Zeppa’s memoir of her
years in Bhutan is the story of a young woman’s
self-discovery in a foreign land.
When she left for the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan
in 1988, Zeppa was committing herself to two years
of teaching and a daunting new experience. A week
on a Caribbean beach had been her only previous trip
outside Canada; Bhutan was on the other side of the
world, one of the most isolated countries in the world
known as the last Shangri-La, where little had changed
in centuries and visits by foreigners were restricted.
Clinging to her bags full of chocolate, hair conditioner
and Immodium, she began the biggest challenge of her
life, with no idea she would fall in love with the
country and with a Bhutanese man, end up spending
nine years in Bhutan, and begin a literary career
with her account of this transformative journey.
At her first posting in a remote village of eastern
Bhutan, she is plunged into an overwhelmingly different
culture with squalid Third World conditions and an
impossible language. Her house has rats and fleas
and she refuses to eat the local food, fearing the
rampant deadly infections her overly protective grandfather
warned her about. Gradually, however, her fear vanishes.
She adjusts, begins to laugh, and is captivated by
the pristine mountain scenery and the kind students
in her grade 2 class. She also begins to discover
for herself the spiritual serenity of Buddhism.
A transfer to the government college of Sherubtse,
where the housing conditions are comparatively luxurious
and the students closer to her own age, gives her
a deeper awareness of Bhutan’s challenges: the
lack of personal privacy, the pressure to conform,
and the political tensions. However, her connection
to Bhutan intensifies when she falls in love with
a student, Tshewang, and finds herself pregnant. After
a brief sojourn in Canada to give birth to her son,
Pema Dorji, she marries Tshewang and makes Bhutan
her home for another four years.
Although cultural differences finally separated
Jamie and Tshewang in 1997 while she was writing the
book and she returned to Canada, she will always feel
at home in Bhutan. Zeppa shares her compelling insights
into this land and culture, but Beyond the Sky and
the Earth is more than a travel book.