Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pilgrimage to Karaganda, Part 2: Convents

The first convent we stopped at was a convent for Carmelite nuns, whom I hadn't realized are cloistered. The convent was nice-looking, small, clean, with a nice chapel. But the nuns were behind bars. They came out to the "visiting area" so we could see them (us on one side, them on the other). Usually, they don't see visitors at all (so I guess you could say they were behind walls, not bars). I was a bit shaken by it, wondering how anyone could chose to live like that.

But, as we were leaving, Natasha, who has a boyfriend, said that if she did become a nun, she would chose to be a Carmelite. So, it's not for me, but it has an appeal for some people.

It was getting dark but we still headed to Temirtau, a small city about a half hour outside of Karaganda. Temir is the Kazakh word for iron and tau is Kazakh for mountain. Termirtau doesn't have mountains, but it is where iron from other mountains is brought and processed in factories that emit quite a bit of pollution. The city suffers from intense pollution as well as depression and alcoholism--what better place for a Missionaries of Charity convent (Mother Teresa's order)? The four nuns at our church who speak English are of that order, and they were quite happy to return to the convent where they once lived.

This convent was immensely different from the previous one, more like a large and simple house than a convent or church. The nuns house previously-homeless men and care for the really sick ones. Many of the men are extremely sick, having been dirt-poor and alcoholics most of their lives. Some have been at the convent for over 10 years.

The tour of the convent included visiting these men. About a dozen of them live in one large room, and many were still in bed when we walked in. The nuns had given them some basic art supplies to help pass their time, and one man had created an amazing replica of an Orthodox church out of matchsticks. It was amazing. We took plenty of pictures of it and two of the Filipinos had their picture taken with the man.

At first, I felt odd and uncomfortable--did these men like us showing up here as part of a "tour"? Do you like others gaping at you and taking your picture when you're living in a homeless shelter?

But the others did not feel uncomfortable. They laughed and joked with the men and treated them just as they would treat anybody. Sure, the Filipinos took tons of pictures, but they are always taking tons of pictures. Why change just because you're around homeless people?

The men seemed happy to have company, happy that somebody wanted to know their name. A man who spent a lot of time making drawings saw Sophia and instantly offered her his drawing of a tiger. She was extremely impressed.

In another room were the sicker men. Men whose livers were shot due to alcoholism. One very sickly man was thrilled to see Sister Joanna again, he held her hand and smiled as she talked to him.

We left the men to have some tea and snacks and then it was time to return home. We did not get home until close to midnight, but luckily Father Pavel drove us right to our apartment. We were exhausted and hungry, but it had been quite the experience!

... And, to make a long story short, I have pictures but can't get to them currently, hopefully I can post some soon!

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