Student – School of Occupational Therapy, Dalhousie University
Reflecting on my academic, cultural and personal experience while completing a placement on Grand Cayman brings me to think of a series of memories and events surrounding the national tree, the Silver Thatch Palm (Coccothrinax proctorii).
As a student abroad, I spent most of my time trying to understand and immerse myself in Cayman culture but on Palm Sunday; I was able to share some of my culture with two local friends. Following the service at Cayman Islands Baptist Church, I was able to share Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox traditions for the same holiday as I taught two of my friends how to weave a donkey out of palm leaves. This was a cultural tradition I adopted years prior, and one that made me feel at home while away from home. For my friends, weaving came naturally as it was a part of their national heritage.
Weaving is a common occupation in Cayman and Egyptian culture. In Cayman culture, it is a way to celebrate identity and historical and cultural roots. The Silver Thatch is endemic to Cayman Islands and captures its natural heritage. In as early as the 1700’s it was used to produce items such as hats, baskets, and rope, as the leaves are tough, and resistant to the effects of salt water. In Egypt, palms are also used to produce similar items, but in the Coptic culture, making donkeys on Palm Sunday was a way to commemorate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
Reflecting on this memory, I see how it captured occupation and validated its value and representation of a person’s identity. For me, weaving facilitated communication, formulation of community bonds, and knowledge exchange. In these small moments, I was able to witness the just how much of an occupation tells you about a person and allows for relationships to bond.
As a health care professional, it captured a journey towards cultural sensitivity and awareness and showed how easily occupation can build on relationships. Although the people that I bonded with were not clients, it showed me how occupation can be used to implement a greater understanding of the people you work with day to day. It demonstrated a beautiful and natural way of building relationships and how important it is to understand the value of the “little” things that people do day to day and just how much it tells you about a person, about yourself, and to value what you both have to offer one another. And from that, it gave me a new perspective to share with future students hoping to complete a placement abroad.