Busy Days, Great Discoveries

WOW! What an incredible week we have had. It’s hard to believe that so much has happened in such a short span of time.

As you all know, on Monday, Team Cádiz went to Villamartín and Ubrique. We were able to see incredible objects of memory at the Museo Histórico Municipal de Villamartín, and had a very informative chat with Ana María Venegas.

On Wednesday, which also happened to be my 22nd birthday, we traveled to Algeciras on a 7AM bus. Poor Mike, who missed the bus, met us somewhere along the way, thanks to Professor Cate-Arrie’s new best friend, Miguel, a gaditano taxi driver. At 9:30, José Emilio Galiardo, the man Professor Cate-Arries interviewed last week, met us at the bus station and served as our excellent tour guide for the rest of the day. We had a lovely ocean-side breakfast in Algeciras, and then were on our way to Jimena de la Frontera.

Our first stop there was a meeting at La casa verde (The Green House) with Andrés Rebolledo, el presidente de la asociación de famliares. Andrés works with AGADEN, La Asociación Gaditana para la Defensa y Estudio de la Naturaleza (Cadiz’s Association for the Defense and Study of Nature). He spoke to us about the great work that he and others have done for the recuperation of historical memory, specifically the exhumation of the fosa del Cortijo de Marrufo (the mass grave at the farmhouse of Marrufo) and the creation of the Cementerio de la Sauceda as a place honoring those that were unjustly killed. We had the enormous fortune of having Andrés accompany us to both the cemetery and the mass grave. It was an unforgettable experience. As we stood in the middle of very gorgeous, isolated mountains, we were told of the atrocities that occurred at the very places we were standing. However, as tragic and horrifying as the “memories” were, Andrés presented these places to us with a strong feeling of optimism. He talked a lot about how happy he was that he and the Association had been able to achieve so much, and how it brought him and others real peace to have places like this to honor their dead.

After spending a great deal of time with Andrés, we continued our tour with José Emilio. He brought us to another part of the mountain for a long, uphill hike in search of an old church and some ruins. Unfortunately, we never found them. After that, we went back down the mountain, through Jimena once again, and then over to San Roque, José Emilio’s hometown. There, we went to a museum with many republican posters and got a lovely tour from José Emilio’s friend. Next, we drove to a town called La Línea (and passed by Africa and the Rock of Gibraltar on the way!) to meet José Emilio’s elderly uncle. He talked to us about the Franco years, giving us some terrific insights into what life was like back then.

We arrived at the bus station for the last, 10:00, bus to Cádiz at 10:05. Thankfully, the bus driver was 20 minutes late and we made it, getting back into Cádiz around midnight.

On Thursday, Megan and I rested and did some work.

Then on Friday, a friend of a friend met us in the morning and drove us to Benamahoma, a tiny town in the mountains. The original plan was to stop there on our way to Grazalema for a quick interview with a man named Joaquín Ramón Gómez Calvillo, the former mayor of Benamahoma, but we ended up staying there with him all day long! Joaquín was amazing; un personaje (a character), as they say here. He was expressive and lively and incredibly passionate about the movement to recover historical memory. As he took us through the town, in which he was born, raised, and intended to stay forever, he spoke kindly to everyone (… and I really mean EVERYONE). Throughout his life, he established wonderful relationships with many of the elderly people in the town, which is what inspired his interest in la memoria histórica. This is also what caused him to come to the harsh realization that his sleepy, friendly little town had a dark, dismal past. During franquismo, the people of Benamahoma suffered tremendously. An unbelievable amount of people were savagely tortured and killed at the hands of the franquistas. He told us story after horrific story about torture, rape, hunger, fear, and unimaginable cruelty. He talked to us about vicious threats that he received personally when he started working with the movement to discover the truth and honor the dead. He brought us into the homes of many different elderly men and women who either experienced the post-war themselves, or whose family members were directly impacted. He showed us around the beautiful cemetery that he had helped to create. Interestingly enough, the cemetery served as the place of rest for both the republicanos that were murdered AND their asesinos, those that had murdered them. Again, Joaquín and the others spoke of not looking for revenge or blame. All they wanted was the truth and a way and place to mourn their dead.

As you can see, we had a wonderful and VERY busy week. We learned so much about the war, the post-war repression under Franco, the fear that people have lived with for decades, and the modern efforts that are being made to recover historical memory. We are so grateful to all the people that have helped us out along the way.

Before I go, here are the lessons I learned from this past week about conducting research out in the field (or should I say, lessons about what NOT to do): • NEVER go anywhere without lots of water and food (the people showing you around might get so excited and distracted that they forget to let you stop for food for 12 hours) • Always have sunscreen with you • Don’t go anywhere without tissues. Allergy attacks can creep up anywhere, anytime. And you do NOT want to have to blow your nose in your hand (trust me) • Unless you are 100% sure that you will be sitting at a café/plaza all day long for interviews (like we were in Ubrique), DO NOT wear a fancy dress and heels to interviews. When in doubt, wear sneakers/closed toed flats (You might just end up climbing a mountain) • Even if you don’t’ get carsick in the U.S., you might very well get carsick in Europe (come prepared with dramamine) • If you are in Spain, “short” meetings with people might last for hours (or even all day long). • Finally, if it happens to be your birthday, be prepared to “re-schedule it.” As Mike said, “Not many people get a guided tour of a killing field on their 22nd birthday. We definitely owe you some cake after that day.” Amen 😉


  1. Thelma Esteves says:

    Reading the blog while sitting in my farmhouse in the peaceful hills of Massachusett’s Berkshires I look up at the green fields and hills thinking of how a bucolic setting can become a scene of atrocities. My PBS radio in the room reports the fighting in Syria and I feel the tears well up in my eyes. Your historical search may be able to reveal alternate paths to settle the huge and inevitable clashes of ideas and interests that can spark these tragedies. The “personaje” of your piece gives one hope that his life can teach more than just the topography of his beloved town.

  2. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who was conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me lunch because I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this issue here on your web site.

  3. Kate Wessman says:

    WOW!!! I wish I had received notification of these comments… I only just saw them now! I’m so glad that you enjoyed this post, Raf, and I hope that your colleague’s research is going well. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any further comments or questions!