By Neil Roberts.
When I made the decision earlier this year to see more of the world, I knew exactly where I wanted to go first.I contacted Lha, offering my services as a volunteer English teacher, and arrived in McLeod Ganj on August 20.
McLeod Ganj is the strangest of places. A refugee community, backpacker haven and spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism. Tourism amongst Indians seeking cooler mountain air is increasing and weekends can be frenetic. There’s lots of construction underway to meet increasing demand and it can be difficult for someone unused to,what feels like,living and working in a burgeoning resort.
My classroom is very different to a western set up. Students sit on the floor with no desks or chairs (managing perfectly well, incidentally).Unlike an air conditioned language school, we have two rickety wall fans. Traffic outside means it’soften impractical to open windows and it does getwarm when we’ve 40+ people in conversation classes.
Teaching resources are limited – donations of work, teacher and activity books are welcomed! Fortunately, I’d brought my own trusty teacher books (which proved invaluable) and—when I sorted reliable internet access—my cloud-based teaching resources.
My students are an interesting group. Attendance—not mandatory—is normally good. I’ve a handful of monks plus a dozen or so other Tibetans and a couple of Indian people. Unexpectedly, I’ve taught Korean and Russian students (here for extended Dharma training and taking the opportunity to improve their English). Ages range from late teens to early sixties and the gender mix is better than anticipated. It’s a broad spectrum of people who’ve gelled well into a mutually supportive peer group.
Some stories my students tell are hard to hear. Families left behind, others fleeing after family members were executed or disappeared. Many simply walked out of Tibet; a perilousexodus over the Himalayas often taking months to complete.
The Tibetans I’ve come to know demonstrate a determination to live life. Sustained by faith, their capacity to endure seems limitless, as they—even today in this seemingly crazy world—continue promoting non-violence in the face of adversity.
While “progress” marches forward, as progress invariably does, McLeod Ganj continues its evolution from sleepy hillside forest. What this willmean for the Tibetans living here—on the other side of the Himalayas from the place they still call home—only time will tell.
I, for one, wish them well.