It is one of those mornings when you wake up before the alarm goes off because you are so excited. My parents are arriving today. Out the window a giant orange sun is rising between two mountain peaks. Their landing between the steep crevices of another worldly landscape will not disappoint. I know that in just one hour the tiny plane will be arriving right here in Bhutan, a nose dive right into the impossibly skinny Paro Valley.
Jigme and Sonam pick me up in the school bus. We arrive to the Paro International Airport and before we can exit the car we have already met three people we know. That is one of the most enjoyable things about Bhutan, wherever you go, there is your community. What other international airport in the world lets you wait for your loved ones, surrounded by familiar faces as they wait for their loved ones on a daily basis? “Kellie! Your parents are arriving today?” One friend calls out. Another friend has been on their flight and is now exiting, “ Kellie, I’ve just met your parents! They’re absolutely charming!” And then there they are in the flesh. I wave frantically. Don’t they see me? Before they exit my dad makes a hard left and disappears for a few moments.
When he reappears, he has a sizable bottle of Scotch in his hand, his first purchase in the country from the duty free shop. Now he is ready for Bhutan. Julie is also ready for Bhutan. In her hand she has a giant Toblerone bar and I hope for a fleeting second it may be for me? But no, that is for her. I am so happy to see them and we hug and kiss in a wild display of affection that is not very Bhutanese. Around us, Bhutanese give us warm smiles anyways. Parent-child love is universal. I take hold of my dad’s hand and don’t let go for three days.
We load Julie and Jonathan onto the school bus and take them to the trail head for Jimoulhari, the tallest virgin peak in the world. The mountain has never been summited because there is a deity residing there who may not be bothered by adventurous humans. From the trail head we marvel at the jagged snow covered peaks. Around us old men mutter their mantras and spin their prayer wheels. Within moments of arriving in Bhutan, you are really in Bhutan. There is none of the metropolitan buffer that usually greets you in international journeys. As we drive back to Thimphu I try to answer all their questions the best that I can. I point out the natural elephant on a cliff face. I point out the haunted house that supposedly revealed some treasures several centuries earlier. My cell phone rings. Several of my class six students have baked a cake and are waiting on my doorstep to present it to my parents. This is just the beginning of the tremendous hospitality they will enjoy during their visit.
Every class I teach held welcome parties for my parents, showering them with homemade food and traditional gifts. One morning I arrived late to assembly and Julie had organized an impromptu hula-hoop contest. In her quiet yet stimulating way she commanded even the most hyperactive student’s attention. She personifies teaching as the art form of compassion and enlightenment that it is.
One weekend we piled back into the school bus with Madam Deki, Chechay, Madam Manju, Jane from Santa Cruz, Joe, Jen, and Jigme. We drove six hours to Phobjikha Valley, the sacred home of the endangered black necked cranes.We enjoyed amazing hospitality at the Phodrang Monastic Lodge right behind the stunning Gangtey Temple. The guesthouse is perched on a little hill looking out over the valley with young monks running all around. At night we sat around a bonfire under millions of glittering stars and passed around a canteen of Jane’s coronation whisky. It was our only hope for staying warm.
The night before my parents were due to leave we all sat around in Madam Deki’s house eating some of the most delicious food I have ever tasted (thanks Deki, Kueron and Chechay). All my loved ones were together and even though they had only known each other ten days, they professed their deep admiration and respect for each other. My parents were showered with gifts and treasures to forever remind them of their time here.
The next morning, all too quickly their trip is over and I’m riding with them back to Paro. Julie happily chirps to the non-English speaking driver how she will be returning next year to teach at the Early Learning Centre. For free. She loved it that much. She tells him how in Madam Deki’s new school she will have her own living quarters right above the school so she’ll never have to leave.
My dad looks at me with a weary smile. I know what he is thinking, “How much of that Scotch is left for the three day journey home?”