Monday, April 16, 2012

Topic 5: Religion

Mozambicans may think they, and they only, are correct, religion-wise, and everyone else is wrong, but this certainty will certainly not prevent them from treating someone from an opposing religion any different. I have never encountered any animosity or any acrimonious words. They only want to know that you have a religion. This is the only thing that matters: you believe in something. “Are you Catholic?” they ask me. “No, then Muslim? Seventh Day Adventist? Jehova’s Witness? Do you go to the Jesus is the Man church?” (probably the buildings say, “Jesus is the Lord” but it is the same word for lord and man so I prefer this interpretation). I respond negatively to all and they seemed stumped and concerned. I temporarily relieve their pain when I say I’m Jewish. Then they think more deeply about this and realize they have no idea what I am talking about. My preferred way to continue, especially when talking to a Christian, is to say, “Well, Jesus was a Jew.” They invariably do no understand, apparently this core tenet of Judeo-Christian teaching is not imparted here. “We use half the same Bible,” I continue. Now, they are really skeptical, thinking, what in hell is the white lady babbling about? Half the same Bible? Bull-shit. So I conclude, leaving them forever thinking that I am crazy, by saying “Somos irmãos” (we’re brothers) in a tone that says, “Don’t worry.” They are quite mystified and puzzled, but at least, according to them, I have a religion. Even if it is some seemingly made-up, crazy, never-before-heard-of, white, American, lady religion.
Last year, I taught my students to say “Happy New Year” in Hebrew around the time of Rosh HaShana. They thought it was absolutely awesome (if awesome means hilarious and crazy, but in a good way). Now I am often greeted by my old students with “L’Shanah Tovah” at all times of year. I respond with “Feliz Ano Novo” (Happy New Year in Portuguese) and they laugh and laugh and laugh. Pouco a pouco (little by little), we are all learning.
But just being Catholic, or Muslim, or believing “Jesus is the Man,” is not sufficient. They intertwine the Western tradition into the traditional religion. And no one has a problem with it. Jesus is one thing, but feiticeiros, evil spirits, are quite another. They will go to the curse-disseminating person, put a curse on you for stealing their vegetables, and then go to Mass. Hey man, whatever floats your boat, just please don’t curse me for failing you when you most likely never showed up to class and therefore deserve it (this has happened to other Peace Corps Volunteers).
Superstitions are also very common and vary depending on your region. In our training town, women weren’t allowed to eat raw coconut because they will get diarrhea. But seeing as coconut meat is pure fiber, I don’t see how having a uterus makes you any more susceptible to diarrhea-by-coconut. Here, in Invinha, women can’t eat turtles, or you will have turtle-shaped babies. I have two problems with this: one, I have never seen anyone (man, woman, or child) selling a turtle or eating a turtle, nor have I seen a turtle strolling down the dirt road. So I’m confused as to the origin of this superstition. Two, what would a turtle-shaped baby really look like? I’m not going to lie, I would like to see that.
When people go to Mass, they dress to the nines. “Sunday best” is an understatement. Full prom-dresses, disco suits, baseball tees, whatever is sparkling clean and new is what you wear to church, no matter what era it is from or how crazy you look. If you don’t really have any money, then you scrub your one outfit so that it is as clean as it can possibly be, even if that risks putting holes in it. But damn, your capulana may have a hole and be held together by a thread, but you are looking good. Once dressed and ready to go, you often travel miles on foot to church. Once you arrive, you spend the next 2 hours wailing. One of the only things Mozambicans assuredly learn in primary school is how to carry a tune, so church music here is absolutely beautiful. But then some of the women start with the wailing and its all downhill. Loud, nonstop, 2 hours of pure screaming. Like I said, Mozambicans love them some religion.
If I were a Mozambican woman, I would be a nun. They have a great life: food security, a job (many are teachers, nurses, school directors, etc), educational opportunities and, most awesomely, socially-accepted exemption from marrying a Mozambican man. The order of the nuns in Invinha is based in Portugal so each nun, while completing her training, is sent to Portugal. All the nuns have thus been to Europe, and thus kinda have an understanding of what my world is like back home, which is interesting for all involved parties. The nuns in Invinha are great: smart, funny, happy, compassionate, and giving. And they are some of the only Mozambicans I have ever met to know what Judaism is (though they do seem a little worried that my people do not consider Jesus as our Savior) so we get along swimmingly.

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