Zeppa, Jamie. Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A journey into Bhutan. Riverhead Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1573228152 320 pp. $16
I haven’t read a book that infiltrated my thoughts so much in a long time. Perhaps it is because this awesome memoir/journal reminded me so much of some of my overseas experiences. Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa is a wonderful glimpse into the author’s decision to leave Canada to teach in Bhutan in the late 1980s. She had never been out of the country before and never spent much time away from Robert, the man she plans to marry. Something inside of her is gnawing though, she knows she needs to have this experience to learn about herself and the world.
Despite protests from her grandfather and other family and friends, she heads to a remote village in Bhutan. She is honest about how awful things are at first with the rats, the homesickness, the fear of eating anything besides crackers with diseases like giardia attacking folks right and left. Not surprisingly, she learns to love the country and the people and her life there. Although she sometimes gets caught up in the beauty and simplicity of life there, she is realistic and tries not to romanticize her experiences. She knows there are problems there like everywhere else.
This book made me think about our materialistic lifestyle here in the Western World and reminded me of how I felt traveling in Vietnam. Here in the US I always feel like I need so many things. Life in Vietnam was so simple–we had so few things but managed to live full and exciting lives everyday. It’s easy to romanticize that lifestyle, but one of Jamie’s friend’s in Bhutan reminds her that many of the people in Bhutan would jump at the chance to have the kinds of things we have in the Western world if they could.
She also acknowledges the battles between the different ethnicities in Bhutan that have emigrated from the surrounding countries. Bhutan was working hard to maintain its cultural identity and when Jamie was there the government made strict laws governing the use of national dress and imposing national dress on groups who were not native to Bhutan. It would be like our government declaring that all people in the US have to wear the traditional dress of the early Pilgrims.
This book made me think about a lot of things, and I could go on and on here, but I’d rather have a dialogue than a monologue. So if this sounds interesting to you, read the book and then we can chat! 🙂