Saudades: The Three Things I Miss the Most About Venezuela

It was an unremarkable Wednesday as I made my way into my Portuguese class. With my books on the table and my pencil in hand, it was business as usual. I was in a deeply monotonous mood when the professor grabbed white chalk and scribbled on the board.

"Saudades,” the board read. An unusual word I had not heard before.

"Saudades is a word that is only found in the Portuguese language. It means nostalgia but at a deeper level. A profound incompleteness and longing for something that is absent,” Professor Teixeira explained.

As she prompted us to think of examples of this sentiment, I felt my heart shrink and pound, realizing that it had always felt saudades—it had just finally found a word for its feelings.

The day turned into a rollercoaster of emotions after that class, as a feeling of utter melancholy washed over me. It was a deep longing for the Caribbean sea, the macaws’ squawking, the mountain’s green and purple tint. It was deeper than plain homesickness—it was saudades. It was a yearning for the Venezuela of my childhood. It was a longing for a country that does not exist anymore.

You see, my home is a failed state. Venezuela, once the richest country in Latin America, has now succumbed to chaos following 20 years of economic mismanagement, authoritarian rule, corruption and incorrect policies. At one point considered the land of milk and honey for people seeking refuge, the country is now facing an immigration crisis that is quickly approaching the numbers of Syrian refugees. Facing starvation, disease and dwindling living conditions, Venezuelans have now come to realize that a home elsewhere weighs more than a plate without food, a hospital without medicine and a country without opportunities.

As such, the country I grew up in only exists in the broken pieces that each Venezuelan carries within them. Since we Venezuelans are spread out all over the world, these shattered remnants of the past are found in the pride one feels when a fellow countryman finds success, the happiness one experiences when one is able to discuss one’s culture with another Venezuelan, the joy one receives from overhearing the typical Venezuelan accent in the most improbable places. These are the last shreds of the country that connects all of us.

Today, the grim news constantly coming from Venezuela contrasts with the sweet memories we carry from our home. If you search for Venezuela, stories about misery are the only ones to pop up. It is a sad realization to find that your memories and the present state do not equate, but I am wholeheartedly convinced that Venezuela is more than its current affairs. Moved by my eternal feelings of saudades, I will now share the things I love and miss the most about my country:

  1. 1. The delicious food

    Venezuela’s cuisine is sublime to say the least. From arepas and cachapas to pabellón criollo and hallacas, the combination of flavors found in our typical dishes is a unique experience for anyone’s taste buds. The richness of our cuisine stems from the melting pot of cultures that come from Venezuela—you can find European, African and indigenous influences in every bite.

    I miss waking up to my mother’s arepas. I miss the creamy, tangy, yet salty guayanés cheese. I miss the taste of corn found in the best cachapas in Caracas—obviously from La Union. I miss the overloaded hot dogs they sell in the middle of the street—we add cabbage, chips, cheese and a million different sauces to them. I miss chasing after waiters at parties to delight in a tequeño or two. I miss Margarita’s empanadas, the ones that always left a telltale greasy streak down my chin. I miss the food that made my tummy full and my heart happy.

  2. 2. The beautiful geography

    In Venezuela, you can find a myriad of different environments. Up the coast, the Caribbean provides beautiful beaches. In the South, the tropicality of the Amazon Rainforest delights the eye. To the West, the grandiose Andes Mountains create a snowy paradise. In the center, flat lands called Los Llanos fill the dreams of cattle ranchers.

    One of the most beautiful places in Venezuela is Canaima, found in the state of Bolivar. Here, the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, provides a majestic view. The rocky tepuyes, or mesas, are the “houses of Gods,” as their name implies. The conundrum of the rainforest is a treat to the eye. The beauty of Canaima is such that it inspired the directors of Pixar when they made the movie Up. The location for “Paradise Falls” and the forest where Carl and Russell roam actually exists in Venezuela.

    Another amazing place is Los Roques, an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. It is home to pure white sand, turquoise blue waters and  a natural coral reef. Mystery and beauty collide to create a piece of heaven on earth.

    As a citizen of Caracas, it would be a sin not to include the Avila Mountain. The city of Caracas lies at the feet of this mountain. During the day, its colors vary between bright green, yellow and deep purple. The calmness and peace of the Avila Mountain provides a stark contrast to the busyness of the metropolis below it.

  3. 3. The warm people

    In Venezuela, everyone is a pana, or friend. Citizens of this South American nation share the quality of being warm and open to different people. Every moment is an opportunity to spark a joke. Every embrace carries a hug and a kiss. Every day is a chance to be hospitable and friendly.

    Considering the amount of Venezuelan immigrants spread around the world, it is not uncommon to run into one of my countrymen. In these instances, I marvel at how simple it is to feel familiarity as we converse—at how easy it is to feel like the other person is your friend in a couple of minutes.

    If one thing is true, it is that we Venezuelans love talking and sharing. Conversations often begin in queues and stores, in the places where daily life is made. I miss Venezuelans’ kindred spirit. I miss the mi amor and mi vida they always greet you with. I miss my people.

    Overall, I miss being with my family and friends. I miss singing to the moon with my father, laughing with my sisters and spending time with my mother. I miss being in the same time and space. I miss the days when we could talk in person rather than via FaceTime. I miss not having to curse at the power outages that prevent our communication. I miss the times when I did not have to worry about their safety and wellbeing.

According to the Portuguese language, the way to cure saudades is to destroy them—the phrase is literally matar saudades, or to kill saudades. To do so, we must return to the place we miss or be with the person we pine for. Taking into account that I am 2,545 miles away from home, killing the nostalgia is an impossible feat, but I cheer up by remembering the country I once knew. Until I hear the macaws and wake up to a dazzling sun rising above the Avila’s silhouette, my heart will always carry a bit of saudades.