An Australian and his Peruvian goddaughter

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We celebrate my goddaughter’s baptism with a party afterwards. There is cake and candy, and steak, and wine, and beer, and lots of soda for the children.

MY landlord asked in Spanish if my girlfriend and I could be the godparents of his six-year-old daughter. I guess I didn’t really consider the responsibility. I only saw it as an adventure.

I said yes.

It wasn’t until we were on the way to the church for the baptism on Saturday night that I really even got to speak to my goddaughter. She stared out the window at the traffic pushing its way on-and-off through the narrow Trujillo laneways, in the backseat with my girlfriend Tiffany and I.

I remember how formal it looked, how nervous or vulnerable she was pretending not to be, in a white baptism dress and a garland of pink flowers on her head.

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She spoke few words in English, maybe a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, but when we first met she did recite the Lord’s Prayer, at the request of her mother. But somehow, I began talking in Spanish. It was broken and clumsy and needed some work, but slowly the conversation became less awkward between an Australian and his goddaughter.

“Cuantos anos tienes?” she asked Tiffany and I. How many years do you have. 

At first I didn’t understand, but it clicked in my mind, and with a proud ‘ohh. Entiendo!’ I said, happily, “Tengo Veintiocho anos.” I have twenty eight years.  (In Spanish, think of external forces like cold and warmth, hunger and thirst, and the years you have as a possession, and not a statement of who you are).

“Te ves mas de treinta,” she said. I knew enough to know this meant, You look more than 30. 

It was the first time I have been considered looking older than I am, but she was six, and I wore a tie, and had grown a beard. And my beard was showing the occasional gray hair.

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There was another moment that really stood out to me in that taxi ride, during which the car continued to stop and start and push its way ahead of the disorder through the laneways. We were talking about kangaroos and koalas and crocodiles, although she only reacted to the kangaroos.

I said that I needed to learn Spanish.

“Por Que?” she asked. Why? 

And maybe I was over examining the basic question from a young girl, but in that ‘Por Que’ I saw a girl in her own world that had continually been taught that English was the important language, that Spanish wasn’t as necessary, and that as a foreigner who already had mastered the one language, didn’t need Spanish. It made me sad.

“Porque todos aqui hablan en Espanol,” I said. Because everone here speaks in Spanish.

‘Ah,’ she said, and accepted the answer.

And that’s when we arrived at the Santa Rosa Church.

 

I have these doubts and wonder what it is I can do for a godchild when I return to live a world away. At the very least, presents for Christmas and birthdays are important, and so I think are the occasional letters.

By this action alone it is clear to me that I cannot just return to Australia with some happy memories and some stories to tell. I am collecting knowledge, but responsibilities too.

 

I have rarely been in a catholic church, but the last time would have been in visiting the second floor of the Church of Francisco in Cusco, with giant pillars and gold chandeliers, and wooden carvings that took decades for slaves to craft. Compared to that church, or even to the one on the hilltop of Huanchaco, this was a humble building. It was old, with remnants of the original painting on the walls, with the elaborate designs of the Mother Mary and of Santa Rosa and crosses in various shapes and forms around the building.

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We stood at the front at the baptism bowl with the padre leading the service. Eight family members stood by the two pews recording the event on their phones. The padre spoke in Spanish and everyone repeated, knowing exactly what to say, and moved their hands to the signs of the cross in a specific order.

It was then clear to me that nobody had really considered the ignorance of a foreigner, standing at the front with everyone. It wasn’t only just the lack of Spanish. The family knew that. What they hadn’t considered, perhaps, was a foreigner who didn’t know how the structure of catholic ceremony worked. I hadn’t been actively involved since I was expelled from my catholic school in grade 4. These aren’t things you tell the parents and grandparents of your goddaughter.

But there was a powerful moment. It felt like it had meaning, the sort of intensity in which I now try to reach for my phone to collect it. My goddaughter stood at the bowl and the padre poured water down her forehead. I stood less than a metre away. She didn’t shy from the water. Her face was calm. It barely dripped. She stepped back, as did the rest of us, and then we held lit candles as the padre read to us in Spanish.

 

I’ve been thinking about my own baptism since Saturday night. It was a different sort of event. My family didn’t celebrate it, that’s for sure. They treated it like a 15-year-old getting a tattoo. Well, no, with a tattoo there would have been a reaction, and that is not the same as indifference.

There’s a church in Perth designed for suburbanite snobs to keep walls up and pretend they are better than everyone else around them, and my uncle and aunt took me there. I am glad they encouraged it because I wanted to do it for some time, but I sat in a bathtub full of water and in front of everyone in the church in swim shorts, and the pastor pulled my head into the water carefully. When I emerged the room cheered like I had done something great, and I suppose I wanted that feeling of acceptance from the crowd to last, like with my friends who sang with the band every Sunday.

 

New Spanish Word acquired: Bautizo

Conviction and seeing the Pope from a distance

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The Pope visits Peru for three days and it so happens that this morning he visited the suburb  I currently stay in.

He led the church mass this morning and so naturally my housemates and I were drawn to the action. I brought my camera and almost straight away my instincts took over and I aspired to take the best photographs that I could. I wasn’t able to take any good photos of Papa Francis himself but as I stood in a corner the people around me began to reach out to me in ways I haven’t witnessed here in a while.

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One of the guys protecting one of the pathways (gated off and protected by military on the other side) handed me a bottle of water when he saw I was unprotected by the sun. As we were told (in Spanish or Italian, I don’t even know) to greet each other as children in Christ people shook my hand and waved to me. By the end I had ladies asking if I could be in photographs and selfies with them.

For most of the service I felt a fake because I wasn’t at the service for catholicism belief or devotion, despite the fact I don’t believe there’s core difference between it and Christianity (despite man made institutions that lead them). I was there to see the Pope and to take photographs out of selfish gain. I didn’t feel guilty about it, but I did feel a fraud.

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But then near the end of the service I felt a different type of conviction.

I realised I didn’t need a title of journalist or a media badge to enjoy doing what I love. I wondered once whether or not I just loved the feeling of importance when I was in my former job. No. I feel important when I’m feeling good about my work.

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After the service ended I took photographs of the aftermath, the crowds, clergy and police taking photographs to recognise where they were. I jogged to the apartment I lived in and downloaded the 300 photographs I took and shortlisted 30. I then sent them off to a Peruvian news-blog I read and follow in the hopes it might be interested in my work.

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They responded before I took the photographs and as I sent them the emails I felt nervous. I was scared of rejection and that’s when I knew I was doing the right thing. I was being challenged.

*Note: I write this having had most of a bottle of wine. It’s good wine. I’m probably still tipsy.

We dance together

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THE best moments in Peru are the unexpected ones. You cannot plan for them. Expectations weigh you down, and the unexpected remind you of your freedom.

The truth is that I expected to write a blog post about the Pope visiting my suburb next week. The preparations escalate. Instead I begin my focus on a dancing competition I witnessed in Trujillo’s CBD this morning.

 

I post my first video onto my blog and I hope it works. Fortunately for me I am tall and can lift the phone camera quite high. I much prefer the video of the next dance of a boy wearing an oversized sombrero as he competes with a woman who might be his older sister.

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….

I was in the city to have a coffee with a fellow Australian. I had not seen Barb in weeks and I feel I can talk to her about anything. We both have much in common but she’s on a journey far ahead of me.

As we ate cake she shared with me one of those generic Facebook links that are designed to be click bait. This one was called ‘which promise should you make for yourself in 2018.’ She loved her promise but wanted to share it with me.

Life is short, live it.

Love is rare, grab it.

Anger is bad, dump it.

Fear is awful, face it.

Memories are sweet. Cherish them.

I should have left it there but I thought I would also click the Facebook link. I am unsure that I like it. I’m not sure I agree.

If you can’t dance in the rain with me, you will never be with me in the storm and if you aren’t in the storm with me, I don’t need you in the sunshine either.

But that’s a bit harsh. I can’t expect anyone to face a storm with me. Maybe I should assume I face each storm alone, to find that one time that I am surrounded.

…..

The Pope visits next week to check the damage of ‘the child phenomenon’, which caused about 80 deaths and affecting more than 100,000 people in the flooding here early last year. The plaza in Trujillo has been closed off, a stage has been built there, and in Huanchaco there has been numerous roadworks and construction, murals are being painted in tribute to the Pope, and there are large posters everywhere – next to roads and on every Catholic church I have seen. Police presence is everywhere.

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I guess there’s a little Catholicism in me. A little. He’s an 11-year-old boy who was scared of his math teacher Sister Julian, and this sister was a sweetheart and a source of comfort when he was expelled in Year 4.

But mainly I just admire the good work of the local catholic priest in Mount Isa, and his name is Father Mick. And I admire Brother Marty, who would do anything for the repeat criminals regularly struggling to understand the court system.

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So I guess I can’t help but buy into the excitement with the visiting Pope. And I hope it’s a blessing for this city, and has a lot of meaning for those affected by the flooding last year. I wasn’t there when it rained, so I can’t be cynical. I hope the money spent on his visit serves a purpose. I hope it makes everyone happy. I hope everyone dances. I hope it’s okay I dance with them now that everything is okay. If everything is okay.