The Deads' Sonia

They call her Sonia de los muertos, "the Deads' Sonia", or Reina de los muertos, "The Deads' Queen".

She lives in Riohacha, Colombia, close to the Venezuelan border. Everybody knows her in town, she is the local celebrity. Whenever there is a death and the family can't afford the funeral, or a Venezuelan dies in the region and nobody wants to take the responsibility, her phone rings and she is off to work. But nobody pays her for this.

So what is her story, what is her motivation?

"I was 13 when I got to know that the poor are buried in a mass grave. I was shocked. I thought everybody deserves to be buried decently. Next thing I know, I'm the only person at the local hospital working as a mortician. I wanted to help the poor so sometimes I buried even those whose family couldn't afford it. But I had to go against the institution, they had never agreed to this. I used their facilities while they said we can't do anything for those who can't pay for the services. Behind their backs, I kept burying as much as I could. The locals started to get to know my name, they started to contact me directly instead of the hospital. Six years ago, I could finally retire and now I sacrifice all my time for the dead. I bought a land where I am building my own cemetery. I take care of 6-7 cases per month. A few days ago, I buried a Venezuelan woman who had diabetes and since there is no longer any medication in Venezuela, she had to come here. While she was waiting at the hospital however, her condition worsened and she died. With no relatives in Colombia, no money, the government wouldn't do anything. Another case recently was when a family buried a relative in their garden because they didn't have enough money for a funeral. And when 7 months later they heard about me, they called me immediately. I arrived with my van, digged him out and took the corpse to my place. I have all the necessary things at home: coffins, makeup and so on. I do all this voluntarily, from my pocket, and I'm happy at the cemetery with my dead. I go to talk to them, to sing for them. At least they are peaceful, not like the living. I might be nuts but every genius in history was somewhat crazy, right? Even my family thinks I am crazy. I buried my mother and I didn't cry. It's all the same for me whether it is a stranger or a relative. I am not afraid of death, but I am not afraid because I am not alone. I am surrounded with love, with my children and grandchildren."

Riohacha, Colombia


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