Saudade

“I put you here so that if your spirit ever wandered, 

you would know where home was.”

-Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

On August 10 2014, I was packing my suitcases and saying goodbye to my family. The next day I was flying to the United States to begin my studies and a new life. That was the last time I saw my country, that was the last time I was at home. That was also the first time I started to feel saudade.

Caracas
View of El Ávila from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. One of the last pictures I took before leaving Caracas, 2014.
Saudade is a Portuguese word tricky to translate, it does not seem to have an equivalent word in English or Spanish, but it means a recurrent state of nostalgia or melancholy, of missing something or someone that is part of you.[1] For me, saudade means Venezuela, my family and friends; it is this hole in my stomach that never goes away but I hold dear to me. Sometimes it is the fuel that motivates me to pursue my goals, to look at old pictures and memories of my past, the reminder to keep in touch with my love ones. Saudade is also the feeling that makes me cry for the people I could not say goodbye, the loneliness sometimes I feel due to the distance. It is the anxiety about the problems that are affecting my country. Saudade is also the uncertainty of when will I return home.

Recently, I find myself reading stories of people that for different reasons left their homelands, from Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, to Alex Tizon’s article “My Family’s Slave.”[2] All these stories, fictional and real, are profoundly sad and complex narratives that discuss the departure and displacement, they are about beginnings and the recurrent presence of the past. These narratives talk about persons who, for diverse reasons and in different ways, had to build new lives, start new families, and settle in new places.

These stories honor those who without a choice had to start over in an unknown context. I read between the lines and I cannot help but seeing some of myself in these persons. I notice they were hunted by that feeling of missing something, and that there was some kind of beautiful sadness in their lives. Their saudades gives them strength to live, yet it also makes them not to forget what was left behind. Like me, the hole in their stomachs made them build a life, a home away from home. Like me, they also lived with an endless saudade.

My story is very different from the characters in Homegoing, Saroo Brierley’s quest from Australia to India, or Lola’s servitude life in the United States. I always wished to live in other places, explore new cultures, and travel around the world. I am not a slave, I keep in touch with my family constantly, and there was always the possibility for me to return. However, the economic and political situation in Venezuela made me take the decision of leaving and start over in a different country.[3] It did not seem to be a place for me in Venezuela, especially with a government that punishes you for speaking loudly about the country’s problems, for pointing out what is wrong with public administration, and for aspiring to better things. Money was not enough, quality of life was low, working in my field was almost impossible. Returning to my house every night after work seemed like returning from a battlefield. My mom used to say to me: “You know when you get out of the house, but you never know if you are coming back.” That fear of death followed me, and getting back safe and sound, alive, felt like a sad victory.[4]

Unlike the persons from the stories I read, extreme conditions like warfare, slavery, and poverty did not affect me, and yet, I did feel I had to run away from my country. I was not forced to leave in the same ways as they did, but I felt obligated to protect myself. When the opportunity to continue my education and a life somewhere else materialized, I felt it was my chance for a fresh start. Today, I am grateful for the decision I made and the opportunity to build a home away from home. I found a wonderful partner, my family is bigger and made great friends who helped me settled in this country. I have accomplished some of my professional goals. I also have learned more about myself. But the saudade is always there, it came to stay once I left my family at the airport bursting in tears. Since then, I know my saudade will never go away.

I try to explain my husband this feeling, he can feel my saudade when I give him my daily briefings about Venezuela. He holds me close to him when I am crying for my country. He partly understands my feelings, and tells me is good to remember and experience this feeling. Sometimes I wish I could detach myself from it and being indifferent for this distant place. But most of the time I realize the saudade became part of me and I am still learning to live with it, with this beautiful sadness that keeps Venezuela close to me. Sometimes this feeling mixes with guilt, and I do not allow myself to be sad. As Ana Cristina Nuñez says, “Venezuelans abroad live in a dream,” we do not have go through struggles such as food scarcity, we do not fear violence anymore.[5] But this “dream” can be unbearable when I know I cannot help others who are struggling in my country, when I cannot be there standing in the front lines and fighting for a better future. In the pasts weeks, as the protests in Venezuela continue, my saudade grows along with my feeling of frustration. I just can hope the little help I provide can be useful, and use this feeling as a fuel to be productive in my new home.

I wonder if the people I read ever learned to live with their saudade. Some of them, like Saroo and Lola, were lucky enough to go back to the place they missed, and to cope with their feeling. They know their homes changed, they know they changed, but reconnecting helped them to ease their saudade. In my case, I made a home here in the U.S. and, for now, going to Venezuela is not possible. Nonetheless, I long for the time I can go back to visit, and show my husband the place that hold so close to me. I will probably find a different country to the one I left, but I am also changing and my saudade will be there helping me to remember.

The hope of a fresh start for Venezuela is the only thing putting my saudade at ease, the possibility to rebuild the country for those who stayed. I know people in Venezuela have their own saudade. They also remember those who left and those who died, they are longing for a better future, and they are looking to live without fear. To them, please be aware you are not alone. Also be aware this saudade we feel is a beautiful sadness, it will never go away, but it will help us to move forward.

 

[1] If you wish to know more about the meaning of saudade, listen to the podcast “Saudade: An Untranslatable, Undeniably Potent Word” in NPR, January 8 2015 http://www.npr.org/sections/altlatino/2014/02/28/282552613/saudade-an-untranslatable-undeniably-potent-word

[2] I will not go into details about these works, but I highly recommend reading them if you ever have the chance.

[3] If you wish to know more about Venezuela’s context, please read Luis Carlos Diaz article ““Bodies Die, Countries Don’t”: What the Venezuela Crisis Takes Away From Us” in Global Voices, April 19 2017 https://globalvoices.org/2017/04/19/bodies-die-countries-dont-what-the-venezuela-crisis-takes-away-from-us/

[4] In 2016, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence estimated 28,479 violent deaths in Venezuela. https://observatoriodeviolencia.org.ve/2016-ovv-estima-28-479-muertes-violentas-en-venezuela/

[5] Thank you, Ana Cristina, for your article, it inspired me to put my thoughts on paper. “Lost in California,” in The Caracas Chronicles, May 15 2017 https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2017/05/15/lost-in-california/

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