Will your mother-in-law’s tongue lull you to sleep?
Well, it did for me. The secret of this “quaint” sleeping arrangement was revealed to me by a Catholic nun, my cousin Sister Mary Anne of the Medical Mission Sisters, during a recent visit at their farm called Haven for Ecological Alternative Living (Heal) in Villasis town, Pangasinan province.
Driving to Heal at dawn from Metro Manila were kindred spirits—Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, Angie Salazar and daughter Jae Salazar Abaya and myself.
We entered the place’s main building through a thick curtain of lush vine with white purplish flowers cascading down the ground. We were introduced to the five elderly nun residents— an intergenerational community with the most senior at 90, three in their mid-70s and the youngest, 70.
“Welcome, relatives! But you look sleepy? I have a reliable sleep recipe for you, an old wives’ tale, really,” Sister Anne (Nelia Bellosillo) told us, now in a rather soporific state that very hot afternoon.
Alfred Hitchcock bomb
Like anxious fans of Alfred Hitchcock movies, we eagerly waited for that sleep formula to unravel. But Sister Anne was in no hurry as she invited us to freshen up a bit for a Holy Mass to be celebrated by Father Rene before lunch.
Sister Anne, in her mid-70s but still with a spirit of a tireless youth, is a sibling of Angie. While her feet are rooted in our home province of Capiz, the wings of her religious life have taken her to many countries: India for her residency for seven years; London, nine years; and shorter stints in Pakistan, Indonesia, Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Venezuela, Peru, Germany, United States and the Netherlands. Her religious life is essentially fired with a passion for Mother Earth.
Heal is where Sister Anne and four other nuns of Medical Mission Sisters (with mother house in the United States) live their simple everyday life. They nurture the soil, protect creation and prevent the further destruction of Mother Earth through eco-friendly living and sharing their vision for environmental preservation. Their vision is shared by others who attend their seminars, retreats or stay-in immersions at the 2-hectare model farm.
“We are senior nuns graciously growing older here, where we have a Creation-Centered Spirituality,” the nuns chorused as they served us delicious lunch of fresh salad from their garden—a stew of organic baboy damo (wild forest pig), grilled fish and vegetables with their famous cold tea, which is a mixture of pandan (screw pine), avocado and calamansi. We also savored succulent fruits.
After a tour of flowering shrubs at their orchard, we picked macopas (wax apple) of the red and green varieties. Kasoy (cashew nut) trees had a profusion of fruits. The herb garden was invitingly fragrant, with herbs aplenty for culinary uses as well as herbal health remedies. The salad bowl area displayed several kinds of lettuce leaves and other greens … There were turkeys, negroid chicken (considered medicinal by the traditional Chinese) and pretty white-feathered fat hens you want to cuddle.
A most interesting area is where some worms that wiggled found themselves on young Jae Abaya’s brave palms. The nuns’ vermiculture farm applies the blue and red worms variety of composting—a rich fertilizer for their organic plants.
Finally, the cliff-hanger
As Sister Anne led us to Heal’s dormitory building, which houses seminars, meetings or retreats for groups of 40, she said she would finally share with us the sleep recipe. One plant conspicuously fenced the whole two-story building. She said: “This plant holds the secret of good, sound sleep. The plant’s name is commonly called in the vernacular as ahas or snake plant and is also called ‘mother-in-law’s tongue.’”
We all shared a chuckle at the imagery and metaphor. We examined the plant—also called Saint George’s sword in Brazil—closely, row after row. We actually felt rested lingering there for awhile.
Sister Anne instructed us to pot a mother-in-law’s tongue to place in our bedroom. “While you sleep, the plant inhales the carbon dioxide vigorously and exhales even more vigorously precious oxygen a person needs to sleep most soundly,” she said.
“Ah, love this,” we agreed. Terrific mother-in-law’s tongue!
Late afternoon, contemplating on the adventure and gustatory journey to our Heal destination, we thought of driving home. The sisters bade us farewell, with Sister Anne smiling broadly, sending us off with ripe macopa and kasoy, turmeric and ginger, brown rice and organic soaps. She reminded us: “Do take care of Mother Earth and Mother Earth will take care of you. Amen, amen!”
(Heal invites the public to join their programs—Earth Walk, Earth Camp, Eco Spirituality, Sustainable Agriculture, Waste Management, Introduction to Permaculture and Individual or Group Retreats. Sister Anne can be reached through her cell phone 0999-9976647.)