“Never, ever, even with the terrible situation we’re living in now, I would leave my country. I am Venezuelan, as we say here, ‘de arepa en budare’*”. It is one of the first sentences that Luisa tells me while we have a coffee at 6 in the morning, amidst the tranquillity of La Gran Sabana.
Perhaps there is no better expression than ‘de arepa en budare’ to describe Luisa – and the Venezuelans who remain in Venezuela today. And I explain: Of all the products I saw and consumed in Venezuela, the only one still produced there, resistant to the country’s economic decay, was the famous harina PAN, the main ingredient of the country’s typical delicacy, the Arepa.
But the resistance goes far beyond harina PAN and arepas. Luísa resists every day. In the small and big acts. Just like the other Venezuelans I’ve met. The resistance is, for example, in the cooked food we took from Santa Elena to the savanna “in case we find someone starving on the way”. And it is also in the mission that she had just returned from to the Orinoco River Delta to provide medical care to the Waraó indigenous population.
She tells me how she was stopped 15 times at army checkpoints to get to the delta and how she only managed to get through them all because she has an indigenous id. She also tells how she used these moments at the inspection checkpoints to as an opportunity to open the dialogue with the military.
“At many [inspection points] I’d to say, ‘you’re pale, you’re not eating well, this rifle you’re carrying is too heavy…take a vitamin.’ I’d give them [the military] a vitamin. And they would ask me, ‘Really? How do I take it?’, you know, it’s a contradiction,” she tells me in a tone that only those who live fighting for – and believe in – better conditions can have. “The moment I gave them a vitamin, ironically saying that the rifle they carry weighs too much because they aren’t eating well and they asked me ‘do you have a biscuit? Bread?’…it’s also an opportunity to talk and that’s been my job,” she adds.
In addition, Luisa is still proud of her camp that today welcomes about 20 families. “Today it is a place that seems abandoned,\ because in fact there are no resources, but it serves as a shelter. And so many Venezuelans are living like this. You pass by and the places are really in a state of abandonment, but inside there is shelter and that’s how it works,” she says.
In times of dictatorship, the place has become a shelter for professionals who suffer political persecution. “And you have to protect yourself because at the moment there is no legal security. It’s a dictatorship. There is no freedom of speech. There is fake freedom of speech but people still have to work to maintain their families,” she explains. And then she adds an important comment. “All of this I do in anonymity, otherwise I couldn’t do it. I only dare to say what I said to you because you are not Venezuelan.
For Luisa, this resistance force from those who stay comes from the hope of seeing a better country. “Right now, the love and hope we have go far beyond having something good to dress and good to eat. We all like olive oil, for example, because we know how it is like to have olive oil to eat a good salad. But if we don’t have it now, what does it matter? We eat [salad] with a little bit of vegetable oil and we go on, giving our knowledge and our hope to others.”
She also understands the crisis situation as an opportunity to review and learn new values. “For some of us, it was given the mission to keep hope that, yes, we will get out [of this situation] and we have to give joy to the children so that they don’t see so much need and if they see it, it doesn’t matter, the values are other,” she says.
“At that moment it’s not possible to have good shoes, but we’re going to learn to walk barefoot so that we can also feel the earth. That’s also a way to teach other values, to return to spirituality. All this definitely moves us to spirituality,” Luisa speaks with the serenity of those who have chosen to look at the situation from a different perspective.
She still reflects on the Venezuelans who also resist outside the country in one way or another: “The ones who remain are those who still believe that they can be here and we will be there to receive those who have gone and will come back with more wisdom and values too. I believe that the Venezuelan who left, went also to show the world the joy [we have here] and to make the difference. And that although they left due to the pressure of a crisis, they never lose their good humour.”
“I believe a lot in the energy of my country as a great country. The political situation is circumstantial. It’s been going on for a long time but we have to learn to value what we have. I feel that like Venezuela there is no other. And it’s going to be better,” Luisa says with the certainty that the future will be positive. “Now it’s a nightmare, but we’ll get out of this nightmare, without a doubt. But maybe we need this to value the country we have,” she concludes.
*the expression aludes to the traditional way of making the country’s typical delicacy -the Arepa- in a circular plate of iron -the budare. Saying someone is “Venezuelan de arepa en budare” is like saying the person is a “true/real Venezuelan”.