The moment had arrived to make the most difficult decision of all, the decision to leave our beloved country. All our dreams for our future there had gone up in smoke, lost with the newly introduced policies. The other decision was how to tell our daughters that we were going without knowing when we would return, without knowing if they would ever see their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, . The best option was to tell them that we were going on vacation as we have done before. They were excited and happy about discovering new possibilities.
That day we left early, headed for Ciudad Bolivar; passing through the wide plains made us imagine that perhaps many years would go by before we would see them again. We continued on our way and changed buses for Santa Elena de Uairen. It was a long time until the bus made a stop for breakfast and the bathroom. There we were in the midst of the Amazon forest with its imposing mountains. In the distance we could see a great mountain; it was our beloved Auyantepuy. We were able to see it and admire it for some minutes, and then continued our journey, with a sinking heart, but at the same time feeling the peace that that place provided. We continued on, and when we could no longer see it, we knew that we had now abandoned our land and left behind all those dreams that we had once thought to accomplish. On the other hand, the children were excited about everything they were seeing and wanted to arrive at their destination.
We arrived in Santa Elena de Uairen, and there we listened from afar to the drivers calling for passengers going to the Brazilian border. We hurried to get one, and in a short time we were headed for the border. In a few minutes we went to the Venezuelan side to get our passports stamped. We changed some dollars into reales, and the driver waited for us in order to take us to the Brazilian side. We said goodbye to the driver who had treated us very well and compassionately on seeing us with two little girls and in search of a better future.
Once on the Brazilian side we got into the long line, telling ourselves, this will be the last line we will have to wait in!
After some long hours of waiting, the moment came to have our passports stamped. There we were in front of a woman who asked us, “How long will you be staying in Brazil? Where are you headed?” Immediately we answered five days, because we were going to Buenos Aires, although we were thinking of making the entire journey overland if we did not get flights. She told us “Welcome to Brazil, I am going to authorize you for 15 days,” so we left there very happy to continue on our adventure. There we took taxis toward Boa Vita. Some hours later we were in the terminal looking for flights or other options, but there were not many, so we decided to spend the night there. Luckily this terminal had a bathroom with showers, and we were able to take showers and change our clothing. We prepared a space there to spend the night, and in spite of the difficulty, the children were enjoying it. They were having an unbelievable adventure, and at every moment were asking, “Are we almost there yet?”
The next day we left there for the bus terminal. Luckily Portuguese is similar to Spanish, and we were able to find this other terminal. We also met some Venezuelans on the way who wanted to help us. In the bus terminal we bought tickets for the bus that would take us to Manaos, and from there we would leave for Buenos Aires with two stopovers.
That afternoon we were able to relax a bit and wait for the bus for Manaos. A few hours later we boarded the bus and were on our way to our destination. Meanwhile, the children were fascinated with everything they were seeing and were very happy to arrive finally at our destination. The next day we arrived in Manaos; from there we took a taxi to the airport, there to wait for the flight. The next day we were on the flight to Rio de Janiero; then another stop and a two hour wait for our flight to Sao Paulo. There we waited five hours for our flight to Buenos Aires.
After a long journey we arrived in Buenos Aires with a lot of dreams and goals to reach. They stamped our passports for three months as tourists, though everyone already realized that we were coming to stay. The man who stamped the passports asked, “Is the situation in Venezuela tough?” as though hesitating before stamping; then he said, “now that you’re here, behave well.” Happy to have entered the country, we began a long journey in search of where to stay. That day that we entered Argentina we found out what cold was. Feeling an emptiness that permeated our whole being, we were at our destination that would begin this new chapter of our lives. We didn’t know anyone, or where to go or what to do. On counting up our money, we realized that now we had only half of what we had begun with; our world was collapsing. We had enough for a week in a hostel, with a very limited amount for food, and without knowing how long it would take to get a job. While we were working this out, we were sleeping in the airport.
The children were desperate to get to the final destination; they were distressed, saying that they wanted to return. On the second day that we left there for Constitution Plaza, it was bitterly cold. The children could not stand it, so we continued to look for a hostel. There were none with rooms for families with children. We were starting to feel desperate, but always hopeful we made the decision to call a shelter. They came to where we were, and the social worker spoke with us. Greatly desiring to help us, she brought us to a shelter for families. It was a drastic change, the place somewhat uncomfortable and rough, but there at least we had a roof over our heads, a place to sleep and three meals plus merienda. On the other hand, we continued to look for other options and employment. After a week, a Colombian family arrived; they gave us several places where we could go to look for help. Every day we would go to those places.
One day very early we went to the Catholic Immigration Association where we spoke with a worker in charge of helping Venezuelan migrants. They told us that there was not much they could do to help us, but they would see what they could do. At that moment a woman entered, and the worker greeted her affectionately, “Sister, how are you! Let me introduce you to this Venezuelan family who just arrived in this country a few days ago.” We introduced ourselves and told her our story; from there we went to a room to talk with the Sister to see if she could help us. She took down our information and our telephone number, and said goodbye to us. A few days later we received a call; it was the Sister who was offering us help, to lend us a house, but it was far from the capital. We didn’t think twice; we accepted it. We didn’t care how far away it was or the conditions. We just wanted to be together as a family and to struggle to attain our dreams. Eighteen days after having arrived, with help of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we found ourselves in a very lovely house. They brought smiles to our children’s faces with gifts and winter clothing. In a short time I found work, not as a doctor but taking care of elderly people. Little by little we have progressed, awaiting the revalidation of my credentials; meanwhile, I am working with discharged patients. The girls have realized that it will be a long time before we return to Venezuela. However, having begun school, one in 2nd grade and the other in 5th grade, they are getting acquainted with the customs and making friends, although always remembering what they left behind.
The best way that we have managed not to miss Venezuela too much is that in the house we speak as though we were still there, making Venezuelan meals, listening to our music, and always with the hope that some day we will go back to see their grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins again. We will end up knowing every corner of that country, and most importantly, we will always, always have it in our hearts.
Today we continue struggling to attain our dreams, and every day we seek a better future, keeping always in mind that God acts in mysterious ways, putting in our path marvelous people like the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jess, who have supported us with their human warmth, a warmth that fills us and is so necessary these days and in this troubled world.
Zail, Luisa y sus niñas desde Las Tunas