Venezuelans looking forward to Christmas here

-but still hanker for home

Iris Madave, 24, is looking forward to spending her first Christmas in Guyana but sadly it would be without her mother who died after she could not access health care in Venezuela.

Her Guyanese mother, Sadhna Sookraj, 49, was diabetic and her condition had gotten out of control.

She died last year because she could not receive the treatment she required. Her father, a Venezuelan, has remarried and moved on with his life.

The woman was not the only one to die as a result of poor health care in Venezuela. Many others, including children are dying from cancer, mosquito-borne diseases and other ailments while family members watch helplessly.

The hardship that the residents have been faced with in Venezuela has caused them to make life-changing decisions and the hardest for Iris was leaving her two children, ages four and six behind.

Carlos and his cousin, Elisabeth about to leave home to ply their hot dog trade.

What is the worst for her is that this is the first year she would be without them at Christmastime. She was hoping that she would be able to earn some money to send them presents.

She currently lives in a rented bottom-flat apartment at Zeeburg, West Coast Demerara with her cousin Carlos Bissondial, 32, and his common-law wife, Sabo Bhagwandin. The couple operates a mobile hot dog business. 

Iris’ biggest wish is to move to a better place soon so she can bring her children with her.

Her older sister, Elisabeth, 27, is also here for a short stay and is working with Carlos. She is trying to earn some money to take back to her family in Venezuela.

Iris said Christmas would never be the same again but she is looking forward to spending in Guyana.

Her face lit up as she reminisced how festive the season was in Venezuela, with lots of decorations and with Christmas carols playing all over.

Residents could have afforded to shop lavishly for food, clothing, decorations and toys for the children along with presents for other family members.

But she became sad as she explained that they no longer know what Christmas is in that country. She had a comfortable life there working as a clothing vendor.

There are hardly any jobs and food available and the currency is badly devalued. “People there are starving so they don’t even care about Christmas now,” Iris said.

The country’s economic situation has deteriorated rapidly after Nicolas Maduro took over as president in 2013 following former President Hugo Chavez’s death.

Also, with the falling world oil prices and poor governance, the country’s economy took a serious dive.

Residents have become frustrated as prices started skyrocketing and with the scarcity of food, fuel and cash along with the collapse of the health care, education and transport systems.

Iris was a baby when her family moved to Venezuela in search of a better life. They were among many other Guyanese who left for the same reason and they were successful.

 

Upturned

 

But in recent years, their comfortable lives have been upturned and many were forced to return here, leaving almost everything behind. They have had to start life all over again and some residents have become depressed as a result.

Some Venezuelans have sought refuge in other countries including Trinidad, Peru and Colombia.

The country’s economic situation deteriorated after Nicolas Maduro took over as president in 2013 following former President Hugo Chavez’s death. Also, with the falling world oil prices and poor governance, the country’s economy took a serious dive.

Residents have become frustrated as prices started skyrocketing and with the scarcity of food, fuel and cash along with the collapse of the health care, education and transport systems.

Carlos has been in Guyana for four Christmases already and while he was glad to be away from the sufferings in Venezuela, he had spent the season feeling lonely.

This year he thinks it would be brighter now that Sabo and his cousins are around. He had not made any plans for Christmas but he knows that they would be cooking some delicious food.

He longed for the Christmas he spent in Venezuela before the country’s economy started to cripple but said that may never happen again.

He recalled that they could have afforded to shop a lot during the season and on Christmas day “everybody in the house would party. We would buy a lot of meat and do bar-b-que; we would grill it… and have a good time.”  

Carlos moved here so his life would be easy but he passed through a lot of difficulties along the way. He spoke just a little English in the beginning and did a lot of odd jobs to survive.

His former girlfriend who came with him knew more English but she ditched him soon after they arrived.

He “worked hard” for long hours and apart from being underpaid, he also had to endure a lot of insults from his employers. He even tried selling fish to survive.

He was also robbed while some people from the neighbourhood took advantage of his situation and bullied him to pay a bill he knew nothing about.

He initially refused but was forced to pay after they told him he was a “Spanish-man” and that they can get him deported.

He also rented homes “all over” until he finally settled at Zeeburg, West Coast Demerara.

“It was hard,” he said.

Carlos, who was born in Venezuela to a Guyanese mother and Venezuelan father, subsequently got his Guyanese identification card.

Life has gotten a little easier now, as he was eventually able to save enough money to purchase a hot dog cart.

According to him, “I don’t make a lot but at least I can survive better than when I was working with people…” 

The business is not new to him as he had also it done in Venezuela. His cousins brought him the special pans from there to keep the hot dogs from sagging. 

Sabo and Carlos make a good team as she too sold hot dogs in Venezuela. Here, she quit her job at a snackette after she became pregnant.

She too recalled the lovely time they had at Christmas and said everyone looked forward for the season and that the children are the happiest.

She said the country had a lot of factories and manufactured almost anything. She even said that companies used to give such big bonuses to their employees they could have “used it to buy a house.”

 “Since the president took office over 1000 factories were closed. And now one month’s salary can only buy a tray of eggs and a [pack of] sausage. You have to work whole month to buy a chicken,” she said sadly.

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