Friday, February 12, 2010

Blog #3: It's Gho Time!

Today was busy and I still haven't slept properly, though I'm looking forward to it. All of the Canadian teachers who have embarked on this journey with me are really nice. I arrived late and interrupted a meeting, but was welcomed warmly and felt comfortable among the group instantly. Most of us are young and fresh out of teachers college. I was surprised to learn that for many people, this was there first real travel experience.

We just got back from a shopping mission in Thimphu. Grant and I both bought ghos (the Bhutanese national dress for men) and the girls all bought kiras the national dress for women), but the girls are having their kiras custom made so they have to wait. Grant and I marched through Thimphu in our new digs, strutting proudly down the main drag. Some people seemed to enjoy our willingness to engage in the culture, others seemed to be talking to each other in Dzongka as we passed, laughing considerably.

The gho is perhaps the funniest garment I have ever seen in my life. Essentially it’s a long, thickly woven housecoat, worn with a white cotton shirt and underwear underneath, knee high socks (apparently it is meant to be worn commando style traditionally, but I don’t think I’ll be going there), and a belt (which is apparently supposed to constrict one’s air passage).

The true humour of the gho presents itself in the actual dressing process, and the locals seems to acknowledge the absurdity of the situation. I’m having trouble imagining how I will EVER be able to dress myself in this fascinating piece of clothing. In the stores I visited I tried on several different ghos in an attempt to find one that I liked and one that fit me (apparently I’m a little larger than the average bear here). We did, however, establish that part of the problem was that I was wearing my pants underneath the ghos when I was trying them on, and that this was causing the fabric to bunch and generally not fit as well. Neema, one of the Bhutanese men who works for the Bhutan Canada Foundation (BCF), instructed me to take my pants off in the middle of the store. I was happy to oblige. So there I stood, had told me to do that, and I was happy to oblige, and there I stood, in my soon-to-be brand new gho, in the middle of the store, on the main street of the capital city in Bhutan.

My insecurity and doubt regarding dressing myself is based mostly on the fact every time I tried on a new gho I was assisted by two Bhutanese people. I simply stood with my arms extended to their full wingspan as they went to work, perfecting each and every fold. Neema, one of the Bhutanese men who works for the Bhutan Canada Foundation (BCF), would disappear inside my gho, carefully aligning the material of the right opening with a seam deep inside the left side, along side my hip. He would emerge and instruct me to pinch the fabric where he had lined it up. The rest is a blur, and that’s the problem, but I’ll share with you the important details that I remember.

The gho should reach just below the knee, but it is unacceptable for it to be longer that just below the knee. I have decided that I good way to gauge this is to leave about an inch of skin between the sock and the bottom of the gho. This seems simple, but it is important to realize that the gho starts at about ankle length, if not longer, so in order to get it to the appropriate length there is an awkard lifting process in which everything seems to bunch up just above the belly button.

There are also a number of tucking and pleating techniques that ensure that one is wearing the garment properly. One technique that stands out to me (mostly because there is no chance I could ever pull it off) is slipping one of your arms back through your sleeve into the torso part of your gho. Once your arm is inside you slide it along your back and chop down firmly. This ensures that the fold in the back is satisfactory, and also that your pleats are properly aligned. The gho is pretty much all about the pleats.

So there you gho. That’s pretty much all I remember about dressing myseld in the national dress and I actually think I’m giving myself more credit than I deserve.

Now I must gho to sleep (trust me, they’re endless) because we have an early rise tomorrow and I’m still trying to catch up. Don’t gho anywhere, there will be another post before you know it.

1 comment:

  1. Nick! You look fantastic in your gho! It will get easier to put on, and if it doesn't, well -- every day that I dressed Pema in his school gho, the Dzongkha lopen would unravel him and start from scratch. It would definitely be easier if you could just manage to grow a third arm! Tashi Delek to all of you!