A Baptism

We received the invitation to be the godparents of Edwin’s nephew by WhatsApp while visiting the monastery near Villa de Leyva with my Mum and sister. Edwin wanted to respond straightaway and pressured me for a response, when I just wanted to have a discussion in private. Surely receiving an  invitation by text message rather than a phone call is an indicator that an instantaneous response is not required.

I never expected the privilege and to be honest I thought our duty was done when one of the two names we suggested for the baby was selected. I can’t say I was overly keen to have this responsibility.

Anyway, an enthusiastic Edwin responded with a phone call to the affirmative, only adding “it’s an honour” as I wildly gesticulated that he needed to include that phrase for politeness sake.

We didn’t hear anything about the baptism for a while after that, not until Edwin and I were chatting about the looming date and I said that his sister and brother-in-law had to check with the priest about the requirements and that they needed to know that I’m not Catholic, because imagine if I turned up to the baptism only for the priest to say the godparents had to be baptised and confirmed Catholics. I was also not willing to perform any kind of religious act to turn me into an eligible fairy godmother should this have been the requirement for the job. My thoughts on religion are at opposition to my spiritual beliefs and I was not disposed to put myself into a hypocritical position solely to appease others no matter how many family feathers it would ruffle. As it turned out, there was no issue with my non-Catholickness at all.

On the day of the baptism we raced back from having our hair and nails done in town to meet with the priest at 2pm prior to the 3pm baptism. We were 15 minutes late and the priest was nowhere to be seen. Edwin’s brother-in-law put in a call to him only to be told that he would be an hour late, and therefore also late for the start of the baptism.

My anxiety levels were probably the highest at this delay, although the Colombian anxiety was regarding the possible lateness of the start to the birthday slash baptism party at 4pm and the concern that guests would be turning up to the party and we would still be in the chapel. I couldn’t quite grasp this reaction, as surely the party invitees had also been invited to the baptism and would be in the chapel with us. If this wasn’t the case, then that is like rocking up to only the wedding reception and not the ceremony – plain rude.

While we waited, we went to check out the party site where the decorators were no more advanced than before we had gone to the beauty salon. They had been there since 6am, supposedly to decorate, but what they did could have been done in 2 hours, maximum 3 hours. It’s another shining example of wasted efficiency and perception. The party place sells the decoration and entertainment package saying that the decorators will spend 10 hours decorating the venue to your theme, instead of just saying “we will decorate your venue for $X” and then send the decorators out there for 3 or 4 hours and then to another party for another 3 or 4 hours that they could make more money from. Because of the apparent ineptness, I’m also sure that the impressive George the Curious balloon tree filled with cute balloon animals came ready made from the shop, as the decorating guys couldn’t keep the other balloon bouquets from escaping in the wind and popping on the grass.

At 3pm we drove up to the chapel to greet arriving guests. After almost three years in Colombia I still have the foolish expectation that people will arrive on time for important events, yet Edwin’s brother-in-law’s family only arrived at 3:30pm. It didn’t matter anyway because the priest didn’t show up until 4pm, and dispensing of any pleasantry or need for consultation with the baptism’s protagonists, went straight to put on his robes and then called the parents, Edwin and I to the front and launched straight into the ceremony as though the devil was snapping at the heels of the toddler.

I’d never even been to a Catholic baptism and all of a sudden I found myself a participant in one, in another language to boot. I had been counting on the pre-ceremony pep talk with the priest to help guide me through the experience. Thankfully the priest was very instructional about what to do. He told us ahead of a passage that we had to say “Si, renuncio” or “Si, creo” and thankfully I understood when I had to make the sign of a cross on the toddler’s forehead. I also think that most people would recognise the Lord’s Prayer in any language just from the melody of the lines. It was over in 15 minutes and then we were rushed to the priest’s office to provide our names for the baptism record where the most conversation we got was when the priest asked if Edwin and my sister-in-law are siblings after seeing the identical surname structure.

It was then off to the party to sit awkwardly in rows around the perimeter of the open-air venue and watch the children’s activities and entertainment. At any Australian kids birthday party, the parents will mingle with others and the parents of the birthday child would introduce people to each other, with the children’s activities not necessarily the central focus for the adults, however here, once you had a seat, that was it and adults only spoke to those either side of them. I didn’t even see my sister-in-law go around and talk to the parents of the invited children. Come to think of it, at an Australian party, there is always a food and drink table, where while a plate may get passed around every now and then, each guest can go to the table for a nibble or a top up and circulate. The seated and served nature of a Colombian party is far less sociable.

Balloon tree
The sad story of the balloon tree

Just before the parents gave their speeches of thanks, the pinata came out. I always thought a pinata had to be whacked with a stick for all the lollies to come bursting out, but in this case, the contents of a container were tipped over the kids’ heads and they were sent scrambling for a prize amongst the confetti and streamers. Once prizes were claimed for those lucky enough to have snatched one up, the kids started sweeping around on the floor with the contents of the pinata and it was precisely at this moment that they turned into destructive little feral monsters pulling all the animals off the balloon tree and then pulling the tree apart. It was as though a consolation for not getting a pinata prize was a balloon animal. Perhaps it is mean-spirited of me to have described the children like this, but I wanted that balloon tree and its animals to go home with my godson.

In the thank you speech I got a special mention. I hadn’t expected my foreignness to still be such a novelty within the family, but Edwin’s brother-in-law said “We are very proud that our son’s godmother is from Australia, and that is very cool” at which there was a ripple of excitement through the crowd and one blushing face in particular.

The special treatment continued when at the family dinner held afterwards, I was ushered over to be introduced to my brother-in-law’s colonel while Edwin was left to cut the cheesecake that I, in all my BYO Australianness, had brought to share (something else that still sticks with me despite the only obligation to bring to a Colombian party is a gift).

The next day before heading back to Bogota we went to see the duplex that my sister-in-law and her husband have bought and will move into after he retires from the army. The current tenants were in the middle of moving out and were trying to figure out how to load the fridge in the back of a ute when Edwin’s brother-in-law waved to me “Camille, come in and have a look”. Edwin, standing right beside me, just looked at me with a wry smile, wondering when my celebrity would fade and that he would finally get a look in as the valued godfather.

Are you a godparent? If so, I’d love for you to share your thoughts on the role and its responsibilities. 



9 thoughts on “A Baptism

  1. I jut love these expats blogs that keep moaning about Colombia. There is even one in Cali who specifically create one to trash Cali. Colombians are quite getting fed up of this anal, princeley expats. I have always said it and I always will: If you are unhappy, just pack up and go. You made time to bash your family, who (despite not being up to your high standards of civilization) seem to really like you. Perhaps that is what families teach in Australia: trash the family who loves you, trash the country that shelters you.

  2. There are certainly many situations that expats face that seem odd, or take time to get used to. Embracing a new country, and a new culture, means facing and accepting both the good and the bad, the things that are easy to adapt to and the ones that as foreigners we’ll perhaps never be able to accept. The honesty you show in your blog will certainly help others who need to make adjustments to other cultures, wherever they decide to move to and make a new home. Thanks for sharing what you feel and how you deal with things.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Karen, you are spot on. You also remind me of a thought I had a long time ago during my first long travel episode “Life for one person is culture for another.” People have different experiences of the same things based on a wide range of factors and natural prejudices. I just tell my truth which is but one colour in the rainbow spectrum while there are so many others, equally as valid, out there.

  3. I love that quote “Life for one person is culture for another” – living in another country and getting to know another culture is real pleasure but it is not without its challenges. I love how you don’t gloss over it in your blog and pretend that you just slot into your new home 100%. Every person living in a new country will encounter everyday things that strike them as very different to what they are used to. All ex-pats have a dialogue inside them between their own culture and their adopted home – you are brave enough to make your dialogue public. In doing so, I am sure you are helping others. In London, I would often go to Colombian parties where I was the only British person. There were often discussions very similar in tone to your blog – with Colombian’s commenting on British culture. The UK had welcomed them in and given them a lot and I knew, deep down, that they loved it. But there were still things that are perfectly normal here that jarred with them. That is to be expected. They needed to share and express those feelings. That was their right.

    1. Caro, what an eloquent description! I certainly think that exploring the internal dialogue helps increase understanding, tolerance and acceptance. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s