Blonde went to Bhutan with a small group (6) of women on a cultural tour. Fortunately, our guide had friends in a village near where we stayed one night and they had invited us to come to their home for tea. You can hardly look at someone in Bhutan without getting handed a cup of tea so that wasn’t unusual but we were thrilled to have the chance to go into a Bhutan private home. You can’t tell much from the exterior of the homes other than if the family looks to be prosperous or not and even that can be hard for Westerners. We were told that this was the home of a “rich rich” family of potato farmers.
We all traipsed self-consciously into the home terrified that we would commit some unknowing gaffe. Our hostess was the 18 year old daughter of the family. She was very shy and at first said that she spoke little English, but she certainly understood it all, so it was probably shyness that made her reluctant to speak English. Students in Bhutan learn English in school. This young woman was 18 and had to quit school after the 9th grade to take care of the home. She has several younger siblings and her parents work.
Apparently many women her age get married but when asked if she was interested in getting marriage she giggled a lot, waved her hands, shook her head and said “no”. (The minimum age for women to marry is 16. The Bhutanese do not practice dowries and they divide their land equally among sons and daughters.)
We all sat on the floor to have the tea served to us. The young woman had gone to a lot of bother getting a tray of nice china cups together and making a couple of types of tea. It seemed odd to us to sit on the floor but that is what Bhutanese people do in their homes and, when they aren’t being observed by nosey tourists, many of them eat with their hands.
But, far more impressive than the tea, was the mounds of buckwheat noodles she made for us! There is a small wooden press, a “putta” in the kitchen and it’s used to produce the noodles. To see the process click here. The short version is that you put the dough in the little cut out area where the young woman’s hand is. Then you press or sit on the long handle and noodles come out the bottom and fall into a bowl (unless you forgot to put one there).
So now you can see why the bowls of noodles below were an impressive display of work .
While we ate we learned that this young woman’s family has lived in this home for – pay attention here – 23 generations! Apparently they don’t like to “flip” their real estate the way so many American do!
We noticed that this home, which was spotless, was heated with a wood stove as were most of our hotel rooms in that area. But this family also had a television in the corner of the kitchen. It was an older model and not in any great place of honor. Television was illegal in Bhutan until June of 1999. We were told that there’s only one Bhutanese TV station and otherwise people can mostly only get Indian soap operas so that may be why the TV looked a little lonely!
Buddhism is the religion of Bhutan and every Bhutan private home has some sort of shrine. This was a sizable room and well decorated. Clearly they dedicated a lot of space and time to their religion in this home. Many places have very modest shrines – but they have them!
In addition to the kitchen, shrine room and this room (above) where the family can congregate they also had three or four bedrooms which we didn’t see. The stairs up to the shrine room and bedrooms were very steep, more of a ladder than stairs, so they must not drink much, if any, alcohol in this home!
As we were leaving we saw a box that had recently been delivered and contained an electric washing machine. This would be a significant luxury in a small village so we were really believing the “rich rich” designation the family had been given.
When we walked back through the village we had even more of an appreciation of the size and condition of the home we had visited. The tea (even though we were only able to eat about 10% of the buckwheat noodles) was a highlight of the trip. I’d love to know what our hostess thought of us – or at least I think I would!