Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, photo by Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB
Easter Sunday, 2020 Dear Ones, First of all, thank you so much for all your expressions of concern over the past weeks. It has been almost two months since I last sent you a “missive” and much has changed here as I think it has for most of you. The President, Hage Geingob, ordered much of this country, including the Windhoek area where our Priory is, to “shelter in place” until the 16th of April (and probably will be extended as of this week). We, of course, have complied. The people in the informal settlements nearby (some 400,000 is the estimated number there.) that usually come in droves for Sunday Mass stopped coming immediately and other folks who came in cars no longer come either. Because we have a resident chaplain, Abbot Godfrey, we, in contrast to most of you, have been able to have Holy Week Services and Easter Sunday Mass with good energy and hymns to traditional drums in many different languages. The President asked the country to dedicate April 8th to a day of prayer that the coronavirus 19 might be stopped and at our “fun” time tonight, the professed Sisters sang a song - “We shall overcome Covid 19” as the opening prayer. That is the hope of all here and, I am sure, everywhere. Namibia has taken definite actions: cities are practically shut down; mines (This country is the major source for marine diamonds and the fifth major source for uranium in the world. The mines are a major source of money into the country’s economy) have been closed; the school calendar was changed so that the usual May holiday took place from March until April 20th; the airport, after Namibian students studying in South Africa and in Europe were brought home, has been shut down, not accepting international visitors; a quarantine location was set up near the airport for foreigners arriving before the closing of the airport; an abandoned garment factory nearby is being prepared for a possible hospital for Covid 19 victims; the official count is 16 cases, 11 of which have recovered, and no deaths as yet (accurate stats are hard to come by and this, which I read yesterday on line is a bit lower than another piece I read last week….). This week will tell the tale as I am thinking the “lockdown” probably needs to continue for another month or so! The young women I work with here are so concerned about their families in the north of the country, all of which live in poverty and many of whom probably don’t understand the impact of this aggressive disease in our world. Mary Oliver writes: It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world. (from “Invitation”) My own approach to these changes is to work harder at trying to live each day as fully as possible, something that is a challenge, at times, for me. Luckily, my brother, Al, his daughter, Barrie, and her friend, Samantha were able to visit in February. We had a wonderful time touring Windhoek, the craft center, one informal settlement market, a game park and then, traveling together to Cape Town for five days (some photos attached). Table Mountain (that sometimes has a “tablecloth” of clouds over it), Robben Island (where Mandela spent many years of his 27 in prison), the Cape of Good Hope (where the wind nearly blew me over…), and the botanic gardens (just beautiful!) were all highlights of our stay there. I must admit that being a “tourist” is not my “cup of tea”. However, I was very grateful to be with all of them and to have a chance to visit South Africa!
Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB pictured with her niece Barrie in South Africa.
Thinking about the future….my friends and fellow community members, Sisters Karen and Mary Susan, as well as my sister, Mary Ann & her husband, Gary all had to cancel their visits here. All really want to come before September but that is uncertain to be sure. And…I must admit that I did make a reservation to return home in September in a way that I can change the date without a penalty just once (always thinking ahead am I!). Over the past months, I have thought a lot about this young (and very ancient) country and its potential as well as its pitfalls. One party (and one tribe) dominates. As in South Africa the poverty of the vast majority of the population lies hidden from tourists and the income disparity is great. I read that Namibia is 2nd in income disparity (in Africa, I think…), that the poverty rate (pre Covid19 was 47% and the median daily income the equivalent of $350 (U.S. $). Safe and adequate housing is lacking for many people who have moved out of their villages in the north to seek and income in the cities. Political unrest is brewing among the young unemployed. My own limited sense is that this unrest will take some time to develop into serious change. The scandals revealed last fall seem to be ongoing but they did not effect a governmental change as yet. Visiting Windhoek, or Swakapmund, one would never know these realities. Encouraging signs are sometimes evident as a nonprofit group founded in 2010 to encourage young women in education and entrepreneurship called “Face of Namibia” was highlighted in the local paper. I do hope this country will survive this current health crisis without tragedy and begin to seriously address the housing and poverty issues of the vast majority of its people. The German speaking Namibians and others, particularly government employees, live well here but many, many others do not!
A full rainbow on Good Friday at the Priory, photo by Sister Patricia Crowley. I continue to love the African skies both during the day and at night (now that the rainy season has almost passed!). On Good Friday, a full rainbow preceded a ferocious thunderstorm right after our services. Not remembering ever having seen a full rainbow arc, I did catch a picture and will attach it here for you to see. Over and over again I am reminded of one of my favorite psalms (18) as I walk under these skies which so reflect the Divine mysteries for me: The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the work of God’s hands. Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message. The retreat which I was first scheduled to facilitate at the end of April actually happened at the end of March. Five full days and 11 conferences later, the 13 Sisters renewed their vows and expressed their gratitude for those days of quiet reflection. Today, Easter Sunday, the prioress announced that the four novices will make their first monastic profession on May 23rd. I will lead them in a five day retreat prior to that date. Up the road from our priory, is a monastery of Poor Clare nuns, founded 62 years ago by a 30 year old women form Tunisia. The current dozen or so members are all form other African countries. Some one told me that it would be hard to attract Namibian women to an order that wears no shoes. Shoes do seem very important to the women of this culture! Before Lent the Poor Clare foundress died and I was privileged to attend the funeral which included a different kind of drumming and singing than I have experienced so far. It was beautiful!
White Rhino photo by Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB
Now the rain has stopped, the grass is green, the dams are full again and Namibians are grateful. The rainy season extended through March this year and was followed by a season of rather large (2 inch long bodies…) beetles (harmless). One youth commented in the paper that the prayers for rain had finally been answered but perhaps someone forgot to say “Amen” as the rain continued and did cause floods in the north! My first article in the National Catholic Reporter appeared in late February and, by that time, the serious three year drought of which I wrote had passed. In case you missed it here is a link. On a lighter note, my niece brought me some powdered chai tea from Trader Joe’s when she was here in February. Chai is one of my “weaknesses”! I learned recently that word in Hebrew means “life”. No wonder I love it!
Sable Antelope photo by Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB
Peace to each of you as the weather improves in your part of the world and our world begins to take steps to move into this next phase of this crisis together. I found this poem on the website of another Benedictine community (in Baltimore) and share it here with you: WHEN THIS IS OVER When this is over, may we never again take for granted a handshake with a stranger full shelves at the store conversations with neighbors a crowded theater Friday night out the taste of communion a routine checkup the school rush each morning coffee with a friend the stadium roaring each deep breath a boring Tuesday Life itself. When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be we were called to be we hoped to be and may we stay that way - better for each other because of the worst. by Laura Kelly https://motheringspirit.com/