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Letter from Bhutan

Tshewang Dendup Thimphu, Bhutan,
Saturday September 15, 2001


The phone rings every now and then. My digital answering machine has run out of memory. I spent Tuesday night answering numerous calls from family, friends and strangers. They wanted me to put into perspective what they were seeing on cable television. They thought I was the person to ask for. After all I had spent two years studying broadcast journalism in a reputed American university (UC Berkeley). The live coverage from Fox TV, CNN and the BBC had half of Bhutan glued to the sets. They could not figure out what they were seeing on the monitors. My father who takes care of a temple could not believe in the first place, that a building 110 stories high, existed. I did a terrible job explaining the tragedy to him. New York, Manhattan, Wall Street, the Pentagon, hijacking, jumbo jets, terrorism, Air Force One and a host of other terms were beyond his comprehension. My dad has never set foot inside an aircraft.  

On Wednesday morning, the streets of the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu wore a deserted look. School children were returning from their schools. The morning rush hour traffic was gone because the offices were closed for the day. The national flag flew at half-mast. The local soccer match was postponed. The government had declared a national day of mourning. 

In the afternoon, I went with my crew to cover a somber and solemn ceremony at the inner sanctum of a temple located in the building of the central government. His Majesty the King and the government had invited all Americans living in Bhutan to light butter lamps for the souls of the victims of the terrorist attacks. 

On the hand polished floors of the temple, monks in their maroon robes chanted prayers in their sonorous voices. 

Most of the Americans I spoke to after the ceremony were moved by the gesture of the Bhutanese people. We talked about the core of the Buddha’s teachings; ahimsa, non-violence. In prayer and in shock, the Bhutanese are trying to understand the enormity of the terrorist attack. For many Bhutanese, the scale of the crime and the intentions of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s horrible attack, will continue to remain beyond the grasp of their imagination. 

Hundreds of years ago, many Bhutanese used to trek for months to go to Tibet and India to study in the renowned Buddhist universities. A sizeable number of Bhutanese study in the United States. From Berkeley in the West Coast to Columbia in the east, the United States has provided numerous citadels of learning to Bhutanese scholars. Today, they lead the country as ministers, doctors, engineers and computer programmers. 

Many of them, including myself were beneficiaries of the generosity and friendship of the American people. I also remember the time when East Timor became an independent sovereign nation. I met a woman from Oakland who had left the confines of her cushy life in America to help the East Timorese resistance. 

Yes, there are Americans who care about peace in world, the greenhouse gas effects and the upsurge in violence at home and abroad. 

Today I work as head of the news division in my station. My two years in America gave me invaluable insights into my own culture and the global one. It also allowed me to accept the world’s only superpower as an imperfect entity. Humane too, with the ability and the capacity to do more in the fight against hunger and poverty in the world. And last but not the least, I also saw in the eyes and the faces, in the convictions and actions of my friends, the will and resolve to do good. In these trying times, for both the people of the United States and the world, the only solace that I seek is in the words of my son; “I hope God forgives whoever committed these terrible crimes.” 


Tshewang Dendup 

Thimphu, Bhutan,  

UC Berkeley, class of 2001