Monday, 11 February 2008

C is for………….

Where would you expect to see lots of people coming for a walk on a sunny day, to read, revise for exams, meet loved ones and generally relax?

Yes you have guessed it C is for the Cemetery

Believe it or not people do that here in Sucre and Sucre is one of the best cemeteries in the country, apparently others are a bit more like the UK. It may sound very odd but it is actually a very beautiful place (in parts). The first time I went there I thought it was an odd and strange place with so much activity. I went with my language school professor and he said you’ll want to bring your camera and I thought why would I want to do that. But on my second visit I thought actually it is a nice place. It was three or four weeks after Christmas and some people had left musical Christmas cards for their loved ones! (A good test for how long there last for!!!). The cemetery also has some important people buried there, ex-presidents, including one who set up the first orphanage (and there is a mausoleum for those children from that orphanage), and the first mental hospital, because his wife had mental health issues. There is also a memorial to the war in which Sucre lost two of the three pillars of government (the seat of goverment, legislative and judicial) keeping only the judicial pillar.

For the Bolivian people it means a lot to them, as they are a Catholic nation and remembering the dead is very important. Especialy on 1st November for ‘Todos santos’ (All saints day). On this day the front of the cemetery is a hive of activity selling flowers and food for remembering the dead as well as food for the living. The people come and leave gifts, alcohol, water and food. Then prayer by the burial place, because they believe that on ‘Todos santos’ this persons spirits comes back to earth and joins them. But this is only for one or two key people in that family, for example grandparents. After visiting the grave there is food at the family home with out much music or laughter.

There are many different types of burial options here. If you have the money you can have a family mausoleum built to house all your family, and these range from the simple to extravagant. The next type is for those who work in a particular industry for example transport, police, medical or judicial. The company owners take a little from your wages all your life so when you die you have a place to rest which generally looks very smart.

Small family mausoleum

Grand family mausoleum

Industry mausoleum

For most other people the are to be put in one of the hundred or so terraces, that go on for ages and are five or six levels high (with a separate area for young children).

It was so odd seeing them for the first time, because they are normally so well kept and always seem to have flowers and other gifts there. These terraces are also a mix of those buried who had money to make a nice posh front and those who could only do the basics. But you have to keep paying to keep the place! I didn’t ask what happens if you don’t keep paying! For those with not much money towards the back of the cemetery is some land where there are small individual burials that look like kennels, these are only guaranteed for a couple of years before they are removed to make way for other things or people! It was a surprise to me but there was also a separate area fenced off just for Jews, who’s gravestones look a bit more like those in the UK.

Poor graves

Separate area for Jews

It is such a popular place that you can have guided tours. As well as there being people (mainly it seems the lame, blind or old) that will, for a fee, pray for your loved ones to help see them through the after life. It is truly an interesting place even if a little strange.

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