After tea time one day, my student Catherine asked me about my tattoos. She had asked previously in class, but at that time all she wanted to know was if they hurt (yes). This time, she wanted to know if I was worried about what God thought. I hesitated, which she took to mean that I didn’t believe in God (I’ve mentioned how smart these girls are, right?). Then she asked, “So you are a pagan?” I immediately responded, “No,” but thought about it and corrected myself, “Well, yeah, kinda.”
Seeing as it was a Catholic school, I was a little hesitant to state my beliefs completely. A lot of different religious groups claim persecution, but I would argue that no group of people is more persecuted than atheists. However, I never felt that way during my short stay in Tanzania, and I doubt most people would have really cared. The simple fact is, I’ve never been one to wear my beliefs on my sleeve, but I’ve never really been one to hide my beliefs either. I definitely wasn’t going to lie to her, so I was upfront. I told her I was born and raised Catholic but that I no longer identified with any religion. As I assumed, she didn’t judge me. She wasn’t even that surprised (maybe I give off an atheist vibe?). The girls at Bigwa are Catholic, but most have no interest in becoming a nun or being involved in the church in any fashion other than attending mass. But they are definitely affected by Catholic beliefs and teachings, and I think Catherine was a little excited at the prospect of not being so controlled by ideology.
I told her that I don’t believe in God, but if one exists, I highly doubt he/she would be concerned about tattoos. I said I think God would be more concerned with how I treat others. Then I mentioned that many cultures consider tattoos to be sacred, and for most people, they mean something very important. She was intrigued and I was happy to have had the opportunity to voice my beliefs. I was getting a little asphyxiated by all the Church stuff around me.
A few months after I got home, Catherine sent me a picture of her new tattoo.