This did not come easily to me, but I’ve been drowning in indecision for far too long. There were a few brief moments in which I thought I knew what I wanted and floated comfortably back to the surface. But I could never keep my head above water for more than a few hours without my doubts thrusting me back below the surface, leaving me gasping for air. Days drifted by with my internal monologue overpowering my external dialogue and drowning out all other conversation. Sink or swim had been my philosophy coming into this whole experience. The time had come to decide.
I knew that time was my enemy. I wasn’t going to be ready to leave this country two months from now, that just wasn’t enough time. But another fourteen months sounded dauntingly long. Was it better to leave sooner than I would have liked but on a high note, or stay longer than anticipated and risk hitting a wall eight months from now? W.W.J.D. (…Jigme, not Jesus)?
I would have asked him, but something told me that my dilemma was not high up on His Majesty’s list of priorities. Besides, the Bhutanese postal service is about as efficient as a solar power plant in Khaling would be, and putting off the decision was only causing me stress and anxiety, so I decided dig down deep and find the chutzpah I needed to make the tough decision – no royal influence required.
In the final days leading up to the moment of truth I was completely convinced that I was going to stay…except for when I was completely convinced that I was going to go home.
So on one starry night, as the clouds drifted and disappeared behind the mountain peaks, so too did my indecision. I went to UK’s apartment to share the news.
“I think I have to go home,” I told him in a defeated voice.
I explained that there were so many things at home that I was starting to really miss. I explained that I sometimes felt like I wasn’t doing a very good job here, that I was actually hurting the students’ chances of being successful more than helping them. I explained that I just couldn’t shake this feeling that I should go home, and that that probably meant something. I explained that my mind was made up.
And it was…for one sleepless night.
But a cloudless night is usually followed by a bright, sunny day, and as clear as everything may have seemed in the starry, moonlit night, the early morning sun shed new light on my decision. As I walked to school I breathed the fresh mountain air deep into my lungs and gazed off into the distance, to the ripples of earth that lined that rich azure sky like the choppy waves of an ocean. And something unexpected happened. That question – that simple yet profound question – popped right back into my head. Where am I? But this time the answer didn’t seem quite as implausible. In fact, this time I didn’t even have to search for an answer; it was right there; it had been there throughout the decision-making process; it had really been there all along.
Every time I had left Khaling there had always been something pulling me back here; a voice that whispered gently in my ear, like a Siren singing its song, impossible to ignore, “Khaling is waiting for you.” And so, like Odysseus I set sail for my destination despite the dangers and detours that I knew lay ahead; no obstacles – no man, no god - could stand in my way. And when I reached my destination after what had seemed like a lifetime, in an instant it felt as though I had never left.
So where am I? I’m home. No, it is not like my home in Canada, nor will it ever be. But it’s home nonetheless. My bed here is not as cushiony as my bed in Canada, but it’s still my bed, and no other bed feels quite as nice. My lifestyle here isn’t as comfortable as it was in Canada, but still I manage to get by and actually enjoy the challenges that present themselves on a near-daily basis. And my friends here will never be like the ones I have back in Canada – they can’t be, they never could be – but just as I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends back in Canada, nor could I ask for better ones here. They are my crutch, my support, and my family in the absence of the family I miss so dearly. No, this will never feel like the home that I left behind almost ten months ago, but I would never expect it to. It’s neither better nor worse; it’s just home.
Every once in a while I experience what I can only describe as an epiphanic moment in which the reality of what I’m doing strikes me. It usually hits me when I’m sitting around discussing culture, religion, and philosophy with friends both younger and older, Bhutanese and Indian. It is in these moments that I most appreciate where I come from and where I am presently. Hearing the perspectives of a world completely different than my own and, in turn, being able to share my perspective on issues humbles me and reminds me of what a privileged position I come from and what a privileged position I am in to have these experiences.
Usually these types of conversations (often shared over a few beverages) eventually shift to discussions of the problems facing our school and the Bhutanese education system at large. It is in these conversations that I am reminded of the significance of what I’m doing here. I am not only teaching students skills and lessons on the English language; I am also teaching them life lessons that they will hopefully hold close to them for the rest of their lives. I am not only trying to improve my own pedagogical skills, but also the pedagogical skills of other teachers at my school to whom a Canadian approach to education feels both foreign and sometimes impractical. I am not only trying to improve the quality of education for the students of my school; I am trying to improve the quality of education for all students across the country. And although in conversation I am quick to point out the many shortcomings of the education system here, I do not share my criticisms in an attempt to derail the current education system, but rather to advance it by gently pushing it forward onto a new, smoother track. After all, I am not only trying to contribute to the future of an education system, but more significantly, to the future of an entire nation.
Simply put, being here inspires me and makes me feel as if I am having a real impact on the world. Whereas I once lacked drive and ambition, this experience has made me want to do great things with my life. And I hope I will. Or maybe I already am. That is not for me to say yet. I think the full significance of this experience – of its impact on me and all the other players – will only be felt long after I return to Canada. So for now everyone will have to wait, because what became obvious to me as I pensively climbed the hill to school on that bright, sunny morning under the clear, blue sky, was that I still have more to give and more to gain. One year just isn’t enough. I’ll take another, please.