Hanging with Sister 14

2012-09-17 10:44

I ended up hanging out with a nun. I didn’t plan to, but it turned out that way.

It was the Crocman’s fault. The Croc is this genius shooter with an eye for the bizarre and a madly inquisitive mind.

Between us we have this unerring ability to end up in very weird places and even more bizarre situations. And we get paid for it.

It’s miles better than having a real job, even on the dead dog days.

Thursday had been about as dead dog as they get.

We’d rocked up at the Daughters of Saint Francis of Assisi convent at Oshabeni outside Port Shepstone on day three of a pretty depressing gig.

Two people had been murdered over a council seat. The shooters were turning on each other and, it seemed, other, more senior people.

We’d spent all our time either on the road to and from Durban or hanging around courtrooms or having to invade the grief of the dead men’s families and friends.

We meet this local punter on the convent grounds and it’s time to hit the road. I’ve had my quota of angst and rural roads for the week.

I’m already debating which method to use to alter my state of consciousness after we’ve done a Good Shepherd and gotten the flock outta there.

Then the Crocman turns rogue. He’s never been inside a nunnery. He wants a tour of Assisi. Today. With me, a career unbeliever, in tow. I try and talk him down.

I’m gagging for Durban, a beer and a steak, not some penguins. I might as well be talking to the 90-year-old stones in the nunnery walls.

Croc sails into the reception area, all charm, smiles and respect: please can the boys have a tour? I bite my tongue and grin stupidly.

The penguin-in-charge deploys Sister 14 – they refer to each other by number – as our minder. She gives us this very sweet “mess with me and I’ll call in an airstrike’’ look.

There’s not a lot of small talk: what do you chat about with a nun? Do they smoke herb or drink? Do they support Chiefs or Pirates? Miles Davis, Sister?

Turns out 14’s all right. For a place with no bar and no big screen for the footie, Assisi’s all Cool and the Gang.

Assisi used to be a mission hospital, but today it’s this banging community resource. The penguins provide help to pretty much every kind of vulnerable human possible.

They support 24 AIDS orphans aged from one month to 16 years; they look after old people who don’t have families to support them; they shelter abused women; they counsel HIV-positive people, they feed kids; they teach.

We take a seat in the chapel. It’s silent and there’s this powerful sense of peace. Even I get it.

These penguins are for real.

It’s not just the no sex. Or – perhaps tougher – the “no relationship with anybody except their god” thing. They wear a wedding ring to symbolise that.

This mob all do jobs like teaching, nursing and social work. Their salaries go into a kitty that runs the convent, feeds and clothes them and bankrolls social services.

Seven-times-two and her members are as much Karl Marx as they are Jesus Christ.

There’s only one place 14 doesn’t take us: the section where they house the initiates, the youngsters training to join the sisterhood.

She firmly shepherds us – we’re stupid from all the positive vibes – back to our rig.

We’re out.

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