After my sit under the big tree and the waving prayer flags, I returned to my room for a late asana practice. En route I passed Ani-la in the hallway and she let me know that dinner would be at 7 pm. I thanked her and then noticed that there was a pretty long-haired white and tan dog lounging near my bedroom door. I bent down to greet her and asked Ani-la her name – it was Seru. She said “nunnery dog” and smiled broadly. So, these were my flat mates for the duration: Ani-la (Ani Gyantara), the head nun, Ani-too (Ani Sonam, who seems to be Ani-la’s right hand woman, so to speak), and Seru, the nunnery dog.
Together we gathered in the cold of the downstairs kitchen with bright yellow walls and the single bright light bulb sticking down from the ceiling. It’s a very simple set-up. A sink and two two-burner gas hot plates line one wall, a dusty cupboard spattered with spices, vegetables, and pots lines another, and then a long table with a bench and 2 chairs and a dish cupboard along a 3rd wall under the windows. This is where I sat, quietly observing as the ani’s, in their long red robes with short aprons tied around their wastes, busied about preparing dinner. At one point, Ani-too got up from the blue plastic chair she had been sitting in as she chopped vegetables. Seru quickly hopped up in the chair and curled up, tucking her nose into her belly, to enjoy the residual warmth.
As I looked around, wishing I had thought to come with a bag full of groceries, I was a bit baffled as to how our a meal would come together from what appeared a meager collection of items. It was like that throughout my stay and somehow, each time, the ani’s pulled together a wonderful meal. One aspect of their lives that began to reveal itself right from this start was that they are careful not to waste anything. It seems as if everything they are given, including the bags and containers that it comes in, and everything they grow and collect goes to use in some way. (I would later learn that even the toilet system is set-up to collect the waste and produce biogas).
On this first night it was just me at the table and the Ani’s sat together on a bench to the side (to my delight this arrangement did shift over the course of my stay, more to come on that). We had stir fried veggies with ramen noodles, plus potatoes, then rice with more vegetables and a bit of tsompa.
Funny side note about the tsompa – a Tibetan food staple. It’s super simple and basically consists of flour mixed with hot black tea to form a sort of dough. Some refer to it as the meditator’s food because it’s so easy and portable. The ani’s love it and use it like rice or bread. Just the day before, as I finished my morning meditation around the stupa, I stopped into a coffee shop, which is up a couple flights of stairs. At the base of the stairs – tucked under like Harry Potter’s closet – there is a small market that pretty much only carries ingredients for tsompa arranged in a small semicircle on the floor in very large burlap bags with the tops rolled down to reveal their contents. As I passed by I looked in and saw an unusually tall, large framed monk directing the shopkeeper to fill his bags. He looked at me and said, “You should try this! Get some!” and proceeded to tell me how to make tsompa. What timing, eh? Here I am the next day having my first tsompa….).
After I finished I got up to leave and stopped in front of them to say thank you. I asked if I could help with the dishes or if there was any work I could do to help out around the nunnery. Ani-too smiled and said “no” and then looked up at my colorful “Free Tibet” hat (it’s cold at night so I was wearing my knit hat at dinner). Her smile grew wider and she and gave it two thumbs up.