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Silly ≠ Paagal

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 in Wanderlust & Wonder


One afternoon at Arya Tara, I spent some time helping two of the older nuns compose a thank you letter to an organization that donated books to their library. I was excited to have the chance to help them with their English, since that was originally what I should have been doing as part of my volunteer program all along. But even though the girls wanted to practice their English with me, I couldn’t resist the urge to try out some of my Nepali words with them.

And boy, did they laugh at me. A lot.

But I took it well and kept on trying. They were giggling and being very silly so I told them the Nepali word for “silly” that my teacher Urmila taught me: paagal. For a brief moment, their cheerful faces clouded over with dismay. They quickly informed me that what I said was not a good word. I told them what my teacher had taught me that it meant. They shook their heads vigorously. No, they explained, it means mad or mentally retarded.

Oh. Whoops!

But luckily they didn’t hold it against me. They told me I have a bad teacher.


More than anything, my time at Arya Tara was spent getting to know the girls and to try to engage them in some fun, positive activities. With 56 young women living under the same roof, I was amazed at how cooperative and supportive they all were of each other. But there are definitely some strong personalities among the girls and it was so much fun getting familiar with which face matched up with which personality.


It is a bit tricky to tell the girls apart since they all have shaved heads and they all wear the dark red robes with turmeric-colored shirts underneath. But I am slowly able to remember who is shy, who is very playful, who is kind of a brat, who is a leader.

The nuns’ names are exceedingly difficult for me to remember and keep track of. Each nun has two first names. Some of them go by both of them. Some of them only go by one of them. Some of them switch back and forth. Some of the ones I know are Thupten, Tenpa, Kunchok, Pema Dolma, Tsering, Wangmo, Kunsang and Ngawong.


When we could pry them away in the afternoons from watching the scandalous Bollywood music videos, we taught them some songs I remember from camp and we played some games I remember from working in Guatemala (dinámicas, anyone?). Their biggest request time and time again was for us to teach them some songs in English so we taught them to sing “Lean On Me” and they loved it. Every day they would request to sing it with us, complete with some off-beat, yet thoroughly committed, clapping. We did relays like three-legged races and wheelbarrow races. I was able to get them to do the most ridiculous and foolish things under the guise of “Simon Says”. That never gets old.


One of the most exuberant exhibitionists/outright hams among the nuns was Wangmo. She was hysterical. She was super bright and quick to pick up on anything we taught the girls.


She was a natural performer and would entertain the rest of the nuns with her “guitar-playing” and crazy facial expressions. She was non-stop action and a kick in the pants.


Bring on the comments

  1. Shannon OD says:

    I just can’t get over that eye thing. It freaks me out to look at that picture! But love little Wangmo rocking out on the guitar 🙂

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