Tales of a Displaced Youth: Oriana

To get a solid ground beneath her feet, Oriana had to go through an excruciating trip out of Venezuela, and a grueling first year in Buenos Aires. But perseverance always pays off

Just making the trip out of Venezuela was a conquest for her.

Photo: Oriana Carrasquel

Oriana Carrasquel was riding a bus on the way to Santa Elena de Uairén, right on the border between Venezuela and Brazil, sitting on the little steps at the entrance of the bus, as it was this or being stuck in San Félix, hours away in Ciudad Guayana. What should’ve been a 16-hour trip had turned into an over 24-hour hell plagued with constant military controls and a sense that Venezuela was spitting her out instead of simply letting her go.

There are many reasons to leave Venezuela. In Oriana’s case, she had increasingly become dissatisfied with her government job, where “it is what it is” was the motto for the poor treatment and terrible payment she got. However, the day that criminals broke into her family’s small house in the slums outside Caracas to hide from the police and took her uncle hostage to avoid capture, that was the day she stopped feeling safe at her own home.

I could write an entire chapter about Oriana’s odyssey from Caracas to Buenos Aires. She had to go by bus from Caracas to San Félix, about eight hours by road. Then it’s San Félix to Santa Elena de Uairén, and Santa Elena into Brazil: Boa Vista, Manaus, and then a plane to Iguazu. From there, she was supposed to go directly to Buenos Aires, but due to bad weather, the plane landed in a different city and she had to take one more bus. Overall, the entire trip took almost seven days.

The most terrifying moments of Oriana’s journey, though, took place while heading to Santa Elena de Uairén, still in Venezuela. From the tired-looking prostitutes heading to the gold mines, to miners with amputated extremities due to debts with the gold-mining gangs, the scary sights were only alleviated by kind travel companions who kept her company when the bus ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. Little did she know, her adventure was just beginning.

Destination: Buenos Aires

Oriana’s resilience truly came to light after she arrived in Buenos Aires. She started looking for a job immediately, something that was difficult to do without papers. She looked for the cheapest place to stay, finding a rundown guest house where she shared a room with three other people. She’d hide her money because “you can never be too careful.”

She found a job after only two weeks, but one day they asked her not to come back. During this time, Oriana used up her savings as she needed to pay rent and buy food to sustain herself. Plus, she had to move guest houses during this time. It wasn’t until a little over a month after being let go that she found a new job. 

All of this while worrying about one of the other people in the guest house, who bragged about killing someone in Venezuela.

By then, she had almost no money. After paying for her room, she only had 500 pesos in her pocket, which amounted to around $20 at the time. She ate as little as possible to make sure she’d make it to the next payday.

During that first year, Oriana worked cutting fabrics in a factory, got into sales, and even as a house cleaner. All of this while worrying about one of the other people in the guest house, who bragged about killing someone in Venezuela. 

She didn’t leave the slums back home to end up here, fearing for her safety in a guest house where keys worked for all doors and a probable criminal had one of those keys. She continued to save as much as possible until she was able to leave and rent a room at an apartment. Finally, Oriana felt safe again in the place where she lived.

One of her best jobs was at a call center, but that ended and gave way to an empanadas franchise, a job that has gotten her through the pandemic, and where she has been given greater responsibilities as time goes by. On the side, she works for a purse manufacturer who, after closing her store, gave Oriana the responsibility of partially managing the business online. 

Thanks to her hard work, she now lives in one of the safest areas in Buenos Aires. A Human Resources graduate, she has been taking courses in personnel management, salaries, and other areas related to her career. She hopes that sooner rather than later, she’ll be able to start working in this area in Buenos Aires.

Oriana sees herself going further, and she hopes that in less than two years, she’ll have enough savings to leave for the place where she really wants to be, Madrid.