We are camped in the western and southern parts of Sikkim this week, without internet for the most part (sometimes the whole town’s connection goes down because of the weather, sometimes your cybercafe closes before you can get to it). We are well, though, and enjoying our breaks from the writing and keeping in touch, and taking in the views.
Even if, when we arrived at the small tourist town of Pelling, where reportedly Richard Gear hangs out, we find most of the hotels bundh (“closed”—it has become my favorite hindi word of late) and whatever’s open welcomes you with a nervous “what are you doing here in the middle of the low season?” smile. It’s been quite enjoyable.
The highlights: the early morning (early! like 4:30 am) views of Khangchendzonga, the third highest peak of the world. The afternoon chais in a hilltop rest-bar hut, next to a soccer field where we found a pack of people playing HARD in the rain and fog. The trips across the mountainous roads of Sikkim with spectacular views of terraced tea fields, villages, goats and monkeys, in a jeep share with a pack of travelers (sometimes up to twelve people in a single vehicle) and trusty drivers who attack impossible curves and narrow paths with confidence and speed that’s just a tad too thrilling to novice passengers. And the conversations everywhere—there’s always people to talk to, get to know, and learn from.
The hard part, always, is when things go the way you didn’t expect them to, or go the way you were afraid they might.
A little less than two weeks ago, we arrived to Gangtok, a little unexpectedly early, to start our engagement with a local International School whose principal (and some of his students) we met back in February in Greensboro, NC. We were so excited. Was this too good to be true?
As it turns out, there have been a few snags in the plan we had originally: some requirements in the visas/permits that used to be a mere formality are now a strict requirements, and the school cannot have foreign nationals without the proper papers present on their campus, even for a visit (we did sneak up there for a short visit, to find the second snag). Secondly, the accommodations that were promised to us aren’t quite ready, or spaces available (details of this aren’t clear to us), until later in the year.
We have deliberated on this internally and with the principal for a few months, but now, we have mutually agreed to put the project of our working together on hold. We might revisit it in a year, but for now, there’s no chance of us staying here for even a month to work with this wonderful organization. Both parties regret this deeply and we remain friends and intend to keep in touch, but this has been very disappointing to Dipika, Kush, and me, to say the least.
The views, the drive and the sitting-around in the last few days have afforded us time and space to put some distance to our emotions, and a perspective. We’ve had the chance to slow down a bit and contemplate separately and together about what this might mean to us. Do we quit? Does this mean we failed, in some ways? How do we move forward?
The good news is that we’ve come away from this experience even more determined to keep going. The big lesson that has emerged is this: we simply must keep doing and making. When we started to think about teaching at this school and at the same time starting Kush in the perfect school we thought possible, we started to, albeit subtly and a bit by bit, place ahead the achieving of that “setup” before our own making and doing at Orangutan Swing. Whatever curriculums, workshops and project we might do with them, we said to each other, once we get there, we will figure it out together. Getting there was the first step, and we’d think about what we’d do then.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach—in a way, there’s no other way to really collaborate with someone (otherwise it wouldn’t be a collaboration, but prescription). But we were shifting the responsibility of making and doing what meant the most to us to others’ whims, convenience and preferences, including those of the weather, governments, and other things completely outside of the control of anyone involved. If we were to do something that’s really meaningful to us—and I believe we will only make a true difference if we believe in our work ourselves—then we cannot afford to be waiting for permission to proceed.
To be creative is to forge a path where none exists yet. When faced with a fork with just two options, we know, intuitively, to jump it: there’s always more to the story, more options that are there if only we are observant enough. When we wanted to go to a tourist attraction mere 5 km away from where we are today, three different people, including an official at the Tourist Information Center, told us flatly that there’s no way to go there except for hiring a taxi for Rs. 150. But we knew that was just ridiculous—all kinds of people had to be going the same direction, and there’s got to be a cheaper way to get around for them. With enough looking around, asking, and a little bit of perseverance, we found ourselves gleefully hiking uphill from the nearest place a shared taxi would drop us (Rs. 25 a piece). We might have spent more time figuring our way out and definitely more sweat into the journey, but we definitely proved that Tourist Info guy wrong.
So, as we make our way back to Gangtok tomorrow, we are resolved to start making and doing something there, with what we have. We have some ideas and are excited, again, to put them to practice. The experiment continues. Stay tuned!