Unlike American cemeteries, Guatemalan cemeteries glow bright with the colors of the raised mausoleums. Death here comes hand in hand with life. The cement painted with yellows and pinks creeps with vines and insects. The leaves of plants of nearby headstones grow over the words, bringing the bodies of the entombed steadily back to Quechua Lom (Mother Earth in Maya Achi).
The cemetery we walked through was special, nestled among the regular graves are large, long mounds of dirt, covered in grass and accompanied by stone monuments. On each headstone there is the name of who was laid to rest in the Earth. Victims of massacres fertilize the bountiful green around them. Our guide pointed to a particular grave and description how the women buried there was taken by helicopter one day in 1982 and was never seen again. Our guide then said this woman was his mother. A heavy silence hung in the warm air enclosed by the blush pink walls of the cemetery, as we meditated on the life of the man in front of us had led. He pulled his bike around and led us to a painting of tiny bodies being thrown over a cliff. We learned that the bodies at our feet had been excavated from mass graves after being murdered by the military during the armed conflict.
Through DNA sampling and intensive forensic analysis, the bodies had been brought back to their loved ones after decades of no information of their whereabouts. We watched footage of the tiny 2×1 foot boxes being lowered to their final resting places in Rabinal. Mayan religious leaders spread smoke from copal incense over the boxes. Every member of the community inserted pilled boxes lined up next to each other. Now here we were, with a survivor of a brutal war, on a people so torn by genocide, and all I would think about was how much life was in every inch of this place. I was awestruck by the beauty despite how much pain was saturated in the Earth around me. The breeze rocked the leaves around me, the dead leaves whispered words of survival and recovery, this is a sacred place.
Note from Instructors: We are headed to Rio Negro to learn more of the armed conflict in Guatemala, where we´ll be for 3 days without service. We are excited to connect soon and share our experiences after our trip.