“Here comes Circunvalation Two!”
That was what my friends and I used to call the bus that would take us on our daily commute to La Universidad del Zulia. It was a way to amuse ourselves with Spanglish: the bus route’s real name is Circunvalación dos, or “ring-road 2.” Spanglish got lost in between a way to practice the English we learned in school and a playful game to escape our reality, especially the humid Maracaibo heat.
Maracaibo was always receiving English-speaking visitors as a result of the presence of international oil companies. I was taught the rest of the continent was learning English as well. But the way we were using English, or Spanglish, was more about getting along with the daily grind. Having a sense of humor, whichever social stratum you belonged to, is very common among Venezuelans.
Catching a bus was a matter of good luck. It depended on the driver’s consideration, on the existence of the bus stop, and chance. However it went, we had very funny moments. We didn’t have a more sophisticated type of public transportation in the city. We didn’t have a metro like Caracas, and having a car was more than a luxury. Actually, I had to drop out of a private university, where I had a scholarship because it was too far to get there on time by bus.
So I went to the public La Universidad del Zulia. I had to make every effort to advance in my degree. Everything worked against the student, or at least that was what I felt. Everybody complained about the strikes coming from different political sides at the university, which usually risked delaying everyone’s graduation. I managed to complete my Economics degree in almost four years and a half because the university opened a summer semester, and we paid private classes to make progress in prerequisite courses.
I never felt resentment for my friends who had a car; some gave me a ride, some would not care, but those things did not stop me.
When I was finishing college, the city started to change. At one point we had the delight of a new bus network with air conditioning and bus stops. Hey! A better future.
A New World
Just then, something happened in the country. Our hope, somehow, proved to be fleeting. After Hugo Chávez won the presidential elections in 1999 he changed the Constitution, expropriated lands and properties, and created funds like FONDEM where billions would be lost.
While all that madness was happening in all parts of the country, I was trying hard to change my small universe. I worked for the community where I lived, in the outskirts of Maracaibo, helping my neighbors to get the basic infrastructure we needed from the local government: paved streets, water pipes, electricity lines.
I found a job in the energy industry. In 2000, working at a project in La Ensenada, in Zulia, I met my now-husband, a British man. After a while, we started to take jobs abroad, in petrochemicals.
We kept traveling to Venezuela every two years or so. During those trips, I would get together with my family and friends. I held to my dream of a better future, up until today. I was following the real Venezuelan dream, teaching my kids all that I can, as my mother did. We tried to give them the opportunity of better education at home and in school: two, three, four languages; reading, writing, and painting; loving their nation; living with creativity and laughter; greeting their neighbors with politeness; imagining a wonderful future by the Caribbean Sea.
But it didn’t happen. In September 2015, my husband and I took our two kids back to Maracaibo, once we finished our contract overseas. We were wondering if we could stay in Venezuela. Soon we realized there were no conditions to enjoy a certain degree of normality, the one we had before, even amid the already difficult circumstances of the early 2000s. People close to us made us aware of how politics was taking over everything. One day I visited a bank just to ask for some information and the cashier wrote something down on a piece of paper and gave it to me: “They don’t let us speak about anything.” That was shocking.
That secret note from the bank cashier opened another window for me. I was back home, but it was different. I had never wanted to leave my country, never. That time, I looked at my husband, who loves Venezuela, and accepted his complaints about how the country had lost its charm, and that we had to move on. Even the single task of completing personal paperwork at a bank was very complicated. We studied our scenarios and we realized that we had no room to explore, for example, opening our own business with minimal guarantees. A deep fissure opened in my heart.
Holding on to the Dream
Soon after, in October of that same year, we accepted a new job and we went to live abroad again… for good.
We live in the U.S. now. I don’t use the bus here. I drive my own car. I’m living a normal, day-to-day life, first thanking this wonderful country and community and secondly integrating all my Venezuelan being with my new me, joyfully adapted.
What makes me a Venezuelan, a Zuliana and what I miss about my country, travels with me.
The rich Zuliana culture, the Wayuu sound in our voice, the unique voceado of my Spanish, the warm character, the creative mind, the folksiness, the energetic spirit that emulates the Catatumbo lightning… Perhaps that’s still beating back in my land. Perhaps it stays there, in the surrounding nature, in the jokes of those who remain there, the taste of a mango picked from the fence of the neighbor, the greetings of the people they see on the bus or the bakery, and the loud music that doesn’t let us sleep and makes us angry.
We’re blessed, in a way, for being able to work overseas. The world is constantly changing, but for the better, even with the bad things happening for causes out of control, such as disparity, and because of very few people. I think well-being is becoming the center of common action.
Venezuela is a great country that could unleash uncountable possibilities, for everyone, if there would only be a more open attitude toward education, freedom and the rule of law. Inventiveness is part of our talent. We need a broader mind to understand that it isn’t only having money that can make you better, we also need to be mindful of others.
Once all kinds of changes are made, our country will find its way again, sooner or later. If we want it to happen, we can relive our Venezuelan dream, not only for one political party but for everyone who works for it.
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