Bhutan Bhutan Bhutan : The Financial Bodhisattva

Yes my third trip here is coming to an end. For me Bhutan is a fascinating unique experience that I feel is very different for me than most.

There is the obvious benefit of traveling solo without a guide. It truly does feel like my own private travel destination. I get to pretty much do what I want and since almost everyone speaks English and the place is super safe, I can wander unmolested basically anywhere. And that privilege is not lost on me nor taken for granted.

But the big thing is really that I have friends here. I told my good friend Chhimi that it’s like being a “made man” in the mafia. People know me. I’ve been vetted. I’m not here short term. I have instant credibility.

This time I got to stay with Chhimi and Seday and their family. Their three kids, Seday’s folks and Pema (the gal that keeps the house rolling day by day) just let me drop into their lives for a month like it was no big deal. Between school and meals and just hanging out, it was constant entertainment being with a 5, 8 and 11 year old (all seemingly going on 25!) daily.

Watching them all jump back and forth between Dzongkha (the Bhutanese language), Hindi, Bengali, and English effortlessly is pretty amazing.

Nearly every meal is eaten together, on the floor, without distraction (Other than the 11 year old rap dancing and the girls dressing up) And you better like rice! Cuz it’s every meal. And I do!

Life is accelerated here so every time I visit, change is obvious. Bhutanese have more things and more visitors now (and truly tourism is an issue). So there is a natural cultural move towards having and wanting more. We are used to it in the west but seeing it in this tiny Himalayan country is just different. And certainly not a criticism. Just an observation that no western societies that want more more more are doing particularly well.

Yet the inherent nature of Buddhism has this Buddhist democracy willing to question itself as to its actions and intentions as it grows. And wedged between the two most populous countries in the world (there are only about 800,000 people here) makes it hard to ignore (as well as being smack dab in the crosshairs of climate change) the results of “too much”. It truly fascinates me.

This time on a work visa, my schedule was a bit up in the air. That’s not my strength to sit in limbo. But I practiced patience with myself and enjoyed Chhimi’s family as he figured out what to do with me. Thimphu is a city of 100,000 and I was not in my sweetest of spots to proactively use my time. But it was still great!

I did a little work with Seday on her female-owned and run tour company, edited their climate change adaptability plan (yes they have one) and I learned a lot more about Bhutanese daily life. I also got to visit my now good friend, the retired Kenpo at Nalanda monastery.

Spending four days there had me reconnect with the Kenpo and witness Buddhism in action and have deep philosophical discussions with him. Again. (I’m a Buddhist if you didn’t know). He calls me Bob Marley. It also got me to hang with my monk/student buddy Sikkim and play some music and hike a bit; in an area that now is becoming more familiar to me. I wish I could upload our version of Take Me Home Buddhist Roads. Destined to be a cult classic!

Being here for the first time in awhile had me witness the switching off of humidity as the season moved from wet to dry; seemingly overnight!

If you haven’t read about Bhutan’s commitment to Gross National Happiness, I suggest you Google it (or as my new friend today said Google Rinpoche). There is something about this place that just seems that you get what you get. Meaning disagreement, but no real bullshit, and certainly no duplicitousness of intentions. Ah. Buddhism.

With our busy, changing, last minute schedule stuff, we nearly forgot to schedule a meeting with Chhimi’s (of course) friends that have recently (last month or two) started a microfinance organization.

Well, you guys might know that’s been a part time interest/passion of mine. Mainly because I had my now non-existent “day job”. And it was my grad thesis. So I’ve been searching….Somewhat passively.

You can imagine my glee when I first had beers, then lunch, then delayed my departure to travel to meet the remote field person, Ugyen (yes a Chhimi friend). That guy gets around!

Visualize me having a conversation as to finance being a tool, profit is okay, but that it should be set up to empower and drive social and economic change and protect the little guy with financial programs. These guys are like “yup. We got karma man!”

Today when I sat with Ugyen for coffee, then rice and then whiskey (we talked for a long time) after both of us traveled rural Bhutanese roads for nearly three hours to meet, it was like meeting my finance guru.

A former banker, he moved back to his town to create change through “smart” and directed lending for projects that can change people’s lives and help them; not create a culture of indebtedness for disadvantaged rural families.

He farms and camps and is a vegetarian and is simply saying, “I’m good. How can I help?”

That’s when I coined the phrase Financial Bodhisattva .

For those that don’t know, a Bodhisattva is a spiritual being that when he/she achieves enlightenment, they choose to stay in this life and help others achieve enlightenment. The analogy is he/she sits on top of the spirituality wall, leaning over and lending a hand to help others to achieve enlightenment instead of himself/herself achieving nirvana and leaving. In this case, enlightenment is seeking financial peace. You always wondered what that Steely Dan song meant huh? Listen again.

I had already spent several hours working on a strategy document for these guys before I met Ugyen. Trying to figure out how to participate. Then I meet Ugyen. What a dude!

So I’ve informally committed to coming back in December for a few weeks after Nepal to spend time with him in his village and see how I can be useful with the group on a larger scale. Hopeful, yet scared that I potentially could participate in something I not only have a deep understanding with, but a deep emotional connection to. It’s what I want but when I thought I’ve had that in the past, it wasn’t what it seemed. If you guys remember my thesis/Mexico company/wanting to punch the American I worked with there moment, you know. Caution.

And I don’t mean with the people in this case. I mean, can I slowly step in here and be useful; knowing I’m not ready for a long term commitment nor am I sure as to how I would fit full time. We shall see.

It’s a long one. Sorry. But it’s been a month. I cross back into India tomorrow, gonna retrace trekking/travel steps from 21 years ago, then meet my Nepalese friend Sagar and my Basque boyfriend Txaber (remember him from Patagonia?) for my 4th trip to the Everest region. I’m older, not in the shape of two years ago, but get to trek with friends. Wow. Stay tuned.

Goodbye Bhutan! Kadrinche and see you soon!

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