Lying to a Nun

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Our first day in Njombe Town, Christina greeted a local nun with “Shikamoo” or “I respect you, elder.”

The nun’s face lit up with a beautiful smile when she heard this. She stopped to chat with Christina and introduced herself as Sister Elvera. Tanzanians are generally friendlier towards foreigners than most Americans. It’s not unusual for strangers to invite us over for a meal, ask us where we’re from, or welcome us to Tanzania. This can lead to awkward situations.

Sister Elvira insisted on carrying Christina’s bucket of groceries for her, a common way of helping a friend along a journey in Tanzania. She even pointed out a crosswalk and escorted Christina across the busy main road to the standi where Christopher was waiting.

As Christopher held the groceries, Christina and Sister Elvira talked further. Nuns in Njombe live at the convent by the Catholic church in the middle of the city. Sister Elvira invited Christina to visit her for chai at any time.

Then Sister Elvira asked Christina why she was in Njombe.

“Oh, we are going to live in the village.”

“How nice! Which village?”

“Umm…”

Panic time. Peace Corps had drilled into our heads that we should never tell anyone the exact name of our village. We will be the only foreigners living there, so it would be easy for a Tanzanian to take a bus to the community and find us. Instead of sharing our village name, we could just say “I don’t know what it’s called” or “I don’t understand.”

Except Christina knew the name of our village and could understand Sister Elvira perfectly. And you can’t lie to a nun… but if you’re Christina you also can’t break any Safety & Security rules. Even if it means fibbing to kindly old nuns who help you cross the street and carry your groceries for you.

So Christina said she couldn’t remember. And Sister Elvira believed her and wished her a good journey and posed for a picture with her.

Later, Christina’s local supervisor told us it’s probably okay to tell dada wa kanisa (church sisters) the name of our village. Unless those sisters are really clever thieves dressed up as nuns to fool their victims.

Maybe Sister Elvira wasn’t a nun at all.

Or maybe Christina just needs a way to justify her sins.

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