Long ago, when our language school sojourn here was so far into the future that it all seemed quite hypothetical, we would talk about "some monastery in Burundi where we would study Kirundi for a few months." The idea came from the late bishop Elie Buconyori who said that he would find "a Catholic monastery" for us to stay in.
Well, it's not a monastery. It's a Catholic guesthouse run by an order of nuns, a cadre of whom lives here and runs the establishment. It's not paradise, but as always, there are blessings that we do well to number, note, and celebrate. However, the longer I'm here, the more "monastic" our lives seem.
- The Nuns. We'll start with the obvious. There are about six nuns who live here, walking up and down the red dirt road in their white habits which stay remarkably clean. They often take Toby during mealtimes for a bit to give us a respite (in absence of high chairs). He spits up a lot, and doesn't discriminate between parents and Burundian nuns, but they are a generous sort, who love taking him around to the other guests, who are largely NGO conference attendees. Here's Toby with "umugenzi wiwe mukuru" (his best friend) Mama Léa.
- The Regimented Life. There isn't a church bell, though before every mass in the church next door, a guy will bang on a defunct metal electricity pole with a stone for about 60 seconds. Nevertheless, meals are firmly at 7:30, 1:00, and 7:00. Breakfast has a certain regimen: coffee, tea, bread, and the wild card of eggs, cheese, or deli meat. Dinner always starts with "the green soup", followed with a starch and a vegetable. Lunch is where the surprises could happen. But not usually.
- Vespers. Given our communal meals and family adjustments, we decided on arrival here to hold our own mini Vespers prior to dinner. So, three times a week, we gather 20 minutes before dinner for a couple songs, a scripture reading, prayer, and a kid's catechism recitation, prior to our group pilgrimage in the dark to dinner. (Usually vespers itself is in the dark, as the power is usually off then.)
- Spartan furnishings. It's a bit of a stretch to refer to our places here as "cells" in the monastic sense, but only a bit. In our living room, we have four wall hangings. Two are small photos of african wildlife. The third is a wood carving that says "Heureux celui qui se tient en silence devant Dieu." (Happy is he who keeps silent before God.) The last is a B&W photo of the Italian sister who founded the order of nuns to whom this establishment belongs. Concrete floors, concrete walls, plain paint. It's nice.
- Candles for lighting, and buckets of water for "ceremonial ablutions". Enough said about that.
- In a pre-Vatican II sense, we understand very little of the language of the church liturgy when we're there (which is Kirundi, not Latin, but sometimes it's all Greek to us.)
- Jason cut himself a tonsure. (Just kidding)
- Communal living. If you know our story, you know that we are not exactly strangers to close community. Nevertheless, this experience sets a new precedent for the closeness of our day-to-day activities.
I remember, in college, reading an anthology of Celtic Christian writings, many of them monastic. The book is likely on the big container, parked somewhere in Oman at the moment (I think). So, as a paraphrase, I recall a brief writing from somewhere in modern-day Scotland. A now nameless friar who wrote something like:
To have a little cell beside the sea.
To serve the poor.
To have my daily work.
To go and worship our God with my brothers.
How pleasant it is.