The way to Chipole is more than a certain amount of hours or miles from my home in Lacey, WA. It is worlds away. To be there I must let go of myself and my stuff. I must let go of my independence and worries about what I should wear or eat. And even after a 24 hour flight of a kazillion miles and a bus ride of many hours more I don't arrive there as ready as I should be for living with loving sisters and wiggly children, small living quarters and simple food.
No matter what time of day (usually night) you arrive, you are warmly welcomed. Even before they know you, the sisters meet you at the bus with smiles and hugs and joy. When you arrive at Chipole your room is specially prepared. One year there was a carpet of flowers outside the doorway to our room. Last year a garland of flowers draped the door. And a meal also awaits you even if it's after midnight.
The routine helps--get up, exercise, go to Mass, eat breakfast, greet everyone. Greetings are what are most important in Chipole and all of Tanzania and Africa. The smaller children greet you with an outstretched hand on your head., so you bend to them to be greeted. The little ones are most serious about this formality. The sisters greet you with a smile and usually a Kiswahili greeting, "How are you?" How was your sleep" "How are you since we last met?"
We brought 6 suitcases full of books in English and had about 600 books in Kiswahili shipped to the convent. During November and December we read with the older orphans (mostly third graders). The first two weeks we spent time in the morning and afternoon reading the Swahili stories. Occasionally we would bring out coloring books and colors. We copied pages of basic math for them to practice too and some kids liked doing math better than reading. Then we brought out the English books (non-Fiction), science, animals, astronomy, with lots of pictures. Each student got a notebook and worked on making an English/Swahili dictionary. They looked for A words etc, wrote the word in English and Swahili and drew a picture of the word. This was an enjoyable exercise for most of the kids. Since it was before Christmas we taught English Christmas Carols: The Little Drummer Boy, Silent Night, Up on the Housetop, O Little Town of Bethlehem. We had books with great pictures for these songs.
While the teachers were on December break we had an English conversation class with three of them. They enjoyed being together talking about teaching and dreams in English language. They also learned the Christmas Carols. Sr. Trinitas was already an English speaker having studied in India and Sr. Providentia was at first shy about talking but after a short time is able to speak very well. Sr. Judith improved her English too. During this time we also taught Deo Gratia a crash course in English . Deo was a preschool teacher who hoped to return to school. Friends from Olympia sent money for her education so we tutored her in English for a week or more so she could pass the entrance exam for school. She had been very shy to speak English. Deo is now attending school in Songea and reaching for her dream to become an elementary school teacher.
Each day we ate at the orphanage. We got to be with the smaller orphans before and/or after meals. We held kids, sang songs with them and skipped around the halls. We also pushed them on swings, and a merry go round in the playground. There are about 80 orphans now at Chipole. The infants who can't walk live in the nursery with their own "mama" who lives in the nursery with them. The toddlers who can walk attend pre-school very early and may spend 3 or 4 years before beginning elementary school. School age orphans this year moved to the boarding school for the first time. The elementary school and orphanage are not a great distance apart. They are separated by a large fenced orchard.
We started each morning celebrating Mass with the 250 or so Benedictine Sisters who gathered earlier for meditation and prayer attired in their white (chapel) habits. The chapel is large and shaped like a cross with the altar in the center. The choir and the newer sisters on the right, visitors and public in front of the altar, most of the sisters on the left and the older or infirm sisters behind. The sisters sing in choir, one side beginning a verse and the other answering. The sun would come up while we were there and swallows would be seen out the windows.
For Christmas we decided to go caroling with the sisters from our English class and the two German girls Jelena and Marie who worked with the orphans for 5 months and while we were there. We all sang the English songs and Marie and Jelena sang a German song too. Most of the 250 sisters came to the meeting room and listened to our singing. Then we went outside to carol under the chaplain, Fr. Damas' window. He was pleasantly surprised. Then we walked to where the older orphans were sleeping and sang for them, we ended the night going to sing for the aspirants at their house. The next night we sang for the younger orphans before they went to bed.
The sisters enjoyed the singing so we decided to sing "Happy Talk" for them when we presented the books and the idea for a library to them. The library is suitcases on wheels at present with Sr. Gema the librarian. She brings the books daily to the sisters meeting room and when requested to the secondary and elementary school.
The sisters also make leaving an important occasion usually including a cake and gifts and a farewell with all the sisters who are available. We said goodbye and shook hands or hugged each sister after singing "Getting to Know You" to them. It was not so sad saying goodbye this time because we plan to come back and bring more library books in October. We have made friends we want to visit again and we want to see how they are enjoying the reading of books and how much the children are growing and learning.
We are home now and almost into the swing of things. We just wanted to let you know where we have been and put a finality on our recent wanderings.