Guatemala City, Guatemala
By Jorge Dan Lopez
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
The clock had only just struck seven in the morning and the sound of heavy hammers pounding cement had already begun to interrupt the silence in Guatemala City’s General Cemetery. As the sun’s first rays dipped the graveyard in light, they cast shadows on the wall from exhumers.
The men were opening and cleaning graves after people had stopped paying the lease or the lease had expired. The bodies, or what was left of them, were pulled out one by one by the grave cleaners and placed in clear, plastic bags.
The team began breaking the crypts’ lids and bricks. After a few minutes, I glimpsed the corner of a rotten casket and, eventually, I got a distinctive view of skin, bones, and an almost-preserved face, grimacing indescribably. But the grimace did not scare or repulse me; it reminded me of the ephemerality of life.
By nine in the morning, the day of exhumations was over. In total, the remains of 40 bodies were removed from their graves, placed in bags and labelled with their sex and year of death, or a code to identify the crypt in which they used to reside.
Bags that weren’t collected by relatives were forklifted in piles and lowered into 30-metre-deep mass graves, which were then shut and secured with a lock. The grave cleaners said that before closing the pit, warlocks would sometimes retrieve bones to perform magic.