That particular Sunday morning was exceptionally beautiful in La Paz, Bolivia. The harsh sun shone brightly through the tall church windows, and a cool breeze blew in the open doors. At 14,000 feet elevation, the air temperature danced between the low 40s and the mid 60s…in my mind, perfection. As I made my way into church with my two side kicks Ramiro and Kike (one married a dear friend and the other introduced me to my spouse), I was on a cloud. I was loving life in Bolivia. After a few weeks, I found that I’d found my place there. I had an incredible group of friends from the international missions school at our church, and was loving my job volunteering with Food for the Hungry International.
As we entered the church (which was really not a church building, but a military conference center that we rented on the weekends) I greeted every person in my path with a kiss, as is the Latin tradition. I had learned this in Mexico and was well-prepared by the time I reached Bolivia. In Latin culture you must, and I mean must kiss every person in the room. When you enter, and leave. That means if your at a birthday party with 35 people there, you spend 15 minutes just giving hello kisses, and when you leave, you must do it all over again. A wave goodbye to the crowd, is not acceptable.
And there are so many kinds of greeting kisses. Most people do the cheek-to-cheek airkiss, some give a light peck on the cheek, while others (usually the over-zealous grandmother type) plant big slobbery kisses on you cheek. Generally, the greeting kiss is given on the right cheek, and is sometimes accompanied by a handshake or pat on the back.
Church culture, however, changed the rules. In my church in Bolivia, many people liked to add a hug in with their greeting. That would not normally be an issue, however the combination of the kiss and hug was never well defined, so everyone did it their own way! Some gave the kiss then the hug, others preferred to hug first then kiss, while others often gave a kiss, then hug, then another kiss!
Well, as you can imagine this caused one poor little white girl much stress and anticipation because I never quite knew what to expect. And I just knew that one day, I would mess it up and create a very awkward situation.
Well, that day came.
He was a zealous young Mexican student at the missions school who I coincidentally knew from my ministry time back in Mexico. He was always impeccably dressed, and was never without a Bible in his hand.
Well, that Sunday morning, as I saw Martin, we both leaned in for what I thought would be the kiss-hug scenario, but Martin didn’t have the same plan. I leaned in close and puckered up for a light airkiss when he reached around for a hug, pulling me just close enough for me to plant a big ole kiss on his neck.
I must have turned 15 shades of red in the next 5 seconds as I smiled politely and excused myself. I JUST KISSED THAT POOR SEMINARY STUDENT ON THE NECK! AND AT CHURCH!
I think I took awkward to a whole new level.
Thankfully Martin was gracious enough to act like it never happened, and we remained friends in our time there.
And you’ll be relieved to know that I never again kissed someone accidentally on the neck.
The end (of part 1)