My practicum placement is at the Shechen Ugyen Chodzong nunnery in Wangsisina, and every week I go to teach the nuns how to use a computer. When I arrived for my class on May 28th, however, I was informed that the English teacher — a woman from Scotland — was leaving. I was invited to the going-away party, which was happening that afternoon.
They escorted me to a room where all the English students, a mix of older nuns whom I’d been teaching and younger nuns I’d never met before, sat on floor cushions drinking tea and eating cake. I was given a position of honor at the front of the room, where the lopen, English teacher, and other monk teachers were sitting. They gave their teacher a few presents which were wrapped in newspaper and tied with a kada for a bow. One of the monks presented a kada to the teacher, and her students gave her a Bhutanese bowl, a shirt, and a scarf.
Soon the monks exited, leaving the rest of us to our merry-making. In my past visits to the nunnery I hadn’t taken any pictures because the nuns were very shy, but now they were bold in front of the camera. They kept asking to have their picture taken, and enjoyed striking very silly poses. Some of the nuns wanted to dance, but many were too shy to get in the middle of the circle and dance with others watching, so the teacher suggested we play truth or dare.
The nuns immediately seized this idea, though there was no “truth” component to their playing; the victim was chosen at random by spinning a knife in the middle of the circle and picking the person it pointed to, and everyone else decided what to make them do. The dares were a little tame, but probably wilder than you’d expect from nuns: they danced, sang, mimed fist fights, gave each other piggyback rides or rode each other like horses, and even kissed one another on the cheek. It’s probably a good thing the monks didn’t stick around.
We played for at least an hour, and then we cleared the floor cushions away and did some traditional Bhutanese dancing, similar to what we learned when we were in the farmhouse in Bumthang. The party was a wild success, and everyone enjoyed themselves. I was thrilled to have the experience; how many people can say they’ve played truth or dare with a bunch of Bhutanese Buddhist nuns?
– Catherine Perkins