Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Love letter to Phobjikha

We have returned to Thimphu. The weather is dreary, cloudy, grey and I am cross with everything. I'm cross with the men wearing ghos because they are not my men wearing ghos. I'm cross with the women wearing kira, because they are not my women wearing kira. And I'm cross with all the students in their uniforms, because they are not mine.

I miss Phobjikha. It defies all sense. I was sick the whole time I was there, walking up the hill to school everyday got easier by the end, but it was still a tough slog. It was cold for all of a handful of minutes. I spent a lot of time wondering if I was behaving appropriately. And I could only have eaten another mouthful of potato stew if my life had depended on it. But the air was sweet and good (if flavoured with the aromas of mud and pine and cow poo - smells I have no problem with and prefer to exhaust and sewers [I'm looking at you Thimphu]). And the water had a touch of the divine. It burned cold in your throat and lit up your stomach. Aqua vitae indeed. On the final morning I got up early to see someone quickly before we left and there was a fine coating of frost on everything the sun hadn't touched yet. It felt like Phobjikha was showing me secrets.

And I miss the staff at the hotel. I wish I had taken more pictures. We left in such a rush that there was no time. I'll start to forget faces soon, but they were a little like a family. (Only a little, because I was still a customer at the hotel.) Their work is tough - everything has to be carried up and down the hill. Laundry, supplies, firewood, guests' bags. Some times guests yell and carry on (the old man who had forgotten that he had eaten something and refused to pay for it, the man who got mad about the water [a tap was dripping? it was hard to tell, he was yelling so loud], the man who got mad about the electricity [they say in the guide books that the electricity goes out in Phobjikha a lot, right?]). By the third week I was starting to see behind the screen, people would mention if they were feeling stressed, Nitup would cross her eyes at me if someone had been rude to her.

And I miss the staff at the school. As an aside, if someone invites you for a 'simple Bhutanese meal', don't eat that day. There will be so much delicious food and you won't want to stop eating. Make sure you eat the cheese one! I miss sitting around the wood stove, trying to keep warm, chatting to the other teachers or just sitting, letting the sounds of the language sooth and float by as they talk and tease and poke fun. I miss being reminded to take a cup of sweet tea at interval. Heading up for lunch - rice and dal and potato stew. Sitting around under the high blue sky. Once there was butter and if you mix butter, rice and dal it tastes just like hot buttered french bread stick. True.

Here, too, I was allowed to look into peoples' lives. The complaints and the quibbles as well as the delights and joys. The UTIs and the concerns for their kids, the pride and the hopes for the future. The teachers who held themselves aloof, the teachers who worked hard to communicate and be kind even if English wasn't their most best thing. The outrageous flirting, (which I wasn't sure how to take until someone did it in front of his wife and she basically called him a randy old goat). The curiousity about life and the great skill they brought to the classroom.

And, O! the students. Naughty, cheeky, quiet, brash, serious, brilliant, studious. The littlest ones full of beans and devotion, the oldest ones full of hormones and attitude (but still just babies).

The girls who walked home with me and practiced their English or asked questions through a designated spokesperson. The girl who told me English was hard for her, but she was smart in Dzongkha. The girls who avoided my eye when I called on people in class, but chatted happily to me outside during Cobblers Club.

The boys full of whimsey and the urge to belt the crap out of every flower that dared grow near the path to school. Who wrote about their fears and consistently wrote about being bitten (beaten) by bigger boys. (The girls feared exclusion).

Some hated school, some loved it. And I miss them.

The coolest boy in school was also the best dancer (I was informed of both these facts in hushed whispers when I attended the students' final rehearsal for the Teachers' Day dancing).

I miss all the classes. I played the clown a lot to make them feel more comfortable with talking. I miss them.

So, Phobjikha, goodbye. I've left you part of my heart. Tama che gey!

1 comment:

Birgit said...

Beautiful words Ceels