Do you see what day it is? It’s almost Halloween. How are you going to dress up this year? I imagine Lady Gaga will be big. Maybe Obama. No more calls for Gaddafi or bin Laden. Obama took care of them. So, what will it be that’s new and different? Or are you running out of ideas? Maybe you’ll just stay home this year and hope the kids will bring you your favorite goodies.
We don’t celebrate Hallowe’en in El Salvador. No Jack-o-lanterns, no witches (well, maybe one or two), no black cats. What we do have is Day of the Dead.
Day of the Dead is actually a two-day holiday that gives Salvadoreños another reason not to work. It is spent at the cemetery with family members who spend part of the time cleaning up weeds, removing debris, painting over wooden crosses and re-inscribing names and dates, scraping earth to cover the entombed with a little more dignity. When the work is done they decorate the grave with plastic flowers made at home, confetti made from colored aluminum foil potato chip bags, strings of decorations, and anything that is bright and cheerful. Then they eat and drink.
The cemeteries are full of vendors who clog the aisles and park between graves with their baskets, boxes, and carts. Traditional foods are the most popular. I would think people would get bored with pupusas, chicharras, and papitas. FYI pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with beans, cheese, or a cabbage like concoction and covered with a salsa. Chicharras are different shaped pastas fried in corn oil to a crisp, crunchy treat. Papitas are greasy French fries covered with grated cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup, and hot sauce. I guess you have to develop a taste for the latter two. Cold drinks include water, cheap sodas, horchatas, and fruit drinks. These delicacies are eaten while standing next to grandpa´s grave or sitting on the tombs, monuments, or cement crosses of better-off cemetery residents.
Most people here don’t stray far from their origins. So, when they die they stay close to home. That’s a convenient consideration for those who can’t afford to travel. Margarita’s current roster of deceased seem to be in a cemetery in Santa Ana. That may have something to do with men who have more than one family before they settle down with one woman and set of kids. We have a larger cemetery here in El Refugio and an even larger one in nearby Chalchuapa.
So I’m looking forward to November 1st and 2nd and the chance for fun and frolic in the graveyard. Children will play and run over unguarded graves. Adults will share the work as they move from grandpas to uncles to brothers and sons. I cite male cadavers because it seems as if women live forever here. You see these gray-haired, stooped-over, bow-legged munchkins with little meat on their bones in their aprons and house dresses on the microbuses carrying baskets of whatever they’ve been selling in the market since they were babies. Maybe it’s the free health care that keeps them alive. Maybe it’s the strange vegetables and gourds they make soups out of. They spent most of their lives taking care of one man or another and now they’ve got to see to their graves. It’s different here.