Milagros has the sweet voice that only someone with that name (Miracle) could have. Her smile and the tranquillity in her eyes almost hides the pain and anguish as she tells me her story while watching the rehearsal of the Canarinhos da Amazonia Choir in which her daughter, Rosa Mística, sings.
She narrates the life on the other side of the border in graphic detail. The horrors her family lived are distressing to hear. It’s not surprising that she appreciates everything in the new Brazilian life that they have temporarily settled into. Simple things we take for granted, such as being able to cook regular meals and wash clothes have given her and her family a sense of normality again.
The way she looks at life and how she is thankful for being welcomed in the country I call home only makes me think of how Milagros was, indeed, a miracle in my life. Getting to know her and listening to her story and experiences made me put all my values into perspective. It made me understand the strength and persistence of those who are forced to migrate. It also made me understand the dimension of what it is to be deprived of basic human rights, such as access to food and basic hygiene items and the right to dignity. And yet continue to fight, live another day and never lose hope. The conversation with Milagros was a blessing that I will never forget and I share her journey here in the hope of sharing some of the energy that she shared with me.
“When we got here [in Brazil], we found a lot of food. It’s like saying, well, I cried when I saw so much food. My daughters were filled with happiness, they said ‘Mommy, there’s a lot of food here’”
Milagros is part of one of the hundreds of Waraó indigenous families that left the low delta region of Venezuela to reach the state of Roraima. The trip can only be made born out of desperation because living was a nightmare. “We didn’t eat on the whole way [from Venezuela to Brazil]. It was two days of travelling, one in San Felix and another in Santa Elena. In Santa Elena we spent a full day because we had no way to get here in Brazil”, she says, remembering the hunger that didn’t leave her family in Venezuela. “My kids were always crying. They asked me ‘Mommy, why doesn’t Dad buy us something to eat?’ And we couldn’t buy anything. What could we say? Only god. I had faith. “
She also speaks of the heartfelt emotions when she finally managed to reach the border and found something her family had been missing for some time: food. “When we got here [in Brazil], we found a lot of food. It’s like saying, well, I cried when I saw so much food. My daughters were filled with happiness, they said ‘Mommy, there’s a lot of food here’”, she says with the intensity that only a mother who has seen her children go hungry can.
Milagros also describes the difficulties of daily activities so that I understand the instability and precariousness of the situation back in Venezuela. “How did we do our laundry? We would heat the water in a large pot and leave the clothes there for 20 minutes. Then we would take it out and pour cold water. It was kind of washed up, but we had to use it like that”.
The tone of her voice and the sincerity in her look do not open space for suspicion. “Speaking, thinking about Venezuela, is really sad. The situation we are in there is horrible. Truly, when we talk about our land, it makes us want to cry. A lot of people do not go through this, but I did and what I’m telling you is true”.
The feeling now in Brazilian soil, however, is quite different. The gratitude of having been able to cross the border and being welcomed in Pacaraima is evident during the conversation. She tells me several times how happy she is to be where she is now. “The lifestyle we were living in there [Venezuela] has changed a lot, thanks to God and the lands of Brazil. I feel very happy because I never thought I would get here and here we are, with a lot of suffering but we arrived, ” she says. “Here I am very happy,” she says sincerely.
Finally, she expresses to me her greatest wish: “I hope things change in Venezuela. I sincerely hope, from my heart, that a good president arrives to change all those things we had in Venezuela so that we can return. Because, as it is, I can not go back. It’s hell out there right now”.