Sunday, August 4, 2013

Re-Acclimation Adventures

As promised, I am going to tell a re-acclimation adventure from my first days out of Asia. After going through my diaries from my time abroad, I thought I would transcribe this, to highlight the crazy state my brain was in the first days back. For anyone in Bhutan now, good luck coming home- try to enjoy your re-adaptation as much as you did your original adaptation :) I hope you have the same joys, and none of the difficulties that accompanied me.

January 19th. 
Chicago, O'Hare Airport

I am back in the good old USA. Jetlagged as anything, and still one flight to go. But I am in heaven; I am sitting in a foodcourt with 8 or 9 dining options. Pizza, McDonalds, "burrito beach", just to name a few. Its immaculate. All shiny, clean, bright. No trash on the floors and trash bins strategically located in walking paths. And the bins have pictures on them. Advertisements. EVERYTHING is an advertisement. The walls, the chairs, the trash bins. In Gasa, nothing is an advertisement for anything; except maybe Buddhism. 
But anyway, its heavenly because of the choice and my anonymity. Any type of food I could want is within 300 ft. Except Bhutanese food of course, but I must not allow myself to become nostalgic for chilis yet (present day note, this was a bald-face lie, I was already dreaming about ema datsis). And, no sushi, but this is an airport food court after all. But anything else I would ever want- its here! I have chosen, for what will be the first of many mini-meals, a Dunkin' Donuts #6. 
I admit, the options of choice were very overwhelming, even within one food stall. So, I went with a combo item to try to make it easier. But even within that, choices! Veggie or turkey? Cream or sugar or both? But, I muddled through. The girl at the counter thought I was crazy, as I kept repeating "I want #6 la". But, a number 6 I received, with minimal problems. I took a seat and drank my coffee and ate my egg and cheese sandwich, and the most remarkable thing happened. Absolutely nothing!!! No one came over to me wanting to ask what I was doing, why I was here, and do I like this country. No one stared at me from across the room. No one is hovering over me, or talking to their friends about everything I am doing. Its weird not to be the center of attention simply by being in someone's line of sight. I really had appreciated how thoughtful, and caring, and interested everyone in Bhutan was when interacting with me. But, I am an only child, and at heart, somewhat of a loner, so I treasured the day that I could walk to the Damji shops without the village stopping and pointing at me. And to be in a public place, where in the hundreds of people around me, no one wants to pay attention to me or even take notice that I exist, is a rare treat indeed. 
And no one is spitting! What everyone is doing in unison, however, is playing with their iphones. When did everyone get an iphone? This must have been the great technological advancement of 2012...when I left I only knew two people who had an iphone. (present day note, I was wrong, the technological advancement of 2012 was the "app" something I discovered and struggled to understand in the months to come
Now onto my second mini-meal. Something from "Burrito Beach", although I will have to linger by the menu board for too long just to decide.

This is a snapshot of my first few weeks back. Within a few weeks, I had gotten my own phone, not an iphone, but another kind of smartphone (which was disappointing to me as I just wanted them to re-activate my key-board slider phone). Within another few weeks I had figured out how to do more then make a call and send a text with it. My frustrations with my phone continue to this day, but I am working on it. I discovered the "joys" of "apps" one day when I was at SuperCuts to get my fringe trimmed, and 3 people got to cut in line ahead of me because they had "checked-in" on their way to the store.

The struggle with the number of choices I am presented with on a minute by minute basis continued for months more, and even emerges to this day when confronted with a particularly large clothing selection at a store, or a large menu. I miss the days when my choices were limited to the number of vegetables I had purchased at the market, and the number of clean kiras I had in my dresser. But, there are some nice things about choice too...I can eat whatever cuisine I want to, either by making it myself or driving to a restaurant. I can even have pseudo-bhutanese food, as I have been experimenting with the different chilies we have available here.

I feel I am really getting back into the swing of things in living in the US, and for that I am very happy. A great thank you to my family and friends who have been so patient with my ranting about noise and crowds, so helpful with showing me how to use my phone and explaining what YOLO means, and still being interested and curious after the 77th time you've heard "well, in Bhutan..."

And to my Bhutanese friends and especially my BMSS family (as I was flattered to learn some of you read this blog!) I miss you all terribly, and always, always will. I know that last year was difficult with the road problems and light problems, but know that, for me, it was the best year of my life, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world. Name-Same Kadinchey-La! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Things taken for granted

I had an interesting revelation today, about the adjustment back to my American life, and thought I should write and share it.

I have recently taken a new job (now I am up to two part-time jobs woohoo!!) where I will be working with young children. For this, I have to get finger printed, and receive a TB test. So, to start off the week productively, I went about doing both of those things today.

First was the finger printing. I had a small "what a strange place this is" moment when all of the stuff was electronic. This is the Bhutan left in me, I know, but I was half-expecting to use real ink. Then I went to receive the TB test, and was told there was a national shortage of the drug used in the test and to come back later. This is the first time since I have come home that I have come across a "national shortage" of something. A real shortage anyway...I have heard things here and there about different shortages affecting the price of different goods (like pine nuts) but this was the first time that I was unable to get something I needed, and that was just the way it was. 

Of course this happened all the time in Bhutan. There were rupee shortages, lpg cylinder shortages, and in my village there were shortages of basic goods due to the road being washed away for 4 months. The most concerning of all of these was the occasional candle shortage, because that would mean potentially no way to light your home. But we always got by. After all, we never had a potato or chili powder shortage :). And, after a few weeks of it, the constant rumors of running out of goods stopped really worrying me. After a few months, they were of no concern at all. It's just the way it was. What to do.

So, this is the attitude I took at the testing site, much to the shock of the staff, who apparently are used to people getting very upset at this knowledge. I was given a certified letter from the county, and a form was signed, verifying all the information about the shortage, which is supposed to be cleared up in less then a month's time anyway. And so, after my quickest trip to any doctors office ever, I left with my forms and was on my way. Completely unconcerned with this so-called problem. And with a new found appreciation for the laid-back, calm attitude toward the things life throws at you that I learned in Bhutan.

I have been home for 6 months, and I still am only scratching the surface of the things I learned in that incredible place. 

To my Bhutanese friends, my students, and Bhutan as a whole, name same kadinchey la.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Some projects

Here are some projects I have been working on since I've returned home. One of the things I brought back with me was a new hobby of sketching, and towards the end of my time there I was beginning to experiment with chalk pastels.

As you can see, Bhutan is never really far from my mind.

Side note: bear with me on this layout, I am still trying to find a template I like.

Coming soon: re-adaptation adventures. It's been mind-boggling, it's been eye-opening, and but most of all it's been hilarious.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Reflections...the first of many

I need to start off this post by begging off the title...this is not one of those deep, long thought out reflections in the true sense of the word about Bhutan, what it meant to me and its effects on my life. That blog post will probably never come, because I don't think I could ever compose all my thoughts into a few paragraphs, and choose a few pictures to accompany it. The whole experience was just too vast to do that with. I am also not good enough with words, or images to do it even of a fraction of the justice that my experience deserves. And lastly, I haven't fully gone through all the reflecting and pondering and true deep thinking about my experiences with Bhutan. 

My experience continues, through the friendships I sustain with my Bhutanese friends at BMSS, my contact with the new BCF teacher at the site, and the connections to the BCF teachers in my group as we simultaneously experience and work our way through our return to our western lives (or for those special few their second year teaching in Bhutan)

However something I have been reflecting on lately are the day-to-day things I did while in Gasa and what of those I brought back here to the USA, in one form or another. You may recall I was without road access to my site for 4 months and without electricity for 6. With these difficulties, how I spent my free time changed (no watching old HIMYM episodes on my computer, or BBS with my friends). Although I spent a significant time hanging out with my friends, here are some other ways I spent my time which I probably never mentioned in other postings. This is because they seemed insignificant at the time, but now are something like artifacts to the very unique life I led in Bhutan.

First would be writing. Throughout the year I wrote 5 journals. Although I began this before the landslides and loss of electricity, it became more prevalent after. The black spiral-bound book was  February through May (the first four months) and the last four were June through December (I averaged about 2 months a notebook after the lights went out). From after mid-term break until the weather  got cold I would spend every evening on my porch writing and watching the world go by, which was always entertaining considering my neighbors were 200 boarder girls.

My second hobby was drawing. This is something I picked up after the landslides, and I have to say it brought me the most joy of all my solo activities. I branched out from pencil to pastel, colored pencil, crayon, and pen & ink. It also became delightfully social as my kids and co-workers would watch me draw and talk to me about it. It also became a weekly or bi-weekly treat for my classes, if they were well-behaved, to "be looking at miss sarah's drawings"

Reading was the third in my tri-fecta of hobbies. Over the year I read close to 100 books. Lost Horizon was my favorite. It is the origin of the ever-popular phrase "Shangri-La". The book is very,very different then I expected, but its wonderful, and well worth a read for anyone who has ever heard Bhutan touted as "the last Shangri-la"

Hope you enjoyed these pictures and comments about stuff I did in Gasa with "no light" as everyone says. I plan to write more as time goes on, as the blog began long before Bhutan (if there ever was such a time in my life) I hope to continue it after. It is titled "TravelS and AdventureS" after all :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lazy Days in Bangkok

I am out of Bhutan and into what has been referred to throughout the year by all of my friends as "the real world" "the other side of sanity" (okay, that one was mine) "city life" "real life" "the cultural gauntlet" just to name a few.
Otherwise known as Bangkok, Thailand.
A city view of Bangkok from the top of the Golden Mount

My first observations:

1. This place is big!
2. This place is hot! (the second I stepped outside)
3. There are so many people here! Oh, good, there are some chilips I can go and talk to, maybe they have an idea of where to go.
4. Those chilips don't know me. No one here knows me. And talking to strangers is frowned upon.
5. The power hasn't gone out yet. Must be a good day.

Well, the power has yet to go out, the water runs hot, and there are still so many people here, but I am settling in. Luckily, a friend of mine from college who works in Myanmar was in Bangkok and spent the first few days with me. We divided our time between getting our western fixes (mexican food, starbucks coffee, coldstone creamery, just to name a few) and doing touristy things like visiting Wat Pho, and the Golden Mount.

The temple complex of Wat Pho, one of the most visited,  and truly beautiful temples in Bangkok
The giant Reclining Buddha, at the Wat Pho
People putting gold leaf on Buddhas at Wat Pho
It was a great way to ring in the New Year and slowly start the adjustment to life outside of Bhutan. I have a few more days here, then up to Chiang Mai and Laos with another BCF teacher, and then to Vietnam with more friends from college.
A Buddha outside of Golden Mount, we thought it was funny with the traditional statue, and then the modern, cartoon-like monk-dolls at the foot of it
                                            I am very happy with my beginning of 2013

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bhutan: The last semester in review

I have returned to the blog (after having electricity be returned to me) and so would like to summarize how the rest of my year in Gasa at Bjishong Middle Secondary School was spent. There will be more detailed posts written later, about different things that occurred, good, bad, constructive, educational, and growing. There will be plenty of time (I will have nothing but time after returning home to the USA in a month) for all of that.
But right now, I am in shock that this is all over...that the year has come to a close, and most of the BCF friends are either home, in India, or Thailand, and that I am on my much anticipated, awaited, vacation with my mother to Phobjika, Trongsa, and Bumthang. Eventually, I will be able to reflect, and write more, but at the moment, I am just trying to deal with the reality of the end.
Much of life in Bhutan is spent, at least for me, "in the moment"...there are so many cultural things to learn, neighbors to befriend and get to know, students to teach, papers to grade, and of course the never-ending chores to do that I spent most of my time focused on the "here and now". However, now the "here and now" has become the "there and then" and I find myself a bit blindsided by the whole thing.
So for now I will give a summary, and let the details follow later...

August: August was perhaps one of the most difficult "learning curve" months for me, as I was adjusting to life with no electricity, and knowing that the lights were not coming back anytime soon. I thought I had adjusted to the rustic Bhutan living in the spring- and I had- but that was the living with lights situation. Now I had to learn everything over again....and get readjusted. For example, as in the beginning when I got adjusted to heating water with an immersion heater for a bucket bath, I got used to heating the water by the sun (filling the bucket the night before, taking it outside once it had become room temperature, leaving it outside all day, hoping one of the kids didn't knock it over as a joke, and showering as soon as I returned from school so it was still warm enough in the day to warm up....yes, it all was as tedious as it sounds) And yet, there were positives. The "peaceful" lifestyle that people tout exists in Bhutan really did come alive. I would teach all day, then go home, send a girl to the kitchen for boiled water, and sit on my porch, drinking hot water or tea, reading books, and writing in my journal. It was truly unique, and in some ways, lovely.
One of the best things about August were the incredible rainbows which would show up just as I walked home from school every day.

September: September was a lot of things for me. I actually filled an entirely of my 5 journals written here in September alone. It was when I really began to pursue the idea of staying here for the next time went on, I was unable to envision myself leaving, which caused me to believe that I was meant to stay. It was when I came to the very hard choice that although I wanted to stay in Bhutan, I did not want to stay at Bjishong. I loved, really still do love, my school very much. But the situation of landslides and not having a safe way out had really impacted me, and having spent a significant amount of time in fear (along with friends and family fearing for me), decided that psychologically, I could not handle another monsoon at that location. Even if the devastation of this year did not repeat itself, I would spend monsoon an absolute nervous wreck, spending the months leading up to it in dread, and that I was unable to do. I also planned to still be in Bhutan, able to visit my friends at Bjishong whenever I pleased. At the end of September, I was able to spend a week at a volunteer workshop at Ability Bhutan Society, a wonderful NGO working with children with special needs in Thimphu. As I saw my educational ambitions begin to turn to special education, I began to envision myself continuing my time in Bhutan with this organization, helping them with the important groundbreaking work they are doing.
During my week there, I was shocked to learn of a tragedy unfolding out east, as one of the BCF teachers in Trashigang, Martha, had fallen suddenly, severely ill, and subsequently died on September 20th. This rocked the BCF community to its very core, and she is often thought of, and will always be remembered by all of us. It is an event that is painful to think of, and one that I do not, nor do I think I will ever, fully understand. One of my few regrets here is that I was unable to attend her cremation in Trashigang. Fortunately, many BCF teachers were able to attend, as well as (and most importantly, in my opinion) her students.
Our batch of BCF teachers at Dochula. This was the last time we were all together, and I am thankful it was such a beautiful, special, unforgettable day. Martha, we will never forget you, and may you rest in peace.

October: October has always been one of my favorite months at home, due to my favorite holiday of halloween. Although here did not have the halloween anticipation fever like the states, I did try to start some in my own ways, by having a trivia contest for all my classes and Literary Club to find out Miss Sarah's favorite holiday in the month of October (prizes awarded, of course). This was no easy feat, as we had no electricity so no one could access the internet during their non-existent IT classes. Within a few weeks, however, students from every class came forward with the correct information- "Halloween madam!! Its a puja in your country, last day of the month la. There is junkfruit! But why is it madam?". I later learned that these intrepid students had pestered other teachers who had internet phones to look up the information, in return for cleaning quarters or doing laundry. Now thats dedication.
And on the actual day, I gave out candy and prizes to all my classes. Along with the halloween, spooky theme, my friend Zam and I spent the month watching "Vampire Diaries" on her laptop, which she would covertly charge whenever they turned on the generator to teach class 10 IT or use the printer. Watching TV, since I hadn't gotten to do anything like that since June, was more fun then it had ever been. We also had our school picnic, which was the first time I really sensed the year might be coming to a close, but I blocked this sensation with all my might, as I wasn't willing to face it yet.
Me and my friends (L to R- Tsethen, Ugyen, Norbu, Zam, Tshering and me) at the school picnic.

November: The start of November came as a shock to me, as it was unbelievable it was finally here. I managed to obtain my own internet phone, and so slowly started to reconnect to the world outside of BMSS and Damji village. It went quickly, as the whole school threw itself into exam mode, prepping and studying, giving tests, and of course, the seemingly never-ending grading. At the end of the month, I went to Thimphu to collect my mother, excited and hardly believing that she was about to arrive in Bhutan.
My mother's arrival at Paro. She's watching me post this, and says she has no recollection of this being taken. It was a long trip, I suppose.

December: My mother arrived, and after a few days in Thimphu I took her up to Damji village where we spent a wonderful two weeks of finishing up the year, and she got to meet and spend time with my friends. I had envisioned and imagined this time all year, and it really did live up to all of my daydreamings. One of the highlights was going to National Day and getting to see the Dzong. On the 19th, I made my tearful goodbyes, and left school. My mother and I spent two days in Phobjika, watching black-necked cranes, 2 days in Trongsa getting to experience the Trongsa tsechu, and are now in Bumthang. We are staying at the River Lodge, and in accordance with my inability to comprehend the end of the year, it feels to me just like its July again, except much colder. Eventually reality will set in, but for the moment I'm letting it take its own time. Why? For the same reason that I wanted to take the rest of the time my visa allotted to stay in the country to travel and show my mom this beautiful country; I am not willing to say goodbye. But unfortunately I will have to. Due to a variety of circumstances, including issues with visas, I will not be able to stay in Bhutan for the beginning of next year. Instead, I will be taking a vacation around SE Asia, and then returning to the USA late January. And after that, I haven't the slightest. Its a foreign concept to me not to have a plan of what to do next, but I have learned a lot about letting things unfold how they may in my year spent here, and so am willing to apply that philosophy to my return home. I am sure I will find something, and will enjoy the rest and relaxation in the meantime.
National Day in Gasa. Note the absolutely gorgeous mountains.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Murphy's Law

Now is the time for me to eat my words of "writing every week" and " consistently keeping this blog updated about my life in Bhutan for my friends and family"

I will tell you the end result at the start, and then go through the chronology of events.
There is no longer a road to my placement and there is no longer electricity. It has been about 2 months since the loss of both, and things don't look like they are going to be fixed very soon.

Late June: We were entering the nitty-gritty of monsoon season, where you can't see more than 2 feet in front of your face (which the kids love because then you cannot monitor their SUPW properly), the clouds come into the classrooms unless you close the windows, and there is perpetual rain. Sometimes a light misting, sometimes torrential downpours, but rain. Every day. All day. In some places in country monsoon is not that dramatic, but this june, in southern Gasa, it was.
The torrential downpours led to landslides, which destroyed many things...but the most important were the paddy fields of Damji village (the village by my school) and the road to Gasa. The slides made the road impassible, and with the added twist of the fact that 2 bridges were completely swept away as rivers that used to be describable as "cute babbling brooks" were transformed into "raging whitewater". Fortunately the only casualties of life were a few cows. But it was horrible. One of our students got attacked by a very upset bull as she was trying to untie it to let it run away to avoid the slide, and several angis (grandmothers) in the village, after watching their family's ancestral land that was their key to feeding their families and making a living literally fall off the side of the village edge, have fallen very sick.
Along with the village, and the bridges, all of the electric poles were washed away as well, leaving us with no electricity. Fortunately, someone was able to repair the "shortcut" and we were able to escape for vacation. Considering that I spent the 2 weeks before vacation listening to landslides continue to fall, and to people telling us how the school was going to be buried in one and/or we were going to starve to death as no food could now be brought up to the school. Being told how your life is in danger and the very realistic reasons why is incredibly stressful.

Beginning of July: I had an absolutely wonderful and restful vacation, full of siteseeing, exploring new parts of Bhutan, and catching up with the wonderful BCF teachers who I have not seen since February. I will write more about it sometime. It was a blast.

End of July: I returned to my site, fording rivers, and climbing up landslides. Fortunately we had electricity. For 2 wonderful days. And then, on a perfectly dry sunny day, another slide destroyed enough of the electricity poles and routes to put us back where we were the day of the first landslide...and with even a less realistic chance of getting it fixed. The power company has wisely decided to create a new power line, but, as the Bhutanese say, "it will take some time"

Beginning of August: Same as July, no electricity. But the weirdest thing happened- I stopped caring about it. I stopped being upset, and miserable, and panicky. I developed a really nice routine, and began drawing again. I read voraciously, and go on long walks and just listen to the scenery. Now that people aren't saying our deaths are coming for us, and we don't hear landslides every day, this is honestly the most peaceful I have ever lived.

And, thats where and what I am these days. This is the situation, and the fact that I have learned how to survive, and possibly even thrive in this, is a great personal feat. I am in the city for the weekend, and will have my fill of western foods, TV, internet, and then I will return to my peace- my soundtrack of birds and wind and rain, and students singing their prayers for the meals. I will return to the ultimate comfort of being curled up reading a good book by candle light. This is a very special situation and time in my life, and I will never forget it. And now, I embrace it.