Oshun by Afolabi

This is an essay on Oshun by the late priest of Yemaya, Afolabi.

Oshun by Afolabi

I come from a House of Osha that is full of Oshun’s children. Nowhere is Oshun’s beauty more evident in all her glory, both sweet and sour, than in the forms in which she appears through her children.

I am sitting in the living room of my Godmother’s house. It is early still and we have already been awake and working for a couple of hours. The house is bustling with activity in preparation for the initiation of twins, Alex, a son of Shango, and Kim, a daughter of Yemoja. They will be the seventh and eighth priests that I will initiate. I see them sitting, staring at the wall and looking quite shell-shocked in the melancholy light of early morning, and I remember how I felt when I was in their shoes (or lack thereof).

It seems like the Oshun priests have come out in full force for this ceremony. Pete and Sara, the Barbie and Ken of our house, are standing in the kitchen stuffing their faces with “pasteles” in a last minute effort to curb their hunger in the face of two long and arduous initiations.

Pete is sweet and very cute. The golden boy. Everybody loves him and deservedly so. He works his ass off without a word of complaint. When he comes in, earlier, most often, than anyone else, in his immaculate, typically Miami outfit, you would never guess that a within a couple of hours he would be covered from head to toe in blood, leaves, sweat, and goat shit, but he just hangs up his jacket and starts moving. His asthma medication makes him jittery. This, combined with his bright, white, toothy smile makes him look like an eager puppy, ready to please. He has a great sense of humor, evidenced in his uncontrollable “church giggles” (always, in the grand tradition of Oshun’s sons, at the most inappropriate of times) and the “Be Kind to Animals” T-shirt he sports during sacrifices. He is always ready for a little tension-breaking humor. He leans close to me as he passes and whispers something about “another day in the Gulag”, a hushed reference to the backbreaking work of the Religion. He’s nobody’s slave, though. He works like he does because he loves the religion and he loves his Godmother. He’s always looking for the favor of his elders, or anyone else for that matter. He wants so badly to be loved. He can’t stand to make mistakes … he must remain blameless at all costs. You have to walk on eggshells sometimes so as not to hurt Pete’s feelings or cause him to feel slighted. Insecurity and thin skin are the birthmarks Oshun puts on her children.

Sara, on the other hand, comes across as the Ice Queen. Flawlessly beautiful, she floats through the room in chic, stylish outfits that seem to be extensions of her form. Imagine gazing upon the finest, most delicate porcelain doll you’ve ever seen, and getting the impression that if it was hit by a truck, it would be the truck that would fall apart and the doll would be left without a scratch. That’s Sara. I thought she hated me for the first two years I knew her. She still might. But I don’t think so. Before the initiations begin, she invites me on her “one-last-cigarette-before-we-start” excursion to the patio. I go, because there is nothing better than listening to her bitch about perfectly reasonable people doing perfectly reasonable things. She could make the Pope regret being Catholic. I have the feeling, though, that if anybody ever challenged her she would fall apart. Not to worry, though, no one would ever challenge her. No matter how high the odds in their favor it wouldn’t be worth the gamble. Now she is planning a party. Whenever someone is pregnant, getting married or having a birthday, you can expect Sara to be there with balloons, streamers and stupid games. When Sara is around, EVERYTHING is an event. She works her ass off too, like Pete, but with a slightly different flair. She’ll look around, huffing and rolling her eyes in her best “Why-isn’t-anyone-else-capable-of-doing-this-instead-of-me-who-has-been-working-all-day” fashion, as she grabs the mop and does what she loves to do best–help. If she can help AND give someone attitude, so much the better. Those who love her (and you can’t help it) call her Sarilyn, like Marilyn, isn’t that perfect?

Marta is in the kitchen. I don’t know much about her, she’s from another house, but she often comes to our initiations to do the cooking. She is an older woman, quiet and sweet, and very much a mystery to me. I am glad she speaks slowly. My Spanish is sometimes not up to the angry, rapid-fire pace at which most Cubans converse. When she does carry on a conversation, it is very much worth listening to. She has been a priestess for a long time. I’m not sure how long, but her daughters have been priestesses for upwards of 27 years, so I would imagine a good deal longer than that. She is beautiful and full of grace, but her face betrays a sadness that runs deep. I know that she often takes massive bundles of relief supplies to her family in Cuba, maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe that and something else.

It is evening now, and the initiation is almost finished. I was just assigned a task by my godmother and I passed the buck to my godson Kevin, another son of Oshun. His love for the religion runs very deep. Deeper than you would expect for someone new to it. Life was hard for him, though, and I believe that gave him the ability to appreciate things quicker and more thoroughly. He went through the same torment growing up that a lot of gay kids suffer. It toughened him up to the world. He loves gravelly voiced actresses and imitates them often (When he was a bartender he used to put his bow tie on the side of his head and pretend he was Rose Marie). If things get heavy, Kevin’s always there to lighten up the scene. It’s hard for him, I think, to take things seriously. Whenever I have to discuss anything with him, he always imagines he is “in trouble” (So far, nothing could be further from the truth). He tries to speed up the process, rushing me along, hoping I won’t be able to talk long enough to get to what he believes will be the part where I get mean. Oshun doesn’t let us escape our vulnerability scot-free, but She sure gives us the tools to get through the tough parts.

It is well into night now, and people are leaving. I look in on Raysa, my godmothers’ 6-year-old daughter, and find her watching TV with Elisabeth, a 14-year-old priestess of Oshun. Lissie, as we call her, is lying on the bed with her head hanging over the edge, dropping grapes in her mouth. She is sweet, funny, bubbly and pretty and she giggles red-faced when you tease her about boyfriends. She is the kind of girl little boys like to harass with frogs. She seems like somewhat of an anachronism. A 14 year old who doesn’t have a ring through her navel and a bad attitude in this day and age is a rare thing indeed. I try to imprint the vision before me on my brain, because I know (fear?) that it won’t be long…

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