I heard a loud knock on the door. It was 6:30 am on a school day last October. I had woken up a mere 5 minutes before. My hair was a bird’s nest of fun. My Bhutanese housemate was passed out on her stomach in bed as I crept through her room to get to the door.
I opened the door to see my landlord standing in our garden.
“Good mooooorning Miss Sarah!” he was almost singing.
“Goood mooooorning Sir!! Great to see you!”
(Who was I kidding?)
“Next year is an auspicious year to tear down houses. If I get bank loan I think we must tear this house down.”
“And where should I live?” I asked. Is next year also an auspicious year to be homeless?
|My new bathroom!|
Houses in my area dotted the mountainous landscape but were few in number and already housed a combination of shop owners, schoolteachers, and staff employed in the national park directly across from my school. I could look out my window and see almost all of the houses. And could name all of the people who occupied them.
“Do not worry Miss! I will build you a temporary shack to live in.”
“So don’t worry Sarah,” I thought. I reflected on the last 8 months I had spent scraping mold off the ceiling of this house in monsoon season, mopping up the floor every time it rained because half of our roof was merely a pile of thin wood planks, and going to sleep to rat concerts every night. I would do laundry every Sunday to find almost all of my clothes eaten by rats so later tightly sealed buckets filled our house, protecting our clothes from those sneaky little rodents. We only had indoor plumbing in our bathroom, so all kitchen chores were completed outside in our outdoor tap. During monsoon season, we filled up buckets to bring inside or used the small tap in the bathroom and listened to the rain pound on the makeshift tin roof that was added so our toilet would be "inside." In fact I distinctly remember walking into my grade 5 class in March and the boy in front row piping up, “Oh miss! You moved into my house from last year! We moved because our roof blew off!”
I smiled and continued with the lesson.
For whatever reason, I actually began to find this place really quite endearing in the spring and summer. It was peaceful, my bedroom looked right out onto a picturesque Himalayan valley, and my newly adopted grandmother, or angay, would drop off fresh vegetables to my door every now and then. Would “a temporary shack” be better or worse?
I lived with a Bhutanese girl last year who kept me more sane and became a very close companion. We would spend our evenings huddled around our heater laughing our guts out, reflecting on the day, and talking of cultural differences between Canada and Bhutan, with Hindi or Dzongkha music crooning in the background. She was a couple years younger than I and was used to a slightly more luxurious life in the Bhutanese capital. When the rat concerts became less thrilling for her, she would bring her mattress into my room and sleep right by my bed for protection. I didn't mind her company.
|Cow food! Yumm yumm|
After picturing what my “temporary shack” could look like, I “shifted” houses on my final weekend last year in December. Four cooks from school showed up at my door, strapped my bed to their back with rope, picked up my few belongings and marched down the road to a concrete house directly across from my school. I’m now living on the ground floor of a big house in a small two-bedroom apartment surrounded by teachers, their families, park staff, and a tiger chaser next door. “Tap tap” the cooks knocked on my bedroom window that faced the valley below, “boys come visit at night sarah. Tap tap.” I chuckled it off, slightly questioning if the historical act of “night hunting,” a terrifying way of finding a spouse, still existed here in my community.
|My hot water source. Used for instant coffee, |
laundry, showers, and everything in between.
I usually get home from school at about 4:00 after making the three minute hike down the mountain from the staffroom. I wash dishes piled up from breakfast and lunch quickly then either make some tea or head to my friend’s to have tea with her family upstairs. Any remaining food scraps I put into a bowl and stand outside screaming “Kaaarma.” Karma, my old student, runs up the mountain, takes the vegetables, and gives them to his mother who magically turns it into mush for her cows. (my brilliant way of keeping the cows full so they don’t wake me up with their, “moooooo!!” at midnight from hunger.) Now I am ready to go for a walk with teachers at school. We walk or run about 3 km to a local holy water well on the side of the mountain. “If you drink from here, your voice will be the most beautiful,” said my friend. If you drink from here, you will get stomach pains for the rest of the week, I thought, gulping down the water.
|Look at that cute little kitchen!|
Around 6pm I light my gas stove, chop veggies, wash rice to put in my cute little rice cooker, and prepare a vegetable curry. If I happen to be out of vegetables, I put on my gumboots, grab my flashlight, and steal some spinach from tiger chaser’s garden. I usually eat dinner by about 730 either alone or with my friend who lives upstairs. I’ll bring my rice and we’ll share curries. Due to my heavy course load this year, I tend to be up until about ten planning and in bed to read or watch my guilty addiction to Gilmore Girls until eleven.
|Gas stove. "You should not light. |
You will explode the house," said a teacher when he moved me in.
|My refrigerator! Yumm yumm|
|The bucket shower.|
The school week runs from Monday to Saturday at lunch. The closest vegetable and fruit market is in the nearest town a 45 minute drive away. So, after lunch on Saturdays, usually consisting of leftover fried rice from breakfast, I will wait patiently and charmingly on the side of the east-west high way outside my house for a nice driver to pick me up and drop me off in town. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Sometimes I try to look desperate and starving, so drivers will be more likely to pick up this foreigner in desperate need of apples and cauliflower. Because I do not have a fridge, I have to go about once a week for produce. For my sanity, I pick up a little chocolate and disgustingly sweet Indian wine in town too.
|Living room in my new house.|
Sundays are usually spent enjoying sleeping in. I really like coffee. In Bhutan, I mostly enjoy the act of drinking the coffee, versus the actual coffee itself. I like taking my time to sip my coffee. Sunday mornings give me the time to do this and enjoy fresh French toast, with the bread I get from town the day before. A plate of French toast has also proven to be a good bribery method for my neighbour to burn all my garbage, since I tend to light the garbage, and then get distracted. It would be just terrible if the foreign teacher caused a massive forest fire wouldn’t it? By noon I usually complete my laundry for the week. I soak it in soap in my bucket for about an hour, rub it to bits on the rock outside my house, squuuuueeeeze out the soap, and hang to dry as I contemplate that wool was the stupidest material I could have possibly brought to Bhutan.
|Cooking curry most likely.|
|My one heat source. If there's no power, you freeze.|