Finding Bliss in Bhutan
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” --Maya Angelou
When Jamie Zeppa leaves Canada to teach in Bhutan, she leaves a busy world of planning, meetings, going out, and thinking about the future for a contemplative world, where getting by day-to-day takes over. She tells her story in Beyond the Sky and the Earth. In her new home, high in the Himalayas, she has limited transportation and her life revolves around the children she teaches, learning to cook with limited foods and supplies, and challenging her previous notions of what makes a good life.
The thing that really grabbed me while reading this was the lyrical description of life and nature in Bhutan. For example: “Whenever we stop and climb out of the vehicle, I am struck by the silence. It is particularly deep and strong higher up. At the passes, when the wind drops suddenly, the silence almost hums, and I can feel the weight of the earth beneath me, intensified by the emptiness between this solid piece of ground and the nearest ridge, a short flight away. It becomes a strange mental gravity. If I stand too long, I begin to feel rooted” (31). I, too, felt the heaviness of the earth and the silence pressing on my ears.
Zeppa went to Bhutan for a change, but had every intention to return home to Canada at the end of her stay. However, the country changes her and when it comes time to return, she’s not so sure where “home” is anymore. About halfway through the book she writes, “I remember my arrival in Bhutan and how miserable I was, and all the other teachers who seemed inexplicably content. They were right all along, I think. This is the most remarkable place, after all” (110). By the end of her story, Zeppa even finds herself in a relationship with a Bhutanese man, which strengthens her ties to the country all the more.
We tend to define ourselves by where we live, but in this dream-like memoir, Zeppa shows us that by leaving, we have the opportunity to redefine ourselves and our values. In my opinion, this is part of the beauty of reading travel literature—even though we can’t hop on a plane and live the adventure ourselves, we can live and learn vicariously.