Thimpuh, Bhutan

Today is one of those days that only happen once in your life. It’s a day that stays with you forever and you know it is so special that nothing will ever compare.

Today was the last day of my teaching the Screenwriting Workshop in Bhutan, where the students read their scripts, which they have developed and worked on over the past week. Their scripts were of original stories ranging from adaptations from folklore, news articles, and their unique experiences of living in Bhutan. Genres included romance, drama, comedy, family and magical realism. They explored what it is to be human, to live, to face death, to be Bhutanese, Buddhist, to be women, men and children, in the past and present. They tackled current issues of the tobacco laws, illustrated famous prophets that used their phallus to flight demons, a love story that connects the 15th century to present day and many more. The scripts were rich, with cultural identity flowing out of them.

I feel that the students came such a long way from the beginning. Some students were already scriptwriters, writers and other artists, but they all took my lessons to heart and applied the new knowledge with skill and elegance. If this is what they can create in one week, I can only imagine what is to come. I believe they are going to have a huge impact on the future of Bhutanese cinema, all in their own unique ways.

Beyond scriptwriting, these students are special human beings that I am so fortunate to have met. After we finished reading scripts before lunch, they presented me with two very special gifts, given as a collective from the entire group. The first was a beautifully embroidered bag of Bhutanese design. I will cherish it always.

The second is probably one of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received. It is a painting of the Story of Four Harmonious Friends, which is a symbol of connection and interdependence. In Bhutan, the story gives a national identity for people to live in harmony with nature, for people to co-operate with each other even with cultural differences, and for families to work together. It depicts an elephant, a rabbit, a monkey, and a partridge. The story begins with the four animals disputing about the fruits of the tree and to whom they belong. They argue all for their own reasons of why they felt the tree and the fruits would not have grown had it not been for each of them. They did all agree that the partridge spit the seed, to have grown it in the first place, so he became the elder. In the end, they became friends and decided to share the tree together in harmony, enjoying the fragrance, the fruits, and the shade, which it provided. Together they worked with their respective abilities to pick the fruits and no one went hungry. I thought this was a beautiful symbol of what it means to make films – to work cooperatively for a common goal and for all to benefit from the process and result. This is a beautiful message, with which to approach life’s challenges, which I know will help me endlessly. The painting is hung with vibrant traditional fabric surrounding it.

After lunch and the final readings of the scripts, I gave a modest speech to thank them for all that they have done for me, by being the students that there were. It felt inadequate for what I wanted to express, but perhaps some things cannot be expressed in words.

In the afternoon, the Minister came to visit. Our classroom was transformed into a formal setting, including a podium and a kind of thrown. Two people would sit next to the Minister, one was the Director of the Dept. of Information and Media, and the other was myself. Everyone wore their traditional clothing, including sashes on their left shoulders – different for women and men. I was able to borrow one on top of my own traditional outfit.

The Minister entered and commented on the fact that he expected an older woman, not someone young like me. Later he said that I may seem young, but have demonstrated maturity and achievements. He spoke about the power of the writing and that this initiative was very important to furthering Bhutan’s film industry and identity. He thanked those who helped make this happen.

When it was time for two of my students to speak about their experiences, I was moved to tears. I could not hold back. Miss Bhutan, who was one of my students, read the first speech. I really just want to cut and past it here. I could not believe such beautiful words were being said. It made me realize that my call to become a teacher was for connecting to students as receptive as this. Then Karma, my other student, spoke. I cannot quite believe that he drafted this speech in a matter of 30 minutes prior. It was so poetic, meaningful and moving, that it has really been my greatest honor and award for being a teacher for the past 10 years. Nothing will top these two speeches, as it changed my heart to hear how they feel about my teaching and me as a person. I did not know this was possible. No one has ever said this to me, and in line with Buddhism, it goes far beyond the words. I think the students and I have somehow become transformed through this experience. They were once individual students and I was a their teacher, but now we are a group that is forever bonded through storytelling, mutual teaching and learning, and giving fully and honestly of our hearts.

This, I believe, was teaching at its highest level. I learned as much as they learned. In this experience, I gave everything of myself that I could, with truth, love and sincere desire to help these students, and ironically, I was the one who walked away with the greatest gift – a profound meaning for my life’s path.  

I am thankful that I will see the students again next week, for our potluck dinner atop Buddha Point, amongst prayer flags and before a spectacular view of Thimpuh.

Tomorrow I am off to see parts of Central Bhutan, which has kindly been arranged by the Department of Information and Media. I feel beyond lucky! Gross National Happiness is becoming clearer to me….



Leave a Reply


    Eva Ziemsen is a Professor, filmmaker, and life-long learner.


    May 2011