31/3/17: Teaching and Learning

It’s been some time since my last post, but now I’m back! There’s quite a lot to cover. 

We’ve been teaching here for two weeks now, and the days have fallen into a pattern. We’ll get up to eat with the monks at 7:30 am – either rice or steamed bread balls, both of which are eaten with savoury chilli sauce. Cold showers are the only option. 

After talking to one of the monks here, we managed to rearrange our teaching schedule. Now, instead of one evening class with a group of tired and bored seven to thirteen year-olds, we teach three classes spread throughout the day. Our first is at 10:30 am with the oldest students here (age range: 15 – 17). These are by far the best classes to teach – their English skills are still basic (we’re teaching them tenses at the moment), but they actually want to learn. They’re patient.

 In comparison, our 2 pm class of 11-13 year olds are a very difficult group. It’s very tricky trying to balance gaining their respect, teaching and letting them have fun. Discipline is tough when you don’t speak their first language at all. But, slowly. we’re starting to get to know them. And, as we do, the classes are becoming more easy. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that we won’t get very far by the end of our time here, so now we’re just trying to make the most of it. Everything we do is focused around keeping them engaged. Some days, it feels easy. On others, though, you come out of the classroom completely drained. I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted to give up completely. 

Our last class is the old 7:30 pm one; now, however, we just let them do homework and give some tutoring to the right kids with nothing to do. It’s so much more relaxing. 

Markus and I are also having lessons ourselves about Buddhism (why come to a monastery if you aren’t going to at least hear what they have to say?). We sit in the library – a small room with a collection of books – and essentially discuss philosophy with one of the monks (nickname: the smiling man). We’ve barely touched any religious ideas yet. Instead, it’s almost a kind of therapy. Everything is centred around how we (everyone) might achieve happiness by identifying sources of suffering (read: unhappiness) and looking for solutions. More importantly, we keep being told not just to listen and accept what we are being told: Buddhism is about testing and analysing everything, weighing each idea before you decide to adopt it yourself. It’s nothing like the stereotypes we have – there hasn’t been any cross-legged meditation or incense or chanting (though we see it regularly in the monastery). It’s about logically trying to make your life and the lives of others better and more compassionate. 

We’ve spent our spare time exploring Pokhara, walking around Lakeside and Damside, climbing some of the nearby hills. Tomorrow, we’re planning on leaving he monastery for a two day trek near the edge of the Annapurna region. The weather here has been turning steadily wetter over the last two weeks. There’s a lot of fog now and it rains almost every day. 

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