Wednesday, October 7, 2009

the godmother

Padrinos y madrinas (godfathers and godmothers) are to Bolivia what baseball and apple pie are to the U.S.

Unlike what most people may think of the traditional godparents who are elected at the birth of a child to participate in the Christian rites of baptism, confirmation, etc., godparents in Bolivia are named for most any occasion.

Here, for example, I have been the godmother of a good variety of things, like: Coca-Cola, soccer jerseys, Christmas toys, bridal clothing, flowers, hair cuts, sports tournaments, cakes, graduation parties, and live animals--to name a few.

Baptism in Carmen Pampa officiated by UAC-CP director Fr. Freddy del Villar.

Just as asking someone to be the godparent of a child at baptism is an official form of taking on responsibility for that child during his/her life, Bolivians invite people to be godparents of things as a way to fund/sponsor all or part of an event or things. Some things, like weddings, might be entirely unaffordable if left to the host/ess. That's why bits and pieces are farmed out to people who are named godparents. At weddings there are always godparents of the rings, invitations, cake, decorations, reception hall, etc. "You mean you the couple and their family pays for the whole thing?" Bolivians ask me increduously when I explain our godparent-less custom in the U.S.

Of course there are the traditional godmothers and godfathers in the way most people probably interpret the word. In fact, being named a godparent of baptism is, as they say, kind of a big deal. It's a serious commitment; a promise of sorts to be part of someone's life...forever. Which is why I take this request most seriously and I don't always accept the offer.

But a couple weeks ago, Agronomy student Alex Aguilera gave me the thumb to forefinger hand gesture that means: "Can we talk for just a second?" And, as expected (thanks to Hugh tipping me off), Alex made the pitch. "Will you be my madrina?" he asked.

I told 25-year-old Alex what I tell any UAC-CP student who asks me to be their godmother. "If I accept, that gives me every right to make your personal life my business. Are you sure you want to invite me into your life?" Albeit briefly, he considered this. "Okay," he replied. And so it was during mass this past Sunday that I became, yet again, a godmother.* Now begins the custom of Alex calling me madrina (godmother) and me calling him aijado (godson); of both of us always having some kind of unique connection to the other.

Of all the times I've been madrina of Coke, cake, and t-shirts, I've most enjoyed being madrina for Daniel Carrizales.

"Madrina!" my 6-year-old godson Daniel Carrizales called out to me last night as he dug around in a pile of odds and ends under the stairwell of the Volunteer House. "What is this!?" he asked, walking into the living room holding a bat and ball. "Que es esto!?" I repeated, mocking his emphasis on the word "this." "That," I said, "is a ball and a bat. It's called baseball; it's a game we play in my country." Baseball. One more lesson to teach my godson. Right after we bake an apple pie!

*Hugh, by a long shot, holds the record for most godchildren. People are pretty sure every child in the neighboring community of Chovacollo are his aijados.

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