While I was trying to write this blog post, on the one part, I was actively following the third round of Bhutan’s national election that is underway marking ten years of successful democracy in Bhutan. On the other part, I was trying to finish my final assignments as I complete my internship with the Justice Services Branch in the BC Ministry of Attorney General. I was also thinking of an intensive fall that awaits me. I kept losing track of what I should write about. I thought if I should act to be a pundit and write about which party I predict will form the government this year in Bhutan? Should I write about my internship experiences in BC Government? Should I write about the future I am contemplating? However, in between these lost thoughts, I realised that it has been almost a year since my family and I moved to Victoria, Canada. Therefore, I decided to write about my journey from Bhutan to Canada. My family and I travelled from the extreme east to the extreme west. From a very small landlocked Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan sandwiched between the two Asian giants, India to the south and China (Tibet) to the north.
While I was deciding to come to Canada, we had many things happening in my home institution; Bhutan’s first law school – Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law (JSW Law). I was travelling across the United States of America with my colleagues meeting prospective donors with a hope of raising fund to sustain Bhutan’s only law school. My friends and I were recruiting our first batch of students, administering the Law School Admission Test (LSAT-Bhutan) and conducting student interviews.
As I was processing my Canadian visa, I was working with a team to complete logo design, we were preparing to welcome our first pioneer batch of 25 students (12 male and 13 female); working with the dedicated team in designing student welcome materials, programmes for the opening of the law school, and developing my orientation course on “Introduction to Bhutanese Legal System”.
We welcomed our first batch of students on 3rd July 2017, and I was an event photographer of the day. July 2017 was a fascinating month, the orientation course I was teaching involved visits to important institutions and audiences with the heads of the government branches – the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the Parliament, and also visiting the Attorney General and different tiers of courts.
The 4-week orientation programme ended on 29th July with the grand opening of the Law School in the presence of the Honourable President of the Law School, Princess Sonam Denchan Wangchuck, members of the Governing Council, and other guests including our donors and partners. Again, I was one of the event photographers of the day. At the end of the month, I was still waiting for my visa approval. The time taken to process visa didn’t worry me much because longer it took, more time I got to be a part of the team. You see! I wasn’t quite prepared to leave my home institution. Partly because of my commitment to contribute in every little way possible and partly because I wasn’t ready to miss on exciting developments I could be part of. However, my organisation had my PhD planned for quite a sometime, if not now, I was going to take study leave anyhow in the future.
Further, I realised that this is the opportune time to take study leave because my teaching responsibility at the first law school begins in August 2019. I needed to get back soon, and I needed to get whatever knowledge or skills that would prepare me for teaching. QES funding was very timely, it is very fortunate that Professor Victor V. Ramraj came across the New York Times’ story on our first law school. Therefore, I must say, I was destined to come to Victoria. Then, I started to worry about the visa for the first time. It was taking time. August ended and I was still waiting for my visa. The first week of September 2017 was a big relief, I got confirmation for our visa. We were then faced with many challenges, we couldn’t really prepare to depart to Canada before getting visa confirmation. Not enough time to dispose of things we don’t need anymore, no time to look for a place to store our stuff for two years, and very less time to prepare for our travel. The classes were already started even before we began our journey from Bhutan.
New home for a few years
The 18th day of September 2017 was the day we stepped onto beautiful Canadian soil. Oh! Vancouver – Victoria flight was the only flight I ever enjoyed in-flight sleep so much. Somehow, I always found difficulty enjoying travel by flight. However, that short flight was a completely different experience. But I don’t understand why? Maybe because I was exhausted, or perhaps because the short flight helped reduce my stress of flying for a longer duration, or probably the destination was very close.
Finally, we arrived at Victoria International Airport safe but away from our home. I got many opportunities to travel to different countries, but I never moved to a new place with a whole of my family. This travel was quite a different experience. It got me thinking, will we be able to adapt to a new environment, how would I avail medical services should my family fall seek, where do I go shopping? Questions only kept mounting!
Professor Victor V. Ramraj was waiting for us at the Airport. That was our second meeting. My family and I met him in Bhutan in July 2017, he came to Bhutan with his family for a vacation. Professor Victor and his family were the only people we knew in Victoria or in the whole of Canada. We were very happy to see him again. He drove us to the apartment he booked for us, took us shopping, and he made sure we are comfortable. Professor Victor and family had everything, literally everything we needed arranged for us. It genuinely was like moving from one home to another home. We had many other people help us in this process of our transition; from Centre for Asia Pacific Initiative (CAPI), Graduate Program – Faculty of Law, and others. My family and I are humbled by the help extended to us.
On the 19th of September, I attended my first class. With 14 hours time difference between Victoria and Bhutan, and after changing around four flights to reach Victoria, first class was a real nightmare. I just didn’t know what happened that day, new place, new teaching style, and the new environment – it felt like I was having a very rough dream.
However, people here are very welcoming and willing to extend help anytime. It was a very homely feeling. Weather at least temperature-wise, is quite same, though winter in Bhutan can be very dry; we get occasional snowfall in the North. When I was coming to Canada, I was told that Victoria usually doesn’t get much of a snowfall – but we at least got three snowfalls last winter. Vegetation looks very similar, cedars, pines, oaks, and many more.
Connecting through Traditional Beliefs
On one weekend, some of my batch mates lead by Professor Rebecca Johnson visited Mount PKOLS (Douglas). It took me back not only to Bhutan but my childhood days. I come from a very remote place in Bhutan – very rich in traditional practices. As we walked up, Professor Johnson narrated to us how Indigenous way of life is interconnected with a natural environment. She told us about how almost all the trees and plants we saw along the path were culturally, spiritually, and economically connected to the First Nations.
Those trees and plants have ensured their survival for a thousand years. She narrated to us how cedar was harvested and how different parts of the tree were used to their benefits including their belief as having healing and spiritual powers. The belief that the cedar tree as having its own life and spirit, burning cedar during prayers to allow smoke to carry the prayers to the creator and drive out negative energies and bring in positive energies.
In my village, growing a crop is very ritualistic affair even now. The villagers would look for auspicious dates to sow seeds, to start first weeding, and to harvest. I remember, how beautifully my mother and sisters used to sing while they harvest rice to thank god and deities for good yields. People in Bhutan still believe that mountains, trees, lakes, rocks and rivers (waterfalls) are inhabited by local deities. Even now, climbing mountain is restricted in Bhutan. Burning cedar (cypress) is believed to cleanse negative energies. While two places are miles apart, there are lots of similarities between Indigenous practices and Bhutanese beliefs. I felt very at-home and connected. Oh! I saw lots of fiddleheads at Mount PKOLS – they make a very delicious dish in Bhutan.
Being Human is Difficult but worth it
We sometimes forget to keep our feet on the ground. We are quite often racing against time and our neighbours trying to reach for the stars, but at what cost! Our family? Our friends? Our society? We almost always forget that “We” exist because “They” exist, or “I” exist because “You” exist. We get blinded by the promises of individualism and fail to see the reality and good of the interdependence or interconnectedness. We often forget to be what we are – to be a human.
I really enjoy riding public transport (bus) in Victoria, very reliable and economical. Reduces carbon footprint I am leaving behind. As usual, I was on my way to the office. At one of the bus stops, I saw a man on a wheelchair approach the bus. The driver released the wheelchair ramp and walked towards passenger seats. He bent down and folded the seats to create space for the wheelchair. He waited until the man confirmed that his wheelchair is fully secured. It may be a minimal and simple gesture, but I think that is what we call being a human. It is so simple yet so real and invaluable. The irony is, in today’s world we quite often find difficult to do simple things – we forget the human touch. However, I only had positive experiences during this one-year time in Victoria. People are always ready to help and are very polite. It is a beautiful place inhabited by the beautiful people. Willingness to share what they don’t need or are in excess, to volunteer for community services and genuine concerns for the good of neighbours. My connection or interaction with the people in Victoria helped me restore my faith in humanity.
Readings I fell in Love and Revival of the diminishing self-collective worth
I haven’t enjoyed the readings I was introduced to in my past studies. I always thought something was missing in those readings. Almost all the readings would indirectly suggest that the society I belong to is backward, poor and not developed. They instilled in me a false truth that our law, system or way of life is inferior compared to theirs. My mind was getting colonised, I was constantly made to believe that I should make more money and I should work for my individual success. My desire only continued to grow.
My family and I from a place where our government strives to measure national progress by the collective happiness of the people. Where people genuinely believe that economic development or accumulation of wealth is not the only source of happiness. Our Fourth King said, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” The reigning King said that for him, GNH means “development with values”. Gross National Happiness is the development strategy adopted in Bhutan in the 1970s. It involves maintaining a balance between four essential pillars – sustainable development, environmental protection, preservation of culture, and good governance. Many scholars around the world are branding it as the alternative development or by few as an alternative to development. However, for us it is more than a development paradigm – it is our way of life. We constantly keep ourselves reminded that spiritual and ecological well-being are also equally important sources of happiness. Living in harmony with the natural environment was and is an integral part of our life.
The classes I attended, the readings I am introduced to and the conferences I attended since I came to Victoria had more to do with sustainable development and environmental protection, climate justice and calls to fight capitalism. If not all, there are quite a reasonable populations condemning the western development discourse, and making continuous attempts to seek alternative development approaches. It was fascinating to read that many scholars and policymakers in developed countries including Canada recognise the need to adopt alternative development approaches. Some states have identified Indigenous practices as possible alternatives like Buen Vivir in Andean countries and Ubuntu in African countries.
I could really connect to the readings I have been doing in this past one year. I realised that I don’t actually belong to a backward society, instead, we are farther ahead of other communities in our own ways. The readings helped me admire what we in Bhutan are trying to achieve through Gross National Happiness. The past readings almost got me thinking that the concept of GNH has no room in this world. I firmly believe that I reached a right destination; I now realise how important the concept of GNH is, and my respect has grown by many folds to the Fourth King for envisioning such a profound concept at the very young age.
The only Law School in Bhutan – we are committed to educating our law students on Gross National Happiness and Law, the Sustainable development and law, environmental law, appropriate dispute resolutions (which is alternative dispute resolution in a western term), and law, culture and religion trying not to isolate law entirely from social. We intend to train a new generation of lawyers who are committed to providing the best legal services to enhance the well-being of the people.
What I have learned here in this one year time has helped me renew my belief and commitment to the goals we have set for ourselves. I am here on a mission, to learn as much as I can – I am committed to taking all kinds of opportunities presented to me. Therefore, I have been attending conferences, seminars, and lots of workshops conducted by UVic. I will go back as a better person than when I came to Canada from Bhutan. I will take back all the positive things including my connection with UVic and the people I meet – Professors and colleagues. I will always continue to remain connected.