Tuesday, December 27, 2011



Merry Christmas everyone!! The holidays are certainly not the easiest
part of our time here so far, but we’ve been enjoying ourselves.
Though when I think of my traditions at home- snow, cookies, packed
houses, Christmas trees- everything is pale in comparison, Christmas
here has been very special in a very different way. We have been very
blessed with a visitor, Ashley’s sister Chelsea, who has spoiled us
with many treats, traditions and reminders of home that have been good
medicine for the homesickness. We picked up Chelsea at the airport in
Dar es Salaam just as we were finishing up our month of traveling. The
trip was full of adventures and what better way to spending our
teaching break than experiencing new parts of the country and culture?
Here are a few of the highlights:

Sleeping in a thatched hut on the beach in Bagamoyo
Eating some great Indian food at a rooftop restaurant in Moshi
Swimming in the Indian Ocean at sunset next just feet away from the
Dhows in Bagamoyo
Making it to Irente viewpoint after an 8 hour hike in Lushoto,
Usambara Mountains
Trekking through the Magamba rainforest in Lushoto, Usamabara Mountains
Hanging out in coffee shops in Moshi, one of Tanzania’s main
coffee-growing regions
Eating Chipate, Avacado and bananas right next to a waterfall in
Soni village after the long walk from Lushoto
Playing cribbage on our balcony during a lightning storm in Moshi
Sharing a cold (!) iced tea across at Posta bus stop and people
watching in Dar es Salaam
Waking up to cleared clouds and a view of the snows of Kilimanjaro
from our room in Moshi
Making a day of getting lost in the narrow streets of Stone Town, Zanzibar
Feasting on seafood and Zanzibari pizza at the night market in
Forodhani Gardens, Zanzibar
Waking up everyday at 5:30 to the call to prayer from the Mosque
near our hostel in Lushoto
Watching locals harvest seaweed at low tide in Jambiani, Zanzibar
Reuniting in Malindi, Kenya with five Johnnie/BVC friends and one
new friend from Germany
Making and sharing an early Christmas dinner together in Malindi

This all might sound very glamorous and exotic but I assure you, most
of the time it was not. For every high point there was a low. It’s
also sweating constantly-even in your sleep, stolen shoes, bad hotels,
broken showers, disgustingly dirty clothes, lots of bug bites, getting
caught in some devastating floods in Dar and over 70 hours spent on
hot, dusty busses. Overall, travelling in Africa has been unlike
anything I’ve ever done. Amazing, but definitely not for the faint of

Needless to say, arriving back in Chipole with Chelsea was the best
Christmas present either Ashley or I could have ever received. It
feels more like home than ever and what an important feeling that is
this time of year. The sisters put on a play of bible stories on
Christmas Eve before mass and it was especially fun to see the ones we
know best put costumes on over their habits and get into character.
They even brought live bunnies into the church to make a more
life-like Garden of Eden. On Christmas morning, after Mass and
breakfast, the whole community gathered in the hallway to sing and
wish us and the other volunteers a Happy Christmas. The rest of the
morning Ash, Chels and I spent recreating a more familiar Christmas.
We opened letters and gifts Chels had brought from home, drank hot
chocolate, watched Christmas movies and ate candy until we were sick,
all in our room that we decked out in paper snowflakes and a paper
Christmas tree. My very favorite part of the day, though, was the
afternoon we spent at the orphanage. A man came from the village and
played guitar, the kids played drums and we all just danced. More than
a few of them fell asleep on the floor or in our arms, exhausted from
the dancing and excitement. It reminded me of my cousins at home, or
when I was little myself and would just crash at the end of the day.
Incredibly different lives, but in some ways, not so different.

Remember that song from White Christmas, “Count your Blessings”? Mine
feel endless this year. When I got to talk to my family at home- so
incredibly blessed. For Ash and Chels- blessed. For the Christmas we
had in Kenya and our friends there -blessed. For our family of
volunteers here-blessed.  For returning home safely from our
travels-blessed. And of course, for the community that I love that has
welcomed us back- I am so blessed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On Work


While the content of my previous blogs may be misleading on this
subject, we do, in fact work here. Though the Tanzanian and monastic
balance of work, prayer and leisure make it more of a challenge, we
make a point to work as much as we can. Not only is that a part of our
commitment to this community, but we’ve also found it’s necessary to
satisfy our productivity-loving Yankee blood and, if nothing else,
keeping our hands busy is a wonderful distraction from feelings of
homesickness that have begun to set in.  So here’s a summary:

St. Agnes Secondary School for Girls
This has been our main assignment. Ash and I team-teach English and
computer classes to the girls in form 1 (about freshman in high school
age). Term has just ended and the girls are currently in exams. Our
success as teachers is not so easily assessed. I have no idea if I
helped them learn English and a few weeks ago a rain storm cut the
power indefinitely in the computer room making it difficult to teach.
Needless to say, the challenges have been constant. Our success here,
I think, is in the time we spend with the girls and our conversations
with them outside of class. We play games, sing songs, go to the field
and play sports with them (well, ash does anyway).  My favorite part
is probably the endless and hilarious notes we often receive from them
full of broken English and pretty inappropriate expressions of
adoration. One of my favs: “Sash and Margreth- I need the friendly
with you becouse I love u. – Jesscar.”

The Bakery
Next to school, this is probably the place where I spend the most
time. I just never get sick of baking. I love that now we know how to
do just about everything by ourselves, and they trust us to do it. We
make Maandazi (doughnuts), Chipsi (crackers), Keksi (cookies), Keki
(cake) and my favorite to make, Mikate (bread). As we bake we sing,
dance, daydream and snack on treats. Overall, a great place to be.

The Sewing Room
There are multiple sewing rooms here, as there are endless uniforms
and habits to make and mend. The one we work in makes priest’s
vestments- quite the addition to my resume. Ash and I began
cross-stitching stoles when work in the bakery became less pleasant
with the heat. I love going mostly because of the sisters who work
there- Sr. Jenista and Sr. Angelina. Both are incredibly sweet and
good to us, though Sr. Angelina speaks only a few words of English.
While sewing one day, I was surprised to hear not only an English
voice come through the tape player, but one with an Irish accent. I
have since learned that Sr. Jenista spent one year very near to where
I lived while studying in Ireland! It’s been fun having something so
important to me in common with her. What a small world it is.

The Orphanage
Though we play with the toddlers from time to time, just this week I
started going to orphanage on a daily basis, and spending time in the
baby room. It’s very difficult being there, and even more difficult to
describe. After just a week, though, I get the feeling that it will be
an important part my remaining time here.

That is our work, at least my attempted categorization of it. In
reality, it is much more sporadic and often unseen. It is helping to
peel potatoes or cassava, setting up Sister Rustica’s first email
account, teaching the novices a song to sing for English mass, or
setting the table for dinner. Really, most of what we do is not that
important or life changing. But the mere gift your hands can be
powerful, I think. And perhaps that is the best way to explain how we
spend our time here: just being our hands.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Give to the Max to BWSC!!

Just a note that today is “Give to the Max” day and my program, the BWSC is one of the organizations that is benefiting from funds raised today. This is a great way to support my work and the people in this community. Money raised will go toward making our work here sustainable, meaning that it continues after our year here with new volunteers. Since the BWSC is a new program within the last few years, we are especially in need of support ensure longevity in our relationships with the communities we serve in Puerto Rico and Tanzania. Thank you so much for anything you are able to give!

here's the link to follow: http://www.razoo.com/story/Sisters-Of-The-Order-Of-Saint-Benedict

Thursday, November 3, 2011


October brought our first real experience with the African sun. It has
been unbearably hot, at least for us wimpy wazungu (Europeans). In
spite of this, or perhaps because of it, we have been persisting in
some of our usual fall traditions and in doing so, sharing a bit of
our culture with some of our new friends here.

So, on Saturday, we made apple pie. Though there are many delicious
fruits here, papaya, bananas, tangerines, and mangoes- apples are
difficult to find in Tanzania, since they must be brought in from
Zimbabwe. This means that the process of making the pie began with
tracking down ingredients in Songea, forced practice in Swahili, and
eventually finding a new friend who was able to speak English when our
Swahili proved inadequate- all an adventure in and of itself. But find
the apples, we did and with pride and excitement brought them to the
bakery to attempt our pie.

To say it was a success would be a gross understatement. Perhaps the
lack of variety in food here has left us with less refined palates, or
perhaps the flavor was made sweeter by nostalgia and memories of home.
In any case, Ash and I vainly agreed that it was the best apple pie we
had ever tasted. We shared with our friends at the bakery- Sr.
Jackline, Sr. Diana, and Emman all of whom gave rave reviews and
excitedly attempted to translate the recipe into Swahili. Sr. Diana,
in particular, laughed the entire time she was eating it, which we
think is just what she does when she is really happy? We also shared
with Sr. Thawabu and Sr. Mgaga who are the sisters currently working
in the guesthouse. When she finished her piece Sr. Mgaga said, “When
you make pie again don’t forget me.” Needless to say, it was fun to be
able to share something so familiar to us that they had never
experienced before.

After finishing our pie, we were talking to Sr. Thawabu about our
plans for the following day. We were getting up early to go to the
parish in the village of Mkongo, which was celebrating its 50th
Jubilee. Sr. Thawabu said, (I think jokingly?) “Bring me back a
chicken!” We laughed- good one Thawabu! As a general rule, I am
learning that the second you laugh and say or even just think to
yourself they aren’t serious, right? That can’t be for real- I am
quickly proven wrong. One example: During the mass at Mkongo, when a
woman with a large basket on her head wrapped in cloth was processing
through the crowd we assumed that in the basket was the Bible. Sr
Gotharda whispered, “It is a child.” Whaaaat? She’s not serious,
right? I must have heard her wrong. Sure enough, the cloth was untied
and a child, a large child of probably 6 or 7 years old, popped out
holding the Bible. The crowd went wild.

Similarly, Thawabu’s request acted as a prophecy. On our ride home,
when we offered to take the far back seat of the land rover, we didn’t
know that we would be sharing our seat with a third passenger: a live
chicken. Now, out of necessity people bring chickens everywhere here,
in plastic bags, in purses, with squawking heads popping out, in
baskets bigger than laundry baskets- full of chickens. They carry them
on buses, around town, and don’t blink at picking one up by the neck
and handing it over to a guest as a welcome gift. We’ve grown
accustomed to this, or so I thought. As it turns out, sharing the
backseat of a land rover on a 3+ hour drive is a very different thing
altogether. For most of the ride, it sat quiet and motionless. No big
deal, I thought, remembering the chickens we had when I was a kid,
internally exaggerating my farm girl roots. I’m just sittin next to a
chicken. Then, out of nowhere the bird began to squawk and flap its
wings. Naturally, and like perfect idiots, Ash and I began to squeal
ourselves, laughing intermittently and practically putting on a
contortionist show to avoid the flapping feathers- all of this only
seemed to provoke it. Finally Ash, regaining her senses, threw her
sweatshirt on top of the chicken. The effect was immediate; the calm
and quiet of the evening trip home was restored. The next night at
dinner, however, the chicken was permanently silenced. Thawabu got her
chicken, after all.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kila Siku


I recently received an email from one of my sisters that spoke
beautifully to what it has been like for us in Chipole lately. She
said,  “things have slowed down here…everything has become ordinary,
and has intern become harder to appreciate, but of course not
impossible. I feel somewhat sad that the excitement has passed, but am
trying to remember that I have to ability to give each day
immeasurable excitement, if I so wish.” It was amazing to me how we
could be feeling such similar things in such different situations.
What a wonderful reminder that wherever you are, you cannot escape the
wanes and waxes of life.

This also prompted some reflection on the daily routine I have come to
take for granted. I realized how many things I have made a point to do
kila siku, daily. Daily rituals may not have immeasurable excitement,
as my sister says, but I feel like these are the things that in
retrospect, if not before, will have immeasurable significance. More
simply, I realized that many people at home have no idea what a
typical day looks like for me, and I thought it might be fun to give
everyone a better idea of the life that has developed for me here in

6:15- Wake up. Throw on a skirt. Walk down the hall for daily mass.
7:30- Breakfast, most often bread, jam and tea. BBC world news after.
8:30- Study Swahili
9:30- Work in the Bakery or somewhere in the monastery.
1:00- Lunch, most often potatoes, ugali, meat, vegetables and bananas
or papaya for dessert.
1:45- Make the mile walk out the secondary school to teach English or Computer
4:00- return from school, take tea.
4:30- read, journal, write emails, letters etc.
5:30- water our garden of cabbage, tomatoes, watermelon and carrots.
6:00- exercise.
7:00 – dinner, most often ugali, rice, meat, vegetables, same fruit for dessert.
10:30- sleep.

This is the most typical day for Ashley and I, but especially lately
we have been trying to mix it up as much as possible. In the evenings,
we do fun things- reading, crosswords, games, drawing, phone calls
back home, get a drink at the restaurant or have the occasional movie
night. I am sure this all sounds incredibly dull, but it is amazing
how exciting the smallest thing, a new food, an event out of the
ordinary, can be so exciting. The thing I love most is the time I have
to do things I am unable to prioritize at home. I spend more time
journaling or doing personal writing, reading, praying- so much so
that I worry about returning to my hectic life at home. I would love
to come back with a better sense of how to balance my life, and the
ability to incorporate at least of few of the daily rituals I find so
enriching here. The strangest thing about all this, I think, is that I
came to Tanzania very much in search of an adventure. I certainly have
experienced here to a greater degree than ever before, but somehow,
wherever I go, normal just chases me down and finds me. The strange
part is, I’m not the least bit disappointed.

P.S. a great big shout out to my October birthday loves- Amanda, Cait,
Mary and Le- I’m thinking of all of you always, but extra on your
special days. Wish I could celebrate with you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Rainy Day Pilgrimage


A while ago, Fr. Damas offered to take us (Ashley, myself and fellow
American volunteer Alicia) to visit his home parish and village of
Mpitimbi. Ventures with Fr. Damas never disappoint, so we jumped at
the chance. We eat all of our meals with Fr. Damas, and for a while
now there hasn’t been other volunteers so it’s just the four of us.
Fr. Damas is humble, faithful and shy at times. More than anything, he
loves to answer any questions we have which means that mealtimes
usually consist of his amazing life stories and a crash-course in
Tanzanian culture. We feel incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful
priest in residence and were rightfully anticipating this particular
outing with much excitement because it was so personal to him.

We planned the trip for Thursday, since it is our day off teaching.
Wednesday, however, unexpectedly brought the first rain we have seen
since we arrived and it continued into Thursday. Getting rain here is
more than an inconvenience. We’ve been told that during the rainy
season we will most likely be completely unable to leave and after
yesterday, I finally understand this.

In spite of the rain, we continued with the trip as planned. The drive
to Mpitimbi was about an hour and a half. This proved to be, by far,
the easiest leg of the journey. One of the stories Fr. Damas likes to
tell us is about how he used to walk to school until he was in
Standard 6 (6th grade-ish). From the home where he grew up to the
school is a two hour walk one way, about 6 miles. He did this everyday
as a kid, rain or shine, and always without shoes. When planning our
trip, he asked us if we would like to do the walk and visit his
childhood home and of course, we said yes. And walk, we did.  About 12
miles total, the whole time in pouring rain.  Though we opted for
umbrellas and rain-coats rather than the banana leaves Fr. Damas used
as a kid to keep his head dry, we were still soaked from head to toe
for most of the walk.

The spirit of the pilgrimage, however, refused to be dampened. It was
so special meeting his brother, sisters, and nieces and nephews, a few
of them even made the walk out with us. The man who now lives on the
land that once was Fr. Damas’ childhood home is his “elder brother,”
or the oldest living member of Fr. Damas’ family. This man lives truly
lives alone. There are no roads leading to his house that cars are
able to take, just the long, narrow trail we walked on. When we
arrived there we took shelter from the rain under one of his grass
huts and ate bread and fried bananas. He showed us coins he had dug up
from the ruins of his great-grandfathers house. They were old
shillings, from colonial times and probably saved for a dowry.
Needless to say, it was a pretty cool moment. The rain still coming
down, sitting in the company of people who lead lives so drastically
from our own, hearing about their ancestors- all the while physically
standing on the very ground that generations of this family has lived,
played, worked and died on. Later, Fr. Damas told us we were probably
the first white people to set foot on that ground.

The adventures of the day did not end there. After the 6 miles back
(still raining) we shared a meal prepared by Fr. Damas’ sister in her
home and visited the parish church. We were officially initiated into
rainy season on the ride home. The hour and a half drive we had taken
that morning ended up being four hours long on the way back because
the rain makes the dirt roads so slick. It was a little rough sitting
cold, wet and exhausted for that amount of time, and were happy when
we arrived back home in Chipole from our pilgrimage safe and sound.
100% worth it, but clean, dry socks have never felt so good.

Saturday, September 24, 2011



I spent my Wednesday afternoon this week shelling peas with the girls
of Form 3 at the secondary school. We had planned to teach, but what
are plans, really? When we got there the place was buzzing with the
excitement and work of another graduation; on Friday we would
celebrate the girls in Form 4. Sometimes I feel like we live
celebration to celebration here, the minute one is over, preparations
seem to begin for the next.

As I was sitting there, I thought, this moment is exactly what I am
here for. We just talked to the girls, helped them with their work,
experienced the everyday. We talked about music (Chris Brown! Rhianna!
Eminem!), what jobs they want to have when they finish school (a
pilot, a banker, a lawyer). We told them about our families and about
school in the United States. The most ordinary of things. It wasn’t
long, though, before the conversation shifted and the tough questions
began. They asked us about America, “Are people rich or poor? What
happen when they catch a thief, do they kill? What about women
oppression? Do you have genital mutilation? Female circumcision? Do
they beat the women? Is there racism? What your impressions of
Tanzania? Is this a rich or poor country?” Whoa. It wasn’t accusatory
or hostile in any way, they were simply filled with genuine curiosity.
Still, it was an incredibly difficult conversation to have. I wish I
could say I answered the questions with perfect eloquence and
diplomacy, but I am certain I did not. On the walk home, and even now,
I am torturing myself with “should haves.” Their interactions with
Americans are so few and the misconceptions are many, I could feel the
weight of opportunity in the conversation and it left me mostly
tongue-tied. Most of my answers were obnoxiously vague and ambivalent,
so much so that the girls jokingly began to call me “sometimes yes and
sometimes no.” I knew, somehow, that whatever I said would be taken
for truth and remembered probably for a very long time.  It may even
be the most some of them will ever experience or know about American
culture. I felt like no matter what I said, it would be inaccurate or
harmful. Yes, there certainly is poverty in America. But how could I
begin to explain how different it is? That while there are certainly
many more people with greater wealth, our social and political
structures make it nearly impossible for those who are poor to live a
life of dignity? That in America, you can work full-time and be poor
because the cost and standard of living is so high? That when they
would rely on family and community, we live in a culture centered on
fierce independence, making that less of an option? But then, with
everything I have seen here, and what I know to be true about their
lives how could I look at them and say that America is a poor country?

The questions they asked about the treatment of women were by far the
most difficult for me to answer. At one point it struck me that these
girls are probably around 15 or 16 years old. The things they were
talking about I didn’t have a clue about that age, much less have the
guts to question a total stranger about. In the end, I couldn’t bring
myself to say, “Yes, women in America are oppressed.” Having spent the
past few years of my life arguing that very thing until I was blue in
the face, this was incredibly difficult for me. I’ve always thought of
this as truth, and of truth as something absolute and concrete. I’m
learning here how contextual it is. How truth takes on different
shapes and adapts to an environment like anything else, but that this
does not reduce or dilute it.

In spite of these difficulties, as I was walking away, again I
thought, this moment is still exactly what I’m here for. Here for the
experience of being asked the tough questions, and for learning that
sometimes there isn’t a good answer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A short post on my favorite moment thus far


Yesterday I, after experiencing celebrations I was sure could be
topped by nothing, ending up stumbling upon the best moment of my trip
thus far. The day was wild, crowded, over-stimulating and fun, but it
left us very, very tired. So, after dinner when most guests had left,
we crashed in our room. Shortly after, we heard a knock on the door.
It was S. Gotharda inviting us to come and continue celebrating with
the sisters. At this point, for them, they have been working immensely
hard for weeks and celebrating for 4 full days. Continue celebrating?
I can hardly be blamed for my skepticism. But the sister’s meeting
room is just across the courtyard from our room and we could hear them
so we decided to just go and check it out.

Of all the special moments I felt so privileged to be a part of in the
past few days, this one topped them all. It was the sisters in their
own, private celebration, after all the fuss was over and the crowds
had died down and we were invited. The sisters who had made their
final vows sat at the front of the room adorned with brightly colored
flowers and wreaths. Groups of sisters took turns coming up and doing
little routines. Singing and dancing of course, but it was different
than what we had seen the rest of the day. They wore costumes (over
their habits and veils), did skits, laughed and joked. They passed out
popcorn, chipsi, and pop and we just sat and laughed with them. Most
of the time, we had no idea what they were laughing about, but the
mood and sentiment was clear through all language and cultural

Watching them, I thought to myself, this is everything a community of
women can and should be. Joyful. Strong. Supportive. Loving. Faithful.
Fun. They were truly celebrating one another and in a way none of the
visitors, including us, could. Because, at the end of the day, it is
their community, and only they can experience the full glory of it
having each made the same, outstanding commitment to God and one
another. In spite of this, I felt in no way ostracized. They welcomed
us without reservation. I felt immensely privileged to witness, what I
think was a perfect example of human beings at their best, living and
treating each other just as God intended.

Be your own radio


The other day, Ash, Claudine (Italian friend/fellow volunteer) and I
left Chipole for the weekend to visit our friends Paul and Tyler, two
Johnnies living at Hanga Abbey. There is one bus a day that goes from
Chipole to Songea (where we catch another bus to Hanga) and it leaves
on Saturdays at 4:30 AM. On this particular day, the bus was
especially packed because the secondary school girls were all headed
home for mid-term break. Almost instinctively, I reached for my IPod
to help pass the time, since the trip to Songea can vary from 2-4
hours long.  Just as I reached for it, though, the girls broke out in
song. Teenagers. At 4:30 in the morning. Many of them would stand for
the whole four hours it would take to get to Songea that day, singing
all the while. I realized they were doing just what I was trying to
do, pass the time, make the trip a little more enjoyable and
ultimately, entertain themselves.

Perhaps it’s the leisurely pace of Tanzanian culture, (everything
takes longer, people usually running late, in fact time is rarely paid
attention to) but it’s a skill I’ve noticed I’m developing here: the
art of passing time. Whether its getting lost in a daydream while
mixing, cutting and frying over 1500 doughnuts in the bakery, playing
a song in my head during our half hour walk to school each day, or
coming up with an idea for the next best-selling novel while waiting
for a car in Songea, a few spare hours has begun to feel less like
wasted time and more like an opportunity.

What is most interesting to me is that for people here, they make
every effort to make these activities communal and most of mine
remains in my own head. This has never been more apparent than over
the last two days. When we returned from Hanga, we returned to the
celebrations of first and final vows. These two days are difficult to
describe, but I think a few rough numbers will do the trick:

Hours spent at mass: 9
Visiting Priests/Brothers: 35 (not including the bishop)
Novices making first vows: 8
Sisters making final vows: 9
Hours the sister spent baking bread to prepare: 12
Bruises: 2 (on my knees, no joke)
Pictures taken: 200+
Visitors/guests: 700+

Basically, it was a celebration of epic proportions. What I cannot
begin to estimate, however, is the number of hours everyone spent
singing and dancing. For weeks we have been waking up and falling
asleep to the sister’s choir practice for the celebration, it has
become so constant we hardly notice it now. And after a 4-5 hour mass
each day filled with singing and dancing, the families and guests
continued dancing for hours, took a break to eat, and then started
back up shortly after. The enthusiasm and energy was seemingly

It isn’t difficult to realize that events like this, especially the
singing and dancing, are the major source of entertainment here. And,
really, everything you need to be happy, entertained and stimulated
you’ve been given. Where I rely on books, T.V., movies or music, they
can pass hours with their own voices and bodies. It is immediate,
always accessible, and economical. Perhaps most importantly, though,
it is communal. For entertainment, they come together to celebrate one
another. What a beautiful way to pass the time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Karibu Chipole


…or, in English, welcome to Chipole! I wanted to give a brief introduction to the place that is already becoming my home for the next 10 months. The best way I have heard Chipole explained is that it operates as a sort of compound. The fact that it is almost entirely self-sustaining, in addition to providing what seem to be endless services to the surrounding villages deeply affects the atmosphere of Chipole. To me, it feels less like living in a monastery and more like living in a village run by the sisters. There are always many other local people working, attending one of the many schools, or coming in to buy things produced here. I’m so glad it is this way here. While it is certainly the sisters who remain our main contacts as well as our dearest friends thus far, the mere presence of other lay Tanzanians brings a different kind of life to the community and helps us to experience a truer spectrum of the culture on a daily basis.

That being said, we, as well as many others living in the area, would be lost without the sisters. They all work extremely hard in their various enterprises and are very dedicated to their prayer life. They are always asking if we are tired and telling us to rest, but I have yet to figure out when they sleep themselves. Bells ring every morning at 5:30 AM for about 5 minutes waking everyone for Morning Prayer. There are around 360 total professed sisters, and many more in formation. Those who live and work here have a wide variety of jobs. They do laundry (by hand), work in the gardens, farm, teach in the primary, secondary and trade schools, process the maize into flour, work in the bakery, work in the sewing and mending rooms (which make priest vestments, habits for the sisters and uniforms for all the students,) make soap, work in the kitchen or care for the orphans. There are also sisters responsible for running a small restaurant and store that serves the surrounding villages. They also operate a dispensary and an AIDS clinic. There is even a sister assigned to make the hosts for the many Masses that regularly take place in the chapel. And these are only the sisters who have been assigned by the prioress to work in Chipole. Others work in Songea, Dar es Salaam, or the nearby formation house. Some are studying in Europe in the United States, and those who are here and speak better English usually have more administrative roles or tend to guests (like us) as hospitality is of the utmost importance.

As I said, the unique way this community operates very much affects the culture here.  Interdependency and community are a necessity. It is not a deliberate lifestyle choice as it would almost have to be in the United States, as I have seen in my time at St. Ben’s. In the United States a lifestyle that thwarts independence and production of personal wealth choosing instead to have one’s work service a greater number of people is radical and countercultural. Here, it is often the only and the best option because differences in infrastructure make the kind of life I’ve known nearly impossible to survive on, certainly in rural areas such as Chipole.

At least, this is my understanding so far. I’ll keep you posted. Or try to, anyway. 

A bit of news


Ashley and I have been told by S. Gotharda that they would like us to teach! This was not what we were expecting, but we can see that this is where we have the most to offer them, so we are willing and beginning to plan. Mungu Akipenda, right? I will be teaching English and Ashley will be teaching a computer class, both at the secondary school for girls. We are both VERY nervous. English is so important for them to learn, that they are all very eager students. To continue in school, they must know English well because soon textbooks will only be in English. The importance only adds to the pressure for me. Especially given the limited supplies (I really only have a chalkboard), guidance (very little), and my Swahili (none). Though it is my lack of Swahili that they seem to be excited about because they think it will force them to learn it quicker. We will see, I guess. Last we heard S. Gotharda was planning on us teaching at the secondary school 3 days a week, at the primary school 1 day a week, and 1 day a week will be spent somewhere else at the monastery (gardening, bakery, soap-making, sewing etc.). I hope that this will keep us from burning out to quickly and keep our lives here more balanced enabling us to better serve the community here.

The many sounds of Dar es Salaam

8/4/11 * Sorry about posting these all at once, I have been keeping up with writing, but am only able to post these now*

After MANY days of traveling, we have finally arrived in Chipole. If I could describe Africa in one word so far I would have to say that it is stimulating. It has heightened every emotion as well as awakened each of my senses to a whole new level. But then, I suppose this is a common experience among those entering a drastically different culture. And Africa is just that: drastically different from the moment we landed. Different than I imagined, different than I have heard it described, and full of experiences I have never had before.

 Visually it is overwhelming. Beautiful, heartbreaking, colorful, and intense. In a short blog post, I don’t think I could do justice to describing what I have seen thus far. Instead, I’d like to focus what I heard. A few sounds to help illustrate the day and two nights we spent in Dar, as well as the bus ride to Chipole.

6:30 AM: African sisters singing, heart and soul. Best alarm clock ever.
11:30  AM: Bell calling us to lunch. Ugali, cooked spinach, rice, beans and bananas.
2:00 PM: Car horns. They are absolutely constant while taking a cab around town to run errands. If there are any kind of traffic laws, I can’t figure out what they are.
7:30 PM: Swahili television. There is only one in Dar es Salaam that they all gather around at night to watch before going to bed. It is right outside our bedroom. Not exactly a lullaby.
4:30 AM: A small Tanzanian sister, about a foot shorter than me knocking at our door. It is S. Zita, who will be escorting us to Chipole waking us up to go catch our bus.
6:00 AM: Swahili radio. It blares from the bus speakers. I am exhausted and for the next few hours, the only sound I hear is coming from my ipod. A necessary dose of normalcy.
9:00 AM: Words in Swahili I don’t know. It is the bus driver. Everyone piles of the bus and squats in the bushes. I can’t remember what he said anymore but it must have been Swahili for ‘bathroom break.’
3:00 PM: People banging on the side of our bus. It is a snack break. The bus doesn’t stop, but loops through a town where venders chase the bus selling food through the windows as we are moving.
9:30 PM: Karibu! Karibu sana! In Swahili, this means welcome. We have arrived in Chipole. It is late, and has been dark for hours but many of the sisters are up to greet us staying true to their Benedictine and African ways of hospitality.
8:00 AM: The sisters of Chipole singing a welcome song to us in perfect harmony. By far one the best sounds I have ever heard. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hey everybody!

The time has come! Ashley (dear friend/fellow volunteer), S. Mary Jane (who will help us settle in the first two weeks) and myself fly out Sunday morning. After two layovers, one in D.C. the other in Ethiopia, we land in Dar es Saalam, Tanzania around 1:00 pm on Monday. We will stay at least a night there before the 16-hour (yes, 16) bus ride to St. Agnes Convent in Chipole. (Go ahead and calculate the travel time if you'd like, i'd rather not.) Really, though, the adventure has already begun. The past two weeks I have spent at St. Benedict’s Monastery with some of the most gracious and loving people I have ever met. The sisters have been so good to us here, it makes me sorry to go. 

Still, we're ready and it feels like time. The sisters sent us off with the most beautiful and moving blessing and are so behind us, it is amazing. We’ve learned quite a bit about Chipole and Tanzania in general over these two weeks, but being the first volunteers from our program at this placement, there is quite a bit we don’t know. Exactly how far away is the nearest city? What will be able to buy? How many of the sisters will we be able to communicate with in English? I’m okay with it though. I’m trying to be open and ready for anything. This is why I’m calling this blog “Mungu Akipenda.” It is a Swahili phrase introduced to Ashley and I by a friend who spent last year in Tanzania. It is possible that it is actually used to say something more like “We’ll see” or “I don’t know” rather than the literal translation “if God wishes,” but I figure all are appropriate.  My hope is that this attitude of trust is present throughout my Tanzanian life.   

I’ll miss you all and think of you often. Please pray for safe travels!