The wood-fired iron hearth at the center of the nuns' kitchen.

What do the Buddhist nuns of Debuche want in 2011? A stove.

The communal kitchen has a big wood-fired hearth for cooking, so at first I wondered why they needed a stove. One nun explained that they spend so much time chopping firewood that it detracts from their meditation and practice. The nuns want a stove to make cooking easier and less time consuming…

Me: “Okay. What kind of stove?”
Nun: “Whatever you think.”
Me: “No, no, no! I don’t know what kind of stove you need. What kind of stove? Gas? Kerosene? How big?”
Nun: “We don’t know. Any stove you like.”

Big help they are.

Me: “Okay, I’m not sure if we can actually get you a stove, but I’ll look into it.”

We all say our goodbyes, and I depart swathed in a long white prayer shawl, a symbol of affection and blessing.

Back at the teahouse where we are staying, I wander into the kitchen to examine the stove setup. The Sherpa sister is cooking alu roti (potato pancakes). Do I want one? Yes, oh yes I do! Always a happy beneficiary of Nepali hospitality, I would never pass up an opportunity for good home-cooked Nepali food, particularly Sherpa food that I rarely get in Kathmandu. She serves me a large flat pancake with a hefty dollop of butter, cottage-type cheese, and diced red chilies. Before I can stop her, she then tops it with ANOTHER potato pancake to melt the butter in between. That was perhaps more hospitality than I required, but it’s delicious. I am distracted by the alu roti until my stomach is painfully full.

Where was I?

STOVE. This is how research is done: my Nepali guide, the lodge owner, his wife and I have a long discussion about kerosene and gas stoves, types of burners, regulators, fuel cost and availability, cooking performance. In the end, I settle on a double burner gas stove with cylinder and regulator. Cost: $350 for the whole setup, and it will have to be purchased in Kathmandu, sent cargo on a flight, then portered out to the monastery. No problem, right?

When I share this information later with my trekkers, one immediately volunteers to contribute and spearheads a group effort. In the end, the group makes a collection and raises all the money for a stove. It’s obvious to everyone in the group that these nuns are living in the simplest of conditions and that the stove feels like a reasonable request that will go to good use. One of my summer projects was to coordinate stove purchase and transport from afar. How did it work out?…