“Cristiano…” the question begins, “Católico…Mormón?”
We’re standing beside a mound of trinkets and wallets. In the middle of the square a man blows bubbles with his leathered lips, his face peeking out from the neck of his Barney suit. There is the sound of flutes. There is the cocktail of sweet and flesh, odors rising over the stalls. At the end of the plaza, The Santuario del Quinche, an imposing white churchkneeling, white towers parallel, it’s blue rounded rooftops raised like two fists toward the sky. And in the center, an entrance.
She wants to know what I believe in. But my Spanish is mud. Only fifteen minutes ago I was shoveling spoonfuls of salmon-colored taxo ice cream into my mouth. I kept my mouth full in the hopes that the questions directed at me from this new extension of my host family would disappear somewhere over the table. This is a technique I learn, time and time again, only ends with an awareness of how loudly I eat and anticipating stares. Then the question again.
My new aunt, though I can’t remember her name, is waiting for my answer. Her eyes digest me from beneath two lids covered in the tarred film of eyeshadow. This time there is no taxo ice cream.
“Qué crees?” She asks because she seems unsure of whether I understand the question or if I know the right answer.
Four nights ago, I answer this question to two Mormon girls who Patricia invites into the house. The blonde from Utah, her pale legs crossed beneath a black skirt. She lead us through a prayer, Spanish with a distinctly western inflection. The brunette in a jean skirt holds a small pamphlet toward me like she’s about to give me an important assignment.
Nothing. Everything. I haven’t made up my mind.
They’re so patient. While Patricia is on the phone they drop God from the conversation completely. Instead they ask what I’m studying and where I’m from. And the blonde nods with an uncomfortable fervor, her tongue tripping and voice lilting as she exclaims to everything, “que chévere!”
When things finally come around to the Lord I let myself fade into the background. And 30 minutes later, after the third prayer, one from the Brunette, one from the Blonde, one from Patricia, the two Mormon girls walk out the door and smile something sad.
“Qué crees?” Patricia asks when they’re finally gone, fingering the phone cord from her side of the couch. Maybe she missed my answer. Maybe she didn’t understand it.
I haven’t made up my mind, I say, an answer that seems like the simplest way to respect faith. But, Patricia begins, this time looking up toward the ceiling, and a little slower: The Father? The Son?
I shrug. It is not easy to talk about God quickly in Spanish.
I don’t want to be the kind of person that can tell you more about what I don’t believe in than what I do. I want to tell my new aunt, standing by that mound of trinkets, that I want to be like one of the faces in the photos taped on the side of El Santuario del Quinche, next to the plaques and family names:
“Agradezco a la Virgen Del Quinche por favores recibido sus devotos.”
I want to tell my new aunt about my faith. I want to tell her that I believe in thanks and hard work; in my mother’s difficult young life and all the choices she made to bring me here; in crying when things are good and when things are bad, or not crying at all when you can’t; in loving people even when you don’t like them; in praying with whatever feels good, hands clasped, lips touching, fingers on steel strings or gripping a steering wheel; in finding faith when it’s convenient or losing it when things are fine.
But my Spanish is mud. There’s only so much I can tell anyone about God in any language. So I lock eyes with her and say only, “Yo creo. Yo creo en muchas cosas.” And with the silence that follows I just assume that answer is enough for both of us.