The earth is not just a container for bodies. Body and earth are in a relationship of mutual nourishment and care. When a body is buried, its decomposition nourishes the earth, and the earth, in turn, protects that body until it is found.
We went to the desert to search, and the first two times we didn’t find anything. We searched and searched and searched. I imagined myself as an animal looking for her young. We dug in the ground with our nails; we didn’t find anything. Until the third time, when we found an entire young girl, but part of her body was already eaten by birds. We think it was birds because if it was wild animals they would have eaten all of her, but it was the birds.
Birds start with the eyes, the lips, the tongue. Birds eat the skull first. That was shocking. We found her on 14 February, the day we celebrate love and friendship. Later we learned that she’d been missing for a month and that she came from a ranch in the area.
Little by little, I’ve heard testimonies of what happened in this desert. They brought trucks with the people in them, they stuffed them in barrels, they burned them… Their burnt clothing was scattered across the desert, and their shoes were deformed by the sun.
When I walk through the desert, I stop, and I feel so sad. I stop to look, and I ask myself, ‘Why? How did they even think to commit these atrocities on this beautiful land? And who were the witnesses? The sun? The open sky? Just the breeze? Were the birds that are singing witnesses to all of this?’
Who’s to say my daughter isn’t here among these bones? When we’re here in the desert and stop searching, I sit down under a mesquite or another tree to cry. I say to it: ‘You witnessed who was here, you saw who they killed: tell me!’ I want to make them talk. I wish the trees could talk, I even hug and squeeze them and tell them, ‘You know who they are, you know who was here, suffering.’
From the moment you head down this path, you imagine how they brought them to these places, and when you start to dig, you begin to get an idea of how they executed them, how they died, you can imagine endless details.
That is part of being a searcher. Imagining it – as painful as it may be for us – imagining with all that pain what their death was like. How they got them up here… When I face a gravesite, I start to imagine, how did they do it? When I see the countryside and the trees, the rocks, all the natural features, it helps me to imagine it: let’s see, they arrived – this way, if I were them, there’s shade here… It helps me a lot to get a sense of the area, but you can’t keep imagining in this much detail because you hurt yourself, it causes more damage.
Each body we find is different, each grave has its own distinct features, but one surprised me: the body was wrapped in roots. Simón, a searcher in Guerrero, says that we are all fertilizer for the earth. And the earth adopted the body. I felt like the earth was clinging to the body because it wouldn’t let us remove it. The forensic anthropologists had to work really hard to get the body out. It was like the earth was embracing it with its roots.
In my mind, I said, ‘Let yourself be freed, your family is looking for you; give them the chance to be at peace. We’re working really hard to get you out, so give us a hand.’ I think that always helps.
My brother disappeared. He was my only sibling. If I had a problem, he would help me. He would always say, ‘You’re real crazy.’ It was his way of telling me that I never gave up, I never gave in.
Patrocinio has changed a lot the last few times we’ve gone. There are starting to be taller trees, vegetation that at the time was destroyed. I think that happened because when the criminal groups that kidnapped people were there, they were using things like gasoline and diesel to burn the bodies, and those substances stayed in the earth, which damaged the subsoil. And since we came to search, those criminals don’t come around any more, and the farmers and shepherds who used to come here can return to graze their animals and work the land.
Also, with time, the subsoil is recovering, and when we remove everything that doesn’t belong there, everything that was once there starts to sprout. It can blossom again.