one among 4 million/venezuela-colombia

one among 4 million/venezuela-colombia

We share in first person the testimony of Miguel, a young man from Venezuela who is being supported from the School of Bogota.

I decided to begin to save to leave Venezuela in August of 2017, 8 months before beginning my journey to Colombia. The reasons why I was desperate to leave there are too many tell all, but the most important one was the discouraging thought of knowing that although I already had a university degree and I could work myself to the bone my entire life, I would never be able to aspire to anything, not to own a home, nor a decent wage, nor a good job unless I had some “influence” with the government. I could not aspire to grow in any way.

Of course, that was not the only reason. There were many that were a bit more immediate, for example, how exasperating it was to see how quickly the electric appliances that my parents had worked so hard to obtain were damaged thanks to the daily electric outages which could last 6 hours, during which I did not have much to do since, like part of my generation, many of my pastimes involved technology. Another reason was beginning of each day with the certainty that meals were going to be skimpy, obtaining something decent to eat was going to involve an odyssey, and that if one of us were to get sick due to malnourishment, there would not be any medicine to cure us, and if there were medicines, probably there would be no money to buy them. Everything was scarce all the time.

When I told my parents that I was thinking about leaving the country, they rejected the idea completely and tried to convince me to remain and to try to make a life there. I suppose that they were frightened because I am their only child, and the idea of leaving me to my own devices without knowing when they would see me again was hard to deal with. Nevertheless, several of their friends finally managed to make them see that no matter how painful it would be, it was for the best. In a country where there were so many things lacking, I would wind up stagnating. In the end, because they loved me, they decided to support my difficult decision.

On April 5, 2018, I began my journey to Colombia together with my best friend’s wife and their son; he was going to receive me in Bogota on the condition that I would take care of the two of them on the journey. It was a day of many conflicting emotions. I was really afraid and nervous, for I didn’t know what I was going to find on the other side of the border, how things would go, if I would be able to have a better life there, or if, instead, I would one of those many immigrants who would have to return due to inability to adapt to an unknown land. I also felt a lot of nostalgia because I was leaving my parents, my family, the few friends who had not yet emigrated, the place where I had grown up, and all the memories that I had there, knowing that I would not see them again for a long time. On the other hand, I felt happy on knowing that I was going to a place where I would have more opportunities to work, to grow, to obtain such basic things as food and medicines, and principally to be able to help my parents economically.

I arrived in Bogotá on April 6; it was 3:00 a.m. when we reached the Salitre Terminal. My first impression of the city was the cold that penetrated to the bone. We had to stay in the terminal until 6:00 a.m. because the trip had been quicker than we had anticipated, so the people who were going to meet us there were not ready to come for us when we arrived. I was tired, but very eager to see my best friend and his brother because I had not been able to chat with them since they emigrated, and also to get to know the new city where I was going to live.

I spent the first two weeks of my stay here getting acclimated to the city, resting and recovering from all the stress that this life-change involved. My best friend and his family took me around the city, and they helped me to understand how to get around, how to manage money and, in short, how to live in Bogotá.

When I had some basic knowledge of how to get around in this city, I decided to begin what I had come to do — to work, and that’s where the real challenge began. I knew that getting a job would not be easy, and even more so when the only document that I had was my passport, but I had never imagined how difficult and frustrating it was going to be. To begin with, I felt a bit disappointed, because the person who received me had helped many people to obtain work in order to settle here; with me this was not the case. The first reality check was the realization that I was completely on my own.

The first job that I got two months after beginning the job search, was thanks to an acquaintance of my best friend. She made ice cream and hired me to sell it on the streets in the Tintal area, which was the first neighborhood where I lived. Being honest, they were a bit expensive, so it was very difficult to sell them, and I did not make much money. After two weeks I decided, together with the people who lived with me, to make coffee to sell on the street. We would leave around 5 pm every day and we would stop with a thermos at a corner of the Tintal to sell black coffee until 10 pm. This did not work out well either, because we hardly recouped the money that we invested in the coffee and the thermos.

After my two failed attempts at making money, I decided that the best thing would be to begin to pass out resumes and go every day from store to store in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, all the places that I went asked for a Permiso Especial de Permanencia (Special residence permit) or a work visa, and I did not have either of these. at times I felt that I wasn’t going to achieve anything, until one day an acquaintance of my cousin recommended me to a carwash in Alcalá – at the other end of the city. After a trialweekend, finally I began to work there.

It was not an easy job. I had to leave my house at 4:30 am in order to get the first rapid transit bus that left from Banderas for Alcala in order to arrive at work at 7:00 am. Often I would leave with a backache, for the carwash did not have platforms to raise the cars. Most of the time I had to bend down to clean the underside of the cars and do all kinds of maneuvers to get each car clean. My shift finished at 7 pm, and I would arrive home at 9 pm to prepare my supper – which was always the same – rice and lentils, since it was the cheapest and easiest to prepare – and then sleep. This was my routine during the next 3 months; it was hard, but it was a start, and it was the work that helped me to begin.

When I worked for 3 months, they offered me a Rappi account, so I negotiated with my boss to let me leave at 6 pm instead of 7 pm. I did home deliveries from that time until approximately 10:00 pm, I did the errands on foot since I had no way to buy a bicycle nor anyone to lend me one.

One day, juggling everything I was doing, I realized that I was earning more from Rappi than from the carwash, and that gave me the freedom to work near my house. I quit the carwash and dedicated myself to Rappi full time. This happened at a moment when the person who rented the apartment to us in Tintal evicted us because of problems with the real estate agency through whom my best friend had made the contract. We had to look for a place to live at short notice, so we rented an apartment in Kennedy. It was not very large; it had no windows, so we got no sunlight didn’t. It was considerably more cramped, and I slept on a thin mattress on the floor, but we couldn’t be fussy when we had no place to live. All of this happened around September of 2018.

When I began to do deliveries full time (7 am to 10 pm) the problems started with my friends. Since I began to earn more, and they began to ask me for more and more money to the point that often I could not manage to give the amount they asked me for. They got angry since all of them had papers and formal jobs, when I was still working informally and was living from my daily earnings. I had no problem with contributing to the household where I was living; clearly we all had to help one another. But they asked me for fees that basically did not allow me to save anything for my own expenses.  We had more and more conflicts about money until it got to the point that they began to hide the food that they bought. Then, with the little that I could keep after contributing to the expenses of the house, I had to buy my own food and balance the rest of my expenses. In those moments I thought about giving up and returning to my house in Venezuela, or at least trying to get something in Cúcuta. I was tired, depressed and felt hopeless.

What motivated me to stay was that in December there was a kind of truce in the house, that I suppose was due to the festive atmosphere. It gave me some peace. Besides, on December 28 of that year, Migración Colombia issued a package of Special Permits for Residence for Venezuelans, in which fortunately I managed to be included. This was a great news for me at that moment, for it gave me the opportunity to obtain formal work where I could earn more money and under better working conditions. So as soon as I had it, on January 4, 2019, I went for an interview in the Sutherland company, where fortunately I remained, for there my life in Colombia began to improve.

The first few months were complicated. Because of my status as an immigrant I received a lower salary than the Colombians did. In order to get a complete wage one needs a certificate expedited by Colombian immigration, which finally I could pay after a few months. Once I received same salary as the rest, I could finally leave the house of the persons who had received me since the problems with them were unbearable.

From then on, I began to save. I had my own place, I made friends that have become like a second family. I also have a girlfriend who helped me to bring my parents to visit in October of 2019, for my mother’s birthday. That was my happiest moment in Colombia because I did not expect to be able to see them so soon after all that happened. Showing them my new life and what I had obtained by my efforts was a moment of pride for me.

In February of 2020 my girlfriend and decided to live together, and so I went from living in a small apartment together with 5 other people, to living in a room in a communal house, to having my own apartment together with her and her dog which is now mine also. Transitioning with a lot of effort from not having anything to making my family here and being able to buy things that I never thought I would be able to have for a long time, like a base guitar and a playstation, and finally being able to sleep peacefully at night.