Saturday, 22 March 2014

Paul's Post 30/03/2014

As usual, it’s been a while since my last post – but of course much has happened. I returned to England for a week for my Dad’s funeral, and it was also nice to spend time with my brother and sister and see my old Birmingham friends.

My route home from Bhutan was: a 12 hour drive to the Capital (Thimphu), an overnight stay at Nancy’s house (the boss of BCF in Bhutan – they are the charity that organises for us foreign teachers to volunteer in Bhutan). After an early morning drive to the airport in Paro with possibly the world’s slowest taxi driver who barely exceeded 30kph until I finally asked him to put his foot down - I was on my way to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Now, if you ever take this flight, I strongly urge you to get a window seat as it must be one of the most stunning plane rides available. Imagine my excitement when the Captain announced, “If you look out of the window on the left, that tall peak with a cloud hanging over it is Mount Everest.” My elation soon turned to desperation when the captain shortly afterwards announced that due to fog in Kathmandu we couldn’t land, he then said that they would circle for 15 minutes and if the fog didn’t clear, we would return to Bhutan. Now, my connecting flights were with Qatar Airlines, this flight was Druk Air. If I didn’t land on time in Kathmandu, I would lose my seats and have to buy another ticket – something I could ill-afford as a volunteer. It was at this point that I began to pray, I can’t remember what deal I made with God – I only hope I have kept my side of the bargain because He certainly kept his. After about 25 minutes the captain calmly announced that we would be landing after all. Thank God!

The rest of my journey went without incident. I then flew to Doha, Qatar (very dry and sandy from what I saw of it) and then onto Heathrow (very pleasant weather thank you very much) where I was met by my brother at close to midnight on Saturday night, and driven the 2 hours to Birmingham.

I must acknowledge the great organising efforts of my brother (Enda) and sister (Marie). By the time I arrived nearly everything had been arranged but there were still lots of minor things to attend to that filled our days – such as visiting the various churches my dad attended and meeting with the priests.

It seemed to me that in the last 20 years or so of my Dad’s life, he was always attending funerals. Consequently, I was worried that there would be very few people left to attend his. On the day of the funeral, I was delighted to see so many friends and relatives come from near and far. Several came from Ireland, some nearly didn’t make it because of (you guessed it – fog) but God was still smiling and their plane too eventually landed. There was also a sizeable contingent from Swindon that I was delighted to see.

The service went without a hitch, for me the hardest part was walking away from my Dad’s open grave after the coffin had been lowered into it. It looked so lonely and exposed there – only now does it occur to me that he was finally re-united with my Mum.

Birmingham is a big city with all the usual problems and it is easy to be cynical and think that it is an uncaring place. I was so pleased to see so many neighbours turn up at the funeral – they also organised a generous collection that we donated to Dad’s care home entertainment fund. One lady, whom I did not recognise, approached me and told me how kind my Dad had been to her family over the years. I later saw that she had laid her own bouquet at my Dad’s grave and I wondered how it was that I didn’t know who this woman was. My Dad wasn’t secretive but it often didn’t occur to him to tell us things that were arguably quite important. My most notable example is finding out in my mid-twenties that my mum had been a nun for 3 years. My Dad never thought to tell me – my aunt just mentioned it in passing one day and of course I was stunned.

The ‘silver lining’ of the funeral was getting to see so many friends and relatives once more. It is the sign of a great friendship that you can pick up where you left off as if it was only weeks rather than years since you last saw one-another. All too soon it was time to leave Birmingham and the Western World and begin the slow journey back to Bhutan. This time, there was less stress as I didn’t need to arrive by a certain day. However, Justine had taken the opportunity to do some Ebay shopping (25 items sent to Birmingham) and I now had to carry it all back – plus several purchases (mostly from charity shops) of my own. I had a 30kg allowance with Qatar Airways and so my 36kg of check in didn’t raise too many eyebrows. However, at Kathmandu on the return flight, I only had 20kg allowance. There was much talk with colleagues, they asked to see my passport, my visa letter, my teaching permit. I stood by meekly hoping for another miracle and yet again I was in luck, they finally relented and let me onboard without an excess baggage charge.

On the return visit, I had to stay one night in Kathmandu and it certainly looks like an interesting place. After living in Bhutan, Kathmandu seems huge, despite being in the Himalayas it is quite a large area of comparatively flat ground. Upon arrival, my taxi-driver told me that, “Today is holiday.”
“Oh, a holiday!” I replied, “I’m glad you’re working,” I quipped.
“No, not a holiday, holyday,” he countered.
“Oh a holy day, is it a religious festival?” I asked.
“No, not a holy day,” he replied (frustration beginning to build in his voice).
We both wisely decided to leave it there, and I turned to look at this colourful city outside my window. I wondered why so many people were covered in bright colours – I saw numerous red, yellow and green faces. It was only the next day when I read my free newspaper on the plane that I discovered that the festival was called “Holi,” it is a crazy day that marks the start of spring in which people throw dye over strangers in the street. What a shame I’d missed all the fun by the time I’d landed.

After another night in Thimphu (thank you Nancy) it was time again to get back on the bus for the 12 hour drive back to my home in Bumthang (yes really). It had taken 3 full days to get home and I felt a bit like Santa arriving with my case load of goodies (mostly shoes for our rapidly growing kids). I had an incredibly warm welcome from my family and I think my kids in particular were trying to give me all the hugs that I’d missed out on by being away for 10 days.

Life in Bhutan is a lot tougher in many ways than in England or Australia – there are certainly a lot less creature comforts and keeping warm is still quite an issue. However, as I walked the few yards from the bus to my house – it struck me that (for now at least) this is home. And, was it just my imagination or was it a couple of degrees warmer? Since then it has snowed (just lightly) a few times, the snow still whistles into my classroom through the holes where my windows are meant to be but I have a new-found optimism, the rhododendrons are shooting up and spring is definitely in the air. I wonder if we will have a Holi day in Bumthang?

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