Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Cows, Goats and different types of Lama!
Namaste from Bodhgaya!
What's that you say... what is this Namaste nonsense??? Aren't you guys supposed to be in India? Well, yes, we are in India, only a chicken-chirping, roof-riding, horn-honking (excuse me, "blaring"), butt-busting, nausea-negotiating 5 hour bus ride south of Patna, in the beautiful little Buddhist oasis of Bodhgaya!
This small town (29,000 - ok, small for India) is quite a site. It's the holiest of the holiest for anyone from the Buddhist religion, and yet a town in the poorest state in the country. December and January it is full of Tibetan monks and nuns who make the annual pilgrimage here to visit the very temple where Lord Buddha himself became enlightened, and thus Buddhism was born. They setup shop (and restaurant), rent or purchase bicycles for milling around (which is quite fun to watch as many have never ridden one), visit temple daily for chanting and meditation, and fire up the stoves for the best apple pie, cinnamon roles and chocolate cheesecake to be found in the subcontinent!
Being in the poorest of the poor regions and being a manageable location (that's white for 'small') many foreigners (mostly westerners) have come and established schools, projects, organizations, foundations and even institutes all within a 20km radius, which service the surrounding communities' needy. And to complement the influx of both the westerners and the Tibetans, there have been numerous decent accommodation options built in recent years, which brings in even more visitors in these months. To top it all off, each government with a Buddhist following in their country has decided that they must invest copious amounts of money to provide monestaries and temples for their pilgrims while one-upping the temple next door (Thai wins, by the way). So, in a nutshell, you can take a horse-rickshaw into town to get a glass of Chai, while passing Indian kids with no pants outside mudhuts yelling "Hello!", stop at a roadside cafe for some carrot-cake, after which you meet up with some whities for a brewski, then go and buy peanut butter from Mohammud's general store, while listening to the sound of munks chanting, and staring at butter lamps around the Stuppa. WOW!
The Maitreya Education Project is our current home. We are staying at their "compound", which although is fenced off and a very serene, is not located in any sort of unsafe area. Basically the bottom line is that if vacant facilities exist in India, they will quite efficiently become occupied if made available. Our accommodations and meals have been graciously looked after for our efforts, and with a Nepali chef, you can just imagine the variety! Actually all kidding aside, the food is fantastic (and there is tons of it!), and our room is very comfortable. Doug, our trusty Edmontonian principal currently running the show lives with us, as does Kabir-sir, the Indian born monk with a degree from Oxford (yes, the Oxford), and Sandhya-madam, one of the nicer and more educated teachers at the school (my girlfriend, as Kristin likes to put it). On a side note, our room happens to be one down from where His Holiness the Dalai Lama stayed in 1999 when he last visited Bodhgaya - pretty fuckin' cool if I do say so myeslf!
The story on Doug is he came to visit the Maitreya school (a component of the project - more on that in a minute) one summer they happened to be looking for a new principal (aka every summer), and he liked it so much he decided to return ... for 2 years! Well looked after and with free-reign to do as he pleased (being a private organization) he was ready to do his part and make an extraordinary difference in the lives of the 400+ lucky students that attend for free (with food, books, and uniforms included). And then, he realized something that he had overlooked in his utopian vision... he was in India! And India, does not work like Edmonton! Paper, was not only not available at the school, you couldn't even find it in the town! Resources did not exist, fax and email were not available, teachers bought their degrees (kind of like a fake id ;-) ... seriously! All in all, he succumbed to the way of life here (and the 45 degree heat in the summer) and has made a pretty darn good go of it in his first 6 months!
And now for the students! Let me just say that if there was a way to bring back 25 Indian kindergartners to Canada (legal issues aside), Kristin would do it in a heart beat! They are the littlest and cutest weiners around, and Kristin absolutely adores them! (She gets to teach them music class too!) It is amazing, and all of you who have ever worked with children that really have nothing will agree, to see how happy kids can be. If not for the school, the kids would be hanging out all day working in the fields rolling hay like their friends. But for some reason or another, these kids' applications stood out over the other 9000 received annually by the school (25 of which are accepted) and so starts a wonderful and hopeful educational journey for each of them. With Buddhist founders, a holistic 30 minute assembly begins each morning that focuses on meditation and one of the 16 humanistic qualities that make a good person. Then a day filled with English and Hindi lessons, tea and snack time, yoga classes for phys. ed., and Karma Yoga at the end of the day where students clean up (sweeping included) their respective classes unfolds. It is not all as beautiful and perfect as it sounds, but for a school that really has almost nothing (tables, benches, notebooks, semi-qualified teachers, it's doing pretty freakin' well.
Kristin and I are into our 4th day tomorrow and now have our schedules for the next six weeks. English, music and yoga are our areas of expertise (are they?), and with little to no curriculum, and one exam at the end of the year as our source of evaluation (yes, something else Doug can quite get teachers to understand the flaws of) we can pretty much go to town! Kristin tried her first lessons this afternoon (grade 8 and 9 English - we're teaching together for this first week), and not only was she flawless, she actually liked it?! What the hell???! Kristin likes volunteering in a foreign country (my god India of ALL places?!)?? I guess the apple pie really did do her in!
We miss and love you all!
Love Kristin-Madam and Cory-Sir
For those of you following at home: Goa --> Delhi --> Patna (eeee...) --> Gaya --> Bodhgaya