November 5, 2013
All Saints’ Day here is hard to grasp. From what I’ve heard, on Friday, November 1 everyone visits the cemeteries with food and flowers for the dead. Many camp out overnight. We don’t go until Saturday morning, but hundreds are there; in Sucre, unlike in the campo, they don’t allow food, just flowers. In the middle is a breathtaking All Saints’ Day altar with fruits and vegetables carved to resemble birds and huge sweet breads baked in the shape of babies, ladders, and sheep. The city spent over a million Bolivianos on nice new flower stalls for the flower vendors, but they refuse to occupy them because they’re on the side of the cemetery rather than in front.
On Saturday afternoon people whose close relatives died in the past year open their doors for anyone to pray with them. Philly, myself, and about ten twenty-somethings (two Scandinavian backpackers and the rest Bolivians) visit one such house. At the door we’re given a sweet alcholic drink in a pineapple shell; we have to drink it all and then give the shell back empty so that they can fill it again from a barrel and give it to the next visitor. I’m probably the hundredth person to drink from that pineapple shell. Everyone gets mondongo, a pork dish served over potatoes and choclo (huge white corn kernels), which I turn down, and sweet breads, some made from potato flour, others flavored with anise. We say a few prayers in front of a large altar covered with colorful cakes, candles, bottles, All Saints’ Day breads, and fruits, with a framed photo of the dead guy on top. Then we sit and eat and drink; they pass plastic bowls of chicha, a foul beer made from choclo, around with plastic cups, which, again, I refuse. People are, of course, quite drunk; it’s good luck to have foreigners visit and pray, so I guess we were welcome, but refusing most of the food and drink made me feel like a hostile tourist. The plan is to visit several other such houses, but Philly, Akeni (Philly’s past and future tenant), and I don’t much feel like it, so we walk back home, passing at least one other such house serving mondongo in plastic containers now littering the street.
I think we haven’t experienced much of All Saints’ Day, really. On the afternoon of the first, apparently, people prepare the departed’s favorite food and leave it out with straws so that the toothless dead can partake without chewing. Don’t laugh—wouldn’t you rather be buried here than in the States, where nobody will ever even try to feed you?