At last we tore ourselves away from Chitwan and boarded a bus back to Kathmandu. We’d cancelled our bus tickets once and tacked on two more days in Chitwan, but our plane tickets were looming and it was time to leave. After numerous emails to various monasteries, we managed to find space at Bairoling, a fifteen minute walk from Boudhanath stupa in Kathmandu. Most of the other monasteries with guest houses were full – what with the recent inauguration of the stupa and a month long course at Kopan Monastery, one of the main monasteries for Westerners.
The guest house at Bairoling was run by a Tibetan who’d been to Toronto five years before. He told me there he’d seen rooms full of toys for kids. I had to admit we’d suffered from the same disease before I started to squirrel toys away in our crawl space. He also told me that Tibetans don’t run any of the shops around Boudhanath as they think it’s harmful to their spirit to sell sacred objects.
The handful of other guests were mainly Westerners studying at the International Buddhist Academy down the road. And then there was Doris. I guessed that Doris was at least 80 years old, maybe more. She had the small bones of the very old, and she walked with a cane. She was British but had spent enough time in California that she had a trans-atlantic accent. She’d also spent enough time in Nepal on the Buddhist path that she wore traditional Tibetan dress – a robe with a long apron tied over it.
Doris had a strange fascination for me. I was a little in awe that she chose to live in Kathmandu with its lack of heating in winter, pollution and broken sidewalks. Yet it was hard to extract details of her life. She would only answer my questions with short replies.
I asked her what she used to do for work; she answered “Teacher. Young kids.” “Kindergarten?” I asked. She nodded. “Five and six year olds?” I asked. “And younger,” she’d trailed off, not wanting to talk more.
Then I asked her when she first came to Nepal. “Long time.” I’d looked at her expectantly. “I don’t know the year” was all that she’d replied.
She told me she was staying at Bairoling for about 6 months, maybe more. When I asked how that was possible with Nepal’s visa rules, she’d said she was here on an investment visa. That was about as much as she would tell me. She had no need to talk about herself so I had to leave it at that. No matter how I tried to rephrase my questions, I made very little progress. It seemed she only talked with any great fluency about the instant present. I wondered briefly if that was one of the side effects of years of devotion to Buddhism and meditation. I’d remembered reading somewhere that Eckhart Tolle rarely ever mentioned the past, and this was Doris before me. She came alive when present moments were discussed but I could not drag the past out of her despite my best efforts.