In 1985, in Macharaviaya, Spain, while I was working in the fields with my good friend, Jose Antonio Robles Roldan, he told me that he had decided to ask his girlfriend, Victoria, to marry him. I congratulated him heartily because I assumed this would put an end to his endless stories of how he didn't think he could hold on much longer as an unmarried man. He was near to bursting with anticipation, blah, blah, blah; every young man's sexual lament. And, while these kind of stories didn't end, a new story developed. Jose Antonio asked me if I would be his best man and if my wife, Mary, would be willing to serve as maid of honor for Victoria. We said yes without giving it much thought. But in a village of 85 people hidden in the hills of Malaga province, it was to be an unprecedented event to have foreigners stand up in a traditional Spanish wedding.
Mary and I were not and still are not Catholics, although Mary's family started out subscribing to this particular religious philosophy. Hence her middle name, Margaret. But, as we were soon to find out, the Spanish have a peculiar relationship with the church and the fact we were not members turned out to make no difference whatsoever in our serving as padrinos. There were a few hitches along the way; the most significant one being we found out it was our responsibility to serve approximately 150 people at the dinner after the ceremony. (Later, we realized the number was actually probably closer to 250, as people started materializing like hungry ghosts from over the hills and out of the valleys, presumably when they smelled the tripe stew cooking in the giant pots outside the church.) As a side note, when you are responsible for feeding so many people and also for learning what to say and do at a traditional Spanish wedding, it is best not to guzzle cheap gin out of the bottle any time close to the beginning of the ceremony. After all, you too may end up passed out under the immense back wheels of the only truck in town, only to wake up to a trail of shiny black ants crawling up your pant leg and making short work of the crumbs of wedding cake still clinging to your suit coat. But it all worked out and we got an absolutely charming and handsome godson, Jesus, in the bargain. Later, when we were visiting in 2001, he took me aside and said, "Please tell me, padrino, how my father and you were nearly killed when my father took the wrong turn and the motorcycle you were on drove down all those concrete stairs to the edge of the riverbed." A quick finger-across-the-throat sign from Victoria kept me from spilling the beans on that one.
Which brings us to 2015 and Ecuador. Nothing much has changed with the church, apparently. The people seem to maintain a rather schizophrenic attitude about religion here; it's an interesting meld between indigenous and European beliefs, e.g., in all of the locally produced paintings of The Last Supper, you will find a serving of roast guinea pig, an indigenous delicacy, resting on the table next to all those European traditional dishes. Now, that is true art; culture blending. The church, however, still clings to some of its more punishing dicta, one of which is that children will not ever be allowed into the kingdom of heaven if their parents are not married. In this case, little Shanik cannot be baptized because her parents cannot yet afford to marry. There is one escape route to this proclamation, and that is if the parents can rustle up a married couple (legal proof needed) to serve as godparents, and to symbolize that marriage is the one true course for couples to take, then Shanik can be baptized and all will be well with the world and, apparently her afterlife.
Shanik's parents, Kristhiann Jesus and Mirian came to us with a plea to please help Shanik have her baptism and we, having spent at least part of our lives as rebels, have now agreed. Upon our acceptance of the task, the family, which includes our wonderful friend and helper, Luisa, showed up at our house last night bearing gifts; tubs of fresh fruits and roast chicken, guinea pig and what looked to be a type of hominy. All this food, served round the table with joy and appreciation, solidified our place in this family of Ecuadorians. Mary and I, as usual, although it is getting much better and easier, stumbled through the language, not really the formal language, but the vernacular, but after several servings each of cheap boxed white wine, we all shared stories of triumph and sadness and hunger and poverty and the richness of culture and how is it possible for a married couple (I guess us) to remain married AND friends for almost 42 years. And to show that the entire night was not overly maudlin and sugary, we also exchanged accesses to apps for our respective phones and learned why the word "adios" is not used in Ecuador when you are leaving someone. Adios (goodbye), apparently here means something like "goodbye and I hope never to see you again until maybe your funeral." Which now explains why Mary and I got so many evil looks when we used the word so liberally at our arrival in this country. From now it will be only hasta luego or simply the universal ciao.
So we are about to embark yet another time on the godparenthood boat. Different hemisphere and culture, but actually it seems the same. Love, kindness, sharing, mutual respect, and of course, wine seem to save the day wherever you go in the world. We are happy to serve as ambassadors in this regard, but we might have to be careful. The mother, Rosa Elena, after her third glass of wine, had a brilliant idea. She said, "Why don't Mary and you just make it all easier by serving as padrinos for every single one of my 13 children when the time comes that they each need them." At that pronouncement, I filled my glass to the brim, tipped it toward Mary, shrugged my shoulders and said, "Salud."
Here's to our health. And to our new herd of godchildren.