Wife-sick. This is the term that my colleagues have jokingly been using in place of the more traditional term “homesick” when referring to me. I’ve been living in Western Bhutan these past 5 weeks, while Ashley has been living in Eastern Bhutan. I know what you are thinking – Bhutan’s small, what’s the big deal? And to this I must reply, “six hours in a car on a Canadian highway is equal to a 3 day journey in Bhutan.” Now that I’m employed – oh, did I forget to mention that? – and Ashley’s working every day of the week but Sundays, visiting has just not been an option.
Okay, “employment” is probably too strong of a word. I’ve been masquerading as a grade 7 English teacher since arriving in Chamgang (a small community just up the hill from the country’s capital, Thimphu). I’m not exactly employed, because I’m neither receiving remuneration, nor am I qualified to be a teacher (strictly based on an educational requirement of a bachelor’s degree in education). On the flip side, I sort of am like a real teacher in that I have regularly scheduled classes, I teach lessons based on the curriculum, I give and mark assignments along with tests, and I generally perform the roll of a classroom teacher. Officially though, I fall loosely under the title of guest speaker.
Why on earth have I agreed to do this, you ask? The story starts way back when Ashley and I first found out about this wonderful opportunity through the BCF (Bhutan Canada Foundation). We had been searching on-line for ESL jobs after becoming enlightened to the fact that we just weren’t ready to go home and resume the “traditional Canadian lifestyle”. The goal was not to find Ashley a job so I could loaf around while she brought home the bacon, though that has been a somewhat pleasant side-effect, but to find a teaching job for the both of us. True, I don’t have a teaching degree, but in many countries being a native English speaker with any kind of bachelor’s degree is enough. Anyways, we fell in love with the idea of Bhutan and ruled out all of the other teaching destinations that we had been looking at. After some time, Ashley secured herself a job, and I postponed my dream of teaching in favour of becoming a “house husband”.
After a long application process, which we’ve talked about before, we finally arrived in Bhutan. It was here that I met a certain Mr. Matt, an incumbent teacher with an interesting predicament. Long story short, his wife was expecting a baby. The delivery was planned to take place in Australia, close to family, and he was actively looking to recruit a “native English speaking house husband” as a substitute teacher. Substitue teaching is not a common part of the Bhutanese education system, and without my involvement Matt’s classes would have been covered by a variety of teachers and staff. Having a single teacher would be a vast improvement over the ad-hoc replacement that was expected.
Just then, a thought ran through my head – wouldn’t it be great to try out being a teacher for a month or two without a long term commitment. It would sure beat moving to someplace like Korea only to find out, one month into a year long contract, that teaching just isn’t my cup of tea. As the saying goes, “How do you know [if you'll like something], if you don’t try?” So I said, “yes!” and here I am.
So now I am a teacher. Just like my mother, and loving wife. And you know what? I quite like it. The staff have been super welcoming. The children seem more than happy to have me here. Practically everyone in town calls me Sir, though that moniker is given to all male teachers in the country so I shouldn’t let it go to my head.
Beyond that, I’m happy to be here. Teaching is rewarding work. I don’t think I could have guessed how rewarding before trying it, and I don’t think it’s possible to describe to someone whose never been at the head of a classroom before, so I won’t go into much more detail. Just keep in mind that I like teaching very much.
My transition to Chamgang has been made easy by virtue of the fact that I’m living in Bhutan. If I need anything, someone is willing to help me out. This includes cooking for me, guiding me up the mountains for weekend hikes, providing me with fresh un-pasturized milk – you Canadians with your draconian dairy laws are really missing out – and farm fresh eggs, rides into Thimphu, and just hanging out.
The last item here is actually the most important one. Being board is seen as a terrible thing here. There’s such a sense of community that nobody can stand to see me sitting alone, at home, by myself. I’m invited out to play sports (football, basketball, footsal, and volleyball) on a daily basis despite my lack skill.
The truth is, living and teaching here is very easy for me. It’s not all roses, of course. If I wanted to, I could lament about the lack of internet access, the squat toilets, and the fact that I have to boil my water before I can drink it. I could also talk about all of the school related problems such as long tedious meetings in a language I don’t understand, having to witness student humiliation as a form of discipline, students bullying and teasing each other and all the rest. But to me, these things are so minor compared to the positive elements of Bhutan living and school life that I could just as well not mention them.
That brings me back to the beginning. Wife-sickness. If Ashley were here with me, I think I’d be quite happy teaching for as long as they would allow me to. But as it stands, my tenure as teacher is coming to an end. It’ll be with mixed emotions that I leave my post, both sad to leave my new home and school in Chamgang while at the same time I’ll be overwhelmingly filled with joy at the thought of returning to Ashley in Nangkor. In any case, my time here is nearly up. My substitution job will finish, and my wife-sickness will soon be over.
At least now I know that I enjoy teaching. There is a chance that this knowledge could open up a future lifestyle for Ashley and I. Could we permanently become nomadic teachers? Or even better, could we be lucky enough to both land long term teaching jobs in the same village in Bhutan? Who knows, but possibilities are better than no possibilities.