Lynda went from being the second person to have to say goodbye to being the first. I know that for me her departure from our group felt incredibly abrupt, so I can only imagine how she must have felt. I have to admit that I did not envy her position at all. I know that I personally would have had a difficult time being the first person to be left standing in the wake of a bus full of friendly faces pulling away and leaving me alone in a strange new place.
Psychologically, I don’t think I was really prepared for anyone to leave just yet. We had bonded so superbly as a group in the three weeks we spent together in Thimphu and Paro that parting ways was much more difficult than I was expecting it to be. Not only was I about to say goodbye to a good friend, but I was also forced to face the fact that I would soon be in the same situation, left standing alone in a new town with little to no support.
I think Lynda was quite nervous as we approached her school, and understandably so. Gaselo is only a forty-five minute to one hour drive from Tashidingkha, so after leaving Andrea’s school there was very little time for her to mentally prepare herself for what was about to happen. Some would argue that she – we – had three weeks to prepare for what was about to happen, but the reality is I don’t think three months would have made that final approach any easier for any of us.
I wrote Lynda a little note as we wound our way up the side of the mountain, doubling back over and over again on a steady incline until we could no longer see the valley at the base of the mountain where we had started our ascent. The note was simple but heartfelt. In some strange way I felt as if I was speaking on behalf of the rest of the group, and that the note could have been directed at any one of us as well. I don’t mean to devalue the sincerity of my note because, after all, it was for Lynda, but its central message was for each of us: that no matter how alone any of us might feel at times, there are always friends nearby who would drop everything and travel across the mighty Himalayas should we need them. In reality we were not going to be left alone because there were seven other teachers who would be experiencing the very same ups and downs as each of us inevitably would, and that knowledge was somehow comforting. As Keira and Lynda sat oblivious, sharing a pair of headphones, I tucked the note into Lynda’s purse.
When we finally reached the top of the mountain, Lynda’s school came into view. By then, a few of us were desperate to pee. It became an ongoing joke that every time we arrived somewhere, the majority of us needed to pee. Over the course of our journey, Nancy actually warned us several times that we should ask the bus driver to pull over somewhere before arriving at any of the schools so we could empty our bladders, but I don’t think we ever really figured that out, despite being a group of intelligent teachers. The difficulty was that we never really had any idea when we would reach the schools. Sometimes a school was a two minute drive from the main road and sometimes we would truck along a dirt road for close to an hour. More often than not the schools would suddenly appear out of nowhere.
So when we stepped off the bus in Gaselo, we shook hands with the school’s principal who had come to greet us, and four of us, including Lynda, ran to his house to use the facilities. There, of course, was only one bathroom, so three of us were left waiting awkwardly in the principal’s house as one lucky person relieved themselves. The principal’s wife was very kind and insisted that we have a seat, and by the time the first urination rotation had taken place she had brought out tea and biscuits for us. We had learned so many things about the importance of proper etiquette in Bhutan, so many of which feel very foreign to me still, that not one of us moved after being served. We each sat there perfectly still, waiting for someone else to make the first move and take a sip of tea or reach for a biscuit. After the principal’s wife insisted several times that we drink we finally caved and began filling our bladders for the next leg of the journey.
After taking a quick tour of the school the principal took us to Lynda’s new home, about a five to ten minute walk from campus. Lynda’s apartment dwarfed Andrea’s apartment, which we had seen just an hour prior. It was part of a massive house that had been divided into four units. Her unit consisted of two large bedrooms, a very basic bathroom, a roomy kitchen, and a big, spacious living room/dining roomWe took all of Lynda’s possessions off of the bus and placed them in an embarrassingly small pile on the floor of her enormous living room. At that moment I decided that a small apartment actually might have its advantages over a larger option. The reality was that we didn’ . t have many things to fill a big apartment, and a big, empty apartment feels much lonelier than a small apartment. Lynda’s apartment was nice, but I have to be honest, I was a little worried about how she would do living there. But for the time being she seemed happy and confident, so I told myself not to worry.
After taking several digital and mental photographs of Lynda in her home, we all walked back to the school to say our goodbyes. Only a few tears were shed at first, but like the rivers of Bhutan, those few streams turned into surprisingly swift rivers. It was difficult saying goodbye to the first of the group, but we all knew that this was what we had signed up for and what we had come here to do. So after a few hugs we all stepped back onto the bus, waved one last goodbye, and watched Lynda disappear as our bus dipped down the mountain.