As I write, the voices of the Sisters are filling the sky. It is Sunday morning here in Save, and a lot has gone on since I’ve last posted. On the compound we’ve seen lots of Sisters shuffle in and out. August is busy season for the Benebikiras. The four of us have had this rare opportunity to take a step into lives that are vastly different from ours. I’d like to write this post about the Benebikiras and hope that you find them as amazing as I do.
To become a Sister, it is not a pre-requisite to have a beautiful voice, although I can say that I’ve yet to meet a Sister that can’t sing. One must also study for four years near our compound here in Save. The first two years are spent studying the Bible and deciding if being a Sister is what she really wants. After those two years are up she becomes a Novice. During this time she learns the ins and outs of living a life for God and again considers whether she wants to be a Sister. When the last two years are up a celebration occurs where the Novices become Sisters. They give vows and in return receive a voile and a necklace bearing an image of Mary and the statement “Je suis l’immaculaee conception” I recently was witness to one of these celebrations this past Wednesday, Assumption Day. The morning was unlike any I’ve experienced here in Save. Sisters were running back and forth preparing every last detail. On that day they dressed head to toe in white, very different from their standard blue. Cars shuffled from all over Rwanda and as far as Kenya to witness the induction of two new Sisters. It was all happening right out our doorstep. We were very honored to be invited to attend the Assumption Day mass.
When we got to church, we were unsure where to sit. There were a few Sisters already sitting, but we had benches and chairs to choose from, along with the left or right side. We eventually sat with Sister Felicite, the headmistress of Saint Joseph’s primary school, where we teach English. The music was played on a portable organ that seemed like it could fold up into a briefcase. It was plugged into the wall and the chords echoed throughout the church. Sisters started piling in, along with acolytes, and eventually the Priest. The service was completely in Kinyarwanda. Although I couldn’t understand the sermon, I still found myself rather attentive. I joined in with the hand clapping, and kept a steady beat while the choir sang. The service went on for two and half hours, and ended with a processional into the Benebikira sacred room. This room is dedicated to the relationship between the Sisters and their Mother Mary. We were lucky enough to be encouraged to join the procession. The room was filled with Sisters from all different congregations. They sang songs in unison without books and then, like a flick of a switch, everyone began to embrace. The new Sisters were greeted by all the other Sisters. I learned Proficiat meant Congratulations and Umunsi mwiza means Happy Day. The Sisters were all so happy to have two new Sisters. The new Sisters were able to go home with their families after lunch and now everyone awaits their placement in the next few days or weeks.
As I watched and took part in the greeting, I remembered when I first arrived here in Rwanda. I was embraced with hugs by many Sisters. They were all so delighted by our arrival. The Benebikra Sisters are gracious hosts. They’ve given us more than a place to rest our heads at night. The Sisters have gone out of their way to knock on our door just to check-in. They make sure there is no flour in my food and no meat for the vegetarians. They stop whatever they are doing to greet us and spend some time talking with us. In a week’s time I will be saying goodbye, instead of hello. It will be a hard parting, as I’ve made many connections to the Sisters I’ve met during my time in Rwanda. I hope that when I leave I can share the joy they give me with others.