On The QT

Bye Bye Bir

Blogger: Katie Burke

Despite all of my gallivanting one of the main reasons I came to India was to spend a month volunteering as an English Teacher to what turned out to be the most adorable bunch of little monks in the making. Once Lohsar (Tibetan New Year) was over I finally got into the swing of things teaching wise. Myself and two to three others depending on the day took a class of eight little boys from 9:30am to 12:00pm each day. It sounds easy but when there are no books, no guidance, no curriculum and a widely varying standard of English in the class that mixes things up. One thing we did have though was a lot of fun.

I had brought some packets of shiny stickers fresh from “Euro 2″ in Ballinasloe and decided on the first day to hand some out at the end of class to praise the boys for their hard work. While passing one to a little monk I casually remarked “super duper” in relation to his work that day. Little did I know that this fly away comment would be misconstrued as the word for sticker or that every day from then on, just as class was about to end, a smiling little face would inquire hopefully “M’am M’am Superduper??!” And so it became a tradition.

Other traditions that we built up over time included the daily “run around” where at approximately 10:30am both teachers and students would hit a slump and some fresh air was urgently required. Never in my life have I enjoyed feeling like a big ejit as much as when I ran, skipped, hopped, waddled and jumped around the field outside the classroom with eight tiny monks following in a line behind, continuously tripping on their robes and laughing hysterically as they tried to imitate my every move. 

In a bid to keep the outdoor time educational we invented a simple ball game which usually began with one of the teachers holding the ball and saying something like “My name is Katie and I am 27 years old” then throwing it to another teacher ” My name is Willow and I am 24 years old” who in hope that the point had been made would then throw it to a student and all going well would receive the response “Myyy-name-is-Jamyang Zhepa……I yam twelf-yes-olda”. Other topics covered in the game included nationality as well as favourite colours, animals and foods. There was of course the odd awkward moment when a game began with ” I am from Australia” and abruptly ended in confusion with ” My pavorite is yelephant?”. But we got through it and the mini monks had a whale of a time. Overall they were much less bothered about the English and rather obsessed with being the next to get the ball. They would openly beat each other and cluck their tounges angrily at one another to get possession but then when they finally had the ball in their hands they were usually completely at a loss as to what to do next but very happy with themselves all the same.

One of the biggest issues in the class was the F/P debacle. We noticed it from day one while working through the alphabet. “A-P-P-L-E- Apple”.. great! “F-I-S-H- Pish”…eh?! Also most students appeared to be “prom” Nepal and their “pavourite” colours were red. For weeks us teachers spent large quantities of our time with our bottom lips over our teeth teasing out the “ffffffff” sound but to no avail. That is until one day in the last week when one of the little boys was asked where he was from. He looked nervous at first but then slowly went for it “I…yam..fffff…” we all held our breaths in silent hope “fffff..From Nepal”. YESSS!!!!! All of us teachers clapped in celebration and the little monk smiled from ear to ear. After that the “F”  made its way around the classroom faster  than the chicken pox and on my last day one of the brightest students, who struggled the most with the F/P conundrum, informed me that his “fffff…Favourite” colour was blue. Talk about going out on a high!

Overall the experience of teaching young monks in Bir was not what I expected but I enjoyed it so much more than I ever imagined possible. And although there is little lasting contribution that can be made in a few weeks I sincerely hope those little boys learned from me even a percentage of what I have learned from them. They are all beautiful individuals and hopefully have bright fffff…futures ahead of them.

As for my experience with my volunteer host family and fellow volunteers, I couldn’t be happier with the people I met. I will always remember the times we spent together fondly. After a month of; teaching together, traveling together, leaping off a mountain together (paragliding…nothing risky) and spending an inordinate amount of time just chatting and of course playing charades, it is amazing how much you can bond with a group of people who are initially strangers and quickly become close friends. And though I cried like a fool when the bubble wrap was removed and I left Bir for the last time on a dark Friday morning, I felt that I was now prepared to see the harsher realities of India outside of the sleepy Tibetan village and excited to move on with my travels, especially as I now had some good friends with me to ease the transition.

Blogger: Katie Burke - Adventures in India
Katie is an aspiring writer who is originally from Galway. She has been travelling in India for the past two months. She has had an eclectic journey including everything from experiencing the culture shock of Delhi to teaching baby Buddhist monks in Dharamsala and so much in between. This blog covers the highs, the lows and the hilarious of each site and situation visited and reveals the madness that is India from the naked eye of a first time visitor.
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