…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.