Traditional Healing in Bhutan
I just got home from my week in Bhutan -- it takes two days to travel there, and I’m jet lagged beyond belief. The time I spent with native healers and allopathic doctors in Bhutan’s capitol city of Thimpu was truly rewarding, and I’m happy to report they share a respectful co-existence A robust system of cross-referral thrives in the small Himalayan kingdom, known for its Gross National Happiness economic and ecological policies.
March 27, 2009
Time to dive into my mission here: ethnographic study of Bhutan's health system, its translation of Gross National Happiness principles into health outcomes, and an exploration of how well medical pluralism thrives.First stop: traditional Asian medicine physician, Dr. Mindu Gorji, where I had my pulses read and my tongue analyzed. I did, however, skip out on the blood letting and swallowing of some rather questionable looking precious gem herbs rolled in dirt from a high-arsenic soil territory.I met with the Director of Public Health, Health Ministry—his dedication to equity, access, and quality was admirable. His responsibilities cover administration of a multilayered distribution of health programs from the National Hospital through grassroots Community Health Workers. Then I visited their national hospital and was amazed at the amount of work done with limited resources.
March 26, 2009
= = = When we return to Bhutan next year, we must try to come during a festival or two. Otherwise, the endless stream of quiet, solemn, monasteries start to merge in your mind.
I've lost my sense of time, days, and I'm no longer introducing myself through my bio. I'm just wandering now, sitting with children and shopkeepers, trying to understand what I'm witnessing. I pray in clockwise circles around temples, following lay-monks and nuns, in the center of Thimphu, while hundreds of working class Indians build bamboo scaffolding around yet another concrete apartment building.
How does Christianity fare in this all-Buddhist kingdom? As an overlay on a cultural backdrop of belief in demons, hungry ghosts and well...you decide.
This week a 46-year-old mother of five was beaten to death and hanged as a witch by a gang of Christian converts in a village called Dumtoe Gewog, aided by two pastors and her husband. No one has a comment. She must have had some very bad karma, says my interpreter.
Other news: Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche will translate for the first time the entire Buddhist canon, including 108 volumes of Kangyur, Buddha's direct teachings. Widespread celebration greets that announcement, especially in the official newspaper, which reports everything with the words, "graciously applauded" or "generously granted” by the King or the government.
I'm off to breakfast: one brown egg and chilies. Wish you were here more than ever. I need a CIIS colleague to sort this all out.
I also spent time with native healers both inside the formal Institute of Traditional Medicine and outside the system. Medical pluralism is alive and well here, and a means of referral back and forth between native healing and allopathic medicine manages to succeed, surprisingly, in the rural areas better than in the larger cities. Tonight is my last night in Bhutan. I'll fondly hold the land of the thunder dragons in my heart forever. I'll miss the countryside most with the towering rhododendron and magnolia trees, yak herds, and terraced rice fields, and the easy smiles of these warm and gracious people.I can't wait to take you back here with Alumni Director Richard Buggs. Save your Nu.
Last night was my first attempt to sleep in the land of the thunder dragon, which could have easily been named land of the incessant barking dogs instead. Earplugs did no good; but I'm still thrilled to be here.
March 20, 2009
Today I hiked up toward the famous Tiger's Nest monastery, which looks like it was thrown against a cliff at 10,000 feet or so. It was founded by Guru Rinpoche in 796 AD when, legend has it, he flew in on a tiger's back and meditated there, conquering the local demons and convincing them to protect the spread of Buddhism instead of troubling the local villagers. Quite the diplomat. The monastery was completed sometime in the 17th century.
My interpreter, Pema, complained of chest pain all the way to the Tea House (about half-way to the monastary). I played doctor-nurse, and made sure we weren't aggravating a medical condition that was either exertional angina or a hiatal hernia. Bhutan "belly" is growing more prominent with increasing prosperity. His pain resided when we stopped the hike. I'm taking him to the one hospital in Thimpu (built around 1960) for an EKG.
Now we're back in Paro at the only Internet cafe in western Bhutan, where I'm surrounded by a small crowd of curious onlookers, who want to know about online dating sites in the U.S. Talk about a dilemma. The anthropologist in me is delighted to be in a country with such a fierce commitment to preserving cultural integrity, and yet there's no stopping cultural change—it's a dynamic force.
So, I let them know about a free site, plentyoffish.com, and three young Bhutanese men are posting photos and bios within seconds. "Come here, Meggy! Look at this—I got a response already from Nadia in Tuck-Son!"
Happiness—how do we measure it? That will be my question to the Health Minister on Monday. Until then; photos to come.