Sometimes it’s just really damn hard to write. Now feels like one of those times. I want to be creative and inspirational and share stories of my journey with you, reader – somebody I’m thinking of on the other side of the world.
But sometimes it’s just hard.
Firstly, there’s so much to catch up on. Travels to Pokhara, the Annapurna mountains and Begnas Lake that contain stories of adventure and emotion that almost feel too hard to bear. And secondly, given that now we are teaching in a monastery, my time feels so filled with the energy I’m putting into that.
But if there’s one thing we (and I know I can speak for Jesse on this point) have learned in the last 3 months, it’s discipline. Not that we have to kick our own (or each other’s) asses to get absolutely everything done; but there’s something in committing to something and sticking to it. I’ve discovered that really, in the most basic form, discipline can be just agreeing to come back to it, to try again.
So here I am. The stories from the past month may have to wait a little while, but I want to tell you where we’re at now.
Two weeks ago, Jesse and I took a complicated taxi ride from the tourist centre of Kathmandu, to it’s suburban/rural outskirts. After waiting at the pick up point – a gas station – for a while, a monk in a red truck came to take us to our next destination, and probably our final stop in Nepal. The road led us up a steep hill, through jungle, then a wooded forest, and finally to our destination, more remote than we had expected – Rinchen Palri Monastery.
How did we end up at yet another monastery in the depths of Kathmandu? Well, after debating what we should do for our final month in Nepal, a series of coincidences put us in contact with a monastery in desperate need of 2 English teachers after their 2 volunteers had dropped out – so it suddenly became obvious this is what we should do!
So we had arrived and got settled in. We met the current teacher who was taking the workload of 7 classes plus a homework session by herself, and had the chance to watch her classes and get to know the system a little before we started.
The monastery mentality towards education is so different to that in the west. With their parents hundreds of miles away and only the blows of the discipline master to fear, so many of the little monks had no motivation to come to class, and mostly, nobody except the teachers really cared if they did or not.
The current teacher had put a lot of work into getting a system working and we were beginning to feel the weight of this responsibility fall to us.
At first it felt so overwhelming. Within a few days of us arriving, the previous teacher transferred volumes of teaching material onto us and departed, leaving everything to us. I initially felt so out of my depth I was almost depressed, and to top it off I got another bout of food poisoning which left me feeling homesick and literally sick.
I rested, wrote emails and made calls, and by Monday morning I was feeling better and ready to take on class.
The monks, no doubt intimidated by their new, young female teacher were really well behaved, and over the weekend Jesse and I had developed a reward system that the kids loved. Basically all the students could earn class ‘dollars’ for good behaviour, and with these dollars could buy candy, stickers and pencils when they had earned enough.
By now, 2 weeks into our lessons, the system is working pretty well, although initially it caused some confusion, especially for the younger kids.
The youngest of my students is 5 years old and extremely adorable. He is also a tulku, which means for the Buddhists he is a recognised reincarnation of a famous teacher. After his education in the monastery he is expected to become a great teacher, he may even take on students of his previous reincarnation 20-30 year later.
As you can imagine his life is a fair bit more comfortable than that of the other monks here, and he is constantly offered many gifts.
On my second day of teaching, after introducing our system where $5 class ‘dollars’ would buy 1 piece of candy, our little tulku actually bought in US$5 cash and asked to buy one piece of candy from me. I was completely in hysterics that he would be willing to do this, especially when one entire bag of candy here costs less than US$1.50. I certainly refused his offer and informed him that tomorrow he would have earned enough ‘dollars’ to get a piece of candy. I was chuckling to myself all day!
They have been a lot of fun, but there’s certainly also a struggle in trying to maintain control of a class of rowdy boys who live, eat, sleep and learn together; and also to teach English when their current level is so low.
And for me there is another struggle in just being a woman. Despite their being justice and equality for women in Nepal ‘in theory’, news reports and stories from around the country would suggest this isn’t alway true in reality. Take a school run and attended entirely by men and insert into that cultural background, and even among the most sweetest boys, there is still some strange ideas and objectification of women. One boy said he would save $1000 class dollars and ‘buy me’. Another boy, no older than 13, indicating a Batman sticker on his book, said that he was Batman and I was the female draped helplessly yet provocatively in his arms. An older monk asked my only other female comrade here why women are so silly.
It’s minor, but it’s insidious. It’s an attitude I haven’t really encountered before in such a blatant sense. But I hope during my time here I can show another aspect of womanhood to a population of boys who have very little exposure to women in their lives.
So we are doing our best, and learning as we go about the undervalued and underestimated job of teaching! We are picking up new skills, learning more about ourselves and the kids everyday, which feels exciting and meaningful. And of course it’s wonderful to be in this peaceful monastery on top of a hill in the midst of a forest, leading what Jesse called ‘a simple life’!
So until the time I write again – pheri bhetaula (hope to see you again)!