The drive to Lheuntse was spectacular, as promised by Andrea’s Lonely Planet, which called it the most exciting drive in all of Bhutan. Unlike our other drives, this one provided us with a constant river view as we crept through a lush valley between two rocky mountains. The hum of paved road beneath the rolling tires mingled with the music spilling into my right ear and left an uneasy feeling deep in my stomach, but all I could do was take a few sips of water, close my eyes and try to lose myself in Joni Mitchell’s gentle melody.
When the road suddenly turned bumpy I reopened my eyes. Our bus was grinding through a gritty gravel road that was obviously not meant to be that way. We were told that a large section of the road had been wiped out by a landslide, and that this was the first stage of its reconstruction. Apparently this was not uncommon in Lheuntse, especially during the monsoon season. At this point in time Keira asked to listen to the iPod alone and I gave her my earbud. I think the reality was just beginning to settle in for her, and only Joni could calm her nerves. I watched as she slipped the headphone into her ear, leaned her head against the window, and slipped into the world of her thoughts.
Keira is a thinker. I realized this only a few days after meeting her and called her on it almost immediately. It is not my intention to attach a negative connotation to a “thinker”, but I do believe that one must be able to separate the thoughts from the emotions inside one’s own mind, and to steer oneself away from over thinking. Since that day, Keira and I have joked numerous times about her tendency to over think things and to work her mind into a putty-like puddle of confusion as a result of this tendency. At the time, however, I think it was entirely justified. It was probably the first time throughout the entire journey that we hadn’t shared our music with one another, and it gave me a chance to absorb my own individual experience once again, something I would be forced to do in a matter of hours anyway. I sat by an open window, gazing out at the white water of the meandering Himalayan river beside us, and lost myself in my own thoughts.
When we began our final approach up the mountain towards the school, Keira took out the headphones and basked in her own anticipation. I think we were all waiting to whiz by a small market or some semblance of a town, but all of a sudden we found ourselves at the gate of the school, climbing to a lush mountain plateau atop of which lay Phuyum HSS.
The school’s campus was gorgeous. There was a main cluster of academic buildings in the centre, with staff housing off to the sides, and lovely looking soccer pitch spilling out towards the edge of the mountain. When we arrived a group of students were actually playing soccer on the field, and each time they kicked the ball in the air it looked as though it would soar off of the mountain into the river-valley below. Fortunately, this didn’t happen while we were watching them play, but I imagine that it must from time to time.
Keira’s living arrangement was probably the most interesting of any of ours, and I can honestly say that if it had been anyone else I would have been worried, but Keira is quite adaptable. It was quite a small two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in the staff quarters. The apartment itself was actually quite nice, but space became a slight cause for concern when we all learned that she would be sharing the apartment with three Bhutanese girls, all of whom would be sharing the second bedroom. It was a surprise to say the least.
I know that one of my own concerns was that of personal space. I knew that I could handle any physical conditions that might be thrown at me, but I also knew that I needed my privacy and space in order to maintain my own personal sanity. Seeing Keira’s situation was cause for concern. The teacher who had greeted us and showed us around explained that housing in Lheuntse is extremely limited and that there was really no other option, so Keira accepted her new apartment and new roommates with a smile, and that was that.
We stayed for a quick lunch, unpacked all of her things, helped set up her bedroom, and then returned to the bus. It was difficult saying goodbye to her. We had become very close over such a short period of time in such a bizarre set of circumstances. I had written Keira a note, just as I had written Lynda one, and I stuffed it in her bag, deciding it was best to let it do the talking rather than dragging out some long goodbye. She said goodbye to the others first and came to me last. It was no secret from the others that we had become close friends, and I think that seeing the two of us say goodbye to each other was quite emotional them, as well aas for the two of us. I gave her a big hug, whispered some words of good luck in her ear, and then said goodbye. We all boarded our bus, said a few more goodbyes through the open windows, and drove off. I looked back a few times as we pulled away and watched Keira fall right into place. She wandered off with no apprehension, like nothing had changed, and I knew then that she would be just fine.
There were only three of us left on the thirty-six person bus, and there were only two people’s belongings left on board. Keira was just one more person and had only a few more possessions, but all of a sudden the bus felt very empty.
None of us spoke much on the way back to Mongar. Early on in the drive Andrea turned from her seat in the front and asked me if I was okay. I was. It felt strange, but I was okay. Honestly, I had come into this experience with the attitude that I was going to be on my own in the middle of nowhere, and so there was no need to make friends with the other teachers. Mentally, I had prepared myself for loneliness, isolation and strong feelings of homesickness. I never expected that I would make such close friends, and I certainly hadn’t expected to form such a powerful bond with anyone in such a short period of time. Up until that moment, I had the luxury of having close friends with me at all times, but now, after just having dropped off my closest friend, and being only one day away from my own arrival, I found myself re-preparing myself for the kind of experience I had expected in the first place.
For the first time I crammed both headphones in my ears, put on one of my favourite Phish shows, and snapped photos most of the way back to Mongar. As good as it had felt sharing my music and the experience with Keira, the feeling of losing myself in the music – in the experience – was a welcome change. I was ready for an adventure to call my own.