When my friend and her Serbian fiancé asked me to be their kuma (pronounced koom-ah), it was a surprise, mostly because they described the role as a godparent and they don't have any children. Maybe they were just being prepared?
"Just so you know," they said, "according to tradition, you can't say no."
Well then it was settled: I would be their kuma—whatever that meant.
Months later, the job description has been tweaked somewhat. Yes, someday I will provide spiritual guidance for their future children, but, as it turns out, my role is similar to that of a Maid of Honour at their wedding this summer. I will be there at the altar, standing beside my friend and her soon-to-be-husband. I will be a witness to the ceremony and sign the official marriage certificate. Oh, and I am supposed to hire the wedding band.
Recently I've learned that being someone's kum (Best Man) or kuma extends far beyond the wedding day. It makes you an official part of the family, so I am no longer a friend; I am a sister. As my friend explained to me, that's why the role doesn't go to someone who's already a relative, like a sibling. Your brother or sister can't be your kum or kuma because they are already family. And it makes sense, then, that the role can't be refused. How could you say no to such an honour?
A common Serbian joke is this: If you're ever at a party and don't know someone's name, you can just call them Kum or Kuma—they're bound to be someone's!
"Don't be surprised if his family refers to you as Kuma now, instead of your name," my friend told me the other night. "That's who you are now."
I am honoured. I just hope they like the band I hire.