We were reviewing days of the week and months --- the Gregorian calendar is different from the Nepali calendar and the Tibetan calendar --- when I learned two students didn't know their birthdays. In fact, no one had ever celebrated the day they were born.
Many monks come from poor families whose parents fail to fill out the necessary documents following their home births. After they're brought to the monastery, they may not see a family member again or learn much about where they came from.
So in class, we settled upon a birthdate for Lahke and Dhubten. The whole class was very excited about the idea of a birthday party, and we set about planning a surprise for their classmates.
We secretly scheduled a time, and they sent me to market to find cake, decorations, and candles. I found a local bakery who could write their names in icing. I figured their very first birthday cake needed to be something special.
I returned with bags filled with birthday supplies, and the monks giggled blowing up balloons, "hushing" anyone who made a noise.
They taped decorations on the wall before fetching Lakhe and Dhubten, covering their friends' eyes as birthday hats were placed on their heads and we sang Happy Birthday.
The boys were mystified by the trick candles I found in town. And then there was cake cutting and smashing cake in each others’ faces...
Nothing short of magic.
As we were cleaning the room, Dhubten looked like he was on the verge of tears. He told a classmate, "Thank you. Thank you so much. I am so happy."
I also felt like crying.
Nor had I ever seen mischievous Lahke speechless.
The next day, it was a team effort to string their birthday presents --- new basketball nets. Who would have imagined that some monks are ballers.
This birthday event was a main topic of discussion for the rest of my time at the monastery. Whenever I saw Lahke or Dhubten in class or on the grounds, they'd flash me an appreciative grin, as if again transported to their magical birthday evening.
This was all made possible by the generosity of our Slovenian friend. It's incredible how a little can go such a long way. For $60USD, so much joy was brought to the students of Matepani. We can't say it enough: Thank you, Tatjana!