Saturday, 28 July 2012

A Rollercoaster Return to Pakshikha

The two week break in Bumthang came to an end; I packed my bags and headed south, back to the land of fog and mist, back to my life in Pakshikha. I was sad to leave my fellow teacher friends and happy to be returning to my other fellow teacher friends, and the tale of both the journey and the arrival has everything in it that is good and bad and this life I have made for myself out here in Bhutan.

 The journey was made in classic Bhutan fashion. In the early days I would find myself getting frustrated by the uncertainty of travel and the periods of waiting that seemed like they could end in an instant or go on forever, but now I relax. There's no need for hitch-hiking here – I simply deposit myself on a street with all my bags and wait for somebody to approach me and ask me where I am going. I explain my situation...

'I must get to Thimphu tonight.'
'Right, I will make this happen. Please Sir, sit down – would you like a coffee?'

And then I relax and I wait, sipping my coffee, reading a magazine, playing a guitar with one of Iman's Bhutanese friends on this particular occasion. Half an hour might pass, maybe an hour, but inevitably my serendipitous champion will usher me into a car that is going half way. When we reach half way, out of the car I pop and the driver will take matters into his own hands. So off I will scuttle into another car and 'Hey Presto', I'm where I wanted to be. So far, the standing in the street strategy has never failed; knights in shining ghos always post me where I need to go. It's brilliant.

'How are you going back to Gedu?' People will ask me the night before my departure.
'I'll walk down to the bus station.'
'The buses will all be booked.'
'I know. But something will happen.'

And it always does. Usually, something else will too.

Prostrating from Pheunsaling to Thimphu
Back in Pakshikha, another journey successfully undertaken, all was not found well in my world. 

The Hostel at Night From the Village - Spooky...

The monsoon brings a perpetual fog to the area around my school, the wind pushing all the moisture up from the Bay of Bengal towards the Himalaya, and when it reaches the foothills (where I live), it falls, or, more often than not, lingers. The air is damp. The walls are damp. The clothes are damp. I am damp.

This never makes for the most warmly of welcomes, and when I threw open the door to my quarters (the windows sealed up with cellotape against the invasion of moisture, my belongings sealed in stuff sacs and double packed in plastic bags), the smell of damp hit me like a well-used flannel. I unpacked and, when the electricity failed, I lit a few candles and settled into a beer and a film on my laptop. What's that on my ankle? A leech. In my house! I probably brought it in with me from outside, but still.... a leech in my quarters. Blurgh.

I was a bit lax in the first few days, but when I noticed the mould on my pillow I realised I had to be more proactive. On the first sunny, windy, moisture free day I opted to forgo the gentle meander and waged war. Trousers left for a few days on a chair had fungus. My belt, hanging in the wardrobe: fuzzy. On the surface of my table: growth. The pencils in the cup in the cupboard: sprouting fluff. The mank was getting everywhere.

My Clothes Drying Apparatus pre-Bumthang Trip
I washed all my clothes and prayed for the clouds to stay away, which thankfully they did. By the end of the day I was on top, and I have been ever since. I've realised it just takes some care and a mindful management of possessions. Move them around. Use them. Don't be complacent. They all warned me about this, but I didn't quite believe it until now. A problem anticipated is a problem no more.

Bhutan Sky on a Good Day!
When school began I stuttered into action, but things are different this term. The return of the Biology teacher from maternity leave has led to a reduction in my timetable from 33 lessons to 24, a far more manageable workload that facilitates better teaching and the scope to take on all the additional responsibilities and carry them out well. So I threw my hand up for the editorial position on the school magasine, a celebration of the 100 years of modern education in Bhutan. I'm looking forward to this because I can't help but take joy in helping people write. Being a science teacher is a wonderful thing to do, and I love opening minds to the sheer fantasticness of the world but it can become a bit narrow and... logical?

I've also come a long way in learning how to function in a Bhutanese school. I have a better understanding of how things work, how you talk to people, how you get things done and how you get other people on board to help you achieve things. Now that I know all the staff and I know how they operate, I begin to see their individual strengths and am less waylaid by knee-jerk judgements borne out of my own frustrations.

I guess I am lucky. The principal here is an inspiration to the students, respected and loved, and he's 'on it' in the best possible way. The staff are collegiate, friendly and fun. And I've finally managed to convince everyone that if I retire to my room to work on my novels, it doesn't reflect on my feelings for them. Being alone is generally not considered healthy and normal here, but I need my solitude to work, and, no matter how hard I push against it, I need to keep this work going. Fingers fairly realistically crossed, I should have two novels ready for the big push towards publication by Christmas. Agents beware... I need you and I'm gonna come knocking... (anybody know any good ones?)

Perhaps what I always knew has clicked with greater clarity on my return to Pakshikha - this is my life. It's not an adventure away from something to which I must struggle back to, like an escape into unreality that carries the finality of a difficult return. It is my reality. So of course I must make time to continue to write, and make up songs, and work hard to do things well, and be good to people, and enjoy them, and enjoy the differences, and revel in the uniqueness of time and look to the next move remembering that life itself is a grand adventure. Like always...

And my Dzongkha has suddenly improved... 'Nga-gi ayee o-ndo'... My mother is coming. Word is spreading and anticipation is building. One thing is for certain... Queen Elizabeth herself would not receive a better welcome in Pakshikha!


Marianne Green said...

She certainly is.... had jabs today ... flight from Bangkok booked but still need to organise getting to Bangkok

Can't wait.

your Mum

Bill Jones said...

I hope she is well received, she is looking forward to the visit.