My Journey part 4: Initiation Day
On September 28th was my anniversary of my Ocha (initiation into Santeria), always a time for me to reflect on the past year, but also to the day itself 29 years ago. A day I will never forget.
I use to wake up with a clock radio on my night table. That Friday morning the day it was all going to begin for me. The radio came on with the weather report for that day. The days before the weather was pleasant, but not that day. The weatherman was chipper at 8 AM , announcing that it would be cooler that day and cold chill that night. My heart sank. I did not want to get out of bed. He said that the evening the temperature would drop to 13 degrees (Celsius). The ritual would begin in the evening. Throughout the day I tried not to think of the weather, but it was not that simple because during the day instead of being a bit warmer as they had predicted it was cold but sunny.
I had everything prepared for about a week leading to the day. There were only a few things I needed. I had bought myself a brand new pair of Calvin Kline jeans, the real kind not the imitations. I had never been one to buy brand name anything but I decided this was going to be a special day. So I splurged $70 for a pair of jeans. I was very happy to be dressed in nice clothes. It would be the last time for a year and seven days that I would be able to wear dark clothing. I thought that I would take them off and I would save them for the following year.
My partner and I got into the car with all the things I had gathered for the ritual and met my mother. Off we went to the Bronx. I had been instructed by my godfather (Padrino/teacher) to be there between 2-3PM that day. Being that I was filled with anticipation, nerves on edge because of the weather. We arrived at the house around 3 pm. The owners of the house 2 elderly sisters both of them Santeras let us in and showed us to the basement where everything would take place. We were the first ones there. The place was empty only chairs and benches were around the walls and in a corner a large pile of large bowls.
I was worried that my godfather and the other were not there already. I was not a very patient person during this period in my life. Not having a cell phone (that came a few years later) I used the house phone, no answer. I finally got in contact with him, he said to wait there and not leave. He would be there shortly. By this time we were starving. Technically I am not supposed to leave the house but I was hungry and upset. I wanted my ritual to get started. I did not care we left and found a place to grab a bit. We returned after an hour and they still had not arrived. You could have tied me down.
They finally arrived about 5 pm and the look on my face was one to kill. I was spitting flames and my partner was just an upset as I was. Always good to have someone on your side. My mom was cool the whole time.
My godfather’s reaction was simple. Stay cool this is all part of the process, my response was YEAH RIGHT! I still gave him a piece of my mind. I don’t like waiting, could have told me to arrive later. I finally cooled down and got back to thinking of how cold it was getting.
One of the steps in the process of initiation is that you need to greet all the Santeros and Santeras as the inter the ritual space. I was not allowed to speak and you had a towel covering your head. This is a time for me to reflect on Yemaya my crown Orisha. I was praying that she would keep me warm.
You probably are wondering what the big deal is about the weather.
The room is buzzing with activity my mom and partner were helping in whatever way they could. Not much they can really do because all the work is done by Santeros and Santeras.
The time came for things to start with me. They took me in a car can’t remember if it was my car. We went for a drive to the Bronx River. I know we had to go to the river but not sure where. Well, the Bronx River is not a place you want to be at night but it is a spot where many people go for the first part of this ritual. There were only 3 people not including the driver who stayed in the car. My godmother, another elder Santero and myself. I was told to take off my shoes and socks. And then I had to step into the cold river water. Yes, that was why I was fixated on the weather. They began pouring water over me I am soaked to the bone, wearing NEW jeans that I found out at that moment they were going to be destroyed. As part of the rebirthing process. Now if you ever have gotten caught in the rain with new jeans? They are heavy and the elder Santero was upset because Jeans are difficult to rip apart. So he had to search in the dark for his scissors, I am shivering at this point major shrinkage all over. He finally ripped off all of the cloths and gave me a pair of thin white pants and a tee shirt. It felt warm for a second or two. They wrapped me in a white sheet put my shoes on and returned to the ritual place. It was nice and warm with a big cup of hot coffee with milk (café con leche).