Updated: Nov 20, 2019
One year ago, almost to the day, I wrote the log below, describing what a usual day of an English teacher in Maratika Monastery looks like. This story still feels so close and relevant, both as a way of remembering this otherworldly experience, but also as a way of sharing a peek into the world of Maratika with anyone who might be interested in visiting or teaching there.
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November 11, 2018
It has been almost two months since I arrived in Nepal and started teaching at Maratika Monastery. My life here has fallen into its own track, which I follow with a lot of joy and no resistance. Days are calm but far from boring and with many surprises - a clear morning with breathtaking views of the Himalayas, an unexpected group of dedicated Russian or Bhutanese pilgrims with magical stories to share, or a two-day fire puja (prayer ritual), purifying inside and out, through the hundreds of lit candles. It all seems to fall perfectly in place for me at this stage of my life; nothing is accidental, all is offered and accepted with an open heart.
On a regular day, teaching would begin at 9:00am. The morning class is with about half of the 42 monks living in Maratika (as of November 2019 there are over 50 monks, which are now divided into 4 classes, instead of 3, as described here). They are eager, kind and funny and unfailingly welcome me with "Gooood mooorniiing, miiiiss!", indicating they are ready for the lesson as soon as I enter the classroom with my morning cup of coffee. So we regularly start earlier and don’t finish until lunch time at 11:30am. Even though drinking coffee is one of the few habits I still maintain, no coffee can actually keep me on my toes better than teaching a class to this group of students :)
Typically each lesson would last for an hour but most monks in this group don’t have any class immediately after English. This, paired with their curiosity, means that they hang around after most lessons and make use of all the extracurricular materials we have - drawing, reading, learning from pictures or the dictionaries, playing hangman (yes, I taught them that and they love it:)). They are now also relatively relaxed around me, so if I'm lucky they might for a moment forget I'm there and openly laugh, sing and attempt conversations in English among themselves. Sitting with them during this time and just observing is one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever experienced.
When the improvised gong announces lunch, I go for a quick bite of what is most commonly dal bhat (traditional Nepali dish) and then on some days I meet with a small group of local people. It is a shorter, improvised “class” where we mostly try to talk on different topics, while basking outside in the sun. I always wonder for whom this class is more useful. These are the people I interact with every day - some of them treat me to chai, with others I sometimes have dinner, I walk koras (circumambulation of a sacred site) with the children of yet others. So these conversations are precious entries that help me belong a little more to the community I've grown to love so much.
At 2:00pm starts the class with the six most advanced monks that make up the shedra group (a type of educational programme in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries). They are all very good Buddhist practitioners, and I am constantly amazed by their ability and modesty. Their level of English allows to go into somewhat more complex grammar but what I really wish to help them with is their speaking skill. They tend to be inherently shy, so speaking sometimes seems to require too much courage. In my desire to support them in this, I would occasionally try to read out words in Nepali, just to help them evaluate that learning a new language is a process and fluency comes with practice, and not right away.
At 3:00pm all monks get a 30-min break for tea and cookies, which usually begins with one of the younger monks, slightly out of breath, trying to not run and completely spill out my tea by the time the cup reaches me. We spend the time outside, the monks are resting, also known as running around, and I can't help but be in constant awe of the their endless supply of energy and ability to be full of joy. They can come up with simple, entertaining games out of thin air, like sliding down the stairs on wood planks, making parachutes out of plastic bags, or using an fallen tree branch like a trampoline. I learn so much about simplicity and pure joy from them. So during the break I hang around observing the monks and occasionally feeding a cookie to any of the nearby dogs or talking with Lopen la. Lopen la is the head teacher in the Monastery and an incredible support to all the monks and myself; he is a father, brother, teacher and role model for all these boys. Not an easy task, which he handles with a lot of ease, gracefulness and responsibility.
For my last class we get together with the 12-13 of the youngest monks, all beginners. With them the main priority is to build a foundation, so we repeat a lot and try to remember the basics. After class I stay behind with a couple of the little ones who still need help with remembering the alphabet. Often times some of the older monks will then pop in too in order to help out. Who doesn't enjoy being a teacher for a while? :)
After the last class I linger around in case anyone might still need me and I tidy up the room. The monks help with that, they regularly sweep the room and like to organize the materials back in the cupboard, meanwhile sneaking a peak at anything new that might be hiding inside. By the time I leave, the monks are already walking around studying, talking, preparing for the next class, or just playing around. The air fills with the creative chaos of people who have just finished most of their daily obligations and can enjoy the last rays of sun before it sets for the day.
I walk my evening kora, either by myself or with whoever spontaneously joins me, myself also slowing down for the day. After dinner there is some time to process the events of the day, catch up with family and friends, prepare for the next classes and finally go to bed.
Happy and looking forward to the following day.