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Monday, October 28, 2013

Returning to Bhutan

Gangtey Monastery 
When I landed in Bhutan, I felt alive by the September rain that colored the mountains green and purified the fresh air.  My eyes were wide open barely blinking as if they were having a feast, gorging on the spectacular scenery of forever-rising mountains.  It had been almost a year since I had been back in Bhutan, but all the love I felt for the country and its culture came rushing back even stronger than before.  The agape feeling that consumed me sparked a stronger desire to be reunited with my close friends and students from last year, so I immediately set out to central Bhutan making lots of visits on my way to my new home.

Little JImmy in Gangtey
One of my first stops was in beautiful Gangtey to see little Jimmy, Sonam’s family and the Rinpoche of Gangtey.  Since I arrived later than expected, little Jimmy was sleeping, but Sonam’s mother waited up for me.  We sat in the sitting room holding hands and smiling at each other for quite sometime while catching up on lost time.  There was joy in our hearts and all over our faces to see each other again.  I’m certain we have a karmic connection because I feel so close to her even though we don’t speak the same language.  In fact, some people think that I can understand Dzongkha because I often know what she’s saying.  It’s a funny thing to explain or watch, but some Buddhist may explain it as a karmic tie.  After some time, we decided to wake little Jimmy up and with sleepy eyes he gave me the biggest hug.  It felt like Christmas watching him open a dozen of presents at midnight from Sonam and I.

After a few days visiting little Jimmy, I was able to personally thank the Rinpoche of Gangtey for inviting me to teach in his nunnery.  Then I made my way to Chumey where I taught last year. 
The lovely road into Chumey
Driving down the straightest paved road in Bhutan leading into Chumey Valley made me feel like I was coming home to another part of me: the Bhutanese part of me that’s a Chumey girl!  My ride dropped me off in front of the school where Norbu, my dear monk friend, came trailing along the pitch-dark road to greet me.  It was such a dark night that I could barely see the outline of his robe approaching me, but I instantly recognized his voice when he said, “Hey man, long time no see.”  We hugged under a black sky and I was in disbelief to see my favorite friend again. 

The next morning, I attended school where I was bombarded by mobs of students gathering around me in their checkered school dresses asking me a thousand questions.  My old students who are now in class six dominated the mob giving me hugs and cards.  One particular student, Neera, made my tears lodge deep in my throat and I will never forget the sight of her running across the courtyard out of breath with open arms.  She had grown taller than me and was now able to throw her arms around my neck for a tight cobra squeeze, which nearly threw me off balance.  Her eyes were full of tears as she struggled to get the words out without openly crying as she stuttered, “Miss, I was afraid that we would never meet again, but I never gave up hope.  I knew you would return.”  Her pure happiness really touched my heart and I felt grateful that I too didn’t give up hope on getting a visa back to Bhutan.

After morning assembly, my former students threw me the most elaborate welcome back tea party with nearly a hundred cookies, rows of thermoses filled with tea, a bouquet of wild flowers, a homemade crown that read, “Best Teacher in the World” and balloons taped to the ceiling, which I was instructed to pop to experience a rainfall of confetti.  I realized that one of the sweetest gifts life can offer is to be loved by children.  It was one of the happiest days of my life and one that I will surely never forget.
That afternoon, I went to see one of the people I thought about the most in Bhutan; I went to see sweet Dawa who lived with me last year, but now lives in the dorms/hostel in a nearby high school.  I was on the edge of my seat waiting for her to come down a hill from her dorm room and at the first sight of each other, we ran towards one another for a big embrace.  Finally, it was my turn to cry during my 

Dawa and I
Bhutan reunions because there was a part of me that felt incredibility guilty not really knowing how she was doing while I was away.  I took care of her for several months last year, so there’s a part of me that will always feel like I’m a family member to her.  During our beautiful visit together, she reassured me that she was happy and healthy, which made the guilt slowly subside.
Since Chumey houses so many people I love, I couldn’t help but stay for several days teaching my old students, visiting past friends and going for my old long walks around Chumey.  It was strange at how it felt like I had never left.  A part of me didn’t want to leave again, but there was also another part of me that was anxious to meet my new students who were only a few hours away: the nuns of Pema Choling nunnery.

Students with my suitcase
So early the next morning, I was getting ready to leave Chumey for the nunnery when all my students surprised me to see me off.  Dozens of little fingers lifted my suitcase and bags up in the air and marched my luggage all the way to Norbu’s car.  With teary eyes they wished me the best of luck and waved goodbye as Norbu drove me to the nunnery where I would again fall in love with a different part of Bhutan, more sweet people and a whole new experience.  
The Pema Choling Nunnery

Now I have been teaching at the nunnery for almost a month and it is beyond fascinating.  It deserves it’s own special blog, which I will try to update the next time I come into town since I don’t have Internet there. 

A nice reunion 

Variety of Cookies
Tea Party - Thermoses of suja and narja