The stake president (wearing the blue poncho) is posing with a recently returned missionary.
People leaving the LDS Church in Otavalo.
On Sunday, Rhonda and I attended an LDS Church in Otavalo. We had no idea when the meetings began, so we simply arrived at about 8:30 in the morning and hoped for the best. As luck would have it, we arrived just in time to attend one of the many Kichwa speaking wards in the area. Sacrament meeting was conducted almost entirely in Kichwa, with only a few exceptions. The hymns and the blessing of the sacrament happened in Spanish, and several speakers also quoted passages from the Book of Mormon in Spanish. I had dutifully translated the entire trip for Rhonda, but now I got to simply sit and listen to the foreign sounds of Mormon discourse in the indigenous language of Otavalo.
The dress code departed drastically from standard Mormon practices, especially for the men. All the women wore traditional dresses, white embroidered blouses, and gold beads. All the men wore white pants, white slippers, black or blue ponchos, and white shirts. None of them wore a tie; not the bishop, the stake president, or anyone else.
Given my personal history, the most striking thing about the men was their hair. Every single man in attendance, from the youngest little boy, to the stake president sitting on the stand, had long hair pulled back into a single braid.
Seeing the Mormon men with their long hair affected me more than I expected. Tears welled up in my eyes as I considered the beauty of these men who retained such a prominent piece of their cultural identity, but then faint waves of anger surfaced when I remembered my days in the Mormon Church as a Native man with long hair. Most members of the church treated me like anyone else, but others treated me as less than worthy; whether it was the bishop who called me into a worthiness interview to question my devotion on account of my hair, or the veil worker who refused to let me officiate when I worked in the temple, or the elder's quorum counselor who pulled my braid every Sunday, even when I informed him how disrespected I felt.
Yes, the emotion surprised me.