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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I’m a New Mom of a Bhutanese Teenager!

Life is full of surprises!  One event always leads to another event - one filled with more life lessons, more love, more laughter, more changes…

Thus, the event of my friend, Sonam’s, move brought me the gift of sharining my home with a Bhutanese teenager named Dawa Zangmo.  Not only would this event transform my bare house into what I call a “real Bhutanese home” filled with life, but also it would transform me into a more motherly person.

So who is Dawa and how in the world did this happen?

Well, Dawa is Sonam’s niece who has lived with Sonam for the last four years.  So when it was time for Sonam to move to Canada, I offered Dawa my spare bedroom in my home.  This way she could still attend high school nearby as a day scholar student instead of becoming a boarder student, which she didn’t want to be a boarder for many different reasons.  For instance, some students claim that boarder life in Bhutan can be difficult because they wash their clothes in the river, they follow a strict schedule, they don’t get hot water, etc.  Therefore, she gladly accepted my offer to live with me and I was happy to share my home.

The Moving Day:  Down the mountain and across the bridge
So the first day that Dawa moved in with me there were little tingles of excitement in the air as she brought her clothes and mattress down the mountain and across the bridge.  However, once she brought her belongings to my bare house, we didn’t know what to do next as we stared at her bundles of clothes and her mattress on the floor.   While I blankly looked around the empty, dull room, I started to feel nervous that she might not like her new room, which was growing mushrooms out of the floorboards.  So we immediately went to work to try to transform it into her very own space.

Dawa's New Room
First, we cleared out the mushrooms and using a rock as a hammer we re-nailed the dark blue fabric over the windows to make it look like tidy curtains.  Next, I borrowed a table and bed from my school and although it wasn’t the prettiest, we were so excited when it arrived.  We draped a sheet over the table and set her books on it as well as made her bed.  I gave her my best pillow and some hangers to hang her clothes on the wall and she neatly stacked her remaining clothes on one of the windowsills.  We even taped three pictures of some random drawings on the wall to add some warmth to the room.  Her room was complete!  Simple and organized!  I prayed that it would feel like home for her. 
My Bhutanese Kitchen

After trying to make her room feel cozy, we rearranged my kitchen to incorporate some new pots and bulk of food that was given to us by her father and Sonam.  Afterwards we stood back marveling at the transformation because it looked like a real “Bhutanese kitchen:” There was a large bin full of rice, tins with zaw (fried rice), the biggest container of oil, an extra gas cylinder, sacks of potatoes, a huge rice cooker, etc.  For the first time, my kitchen looked as though someone was actually using it.  Finally, I started to think that maybe she would like her new home after all.

The Sitting Room
Next, we turned to the living room and for twenty minutes, we circled around the bhukari rearranging the only two items in the room (a small rug big enough for two people to sit on and a wooden bench) in every possible position to see which setup looked the best.  Then we cut out some scenery pictures from my calendar and taped them on the cement walls.  Lastly, after I made space for her toiletries in the bathroom, I laughed seeing a toothbrush next to my toothbrush and a cleanser for teenagers on the sink.  All in all, Dawa’s move into my house transformed it into a more alive and cozy place.

However, I had no idea that not only would my house be transformed, but I too would undergo a transformation into a loving caretaker.  For instance, everyday when Dawa gets home from school, I open the door for her and greet her with a warm smile.  After she settles in I ask her, “How was your day at school? Did anything interesting happen?”  Sometimes she eagerly tells me a story about her classmates or teachers and when she talks about her day, her face lights up with excitement.  Our afterschool conversations feel strangely familiar; throughout my childhood and teenage years, the first thing that I would do when I came home from school was tell my mom about my day.  Therefore, when Dawa walks through the door telling me all about her day at school, I feel like I’m an adopted mom, especially since Dawa’s mother past away when she was a baby. 

Curries and Rice
Furthermore, the motherly feelings I feel towards her persists into the evening while we prepare dinner together, side by side, peeling and cutting vegetables.  Once dinner is ready, we sit face-to-face sitting on the small rug in the living room with a pot of rice and curry between us.  Over dinner I once again feel like I have somehow turned into my mother as I ask her questions, such as how do you think you did on the test?  What are you learning in English?  Overall, dinner is our bonding time. 

After dinner, she usually ventures into my room to glance at what I’m doing on my computer or to ask me for help with her English homework, which I am so eager to help her in the same way my mom used to help me.  On the other hand, sometimes it feels like we are old friends when we sit on my bed listening to music and chattering away (we don’t have T.V).  We also laugh a lot about the simplest things like how she is probably the only Bhutanese teenager living with an American foreigner in Bhutan, thus, she has no choice but to speak English all evening.  Basically, our evenings are filled with conversations and laughter.

Moreover, our days always end with one of us shouting goodnight to the next room before we drift off to sleep and I thank God for my new roomie.  However, in the morning, the mother within me comes out again as she leaves to school and I sleepily inquire, “Did you eat enough breakfast? Are you taking lunch? Ok have a good day at school…see ya later.” and she responds, “Yes, yes, ok, bye!”  And this is our everyday routine from sun up to sun down!  This is my new role as a caretaker!

Dawa in her school uniform
For a while I wondered how this nurturing role unfolded within me and then I realized that even though she is not a child, she is also not quiet an adult yet; thus, by offering her a room in my house, I have taken on the responsibility of making sure that she is well taken care of while she is staying with me.  This realization hit home one day while I was teaching and I was informed that I needed to go get Dawa at her high school because she became sick.  Upon hearing this news, my heart sank into my stomach and my body became shaky as I rushed to her school.  Even though it was only a minor sickness, I felt my eyes becoming watery at the sight of her looking ill.  However, I remained calm and I immediately took her to the doctors as well as stayed home with her all morning until I was certain that she was fine.  Then later my eyes bulged out of my head when I had to sign my name under the parent signature of her sick leave application from school and she explained that I had to call her teacher to inform him she would be absent.  Indeed, that day I realized I was officially a caretaker of this teenager, but it somehow comes naturally to me.

I love Dawa!
Overall, sometimes I chuckle thinking that if someone would have told me prior to my arrival in Bhutan that I would be taking care of a Bhutanese teenager, I would have probably said, “Ugh that’s impossible, no way, not me…” However, this is one of the best things that has ever happened to me because I enjoy Dawa’s company and I am learning a lot about myself as well as life in general, such as there is something about opening your home to someone, sharing everything you have and caring for another that ignites pure joy. 

Although I know that I will never be Dawa’s real mom and I will never take the place of Sonam or any of her aunties that helped raise her, I do like caring for her and I love her dearly.  Thus, due to these unique events that I’m experiencing in Bhutan, I know that when I leave Bhutan, I will fly out of the Himalayan Mountains as a different person than when I arrived; I am constantly transforming and I feel blessed! 


  1. Thank you so much for taking care of Dawa. You don't have to worry, I know you can be a great mom. I am so happy to see you guys are having good time together. I liked the transformation of the house and your huge meals lol...Missing you both....

    1. I feel honored that you entrusted me to take care of her. Thanks! She says that she misses you as well as your cooking lol. As you know, I am not the best cook haha. So as for the huge meal in the picture, we had company that day lol. Ok miss you and I'll talk to you later. xoxo

  2. You are THE GREAT MOM for Dawa. I miss my mother even though I spent weeks of holidays with her and I am back to my Aunties place. I know how it is like to live away from your parents but Dawa is lucky to have someone near like you. Keep going! Go-Go Sabrina! :D

    1. No matter what age we are, we miss our mom's and loved ones when we are apart. I'm glad that you have your aunty though. Take Care! xoxo

  3. Sabrina when you leave Bhutan you will leave with so many life lessons. You not only went to teach you are also learning so much more than you could have imagined, who knew you would be taking care of a teenager? And when you become a mother your worries for your child's well being will never end no matter how old they get. Your motherly instinct will kick into gear........have mom (*.*)

  4. You've really got your hands full. Congrats it must be a blast.

  5. It's fun though. Did my dad tell you that he's coming to visit me? I'm so excited!

  6. Yeah we have been talking about it and were chatting about the Visa and how long it will take him to get there. Should make for some great memories! I guess he is going through Bangkok to get there. I need to tell him the fun spots to go :)

  7. Great I'll send you back a souvenir with them:-)

  8. So you are learning some parenting courses at free of cost? I liked the part with your maturity while dealing with her. Hope you do not miss anything with Dawa.GG!

    1. Ya lol that's one way to look at it: I'm getting a free parenting course. Haha. Teenagers can be the toughest age group, so I'm blessed that Dawa is an angel.

  9. Wow, it's sound like your learning so much over there. Pretty tight! It's good to see you have company. I bet the teenagers over there aren't like over here lol. Prolly a lot easier to deal with lol.

    1. I know it's so nice having company. She's really sweet and funny. I feel really lucky.

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