Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dogs and……

This past week my extended family had to help two beloved border collies move on to their next flock. These two lovely girls had filled our hearts and lives for 13 and 15 years. Certainly they were spoiled and certainly they deserved every moment. Dogs are omnipresent in Bhutan but in such a different role than in the U.S. Here in Bhutan all dogs, with a few exceptions, are considered stray dogs. That means they have no specific owner but they are an accepted part of the community. Their role is well defined but so different than my concept of dogginess. The dogs are free to do whatever they like. They lie where they choose, they wander where they will, their territorial disputes are overly dramatic, all of a sudden you will hear what sounds like a fight to the death with enough fierce growels and woeful yelps to believe one is being eaten. In the end one will demur and all returns to normal in a moment. The dogs are chased out of buildings when they come in to check things out. Chasing out consists primarily of a lot of “tsh tsh tsh tshshshtt” on the part of the chaser, occasionally some stick waiving or stone throwing finishes the task. Left over food (rice) is dumped in the yard with the anticipation some critter, likely a canine, will eat it. The dogs are primed to the sound of trash dumping. I sort my trash carefully, the only person in this part of Bhutan to do so I’m sure, I dump my organic waste over the bank. Every time the dogs come running only to find vegetarian kitchen scraps, very low on their menu.

Affection for dogs seems to be limited to kids and puppies. It is not unusual to see little children with arms full of puppies. The puppies here have the same forlorn “oh well if I have to” look as puppies everywhere seem to have as part of their DNA. But the number of puppies does not add up. Here, puppies are often seen in ones and twos. Litters do not work like that, quite what happens to the others is a mystery to me even after several conversations “around” the topic. The communities, with help from the government, do encourage neutering and even have large events in some of the bigger towns to try and control the population. The dogs, for the most part, are very well socialized, by and large they appear to be content, generally well fed and reasonably healthy. Dogs seldom get treatment of any kind so if a dog is ill or injured it is left to care for itself. However, one puppy did start visiting me when she was quite little, 6, weeks or so, she is now several months old and still comes to visit and responds to my voice whenever we meet out and about. My own personal share of the community dog bank.

The acceptance of all living critters is prevalent here. The sight of the cow parallel parked in perfect position between two cars provided me with a long and wonderful laugh. It is hard to capture in a snapshot but I still chuckle when it crosses my mind. Cows are a constant form of speed control on the roads, they have right of way and do indeed seem to be oblivious to anything so trivial as traffic. Speed on the roads makes me think. At home speeds are always dangerous and very often potentially lethal. A crash at 75mph is a serious matter. Here the average speed is around 30-40kmph or about 20-25mph. It is a bit like riding around in go carts or bumper cars. The danger from collisions is much less, however the roads are narrow and in poor condition and many roads frequently have huge drops if you go off the road on the downhill side.

The cows are placid and well trained, they are taken out to “pasture” every morning and brought home in the evening. The trip out and back can be a pretty good hike, many cows spend their days in the forest with someone to tend them. Here the boy who looks after the cows is called a cowboy, one of the lowliest positions in the workforce, they are generally uneducated and illiterate and on the path to a life that has been lived in this part of the world for centuries. In the
villages the cows graze every available patch of grass. From a distance many rural houses look like they have verdant green lawns around them, the cows are the primary caretakers when it comes to keeping everything trimmed. Every day I walk around cows in the yard or in the path munching whatever is available and mowing at the same time. They are tethered with any old scrap of rope and strap which is tied around their horns. If there is a possibility of the cows wandering into nearby vegetable gardens a stake is driven into the ground to keep them securely tied. Often they will be simply tied to a bush and it is not unusual to see a cow wandering around with an uprooted bush at the other end of their rope.

Many Bhutanese want to improve their existing house or build a new one, often right next door. The process begins by accumulating materials when they become available. This process can be spread over many years. The primary material to be obtained is wood. Whenever a tree falls nearby it is sawn into large timbers and stacked close to the house. Corrugated metal is laid over the top to protect the investment. In many areas the majority of houses have these stacks of wood
in their yards. Next is stone. The stone is dumped in piles of large rocks. It can sit like this for some time before the process of breaking it into useful building stones beings. The large rocks are broken with a sledge hammer and stones of about the same size are collected to be used in walls. They are laid with enough concrete to fill in around the irregular shapes. The traditional form of building is with pounded mud. It is inexpensive, readily available, relatively earthquake resistant, but does require maintenance and is not considered to be as permanent as stone. However the still standing ruins of villages that have been occupied over the centuries dot the rural countryside attesting to the durability of the thick, pounded mud walls.

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