The Univited

Pokhara, Nepal: So there we were in a bar, typical of those in any major tourist destination the world over. The atmosphere was promising for a quick drink or two—lakeside location, cheerful crowd, rock covers being played by a decent local band, extensive cocktail menu. My travel buddies and I were meeting our new Nepali friends/travel gurus to discuss what the area had to offer us over the next few days. Most tourists come to Pokhara in search of paragliding, adventure sports, or a base for extensive treks through the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. The outdoor pursuits the three of us were interested in were hardly what one would call adventure sports, or even physically demanding. Thankfully, the guys were approaching the challenge with the wisdom and patience employed by most Nepalis in the tourism industry. The options they were presenting had us excited and looking forward to the mild-to-moderately active vacation ahead. The night was off to a great start.

I noticed the man about five minutes after we arrived, but didn’t give him more than a few seconds thought. He was well over six-feet tall, and sported the combo of loose-fitting hemp clothing, ponytail and extensive facial hair adopted by many long term travelers in South Asia.  His swashbuckling ensemble briefly reminded me of Inigo Montoya, one of my all-time favorite characters of story and film. 

The similarities were fleeting.  There was no trusty sword at the man’s side, and while Inigo had a large, but fairly standard mustache, what sprawled across the lower half of this man’s face was nothing short of a monstrosity.  His dark mustache was cut short above his lips, but the ends were long and spiraled across his cheeks like writhing caterpillars.  It was the disturbing facial hair that even made him a blip on my radar. It was like some sicko had used photo morphing technology to blend Jesus with one of those mustachioed villains on black and white silent films. You know the ones that laugh cruelly and tie flailing women to railroad tracks whilst frenzied piano music rises to a crescendo?   

The personalities of Inigo and this stranger would also prove to be very different.  Had this man’s passions involved sword figthing and avenging the wrongful death of his father, our evening may have been far more entertaining, but we were not so lucky.  After a brief shudder, I turned my attention back to the cocktail menu and discussion of whitewater rafting. Our guide was recommending a day-long excursion–just long enough to get my adrenaline flowing, but not so long as to keep me out of wifi range for an unbearable length of time.

 Then, it happened. The Mustache, whom we’ve referred to ever since as Don Quixote, left his companions and sauntered over to our table, uninvited and without warning. We knew there was no possible way this development could be positive. Mr. Quixote joined our table under the pretense of discussing trekking with our Nepali friends. However, it soon became alarmingly clear that his true interest lay not in the mountains, but in my traveling companions and I.  Even more troubling, after his flirtatious and cringe-worthy comparison of my companion’s ring with his own copious medallions and gemstones, we realized that his motivations went beyond finding female company. That could have quickly been thwarted, and Mr. Quixote was not so easily dismissed. He had far more to offer us than just his manly charms. Oh no. He had…..insight; insight he was compelled to share.  Like his literary namesake, Mr. Quixote was on a quest, and we had unwittingly stumbled into his path.

Mr. Quixote was in his late thirties, Turkish, and claimed to be a professor of philosophy. He was once a teacher of an unnamed subject and level, but had long left that life behind to find himself in Nepal.  Apparently, his search had been successful. We were all miserable, he explained in a loud and confident voice. He, on the other hand, had found true happiness. He continued to assert that he was the only truly happy person in the bar, city, country, and perhaps the world. In addition to being happy, he also seemed quite sober. This was unfortunate, because unwelcome sober people must usually be removed from a table by its occupants, rather than bouncers. None of us are fans of confrontation or awkward situations, so we were polite yet uninterested, and continued our attempts to make vacation plans rather than engage him further in conversation. However, our lack of interest in Mr. Quixote’s achievements did not deter him, but rather increased his determination to share. Like Don Quixote, he suffered from delusions.  He believed we wanted to learn more.

Thankfully, I was only subjected to bits and pieces. I couldn’t hear much over the band, and his appalling mustache combined with a high ratio of bs to logic made lip reading difficult. The already tiresome conversation deteriorated rapidly. Our answer to the inevitable, “what do you do?,” prompted a tirade on educational in general that not only lacked logic, but trapped us within the world we had gone on vacation to escape: teaching.  My friends and I, he accused, were corrupters of minds. We were part of a global conspiracy to brainwash children, and destroy their ability to think and reason.  His voice resouding of disgust and condescension, he demanded we stop our criminal and unethical behavior. “I used to earn a dirty paycheck like you do,” he informed us. “But now, my life has changed, and I teach philosophy to hundreds of people.” Well, lucky them. I hope the hundreds aren’t paying for it, and if they are, I hope it’s at least during the school term.

Mr. Quixote’s disdain for our profession, personal space, and attempts to converse with our original companions drained the remaining enthusiasm and joy from our evening with the power of a Dyson vacuum. The previously pleasant and upbeat bar suddenly felt irksome, and the covers the band played seemed cliché rather than charming. Perhaps the final straw was when he chastised my friend, who was being the most polite to him, for using her “small mind.” How had our relaxed evening spiraled into a night of annoyance and frustration? Who was this creep, and what right did he have to force his views on us? Even more importantly, why, oh why were we dealing with this on our vacation? Finally, after enduring several minutes of awkward silence while we avoided further responses to his monologue, he left, but it was too late to rescesitate what was left of our evening.

I chose not to share with Mr. Quixote that I, myself am a disenchanted teacher, and like many, I fight daily frustration with local and global trends in education. I too worry about the impact mainstream educational practices have on students, but I certainly don’t view myself as a corrupter or a brainwasher. Part of the art of teaching is stimulating the interests my students already have. If I can inspire a love of learning, the rest will happen naturally.  I have to hope that seeds will be planted rather than destroyed. 

Do I want to teach forever in a world where exams are often the ultimate tool to judge knowledge? Hell, no! However, I have to earn a living.  I don’t want to be a complete sell-out, but really Mr. Quixote, we can’t all run away to Nepal, invest in a hemp wardrobe, and spend months cultivating mustaches large enough to house the small children we used to teach.  Sometimes, we have to do the best we can, and that means seeking our own answers rather than imposing them on others, especially during their vacations.

Question: How do you get rid of uninvited guests in these kinds of situations?