Preparing to return home all the while I was abroad, the question of timing — when do I return? — had always been there but I had never really give any serious thought to! The first time I seriously looked at timing was only in the Summer of 2009. Following that, deciding in February 2013 to return the following June seemed right. The timing was right for a few reasons all of which I shall be detailing in this blog post.
(This incidentally, is the fifth blog post in this series. Click here for the first one, here for the second, and here for the third, which deals with the changes in my views of development aid industry, and click here for the fourth, which also deals with changes but changes in my person.)
One of my major concerns with returning had always been financial security.
Even on a teacher’s salary, albeit an international teacher’s salary, I had been able to support both my family back in Nepal and my incredible travels, and save some every year. I say even because in the international professional circles, teachers earn much less than other professionals. However, often the compensation packages in the international teaching circuit are such that — when you factor in lower cost of living, tax benefits etc. — they are better than the local packages in even some of the developed countries. Saving potential is much higher, for example. That is often the case even when, in absolute terms, overseas salaries are lower. You get to travel a lot too!
By the end of June, I had calculated that I would finally have a substantial enough savings to not have to worry too much about money for quite some time. That was important as I was pretty certain that in Nepal I wouldn’t make enough to even cover my expenses, forget about making anywhere near what I had been making overseas, forget about saving etc.! Apart from the savings I already had, I could count on a significant end-of-service payout from Qatar Academy that month.
The first time around I did that, I was in my second year of teaching at The International School of Azerbaijan (TISA). I had faced a few really difficult non-issues which had been blown up way out of proportion and into major issues! The non-issues had been raised by a local student and her mother, a colleague at the school. (The mother-daughter duo would do the same with at least two other international colleagues.) Stoking the fire, as it were, was another local colleague, our lab technician, who I worked closely with. The reason? She couldn’t stand working with me because of how Azeri’s like herself viewed Asians like me and because she — with a Master’s degree in Chemistry from a University in Baku — believed herself more qualified and capable than I was. In the mix was an international colleague and a spineless administrator playing games — for different reasons — instead of carrying out their professional responsibilities. All that had made my life even more unbearable and complicated. There was the usual school politics surrounding all that too, as often happens in a school. All that had given me pause. As the matter of fact, the stress of it all was so great that it weakened my immune system sufficiently enabling shingles — yes shingles! — to break out!
I wasted a lot of my time dealing with them instead of doing what I enjoyed doing the most: preparing fun and challenging chemistry and science lessons. (You can watch videos of a number of those lessons I conducted at TISA, consisting of discrepant events, and find other materials in my Science Blog.) I immensely enjoyed teaching at the school — I had some amazing students, colleagues, and resources. (Baku, Azerbaijan, the locals, and some belonging to the most populous expat group (BP oil workers), however, were a different story all together!)
Those sour experiences partly precipitated the first serious conversation and ruminations about a timeline for returning to Nepal with the Prices in the Summer of 2009. Following that summer, I opted to leave TISA (after my third year there). I went job hunting in the Winter of 2009-10 in Bangkok. I landed four offers.
But then, in early May 2010, I lost the job I had settled on — my first choice at an excellent school in Hong Kong. Their immigration wouldn’t issue a work visa to a Nepali passport holder. With less than two months remaining of the school year, I scrambled to find a new job. I ended up settling for a school in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
I found teaching there challenging for a number of reasons, one of which was that, as a relatively new school, it had many teething problems. The direction the school was headed in was also projected to change completely from that which I had been told. Realizing that staying on would be a backslide in my professional career, I decided to leave after just a year into a two-year contract by taking advantage of an op-out clause. I next landed in Doha, Qatar.
Except, after about four months into my job there, the move would be akin to “jumping from the frying pan into the fire.” My teaching experience there would turn into one of hell. (Click here or here or here for some details.)
Compounding matters further was that I was suffering from depression, something I had been struggling with for a number of years. When Qatari and other Arab students and parents started making my life miserable (click here or here for more), from the beginning of the second half of the 2011-12 academic year, every single day had been a struggle.
Getting out of bed in the morning and going back into bed at night were two of my many daily struggles. I struggled personally, emotionally, socially, and professionally. And yet, I kept my composure. I maintained my professionalism every single day at school with students and in my interactions with my colleagues. All of that took an enormous amount of effort and energy. But I did what I had to. I never stooped to the level of the students nor that of the parents, of course. Except for a few friends, I didn’t let anyone in on any of my struggles. It took its toll though.
The experience led to my reaching the very bottom — personally and professionally. It dealt a major blow to who I had always thought of — and viewed myself — as: a teacher, an educator. In spite of suffering from depression the meaning I found in international teaching and the travel opportunities it afforded had mostly sustained me and had kept me going.
For a second time within just a few years, Qatar forced me to seriously question who I was and what I was doing for a career and why. I lost interest in — and rethought long and hard about continuing — teaching. My sense of self-worth also plummeted. Self-doubt, which had started creeping in in Azerbaijan, had started taking hold. I realized I needed to extricate myself from “the bottom.”
I needed to change! I had to change! I had to reinvent myself and completely reorient my life, and give it a new direction, a new purpose.
Following my first year at Qatar Academy, traveling in Nepal the summer of 2012, seriously contemplating returning home and looking for something new, I visited nine schools in and around Pokhara. I accompanied my friend Jayjeev for a visit of COMMITTED’s project site.
(Little did I know, just a little over two months later, even the bottom would be pulled from under me. I would be incarcerated in a Qatari jail for allegedly insulting Islam, where I would experience the depths of despair. Upon release, the trauma of the unjust incarceration would further compound my depression, loss of sense of being, purpose, and direction. I would return home scarred, with a rage and a deep pain inside. All that would be further compounded by repatriation woes living and working in Nepal returning as I had done after being gone for most of the preceding twenty-five years.)
Apart from questioning my teaching career, I had also developed a weariness with moving. For a long time in my teaching career, I had found sorting, packing, shipping, flying and then starting all over again in a different country, learning about a new culture, a new language, and a new people, and finding my way around — and establishing myself — in a new city etc. to be challenging and exciting.
From when I had first started teaching in 1994 to my time in Qatar, I had already changed country of residence ten times! Between 1988 and February 2013, I had lived in fourteen cities and had had thirty residential addresses!
Following some of the issues of discrimination and racism I had faced in Hong Kong, UK, Baku, Vietnam, and Doha, my interest in a new culture, a new people etc. had soured considerably. The novelty of going to a different country had begun waning. The drive to moving, which once had been a hallmark of my life, had slowed considerably. As a matter of fact two places I had had in my bucket list, for a long time, namely, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan and the Pyramids of Egypt, in spite of their proximity from Doha, I didn’t visit because of the racism I was certain I would face from the Arabs. The level to which I had suffered in their hands in Doha had been the worst I had experienced in my life.
A Little One
Timing was perfect for another reason: a little one — my little nephew — had joined the family.
Ever since a secondary school student, I have always wanted children of my own. I just had not found anyone to have them with. In my little nephew, I had the perfect surrogate child. After all, whether in my first mother tongue (Serke) or my second mother tongue (Nepali), no word for nephew exists. The word for a male sibling’s son is “jha” in Serke and “Chhora” in Nepali, both of which translates into “son”!
As a matter of fact, the year-and-a-half I had been in Qatar, pretty much every single school break I had visited Kathmandu to spend time with him. In February 2013, I had the option of deciding to be a DAILY part of his life and help raise him — for a number of reasons.
Corporeal punishment is a standard cultural feature of both child-rearing and education. Our culture views young children — including babies and toddlers — as miniature adults! Most Nepalis believe education is the responsibility of schools. Nepalis, including people from my community and members of my family, aren’t as deliberate and purposeful in raising and educating their children.
To begin with, I took issue with those and other standard child-rearing as well as educational practices in the country. I knew one can both raise and educate a child without corporal punishment, for example. (Click here or here or here for more on that.) Having personally suffered from physical and psychological violence as a child growing up in the country, I didn’t want the next generation of children to suffer the same fate.
Children — especially babies and toddlers — are NOT miniature adults. Their brain, for instance, is nowhere near as fully developed as that of an adult, to give but just one example! Informal education — education outside of school, that which parents provide for example — shapes a child in major ways. Parents can contribute incredibly to the education of their children by, for example, just reading to them even from when in the womb! I also believed that one should and could raise and educate a child to be a compassionate human being.
I could start all that with my little nephew, I reasoned. I had already impressed upon his parents and my parents — his grandparents — that he was NOT to be physically punished for any reason. I had already bought a number of books which I read to him and had instructed his parents to read as well.
I was certain that were I not a daily presence, the adults wouldn’t follow through with my instructions, guidance, and requests. My telling — from a distance — my brothers and parents or my nephew’s teachers to not hit him or scold him or shout and scream at him, for instance, I knew, would not work at all. I knew for certain that I would have to be there to model the behavior I wanted his adult care-takers at home to display and to be a presence at his school to reinforce my behavioral expectations of his teachers and others at school towards him.
Equally important, there was lots I didn’t know about children which, I was convinced, my nephew would teach me. In the brief period I had known him, he had already taught me a great deal about babies and toddlers. I wanted to continue that journey of discovery about him, about children, about growing up, and even about myself, by being there, with him, sharing the same space and time, and creating memories.
I felt financially secure. I felt the need for a change in career. I felt a need for a stable life back in a country I had always considered and called home, back where I thought I could start a longish-term life, and back where I believed I could even potentially address my struggles with depression. To top it all, I had the opportunity to continue to be part of raising a child, something I had been wanting to do for about three decades!
So, the afternoon of February 12, 2013, I decided “The time has come[…]The time is now[…]” to turn down the offer and prepare for my return home.
What do you think?