The normalization of deviance was a concept first brought to my attention by my anesthesia program director @Ken Kirsner. As I’ve recently come to understand, it means I’m no longer awoken by the exuberant throat clearings of our downstairs neighbor. It means the kids automatically cross to the opposite curb to avoid known territory of mean dogs. It means we can easily identify the 3 main smoke smells (cook fire, incense, and electrical). It means our nightly ritual of filling hot water bottles is as automatic as setting the coffee pot back home.
Normalization of deviance means wearing a warm hat to breakfast, drying meat with your laundry, and always watching where you step! It means we’ve been in Bhutan long enough to hit our stride. Long enough to slip off some of our own cultural norms and settle in. Jen and I have been traveling to Asia for 20 years. While we are no longer struck numb by its exotic sensuality, like that first visit, there is still a transition period.
Past the two week mark, and I am happy to report we are beyond that transition. It now feels less and less like a chaotic vacation and more like real life; vegetable shopping at the weekend market, homeschooling, laundry. Jen manages to coordinate business calls across a 12-hour time gap, while I putter along, tweaking my PowerPoint presentations. We are becoming blind to the deviances, this is our normal Bhutanese life.
And for Byers Without Borders “normal Bhutanese life” means spending a Wednesday in late February celebrating the King’s birthday.
The hospital arranged tickets for us to attend the celebration at the national stadium. Decked out in national dress we set off Wednesday morning to honor and celebrate the Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King).
Side note, the Dragon King wears the Raven Crown, the coolest of all crowns.
The prime minister spoke, there was a military parade, traditional dance performances, a lottery drawing, and even a strong man competition.
We were served rice porridge, salted butter tea, and a fermented rice wine that I can only describe as chunky sake. All of this taken in little wooden bowls stashed in the folds of my goh (the kimono-like robe worn by men).
Of course it was all in Dzongkha, and even though Bhutanese seated near us tried to explain things, four hours of traditional dances left us all a bit twitchy by the end. The girls were stoic throughout, and earned a sweet treat for yet another diplomatic win.
On our walk home we passed through the Thai-Bhutanese friendship park. None of us mentioned the boys still practicing their dance moves in the gazebo where Stella likes to meditate. Just another part of our “normal” Bhutanese life.