It's been a while and for good reason. Much has happened. My mother left Bhutan last Wednesday morning and we had a great time while she was here. The video tells part of the story, but after that first glorious day we had another 9 days of driving through Bhutan, visiting Dzongs,staying with friends, canoeing (me), cycling and just watching the wonderful Bhutanese landscape change with every passing kilometer, from the alpine glacial valleys of Bumthang and Chumey to the subtropical lushness of Pakshikha, which is now at the very peak of its beauteousness. I wake up daily to a feeling of privilege and excitement as I look out the window of my traditional wooden home and see where I live. The clouds and fog have gone. The skies are now resplendent with stars and the air is clear and crisp. My walk to work is a delight. Autumn in Southern Bhutan is a curious mix of autumn, spring and summer back home, charming, lively, temperate and (that word again) lush.
Back to the mum-trip. We started with the high pass into the Haa valley, the Kila Nunnery and the unexpected Tsechu, the day ending in Thimphu. We stayed with at my friend Mark's place, which is luxury compared with what I've grown used to. A couple of days there and then we cut across the country on the twists and turns, spending nights in Wangdi and Trongsa before reaching Bumthang and some other friends, Martin (Captain Longstride) and Tara, with whom we stayed for another couple of days before swinging the car around and heading home. There's something special about having your own car and the freedom of the road here. It brings some curious looks from other tourists who are all in their buses with their guides. When they see me behind the wheel, they stare agog and then turn to their chaperones with questioning glances... 'How come he can do that and I can't?'. Mum was much amused by it too. And she was only sick once! Blame the momo, not my driving (which she eventually grew accustomed to). Apparently, she's only ever been car sick once before though, and that was when she was pregnant with me. I guess it might be my fault after all.
Back in Pakshikha, Mum was an instant hit. Her arrival had been greatly anticipated by staff and students alike, and on the first night, a party was thrown in her honour. I'd already briefed her about what to expect – sitting at the head of the table with the Principal, the rounds of seemingly endless speeches, the inevitable dance-off at the end of the night. I gave a short speech, perhaps my best one since I've been here, in which I explained that as the son of a woman who has achieved much in her life, lived many of her dreams and has carved out a comfortable life she chose for herself, it's not easy to think of a special immaterial gift (aside from a grandchild). But the opportunity to visit Bhutan is one such gift I'm proud to have been able to give. And not only to visit this beautiful country, but to do so with a network of friends and a family/community waiting to welcome her. I was a bit choked in the speech, but I held it together in time to bust some moves in the obligatory dance-off.
So, Mum taught a few lessons, some with me and some for other teachers, getting the kids to swap heads on photographs, which went down well. We went into every class and did a Q&A session with the kids... “How would you feel if Mr David Sir married with a Bhutanese Wife?” … “What was Mr David like at school?” Brilliant. Everyone loved her and she got on with everyone. Now people keep telling me how 'active' she is and how young she was, and everybody wants her email, so I'm sure this makes her happy. Now she's in Bangkok, on the way home. Safe travels Mum xx
But not all was well in Pakshikha when we returned. On the Friday morning we went to school and were greeting with quite shocking news. A child had committed suicide by hanging himself in the hostel. This child was the top student in Year 7. He performed in all the comedy skits and dramatisations and was a seemingly happy child with no discipline issues, no problems with the other kids and no problems with any of the teachers. It didn't make sense. The school fell into shock. In the hostel, chanting and prayers began at lunchtime, after the police had investigated and left. The praying continued until 3:30 am, when the body was removed in a very careful and prescribed fashion, supervised by the Nepali cook/shamen with respect for the customs of the Nepalese family. I went to bed at 5am.
The next morning a note was found. The boy had stolen 2 library books and, in short, found himself unable to live with the shame. The librarians had done an audit and had asked the room captains to collect any books that bore the library stamp. The boy's room captain found the two books and took them to the library, but at this stage, nobody knew they had been stolen. The discipline policy states that for the first offence of this kind, a marks deduction of 50 is made (meaningless to a boy who has only accumulated positive marks) and the items must be returned. In his note the boy took special care not implicate anybody or leave a trail of guilt or blame – he commended the librarians for their integrity and good work and thanked the room captain for not telling on him (the captain didn't even know!). But he wrote that he would not be able to show his face before the Principal and the VP. He would leave school, he wrote, except he wouldn't be able to show his face to his parents. He concluded by writing that he was not worthy of serving his great country, so he was left with no other choice but to end his life and allow another child, more worthy than he, to take his place in the school.
Two books. Probably academic and for study. I haven't resolved this one in my head. I don't know what it means, if anything. I don't know if it means something about the culture, or whether it's just something about a boy.
Two more days of Puja have had a beneficial effect on the school – the students seem to have bounced back and the routine of days is slowly steering everybody back into calm waters. As I write this, I'm relaxing in my home after a class trip to a stunningly beautiful holy lake 8km away, struggling a bit with the chronic pain that has coloured my life of late, my Mum is in balmy Bangkok binging on massages and turning her anger about losing her phone to a thief into the liberation we all feel when we are freed from the bind of perpetual connectivity. My nephew Liam is apparently learning to blow raspberries and my mates are probably playing football half way around a world that just keeps on hurtling through the solar system oblivious of it all. Life and death and the inanely marvellous drama that flows between.