I didn’t have time to think about what was happening. It was 7am, way too early for me, and we were already at the airport for the flight out of Venezuela, the flight that would officially make me an ex-pat.
We arrived at the airport four hours early. This was encouraged by my father-in-law who works as an Airport “Transporte Ejecutivo” and knows the ins and outs of the place. He landed the “dream” job after the government expropriated the land where his car garage stood. They gave him 72 hours to get out, he sold everything “a precio de gallina flaca,” bought a van, and never looked back.
He got our suitcases out of the car and hugged his grandchildren, his son, and me goodbye. He said he had another “carrera” to do, he had to go back to Caracas to get another traveler down to the airport. He said he would try to make it back before we entered immigration. He didn’t.
No one was there to send me off. I’m the last of my immediate clan to leave the country. My elder sister left on a scholarship almost a decade ago. My mother, an ex-Pdvsa, tired of the blackballing, searched for greener pastures shortly afterward. My Nana and I stayed. Things were not that bad, and there was hope, there was actual hope for change.
I wish I could say that I said a heartfelt goodbye to my country, full of memories of the good old days. Frankly, I was more preoccupied with herding the seven suitcases, two backpacks, one purse, and two kids on my hands.
Sneakers off, sneakers on, through metal detectors, more waiting, more lines, a curiously nice immigration officer, eat your breakfast, sit at the table, don’t run away, bathroom break 1, bathroom break 2, bathroom break 3, please stay within my eyesight, you’re grounded, please don’t bother the other passengers, board plane, sit down, fight for the window seat, avoid other passenger’s evil eyes, take off.
It was that night, and basically all that first week, snuggled in our inflatable mattresses, that a feeling began to creep in my chest, part guilt, part sadness. I’m pretty sure I can trace my family history on Venezuelan soil back almost 300 years. This country helped my parents break a cycle of poverty, it gave me the opportunity of a college education, and it saw the birth of my children. I feel a huge debt to it.
But then again, it was also this same country that had kidnapped, mugged, and shot close family and friends. I chose between my “debt” and my family. Family won.
I know that I will no longer be a “complete” Venezuelan; I will start to become this weird hybrid of countries and places, not belonging to any of them. I feel strangely detached, like uprooted plankton floating in an endless sea of doubt.
I took belonging for granted. That is my biggest regret.