Friday, February 18, 2011

Hey, Baby!

The world is a beautiful place and worth being welcomed to. That is why in Bhutan, births are a huge cause for celebration not just for the family of the newborn but for the whole community. The wife of one of our Dzongka teachers had a baby a month ago so it came time the other night for the entire school staff to visit his house and party hardy. We brought gifts of baby shampoo, baby oils, baby blankets, and, most telling of the plan for the evening, a big case of beer. (Druk 11000, naturally.)

The party proceeded, in typical Bhutanese fashion, in a series of stages. Phase one was tame: tea with biscuits, dry cereals, and puffed rice. Puffed rice, which tastes just like puffed wheat cereal at home is eaten two ways. You pop little fingerfuls in your mouth or you sprinkle it in your beverage. Like the bear sings, "Can't get enough of that Sugar Crisp in my tea."

Then came a stage that is unique to baby-welcoming parties, the drinking of a fermented millet drink, the Dzongka word for which sounds like the English word "chunky." Chunky looks like hot chocolate, has the texture of Murphy's Irish Stout, and tastes like a cross between red wine and coffee. It is called "baby milk" because traditional custom dictates that a lactating mother should drink a lot of it mixed with eggs and butter. Everyone must drink a little chunky at a baby-welcoming party whether they like it or not (I love it!), to guarantee the health of the baby.

After the chunky came the long stage of drinking other alcohol. Generally, the women take wine and the men take beer or ara with some hard drinks around the room as well. It is difficult to guard against overdrinking in Bhutan for two reasons. First, Druk 11000 beer is 8% alcohol against Keiths'5%. Second and more importantly, in Bhutan your companions refill your glass after every time you sip. Your glass must be perpetually full until you are done for the night. But don't worry Mom, I'm taking good care of myself.

After drinking and talking and carrying on for a very long time, it was time for my favourite stage, the eating. Food in Bhutan is always served buffet style and there are always lots of choices. Bhutanese start with a huge heap of rich and then surround it with various curries and meats. There are also small bowls of soup or stew well worth grabbing. Everything here is delicious. (Well, as a Nova Scotian I haven't quite wrapped my head around the landlocked seafood: thin, hard, salty, dried fish, but everything else is delicious.)

The final stage was filled with the feeling of being full. There was a return to drinking for a while and more lovely conversation. Then we headed home. We were out of there by 8 so that mother and baby could have a good night's rest. Oh yes, the baby. Somewhere in that schedule of festivities, I met the baby. He is a beautiful boy and slept gently through it all. Welcome to the world.


  1. Wow Wow Wow---It sure seems like that community has it's priorities straight. Unbelievable way to celebrate a child's entry into this world. It sure takes a village.... there. Wow--What a night to be part of!
    Thanks for sharing this beautiful celebration with us! Mama M

  2. Wouldn't the altitude also contribute to the difficulty in guarding against over-drinking? :P

  3. Sounds like a nifty shindig! It seems like there is a very strong sense of community there-

  4. Wow, sounds like a fun time! So many things you guys are getting to experience! I can taste the chunky... :P

  5. I love this tradition and the way you tell the story. I read it again and again and it touches me everytime. Thank you my dear sweet baby girl. Mom M