Updated: Jun 30, 2020
| This is the 302nd story of Our Life Logs |
I am 32, the same age as my mother when she had me, and that makes me look back on many things in my life. I thought I would be like her: married with a house and with children. But I am almost the opposite: I am single and living in another country because I had to run away from mine. My country is destroyed—people have died of hunger, died from a lack of medicine, or simply have been killed. Thanks to a dictatorship, I had to rethink my entire life. It was that or die.
I was born into a poor but loving family in Venezuela on March 17, 1987. I grew up surrounded by massive dams, lush greenery, and parks that stretched for miles in the beautiful Ciudad Guayana. Life was quiet—a trait I should have valued more.
In most of the country, however, people were enduring the government’s abuse of power that was reflected in a struggling economy. Many Venezuelans suffered. I was thankfully on the outside in a bubble away from it all. For the first 23 years of my life, I lived peacefully with my parents and two sisters. It wasn’t until after I graduated university and went to work in the capital city Caracas as a journalist that I saw how dangerous the country was becoming. Still, even though I had heard and seen a few horrible things in Caracas, it didn’t directly affect me, so I mostly analyzed it and kept my distance. I was optimistic back then, a good-natured Caribbean trait, I suppose.
As life continued, I realized journalism wasn’t for me, and I returned home to work as a content writer. Meanwhile, things worsened in the country. In 2013, Nicolás Maduro (the country’s leader at the time) was gaining control over Venezuela, keeping more and more materials from citizens. Many became so tired of the rising inflation and control of currency that they eventually took to the streets in protest. By 2014, the protests became quite violent and hostile. Cities like mine that were always safe from the dangers were now facing violence on every street corner. My home was no longer a quiet place—it became a battlefield.
No one felt safe. Even those who kept their heads down were in danger. One day in 2014, militants drove by and threw a tear gas grenade at us. As tears streamed down my face and my vision blurred, I wondered how the government allowed this to happen. Realizing just how ruthless people were becoming, I panicked, fearful that no one and nowhere would be safe.
Tensions continued to rise in the passing months. Detonations and the cries of those affected echoed around the city every day, like a song of death. I saw people bloody, wounded, and kidnapped off the streets. All the while, the president gave speeches about “peace” with the sound of bullets in the background.
After the government “controlled” the situation (meaning they squelched out some of the bigger protests), food rationing became more severe than we’d ever encountered. At that time, everyone in my family had an income, but money didn’t matter. Inflation made everything expensive, and food was scarce. My older sister had to save part of her lunch from work for our dinner while my mom took smaller portions so my dad could eat more.
I tried to stay optimistic but hiding my hunger became harder and harder. The lack of food led to everyone in my family losing a significant amount of weight. Our clothes began to droop off our shoulders. In happier times, this could have been a reason to celebrate, but now, it really meant something more alarming. We were on the verge of dying of hunger. We were skin and bones, often too weak to stand for more than a few hours.
I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I couldn’t bear to watch my family and my country wither away any longer. I had to leave. At least if I did, I could find a way to help get the rest of our family out. I brought up the idea to my older sister, and she and I devised a plan to leave Venezuela together. In another country without shortages, the two of us could eat and save and return to help the rest of our family. It was risky to bet that we’d have a better future, but what other options did we have? Hope was all we had.
And so, by 2016, we were making preparations, saving and selling precious items to afford plane tickets. My parents, while mournful to see us go, understood that leaving was a risk necessary if we all wanted to survive. When we became fearful of leaving, they gave us hope and strength to move forward.
Saving to leave was easier said than done. The economy was—and still is—like a hungry beast. Inflation was eating up our budget, making it less likely we could survive a few months in a bigger country like the US or Canada. We realized that we’d have to think smaller if we were going to get out. We decided on Peru. What did we know about Peru? Not much. What we knew came from other Venezuelans who had said Peru was a “good country.” That was enough for us. We needed “good” in our lives. Together, we saved the money to buy us tickets out.
The day finally arrived for us to leave in July 2017. I stepped outside and stared at our house, committing it to memory. I was terrified to start over in a new place. As much as I wanted it to be temporary, the fear that I might never be able to come back sat in the back of my mind.
As we made the journey to the city airport, I gazed at every house, every person we passed, trying to memorize the streets—my home. We passed the withered trees and grayed buildings, and I tried not to cry. My country was falling apart and even though it was better to leave, it still ached to do it.
My parents and younger sister accompanied us to the airport. My older sister and I checked in and placed our suitcases down to wait for our flight. It felt like an ordinary day at first. We were all chatting like usual—like we weren’t separating. Then the loudspeaker echoed in the airport telling us that we had to go to the waiting room, and we remembered why we were there. There was a silence as we stared at each other. The quiet was broken by my crying as I rushed to my younger sister and hugged her.
“We’ll meet again,” she told me when I was too choked to respond. The last image I have of my family is seeing them waving goodbye as we walked closer to the platform and they grew smaller and smaller.
Many of the guards along the line had looks of disdain and contempt on their faces, likely because they knew many of us were fleeing our country. My sister and I stood for what felt like days in a long line, awaiting to be cleared by the guards.
“Destination?” One of the guards asked.
I could feel sweat pooling at the small of my back as we handed him our papers. He could refuse us if he wanted. There was plenty of corruption happening in the country. Our future rested in his hands.
There was a brief silence as he reviewed our documents. I held my breath and tried to remain calm as the seconds ticked by.
“Move along,” he said, handing us back our papers.
I let out a huge breath and picked up my bags.
A nervous smile passed between us as we boarded our plane. This was it. We were leaving Venezuela—the only country we’d ever known. As the plane took off, I gazed out the window at the fading coast as we launched into the clouds.
I tried to sleep on the flight, but fatigue took over my body. I could feel how exhausted I was, how badly my body wanted to rest, but I couldn’t calm down. I was too afraid of the unknown.
The weight of the situation hit me even harder after we landed. As we called for a taxi, I began to cry like never before. All the emotion I had repressed to stay strong for my family came out as incomprehensible sobs. Our future was uncertain now. I had no idea what could happen to me. We were alone, without family or friends. Without anything. The weight of the truth was too much to bear, but my sister comforted me and reminded me of how important it was for us to come here.
Settling in was difficult, make no mistake, but little by little we began to gather the pieces. We found work wherever we could and saved as much as possible. There was a lot of crying along the way and we desperately missed our family and old lives. But then I remembered the screams. I remembered the violence, the famine, the corruption, and I’m grateful I’m away from it all. The truth is that I yearn for a country that only exists in my memory. The Venezuela I loved is gone. Venezuela is a pain that will always sit in my heart. It is a pain that is not only mine, but others who have left the country and those who are still there.
And so, I am now living in a foreign country away from most of my family. I’m working as a content writer down here and my sister has found a job of her own to help us get by. I’ve gotten used to Peru, and although my life is very different from what I had ever imagined, I’m happy that I am on the path to making a better life.
We are still working to afford to bring our family here. It is a challenge for my sister and me to achieve stability, but we are determined to reach it. We are determined to reach that state so that our family can be together again. We are not the only family enduring this and we are surely luckier than many others. But I pray that someday soon, Venezuelans can all be together again and live in peace.
This is the story of Andreina Matos Ayala
Andreina now lives in Peru with her older sister as they try to create a stable environment to get the rest of their family out of Venezuela. As Andreina grew up, she saw how corrupt and dangerous her country was becoming which led to making the difficult decision to leave. She hopes that one day her home country of Venezuela will be safe to live in again. She is a testimony of a displaced country, of a group of people who have had to suffer the consequences of people who are willing to do the least in order to prevail. Her story is like that of millions more who only aspire to have a quiet life with happiness. It has been a long road, but it’s a race of endurance, not speed. In her free time, Andreina likes to watch movies, read, and take pictures. She also likes to explore and understand Peru’s culture. She works as a content writer and hopes to achieve a better life someday soon.
This story first touched our hearts on March 16, 2019.
| Writer: Andreina Matos Ayala; Kristen Petronio | Editor: MJ |