September 14, 2011 at 5:11 pm , by Lauren Piro
Ever fantasize about moving around the world to start a new life? Writer Linda Leaming did just that—and fell madly in love, with both the quaint and tradition-laden South Asian country of Bhutan and with her husband, Namgay, a Bhutanese artist. Leaming’s memoir Married to Bhutan (Hay House), has just hit bookstores, but LHJ told her story first! We published the mind-blowing tale of how Linda and Namgay met in our January 2005 issue (read it here). I caught up with Linda, who’s spending a few months in her hometown of Nashville, and chatted about her unusual, bicontinental lifestyle.
Let’s start at the beginning—even before you met Namgay, you moved half-way around the world to live in Bhutan full time!
It’s true—I married the country before I married Namgay. After my first trip to Bhutan, I became obsessed with going back. Immediately after getting out of the plane, you see this amazing blue sky, and these beautiful mountains, and then you smell it. The air is so clean. From my first visit, I felt a kind of calm and peace of mind there.
What else made you want to want to live there? You ended up staying 14 years.
The people. The first time I was in Bhutan, I’d just come from India and felt sick (probably a case of “Delhi belly”). As I was resting in my hotel room, I heard a knock at the door and a man I’d never seen before was there. He said, “I am very worried about you!” and brought me a bowl of soup. All of the Bhutanese are like that—very caring. Plus, they like to have fun.
Did you ever imagine you’d fall in love with one of them?
No! I’d become used to my independent lifestyle. I thought, “OK, this is my life. I’m probably just going to travel as much as I can and write as much as I can.” Who would I even be able to live with, let alone marry? But I did think that if I were to marry, I would want to marry a Bhutanese man because I like so much about them. Still, figured it was impossible because they marry very young. But then came Namgay. The other people at the school where we both taught would tease us and tell us to get married since both of us were too old to be unmarried!
In your book, you say the first 6 months of your marriage were hard.
Can I restate that? I’d say the first 11 years of my marriage were hard! In the beginning, with so many language and cultural barriers to overcome, we made it work by focusing on the present. It was all about the daily things—cooking, cleaning and sleeping. We concentrated on the love and the laughter. Following the Bhutanese tradition, we lead a simple life. Simply chatting while cooking dinner or cleaning the house together can be a real pleasure.
You talk a lot in Married to Bhutan about how simply the Bhutanese live, with much less stuff. Can Americans learn from that?
Americans are such go-getters and that’s a wonderful quality. But I know some people who can’t sit down and have a cup of tea or enjoy a Saturday without every hour planned. People panic if they have nothing to do, but that’s where you should start. Maybe take 30 minutes out of the day where you just sit down and don’t even watch TV. I always think about my life like I’m peeling an onion, just slowly getting rid of stuff and doing less. I’m much happier this way, because when you slow down you quiet all of the noise in your head. Of course, I haven’t totally thrown out the American desire to want more. Having too much stuff makes me itchy, but there are certain clothes and jewelry that I love.
And you and Namgay now split your time between America and Bhutan.
Yes, we lived half the year last year in Bhutan, and the plan is hopefully to go back in the next few months. Namgay wasn’t young when he first came to America, so some things are still overwhelming to him. It’s 30 times harder for Namgay in the US than it is for me in Bhutan. Over there, I have maybe ten adjustments to make, but here in America, there are many more. Plus, I really want to go back to Bhutan and be involved with the children there. Something like 45 percent of the population is under 15, and they need good educators. I’d like them to teach when they grow up, like I did when I first went to Bhutan, or write about their culture. They’re afraid of losing too much of it in the modern world, and I want to play a part in preserving it.
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