Thursday, May 08, 2008

Drug search at the convent

You other bloggers, top that post title if you can! :)

When I got to the convent yesterday afternoon, one of the sisters said she had a big task for me. She communicated with some effort (most of the sisters are from India or Africa or Asia, and their English, though much better than any second language of mine, is difficult to understand) that when the guests of the women's shelter ring the bell to be let in, I should ask to see inside their purses and bags. UGH! I enjoy opening the door for the guests with a smile, but searching them, not so much. "What am I looking for?" I asked, and wasn't surprised to hear it was drugs; I knew drugs had been found in the rooms.

So when the guests arrived, I let them in and very apologetically asked them to open their bags. They were all gracious enough about doing this, but I really, really hope it's going to be a temporary policy. It's ineffective anyway; I just kept my hands behind my back and let them show me what was in their purses and diaper bags. Any woman who wanted to get drugs past me could just stick them in a jeans pocket.

That was the hardest job I've had at the convent, but it was by no means the only one. When I began volunteering with the MCs last September I expected to be kept busy. But in fact it was mostly free time at first, with only the occasional ringing phone or doorbell to answer. Only recently have the sisters clued in to the fact that they can put me to work. Last week they asked me to call the parents of the kids in their catechism classes (a bit nerve-wracking because all the names were Spanish, but it turned out they did nearly all speak English.) They've also had me hanging newly-washed curtains, giving rides to the guests of the pregnancy shelter, and typing up prayers on a really old electric typewriter. Yesterday when I wasn't searching for drugs, I spent the time preparing a craft for a catechism class one of the sisters teaches. This involved reducing many rolls of red and white tissue streamer to piles of neat little squares, which the kids will then crumple up one at a time, dip in glue, and stick to a construction paper heart. It's going to be the Sacred Heart of Jesus, encircled by a construction paper ring of thorns, crowned with flames made of glitter, and with a teardrop-shaped bit of red paper glued on to represent the gaping spear wound. There's a project we sure never had in Protestant Sunday school!

I'm glad to be making myself more useful, but I sort of miss the time when the convent was just a weekly four hours away from it all. I used to spend the first hour or two preparing my own catechism lesson. Often as I worked I'd overhear the six sisters singing a hymn with their varied accents, and sometimes I'd catch the smell of incense from their chapel. I'd finish the lesson and catch up on my diary a bit, pausing to get the phone or the door and pray for anyone I encountered. The dinner bell would ring and I'd hear the guests gather in the dining hall and murmur the Our Father before sitting down to table. I'd eat a snack of my own, and open up a book. As people stopped calling, I'd leave the front parlor and go to the little chapel myself, where the low sun filtered through the windows. Then with night fallen I'd gather up my stuff, ring for a sister to come lock the door behind me, and skip down the convent steps with a cheerful "See you next week!"

I doubt I'll have that kind of leisure any more. The sister with the Sacred Heart craft yesterday was merely the first one to ask for my help. Two other sisters came to the parlor after her with work of their own they wanted done. They'll have to be more on the ball than that!

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