Saturday, March 27, 2010

Palm Sunday

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. I must confess that Palm Sunday holds small significance to me as a religious holiday. I do remember at the Methodist Church, when I was a child, there were palms on the alter and at Sunday school we were told the story of Christ entering the city, greeted by waving palm branches and cries of "Hosanna!" My Catholic friends, as I recall, were given little crosses woven from bits of palm. But what I am remembering today is our first trip to Ecuador in 1999. We went to see Emily and where she was living and working and we happened to be in the beautiful city of Cuenca during the week leading up to Palm Sunday.

On that Saturday, as we walked around the city we kept seeing people making and selling intricately woven decorations made from palm fronds. They ranged from tiny little birds and stars and crosses, to large fanciful pieces designed to be carried and waved. The sellers sat on the sidewalks and wove the pieces as they were selling them. Some buyers would request a certain size or shape and wait while it was woven.

The next morning we were walking past the Cathedral as the service ended and saw that nearly every person was carrying and waving one of these palm creations. It was quite beautiful.

In my photos you can see the white, Panama hats that many Ecuadoreans wear. The hats, which are not from Panama at all, are famously made in the city of Cuenca. On that first trip we were delighted by everything we saw. We felt, so much, the differences between our cultures and found ourselves both in awe and a bit apprehensive that our daughter had chosen to come to a place so foreign.

Emily was renting a room in an Ecuadorean home and that afternoon we went to dinner there hosted by the family she was living with.

Here you see Emily; her host mother, Gerardina; Gerardina's son Pedro and her daughter Nubia, with her now-husband Diego. Since Pedro was the only one in the family that spoke English, he is the one we first bonded with, but came to know the rest of the family through translation and our poor Spanish. Gentle, kind, truly lovely people. Pedro, when we first met him said, "our home is Emily's home and while you are here please feel it is your home." Behind an anonymous-looking street-front facade, we found their modest multi-story home, with light pouring in through skylights, gleaming wood floors and beautiful Ecuadorean artwork and mounted exotic butterflies from the jungle. Pedro had gone to the flower market for the flowers in the picture in our honor. Such wonderful hospitality. At one point I saw Gerardina lean over and give Emily a smile and a quick, affectionate hug. This was the mental picture I carried home with me about Emily's life in Ecuador and I worried so much less.

We have seen Nubia and met her children on subsequent visits to Ecuador. We saw Pedro at Emily's wedding. We were deeply saddened when Gerardina died from cancer several years ago. Emily was heartbroken. Today Pedro and his wife and son, who all now live in San Diego, are here in Portland visiting Emily and Cayo and getting to know Sofia. They are coming for dinner tonight. We will think of Gerardina and wish Nubia and Diego were here too and remind Pedro that it was on Palm Sunday 11 years ago that we shared our first dinner with him. I bought flowers in his honor.


  1. I am in love with the name Gerardina. If I was younger, I would change mine. In our church we make crosses from the palms and every one gets one plus a large palm frond to wave. I love Palm Sunday.

    A lovely story of Emily's host family. It must have given you such comfort.

  2. Beautiful post, Terry.

  3. That is a beautiful story. I was an exchange student nearly 30 years ago and had a loving family that cared for me, too... what a blessing on both sides. BTW I've never heard the name Gerardina before... my husband's name is Gerard, after the "patron saint of pregnant women"... always a joke in our family as we have 4 children and for a time I felt like the name was a premonition!

  4. Wow Eleven years already!! I remember when she was working on her masters!! It seems like she only got home and yet Sophie is already so grown up....I bet tonight will be special...enjoy.

  5. Lovely photos. I was a Methodist too, and had the same minimalist Palm Sundays. So I was moved by the photo of the church procession.

    It's a nostalgic time for us, and I find Easter rather nostalgic anyway, since we are "unchurched" or whatever that ugly phrase is that they toss around when they speak of Portlanders. Growing up, Easter was a big deal, even if we had no palms in north central Pennsylvania. Palm Sunday service was special, we had Maunday Thursday services, Schools were let out for Good Friday and I spent many an hour sitting out the 3 hours that Christ was on the cross, and we had all the Sunday services, including the 6AM one that now seems to be held mostly at 9 AM.

    Not to mention easter baskets (two each), hidden, plus an easter egg hunt on the church lawn. And new shiny shoes and new hat (Easter bonnet) and new white gloves and new dresses. Oh my, it was an important week in that community.

  6. Anonymous11:02 PM

    What a beautiful and touching story.

    Maureen Schmidt

  7. This is a very beautiful story. It is wonderful that you have kept in touch over the years.

  8. Raina Michyari10:35 PM

    I came across this touching story while browsing the net for Palm Sunday decorations.The fresh palm and the art woven around it was awesome.At Ranchi in India where we have a large number of Christian population, the Saturday market is full of palms crosses and flowers. Last year on my visit to Ranchi I learnt to make the flowers. It was such an enriching experience. I will be making the crosses this evening with other ladies from my church for Sunday.