My last days and hours in Venezuela were crowded with laughter, tears, and, unfortunately, fear.
I was ready to go. There’s no way around that. School ended on a Friday, and my flight home to the United States was for Sunday.
But in those harried days of packing and goodbye parties, I wondered if I would be this happy again in the future. Venezuela was not perfect by any means. The high inflation, insecurity, extreme shortages, and the like caused me to appreciate the United States in a way that I’ve never had before.
Case in point: I go to the grocery store about every other day now and am still in awe (and a tidbit overwhelmed) at the selection. There are 10 different soda varieties on sale? 4 six-packs for $12? At least six different Greek yogurt options? I can find whole wheat products again?
But I can’t find my Venezuelan friends here. These are people who organized family barbecues to wish me well on my next stage in life; who surprised me by playing the conga drums for me at a restaurant; who brought me arepas dulces; who took me to a beautiful Mexican restaurant (and were insulted when I slid out my debit card to pay my portion); and who pressed gifts into my hands for my mother, my father, and myself.
I don’t care what people say (and have said) about Venezuelan culture being (insert negative generalization here that can apply to all of humanity). I found people who wanted to give me small gifts even as inflation rates devoured their monthly finances. Venezuelan people are people who are generous in spirit and in words.
Me, the crier, didn’t start shedding tears until the day before I left. I descended into water works when I had to say goodbye to my co-worker/Spanish tutor/unofficial Venezuelan mother. The tears continued throughout the day because I foolishly accepted goodbye invitations from some of the most influential people in my Venezuelan life within the same time span. It was painful saying goodbye to one person over lunch and another one over dinner. I’ve vowed to never do that again.
When I finally stepped into the international airport on a Sunday, thinking all the tears were behind me, little did I know that more was about to unfold for me in those 24 hours that would throw into relief my gender, race, and nationality in a way that I’ve never felt before in my life.
Why? Because I would be stranded at the Simón Bolívar (Maiquetía) Airport.
And I would become a target.