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Q and A at the Sonam Hotel Cum Bar

  Setting: A Western woman sits with a Macintosh computer open at a simple table, covered in a green-checkered vinyl cloth, at a cafe in Samtse, Bhutan.  A television across the room is set to a Hindi soap opera. It is hot.  A fan circling above blends the smells coming from the kitchen–frying oil, curry, and chilies. Three young Indian men at a table across the room enjoy dinner and beer, while madam snacks on roasted papad, sips a cold Druk 1100, and edits her recent photos.

Q: Hello Madam, we are all from India. Where are you from?

A: I’m from the USA.

Q: May we ask you a question, Miss?

A: Yes, of course.

Q: What do you think of Obama?

A & Q: I like Obama. I hope he gets re-elected. What do you think of him?

A: Obama. Barack. That is his first name. I have seen him on TV. He looks like a gentleman. We like him very much.

Pause: Miss goes back to her computer and the three young Indian men resume eating their dinner and drinking beer. They are dressed casually in short sleeved cotton shirts and tailored cotton trousers.

Q: Excuse me, Miss. Sorry to interrupt Miss, but may we ask you another question, Miss?

A: Yes, please.

Q: What did you think of Osama bin Laden? How do you feel about his death?

A & Q: I wish he hadn’t been killed. I would have preferred to see him go to trial. . . tried by a group of people, not killed in a military operation. What do you think of Osama bin Laden’s death?

A & Q: My friend, he wants me to tell you that he hated bin Laden. He hates all Muslims. They are terrorists and they do terrible things. We don’t all feel that way, but he does. He wants to know what do you think of Muslims?

A: I think there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. I don’t think all Muslims are terrorists. I think there are good Christians and bad Christians. There are good Hindus and bad Hindus.

A & Q: Yes, yes! 50 percent of Hindus are good and 50 percent of Hindus are bad! My friend wants me to tell you that he is a Hindu, but he fell in love and married a Christian. What do you think of Hindus and Christians marrying?

A: That’s great. Love is always good.

Q: I see you are working on your computer and we don’t want to bother you. Are we disturbing you madam?

A: No, no. Of course not. I’m not really working; I’m doing fun things on the computer. You can ask me anything you want.

Q: We don’t want to bother you, but we’ve never been able to have a conversation with a Westerner before. We’ve seen Westerners, but we’ve never been able to sit down and talk to one. We are very interested in what you think. We live in West Bengal.  Two of us are working here, and I’m visiting. Have you ever been to India?

A: Yes, I’ve been to Varanasi.

Q: Oh! What did you think of Varanasi?

A: It was crowded and fascinating.

A: Yes, yes, it’s very crowded and dirty! And,very holy.

A: I’ve also been to Dehradun and Assam.

A & Q: Yes, yes! The Nagaland people in Assam are always causing trouble. We’re sorry to disturb you again, madam. Are you here by yourself?

A: No, I’m here with a friend. She is teaching a workshop just now.

A: Okay Miss. We will take our leave now. Thank you for talking with us.