Our return to what was our hometown for 2 years began with the very familiar journey from Trashigang to Rangjung. Every bend, stand of towering prayer flags, village, chorten and sheer drop on that road is burned into our memories and I found myself grinning from ear to ear the whole way.
The driver, who we recognized and contracted to take us drove down the main street calling out the window “Lopen” - the Dzongkha word for teachers and the traders and old friends in the many general stores responded by waving and grinning as much as us.
As soon as we had deposited our luggage in the guesthouse I donned my kira to walk back down to school. After enjoying cool and sunny conditions across most of the country, the humidity and heat of Rangjung was a shock and I was bathed in sweat by the time we entered the school gates. As luck would have it we arrived in the middle of the lunch break so it was perfect timing, allowing us to speak to students without impacting on their classes. The school grounds now contain a newly consecrated chorten and a half completed clock tower commemorating 100 years of education in Bhutan but little else had changed.
Bush telegraph ensured that students were instantly aware of our presence and they appeared from every direction, to greet us or to simply stand and stare. My original home class came running and within no time 12 of the 13 XC students who qualified for class XI studies, were standing before me. They couldn’t quite believe that I had kept that final promise that I would return and I could hardly comprehend it myself. We were all thrilled to be back in each other’s company. It took me a while to realize that there were only boys in the rapidly expanding crowd of former students. Then 2012’s female class captain now school counselor was immediately summoned and the XC group was complete. Questions flowed and conversations about the current locations of other classmates and the achievements and events of the last 9 months were shared. When classes began we had already established that I would return for each lunch break and after school for the next few days to maximize our time together.
Our colleagues and the community were equally welcoming, inviting us for tea, and enquiring about experiences since leaving and expressing their desire for us to return to Rangjung to teach again. Word was out that we had reapplied to teach in Bhutan and over the next few days we repeatedly tried to explain that we have no say in our possible placement for 2014 but to no avail.
We alternated visiting each of our schools in the mornings and afternoons and the time spent in the lower secondary school was no less intense. Students rushed up shouting, “Sir is back, Sir,” and “Sir is teaching us English, Sir?” as we entered the school grounds. Some children approached shyly and stood mouths gaping in awe, while others confidently resumed conversations as though we had been chatting just a few moments earlier. We attended a few classes and Ian addressed the morning assembly, in addition to answering the many questions enquiring little minds proposed. On our final day in Rangjung one pair of vivacious twins with whom we had frequently interacted, informed us that they had visited our house the previous evening. They were perplexed that we no longer resided there. In their minds everything had obviously returned to 9 months ago when we left.
The reunions and casual catch ups continued over the 3 days we were in town and it was an absolute delight to be on familiar territory and to be welcomed back so warmly. In fact we took to taking the back streets between our schools for fear of offending people by refusing their hospitality. There is in fact a limit to the number of mango juices, cups of tea and momos, 2 people can consume. The overwhelming number of invitations we received from colleagues and friends immediately allayed our initial concerns about the guesthouse not providing meals. In fact it felt odd to be treated as celebrities when we had once been ordinary members of this Rangjung community.
The only non-school activity we engaged in was to hike up to an old chorten we long ago named Joyce’s Chorten, in the relative cool of the early morning. We had promised ourselves we would return to that much loved and tranquil place and once again hang a string of prayer flags there and that is exactly what we did.
Before arriving, news had reached us about our good friend, local guide, horse trader and taxi driver, Lobzang. He had acquired a new, secondhand vehicle and was eager to take us for at least part of the return journey. Perfect! We said our goodbyes with light hearts thinking we will be back in the Land of the Thunder Dragon again soon and it will once again be possible to visit dear friends and former students and colleagues.