Christmas afterparty with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd: pilsener and the dance of the wooden shoes.
I don´t know if the director of CENIT, sister Ofelia, knew that I´m a convinced atheist, but she sent me an invitation to celebrate Christmas (once again!), with the other sisters of the province anyway. On the fourth day of christmas, as ¨representative of the foreign volunteers.¨ I replied that I´d surely like to join, if it didn´t matter that I´m not religious. I mean... I´ve been to more masses here in these last three months than I´ve been to in ten years before, but that doesn´t mean that I´m the designated person to share my understandings on bible texts and other religion-related things. That wasn´t a problem: this event was especially an occasion to celebrate Christmas together with the ¨laicos¨. Google translate told me that that means ¨non-religious¨. Ok, Saturday morning at nine, I´ll be there.
I don´t know why I thought that the nuns, other than other Ecuadorians, would arrive in time: at five to nine I stood in an empty room in the comunidad of the house / monastery where they lived. But after a little while the nuns started to come in one by one, and I was welcomed by everybody like everybody, with a lot of warm handshakes, embraces and of course countless blessings. One of them asked me right away: ¨Do you speak English?¨ before she started sharing her practical knowledge of the English language in a little conversation with suitable pride. In the end she congratulated me with my skills (¨You speak English very well¨) before we shook hands again and she went to look for a place to sit down. Thanks. Sometimes they´re just ordinary people. ;).
I only knew sister Ofelia, Liliana and Maria Fernanda, the three sisters that brought down the avarage age of the present nuns significantly. And I sat next to Ruth, who´s been 23 years in the direction of CENIT already and who explained to me that ¨laico¨ only meant ¨non religious¨ in a way that one´s not a nun or priest. So there are also catholic non religious people here (?) :D. Ecuadorians and logic… Besides, people only call themself ¨religious¨ here if they´re a nun, monk or priest. Ah! I immediately wondered how Ofelia interpreted my statement that I´m ¨no religiosa¨. I mean… obviously! :P
By the time everyone had finished shaking hands and embracing eachother, the mass could start. The priest was a kind of stand-up comedian, I knew at least half of the songs (one of the unexpected advantages of the twelve day long christmas program with the kids), and there was a guitar… although experience taught me that that´s anything but a guarantee for musical success. This time wasn´t any different, but it didn´t matter, everybody participated enthusiastically.
Somewhere halfway we recieved a little paper with a text that we should discuss in pairs. Luckily (or maybe with the help from higher forces? :P) I got a paper saying that the church should reach out to the people, go out on the streets to practice their ideas and not lock itself up in a cocoon excluded from the rest of the world. I say: I totally agree. As did my sister-team-mate.
But finally my ideas did clash fundamentally for a moment with those of the man behind the altar: the lecture was about the three things that makes a good ¨catolico¨. I thought something like: ¨love, hope and trust.¨ He thought ¨the bible, the tradition and the majesty of the church.¨ Oh well… if that´s what makes you go out in the street to share your love, hope and trust, I´m fine with that :). Water to wine, in the end it´s (been) christmas.
After the mass it was time for more social activities: each group picked a part of the christmas story to act out, and a big bag with clothes to disguise ourselves. Together with the creativity and the interpretations of the nuns (and non-nuns), that led to hilarious scenes. ¨Mother, mother, Maria is pregnant!¨ -¨But Joseph, you two aren´t marry yet! How can that happen?¨ ¨Hey, don´t look at me, I´ve got no idea… but it wasn´t me!¨ We picked the last part of the story with the kings following the star to the stable, and someone knew a song about that… but of course she just started singing at a random moment and at a random tone (the principle of an intro is practically unknown here, and that has made the function of it even clearer to me than it was!) and by the time that I figured out in which tone it was sung, the song had ended. So far my contribution to the christmas story :).
We exchanged little presents with our ¨amigo secreto¨, we danced ¨mi burrito¨ (my donkey, see also the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRtCgUKcUi8), and then it was time for lunch: complete with a roasted pig, sweet corn and tortillas and salad with avocados. And pilsener in a can :). It made me smile widely to see all these ladies of a certain respectable age sitting down in their habit with a big plate of roasted pork on their lap and a can of beer in their hand. God is good… merry christmas :).
After an interesting chat about drugs and ¨de Wallen¨ (red zone in Amsterdam), mangos and avocados, abortus and euthanasia and after having strengthened (? :P) the kitchen team as a plate cleaner, it was time to dance. It´s always time to dance here by the way: also at the end of the christmas celebration with the family people dance in the living room. Idea for at home? I think so!
Talking about home… how do people dance in my country? Oof! I dance my best version of what´s meant to be a Dutch dance of wooden shoes, but it looks more like some kind of Russian folk dance. The nuns have much fun copying it and making their own version of it before we agree that it´s better to go back to Ecuadorian style.
After dancing for an hour I say goodbye to the sisters, most of whom have taken off a part of their habit by then and are sitting down on the couch to catch a breath in their white t-shirts. I especially thank Ofelia for her hospitality: ¨I had a good time,¨ I assure her, and I mean it. An embrace and a blessing. And while the sisters continue dancing for a little longer, I step out of the door with a smile on my face. Love, hope and trust. No doubt… I´m a believer!