In the Valley of the Little Turtles: The Death that brings Life
Old Raymundo smiles and turns his look towards the small hills surrounding the village, very close, indeed, to the land where young normalistas learned to improve the world. The elder shows his toothless smile and stutters a little because of emotion. His eyes are still lost on the horizon, they are invaded by a tear or two, but even he laughs as those who remember the good times lost a long time ago, might laugh. Then, for the first time his eyes focus on me. He points with his hand to an unspecified location on the landscape. There, he says, is where now comes a new flow of blood that will awaken people around here. And then he goes again, backwards, lost in the hills as his mouth smiles again and his eyes moistened again.
The old man has family in Ayotzinapa, but he refuses to tell me who they are ... or who they were. Instead he repeats again and again that the little ones will be the biggest: "They think they killed them, but they don’t know their shell defends them from all evil" ... " the old masters came to teach us that life does not die"..."the little ones will be the biggest"..."turtles care for the land and protect it "," the little ones will ... "and old Raymundo again recalls something very old that makes him smile and again he gets lost in the cloudy horizon of Chilapa. Later I found out that the place he pointed out to me with his hand was precisely the place of the school known as the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, a house that prepares the smallest of turtles, the most forgotten of all Mexico.
A dark man of about 45 years pass us on his bike, and greets Raymundo, who is still sitting on an bench. I ask him to tell me what he remembered, and he answers that when he was a boy his grandparents told him an old story. He smiles because he knows that history is being fulfilled and he says again "the little ones will be the biggest".
I say goodbye to the old man and I promise to come back the next day. I make my way back to the village and ask about Ayotzinapa. People look down, people look away as if to flee when hearing that word. As if the mention of this name hurt their hearts. Nobody says anything. The most daring, the young people certainly, tell me about what they see in the news and conclude with what is not in them: they were by killed the "pinche" government, they say.
The humid and mild air that characterizes the region contrasts, that particular day, with the rainy and cool weather. Cold, even. It is as if nature would fit the mood of the people of those lands: despite the warm hearts of men and women of Guerrero, a gray and cold air shows in their eyes. And so it goes in Chilapa: a cold air pours through its streets and makes them sad.
I fulfill my promise and I go out in search for the old Raymundo. He sits on the same bench like yesterday. I greet him from afar but he does not recognize me. He is a little blind. We shake hands and accidentally I take longer than usual in greeting him. The old man notices and tells me, without shame, that his hands feel like turtle shells. And he laughs again. His smile is sweet and tender. The missing teeth make him look, for some reason I still do not understand, wise, patient and honest.
- You're right, Don Ray, your hands are like shells.
- So are all my people. Our hands are shells. We have shells that care for us. We are like turtles and live to be very old.
The old man is turning 97 years in December and although his wrinkles and gray hair betray his age, his appearance is of someone of 60 years. He is strong and stocky. And he is slow and patient ... like a turtle.
I try to bring up the disappearance of the Normal students, which occurred a few miles away, I try to talk about how the government and media have depersonalized victims, how the government wants to make society believe that the students were related to organized crime. I try to ask him if he also thinks they were assassinated, but old Raymundo interrupted me at the right time.
- The turtles are wise, our ancestors loved them much. Turtles are strong, no one can harm them. They are spirits that always bring new life into their shells. They are protecting the earth.
- You really like turtles, Don Raymundo?
- Yes. They recall me a story told to me by my grandfather.
- What is the story about?
- It is about how the turtles will return to help men of the future cleaning the earth to start a new family. The mother turtle will come to lay their eggs and from the earth will come out new little turtles.
- And why did your grandparents tell you that story, Don Ray?
He never told me more about that story. Instead, he confessed that as a child, many years ago, he went to the beach near Acapulco and saw the small turtles getting out of the sand and how he would frightened the birds so that they would not eat the small animals seeking the sea. "And these turtles are back, near here, only that the birds ate some, but there are still many."
A boy came to pick up the old man and I could not ask more about his stories. Before getting into the car, the boy (his grandson, perhaps) made a sign with his hands: "The old man is a bit crazy", I understood. It might not be senility, perhaps he only tells those stories because he feels lonely and needs attention and company, I thought. I never imagined that the painful news that has gone around the world would wake old memories for old Raymundo, of "Ayotzinapan".
I kept asking people, hoping to get an interesting story to do a report on the 43 students missing in Iguala, ironically, "Cradle of Independence".
I left Chilapa discouraged for not finding information and because I had to cancel my trip to Ayotzinapa on a late notice for work reasons. In a last effort, I asked a couple of men in a cafe about the history of the founding of Ayotzinapa. Useless, they did not know even the history of the foundation of Chilapa.
However, the stories of the old Raymundo are themselves a treasure that he (perhaps unknowingly) gave me. A puzzle that this wise old man gave me to solve and put together. The final piece is a beautiful metaphor, almost a prophecy. The lightning trip was worth it (and by far).
IV. The valley of the sacred turtles
Ayotzinapan is already a sacred place. From these lands were born indestructible men and women. At the image of the turtles’ shell. Protective men were born there ... like the shells of turtles.
Just as the mother turtle lays eggs in the warm sand of the beach, and future turtles wait in the dark and struggle to go to sea, mother earth deposited in that small village children who had to cross the sea to tell their stories of life, death ... and struggle.
Just as the turtles cross oceans and are becoming wise during their trip, so are crossing the oceans the 43 abducted students in Iguala, Guerrero. And on his journey, the lives of "the little ones" are giving light and wisdom to those who open their eyes to see their struggle and recognize themselves in it.
At birth, the turtles have a long and dangerous road to travel before reaching the sea: they have to go through the beach and survive predators. Gulls and other seabirds hunt them and devour them. Similarly, the vultures chased and tried to devour "the old masters who came to teach us that life does not die" and "the little ones", the poorest, the least known, the most humble. But they did not realize that their shells are stronger.
For the peoples of Mesoamerica, particularly for the Maya, Toltec and Aztec cultures, the turtle is a sacred animal: she represents wisdom, strength, protection. She is a master. The turtle is Mother Earth, she is longevity, she is the universe. The turtle is related to the water and, as such, is able to dissolve up even a stone: she is toughness. The turtle also belongs to the earth: she deposits life there.
Sometimes the god Quetzalcoatl Ehécatl is represented with the attributes of a turtle; in the murals of San Bartolo, Petén, northern Guatemala, turtle shells appear; in Quiraguá contrails in Guatemala, there are turtles; in Uxmal is "The House of the turtles"; some sculptures of Xiuhtecuhtli (Aztec god of fire) are recorded in their shells. The turtle is also in the murals of Bonampak: in the central room, on top at the top of the dome is a painted turtle that brings on her back 13 stars that may amount to what is now known as the Belt of Orion.
And the turtle appears also in the stories that Don Raymundo’s grandparents told him. That old tanned, gray-haired man with his toothless smile, who was born in Ayotzinapan, or the "Valley of the little turtles".
And probably, to his grandparents, the story was transmitted by their grandparents. In this small village, as Raymundo Don told me, "the younger will help men of the future to clean earth to start a new family."
And they are already achieving it: the names, stories, pains, identity, faces, suffering and struggle of these 43 small turtles have crossed the seas. On every continent the 43 students have become messengers. They are alive: their spirit is strong like a turtle shell. Their life is an example and teaching: the 43 young ones are already teachers. And the 43 will return multiplied to deposit new life in this country.
The points are connecting and to my surprise they form a beautiful poem of life (and struggle): Ayotzinapa, according to some speakers of Nahuatl I consulted in the Federal District, Guerrero and Veracruz, means "Valley of the turtles" or "Where turtles approach the stream". Just as the old man was told.
According to the Nahuatl dictionary of the Zongolica mountains, Veracruz:
Ayotl s .: TURTLE
Example: Ayotzin tlakua -. The little turtle eats
Diminuative: -tzin, -tzih : seat-in-tzin – little star (accompanied by -tli in most nouns: siwa-tzin-tli – little woman). It is used without -tli on possessed nouns: no-kone tzin - my little boy. Also has honorary, or reverential use.
Locative: -a-pan Example: Comalapan – a place resembling a comal, small valley.
According to the Nahuatl dictionary of Mecayapan and Tatahuicapan de Juárez municipalities, Veracruz:
Ayotzin s .: turtle
-tzin suf. dim. Indicates smallness or affection, as do -ito suffixes and -ita in Spanish; Examples: piotzîn little chick; ilamajtzîn little old lady.
Apan adv .: To the river, to the stream; place over water or river.
26 marzo 2015