My Own Efecto Cocuyo

Survivor’s guilt for Venezuelans in exile.

Tomamos café el fin de semana. Fue finísimo, Sis”.

That’s my sister in the Facebook chat window.

A few months ago, one of my sister’s students gave her a package of Fama de América coffee as a gift -the kind of special gift you give your dearest music teacher nowadays in Venezuela. She’s a light and peaceful spirit so she’s not much into caffeine. And she forgot about the package, until that day she was cleaning and found it. Jackpot!

She said it felt like finding a $20 bill in the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn in a while. Now, try to imagine for a little moment that your everyday coffee is not a normal thing, but something special. Try to imagine how it feels to find a package of coffee after a long time without one.

She decided this was something worthy of being shared, and she took it to our parent’s home to share it with my mom. She made an event out of it.

I live in Canada. I have coffee every day, two cups at least. I don’t celebrate it. I just drink it while I look through the news, like normal people.

The guilt I feel is my constant companion. We’re not normal people. We’re Venezuelans. When we read the news, we read the news from Venezuela. And they are a constant reminder that you are not normal. And you are not allowed to be alright.


You know Efecto Cocuyo, right? If you don’t, it’s a new, serious Venezuelan news website, with real news written by real journalists.

I am, of course, subscribed to its daily email digest. Every morning my inbox dings and the words: “Buen día, Cocuyo” flash across my screen.

Every day, a shudder. I’ve come to think of that shudder as my Efecto Cocuyo.

I  sigh. I take a sip of my coffee, and I squirm in my seat. Only then, me meto pa’ lo hondo, into the horror stories coming out of Venezuela.

People keep telling me I should just ignore the news from home, in order to keep up my spirits. I’ve tried. But I was a journalist in Venezuela and I still feel and think like one. My family and many of my friends live there. I belong to that place. I can’t ignore it and go on with my life.

When you are a Venezuelan living somewhere else, you are guilty of having been the “quien pueda” in a “sálvese quien pueda” situation. You may not be living a golden exile as many of my acquaintances’ Facebook walls or Twitter accounts call our condition. You may even be having hard times there, wherever “there” is. But you feel guilty regardless.

You feel it the most when you go to the grocery store or the pharmacy. You feel it when you go with your friends to the park on a sunny day and have a picnic without being robbed, or even having that thought cross your mind as a possibility. You feel it when you open your fridge and you see food in there, when you think you’re going to walk to the corner and buy a bag of Harina Pan because you are craving arepas; the same arepas your friends and family can’t eat back home, in the land of arepas.

Actually, you feel it every time you eat, because you have read stories like the one that Naky posted here the other day, because you know people like you are going hungry in order to let their children have three meals a day.

Doctors who’ve worked with people who’ve escaped war zones call it Survivor’s Guilt. But we have no war at Venezuela. And Survivor’s Guilt sounds so clinical, so dramatic.

No, for me it’s something else. It’s my own, private Efecto Cocuyo.