In this article, I share my experience of living in a Nepalese Buddhist Nunnery and teaching English to Buddhist nuns. I hope this inspires you to volunteer in Nepal.
I feel the hot liquid as it runs down the back of my throat and wait for the calming effect of the jasmine tea to take control of my anxious body. I take a peek behind the curtain. Buddhist nuns sit cross-legged on the floor waiting for their English teacher. My audience is waiting patiently. This is it – my first ever class. I take a deep breath and armed with my flag, ball and postcards of my home town, I enter the room for judgement day…
Buddhist nuns are eager little things, having clapped, danced and giggled their way through the class they sit there wanting more.
‘But my hour's up!' I want to say. I too am eager to leave and tweak my lesson plan before my next class that evening.
‘But we want to learn Miss Lisa,' they say.
How could I possibly refuse their holy wishes?
So I extend the class, repeating what they have learnt but still they sit with a thirst for knowledge that I am sure I would not find in an English classroom.
Then finally the lesson comes to another close with a chorus of ‘thank you Miss Lisa.'
As I leave the classroom one says ‘you make the lesson interesting,‘ – my seal of approval and I wonder what I was ever worried about.
n.b. they even requested homework!
I’ve had the nuns throwing a rubber pig to each other, running around the room, standing up and sitting down and clapping and singing. Seriously these nuns will do anything to learn English!
It’s official – nuns and monks are living in the Twentyfirst century and like us, are slaves to technology.
They own mobile phones, use the internet, and even have Facebook accounts. They eat meat, drink coffee and eat super noodles and even have my favourite chocolate spread!
So much for a month of purity…
Each monastery has a dog to chase off unexpected visitors. Our dog is a yappy little thing that wouldn’t scare a fly and keeps me away at night constantly barking because it is locked up in a cage.
Apparently this is for his it’s own protection as the last dog was eaten by a tiger! There has also been sightings of a leopard roaming around. So at night I stay in my room just in case but during the day I jog around the hills and observe the tamer animals.
This morning on my mountain jog I ran past cows, chickens, had to stop for a herd of goats to pass by and nearly stepped on a frog: all with an eagle soaring above me. It makes struggling up the hills, panting and red-faced all worthwhile.
A Rat's Tale
There is a rat in the orphanage. But this is no ordinary rat, it is a holy rat. One that locals believe is a reincarnation of a holy lama. They gather round and watch it in awe whenever it makes a special appearance. All I can say is – if I am destined to come back as a rat, I am going to live my life to the full as a human!
‘If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain then the mountain shall come to Mohammed.’
Although my trip to Tibet was cancelled, in a strange way I feel like i am already there. I’m living with Tibetan nuns (I was unable to teach monks as there has been rising concerns with women living with them), eating Tibetan food and speaking Tibetan language:
I am practically in Tibet!
It seems that when Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to Mongolia, they also introduced their tea. During my first morning within the Tibetan Monastery in Nepal, I was given the same salty milky tea as I had in Mongolia but this time presented as ‘Tibetan tea.'
Luckily for me they also drink sugary tea – phew.
I have been led to believe that meditation is usually of the silent type. Not here it isn’t. In the monastery down the hill, every day for one hour the Monks practice their Tibetan meditation. A form of religious discourse where they clap and shout at each other (originally invented as a debate to scare the nuns).
So when I am silently reading in my room, I am slowly getting used to the sound of a football match being held at the bottom of the hill as they shout at the tops of their voices.
Tibetan Buddhism sure does take some getting used to…
Sing Us a Song Miss!
‘Sing us a song Miss.'
I racked my brains.
‘Do you know Justin Beber?' one asked.
I was startled that Justin Beber had made it as far as a monastery in Nepal. Of course I knew who he was but I couldn't recite one of his songs. But I did know Britney Spears, another American famous singer.
So I sat on the floor facing the Buddhist nuns singing ‘Hit me baby one more time.' Then in turn they each sang me a song from their own country; Bhutan, Nepal and India, their voices sounding like a beautiful choir.
Maybe I should have chosen ‘God saves the Queen.'
Today I joined my nuns for Puja – a musical meditation where they ring bells, bang drums and chant.
As they beckoned me to join them cross-legged on the floor I tried to sit down, then I tried again and again. But my movement was restricted by my skirt and I struggled to even lower myself onto the floor. The nuns giggled at my attempts of not ripping my skirt and one quickly brought me a chair. Not wanting to be higher than them, I managed to squat on the floor sitting on my legs.
After 30 minutes of music and chanting they asked me to stand. As I stood, my legs buckled. I couldn’t feel my feet as they had gone numb from sitting for so long. I stood helpless unable to move. Like an old woman, they took me by the arms and we walked slowly out of the room with the nuns giggling in unison.
It seems wherever I go, I seem to attract weirdos.
During my walk into the village escorted by four of the nuns, an old Nepali man approached me staring straight at me speaking in his local tongue.
The nuns translated it to ‘You are the devil.’ Nice!
Goodbye Miss Lisa
It's time to say goodbye to the nuns and the lama as I finish teaching my very last lesson. We celebrate with an after party of coffee, crisps, biscuits and singing. Then they ask me to dance, so i perform the Macarena and wonder if I really should be thrusting my hips in front of such innocence but they join in, giggling in unison.
My four weeks is up and it's a bitter sweet feeling, one of joy for being a step towards returning home and one of sadness as I will miss their eager little faces, will miss them repeating each word I say in chorus and miss them calling me ‘Miss Lisa.'
Being able to teach such disciplined students has been an honour and has made me realise that they are just like us, normal people following a certain path except theirs isn't one of debauchery but of a spiritual nature.
And as I leave with the promise of staying in touch, I know that I have made bonds that will last a lifetime.