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Sex and the Dalai lama: teaching Shakespeare in a monastery

2013 September 12
by Zoe Strimpel
Some local cuties, students of "The Tiny Kids Academy" down the road from the guesthouse.

Some local cuties, students of “The Tiny Kids Academy” down the road from the guesthouse. Just put ‘em in to set the stage for a teaching post. I don’t teach these kids, though.

A few months ago, a Canadian woman visited a school in Sikkim. Witnessing corporal punishment, she went to the authorities and made a stir. Instead of consternation at the corporal punishment (not so unheard of here), they expressed anger at the fact that a person on a tourist visa was allowed to schools. What followed was a strict clampdown on anyone on a tourist visa visiting, much less teaching, in a school. However, being organised, I got my visa for this escapade in June, weeks before I was told of this. I assumed it would blow over and I could go to the school. I assumed wrong. Neither willing nor able to jump through the hoops required for a last-minute business visa, I came as a tourist.

However, I am able to meet with the kids in an alternative, secretive venue  that does not violate my visa. That place is a monastery a luxurious religious complex with a colourful gate of dragons, and thoughtful, well-fed monks padding around contemplating the view of the fog-shrouded Himalyas, covered in trees nearly identical to broccoli.

I had been a little grouchy that I wouldn’t get to the school – the kids are so cute, the lunch is delicious, the views are even better. But teaching in the monastery has turned into the most VIP teaching experience you can imagine. Firstly, a Jeep must drive me there as well as my students. The Jeep must then return for the students, and for me. It whisks me back to the guesthouse in time for an afternoon walk. At the monastery, we teach in a plush room, like a spacious living room in a house. Fulsome sofas, thick carpets, a big flip board and a coffee table sit before several imposing pictures of the Dalai Lama.

After taking my teacherly place on a sofa, facing the kids, I begin my lecture on the dark side of love in As You Like It. As the scrutiny of Silvius and Phebe’s painful alliance gets into full gear, the monastery abbot’s wife – a lovely calming woman dressed in pink silks – brings in a tray, with two huge pitchers of jasmine and mint tea and a bucket of delicious sandy butter biscuits. Nom nom nom. ┬áResuming love in AYLI, we get to Touchstone and his use of words such as “foul slut” towards Audrey, whom he repeatedly calls ugly but at least therefore not a hussy. At this moment, the Dalai Lama catches your eye and you think, “is this the place for this lesson?” Then, remembering it’s the Bard, you shrug and remember it’s for the good – surely the DL can see that. Next up, Touchstone on Orlando’s cheesy love letters to Rosalind and the drippy and excessive quality of them. Here he comes to note “love’s prick and Rosalind” – Tom, who is co-teaching this with me, thinks it extremely necessary that our girls grasp the bawdy cleverness of Shakespeare’s clowns. Suddenly the lesson takes a turn for the even less monastery-esque: do the girls, in fact, know what a “prick” is? Surely? Err, no. They don’t. So Tom explains that it is “the male genital”. The girls look disconcerted and then amused, Tom looks bashful and I feel faintly sick, gulp down a bit more jasmine tea and peer at the DL. He didn’t look angry, and nothing bad happened – except that more biscuits appeared leading to uncomfortable over-indulgence.


View of my walk down to town.

View of my walk down to town.

Mind the ledge! Drive to school.

Mind the ledge! Drive to school.

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