From Venezuela to Panama: Should I Stay, Should I Go?

After finally having my luggage readily packed with all the things I could bring back from Panama, many of them bought to satisfy some of my family members’ basic needs and my own; I allowed myself to sigh. I was going back to my chaos. Venezuela. Home.

Hyperinflation, scarcity, price speculation, and a well-established, although non-official, dollarization on the market defines our daily lives in Venezuela. It is hard when you go buy something anywhere and, in less than a week, the price has risen. I was trying not to think about that in Panama. But it was very hard.

In spite of my busy life there, and all the curiosity I had about the culture, the people and, of course, the food, I was constantly remembering what was waiting for me at home. Sometimes I would talk with family members, who would ask about the unusual lifestyle advantages I’ve found out about, which, to be honest, were very commonplace in Panama, and very widespread to say the least.

Paradise in Panama

For example in Panama, you can get a birth certificate in the supermarket in less than 15 minutes with nothing more than your ID. In Caracas, you would need to get up at 4:30 in the morning and wait in line at 6 am at the civil registry office. And of course, you could waste all your day there, just for one document. Life seemed lighter to me, it’s true. And, even if some tend to say Panama is an expensive country to live in, to me it offered some lifestyle choices that can be achieved with reasonable effort and time.

In Panama, you can have your apartment equipped with all you need in a comparably short amount of time compared to Venezuela. A month’s minimum wage can be enough to buy you several kitchen appliances. You can buy six gas stoves, to be precise. Why am I talking about so many stoves you may ask? The thing is that, in Venezuela, although gas is almost given to you for free because we have so much oil, gas stoves (and all kitchen appliances for that matter) are costly. You will need a whole year’s salary to buy just one. Several family members would need to collaborate just for that. So, if some of your kitchen appliances fail without possible repair, you are in trouble.

And if we talk about having your own place to live, it’s another long, thought-provoking dilemma. I have been living long enough on my own to know about it. Real estate prices are unreachable for most people in Venezuela; you would need to save your whole salary for at least 70 years to be able to buy something decent (trust me I have done the math). In Panama, on the other hand, this is possible after working for just a couple of years; and it is probably possible in many other countries. I would love to be able to do that, in Venezuela of course.

The Burden of the Familiar

And that’s when the dilemma starts. I love my country, in spite of all the things I have to endure every day. It’s the place I was born in. The place where my family members live. The place where I’ve lived and created all my memories over the years. But life seems so much easier to me in Panama. Would I be better off as an expat there?

Friends and acquaintances abroad even joke about it from time to time. They talk about my hypothetical migration and all the crazy things they’d do to accommodate me where they live. The phrases tend to start with a “Vente chama!…” (“come here, girl!”) and end in a “Cualquier cosa…” (in the event of…”) when digging more into the matter. From some Venezuelan expats’ point of view, it’s an easy decision. After all, Venezuela’s situation is just too complicated for them right now; it has been worsening since they left.

But emigrating is not an easy decision at all. It would mean a change of lifestyle I am not sure I am willing to make right now. Being an expat can be a challenging thing to do, not just economically, but emotionally. I remember something an elder acquaintance, an Italian man in Venezuela, used to say: “In the long run if you emigrate, you will always have something missing inside of you”. After all, emigration always implies detachment.

I Made my Choice

Moreover, it is tough to detach from something, albeit that something is troublesome, you have invested so much in. I have invested my dreams, my tears, my sacrifice; my love for this country is something that has always driven me further away in life; this is something that can be said about a lot of fellow Venezuelans living in our motherland.

It is a common saying “One must stay to fight for the country”. A lot of people live through sacrifice here. They endure all the problems this country carries like a Cross. They help to carry it along. I think, my effort is worthy. Because I love this country, its people, its rich culture; I love I can be a part of all this chaos. I want the situation to improve, but all I can do, for the most part, is being better in what I do and help others. Being supportive of others like my friends and acquaintances, because they are all part of this country, and therefore part of my life.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

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