Letter from Bhutan

Candace Calsoyas reports on her arrival on a Fullbright fellowship to teach environmental literature in Bhutan.

Candace Calsoyas center, 2nd row, with red sash

Candace Calsoyas center, 2nd row, with red sash

We flew into this very small airport from Bangkok passing snow capped Himalayas. We have literally had a hard time catching our breath as we're at 7000 ft. but more than that it has been non-stop lectures for me, first to the ministers of Education and Agriculture and then to the royal Education council. Our driver takes us what seem like long distances over single lane roads under construction with lots of Indian laborers. the dogs sleep in the road and there are many; Buddhists love animals and the cows are called by name. they too wander around. the people here say if lost in the forest, follow the cows.



Most of my lectures focus American environmentalism, environmental literature, and the renaissance of farming and organics. here the rural systems are eroding and most food is imported from India and is heavily sprayed. My motto is that in California at UCSC, we have gone forward by going backward to traditional methods. This interests them greatly. They were fascinated with the Rachel Carson documentary and especially with the spraying of DDT which goes on here!

I've seen extensive reports on education reform which by the way include a spiritual component. This whole country is indeed about the Gross national happiness and yesterday at lunch the Director of Education of Bhutan explained extensively the concept. Their attitudes are that one cannot be happy if someone else is not. Therefore, no war is tolerated as it makes the enemy unhappy!

The food is wonderful but they do eat cooked chilis as a main course. the scenery is spectacular, and we are in a meditation center with individual orangey,highly patterned and decorated cabins, of sorts. We sleep beneath the Tiger's Nest, the monastery another 2000 ft perched above us.



There are few lights, no traffic sounds and unbelievable calm. Even in our meetings, with little light and people so soft spoken, I find myself sort of doing a loud whisper. especially interesting was a lecture I started by having the ministers write their definition of nature. The English here is outstanding and the people very acute. As our sponsor, Lhundup says, the Bhutanese are great strategists (since they don't believe in war) anyway the nature discussion was very interesting and they are thoroughly imbued with a Buddhist view of nature, that all living and non-living things are connected. this is the perfect place for an alliance given the  courses I teach and the Santa Cruz ethos.

We are fascinated with all of this country and it is making itself an extraordinary model for which visitors pay top dollar. It is wonderful that this is not the tourist season so our resort is pretty much to ourselves. we are quite a distance from the nearest town where we will go today. The architecture is very uniform with monasteries everywhere. Highly patterned buildings with elaborate woodwork add to the unreal quality of this place.



Tomorrow we move to a remote school in southern Bhutan where I will start the workshops for the teachers in environmental education.


Candace Calsoyas is a longtime Lecturer in the Literature Department at UC Santa Cruz.  Some of her courses include Environment and Society, Sustainability Internships, Literature of the Sea, and Semester at Sea. Candace is also an Associate Editor for Catamaran.