Feature: Meeting a Monk
"You can teach me English, and I will teach you Lao," Ahman said.
He was clearly a teenager, and had a soothing voice. He had eyes that showed no stress, and a sweet smile...a serene look, which seems common among Buddist monks.
His English was so good, it seemed he might teach me a thing or two about my native language.
"Come tonight at 9:00. I have free time then," he said.
This seemed like an odd time for a tourist to visit a monestary. I paused before agreeing - but I couldn't reject a monk.
"Bring food," he added.
"Any food?" I asked.
"Yes, we can eat anything."
"But I thought you could only eat one bowl of rice a day."
"No, I can eat what I like, but only twice a day, and I choose which times."
I was aware that many monasteries had different rules. Maybe I would be breaking some of those rules...but I decided to accept his invitation.
I arrived at 9:30 that night, with a ham sandwich and a Pepsi. I figured Western food might be a treat. I also brought my tape recorder, a pen, and a notebook-- and expected to spend the next hour in a study, writing down useful phrases in Lao and English.
Ahman greeted me, then told me to keep my voice low. He explained that there is no such thing as a study, or a kitchen, in a monastery. When I nixed going to his room, he invited me to sit on a platform outside, overlooking the temple courtyard.
Now I knew I was breaking some rules. But Ahman and I weren't the only delinquents that night. I could not see, but I heard the easily recognizable sound of a bladder being emptied in the courtyard garden. Afterward, I saw two monks huddled next to the temple wall. They hurridly opened tins of food and stuffed it into their mouths. Then, they stood and smoked a cigarette.
Ahman, meanwhile, whispered what life is like for boys in a monastery. He had been there for eight years, eating only what was donated from the local community, and studying with a 90-year-old master who did not approve of his learning English.
Ahman was curious about what he called "worldly" things. And, being a nineteen year old boy, he had several questions about "making love."
If you were to ask me what kind of information a 19-year-old should have about sex, or relationships, or love, I would have answered...as much as possible.
But I found myself tongue-tied in the face of Ahman's questions. It seemed plain wrong to discuss such things with a monk!
I sat there in the darkness, listening to him sip his Pepsi, and realized that I was trying to preserve his innocence, even as I was losing mine.
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