The Bold and the Beautiful
Driving down a bumpy road in the middle of Mekuri village in Pemagatshel, we were kicking up dust as we headed into the rural countryside. I was traveling to evaluate the work of a Field Officer – who was looking after the water tank construction and training the community in sanitation and hygiene.
I have a pretty incredible job as a Program Officer; I travel to some of the most desolate and dry places in Bhutan in search of clean water. And while the landscape changes, there is always one thing that never changes: the women are always walking. Whether I’m trekking the mountains of Mekuri, taking cover from a rainstorm in rural Pemagatshel, or tramping through the jungles, the women are always carrying water.
From my vantage point sitting in a car, I watch women gather up their children and move to the edges of the road to let us pass on. Their feet are gnarled and calloused – the result of hundreds of miles of walking barefoot over rocks, gravel, and mud. To compound that, the babies are strapped to their breaking backs, their brightly colored Kiras sway and their knees quiver and bend under the weight of water and child. Most balance the water pails on their shoulders, while some grip about 80 pounds of water with sweaty palms, or transport a bright yellow 5-gallon Jerry Can in each hand.
I’m in awe of how they manage this daily din. But they have no choice. The
average woman in rural Bhutan walks The Bold and the Beautiful about three miles every day for water. Often, it is water from putrid streams, rivers, or diseaseinfested swamps. Worldwide, women are more than twice as likely as men to collect drinking water. Moments later, we find ourselves in a clearing and the middle of a huge celebration. I usually prefer a surprise as it makes it easier to monitor how our water projects ad hoc. But once you visit a few communities, rumors of your presence fall faster than a waterfall.
We jump out of the car and walk into a party. The women meet us with exuberant cheers and welcoming dances. Pure and loud joy then rocks the village. This was when I met Tashi Lhamo. While most women drew back politely, she leaped towards me and screamed two inches from my face. Technically, it was singing. But the high-pitched shrieking was so loud and reverberated with such energy and emotion that I knew I had to talk to her. She told me about the new freshwater source and tank in her village.
“I am happy now,” she beamed. “I have time to eat. My children can go to school.
And I can even work in my kitchen garden, take a shower and then come back for more water if I want! And I am bathing so well!”
A few of the men chuckled hearing her talk about her bathing rituals. But all I noticed was Tashi’s glowing face, the fresh flower scents in her hair, and the lovely green kira she wore for the special occasion.