Had there been a conspiracy by the universe to get me home? I think so. 🙂
Well, looking back, one of the ways of interpreting some of my life events, and some of the things I discovered about international teaching and traveling — vis-à-vis my self — both around and after the time I decided on a timeline for my return home is just that!
(This, incidentally, is the sixth blog post in the series about my decision to turn down a job offer to return home and the reasons behind the decision. Click here, here, here, and here for the second, third, fourth, and fifth one.)
Until I arrived in Baku in 2009, I had not really given much thought to a timeline for my eventual return home. Following a horrible second year in Baku and the first time I had set a timeline — the Summer of 2009 — I gave notice and decided to move on from The International School of Azerbaijan at the end of that academic year. I had greatly enjoyed teaching the students. (Most of the contents of my Science blog come from my time at TISA.) The political and other issues at school (and the racism I suffered from on the streets and in different establishments of Baku both from the locals and from some expat BP oil workers) had become too much. They had made my life so miserable, they depressed and stressed me out so much as a matter of fact that my immune system weakened to a point of shingles breaking out — yes SHINGLES!
Unable to keep some of the anger all to myself, I gave in to the temptation to vent it online cryptically though. I started by sharing — on Facebook, on November 26, 2009 — something quite controversial.
The following, posted about three months later, alludes to trouble finding me. More specifically, others at school creating — deliberately — trouble for me when I had been completely focused on doing my job with my head down, as it were.
Here’s another post making an oblique reference to an incident at the school. The comment below it, indirectly conceding being aware of what I was referring to, is by a colleague.
And the last post about the evolution of the incident alluded to in the above status update.
Anyway, decide I would to move on. During the course of the job search, I learned that schools in China wouldn’t consider my candidacy. At the job fair in Bangkok that winter a Director of an international school in China told me how he had been keen to interview me. However, recognizing my Tibetan name, he had asked his human resource department to do a little digging about employing an ethnic-Tibetan Nepali. Word had come back to him saying that the immigration department did indeed have issues with my Tibetanness! And guess where international school education right about that time was booming? Where else but China, of course! (Of course, I was aware of how racist the Chinese can be, having already suffered — in the nineties — in the hands of the Cantonese in Hong Kong.)
Of course, I wasn’t very surprised by that! About two-and-a-half years earlier, the Chinese embassy officials in Kathmandu had already expressed an issue with my Tibetanness — my Tibetan name! This happened in the Summer of 2007 when the outfitter in Kathmandu arranging our — my (European) girlfriend and my — trip to Tibet submitted our visa applications. The outfitter managed to get the necessary visa by telling the authorities that we were actually a married couple!
On July 4, 2012, I made a Facebook post bemoaning just that, pointing out an irony, and wondering aloud what the increasing Chinese influence in Nepal could mean.
Regardless, at the job fair in Bangkok the Winter of 2009-10, I had four offers. Of the two top and excellent choices, one — an international school in Hong Kong — was a very well established and reputable school with incredible IT resources. The other offered not only an excellent package, it was also in the continent I loved: Africa!
In keeping with my plans as per my conversation with my friends, the Prices, I opted for Hong Kong to be closer to home. Except, in early May — about four months into my preparations for my move to the city and to make a long story short — I was informed Hong Kong immigration had stopped issuing work visas to Nepali passport holders. By that time, the school in Africa, of course, had already filled their position! Could that have been the universe working in a mysterious way to direct me home?
With less than two months remaining in Azerbaijan, I frantically searched for another job. By that time, the only schools still looking to fill their vacancies were mostly either ones that had struggled to find teachers — offers may have been turned down by teachers or may have gotten very few to no applications — or ones that were disorganized and hadn’t gotten their shit together. With just about a month left in Baku, I got two offers – from schools in Vietnam and Omman, a Gulf country.
In spite of having held a desire to live and work in the Middle East for a long time, I opted for Vietnam over Omman because of my experience in Azerbaijan, a Muslim country.
Not long after arriving in the Fall of 2010, I discovered work conditions and environment at the school in Vietnam to be quite different from that which I had been led to believe. I would also learn that there would be dramatic changes in the direction the school was heading. As such, the school told me they were no longer in a position to guarantee the teaching responsibilities, and other duties they had promised me. I found myself in a far far worse situation than I had imagined myself in, especially following the excellent Bangkok job fair the preceding Winter.
What’s more, during visits to Thailand over breaks, I would discover my options for international schools, unbeknownst to me, had always been even less than I had imagined.
In my long international teaching career, I had taught in only two places in Far East Asia — Hong Kong and Vietnam. During the holidays in Thailand, I was told that international schools in the region with significant local student population had a preference for White teachers. Asian or Asian looking teachers definitely ranked low in their preference list.
The reason? To Asian parents, as was explained to me, sending their children to an international school for an international education meant, among other things, being taught by “White teachers.” Until that time, I had already been aware of the fact that my North-American accent had helped my candidacy as an international teacher whenever I had gone job hunting. I had been acutely aware of the fact that had I an accent other than a native speaker’s, I would have struggled to find teaching jobs in general. Now, it turned out, when it came to some international schools in Far East Asia, my accent wasn’t going to cut it. They had issues with my appearance and so likely hadn’t been — and wouldn’t be — considering my candidacy! So now, in addition to China, Far East Asia was also out. Was the universe at work again?
Regardless, not long after arriving in Vietnam, I opted to leave after just a year, taking advantage of an opt-out clause in my two-year contract.
I went job hunting again the Winter of 2010-11, for the third time in a year. This time, however, I would have just one offer — from Qatar Academy, in Qatar, in the Middle East! My longstanding wish to live and work in the area had stemmed from a desire to learn, for myself by myself, who and how the Arabs are. But, to reproduce something I said in Qatar…From Afar: Irony of Ironies…
“I go to Qatar having refused to believe the prevalent characterisation of Arabs and having refused to discriminate against them. But, end up being discriminated against and victimised by Arabs (Qatari and others) more systematically, more deliberately and more often than by any other people, anywhere else in the world at any time in my life!”
I would end up having the most harrowing teaching experience (and life experience) of my entire life mostly because of my nationality. (Click here for more on that.) Could that have been the universe, yet again, trying to tell me something?
Everything at Qatar Academy, the school I worked at, started going pear-shaped only AFTER I had signed up for a second year! So I was definitely NOT going to stay on beyond that. The tentative plans had been to return home. Besides, by that time my options for the geographic areas I could apply for a job had shrunk even further still!
Western Europe (EU), USA, and Canada had always been out. Except for some rare exceptions, my Nepali passport didn’t even allow me to apply for jobs there. China had been out as of just three years prior! Many of the Far East countries had been out because I was NOT White!
And now the Middle East and other Islamic States (such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Central Asian Republics) were also out for personal reasons! As much as I was aware that Islamic States or countries with significant Muslim populations are NOT the same as Arab countries, I was NOT open to working in one after my Azerbaijan and Qatar experiences (about which I’ll have more to say in a future blog post).
While I have always wanted to go to Central and Latin America, on account of their music and dance, and culture in general, the salaries in the region are mostly low and so I had always struck them out.
So, the only realistic options the universe had left me with were really just non-Islamic African countries and some Asian countries. Salaries at African international schools, however, are also generally lower than average. I made the least money in Malawi, for example!
Apart from areas where I could apply for jobs decreasing, as I traveled more and more, ironically, I also found it harder and harder to travel. Increasing number of countries appeared to be placing more and more restrictions and/or requirements for Nepali passport holders. The practice, for instance, of Nepalis selling their passports — even diplomatic passports –to human traffickers was, I am sure, contributing to that and affecting the freedom of movement of Nepalis like me. Had it not been for the lowly status of my Nepali passport when it comes to crossing borders and traveling, in the years I was an international student and teacher, I would have probably traveled to twice as many countries as I actually managed!
Anyway, in spite of that, I re-activated my file with my recruitment agent and was on the job market the Fall of 2012 and the Winter of 2012-13. Though I didn’t completely forgo the option of continuing my teaching career, I didn’t actively send out applications and inquiries etc. either. I only responded to those that sought me out. That is why I had ended up with an offer on the table!
Yet another “sign” that I took as the universe telling me to “return to Nepal” was the fact that it had been almost four years since my conversation with the Prices about returning in five!
It was as if like the universe was telling me, “Hey, since the pool of area where you can potentially get a job or travel to with ease is continually getting smaller, making it harder and harder for you to find a job, and your teaching experience has gotten worse and worse, why don’t you just go home?”
(Little did I know the universe had something up its sleeves to force me back in Nepal. A little less than two months later, I would be jailed in Doha for allegedly insulting Islam and when, subsequently, I was released I had to return home immediately. Of course, the release followed a huge FreeDorjeGurung campaign which, I also kind of view as the universe telling me that I deserved to be free!)
What do you think?