When I was drawn to teach in Bhutan, a part of me was terrified of being all alone in a foreign country without my friends or family. Despite my worries, I followed my heart, which kept assisting that Bhutan was the place that I needed to be. Now six months later, I am in Bhutan grinning about how I once feared being lonely. Finally, I can see a fraction of the bigger picture of my calling to Bhutan; I can see how the universe was aligning me up with someone who would not only become a dear friend/sister, but also my greatest teacher. So when it was time for her to move far away, I reflected on how our lives crossed paths as well as the life-lessons that I learned.
|A white day in Chumey|
Several days after I nervously landed in Bhutan and checked into a hotel in Thimphu, the capital, Sonam was making the twelve-hour drive from Chumey to Thimphu. She was heading to Thimphu to gather some forms for her visa to Canada from the very office that hired me. Coincidentally, shortly after I exited the office, Sonam entered to collect the forms while saying that she was a teacher from Chumey Middle Secondary School. The school name rang a bell in my boss’s head and she told her that there would be a foreign teacher placed at that school. So they scrambled through the list to discover who was the lucky teacher. After Sonam stared at my name and picture wondering what I was like, she gave my boss her phone number to pass on to me in case I had any questions about the school.
However, when my boss gave me Sonam’s number, I hesitated to call her because my brain was overloaded from orientation. Instead, I put the phone number in my purse, occasionally glancing at the name, Sonam Choden, whenever I dug in my purse for something. I had no idea that the name on the paper would be someone who would touch my heart to the core. So not recognizing that there was a greater force at work, I didn’t call her and we traveled hours apart in separate vehicles on the only main road from Thimphu to Chumey.
At last, it was time for all the teachers to report back to school. I was at my new school for five minutes when Sonam marched up to me saying, “Hi, I’m Sonam Choden! Why didn’t you call me? Don’t you have a million questions?” I should have known by her frankness that we were going to be good friends. However, minutes later I knew that we would get along well when she saved me a seat next to her in our first staff meeting and she translated for me as well as laughed at my jokes. I instantly had a friend!
It turned out that the universe knew exactly what it was doing trying to cross our paths because from that day forward, Sonam and I were inseparable friends. Every single morning during assembly, we stood next to each other and since I didn’t understand Dzongkha, I would turn to her and say, “What do I need to know for the day?” And she would brief me, “Do this…Do that...” Then everyday for lunch we climbed up the 107 steps to her house to fill our selves with tea, rice and curry. During the winter, we ate huddled around a heater and during the summer, we ate outside on her porch, but winter or summer, we were always side-by-side. Indeed, we were like Siamese twins! Even our desks were joined together in the staff room where we helped each other lesson plan during our free time.
Additionally, even though I had my own house, most nights I stayed the night at Sonam’s, sleeping on a mattress on the floor next to the bed where Sonam, little Jimmy and Dawa (Sonam’s niece) slept. Not only did we all sleep in the same room like most Bhutanese families, but also we often ate dinner together sitting in a circle on the floor laughing and talking. And if I didn’t make it for dinner or sleepovers, little Jimmy would ask Sonam why I didn’t come home. They were my little Bhutanese family! I was far from lonely…I was blessed.
Furthermore, on most weekends, Sonam and I enjoyed long drives to the neighboring village to have lunch with her family. I truly felt like I had been adopted as her little nieces and nephews would run to hug me while calling me aunty and even their dogs would jump in excitement to see me. Then after our visits, we upheld our favorite ritual of venturing into the town to do some shopping. Life was good!
|Sonam was teaching me |
how to make momos
Overall, Sonam was my best friend who I could laugh with until we toppled over with tears running down our cheeks. However, Sonam was not only a friend, but often like a family member: sometimes a mom and sometimes a sister. Whenever she had the slightest inkling that I might be getting sick, she would rush me to the doctors like a worried mother and make me rest or eat tons of rice. On the other hand, at times she seemed like a wiser sister to me by the way she advised me about marriage and taught me about Buddhism. I often looked up to her!
Above all, Sonam was my greatest “life teacher!” Before I met Sonam, I considered myself to be a generous person, but after I observed Sonam’s acts of generosity, I realized that I still had a lot to learn. She lived the principle way better than I knew how. For instance, I was amazed at how she opened her house to anyone who needed a stay and she had a gift at making anyone feel welcomed. I also thought that it was amazing at how she provided for Dawa and little Jimmy without ever expecting a pat on the back. Additionally, I was touched by how eager she was to share everything that she owned with me including her washer machine and kiras. In fact, I never once heard her complain about giving to others. She did it from the bottom of her heart and she would unwittingly teach me the true nature of giving:
She taught me that giving to others is a part of life and the more you give, the more good merits you gain, which merits unlike material possessions are all that you can take with you upon death. Thus, the more merits you accumulate, then the better your future will be in this life and the next because what you give, you also receive. However, she emphasized that accumulating merits was just a bonus that came along with giving and it shouldn’t be the sole cause for acts of generosity; giving should come purely from the heart, not expecting anything in return. She lived what I had only read about and tried to emulate here and there. She was my real life exemplary of generosity. She was my teacher!
As my teacher, she inspired me to look for ways that I could be more of a giver everywhere I went. Every time I found a way to give or serve, I found my life feeling more meaningful and blessed. Unknowingly to her, I became her blossoming student!
|Our last picture together in Bhutan|
But with every good story, there seems to be a twist, for nothing is permanent in life and there would be a day that I would have to let go of my new life teacher/friend. Ironically, six months from that first day our lives started to cross paths in Thimphu, they were also set in motion to depart. Sonam’s forms that she had gathered in that Thimphu office had finally been approved for her move to Canada; it was time to say farewell. When all her friends and I gathered at her car to watch her drive away, I couldn’t hold back the enormous monster cry that poured out of my little body as we hugged goodbye. I think that all who watched our parting cried not only because they would miss Sonam, but because it was the saddest sight to see two close friends say so long, not knowing if their paths would intertwine again.
So after my sobs echoed off the mountains and across Chumey Valley, I realized from my experience that somehow I am always magically aligned with those who have the most valuable life-lessons to teach me. Thus, I like to think that it was no accident how our lives overlapped for a blink in time because there was so much to learn, such as the lessons in generosity, and I am a better person for knowing her. As a result, I am no longer overcome with sadness, but I am grateful to whatever it be, the Universe, Buddha, Allah, Christ, etc. that guides people to places; to whatever brings friendships together; to whatever aligns those who have something to teach others; to whatever brings the life-lessons one needs to learn at a particular moment…