SÃO MARTINHO 28
-If there’d be a change and the government left I would go back to my house there.
-Really? Would you go back to Venezuela?
-Yes, yes —she answers immediately, and then after a short pause, continues —
...but he [Nicolás Maduro] is not leaving, no.
This conversation with my grandma happened three years after she went on a forced extended vacation. In 2017 she traveled from Venezuela to Madeira Island, her birthplace, along with her daughter to spend a couple of months. While there, her adult children decided it was better for her to stay long term. The Venezuelan crisis worsened in recent years. Medicine shortages and the precarious health system were the main reasons why they did not want her to return. Since then, my grandma Maria has been living in her house in São Martinho, Funchal.
At the beginning, it was tough for her. She worried that her place in Caracas would be left alone and no one would watch her belongings or take care of her garden. My grandma refused the idea of permanently living in Portugal. She wanted to return to Venezuela, the country she called home for the last sixty five years.
My grandmother migrated to Venezuela in the 1950s after my grandfather, who like many Portuguese, went looking for opportunities to grow and build a better future for his family. They found a home in Caracas and settled in. There were occasional vacations to Portugal and a two-year-long business trip in Madeira, but Maria’s life was in Venezuela.
However, at 90 years old, my grandmother found herself migrating for the second time. This involved adapting to new habits and a new life far from the family she gave birth to. She never imagined that at her age she would be part of the Venezuelan diaspora.
Relocation is more bearable thanks to the many people who surround my grandmother with care. On one hand, my parents are with her most of the year. They found Dorita who keeps my grandmother company and is now a good friend. Januario, on the other hand, makes errands for my grandmother and drives her wherever she wants. On the weekends she goes with her nieces to Ponta do Sol to visit her sister in the house where they grew up. All these people collaborate to distract her from the sad thoughts of family scattered around the world.
Another thing that keeps her physically and mentally active is the garden. Her daily routine is focused on taking care of the plants. She spends around three hours in the morning watering, planting, or moving flower pots around. At noon she stops to pray the first rosary of the day with Dorita. After lunch, she goes back to the garden until exhaustion and returns inside to take a nap. Then, some tea before turning the television on for the 6 o'clock rosary. The day finishes with dinner and Tears of Christ, her favorite wine.
Spaces that used to serve as temporary accommodation are now filled with her daily life energy; the matriarch made it her home. With strength and a sharp mind, she quickly adjusted to the country she left in her youth; and to the home that will now behold her last memories.
Throughout her life, Maria experienced the duality of belonging to two places. Portuguese by blood and Venezuelan in her heart. My grandma acquired a new culture and traditions without leaving her own behind. She loved arepas but would bring bacalhau in her suitcase after every trip to Portugal. However, there were some consequences of migration she suffered through. In Caracas people considered her Portuguese; the portuñol* would always betray her. In Madeira, she was seen as a visitor since she no longer lived there.
São Martinho 28 is a portrait of my maternal grandmother and of the house she will spend her final years, after involuntarily migrating back to Portugal from Venezuela. At first, she felt out of place and asked to go back on a daily basis. Four years later, she is used to living in Madeira. Even so, her voice breaks whenever she speaks about her home in Caracas...“I’d still like to go to my house again.”
*Portuñol or Portunhol is a portmanteau of the words Portugués/Português and Español/Espanhol. It is the name often given to any unsystematic mixture of the Portuguese and Spanish languages.