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.