On Sunday, while my host parents Josefina and Omar went to the community cemetery to decorate the graves of their parents with the wreaths I helped them make, I went with the other fellows to a town called Santiago, famous for its huge kite festival.
Upon arriving, we walked about 2 miles down a street crammed with vendors of all types– some selling tissue paper kites in various sizes, designs and colors; others selling food of all kinds, grilling the meet right in front of you or displaying handmade candies in baskets; some very entrepreneurial types just posted signs that said “Se Alquila Sanitario- 7 Q” (Renting their bathrooms! Haha.)
At the end of the road, we filtered into the cemetery where hundreds of people were crawling like ants over the mausoleums and graves of their ancestors, graves that were covered in marigolds, here called “la flor de los muertos” or the flower of the dead. Though it felt sort of sacrilegious to me at first, I ultimately decided that when I die, I would much rather have a party thrown above me than to never be visited. And in truth, the “party” is in honor of the dead. The whole reason for flying the kites in the cemetery is to create a signal for the spirits of your ancestors so that they know where they should come down to visit you. Also during the day family members visit the graves of their ancestors and clean and decorate them, as a sign of love and respect. I actually love the idea, since in the States my perception of graveyards is dismal, sorrowful, and somber. In fact the more that I think about the spirit of the day, the more it seems to fit in with the culture of Guatemala, and the more fitting of a tribute to those you have lost it becomes.
Oh, and the kites themselves? Breathtaking. They are made out of tissue paper, fashioned in intricate, colorful patterns, depicting aspects of the life and history of Guatemala. There was not much wind while we were there, and so we didn’t see too many fly– but to see them in person and hear the crowd cheer when a new giant kite was hoisted up to be displayed was definitely worth the trip.