Thus far, my religious experiences in Ecuador have totalled two: la misa y un bautiso. Or, mass and a baptism.
That is, in addition to being asked about my religion or my family’s religion– which is often one of the first questions Ecuadorians will ask you, simply out of curiosity, I believe. The same flies for politics, sex (relationship status), and money– or so we were told in our first week here. It pretty much proves to be true. Topics that at once seemed to be taboo or private are now the first things people know about me, and in some ways, it lets down a barrier that allows for conversation to move through these topics, and on to smaller or bigger or more important/everyday things. Personal questions, check. Now, who really are you?
It’s a whole new reality. Who am I really, speaking Spanish? Just “una gringa”? For one, I’m not who I am in English.
As for the mass, I too went out of curiosity, to know more about the religiosity of the country in which I am living, in which I see a religiosity intertwined, intricately, with the cultures of Catholicism and indigenous religions. In addition, growing populations of Mormons and Evangelicals in most parts of the country contribute to this amorphous religious dynamic.
Walking into mass, I had no idea what to expect, but it was easy enough to follow along. The service was short, around 45 minutes, and I stood and sat, stood and sat, with my host parents, on a bench near the back of the church. It was simple, and rather beautiful, to watch faith in action. I took the opportunity to zone out the Spanish, and reflect as I watched others responding and acting out their faith to their own accord. I listened to the call and response of the Padre and the people, and watched as most people formed a line to take communion. In general, the atmosphere was relaxed and open. I felt surprised by the variation in attire– from the track suit my host father wore, to everyday jeans and t shirt, to a skirt and heels.
Later, I told Gladys how this surprised me, and she responded quite simply: God doesn’t care what you look like on the outside, only on the inside. I took this to be true, and then paused to wonder about the formality (at least, my own perception of formality) of churchgoers in the United States. In Ecuador, church is not a social event, as I had often thought of it before. Mass was “cortita,” short and sweet, slipping into the back, and then quietly leaving at the end. The most interaction was in giving “la paz,” shaking hands and kissing cheeks while wishing those around you peace. Peace, I gave gladly and accepted totally. My mind is peaceful here, and that I can appreciate.
Yesterday, the next Sunday, I went to the baptism of two babies that are now part of my host family’s extended family. I commented that the baptism was much like a wedding (at least, my perception of a wedding, having never attended one except as a one month old baby….), but my family assured me that no, no, weddings are much bigger, with much more people. I suppose this is true, but to me it already seemed to be a lot of people! No, no, this was just a family event.
The act of the baptism itself was very moving, taking place in the beautiful church pictured above, although I had little idea who was being baptized, or how my family was related to them. Even still, the ceremony of bringing new life into the world, honoring the parents and godparents, and the idea of bringing the whole family together as a community to raise these new children, once again brought me into reflection about my unstable-established place in Ecuador, and my somewhat more stable place in other parts of the world. Honoring new life, I found myself able to appreciate my own ability to stand, however unstable, in any part of the world. At the end of the ceremony, as the babies were presented to the crowd a la Lion King, I once again found a sense of grounding, as I saw life continuing and changing around me, as I too am continuing and changing in this new place. I was so grateful my family brought me along to witness this event.
Of course, the religious ceremony was not the end of the baptism. It was followed by a 3 course meal + 2 more rounds of dessert, along with refilling glasses of champagne and wine. This, to me, seemed like the wedding part. With perhaps more of a baby theme. As in, lots of blue and pink.
The meal itself lasted 3+ hours, and then with an hour car ride home, I then learned not to put off my homework until Sunday, because I never really know what I’ll be doing. In my mind, I thought a baptism would last an hour or two, and then we would come home for lunch as usual. Boy, was I wrong! Round trip, the event of the baptism lasted 7 hours, and then I quickly moved on to all of my homework, “los deberes,” exhausted after a long day of sitting.
However, the baptism still lingers with me, as I followed the tradition and pocketed a bunch of candies and a piece of cake for later… ¡Que lindos!
Oh, sugar. On a final note, after our three rounds of dessert at the baptism, we stopped for ice cream along the road… I was so full, but I couldn’t say no to a fresh taxo ice cream! I have no idea what kind of fruit it is, but it certainly is delicious.
With this, I wish you all “la paz,” and as it is now el día de San Valentin, I send love throughout the world. Just imagine you are eating those candies… True love. Especially the coconut-swan.