31 August (Thursday): Where are you going?

I think of this as the standard greeting in Bhutan. In the USA, when you see someone, you say, “Hello, how are you?” In Bhutan, you say, “Kuzuzampo” and the follow up is: “Where are you going?” Sometimes this can seem intrusive to us westerners. Why do you care where I’m going? What business is it of yours? “I’m going shopping” is an answer that makes sense here; “I’m going for a walk” is a little less legible, especially if you don’t know quite where the walk might take you. “Where are you going?”

But today, I learned the usefulness of this greeting. I was walking with Jeremy when I saw a young mother I had first met at his school.

At lunchtime, various parents (mostly mothers, but the occasional father) gather at the prayer wheel just by the soccer field and lay out mats and open tiffin tins of food to share with their children. It’s a lovely community gathering, and someday I hope to take a picture with permission. I’ve been sad that Jeremy doesn’t want to join the community there. Instead, we pick him up at lunchtime and bring him home for the afternoon. Still, while waiting for Jeremy, I had met Chencho Dema, who teaches Media Studies at Sherubtse and has a son in first grade.

At about 3:00 this afternoon, we saw Chencho and Kinley walking. “Where are you going?” she asked me.

“We’ve just been shopping,” I answered, glad to have such a convenient response. But then I boldly returned the query: “Where are you going?”

“I am going to the temple,” Chencho said.
“Oh! Can I come with you?” I asked. “Is it permissible?”
“Yes,” Chencho replied. “There is a public program every day at 4 for a month. But I have to take Kinley to a tutor first, and…” Clearly it wasn’t a good day to tag along today, but we made an appointment for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have been thinking about the query in other ways too. Where am I going with my teaching? I gave my students a self-assessment survey, and discovered that only about 20% of them were comfortable writing complex sentences (as opposed to compound or simple sentences) and only 10% were comfortable drafting a structured paragraph. “Where are you going, madam?” Where indeed? Or rather, if the destination is still a 60 page dissertation a year from now, how are these students going to reach that destination?