Bhutan’s collectiveness keeps COVID-19 away.

Here I am, back into the capital city of this Himalayan kingdom. Since I would get stuck into a remote area in eastern Bhutan I had to abruptly switch silence and nature for (what is now even in my eyes too) the big city life of Thimphu.

My two days journey was filled with hours of chitchatting with locals. After observing the relation between the king and his people for five months now, for the first time in my life I genuinely felt love for a king. Ever since I am in Bhutan people started to ask me about my king in Belgium… honestly, I had to go look up his name. I simply forgot. But the royal family of Bhutan I will not forget.

The fifth king and his government

The king had a message for the people. He is concerned. So BBS,the local tv channel, displayed his speech which was an update on COVID-19. Even though I do not speak Dzongkha, during his speech I became so calm because of how consciously and calmly he speaks. I heard he went three times a week from Thimpu to Phuentsholing, which is a border town with India, just to check up on his people. For those unfamiliar with Bhutan, this is a 4-6 hour drive by car, one way.

Everyone in Bhutan is worried, although almost none go to the stage of panic or Spencer and Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory. Because the Bhutanese take care of each other more than anything. Everyone is doing their part to prepare and prevent the virus from spreading. The government offered a one month salary to tackle the virus. Hotels and individuals offer their homes as quarantine zones. A general donation fund was opened in order to sustain during these unusual circumstances.

The infected American tourist

When the first COVID-19 case arrived to Bhutan the people were afraid. Afraid yes, but not a single person blamed the American tourist for bringing this virus to their country. While I was silently judging him a little bit for entering an uninfected country from an already infected country and even travelling through India, another infected country, the Bhutanese citizens felt pity.

He was given the best care they could offer and strangers even brought food for him to the hospital since he has no family here to take care of him. There was not a moment of judgement by the Bhutanese. Because that is how people here treat one another: no judgement but with understanding, pity and hospitality. Right now in total there are three cases in Bhutan. Two of them are foreign tourists and one other is a Bhutanese student returning from the UK. All are monitored safely in quarantine. On top of that these 14 days of quarantine are like any other healthcare issue provided free of charge.

Tourism ban

There was one case a few weeks ago when tourists were still allowed to enter Bhutan where people shouted at the foreigners and avoided them very obviously. Immediately the national newspaper, Kuensel, wrote an article on this matter to prevent this kind of attitude. The importance of values and reputation are immense in Bhutan, so in order for tourists to keep coming in the future, the people should remain humble.

March and April form the high season for tourism. There are thousands of people involved in this business. Now there are no guests, no work so no money. When it comes to economics it surely is a big global concern. I just hope that when this shall all pass, the tourists will return.

Gross National Happiness

Before the outbreak of this virus I always felt GNH was a little bit overrated. It is literally a way of how Bhutanese portray themselves to the world as a happy Shangri-La. I did not believe this and have experienced it from different perspectives. But being here during a world crisis, I can see it for myself. Human wealth above economic wealth. At all costs. Gross National Happiness is real.

Looking for a home

When I abruptly had to change my home from the college campus back to the capital city I made facebook post on my need for accommodation since I had no place to stay. While in other countries foreign people are being harassed these days because of the virus, I received responses from more than thirty people offering me a room, apartment or negotiable price in their hotels. People take care of me like I am their own family. They do not know individualistic egoism as we do in the west. They think and act collectively. The way to solve this virus is to be like a Bhutanese. Be mindful and show empathy.

We still hug, we still joke around and life still goes on in the kingdom of Bhutan. That is because early preventive measurements were taken, and are still standing strong. If you are damnless thinking you are immune and that this pandemic is a far-away-from-bed-show, then you get the European scenario. This is an update coming from a developing country across the Himalayan mountains. Prevention and monitoring from the early start is the most effective solution. Tashi Delek, Bhutan!

PS: those who are complaining about their quarantine 24/7 while staying in huge homes, hotels, being able to watch unlimited netlix, work-out, eat whatever they want, basically with all comfort in the world…. Please, just stop it already.

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