Friday, June 22, 2007

Exploring Santa Cruz

Today, during my mobile Spanish class, Oscar showed me some interesting sights. First he showed me some of the upper-class, gated communities, built on the outer northern side of the city, in the sixth and 7th ring. I thought they looked like dull places to live, completely separated from life outside the gate, requiring a car to go anywhere or do anything. But some people like exclusivity, especially here it seems.

Then he took me to the central cemetery. I found that fascinating. It looked like a city, formed of a combination of elegant structures, blocks of stone, and modern creations that could be mistaken for a jewelry store. Everyone was buried above ground. Some families had entire monuments, or vaults to themselves. Others purchased single spaces. These were stacked five high and up to eight wide, each space sufficient for a horizontal coffin, and coming with a window at the front of the stone, where the family could include a photo, an engraving of their name and date of death (usually they didn’t include the birth date), flowers, and any other artifacts that represented that person.

I loved this set-up because it conveyed so much personality. Rather than reading a bunch of script on granite, I could look out and immediately see the meaningful symbols of 20 lives.

Oscar said this is an expensive cemetery, with an individual space selling for $1,000, cash upfront only. Whereas other cemeteries will sell plots on a payment plan.

He took me to where his father was buried. There was a family plot, a large mustard stone. Half of it was recessed and contained a monument and a large photo of a woman who he said was his aunt. Several other family members had individual spaces and plaques on the other half.

“My father is in there,” he said, pointing to his aunt’s grave.

“Is there a photo?” I asked.


“What about his name?” Oscar’s last name, Hidalgo, appeared on only one of the plaques.

“When my father died, we didn’t have the appropriate resources to get him a spot, so our relatives allowed him to be put here.” His remains were just put into the same place as the remains of Oscar’s aunt, which no marker of his name or existence.

“We never prepared anything for him because we always expected we’d move him,” Oscar said. “My mother has purchased three spaces in an American-style cemetery and when she dies, we’ll bury him with her.”

I asked about a photo of a man in the family plot who seemed to have died fairly young.

“He was 45,” Oscar said. “Unfortunately, he was involved in drug trafficking. When he was in Colombia, some people got upset and just shot him, without giving him any chance to explain.”

The quote on the plaque said, “You will live eternally in the hearts of your loved ones.”

Drug trafficker or not, to his family, he was still their son, brother and relative.

Finally, we stopped by a private environmental organization which is implementing an interesting project to encourage children to recycle. They produced a video called The Little Train, that encourages them to separate their waste and put it into the recycling train. They put these trains in the school, each carriage for a different type of garbage. People from the community can bring their waste as well. The school uses the money it gains from selling the recyclable products to buy materials, and the children learn about keeping their city clean.

Oscar wasn’t in a very good mood. He hadn’t come home until 12:30 the night before, having gotten caught up with beer and conversation with some friends. He hadn’t told his wife in advance.

“She’s so jealous,” he said. “Tonight she’s going to leave me with the children.”

“Yes,” I defended her. “She’s jealous that you should have more free time than she does. She also wants to have time to enjoy herself.”

No comments: