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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Asura Cave

The Asura Caves are about a 20 minute walk from my home in Nepal at the monastery. They are located up a steep hill from the small town of Pharping. My friend Ed showed me the caves and explained there significance, an 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar,Padmasambhava, on his pilgrimage to Tibet attained enlightenment while he mediated in Asura Cave.

Outside the entrance to the cave is a handprint that seems to be melted into solid stone. Science can't explain in but stories do, it was said after years of meditation Padmasambhava came back to this reality tired and weak, when he trying to leave the cave he stumbled and reached
for support.

His hand touched the stone, melted it because of all the meditation energy his body has built up. I'm not sure if I believe it or not, but I can tell you that going to the cave, using my mall, and trying to meditate in the cave was truly a holy experience. The monks also tell me if someone passes away during mediation there body can stay warm for weeks before they can have a funeral.

At the cave I also was fortunate to have my mala blessed by a Buddhist guru. Malas are Buddhist prayer beads, that consist of a strand of 108 beads.

I have been told two meanings for the number of beads.

1. There are 108 beads instead of just a 100 because when you are saying your mantra you are likely to mess up, the extra beads ensure that you will get 100 passable mantras completed.

2. Each bead is a symbol of impurities and flaws that an individual must overcome. 108 beads is said to represent the following formula:
6 x 3 x 2 x3 = 108
6 senses of a human being: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought
3 times: past, present, future
2 conditions of heart, mind or intention: pure or impure
3 disturbing emotional states.

Location:Phrasing, Nepal

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Peace, Wisdom, Compassion

Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery
On Tuesday, September 5, I rode out of the chaos of Kathmandu and through the doors of Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery where I would be teaching English to Buddhist Monks. When I first arrived I was uncertain of my duties and what would happen next since Neejal the person who dropped me off and my contact for Volunteer Aid Nepal did not know himself. I entered the main office, where a gruff man told me there were four rules: No Drinking, No Smoking, No Eating Meat (yes, I’m vegetarian for the month), No Monks in your room, and then sent me away. Thankfully, I met the Brazilian who now lived in Australia, my co-English teacher, Edson (Ed) who had already been here for a month and was staying for two more. He not only showed me the ropes but has become my mediation teacher, tour guide and very talkative friend. We would mediate at 6am, breakfast at 7am (Ed only eats lunch because he is to “healthy/fat”), teach two classes starting at 9am, take tea with the elder monks at 11am, lunch at noon, an hour break, teach two classes from 2-4pm, teach English to the older monks, dinner at 6pm, hang out, then bed by 8pm or 9pm. Have half days on Saturday and Sundays off. For the rest of the month I would be apart of this simple life, with the majority of my time trying to teach English.

As one can imagine for me, the first day of teaching I was completely nervous. What the heck had I gotten myself into, I the person who jokingly has their own language, Wetterberguese since she is not good at English, teaching someone else such a hard language? As usual Ed saved the day. He not only taught English to the monks he made it fun. He is a 46 year old kid that can trick anyone into learning, and with him I found my place as more of a teacher aid then the primary teacher. The youth I saw struggling I would try and give one on one attention and add in my layer of knowledge of what had helped me when I learned. A dynamic was quickly built and I fell confident in my role as Miss, my new name at the Monastery. Ed also has inspired me to become TELF certified because it not only will allow me to help others, it will help me to learn correct English. The best thing about teaching is that when you are teaching someone else you also are teaching yourself
Future Lama
On to the monks in school that Ed and I are teaching. They are as young as 5 and as old as....depends on when they enter the Monastery and when they finish the Dharma (Buddist teachings). Unlike traditional school the monks in training come here to become monks first and to get an education second. Grade 1 ranges in ages from 5-14 because they are 1st year monks and when they past the 1st year Dharma, Tibetan, Nepali, and art they move onto Grade 2 and so on, even if they don’t pass the other subjects such as English and Math. Therefore each grade is a mixture of age and levels of English. Think olden day schools in the US with all the kids in one classroom. 

The monks in training start at all different ages because of two things, when their family sent them to the monastery or when they decided for themselves to become monks. For a Nepali family it is an honour to have a monk in the family, and to a poor family it also means that their son or daughter will get fed and have an education. I am not passing judgement since all the young monks are asked if they want to be here, but for some you can see the pressure or lack of interest in Buddhism. Whereas, the monks that start later are the ones who are serious about it. To me it is similar as starting college fresh out of high school because that is what you are suppose to do, and an adult choosing to go to school, as you can imagine the one who really wants to be there is more serious. The nice thing about this system is when you finish your 7 grades you have a year to decide if want to take your vows to continue the monk life forever or live a “normal” life. One of the most interesting people here is a gentleman who went to school with one of the other elder monks but decided it was not the life for him, and now works at the Monastery as a translator; I like talking to him because he can explain both sides of the coin to me. 

One thing that surprised me about the young monks in a good and bad way is that I thought they might be more like robots then real boys. Like all boys, they show off, chase snakes (but don’t kill them because that is a bad monk), love attention, cheat, tattle on each other, check out girls, fight, and love to laugh and smile. My favourite time with them is when then read or try to read to me books especially Dr. Seuss, which also my favourite time with the elder monks. There is such a beauty is sharing a childhood favourite with another culture. 

Ed, Mike (former English Teacher) and the monks in training.
Speaking of books, Ed is creating an English library here so all the monks can bring books to their room to read. Currently we only have 20 books which have to stay with us so they have something to read to us when we teach. If anyone is moved so, mail a check to my parents and email me the name of their favourite childhood book(s), (Goodnight Moon, Goosebumps, Choose Your Own Adventure, etc.) and I will buy two copies and donate them to the Monastery with your name written and any message you like inside the cover. I would have asked you to just mail the books but the mail system in Nepal is not great. And until I can guarantee that they will get here, this is the best bet. If you do so, I also promise to picture of the monks reading your childhood favorite.

My parents address: 6605 Ptarmigan Road, Racine, WI 53406.


Friday, September 2, 2011

All Hands = Summer Camp for A Cause

Sorry, for not keeping up with my promise to write once a week but when you are at a summer camp for adults you are constantly surrounded by amazing people who not only do you want to know everything about and are coming and going every day like my friend Ms. Monica who I miss dearly already.

When I stepped off the overnight bus in Ofunato, Iwate Japan I had no idea how many dreams I never knew I had would come true, and how many times my heart would be saddened. I walked lost and tired to my new home for the month, when a happy face named Chloe walked out of a portaloo (port a potty) said hello and took me into the world of organized chaos.

There are two place to stay FS or Sakari base. Each has it pros and cons, can you guess which one I stayed at?

FS: 20-30 people sleeping on tatami mats or an air mattress if they we lucky enough to bring one in an air conditioned room, communal showers, 10pm curfew with lights out, and having to make the 7:45am then 8:15 bus for work, and western toilets readily available

Sakari Base: 50-60 people sleeping on bunks beds with cardboard to make it a little more comfy and hopefully an old volunteer left you some bedding, no AC only fans, bucket showers, squat port-a-lous out front unless you want to walk 5-10 minutes to a western toilets, no curfew just 10:30pm quiet hours, and only having to make the 8:15 bus to work.

I was placed in Sakari base where I happily stayed for my month duration. I either had the top bunk or stole Rob's 4 inch blow up mattress when he was on the satellite project in Kessunuma. Staying here let me stay up most nights longer than I needed too being with all the other social animals.

So what does day at All Hands look like?

For me it means waking up around 7:20am so I can wash my face in ice cold water, brush my teeth, say good morning to everyone except Wynne (you don't talk to her until she starts dancing), checking the schedule at the train station (using the western toilets), grabbing a pb&j and jumping on either the apple or banana bus for a day of work.

Depending on the job we usually take a 15 minute qique (break)
at 10:30, an hour lunch/nap when the bento boxes arrive, another qique at 2:30, clean up tools at 3:45pm, and be picked up by a green bus and hopefully back to base by 4:30pm.

From 4:30 till 5:30, I either took a bucket shower or hung out until dinner was served. Two local ladies see what food has been donated add it to our daily budgeted amount (about $5 per person) and whip up something tasty even if I don't always know what it is.

Then Chris T./Chris #1 (there have been 12 guys named Chris since the start and by the way I'm Terri #2) starts the meeting by asking all new or returning volunteers to introduce themselves, where they are from, how long they a staying, and how they heard about All Hands. The joke is if you are not staying longer than a month people won't try to remember your name, I was lucky to meet the deadline. Next all the team leaders talk about how the work for the day went and any good stories or antidotes. I have to say Alan team leading Foam Party was my favorite since he usually sang a portion of his speech. Once that was done we reviewed meeting notes, jobs for the next day, and who wanted to do dishes so they could have 1st sign ups on the job board. Then my most nights my eyes became teary as those leaving before the next meeting said goodbye.

After the meeting we hung out, learned to put on yukatas, drank in the garden, watched movies, went to Lawsons, walked and said goodbye to someone on the night bus and had a great time with each other.

This schedule went on for 6 days until we had our one Tuesday a week off. So Monday's became our Fridays, which meant karaoke and Tuesday meant cheeseburgers for lunch since we had to fend for ourselves. My favorite being when a group of us made homemade burgers and chips on a camp stove. Followed by a new favorite treat called "seagull eggs," which is a doughy bread with bean paste inside which is so much better than it sounds.

Well that is a summarized day of my life with All Hands in Japan.

Location:Ofunato Iwate Japan

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