Today is one of the strangest days of the year in Colombia and every year it catches me off guard.
On my way into the shop at lunch time today, I noticed a woman with a dirty face walking towards the shop from the other direction. She caught my attention because the only Colombians who go around in public with dirty faces are homeless people who also mutter to themselves.
It wasn’t until I saw her up close that I realised the dirty black smudge on her forehead was an ashen cross.
Today is Ash Wednesday, miércoles de las cenizas, and so the Catholics go to church to be blessed by the priest who dips his fingers in charcoaly ashes and paints crosses on the foreheads presented to him. Or at least I think that’s what happens (note that no actual research took place in the writing of this post).
The first year I had no idea what was going on until I asked Edwin later on, and still every year. Now every year, the first ashen cross on a forehead I see I remember, and then forget until the days rolls around the next. It’s something that strikes me as so unusual and yet so mundane in the Colombian reality that it just gets bundled up with all the other normal eccentricities of this country.
You have to wear the ashen cross for the whole day, so as I walked back to my building that is amongst a bunch of office towers, every second or third person I saw dressed was dressed in their impeccable business suit with a smudged cross on their face.
Two people who stepped into the lift with me had clearly received their blessings and didn’t appear to think that this might help or hinder any chance of a promotion at work.
Last year I remember taking a photo of the news reader whose forehead was emblazoned with an ashen cross. Even on national news!
Even more unbelievable is seeing the President of Colombia with his blessed forehead out and about performing his regular activities. Edwin was at the ANATO tourism event today and managed to get a selfie-style photo with the President in it. (If you’re not familiar with the Colombian President and the latest Nobel Peace prize winner, you may need to zoom in on the grey haired man below to see what I mean)
I guess I can add this to my list of the little things about Colombia that I’ll miss when we move, the surprise, confusion and curiosity of miércoles de las cenizas.