All Saints on a Plane

Most flights to El Salvador include announcements spoken in Spanish.  This one did not.

Most flights to El Salvador do not involve much turbulence.  This one did.

When the seatbelt sign is illuminated, the instruction is to remain seated.  This seems obvious to passengers who fly frequently.  However, if you are an old guy and you really need something from your bag in the overhead compartment and you do not understand the instruction given only in English, even though the airplane is about to take off, you might pop up out of your seat, pop open that overhead door and start digging around.  "Sir," the attendant barked over the intercom, "You must be seated!"  A kindly seat-neighbor pulled the elderly man down into his seat.  The attendant ran down the aisle and closed the compartment door.  We took off.  The guy next to me shook his head.

"This is your captain speaking.  We expect a smooth ride into San Salvador."

Not.  We skipped along the tops of the clouds, bump, bump, bumping our way along.  It was a full flight.  A two-year-old cutie kept running up and down the aisle making new friends, zooming her cars and frustrating the attendants.  Her mom finally got her to take a nap.  Grandmas and kids walked up or down the aisle to use the restrooms.  "The seatbelt sign is illuminated.  Please take your seats."

"How hard would it be to learn how to say that in Spanish?" I asked (in Spanish) to the guy next to me.  He chuckled and shook his head.

This All Saints Day flight held multiple generations of families traveling to El Salvador for El Día de Difuntos - All Souls Day - when families gather to remember their beloveds who have passed away.  All Souls Day is an official holiday in El Salvador.  Government offices, schools and many businesses are closed.  All Souls Day is honored in El Salvador with traditions that are similar to the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, minus the decorated skulls and sugar treats.  Salvadoran families bring brooms and buckets, paint and brushes, and beautiful plastic, silk or cut flowers to the cemeteries.  Families clean leaves and debris away from the graves, wash or paint the headstones and tombs, and decorate the sites with colorful flowers.  Sometimes families eat traditional foods sold on the streets near the cemetery, and sometimes hired mariachis play music.  No matter how the family is able to celebrate, family togetherness is the focus.

The turbulence let up a bit.  "The captain has turned off the seatbelt sign.  Now would be a good time to use the restroom," the attendant announced.  Passengers are instructed not to line up in the galley area.  Of course, they do it anyway.  A few of us stood in front of an empty seat near the rear of the plane.  I turned to the mom and daughter behind me.  "Is that the bathroom?" the mom asked.

"Sí (yes)," I said.  "Do you need to go urgently?" I asked the girl.  She looked to be about 10 years old.  She nodded strongly.  "Go ahead," I said to the mom.

"Are you sure?" the mom asked.

"Yes, I understand.  I am a grandmother," I smiled at the pair.

"Can I go in there with her?" the mom asked. "It is her first time.  I just want to protect her, you know."  I told her the space was tight, but she could go in if she wanted to.

When the bathroom became free, the mom peeked inside and showed her daughter all of the things she needed to do.  She held the door closed with her foot from the outside.  "We are going to visit the mother of my husband.  It has been 9 years since I have seen her."  I asked about where her family in El Salvador lived, and she told me.  It is a 3 hour ride from the airport.  "My husband has not seen his mother in 29 years.  He was just a boy when he left.  Can you imagine?  Mother will start shaking when she sees him and we will have to hold her up like this."  She grabbed the imaginary shoulders of her mother-in-law in front of her.

The little girl emerged from the bathroom.  There was toilet paper on the floor and the mother was worried about me going into a dirty bathroom.  "It's OK," I said, "It was there before your daughter went in."  Soon, I thought, this little girl will be meeting her grandmother for the first time. "Safe travels on the road," I said with a smile.

As the plane got closer to El Salvador, we took a big bump and the roller coaster ride began.  The seatbelt light flashed on and no announcement was needed to get everybody into their seats.  The attendants scrambled to make sure everyone, including the 2 year old cutie were safely secured.  We took a big drop and there was a collective gasp, maybe a little bit more like a stifled scream.  A man in front of us spoke loudly to his family, "Es el Día de los Santos - It is All Saints Day, and God just reminded us of what is most important.  We must have faith in all moments.  Did God get your attention?"  This was an announcement the passengers understood.  Murmurs of "Sí, si" were accompanied by nodding heads.

We landed.  The passengers cheered and applauded.

Welcome to San Salvador.  If this is your home, welcome home.  And happy All Saints Day.

Here are a few other stories I have written about Days of Dead, Saints and Souls...
Days of Saints and The Dead
Making a Living on the Day of the Dead
A Fiesta to Remember in Tonaca


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