Hi, my name is Mariana and I’m an immigrant from Caracas, Venezuela. In this series of anecdote-type articles, I’ll give you insight into the mind of a girl who lived in a city now ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world because of a humanitarian crisis. This is a grave, ongoing issue that I was fortunate enough to escape. Other people aren't so lucky. These stories were true for me and continue to be true for people trapped in the country for one reason or another. I hope this sheds some truth on an issue that is dear to me.
Thank you for reading.
The school day slowly trudges on--it’s not even noon, and yet you can’t help but daydream about burrowing under the soft pile of blankets and pillows waiting for you at home. But the inevitably sharp ring of the school bell interrupts these fantasies, snapping your attention back to the monotonous walls of the classroom as you prepare to make the trek to the cafeteria.
Spending lunch in a daze, it’s only when you notice everyone snatching their bags off the cafeteria tables that you realize the last bell has finally heralded the end of the day. Relieved, you lose yourself in the buzzing crowd of students travelling to the school patio, where you’ll wait for your parents to arrive and take you home. Taking the stairs from the classroom to the patio two at a time, you spot your friends talking excitedly among themselves. So with a smile, you catch up to them, waiting for your mother to come pick you and your two sisters up from this humdrum place.
Suddenly, your eyes start burning.
Forcing tears to stream down your cheeks, the pain spreads from your eyes to your nose, travelling down into your mouth, and lodging itself in your throat. Waterfalls continue to cascade from your eyes and, in a state of panic, you frantically search for an explanation within the chaotic crowds, anything to help understand this terrible feeling.
You catch sight of some teachers running toward the grassy side of the patio--the side that leads to the small hill at the top of the mountainous area where the school is located. They look worried as they hush whispers into their two-way radios. You spot a few girls with red, teary eyes, but most people haven’t been affected. Your friends are part of that majority, and they’re understandably concerned about your current appearance.
“Did someone hit you?” they ask you and you shake your head, but they’re not convinced. The hum of the surrounding conversations crescendos as more people become victims of the burning sensation. More teachers are talking into their radios. Administrators are exiting from the surrounding buildings. Even the nuns are outside, trying as best as they can to calm down some of the younger girls.
The teachers seem to agree on a some kind of a solution, and begin to usher students to the top the the hill. Everyone is running, scared, screaming. Kids as little as three and as old as thirteen cry for their mothers, or continue their attempts to distract themselves from the pain by talking to each other. They try to smile. You’re overwhelmed, so you go into a state of shock: you don’t feel any emotions, there’s no more pain. But you can still observe the chaos around you.
You can still watch the rising white clouds that seem to be eating the school. You can still hear the angry honking of cars and the piercing sirens of police vans and ambulances. You can still hear the screaming men outside. The sound of the bombs they’re throwing ricochets into the atmosphere. Teachers and administrators rush to give everyone a towelette with drops of Maalox1 or vinegar2, doing what they can to soothe their pain. You receive a towelette with vinegar and are instructed to put it up to your nose; it smells, but you do it anyway.
Ten minutes later, and over thirty minutes since the start of dismissal, you hear your last name called over the speakers that line the small roof near the hill. So you stand up, your sisters in tow, and make your way down the hill to the car line, where you spot your mother’s little blue car. She rushes out of the driver’s seat and shoves your lunch bags and backpacks into the trunk while the three of you rush into the backseat of the car. In the span of three minutes, you’re out of the school.
But you still don't feel safe.
Once you’re at a comfortable distance from the school, you finally let yourself absorb your mother and sisters’ state.
Your mother is crying.
She says it’s just the bombs to seem strong, to give you hope. But you know it’s not the bombs; she is worried. She is scared.
She drove and drove until we were the safest distance away from the school as we could be.
And that day, amidst the bombs, amidst the screaming, my parents decided we were getting out of Venezuela.
1 An anti-acid solution
2 Although they didn't know at the time that vinegar makes the burning worse, I was one of the people to receive it