The Song of the Venezuelan Refugees

May 19, 2020 by

Me fui (me fui), me fui (me fui)
Con mi cabeza llena de dudas, pero me fui
Y aquí estoy (aquí estoy), creyendo en mí (creyendo en mí)
Acordándome de todo aquello que un día fui

And I left (I left, I left), I left (oh, I left)
With my head full of doubts, but I left
And here I am, believing in me
(believing in me) 
remembering all that I once was

From the song Me Fui” by Reymar Perdomo

Setting the volume on high, I let the rhythm and lyrics pound in my chest as I watched the sun silhouette the buildings of Cúcuta, Colombia from my ninth floor balcony. The blunt truth of the lyrics washed over me: This is what I saw in the eyes of the fathers and mothers, young men and women, and the children I worked with every day. The song “Me Fui” is the unofficial anthem of the Venezuelan migrants. The stories they tell follow the thread of the song. Only the details change.

 “I left two of my girls at home. I will fetch them when I have money and a house”.

“I found a job in Peru so I came back to fetch my mother and sisters. It is too dangerous for them to travel alone. I have been walking two months now.”

A 13-year-old boy looking at a map of the route his family is travelling turns to his mother asking, “Where are we going to live?”

refugees Photo credit: Samaritan's Purse

Each carries what they can in bags, suitcases or sacks, but the heaviest load is what they cannot carry: The children who left their dogs or colored pencils, the mother whose two daughters are still in Venezuela, or the father who left his land, his house, and everything that made him the provider for his family. As the songs says, “With my head full of doubts, I left.” This is the story written in their eyes, but now they put one foot in front of the other, walking towards a new home.

I was stationed on the Colombia-Venezuela border in the city of Cúcuta, working in a Samaritan's Purse shelter for Venezuelan refugees just outside the city limits. Before the refugee crisis, Cúcuta, was a small, no-name city. It has become one of the main exit routes from Venezuela to the rest of South America. The city has absorbed many Venezuelans. Some stay and sell trinkets in the streets. Others enter, buy food or medicine, conceal it in knapsacks, and smuggle it back to their families in Venezuela. Every day I drove the thirty minutes to La Don Juana, a neighboring pueblo, where the shelter is located. This shelter provides food, showers, medical attention, and a place where the weary walkers can rest. Most plonk themselves down on the concrete floor, exhausted from the walk from the border to our shelter. The bags and knapsacks are piled high, and between the piles mothers pace, soothing crying babies. The children, after eating a bowl of rice and meat, come to the safe space to play.

This is the area where I spent most of my days. It is bursting with life. Soccer and dodge ball games weave in and between the coloring stations and restaurants that the little girls create with a table, chairs, and a set of donated doll dishes. Their eyes though, speak of hunger, weeks without school, family, friends and pets left behind. These same eyes gleam with hope and a sense of adventure as they recount the different animals and vehicles they saw as they walked.

As the adults gain strength they come over to see if their child is behaving. They sit around the edge of the play area, watching. These eyes tell of exhaustion and pain, but, as they observe their children, the heaviness slowly lifts. A small glimmer appears and a smile tugs the corners of their eyes. Their children are still children, laughing, playing and coloring beautiful pictures.

Their eyes though, speak of hunger, weeks without school, family, friends and pets left behind.At the end of the afternoon, it is time to pack up the play space. Stopping the children’s play is a nearly impossible task, so we turn packing away tables and chairs into play. They all work as if their life depended on it, down to the sweeping up of the pile of dirt. Grins on all faces, including ours. The fist bumps and large eyes that gaze into our own are our farewells, for we know that tomorrow these children will continue a journey that will last their lifetime. Like their parents, they will put one foot in front of another, but because they are children, their heads, as Perdomo sings, are not “llena de dudas” (full of doubts). Instead they will sing the final refrain of her song, “Me fui.Creo en mí, creo en ti, creo en el bravo pueblo.” (I left. I believe in myself, I believe in you, I believe in the valiant people.)

Each day a new crowd of children would be waiting for us when we pulled up in our pickup and we would love them just as much.

Anita Meier has returned from Cúcuta and now lives in Maple Ridge, a Bruderhof in Ulster Park, New York.


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