Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Who Would Have Thought?

A great reflection from Br Bill.

Here I am, a 67 year-old man, who joined the Brothers 49 years ago and now find myself in North West Africa, a continent I had never visited before 2009, living in a religious community of four members. Having embraced a celibate lifestyle as an eighteen year old and having lived in all male religious communities for 47 years, now I am living with three women, all considerably younger than I am, and I’m feeling virtuous about it!

When I left home at that young age, my mother said to me: ‘Promise me that if you are not happy you will come home.’ Neither my mother, nor I, ever thought it would come to this! Hugh Hefner might never believe it but the remarkable thing is that this situation is totally comfortable - and wholly innocent! Mind you, I am confident that those of us in this community have very different values and motivation than that evidenced by the denizens of the Playboy mansion!

We mix and interact naturally and easily. Sexuality is simply not an issue. Each of us continues to be who she/he is and it is not greatly different from my years of living in all male communities where each treated the other with mutual respect. We pray together regularly, talk together easily, work together comfortably and we sleep securely – unless the LRA are reported to be in this area!

In most of our Solidarity with Southern Sudan communities, we have ensuite rooms but here we share a common bathroom in which there are three showers and three toilets. It is not a problem. We hand wash our clothing and, sometimes, my ‘undies’ hang on the line next to my religious sisters’ unmentionables. Again, it is simply not an issue. In fact, so far none of the religious sisters has confused her laundry with mine – which has not always been my previous experience in community life!

Our community is very cosmopolitan. The sisters come from Kenya, Vietnam and Myanmar and I come from Australia. Internationality is not really a difficulty, although sometimes we struggle a little to understand accents and inflections that are different from our own. The cross-cultural dimension is enriching. I am struck by how much unites us, what we have in common, and how little there is that divides us.

There are some differences. The female preference for movies is definitely on the non-violent side. When we screened ‘Master and Commander’ on a computer screen, prior to our new community beginning in Yambio, each of the sisters disappeared as the movie progressed and only one male remained to watch the swashbuckling heroics of Russel Crowe.

I enjoyed my community last year in Malakl and I am feeling very positive in my new community here in Riimenze. Life in Southern Sudan is not lonely but there is an aloneness in being a long way from family, friends and comfort zone. I am luckier than most to have another Australian De La Salle Brother, a life-time friend, here with me in Southern Sudan. The final journey Stan Carmody took last week was a journey alone, something each of us will one day face. So let us enjoy the precious people who are with us now and cherish the gift of this life, even as our faith calls us to hope for future reunion in, and with, our God.

Br Bill

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