This month instead of beginning with a personal bio, we will begin with a Wandering and Pondering instead. This is to celebrate what we North Americans refer to as “All Saints Day.
Innocence abruptly halted. The little girl wore a blue frilly dress in her photo, one that should have been hanging on the wall of her family’s living room, not on her grave marker. Her large, young, brown eyes had not seen much of life. No one is present at her grave site yet.
One of the locals, actually an American ex-pat, suggested we come to a cemetery and experience “The Day of the Dead” (All Saints Day) since we would be in town this week. He assured us it would be a rich, worthwhile experience.
Most of the city is devoid of traffic, since this is an official holiday and much of the population of San Salvador takes advantage of the three-day weekend to leave town. Those that remain ALL converge on the cemeteries. They come with their entire multi-generation families to spend the entire day at the gravesites of their deceased loved ones.
Vendors hawking all things required for the day outside the gates overflow the sidewalks. Fresh and artificial flower bouquets, wreaths, garlands of any color and type are here. (Our friend tells us fresh flowers are discouraged to avoid mosquito larvae breeding in stagnant water.) All types of snack foods to sustain hungry families are available – three pupusas for $1, churros, and stacks of star-shaped fried foods resembling funnel cakes.
Immediately inside the cemetery gate are the most enterprising entrepreneurs. Men sell small paint cans of noxious-smelling, perhaps a lead-based enamel derivative in pastel shades of turquoise, melon, and green to spruce up the gravestones after the requisite scrubbing down with buckets of water, brushes, and rags. Young boys stand at intersections of the paved paths holding shovels and trowels, hiring themselves out for weeding and planting of grave sites.
As I read the girl’s marker, I discover she lived only eight years. A second photo shows her surrounded by imaginary fairy princesses. She must have enjoyed the world of make believe. Maybe she once liked dressing up as a princess. Her imagination will never be given a chance to develop. Her dreams will never be fulfilled. Her grave continues to be unvisited this morning.
Families continue to poor in here in droves. Each one carries something. Even the youngest child brings a teddy bear or a piñata. Adults carry huge bulging bags of planting equipment, water jugs on the heads, enough food to spend the day.
A local TV station is interviewing a large extended family off to the left. Latin American religious music plays over a speaker system. Men hand out leaflets outlining the day’s formal schedule of events. A large police presence is seen in groups of 3s throughout the cemetery.
Moods are celebratory in spirit – joyous in fact. This day has anything but the somber tone of the American Memorial Day celebrations at cemeteries I am accustomed to attending. Families sit on gravestones chatting and carrying on conversations in a relaxed way as though catching up their deceased with events in their lives from the past year. Bible scriptures are read at some locations.
I am pulled back to her gravesite like a magnet. Her name is Brenda. The third photo shows her holding a diploma or certificate in front of her. It begs questions: What else could she have accomplished or achieved in her life had she lived longer than eight years? How could her life have impacted others?
Let’s just stick around a little while longer and keep her company. Maybe her family will arrive soon.