The Way Back Home

0

(A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a Venezuelan currently studying journalism in New York City, and yadda-yadda-yadda, Caracas Chronicles has a summer intern!

Meet Rachelle Krygier. I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say. She’ll be blogging from Caracas for the next few months.)

A man brings up his curtain of the plane’s window. He turns to his wife, “it’s beautiful, gorda, look.” The sound of his nostalgic voice wakes me up after sleeping for one of the four hours of flight from New York to Caracas.

caracas de noche first post

With his thick Venezuelan accent, the man probably knew that those lights on the mountains weren’t produced by planned illumination, as if they were monuments in Parisian nights or the Empire State Building in New York evenings. He probably knew those lights come from millions of zinc-roofed houses piled up one besides or on top the other. I bring up my curtain and agree silently. It is beautiful, it is home.

Still unable to shake the daze, I run to get first to the immigration line that is usually hours long. Hola corazón, says the friendly officer while he opens my passport.

How are you? I smile and take my jacket off.

After making me sign  and write my Venezuelan ID he asks, you studying? What are you studying?

Politics and Journalism, I say. And he laughs.

Are you coming back to Venezuela? 

I pull my hair into a pony tail and notice a big poster of Chavez and Maduro that reads “La lucha sigue”. I have two more years left of studying, I answer and wonder if he really thinks I know what I’m going to do afterwards given the country’s instability.

Oh that’ll go by fast. Good luck mi amor. And he hands me my passport.

But do I want it to go by fast? What am I going to do if I graduate and I don’t want to come back? Is there a chance that that will happen?

Well yes, if there’s no future for me here, it will, I think to myself. That’s what my cohort is protesting in the streets for: the right for a future. A future in a place where I don’t have to wait for luggage nervously, thinking of how dangerous it is that my dad is waiting for me outside at night.

I look around. I’m surrounded by people who call me names I haven’t been called in a while. I drown out my nerves with the taste of arepas and pabellón I hope to have soon.

After getting my bags, I smile to the guy who helps me put my luggage through the final security, hoping to decrease the chances that he’ll order my bags to be checked. That would make my dad have to wait longer.

Someone once told me you could tell which Venezuelans had been living abroad by how much they smile at strangers. Strangers here have stopped smiling as much.

I try to call my dad, but it’s useless. And then it happens, they have to check my bags.

I do not complain, more nervous smiles. Ven chica, says a woman wearing a red chemise. She opens my bag and I look at her face- she’s angry. Sorry for that, I say, trying to be funny (that smile again) when she tries to find something illegal- or undeclared- in between a lot of mess. She looks at me menacingly. Screw you, I think, while I call my dad again. You should put that phone away, she says. I hang up and stare at her. I say thank you, good luck.  I exit the airport followed by many guys wanting to carry my luggage for tip.

My dad and I walk to the car- or more like jog since he pushes me to move faster. I lock myself in while he puts the luggage in the trunk. And we’re finally on the way back home; a path I look forward to every time, on the very moment I take off from Caracas back to New York. Anxiety levels begin their descent to normal. For many of us, home means adrenaline.

I turn on the air conditioner and look out into the mountains. I think about that woman in the red shirt. Where did she live?  How did she feel looking through other people’s belongings? Why was she mad? How does her story narrate our country’s?

My dad asks questions about school, and about New York. He notices I’m absent and I notice he turns his head to look at me . So I say New York’s great.  I don’t want to ask about Caracas, so I hold that inevitable question for a while.

I turn my thoughts to how everything has probably changed more than I can imagine. I start by thinking on the country as a whole, on the scarcity everyone talks about, crime, the protests, the guarimbas, repression. I think of the students my age that have been in the streets while I was worried about term papers.

And my thoughts get smaller and smaller in scope.  I get to Caracas, to communities, to families and then to moms and dads in the infinite contexts that constitute my city’s population.. I get to my own friends, my family and to how their lives have changed as a consequence of political chaos.

I want to tell their story, I think. The story of the family living in Petare, the story of the teacher lecturing in a fancy private school, but living in Catia. The story of the owner of a formerly weel-known bookstore, of the woman whose house was provided for by the government, of the man who asked what I was studying, of the woman in a red chemise  at the airport, of the guys who wanted tip for carrying my bags, of the high school students that drew the graffiti my eyes were fixed on while stopped by traffic. I linger on that thought for a while until I burst: I’ll have stuff to write about.

Oh you shouldn’t be worried about that, my dad says to make me realize I said it out loud. 

I’m overwhelmed and I change the song and how’s Caracas I ask. I’m not surprised with my dad’s unsettling Bueno… tu sabes como es.

So when do you start writing in caracaschronicles? Did you talk to Juan Nagel? And I tell him I did and that I would start soon, and that the idea was that I would write about people and places. What people and what places, he asks.

Places in the city that I love and don’t love, know and don’t know- to show readers more than what they can find in the International Media. My answer is probably way too vague to produce in him any sort of reaction. Either that or he’s worried I’ll venture into some danger zone (what part of the city isn’t). You’ll show me what you mean when I read your drafts, he says after I give him the SO? look.

And people, well, all sort of people that through their story can tell a whole lot about the big picture. I’ll try to provide readers with what I’m craving when I’m not here, a taste of home. And for those who live here, a bittersweet taste of their own reality.

Dad smiles approvingly. It’s great that you just sent him that email. It’ll be a great experience.

I feel excited but scared. I know right? I take my phone out to call my family and hear their pleasant Bienvenida Rach!- music to my ears: I’m home.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.

1 COMMENT

  1. Suerte y gaceta hipica!! You’ll have tons of stuff to write for sure. Caracas can be anything but boring. Be safe though, la pesta roja anda suelta y desatada

  2. Looking forward to read your stories.

    I is absolutely true, visiting home is an adrenaline storm of sunshine, passion and pabellon.

    Hurry up and write more!

    Abe

  3. rachelle will be back to new york in a week or two caracas is not the same city it was two years ago i live here and for me its sad to see how a city full of magic is becoming a peace of S****T(sorry), actually rachelle the only thing u will c is chavistas-santeros-malandros-escoltas and buch of bikes thats it so enjoy ur time with ur family and dont go out that much it doesnt worth it

    • That’s what I call la peste roja, el hombre nuevo creado en socialismo bajo la ejida del fiambre insepulto. Destruyeron mi pais, eso q esta alla ya no es Venezuela

  4. Thank you, Rachelle (and Juan by extension for this addition to CC). May your journey through the personal stories of many shed some light on the underbelly of a city, of a country we all once held a lot more dear, without the dread — and the anger.

    P.S. I, too, experienced an angry woman at the airport, as far back as 2001. It was weird and foreign to me then, but not incomprehensible when using a Cuban template to try to understand.

  5. The pictures seems to be the view from Macaracuay into la Urbina. quite a familiar view. My home base when I went was further up the hill, in the rim of El Cafetal. Up to 2012, we would go every Christmas with my children and Venezuelan wife. My children grew up with the idea of a warm and noisy Christmas. In fact my daughter wrote a terrific ‘college admissions essay’ contrasting a gringo-Christmas with vene-Christmas, it felt like flipping channels between Univision and PBS.

    Yet there was a morbid reality to those yearly pilgrimages. Riding up from the airport I would have the cab driver give me the ‘tour of terror’ which were his stories of the crime suffered on this road. My wife would be short of a panic attack, in her mind the fear of a -chavista airport worker- causing trouble at immigration, or becoming another crime statistic was overwhelming. I would take the family to Confession the week before, para que Dios nos agarre confesados, no vaya a ser.

    Then last year things changed, and they changed a lot for us.

    The tickets shot to $3K per person, which for our family size is cost of $15K, just unaffordable. And then there was Monica Spear’s murder doing exactly what we used to do for so many years, visit family and go to the beach. She even drove the same car model as we did.

    My in-laws would visit a couple of times a year. The children have deep bonds because of the frequent contact allowed by the era of jet travel.

    We now have a child that is only 2 years old. She will grow without these Christmas, without the closeness of grandparents and cousins. She will probably lose the language and Venezuela will be just a remote story which the older generation will tell her about.

    Nos robaron a Venezuela.

    • There’s no reason for your daughter to lose the language. Make her bilingual by using the “one-parent, one-language” system. It works. I have bilingual nieces thanks to it.

  6. welcome R – and thanks to CC for keeping it fresh. Loved the style, added a dose of nostalgia to my morning at work in NYC. Left Caracas 21 years ago, have not been back for maybe 5, so the note and the comments touch a nerve. Godspeed!

  7. I very much love the clarity and simple soulfulness of your writing style, and I am looking forward to hearing personal stories, which are very needed right now.This will be a fresh approach.

    Your description of your arrival to Maquetia brought back so many nightmarish memories.For me the airport was always a scary place since the late 80’s .I usually announce to myself : “if I can get through that airport and make it to my destination I ‘ll be alright.” But would I ? I sense a tendency towards fear -induced – self hypnosis among those who walk the streets of Caracas… a bit like walking on fire….check out that phenomenon if you have the time

    Good luck ! I am looking forward to your posts.

  8. “…when she tries to find something illegal- or undeclared- in between a lot of mess. She looks at me menacingly. Screw you, I think, while I call my dad again. You should put that phone away, she says…”

    In any civilized country one could have filled a complain to have that bastard fired for mistreating the customers.

    • Hmmmmm … Maiquetia has no monopoly on surly employees. You can get treated like pond scum at Heathrow and JFK too.. or anywhere in the world, for that matter.

  9. nicely written Rachelle, thanks for the bittersweet memory of what it feels like to return to Caracas (which I will probably not be doing for a few years)

  10. Rachelle atrapaste ese aire que golpea la cara en el instante que se abre la puerta del avión. Welcome to Venezuela

    • Total

      That was always the first thing that literally always ht me when I first landed, as yOu went through the finger coming into the terminal. That hot La Guaira air!!

  11. The beginning reminds me of the first time I arrived in Caracas, in 2010, very late at night… approaching Caracas and the hills around Catia, seeing the fairy-tale lights twinkling high above the motorway… 🙂 well, I got to see the place soon enough in daytime and reality set in, just slum piled upon deadly slum, all waiting to be washed away by the next El Niño (come to think of it, another one is due this year, four years on…).

    And by the way, while Maiquetia is menacing and dangerous, and really not a place to arrive at night, for real mistreatment at an airport you still have to go to the US.

  12. A book and a now an intern. You guys will start giving classes soon and people will have diplomas from caracaschronicles. Excelente article btw. I feel the same way everytime the plane lands in Maiquetia. Its an almost bipolar reaction. Feelings of happiness and frustration which last but a few minutes before they alternate. I see the slums and I think how could this be and I get frustrated. I hear people talking about magallanes o leones (Every 4 summers its about the world cup instead) or someone talking about eating their mothers hallacas if its in december and I smile. Back and forth. Underneath it all however its a feeling of intense joy like if I won the lottery and someone tells me I have to pay a lot in taxes or little. No matter what I see im still happy. I guess its cuz with all its faults its my country. My home. No matter how long I live outside of Venezuela itll be the only country I can call Mi pais till the day I die

  13. Welcome to CC Rachelle. I like your writing style very much. It is evocative and straight from the heart. There is an old saying, “You can never go home.” While you are away, “home” changes and your experiences away change you. What you left is in the past, and what you return to, you see with new eyes. You may find your return to be more stressful than than leaving the for the first time. I look forward to reading your posts.

    • Roy,

      Hear, hear.

      Born from an American mother in Peru, left when I was 11 to Venezuela staying there for 12 years and leaving with a Venezuelan education and Venezuelan wife in tow. Living in the US for 24 years…

      Where is home?

      I am almost Peruvian, and almost Venezuelan and almost American, but I cannot fully claim any because it would not ring true. I am an outsider with in insider seat.

      • I hear you. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. However, after a life of living all over the world, all of my direct family has moved away, and I do not know a soul who still lives there, so that is definitely not “home”. Although I visit my brother and sisters, I have never lived where they live, so that is not “home”. My apartment, my car, and my stuff are in Venezuela. It is also where the longest lasting relationships of my adult life are. For better or worse, Venezuela is “home” to me. I was raised in the U.S. and I am a product of that culture, so I still consider myself American, even though when I visit, I often feel like a stranger in a strange land. If worst comes to worst, I will leave Venezuela, but only after having done everything in my power to save her from herself, and convinced myself finally that it is a lost cause.

  14. Rachelle, nice fresh insight and writing style. Remember when air passengers clapped on touchdown in Maiquetia? Nowadays, the airport is much less scary than the outside world one enters when driving up the Autopista, usually at night.

  15. I’m going back in July for the first time in 8 years, although I’m not Venezuelan, I’m married to one and spent the best years of my adult life in Venezuela, I also wonder how I’ll feel, what changes I’ll see…
    So I’m happy you are writing from your perspective and will be looking forward to your posts.

  16. “What am I going to do if I graduate and I don’t want to come back? Is there a chance that that will happen?”

    Well, that is my current drama. Very recently the Venezuelan government decided to not allow any Venezuelan J1 visa holder stay in the US (those subject to rule 212E, but most are):
    http://venezuela-us.org/cartas-de-no-objecion/

    So… if you are in the US on a J1 visa, odds are you are coming back :-p

  17. I’ve never lived anywhere but Chicago… I wonder what it would be like to spend several months or years in a distant city or another country, someplace very different – and then come home.

    • I once heard from the mouth of a world-renowned anthropologist the reason why he abandoned his job in one of the most prestigious Universities in the US to return to his third-world city in South America. He explained: “I didn’t want to die alone in a place where I am a stranger and no one cares about me. I want to die close to my loved ones. That’s why I’m back.” Simple, but powerful.

  18. Welcome to this mess you call home. Certainly i would not call home a country that tries to kill you every single day.

    Be safe. Places you regarded as “safe” two years ago no longer deserve the tag. You can get shot and murdered at the very Centro Plaza these days.

  19. Rachelle I loved your first piece. Like someone said, it’s an intimate and descriptive narrative. I’m so sure you’ll have so many different inputs of what to write about, that you will be juggling all those in the air! And as a displaced Venezuelan, by love and not by war, I will just express what the fabulous nigerian novelist Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, did: I see the world, wherever I am, through my venezuelan eyes. Bienvenida a CC <3

  20. Home is where the heart is. For me it shifted from Caracas to my new town without me knowing how or when. I don’t go back more. I fear the only thing that will bring me to Caracas is funerals and such. Mal negocio que hicimos con el fraude chavista….

    Nowadays, that feeling I used to have saliendo del tunnel de la Planicie y bajando hacia la autopista,…. Is somewhere else. Home.

  21. I decided to stop coming back….. Period.
    That Home that once was (for most of my life anyway), is not there anymore. After a few years living “abroad”, and being stressed every time I took the children (all Venezuelan born) to eat arepas, drink marroncitos and guayoyos, eat cachitos and empanadas, see relatives and friends, enjoy the community atmosphere we so dearly miss now, I have come to the sad conclusion it is just not worth the risk anymore.
    Home is a changing place. I’ve had a few already; and even though some are (or were) better than others, times change, one changes and feelings change. My mother used to tell us: “Never go back to were you were once happy”. Places evolve, some for better, some for worse, so your memories do not reflect the reality any longer. I miss Venezuela, but today’s one is so different than the one upon which the sweet (and sometimes sour) memories were based on.
    I chose to move forward.
    Congrtats on your report,… and those still to come. And by the way, say hello to your mom and dad…. 🙂

  22. Your writing style has traces of Neil Gaiman in it… It would fit really well in a graphic novel format. You should try.

    “And we’re finally on the way back home; a path I look forward to every time, on the very moment I take off from Caracas back to New York.”

    Oh… You really like the US and all that insane capitalism. That’s good.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here