My Week: Cricket is not the path to enlightenment: For Jon Armour, teaching in a Tibetan refugee colony was a true learning experience

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The Independent Online
Saturday: Armed with a teaching qualification, I prepare to begin teaching English to young Tibetan Buddhist monks at Loseling monastery in southern India. After waking at 7.30am, I take a cold shower (recently vacated by the cockroaches) and eat breakfast: one cup of tea, an egg and a pancake. Afterwards, I face a small, crowded classroom. There are nearly 50 children, aged between six and 18, sitting on the floor. Knowledge of English is roughly at the 'this table is brown' level. I somehow keep them busy for 35 minutes.

I survive several of my other classes by inventing a simple version of Blockbusters. Games like this are great for retaining interest, as well as developing vocabulary. After school I collapse on my bed.

Sunday: Some of my students invite me to play cricket. We go to a neighbouring village, where about 25 people are gathered to play. It is a mixture of Indians and Tibetans (monks in full robes, plus lay people). They get on well together, laughing and joking in Kannada, the local language. Suddenly there is a flurry of robes, as all the monks hurtle off the pitch and into nearby fields, heads covered. I soon find out why. The monastery's disciplinarian has appeared, and if he catches any monks playing cricket outside designated holidays they will be beaten. Cricket is viewed as a distraction from their quest for enlightenment.

Monday: School holiday. About 20 monks and I squeeze into a jeep to make the short trip into Mundgod, the nearest town. As we leave, five monks leap on to the sides of the jeep, and cling on throughout the journey, which is a viciously bumpy one. In Mundgod I ignore the amused stares that I receive as a Westerner, and buy some papayas.

Lunch at the monastery (gristly meat, cabbage, noodles), then to a restaurant, where I am taught a game called carrom. It is a bit like snooker, played on a square board using wooden counters. Tibetans and Indians compete to play the best shot in the most nonchalant manner.

Tuesday: No school today again: there is a special prayer ceremony for a visiting high lama. I sit at the front of a packed gompa (temple) and witness a wonderful spectacle. For three hours about 1,000 monks sit on the floor, swaying as they chant, led by a monk with an extraordinarily deep, vibrating voice. (In Tibet, such men were trained by dragging raw meat up and down the throat on string.) There is a powerful smell of incense. Four local people perform elaborate dances, and endless gifts are offered to the lama. Monks use prayers to 'persuade' the lama to live a long life for humanity's sake. At the end, everyone is given fruit, bread and sweets.

Afterwards, outside the temple some fearless young monks are tormenting a snake with sticks. What irony. Children are the same everywhere; teaching them Buddhist non- violence takes time.

Wednesday: I have enormous fun teaching class one to sing 'Three Blind Mice', and use several boys to mime the actions. The adjoining class is drowned out by the racket. In the afternoon I wander through a couple of Tibetan villages. Tibetan women offer me the usual butter tea with salt, and tell of childhoods in Tibet, and families left there in the escape from the Chinese. They are overwhelmingly kindand serene despite the terrible suffering they have endured. They show that one can flourish in adversity.

Thursday: My last day's teaching, and my students thank me and present gifts, biscuits and traditional white scarves. The final lesson is with my smallest class, a group of 12 whom I feel I have come to know as individuals. A beautifully scripted note awaits me on the board. It says: 'Ever so many thanks for your kind helping us to teach English. Our main aim to learning modern English is to get our national's independence and to share deep and large Buddhism to all human beings. We are unable to remove your draw-line from our heart.' How many other teachers have received such thanks for a few days' teaching?

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