The last place that I expected to be full of life was the cemetery yet there I was at 10 pm in Atuntaki Ecuador in the middle of a bustling cemetery. Families gathered everywhere, crowding around tombstones, migrating slowly from tomb to tomb, greeting friends and other relatives. Lovers pulled each other close. Children stuck close to their families, solemn and wide-eyed, or ran wildly in between tombstones gleeful with youth and freedom from school.
My family began placing flowers, wreaths, water, and candles around the tombstone of my host grandma’s mother and nephew. Around us, many tombstones were already decorated in the same manner. Once everything was settled my host mother pulled out a small prayer book and a rosary. The solemnity and gravity which had previously been absent – and that I had always associated with events surrounding death and cemeteries- suddenly appeared. We prayed the rosary, a prayer which I am achingly familiar with and which never fails to remind me of my mother and grandmother.
As we left my host grandmother lingered for just a moment grief and nostalgic memories evident on her face.
As we walked down the hill which we had climbed to arrive at the cemetery the solemnity which had emerged slowly began to disappear. At the bottom of this hill lied a street full of vendors selling flowers, wreaths, candles, and saints for those going up, food, drinks and cigarettes for those leaving. We stopped for some colada morada (a delicious warm fruit drink) and an empanada ( fried dough with cheese in the middle).
My host mom was in the midst of explaining how, when she was younger, it was much harder to get to the cemetery as the roads were unpaved. In the middle of this sentence Nelly, my host mom’s younger sister interrupted and said:
"this cemetery exist in the Stone age?"
We all giggled and just like that the solemnity of the night disappeared and I understood why the entire night had felt both foreign and familiar.
This night is a celebration of death but above that, it is a celebration of life. Loved ones die and we must grieve and remember but eventually, the world moves on. We continue, we laugh, we eat, we smile, we joke. Lovers pull each other closer. Children live for a moment young and wild and free. Friends greet friends. Family pulls you tight, wraps you in prayers you could whisper in your sleep and then laughs with you -and sometimes at you- as you go through this life with all its joys and all its sorrows