Kisses to the wind

nothing you would take
everything you gave
hold me till I die
meet you on the other side

Pearl Jam


When they came to the village, I was no more than a baby.Before I could learn my own vernacular language and to worship our Gods residing on the mountains, before I could learn to walk among my people, my widowed father decided to give me, as a present, to a white couple visiting.

My memories start with them, the two intellectuals who brought me to the city.
I became officially Venezuelan with a name chosen randomly as the couple were jealous of theirs. The late registration implies no one really knew my age.
The moment I could walk, I jumped into adulthood, adjusting to barely saying the necessary and working constantly more. Always more.
The couple became my Mamaita and Papaito by name, but I know they only saw me as the helper, the hardworking boy who took care of their grandchildren around the house.
By law of enlarged families, I became everyone’s Uncle Victor, the quiet and always stealthy, physically strong, stoic boy juggling between buckets and brooms, asking for permission to enter the house, having food alone, sleeping in a room outside.
I soon learnt that between a slave and a helper, the line was too thin to make a difference and that I was not included in Mamaita and Papaito’s seven children: I would never be the eighth, no matter how hard I tried.
Mamaita was strict. She took care of everyone’s education, while Papaito ran a leather and wood chair factory, plus the farm. I broke my back in both places.
Years rolled fast and, after graduating, everyone left while I continued to stay, working.
Even Albania, the artist studying medicine in another city, left for good, never becoming a doctor. She had always been an artist.
When Albania moved to Miami, she started sending me some money but nothing could compensate the void.

The youngest sibling of my mother was the youngest aunt, Albania.
She was a painter with a pure soul; the only one who treated Uncle Victor with a sisterly love.
When my grandmother died I saw Victor cry endlessly: I understood he truly considered her as his mother. He left the house because my grandfather closed his heart and doors to him.
When I grew up, gone my grandparents, alone I set a goal: to buy the huge old house where we once resided and look for my uncle Victor to return the house he worked so hard for, to him.
Years passed, but I succeeded. I found him and struggled to convince him: he was very hurt, resentful. He had been hiding: it took me five years to find him.
I brought him with me, built a small apartment room and he lived with my children and myself until he died over a year ago.
One day that strong and grateful man whose skin hid age and endeavors, fell sick.
Health issues in my country are harrowing, I never knew for sure what my uncle had, but I assumed it was stomach cancer.
Vìctor was not treated in hospital because there were no supplies and I did not have resources to take him to a private clinic. I took care of him every night of pain, I became his nurse for several months, I attended his humble requests, I bathed him, injected him with pain killers, did my best to halt the bleeding. It was difficult, but I learned many things from him. He never lost his connection with the earth, nature; stray dogs came
every day to visit him because he brought them food from somewhere where he worked. When he was healthy enough, he met them at 5 pm while the dogs were already waiting for him. He talked to them, gave them names and food, while cats joined.
One day while he was in excruciating pain, he told me: Nena, (he used to call me Nena, Baby) teach me to pray, and I taught him to talk with God and the universe, which is the same for me. I took him to the patio and sat him on a chair among the trees. I bathed him and his innocent gaze was lost among the clouds and the sound of the birds, I know he enjoyed it. I also knew he was leaving. He would put his feet on the soil to feel the
connection and neither of us talked much. We just understood each other. He was in so much pain he asked me to pass ice to calm him down and I did.
Those were difficult months but they came with learning; I have never been so close to a person as pure as my uncle.
Due to my autoimmune condition I cannot enter hospitals, however I had to leave him there one day when illness was winning over him: he had a hemorrhage that with my precarious knowledge I could not stop.
He died alone, without me, that was the most painful part, but he and I had already talked about what was coming, I had explained how to surrender to the universe when the time came.
With a lot of effort I sent a funeral team to look for his body, I sent him to cremation and scattered his ashes in a small and beautiful spring.
I went with my children and said goodbye to him; when we threw his ashes and watched as the current carried them with it, I felt he was finally where he wanted to be, between trees and water, between birds and butterflies, free.
My uncle had never tasted freedom: he had been a slave, ripped from the jungle.
Now, whenever I go to the little stream where his ashes were scattered, butterflies chase me and land on me; my daughter says that it is the soul of my grateful uncle.
I am grateful for all the time that I was able to be near him.

I was born an artist, however my grandmother forced me to study medicine. I left university on my last semester, causing havoc.
I had a girl while still single: in those years and in a wealthy family, it was pure shame.
Victor would have done anything for my little, frail Brenda.
When I left Venezuela, I pursued my dream of becoming and artist and even if I only had 20 extra dollars, I sent them to Victor.
I was the only person to have ever hugged him, my elusive Victor.
The only person who has ever written him a letter, before I took my own life.

Albania always loved him.
One day, enraged, Victor told me that if Albania loved him so much why she took her life, leaving him even more alone.
The day I took him to hospital, he carried a small bag with his few belongings. He knew in our hospitals patients are constantly being robbed, but he did not care. When he died everything was stolen, including the letter that was in his pocket.
Víctor reached Albania knowing her letter by heart.

I still go to the water stream and look at the butterflies, each carrying words of love.

‘Victor: my brother, my blood, my memory.
Your name stands for victory, over love and innocence. When you were little, you were extirpated from your land, from your Indian roots, from your Pemon origins, to become my little brother.
Maybe you carry a vague memory of your brief childhood… and your shyness
does not allow you to say anything; how it pains me that thousands of km and miles separate us, but I remember with a special love your scanty way of speaking trying to put a serious tone to life’s simple things, doing hard work and light chores that no one ever valued and which fell into oblivion… but you were diligent to orders which you always fulfilled without delay or mistakes, who knows, maybe in exchange of a smile.
You kept sadness to yourself and shared your happiness with a land where you did not belong.

Wherever you may want to be, may God bless you and I blow a thousand kisses to the wind as in an Indian ritual so that they travel through distance and land on your cheeks, to make your eyes shine and smile knowing that it was a message from your sister from your blood. I remember you …I remember … Albania”


Lilia Josefina Guanipa Cordero is a Venezuelan mother of three, a story teller, a fighter, a feminist and a compassionate soul. Not necessarily in that order, abosolutely not only this.
She is a friend who received me. And that will always come first.

The hawksbill turtle

Pampatar, Isla de Margarita, Venezuela – 1995

Everything is vivid in my memory, just like that night.
We had finished a long day of work at the beach kiosk, that’s how we used to call a beautiful little house made of mud and mangrove sticks, a churuata – a rural home – we named Ananás Caribeans Beach Bar.
That night it was just the three of us: Ernesto Antinucci, my business partner and friend, a young man named Roger who was our assistant and myself, Lilia.
We hadn’t closed the kiosk yet: we were still cleaning because it was high season. We used to work long hours with an early opening at 6 am, never knowing when the work would eventually end.
It was already dark, we hadn’t had dinner and the small local restaurants in town had already closed.
We decided I would make a small fire to roast some fish that we would catch immediately: the kiosk was just 10 steps from the seashore.
The boys helped me with the fire. We dug a hole in the sand and the fire started. We prepared a simple fishing equipment, I went with Ernesto; we took a garter harpoon, the flaps, and snorkel masks. I have never fished with oxygen cylinders.

I do not remember exactly who carried the lantern. The sea was dark, only the light of the moon illuminated us; the sky was dressed with stars which helped us a little. Those beautiful stars.
We were very excited and very hungry.
When we entered the water I suddenly remembered how afraid I am of the dark. Terrified.
Yet, we began to swim, not venturing far. The water was warm, a balm on the skin. Near a huge rock that emerged in the dark with each wave, there was an artisanal fishing basket about two meters deep, a trap that fishermen usually place for the catch of the day. It has a kind of funnel so that once the fish enter, they cannot exit.
We shone with the flashlight and saw that only a small lobster had entered. Had it been filled with fish, I am sure Ernesto would not have left there claiming that in the course of the night it would fill up again.
We continued swimming, did not see any fish of good size around us, just some, as small as our hand.

The sea was beautiful, enigmatic, a universe apart. However, I kept telling myself I was in the middle of all that immenseness: an intruder in the dark. I tried to control my panic, and every time I resurfaced to breathe, I looked into the distance at the light from the campfire on the beach, and then the sky and its vastness. Every element handed me calmness to rely on.

The sea seemed endless, immense, incredible, indescribable.

I submerged again and we went a little further.
At last we sighted a fish that was of acceptable size to feed the three of us. We tried to catch it with the harpoon, we failed.

I turned to my partner and spotted a huge and majestic hawksbill turtle skirting us. It passed by us again, seemed to say hello. I’m not good with measurements but it must have been about 80 centimetres long. Seeing the size of the animal reminded me that this was not my place, that I was in a foreign territory. I did not belong there, I felt panic again.

I beckoned to my partner and decided to return to the beach. Fear had invaded me.

I returned alone to the shore, swimming guided by the light of the campfire burning in the sand. Having reached shore exhausted. I lay down on the sand to rest looking at the starry sky.

I asked the boy who was in charge of keeping the fire burning, to enter the sea to be withErnesto who was alone in the water.

I remember being on the beach looking at the stars.
What a sight the sky gave us that night. I thought of my family: I had not seen them in three years, trying to find my way through life. I missed them, especially my grandfather Roberto, my best friend.

I must have fallen asleep, I ignore for how long. I was awakened by the screams from the shore: it was the guys. Ernesto was asking me for help as they were dragging something huge, like a big sack.

I ran to them in the darkness until, with horror, I realised what the loot was: it was that majestic and magical hawksbill turtle that now was dead on the beach.

I didn’t understand immediately, the men were fighting to drag her away and I was paralyzed, I couldn’t move. Is it dead? …I managed to say. I knew the answer.
It was the largest turtle I had seen in all my years of diving in the vast ocean.

I was confused:  had they really killed it? I could not understand, was too shocked to.

Ernesto went to the kiosk and returned with a machete.
I rushed away from the shore because I could not bear what I knew was about to happen. Ernesto was a fisherman; he was born in the city, the son of an Italian, but he was deeply rooted in the local culture. I tried to convince him, but the machete and everything which was about to happen was natural for him.

Looking back now I tell myself: My crime? Not insisting enough.

I went to the campfire. The beach was the sole witness of the horror which was about to happen. I hid behind the flames of the fire, in the dark of night.

The time that elapsed seemed like hours, long hours, maybe it was only minutes:  I was suffering everywhere.

Did I try to change the course of the events? Yes hell, yes, I did. Without succeeding… perhaps I should have insisted more… I will never know.
I only know that when by the time the turtle reached the shore, its fate was sealed.
A huge amount of meat was chopped off and the shell displayed as a trophy on the roof of the kiosk.

Ernesto insisted that we cook a part of that meat. I obeyed.  I did it with horror. Maybe at that time I didn’t have the willpower to say no to a man’s command, that’s how they raised me, I guess. Within an hour the innocent victim’s stew was ready.

What happened? There was no way to eat that meat that tasted bitter, so bitter that not even the hungry hunters could swallow a single piece.

Maybe I didn’t know how to prepare it, maybe I had no cooking technique that only local women mastered. Maybe it was my energy and my sadness. Ernesto was a native of the island: he directed the phases of the stew.

 We ended up arguing until we reached the sad conclusion no one should have ever killed the turtle, it should never have been uprooted from its habitat. Ours was a heinous sin, a shameful crime. Whatever it was that failed us that night, it mattered no longer. It was too late.
We just felt a deep sadness: we had been submerged by a deep silence.

What happened, the course of events, the taste of the meat will always be a dark mystery to the three of us, pure criminals.
We never spoke of the subject again.

Many years later, light years away, when my oldest son graduated from high school he asked me for permission to get a tattoo and I told him that yes, of course, it was his body and he was already of legal age. He is not a very communicative boy and I did not ask him what he was planning to have drawn.
The day he returnt from the tattooist, all the memories flooded into my mind and I started crying: on my son’s chest, on the side of the heart, was the hawksbill turtle submerged in watercolour. Beautiful and free like the first time I saw it.
I have never told anyone about that night and I do not even recall having spoken to my son about turtles in general.
Was the tattoo just a coincidence? I doubt.
Now the turtle swims on my son’s chest, right there, close to his heart.

Lilia Josefina Guanipa Cordero is a Venezuelan mother of three, a story teller, a fighter, a feminist and a compassionate soul. Not necessarily in that order, abosolutely not only this.
She is a friend who received me. And that will always come first.

photo: Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)” by Kevin Bryant, Creative Commons