St. Agnes Monastery

St. Agnes Monastery
Benedictine Sisters of St. Agnes | photo found at

Unique Experiences

It was heartbreaking for me to leave Chipole so suddenly.  Our unexpected departure left little time to say all of the goodbyes and thank yous that were owed—to leave the people and the place that had become our home.  Under the circumstances, however, I am so thankful to be home among friends, family, and familiarity.  It has been the silver lining in our return early. 

When we learned we would have to return early, Maggie and I asked to continue our service at the St. Benedict’s Monastery to finish our ten month commitment to the Benedictine Women’s Service Corp.  The sisters readily agreed, welcoming us to share 2 months with their community.  Since then, we have been hard at work!  I enjoy the variety of service we get to do—gardening, housecleaning, grounds work, Mondays at St. Scholastica, and in downtown St. Joe.  It keeps things new and I am able to meet and learn about so many members of the community.  From all of their wisdom and life experiences, I think I learn ten new things each day. 

So with this unexpected end to our year of service, Maggie and I have had the unique opportunity to live and participate in two Benedictine communities—St. Agnes and St. Benedict’s.  Inevitably, our brains have tried to link the two experiences as we try to make the transition back home as smooth as possible.  It has been interesting to see that in some ways, the communities are incomparable.  I think that has much to do with the cultures in which they operate in.  Tanzanian culture differs drastically from American.  St. Ben’s, therefore, operates efficiently, is always on time, and emphasizes communication.  St. Agnes is slower paced and as a result more flexible with time.  Having worked in the two cultures I can truthfully say that there are values in both!  On the other hand, there are many consistencies between both communities.  The hospitality we received as guests in Chipole continued as we were welcomed to the community at St. Ben’s.  The sisters’ commitment to religious life and to serving others is inspiring both here and there.  I have captured some of these consistent and not-so-consistent experiences between the two communities that I think will demonstrate how our brains are working overtime to connect the two unique experiences. 

 The graveyards

The graves are raised in Chipole and decorated with planted flowers.  The children from the orphanage came to bless each grave each afternoon with holy water.  The graves at St. Ben’s are evenly placed and lay in a beautiful cemetery just outside the Sacred Heart Chapel. 

Planting trees

Maggie and I helped plant ten acres of trees with Sister Tuzinde in Chipole.  This is an avocado tree planted by Ed and Julie Niebur.  At St. Ben’s I helped Sister Philip transplant trees along Vista Lane.  This is a Colorado Blue Spruce I believe.

Playing cards

We taught Father Damas to play Yahtzee and Farkle in Chipole.  He was a natural!  At St. Ben’s I’ve learned to play Bridge and 500.  Here, Sister Angelo and Sister Joyce are beating Maggie and I at 500.  They are good!


 Maggie and I had a small section of one of the gardens in Chipole.  We planted carrots, cabbage, watermelon, and tomatoes.  At St. Ben’s we get to help Sister Elizabeth in her flower garden on Tuesdays.  We are professional “quack attackers” working on ridding her garden of quack grass.

Break time

Break time in Chipole was usually 10 a.m. tea.  When we were out in the shamba (tree farm) we had break time with Sister Tuzinde in her grass hut.  She would make popcorn, cooked corn, or cooked pumpkins!  At St. Ben’s we never miss a break time when we are working in housekeeping or the physical plant.  Peanut butter toast is a break time favorite and we get to enjoy it with many of the sisters!

Favorite spot

We got to walk this road every day to school in Chipole.  It was one of the most beautiful spots I found.  Some days the children would run from the orphanage to escort us down this road.  Vista Lane at St. Ben’s has always been a special place for me.  The sisters have really made it beautiful the past few years. 

Laundry Day

Teaching Chelsea how to Mango

While my sister, Chelsea, was visiting us over Christmas, she learned how to Mango. How to MANGO? practice with either rocks or sticks.

Give to the Max!

Hello Everyone.

November 16th is Give to the Max Day in Minnesota.  This is a great opportunity for you to support the work we are doing and our program the Benedictine Women’s Service Corp.  Any donations made today will help the programs in both Tanzania and Puerto Rico where four graduates of the College of St. Benedict are working to bring justice to their host communities through education and building sustainable relationships.  Thank you for all the support we have received thus far. Please stay tuned for more blog posts!  Here is the link to donate:

Nature Walks

When I think of me being a kid, something I’ll claim to always be, my mind leads me to memories of outdoor adventures across southern Idaho and central Minnesota. Chels and I would play Tom and Huck or Pocahontas for hours and tell my dad, “Don’t worry. If we get lost and have to ‘live off the land’ for awhile, we’ve got it covered.” I am pretty impressed by the confidence in survival ability we had at such a young age! However, as we got older and make-believe adventures weren’t so amusing, we began to take our “nature walks”. Now, nature “walk” has a wide meaning. “Walk”, of course, means to walk but it can also include modes like hiking, biking, or driving as long as your main agenda is to get outside to be in nature and create your own adventure. So nature walks with my mom are usually less-strenuous, scenic strolls that double as dendrology lessons and end with a picnic. Now nature walks with my dad, on the other hand, are more of an adventure challenge usually beginning with us trekking up mountains—packs full of Cliff bars—and ending with us humbly admitting that we underestimated yet another hike. Both are wonderful just the same and one of the things I miss most from home. So last week I decided to incorporate a nature walk into one of our English classes. Lately the girls have been working on personal projects—writing letters, stories, poems, or plays. Some had finished early so Mag and I decided to split the class into two—those who were finished and those who needed more time to work. While Mag helped the ones in class, I took a group of nine girls outside on our nature walk.

I quickly gave up my rank as “leader” and let the girls navigate through the grounds of the school, gardens, farms, and fruit trees. To practice English, I had them narrate as we walked. We all learned a lot that day! I learned about the farm animals, the plants they grow, the things they cook (i.e. How to make ugali!), the traditional games they play, and my absolute favorite: the different fruit trees they grow. I sampled mangos, suku, buni, and avocados. The mangos were the best, although they weren’t ripe, and I let the girls know that they are one of my favorite fruits. After this bit of information, they made it their principle objective to find me the ripest mango they could. I’ll try to explain their fruit-picking strategy:

First, you must find a mango tree. Easy enough, there are mango trees all around the school. Then, search the ground underneath the tree for stones. Collect the biggest ones you can find and put them into your pocket. After everyone has enough ammunition, you line up around the tree and start haphazardly chucking your stones into the air with hopes of hitting a mango on the head or rattling the branches they cling to. As an extra challenge you have to dodge the falling rocks that the girls on the opposite side have sent up. The goal is to hit the ripest mangos… or in my case any at all… to make them fall from the tree. My first attempt was awkward. I threw my stone straight up into the air and missed the entire tree. The girls thought it was the funniest thing they had seen all day and laughed and laughed. Of course, I took it in stride and tried again (I had to redeem myself). On the second try I hit the branches but no mangos fell. I think finally by the fifth throw I was successful. One tiny, absolutely bitter mango fell! Everyone cheered. We continued until everyone had enough mangos to satisfy them for the rest of the walk.

Although this nature walk was short, for me it was full of adventure. I felt like I was little again and in a make believe story about living off the land—this time in the African bush. For the girls it was maybe just another day of picking mangos. They shared a part of their everyday life with me, something they wouldn’t necessarily classify as adventurous or even interesting. However, I think when you share something like this with a visitor and can see their excitement and interest in the experience, it gives you a sense of pride and enjoyment as well. It turns ordinary walks into adventures that you can enjoy together.

A few of my favorite things

[6:00 p.m.]
Maggie and I have gotten into a routine of watering our “bit of earth” every day around 6:00 p.m. It is a surreal time of the day because the liveliness that normally distinguishes Chipole during the daytime slows. I definitely enjoy walking around Chipole with all of the activity—interacting with anyone and everyone I meet—but the stillness and solitude of 6:00 p.m. are what I need to refresh my spirit. It feels almost deserted so Mag and I act like we have the whole place to ourselves. We pull up our skirts, play with the goats, and sometimes peak into the places we aren’t really supposed to be. But the biggest refresher of them all comes around 6:28 p.m. these days. From any high spot we have front row seats to the African sunset each night. Sometimes contemplative Maggie asks solid “life questions” and we watch it set while we try to untangle our thoughts. But more often we just watch it set in silence. I think it’s because it takes our breath away.

For the past three weeks St. Agnes has had a visitor, Benedict, from Dar es Salaam here helping the sisters revitalize their choir. His main focus? Drums. Throughout the day (and night actually), Benedictdrills the sisters on different beats and doesn’t rest until they are mastered. The “meeting room”, which is just across the courtyard from my bedroom, now doubles as the “music room”. So I am sitting here at my desk while listening to the newest beats which seem to be getting more and more advanced. Have I mentioned the constant singing? My room is conveniently positioned between the chapel and, thanks to Benedict’s arrival, new courtyard band. The combination of the two means there is either a constant hum in the background or a good sized concert outside my window throughout the day and night. Sometimes they are still going at 11:00 p.m. It is one of my favorite things that I now find it strange when there is NO music playing. Today Benedict has some extra time. After lunch, I am going to get my first lesson in drumming!

[Mandatory Tea Time]
Sister Thawabu is the new guesthouse keeper. As Mag and I are the only “guests” staying here now days, we get a lot of Thawabu time and have become comfortable and friendly with her. It’s the best feeling when we can let our true personalities and colors shine and is a clear indicator that we are all becoming closer in our relationships with each other. Of course, there is a flip side to this new level of comfort. Because we are not so “new” anymore, we don’t get cut as much slack. So if my feet are too dirty, Sister Jackie will scold me. If I sleep through morning prayer, Sister Lightness will make sure I am there at noon. If my nails aren’t short, Sister Diana will call me to remind me to cut them. Each is a stickler about her own thing but I appreciate that they care enough and are comfortable enough to tell me. The BEST stickler, though, is Sister Thawabu. And what bothers/worries her the most is when Mag and I skip morning or afternoon tea. She will not hear that we are not hungry, that we are too busy, that it is too hot, or that we are just not accustomed to so much tea. These are illegitimate excuses in her book and we better start thinking of new ones… maybe over a cup of tea. There have been a few times that she has sought us out half way across Chipole in order to escort us back for tea time. So Mag and I have slowly adapted to tea at 10 a.m. and tea again at 4 p.m. and will most likely be sad when we return home to find that it’s not the standard (and definitely not mandatory) to stop everything we are doing in order to enjoy a cup of tea.

[Our Students]
The semester at St. Agnes Secondary School for Girls where Mag and I do most of our work is quickly coming to a close. We have a little less than a month left before our students begin their final exams and then head home for Christmas break. So we decided to put all of our effort plus more into our classes and into the time we spend with the girls until then. Unfortunately, computer class has been on pause for the past week due to heavy rain and power supply but we have found new and fun ways to teach them when things don’t go according to plan. Last Saturday we went out with a bag full of surprises—Mary Poppins style. Mag brought Bananagrams, Memory, and a few storybooks. I brought Crazy Eights, Left Right Center, and a jump rope. It was a hit. I really enjoy being around the students whether I am teaching, playing games, or just having conversations with them. I think it makes all the difference in my experience here and I would like to think it is making a difference in their experience at school this year.

Layer by layer the best parts of Chipole are being peeled back as our time here rolls on. I have a feeling that some of the greatest parts won’t even be revealed to me until I am home—with the perspective of time and distance. But the fact that even the day to day things have become some of my favorites is really important for me to realize while I am still here.