Friday, April 16, 2010

Blog #15: A Rocky Start in the Mountains

I knew that this experience would be a challenge for most of us, and for some more than others, but I honestly never expected that things would come unraveled for some people so quickly.

Inthu decided to go home the day before she started teaching. I never even spoke to her after reaching Khaling, but I heard this first through Andrea, and then from Meena. I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised that she wanted to leave – her reaction to her new home was a bit of an indication that she wasn’t exactly prepared for the life she was going to be living – but I was shocked at how quickly she made the decision, especially considering that she had not even begun teaching. But before any of us knew the full details she and Rathan were headed out of Bhutan and into India. I believe they spent a little bit of time traveling in India, but I haven’t actually heard anything from her or about her since.

So our little family of eight crazy Canucks (nine including Rathan), was now down to seven, and after a little less than a week it was sounding like that number might continue to dwindle.

Sometime during my second week in Khaling Meena called me. She was calling to confirm that Inthu had in fact left the country and to check on me and see how I was doing. She asked me about teaching and how I was adjusting to my life in Bhutan, and I told her the same thing that I tell everyone else who asks, that I’m doing great, that I really haven’t even noticed an adjustment period, and that I’m happy. I could tell through her line of questioning that there was some serious concern coming from the BCF side of things regarding our well-being and perhaps our commitment to teaching in Bhutan. After quite a long conversation she finally dropped the developing news; that Grant was quite unhappy and having a difficult time, and that he was now considering going home.

I was honestly quite surprised. Of all the people on the trip, Grant was one of the more gung-ho participants in the program, and in Thimphu he had seemed happy and enthusiastic about being in Bhutan. But once again, I suppose life in Thimphu was not the most accurate representation of how our lives would be in our postings, and obviously something had changed in Grant’s mind for him to be considering leaving. I assured Meena that I would call Grant and try to talk him through whatever difficulties he was experiencing.

I called him almost immediately after hanging up with Meena. He explained to me that more than anything he was just starting to realize that he was missing his life at home. He admitted that the fact that he always felt cold and that Chumey was rather desolate didn’t help him feel any happier being in Bhutan, but that when all was said and done, it wasn’t that he didn’t like Bhutan, it was that he realized how much he liked his life in Toronto. I understood where he was coming from – after all, I too had left behind so many people and things, but at the same time I encouraged him to take some time to think about the decision, as it was a fairly important one to make. He said that he had taken the rest of the week off of work in order to contemplate his next move, but that he was quite confident that he was going to leave Chumey at the very least. We discussed whether he would be happier in a different location, and he told me that he thought he probably would, but that he still wasn’t sure that it was going to work out. I could tell in his voice that he had basically made his decision, so I told him to call me if he wanted to talk about it further, and certainly to let me know when he decided.

I never actually heard back from Grant. I called him a few times about a week later, but there was no reply. I eventually heard from Andrea that he had decided to go home, a fact that Meena later confirmed. I received an email from Grant a few weeks later (one that was sent to all of the Canadian teachers) explaining that it all seemed like a blur to him, and that he wasn’t exactly sure how he was at one point in time so sure of his decision to teach in Bhutan, but now so sure it wasn’t for him. He sounds confident in his decision and happy to be home. More than anything I was worried that he would regret his decision to leave, so I was relieved to hear that he felt as though he had made the right decision.

So we went from eight to six in the first two weeks of school, and not long after my last conversation with Grant I caught wind that Natalie was having a difficult time and thinking that she might want to go home too. Natalie is my closest neighbour here, with Wamrong being only forty-five minutes to an hour away from Khaling. I had actually seen her once in the first two weeks of being here when her and two teachers from Sherubste came to visit Khaling for a hike. She seemed to be doing fine when I last saw her, but I guess things had suddenly taken a turn for the worst.

I don’t if it was because I was having such an easy time adjusting and felt slightly guilty about it or just that I enjoying helping people and talking them through their problems, but somehow I found myself on the phone a lot in those first few weeks, talking to some rather distressed Canadian teachers. Meena had actually asked me to make the calls for the most part (not that I wouldn’t have anyways), I think because she recognized that I was doing well and feeling fairly stable. I think to some extent she was concerned that the homesickness that had already claimed two victims and was threatening another was contagious, and so she sought out someone she believed to be resistant.

Natalie was very upset and quite convinced that she wanted to go home. Talking to her was difficult, just as it had been with Grant, not because of anything either of them said, but because I was trying my best not convince either of them into doing anything they didn’t actually want to do. Natalie actually seemed more convinced that she should go home than Grant had, and after spending more than half an hour attempting to convince her to stay I realized that maybe some people actually shouldn’t be here. The more I talked to her, the more I conceded in the conversation, and eventually I found myself telling her that it was alright to go home and that if it’s not for her, it’s not for her. My intent was never to persuade someone into staying here if they didn’t actually want to be here. Rather, my intent was to assess whether they actually didn’t want to be, and to try talk them into giving the adjustment period more time. After all, we had only been there a very short time and everything was still very new.

Natalie ended up…staying. She later told me that our conversation had really helped her. She said that more than anything my blunt honesty had helped her figure things out. I had explained to her that even if she went home she would have tried something that very few other people have ever tried, but at the same time, if she stayed and pushed through the tough times it would probably be one of the most rewarding things she ever did in her life. I had given her an out, and after seeing that out I think she realized that it would always be there and that if she was still miserable weeks or months from then, she could always leave and take her own unique experience home with her.

So Inthu left, Grant went home, and Natalie stayed, and after a precarious first few weeks in our locations only six of us remained.


  1. Really enjoy reading your posts so far! Wanted to comment about how much I enjoyed this post in particular because of the honesty. These days, I believe that we refrain from saying certain things on the world wide web because of fear of potentially hurting others (and other reasons). This post also gave us readers the entire 360 view of Bhutan - that it's not just peaches and cream, just as it is in life. It has its drawbacks despite the uniqueness of the country (I visited it as a tourist). Thanks again for sharing!