Life at the Convent

The Padre Pio Center - our home away from home

The Padre Pio Center – our home away from home

For the last 5 weeks, we have been living in a convent. Not metaphorically, an actual convent. With nuns and all. This has been quite a departure for us, as we’ve lived almost exclusively at hostels, guesthouses, and hotels for over a year. Generally, it’s been really great, and I thought it was important to share about the place where we spend so much of our time here.

When I say convent, we are actually living in a guesthouse called the Padre Pio Center, and it is run by nuns who also live here. The Padre Pio Center is part of a much larger complex, called the Msimbazi Center, run by the Franciscans. While the church is the centerpiece, there is a university, an orphanage, a nursery, a dispensary, and several cafes which even serve beer and wine (it is a Catholic order, after all). Being part of a church complex, we feel much safer walking around the area at night vs other parts of Dar, although generally we try not to be out past 9, even around the complex (it’s really dark).

The CEO of the NGO Sara is working for lived here for a year several years ago, and she recommended we stay here. We were a bit skeptical, but she assured us that these were “cool” nuns, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised. The head nun, who runs the guesthouse, is named Sister Apollonia, although there are a few other nuns, as well as 4 non-nuns, who help out with the cooking, cleaning, and upkeep. Sister Apollonia speaks pretty good English, and we’ve picked up a lot of Swahili from the other workers and Tanzanian guests. Plus she’s been super accommodating to make us more comfortable there.

Our bedroom and exercise area

Our bedroom and exercise area

Every person gets a room which is largely the same. Some have better fans, but all are basically a bed with mosquito net, a desk and chair, a dresser and a bigger chair. There is a bathroom with a shower (not separate, so it floods the floor). There is no hot water, and no air conditioning. It’s been tough living there without A/C, as it can get incredibly hot, but there’s no need for a hot shower; in fact, the cold shower before bed is one thing we look forward to every night!

We lived in one room with two beds, but quickly outgrew it (each room is maybe 8’x15′, or 15m²); it was just too small for two people. A single room is 20000 TZS/night ($12), and a double room is 36000 TZS/night ($22). We negotiated with Sister Appollonia to effectively rent two single rooms, so now we are only paying 4000 TZS ($2) more a night for twice the space! I told you she was a cool nun! So we’ve converted one room into an office and living room. This is where I work during the day, and where we “watch TV” and just hang out in the evenings (we converted the bed to a couch). The other room is the bedroom. We both share a large single/small double bed (we barely fit, but it works), and we turned the extra space into an exercise area. The extra space has really made all the difference in not going insane there. Plus we recently inherited a mini-fridge, so we’re really moving up in the world!

The common area. You can see the cafe immediately outside, and the church in the background.

The common area. You can see the cafe immediately outside, and the church in the background.

There are a few nice common areas. Outside, there are two tables with umbrellas to enjoy the cooler night air, and then there is a communal dining room where the meals are served. Breakfast is included, although it is very basic – just white bread and jam, plus coffee and tea. Sister Apollonia has agreed to hard-boil eggs for us every morning so we have a bit more energy, and we have bought some milk and cereal for days when we need something different. I typically eat lunch at the convent, and one of the staff makes me chips mayai, or chips and eggs. Basically it’s fried potatoes, and then you crack an egg and turn it like an omelette. It is actually really good, and you can dress it up with either a salad or hot sauce on top. Yum! We eat dinner about 5 nights a week at the convent, and it’s actually pretty substantial with a good variety. On any given night we’ll have a meat (usually fried chicken, beef chunks, or whole fish), some sort of green veggie, rice, ugali (like an untasty polenta), fruit for dessert, and then randomly some curry sauce, potatoes, and noodles. We’ve been really satisfied with the meals, and they are definitely worth the money (chips mayai is 2200 TZS or $1.25, and dinner is 6000 TZS or $3.50).

It took us by surprise, but so far we are liking living at the convent. Considering we can both eat and sleep for less than $35/day, it’s a nice bargain, and it allows us to save up for the expensive trips and meals elsewhere in and out of Dar. Hope you enjoyed this insight into our lives at the convent!

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