human and an only slightly older brother were about to negotiate the crossing near the school.  I immediately grasped their hands and got them across the road and they took off again walking in front of Ian and I and turning around frequently to see if we were still there. Finally we came to our senses and stopped them and asked why they were walking alone. It soon transpired that they should have been waiting at school but had taken off. Luckily the older one knew his mum’s phone number and it was confirmed on the ID around the younger one’s neck. I called and a vehicle was dispatched for them as it started to rain. Little Mr. Confident in PP immediate marched off with Ian’s umbrella, when it was proffered up and we had to firmly take hold of hands to ensure they didn’t take to wandering all over the road. A red vehicle materialized and a mad dash to cross the road was thwarted and a collision narrowly avoided. We all crossed over the “expressway” as senior students call it, and handed over the youngsters to mum’s friend, driving mum’s car. We happily strolled off into the ever-increasing rain but our umbrellas back in our own possession, with no lift even offered and no one found it at all odd that two tiny tots were with complete strangers and “chillips” at that.

How nice it is to live in a society where trust is still evident and it safe to take a lift from anyone who offers one no matter how old you are!

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