12/18/2012 12:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Real Mayan End of the World (PHOTOS)

I am currently in Nahualá in the western highlands of Mayan Guatemala filming a documentary on the region, Unrecorded Spirits: Life in Mayan Guatemala. Since 2005 I have worked on health research and intervention projects focused on alcohol abuse and domestic violence. I am making this film partly due to the inherent lack of context in academic research, which also generally only produces articles that most can't or won't read. I aim to convey an experience that is complex, in a manner that can be accessed by more than a few. An example of dismissed context and simplification comes to mind with the concept of the "end of the world" pertaining to the end of the Mayan calendar. I find the sensationalized subject to demean the experience of the people here, many of whom experience a world that is swarmed by daily threats of an end that is very real.

Recently I asked a nun about the sexual abuse of women. Her eyes lit up, as she was overwhelmed by the amount that existed and had too many stories and not enough breath to tell them. The answer was resounding: It's everywhere, all the time. To dispel with hyperbole, this is not rape happening around every corner. This is a systemic form of violence that poses very real threats, with very little possibility of recourse.

The first example she gave was of a young mother who was abandoned by her husband, a too-common occurrence that can greatly exasperate family welfare needs. This woman ventured to another town in search of work and stayed with an aunt. This aunt kept boarders, and while this young woman spent the night, the aunt sold her niece's rights to one of the boarders and allowed him to rape her. This rape resulted in a pregnancy and a second young child for this single mother.

As for repercussions, the follow-up story is of a teenager, possibly autistic, but with access to health care at such extreme lows that such a diagnosis is a major luxury. This girl was raped in a nearby village by a local man. The father of the girl knew the identity of the man and declined police action.

The nun asked him, in alarm, "What if this was your son who was attacked? Would you proceed then?"

He replied, "Of course!"

She said, "And what about your daughter?"

He replied, "I don't want to cause any trouble."

The women here who are scolded, beaten and raped are not valued the same as men, but far less, and can be seen as things to be used and thrown away. This is disgusting, pathetic and undeserved by any human being. These are but two stories that exist in an ocean of them. I can sadly wager that every single person here knows someone or is someone who has experienced such trauma. Therefore, when I hear talk of the end of the world, I think about rape, murder and sickness -- the real ways that the world ends for Maya women and girls, and not on one single day.


Approaching The Mayan End Of The World: Girls And Women

Watch a preview of Unrecorded Spirits: Life in the Mayan Guatemala:

To learn more about the film, visit

To see more of Fotis' photography, visit