You might leave your blood in Venezuela…just not the way you planned.

An overdue promise to la Divina Pastora sends Quico's sister on an ill-starred, multi-hospital periplo around Barquisimeto.

I didn’t remember the heat being so extreme. Maybe it’s a Barquisimeto thing. Maybe it’s why this nurse is just sitting there with her eyes glazed over. Maybe it’s why she seems so annoyed at us for trying to give blood to a stranger. I had pictured it allso differently in my mind…

How did I, a skeptical caraqueña who lives in Canada, find myself in this situation?

A few years back, one of my nieces got very sick; a life and death kind of disease.

My friend Rafael, called to give me his support in that difficult moment. He decided that the best course of action in a situation like this would be to make a promise to La Divina Pastora. Needless to say, he is a Barquisimetano.

I tried my best to squirm out of it, but Rafa was very insistent. I ended up promising to go visit La Divina Pastora in her church, to donate blood in his home town.

Against all odds, my niece recovered completely – thank you virgencita. That was three years ago.

Since then, Rafa has been acting like a mobster to whom you owe a big amount of cash. He even started getting screen shots of our Whatsapp chats whenever he managed to get me to say that I would go soon, then throw my words back at me if I dared travel anywhere else. He would under no circumstances allow me to let go of my promise.

Last month I had to go to Caracas, and decided that a visit to Barquisimeto was due. Overdue, really. I had never been there and I was dying to meet Andrea, Rafa’s seven-year-old daughter, whom I have loved from a distance for years. I was received with a parrilla de báquiro that tasted like heaven.

The night was clear and the moon looked much bigger than in Montreal. I couldn’t believe my luck; Mila, Rafa’s wife, had lit candles that made the place look almost magical. I was happy, they were annoyed as hell. The candles weren’t there for the atmospherics, it was just one of the usual power cuts that interfere with their lives almost every day.

I was woken up next morning at 6:00 am to go donate blood. Rafa told me it would be a 30-minute errand. He said we should hurry so that we’d have time to go visit several tourist sites and make it back home in time to make a Chupe. A real Chupe, with proper queso blanco, and not the weird Lebanese stuff we substitute for it in Canada.

We showed up at the Centro Regional de Donantes de Sangre de Barquisimeto, ready to give our blood. We were feeling really good about this, all generous, and about to make things right with Barquisimeto’s virgin. The place was clean and well kept, but suspiciously empty.

After waiting a few minutes, someone finally took notice and came to explain that they weren’t receiving any blood because they just didn’t have the chemicals needed to process it. He suggested that we go to the Clínica Camila Canabal, where the supplies were available.

We were optimistic, and in a big hurry. This delay already meant we would have to make our city tour a bit shorter. But it would be worth it.

The nurse at the Clínica took a while to focus her gaze on us. She was just sitting there doing nothing. Not even the usual workplace manicure nor reading Condorito. We told her what we were doing there and she asked who we wanted to give our blood to. We said that we were giving it to anyone who needed it. A ha! Finally satisfied, she smiled, and explained that we could only donate if it was for a specific patient. We asked for the name of patients who needed blood, but she said no; we had arrived there without a name, so we didn’t qualify. Then went back into her semiconscious state.

Rafa is the typical streetwise Venezuelan, ready to always get his way, but he was as stunned by this as I was. How could this be? People there needed the blood and at that point we were desperate to give it!

We were both speechless.

Discouraged, we walked to the car already planning to visit every hospital in town until we could make our deed. Rafa was going to distract the next nurse while I tried to glimpse at the list of patients, or something… but at the parking lot, we stumbled across Rafa’s doctor and we told him our story. He gave us the name of a patient at the Clinica Santa Cruz and off we went.

But it wasn’t meant to be. For the first time in my life, my blood pressure was too high and I wasn’t allowed to donate. Rafa did, though.

It was late. We cancelled our tour and just went to a Feria Popular and bough vegetables to give away to kids with special needs in Hogar de Niños Impedidos, Honim.

The rest of the visit was beautiful and Andrea and me were the perfect roomies and friends. The Divina Pastora was visited, and the blood will have to be donated to an unknown Canadian patient.