Pero tu vida no pasará, no pasará, no pasará
Pero tu vida será más fuerte – Tu Vida No Pasara, Tiziano Ferro
2016 marks 10 years since I visited Venezuela, meaning Little Venice, for the first time. During that decade, I have been 4 times. My family and I returned from there at midnight on Thursday. We left in a taxi from Valencia, my husband’s home town. 3 hours later we were in Maiquetia Airport. 4 hours later we boarded an Iberia Airlines airplane. 8 and a half turbulent hours later we landed in Madrid. We waited 12 hours at Adolfo Suarez airport. My husband and I took turns dozing on the marble floors. I smiled as I was resting, listening to an imperious conversation my daughter was having with her father.
“Papa, you are Spanish,”
“No soy espanol, yo hablo espanol,” he informed her
“What are you Papa? What are you?”
“Ah, si, si…venezolano,”
Before taking a 2 hour flight to Amsterdam, she would reprimand me for speaking Spanish at the shops and cafes because I am English! One hour passing through the airport and at baggage reclaim in Schiphol. Thankfully no immigration thanks to Schengen. Half an hour in a taxi and we were in our casa propria. So, after 30 hours of no sleep we collapsed into bed. The next day, I started writing this piece with a fuzzy head and still red eyes as I was afraid of my impressions slipping as they can do.
All my husband’s extended family and close friends still live there. It is his home leave and now it is very much my 3 year old daughter’s. My husband will never live there again but it will always be his home. My daughter won’t live there while we raise her though she may go there once she is an adult, up to her. For the time being, it is a place important to her cultural heritage. My husband left Venezuela for London 16 years ago. It was there that I met him in a library. We hadn’t been seeing each other long when we were out to dinner with friends.
“Why did you come to the UK?” a man at the table asked
“I came here to meet Ellie,” he responded without hesitation
Everyone at the table looked down at their shoes, blushing, including myself. This answer sums up just about everything I admire in my husband’s character. His family, in their house built in colonial times with shutters permanently closed for heat and security, asked him the same question before he left for good but he gave them a different answer, though no less valid. There was nothing for him any more since the revolution that took place in his homeland. And there was a big world, not a small one outside. They looked down at their plates in response. They did not understand the calling inside him. He left, turning into an expatriate and economic migrant.
My husband pointed out the Petroleum de Venezuela site where he used to work as a young mechanical engineer as we drove to the town of Tucacas where Venezuelans go to the beach.
“I helped build that,” he tells me, pointing to a tall tank now rusting.
“Why is it rusting?”
“Because the people who work there now don’t know how to take care of it or won’t,”
“Should there be a fire burning like that?” I ask
It looked like it was emerging from the Atlantic Ocean but it was on an onshore facility.
“No, never” he says, skilled in safety.
In Tucacas I took a picture of an abandoned house from the top of our hotel.
It was so striking we went out to get a closer look and take more shots. I put it on Instagram and it was popular as most photos of abandoned places are. My brother-in-law especially liked it and shared it. It was interesting to see a Venezuelan take on it;
…Son muchos los fines que se le pueden dar como atractivo turístico y generador de empleos y divisas para ese pueblo que cada vez lo los gobernantes de turno lo hunden mas en el abandono.en cualquier otro país esa construcción fuera un gran restauran, hotel, posada, museo,o un centro donde se enseñara y exhibiera la cultura,historia,costumbres y tradiciones de antiguos y actuales pobladores. La construcción esta allí,la idea esta aquí y la zona tiene un gran potencial…solo falta la disposición de las autoridades…
I should add that I saw a dog sneaking into this once accommodation and that people lived in very close proximity. In fact, most homes, offices and shops throughout the country were degraded and in much need of maintenance. We spoke about a coffee shop we’d gone to in Paris years ago. The shopkeeper had on offer beans from most South American countries. Venezuela was the only one whited out though it is abundant in coffee. There was no milk when we stopped for a coffee break. Venezuelans have not seen milk in some time.
“Where did the milk used to come from?”
“From local farms,”
“Were they taken over?”
“Yes and the landlords removed,”
“And the people who took over the farms didn’t know how to run them?”
The waiter who served us was Bolivian.
“How do you know?”
“Same way you know who is Irish or American,”
I nodded, it suddenly occurring to me that Latin America is the only continent, from Mexico down to Argentina were its people speak the same language, Spanish. Cross out Brazil or course. No other continent can really qualify for this. That night as I fell asleep, I tossed and turned thinking of these particular mass movements of people. That waiter, my husband’s best friend from preschool who relocated to Panama and Skypes us all the time. My daughter’s cousin whose grandparents are from The Canary Islands and Cuba. I am extremely sensitive to such stories. The song I quoted was one I heard many times on the radio in Venezuela and captures the drive of people moving to and fro.
A New York Times report focused on how Venezuelans take a selfie of their feet before they emigrate. I meant to take one of my husband and daughter’s too but I forgot. We’ll be back.