Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Visiting Venezuela

Marsha asked me what I had been doing in Venezuela when I had the lovely experience of no water for five days. She got me thinking, and remembering. Quite simply I was an exchange student.

I guess it was the overachiever in me (yes, I was chronic in my youth) that gave me this need to finish learning Spanish. I hated to do anything halfway, and taking a couple of years of Spanish in high school didn't seem like it was going to teach me as much as I wanted to learn. Somehow my mother understood this and when she stumbled across an opportunity for me to be an exchange student, she made it happen. I found out years later that she had borrowed the money to send me, and I'll always be grateful for her understanding my need to go.

I was seventeen when I left, having just finished up my junior year in high school. I went on a summer program -- after all, I wanted to learn Spanish, not give up my only chance at a senior year in high school! I flew all day to get from Phoenix to Miami and then stayed the night in a hotel in Miami. Believe me, this was a big adventure for a seventeen year old with sisters. Having the bathroom all to myself was, well, there simply aren't words to describe it.

My travel to Caracas was a little more complex, but that's a story for another day. Let's just say unexpected layovers, diverted flights, eventually arriving at six in the morning....

The family that took me in for my summer stay was incredible. They had two children, a daughter a year older than me who had just spent the school year in the U.S. and an older son who was married and out of the house. The parents spoke little English, but were kind, generous and patient. Their home could best be described as a three bedroom condo. It was on the sixth floor of the building that housed their jewelry store on the ground level. The bakery was across the street, the photo shop right next door.

I had lived in Phoenix, but never had I experienced this kind of city living, the kind where you went to the bakery for fresh bread every morning, or to the butcher for fresh meat each afternoon. The shops closed down for two hours each day for siesta and we went out every night (except when we watched Miss Venezuela win Miss Universe on television.) Gasoline was only $0.24 a gallon so travel was cheap. We, along with just about everyone else in the city, traveled to one of the beach towns each Friday afternoon, returning on Sundays.

Discos, restaurants, shops, and parties. Life was never dull and somehow through the whole experience I learned the culture and how to speak the language. I can still remember the morning I left. I stood out on the balcony staring out at the early morning sky. I was trying to remember every detail, the sounds of the city, the beauty of the sunrise, the feeling of belonging I had found with this family I now considered my own.

When I left that day, I had already starting making plans to return. I would try to get into the University somehow. Returning to Caracas was paramount in my mind, but it wasn't to be. I think deep down I knew I wouldn't be coming back, at least not any time soon. My early acceptance letter to BYU was waiting for me when I got home, and almost instantly reality struck. I wasn't going to see my family in Venezuela again.

I always feel a pang of homesickness when I see Venezuela on the news even though I know it is a changed country since I lived there. Still I doubt there will ever be a time that I won't look back on that summer abroad with fond memories. Someday, just maybe, I'll be able to go back and make some new ones.

4 comments:

so grateful to be Mormon! said...

morning to you traci!
great post. makes me think of the different countries i got to travel to while i served in the Air Force. because i was in a flying career field, in my short time in the military, my job took me to several countries and countless states, including hawaii (more places than if i hadn't been in that kind of job). i will forever be grateful for being given the exposure to all the various places. like you said, whenever i hear one of them mentioned, i feel a little twang or awwhh, i was there, i was there, i remember that place (some i didn't want to remember, but still there is something good about seeing it all, even the places you know you would never want to go again). we do have it sooo good living in the states and i know it.

cute story. i liked how you said the bit about being the 17 y/o girl in a bathroom that you didn't have to share w/all your sisters. how many sisters do you have? i have one and 3 brothers. so awesome what you said about your mom sacrificing for you to go. i feel like that about my mom and braces. i will forever be grateful to her (that even though she could not afford it and she struggled to do this) she got me braces which i desparately needed because i was a crooked mess!

and your first part amused me how you said you basically were majoring in you. silly girl.

i read this morning in D&C 130:18 how there is one thing we do get to take with us when we leave this earth. we get to take the intelligence and knowledge we have gained while here. that is fantastic to know this promise. so, traci, you get to keep your creative and well tuned mind of intelligence that i am having so much fun reading.

thanks for starting my day off with a smile.

blessings to you this day,
kathleen :)

so grateful to be Mormon! said...

oops, traci, that came out wrong about sayin you were majoring in you. i meant to say about the overacheiver in you. thought that was cute. i can totally respect that. that is what helped me to accomplish my A.S., B.S., and M.S. degrees with honors grades in six years while working full time and having our two babies and volunteering part time, too. when i want something, i work hard to accomplish the goal. sounds like you do, too.

with respect,
kathleen

ps. gotta run. see you later.

Tristi Pinkston said...

What a marvelous experience you had. Thanks for sharing!

Marsha Ward said...

Great memories, Traci. Thanks for sharing.

My stay in Venezuela was a bit different. I was a missionary in the Mision Colombo-Venezolana. My time was split almost equally between the two countries.

In those days, the cost to missionaries had not been standardized, so I was serving in a mission where the costs in one country were very low, and in the other, were among the most expensive in the world! I know my folks were squeezing pennies twice during my Venezuelan stays. I so appreciate their sacrifices.