Almost two weeks ago Joel and I accompanied a group of masters students from Spring Arbor University to the Amansio Samuel Villatoro memorial museum. The family of Villatoro set up this museum in honor of him and the others who “disappeared” during the internal armed conflict. I’m not going to go into the politics of this, the details, because the subject is very sensitive because of its implications in Guatemala today and because of the US involvement in the conflict. All that is not the point of my reflection.
The memorial is a small, two room setup – the first has the faces and descriptions of the 183 people in the “diario militar” (this link is to an article describing the diario militar, and this one to the discovery of Villatoro’s remains). This diary was basically a hit list – face by face, name by name, or the Guatemalans who were to be captured, kidnapped, tortured, and eventually killed. The remains of only 6 out of the 183 people have been located; the rest have truly disappeared. Samuel Villatoro’s son explained the diario to us, amongst other things. It was overwhelming to hear the stories, the first hand testimony of a child whose father literally disappeared.
Then we passed into the second room which contained the remains of Samuel – he is one of the 6 that have been identified. I wasn’t expecting to see these bones. I was shocked, overwhelmed. Our guide knew that was a normal response because the first thing he said was, “many people say that it’s unnatural for us to display our father’s remains. We say that the unnatural thing was the 28 years that he was disappeared.”
The bones cried out, they were telling a story – sharing a history of pain, of shame, of secrets. The bones spoke of hope – hope that the truth can and will eventually rise to the surface. The bones brought me back to Ezekial 37 – what vivid imagery we find – bones receiving new life, bones receiving fresh breath, bones being brought back to their intended home.
I’m still processing this experience – the emotion, the pain, the weight of my country’s involvement, the injustice. I’m thankful that I was able to visit this memorial, to hear from Samuel’s son, and to learn from the dry bones. I hope that more families of the disappeared have the opportunity to have their dry bones brought home.