From Bhutan: Insights On Water, Community, And Living

A person can only truly grow when they are pushed out of their comfort zones.

I just got out of the shower. I mean shower in the loosest possible way. I’ve been saving a bucket of water in the corner of my bedroom for the past week as I’ve been trying to decide when the most economical time for me use it would be. Seeing as I have to give a presentation in the morning tomorrow as part of the curriculum for the Master’s program I’m presently enrolled in, it seemed that now was as good a time as any to lug it into the shower stall and use a pitcher to give myself a bath.

I had lived in Bhutan for about a year prior and decided to return to Druk Yul, or the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, as it is known in the national language. As such, I was well acquainted with the infrastructural shortcomings that exist once you step out of the lavish resorts and into life as the Bhutanese experience it. I thought I was a seasoned veteran and knew what was to be expected, but nothing could have prepared me for this.

An especially bad monsoon, combined with road widening projects, has been causing landslides which are washing away the piping that supplies water to the entire college and many households further down the mountain from where the college is perched. I’ve been back on campus for a little over a month now and can count the number of hours we have had running water using just my fingers and toes.

Born and raised into a comfortable middle-class life in the United States, twisting the faucet would surely let forth a gush of water. Now when I turn on the faucet, a barely audible gurgle reverberates through the pipes and fades away in a couple seconds as a slight release of pressure occurs. Sometimes, my ears are not even graced with the reminder that water exists somewhere down there. This is how one comes to appreciate the true value of water.

Photo: Bryan Gensits

A few times a week my roommate and I load up his faded red, Toyota Hilux Surf with our and our neighbors’ empty jugs and storage containers and drive twenty minutes down the mountain to a spring known as drubchhu or “holy water”. Such springs are relatively common throughout Bhutan and named as such because the water from them is so pure it can be drunk straight from the source. The spring doesn’t flow fast and filling up all of our jugs takes a considerable amount of time, but such experiences offer lessons in patience and appreciation for what is so easily taken for granted when in the comforts of the developed world.

Our trips to the drubchhu are sometimes able to be avoided by an especially heavy rainfall. Everyone places their buckets outside in hopes that the overflowing gutters will provide enough to fill them adequately. Collecting water in such a way gives one gratitude for every drop and provides us enough to cook, clean, and make a healthy amount of tea.

Photo: Bryan Gensits

There is not enough water for things that are not essential however. Chiefly, showers and toilets are extremely water intensive and are not a matter of survival so they naturally get nixed. What was once a burden, my early morning walks deep into woods with my shovel and toilet paper in hand has become a joy. Having a solitary walk through the woods of the Himalayan foothills built into my morning every day provides time for introspection and undisturbed thoughts which I would be unlikely to give myself regularly if not forced into it.

The lack of showers is not nearly as much of a joy. The human body (or at least my human body) reaches what I refer to as “peak dirty” after about three shower-less days. I cannot get much dirtier and after this point it stops mattering when the next true shower will come. A splash of water on the face and back of the neck followed by a spray bottle to style my hair with is all the water that I permit myself to use daily. An extra layer of deodorant is applied for good measure and I’m ready to begin the day.

While it falling into the trap of misery is easy when life without running water thrusts itself on you, it has many lessons to teach if you are receptive. A sense of community forms as everyone is reliant everyone else’s consideration for there to be enough water left to cook their next meal. Such a community is only as strong as its least selfless member and such a group dynamic is enriching to live in. Life in a developing country is constantly challenging, but it is through such challenges that growth can occur. A person can only truly grow when they are pushed out of their comfort zones and are pushed through the boundaries of what was once thought to be a limit. It may not always be pleasant, but taking the plunge to live in a world that you are not in control of will surely present opportunities that, if you are receptive, will make a more fulfilled human out of you through means that were previously unimaginable.

bhutan community
Photo: Bryan Gensits

Bryan Gensits


Bryan is currently based in Punakha, Bhutan where he's completing his M. Sc. in Natural Resource Management at the Royal University of Bhutan. He enjoys mountain biking, trail running and trekking.

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