Friday, November 9, 2012

Life in the Monastery

I've been at Karma Samten Ling for one week now, and am getting used to my routines living and working in a Buddhist monastery. My days go a little something like this...

6:30am - Wake up, not out of necessity, but out of a combination of falling asleep at 8:30pm the night before and also the sounds of children screaming, bells ringing, trumpets sounding, dogs barking and monks chanting. Usually I stay in bed and read quietly until 7:30, as to not add more noise and disturb my roommate and fellow-volunteer, Dana.

8:00am-8:45am - Go to the office to go over my lesson plans, drink approximately 4 cups of Nepali chiya, or traditional sweet milky tea, and have a little breakfast. The woman who serves the tea, Khanda, is slightly terrifying and often shouts at me in Nepali with a scowl, particularly when I attempt to get or wash my own teacup. In reality, I think she's really a kind and generous person, and just wants me to drink a lot of tea without serving myself. The language barrior, though, makes for some confusing and hilarious daily interactions.

8:45am-11:30am - Teaching! I have four classes, each 40 minutes long. This is my first experience teaching English. It's also my first time  having a consistent group of students that I see everyday, build relationships with, need lesson-plans for and so on. It's definitely a new experience. Students are so variable in mood and energy from day-to-day, and its hard to know what to expect. Here are some pictures of my classes:
"Nursery" class, although you can see that the age in students ranges quite a bit. The youngest student in this class is 3, and the oldest is 14.
Class III. They have the highest level of English comprehension of all my students, and the small class size helps make  class better overall.
Class II. Again, you can see the range in age between the students.
Class I. The small class size helps, but English comprehension is still greatly varied from student-to-student.
They may look like sweet, angelic monks, but don't let the robes fool you. Favorite activities for these boys include all the standards for any other group of boys their age -- playing, shouting, kicking, fighting, spitting, running, and so on. Needless to say, classroom management has become something new for me as well.

11:30am - Lunch, consisting of dahl bat, rice and lentil soup, with a side of some kind of curried vegetables. Delicious, and there's always tons to eat, although the same everyday. By the time the weekend rolled around, I was looking forward to having pizza or falafel in town.

12:00-5:00pm - Kathmandu exploration. Since I have my afternoons off, I've spent this past week taking the time to go on walks, see some sites, and get to know the Kathmandu area a little more. The Swayambu Stupa is always an option, since its only a two minute walk away. It's tourist nickname is "the monkey temple," and its true that it is overrun by these terrifying creatures, but the temple is also huge and beautiful and sits on top of a giant hill, giving great views of the Kathmandu Valley. Since it's up so high, it also consistently acts as a landmark of home when I go out on adventures. I can easily see it from any area nearby, and so never feel lost, despite the chaos of the Kathmandu streets.
Swayambu stupa
Swayambu is nicknames the "Monkey Temple." and you can see why...
Sunset views of the Kathmandu Valley below.
5:00-6:00pm - Arrive back home before it gets dark and have some downtime and more chiya. This is usually when I speak with the adult-monks, who generally speak fairly good English. I've spoken with one in particular about the history and beliefs of Buddhism, but he didn't seem to understand my questions surrounding beliefs about the Universe. As I get to them better, I hope to continue to attempt these kinds of conversations.

6:00pm - Dinner, consisting of the same foods as at lunchtime.

6:30-8:30pm - Reading, downtime, lesson planning.

8:30 or 9:00pm - Sleep. Usually by this point, I'm so exhausted that I just fall asleep before getting to 9:30. The monks, meanwhile, are still up and about, and I usually fall asleep to the sounds of puja, or prayer-time, with monks chanting, drumming, and trumpet-blowing.

I teach for those 3ish hours everyday, Sunday-Friday. Friday is a half-holiday, and classtime is mostly for games. Then, Friday afternoon and all of Saturday, the monks spend time watching movies or playing football (soccer) in town. Yesterday afternoon, I joined in the activities, luckily with no photographic evidence. I could sort of kick the ball, and the monks actually passed to me, but I must say that generally I did not help to accomplish the 3-1 victory versus the non-monk kids we were playing against. I assume the sideline giggles and points were mostly directed at me.

As this next week approaches, I plan to find ways to actively incorporate astronomy-related things into my day. While I do plan to teach some astro-vocabulary in class, I'm not sure that my students at Karma Samten Ling are the best kids to talk with. Their English is very basic, and their energy levels are such that it's hard to have a conversation lasting one minute about anything, let alone the wonders of the Universe. Bringing out my telescope around them would absolutely not work. Since the Galileoscope is... primitive... to  put it lightly, it takes a lot of time, patience and frequent adjustment to look at a single object. Working with 60 high energy kids and the Galileoscope would be rough. So, I'm looking into going to other, smaller monasteries in the Swayambu neighborhood to do more project-related things. Going to schools in the area is also an option. It's been frustrating not having that bit come as naturally as I imagined, but hopefully with some brainstorming and help from people at my volunteer organization, astronomy+kid related activities will take off ASAP.

I remember feeling in Chile at times that I consistently had the astronomy component, but it was the kid-factor that was missing. Finding classes to go to and kids to talk with took planning and time, but luckily I made it work before leaving. With only 4 weeks left here, I hope that the missing astronomy component will also fall into place soon.

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