Tuesday, 7 July 2015

"Everything will be fine". Interview to a Venezuelan girl in Ireland

If you prefer to read the Spanish version of this article, click here.

A few days ago, I read an article about the efforts of a couple of Venezuelans to move to London and stay there. I really liked it and got me interested in finding similar stories in Dublin. After that, I contacted by Facebook and agreed to meet a Venezuelan girl living in Ireland. We met at a cafe in City Centre.
 Graciela, from Valencia (Venezuela) was kind enough to to tell me and let me tell her story.

Like many other Venezuelans on the island, she arrived during the infamous first quarter of 2014, a period in which many of us felt like we were inside one of those science fiction movies where you have to go through a portal that is closing and once that happens, it will be too late to escape and the characters will be trapped in a parallel universe.

Life Ireland was not actually her dream, In fact, Canada was her first choice, but after a mistake with paperwork, Graciela didin't want to risk herself to a second and costly rejection. That's when the idea of the Emerald Island came to her, during a fair for options to study abroad,

Initially, the plan was to spend six months studying English, a skill that was becoming more and more necessary in her work; as an International Trade graduate with a good position in a textile company in Valencia, things were going well, at least on a personal level.

But the environment was becoming less encouraging. It was October 2013 when she decided to buy a ticket and get away from the violence, insecurity and many other ills not worth listing at this moment.

Kinetic Art
A estas alturas la foto de los pies sobre la obra "Cromointerferencia de color aditivo" de Carlos Cruz Diez en el piso del aeropuerto es prácticamente un meme de Internet. Pero quienes recorren la obra con sus dos maletas y un bolso de mano son también artistas cinéticos, o en criollo, del movimiento.
By now, taking a picture of your feet while standing on the art piece "Cromointerferencia de color aditivo" by Carlos Cruz Diez, installed on the airport floor, is practically an Internet meme. But those who walk the site with their two suitcases and a handbag are also kinetic artists, or in plain English, artists of motion.
Via usuarioblog.com
Since she had her ticket at hand, Graciela began planning her strategy, which involved bringing with her 19 year old brother to Dublin with her (his older sister was already in Miami).
"I decided to spend Christmas with my parents. I told them I had a feeling that this was going to be our last Christmas together in a long time," she says. In the coffee shop, during the interview, we share a latte and a tea with milk, and as usual, it's raining.

"On January 4, I left Mom's house and went to Dad's. At first I just wanted to learn English, but by this point I had had enough," witnesing the murder of a person and the occsaion where she decided to stay home instead of partying only to find out that some guys who were rejected at the club's door decided to get in a car and randomly shot bullets to the people queueing, gave her two arguments as heavy as the lead she no longer wanted to continously be fearing.
Thus, after she "removed all the thorns" and forgave accumulated grudges, Graciela said farewell to Venezuela in peace, without melodrama. A friend accompanied her to the airport, so she avoided sheding tears over the floor's work of art.

What are you going to there?- her mother asked a few days earlier.

The formalities to leave the country, long, bureaucratic and intimidating to many, went quickly and smoothly for Graciela, a fact that she soon interpreted as a good sign. Her only regret about how she handled things was the way she and her older sister decided the journey of her brother, "He understood that it was good for him, but he was very hurt that we had decided everything behind his back. He was sad, he had to break up with his girlfriend and leave all his friends. We never asked him what he wanted to do", she remembers.

"I took the typical photo at the airport and I said, I love my country and my experiences here. It's unfortunate and sad, but today I say goodbye and I hope that God and Virgin Mary might give me the opportunity to return someday."

The luck of the Irish
The expression "The Luck of the Irish" is used by many people to imply that someone is simply lucky, but it's a little more complicated; After all, anyone with minimum knowledge of Irish history knows that this is a nation that has gone through very hard times. Therefore, the expression actually has almost a bittersweet connotation: it is a type of luck that only comes after overcoming great odds, a fortune that makes you wait.

For example, the luck of the immigrant who left everything behind and crossed the ocean to survive. A hundred years ago were them, now it's us. One hundred years ago they found jobs at mines, today in the back of busy restaurant kitchens. Maybe the world has made a little progress after all.

Shortly after arriving in Dublin, Grace received her first portion of Irish luck ...

"A guy offered to rent a room for my brother, a friend who was with us and myself. The house was cute and in a nice area. The three of us would manage with just a room: My brother and I in the double bed and my friend in the small one." Unaware of prices in the area, and trusting the guy because he was Venezuelan as them, they accepted a price of 350 euros per person (for a total of 1050, the price of an apartment conveniently located or a nearly enough to rent a small house outside city centre).

"We arrived in winter and it was cold. The landlords were a couple of Venezuelan Evangelicals. We were not allowed to turn on the heating. We were always in the room and when the february mess exploted, I was all day glued to my computer."

Confronting their landlords only made matters worse, childish fighting in common areas kept the house busy, while on the other side of the Atlantic their country was a constant source of news about injured protesters, destruction and death tolls.
They decided to separate, both boys went into a double room and Graciela moved to another, in the apartment of an Irish woman, who she called "a disastrous spinster, who I was unable to understand at all. At least it was near the city center".

And the streak of Irish Luck was just beginning. The institute which she came to study English at was one of the first affected when several language schools began to close in 2014, leaving many students stranded in Ireland without the possibility of meeting the attendance requirements needed to keep their student visas. On top of that, after the aforementioned "February mess", the Venezuelan government took the closing of Irish schools as an argument to suspend the authorization of currency exchange for students that were already in Ireland (claiming that they could be participating on fraud with corrupt school managers). So, students like Graciela were not able to get money from home, and had no possibility to get jobs because their student visas were at risk due to attendance records.

"We were going to meetings with immigration and treated us like dogs. Having no access to CADIVI money [the system in place at the time for currency exchange approval by the Venezuelan Government] changed everything, and without money we became a nuisance," concludes on the matter. This blow was too much for her brother, who later decided to move to Miami, where at least his other sister was better established and could provide support.

"I started to leave my CVs everywhere, asking to speak with the managers. Once they rejected me for being Venezuelan because the owner had had another Venezuelan employee who had stolen from him." Job search was a mine and so far, Graciela had dig until exhausting herself only to return home with fatigue and cold.
"And then my grandmother died," she adds, blaming the tear gas that quickly deteriorated her granma's health during the infamous February mess, as she calls for the third time the series of protests that took place in the country during that month
Days before going to Ireland, she recalls telling her brother to "say good-bye to our grandmother because this is probably the last time you'll get to see her," however, the way things happened makes ther tell me this with anger rather than sadness.
"I had 70 euros left, I went to the grocery store and got some food and then fell depressed. I felt I couldn't take it anymore".
In those days she got an interview with a Pakistani man whose job was to find Au Pairs for local families.

Where do you live?- the guy asked her.
She bursted into tears.
Mi rent ends this Sunday and after that I have nowhere to go- she explained.

The man said that he would contact a friend who would rent her a room and he also offered to pay for the first two weeks of her stay on the condition that she agreed to pay him back as soon as she started  working.

Weren't you scared of trusting a stranger on something like that?-  I jumped and asked her while a series of flashes went through my mind, like an ultra short version of the movie Taken.
I wasn't scared, I had nothing to loose- She answered.

And finally, a little light begins to shine. Irish Luck is the ally of perseverance and the lady who received her this time was to become a great support. "It was a lovely person, an angel. She spoke Spanish and several other languages, she even teaches Japanese. We talked a lot, and she tried to give me strength and helped me remove my negative thoughts".

Skerries is a seaside town in Fingal (county located north of Dublin). With nearly 10,000 inhabitants, it is a total change of scene for someone who comes from Valencia, a hectic city inhabited by more than two million people.
Before the Pakistani man found Graciela a job, she was on her way to the house of an Irish family with 3 children (a 5 years old, a 3 years old and an 11 months old baby). Like many other Au Pairs, she was working for an allowance of 100 euros per week, Monday to Friday, from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm, with a room and all her food expenditures covered by the family.
"Although I didn't like the job, the house was great, on top of a hill, near the sea. There, I was able to organize my ideas."
Especially some of the more disordered thoughts that haunted her mind, like the marriage proposal that a Spanish friend had left standing, more for solidarity and friendship than with any romantic interest.

"What am I doing? I'm not like this. I will not make a decision that is important to me this way. I do not want to end up divorced, I'm old fashioned in that regard." This reflection led her to reject "love of her visa" [Spanish for "visa" and "vida" (life) sounds very similar, this being a word game for love of her visa instead of love of her life].

Gradually life in Skerries helped her regain her inner peace. "I put myself in God's hands and changed my attitude, I left the angst. It was a big opportunity whether I liked it or not, whether the family exploited me or not. You have no idea how much my English improved".

Let things flow
A few months later, in September 2014, now working as a "live out" nanny for a family with a 12 years old kid, Graciela returned to school to complete the attendance to renew her visa. She lived in a one-room house, inhabited by five people and a managed by very absent landlord.
"During those days, a friend had an accident where he burnt his arm so I went to his place to help him". As if they were in a rum commercial, one thing lead to another and they ended up at party where she met a Spanish guy. They started dating "but taking things slowly, we were going out for two weeks and hadn't even kissed".
After a couple of months, it was starting to get more serious and one day he saw the condition of the house in which Graciela lived.

"Now I understand why you're getting sick all the time".

Soon after that, he asked her to move together and this time Graciela says yes. For Christmas, they were both going to Spain to visit his family and despite the fact that they welcomed her with kindness, being away from her loved ones made her feel depressed.
And with sadness, self-doubt quickly took over..
Was this a rushed desicion? Was it real love or being in need clouded her judgment?
Time for a reality check. "This guy wants me and he's the best relationship I've ever had." The situation wasn't perfect, and neither was he, but life is not about perfection, and Graciela decided to be happy.

Everything will be fine
"I've never got anything handed to me. I've worked and supported myself since I was 16 years old. I paid for my own college and graduated, it was the greatest satisfaction in my life. I had a decent life in Venezuela, a fancy job with a good salary. When I got here I had to put my degree in the rubbish and clean toilets. That is the fate of Venezuelans abroad",
"It is hard and painful. And it's not that I deserve better than others, but after a year and a half cleaning toilets, it's getting to me".
It is a common destiny, a subject as sensitive for Venezuelans in the area as the soft part that's left exposed when a milk tooth falls. But while no one likes "cleaning toilets" is not a sad ending, in fact, is not an ending at all.
Recently, the Spanish guy asked her to marry him.

"Even though I do not believe in marriage, I'll do this for you, you've been through a lot and I have a mission in life to make you happy. Although marriage means nothing to me, I know you will help a lot," Graciela paraphrases the proposal, romantic in its own way.

After a yes said with conviction, her day to day hasn't changed that much. They live together and Graciela keeps cleaning while looking for a better job, but there are good vibes and optimism.

"Going back is not an option," she says. She's able to see a better future in the midst of the daily difficulties, she's confident that "everything will be fine."

When we parted, I noticed a small shamrock tattooed on her arm, a delicate token of Irish luck, perhaps. I regret now not asking her for the story of it, but it makes me think that Graciela is right,
Everything will be fine.

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