(Starly has reviewed and agreed to this blog post)
I was having dinner with a friend in Salta and she shared a photo of us on her whatsapp. You contacted her quite quickly, wanting to know if I was her new boyfriend, which resulted in a laugh between you and she explaining to you in sign language via video camera, “No, he is a good man but he is igual to you”. Igual is used frequently in Spanish language, it generally means “the same” and I worked out that you were gay from that dialogue. We smiled a bit and laughed. We acknowledged one another and agreed to meet in Buenos Aires when I arrive later on in the month. You kindly reassured me that you would look after me during pride and make sure I meet a deaf gay group of friends. We agreed to stay in touch via texts for the time being.
As I ventured Cafayete and Tafi des Valles, we had some contact about logistical plans. It was clear to me that you were not able to agree to my typical meticulous planning until nearer the time. Friends at home will know what I am like with planning!!! You explained that you lived quite a way away from the city centre, and that you were needing to watch your money. You kindly advised me on where to stay in the city, but you reminded me that you did not know Buenos Aires so well; you had only lived there for five months. You were from Venezuela.
I remember checking if Venezuela was a good place to explore when planning my travels in South America, and being advised that it was not safe. The current Prime Minister is ruthless, killing any opposition, and there were many problems. I decided to follow the advice of the British Embassy and did not include Venezuela in my plans.
When I learned you were from Venezuela I appreciated that you had moved to a new country, a Spanish speaking one, but I didn’t really understand the journey you had been on until I got to know you more.
Time went by and soon I was confirming my accommodation in Palermo, Buenos Aires, in a whole apartment rather than just a room. I realised that I could have friends stay over and given the long distance for you to travel from home, I offered you to stay with me. In return the company and local knowledge/networks would be great. You asked if you could bring your housemate too, we checked the accommodation details and quickly confirmed.
During this time I had a few video messages with you. You were always wearing a shirt, sat in your office. You were unable to video live chat (not appropriate whilst working). I had always perceived you as looking rather tall.
Although we were supposed to meet when I first arrived into BA, our plans got dropped rather suddenly, and somewhat frustratingly. I tried to be cool but I could not hide my disappointment hence sent a somewhat ratty text to you to tell you I was disappointed. You told me to “be quiet” (or rather the google translate app did for tranquilo!) and promised we would meet after I got back from Uruguay.
It was whilst walking in Colonia (Uruguay) that I learned you had a deaf family. I didn’t know this before. Naturally I texted to let you know I was also from a deaf family. Something clicked there, a good exchange of messages and comparison too. I explained that my nephews and nieces were the 8th generation of deaf people known in our family. You replied that you had 16 in yours. 16!??? I double checked we hadn’t got lost in translation. We had! You meant you had 16 members in your family, you are the 6th generation deaf born. Jokingly, I said I beat you by 2 generations. We laughed at this, a common joke shared amongst deaf families.
Both you and your housemate arrived at the apartment whilst I was in the toilet – grrr! The owner had bumped into you outside and let you in. Embarrassingly I had gone to the toilet with the door open! I quickly realised Starly, that you are a lot shorter than you looked on the mobile phone! All of our video chats and messages and gosh, you are a bit shorter than me! Had always thought you were a tall guy. We greeted one another just as people do in most of South America, a kiss on the cheek out of clear respect. I quite like this custom, its certainly different to English handshakes!
After sorting our bags out we quickly popped to a nearby supermarket for some groceries and then went to a restaurant that I found on one of the streets. You were astonished as it was a Venezuelan restaurant, I could see that you affectionately missed home and home foods. You wanted us to try the cuisine and to enjoy the type of empanadas that Venezuelans eat.
Later on as we got to know one another more, there was quite a number of coincidental similarities between us. We both share the Leo starsign, we both have deaf families, and we have strong talkative Mothers! Both our fathers are keen on chess and have played competitively in the deaf world. Our fathers also worked in the design field. We later talk about coming out as gay to our deaf families and what the experience was like. It was quite amazing to see so many similarities.
The weekend went by and Buenos Aires gay pride was superb, we had a lot of laughs. We shared drinks and foods with our friends, we took many photos. We also talked a lot about your experience in leaving Venezuela. I learned so much about what it was really like for you:
After all the problems that the Prime Minister brought to the country, many people have been moving out of the country into other Spanish speaking countries. You had just qualified as an architect and you knew you had to leave and seek employment elsewhere. You told your parents and extended family that you would move to Argentina, they didn’t think you would. You went to Colombia “to do some sightseeing” when really it was to purchase your bus ticket to Salta, North Argentina. It was much cheaper to buy a ticket there than in Venezuela, and Colombia was only an hour’s bus journey for you.
You came home and your Dad was working on his computer as usual. He wanted to know how your day went, you were rather dismissive and then reluctantly showed him your bus ticket. His face dropped. Reality was coming to home and he knew that you had made a big decision here. He had a “How are you going to tell Mama?” written all over his face. You went over to your Mother with a great deal of nervousness.
You had described your Mother to me many times over the weekend, and also we managed to video chat with her a few times. She is a dramatic, passionate and very dedicated Mother. She des not know when to stop, she will always protect you and your siblings from anything. She always worries. She loves cats, absolutely loves them. At one point having rescued five cats, there were 20 cats in a room at home from accidental pregnancies. Your father secretly had to get rid of about 15 whilst she was away visiting family. She was so upset but came round to it eventually. Such an emotional but loveable lady, your Mother grew on me over the weekend.
You asked your Mother to stop doing the dishes. You wanted her to be calm, to sit down and to break the news to her. She had forgotten about what you had said before, and she didn’t believe you back then. You passed your bus ticket to her and her face dropped. Her baby boy was going to move away from this volatile country, and it would be a long time before she sees you again. She naturally was broken hearted, and in a daze. She was very quiet all night. The next day she asked you to go for a walk with her into the city centre. You agreed, you knew she had something planned but did not know what. She took you into a clothes shop and demanded to buy you all the new clothes needed for your new life in Argentina, to be able to work and associate yourself with local people. Her heart was breaking but there was no way any son of hers was going to live in Argentina looking rough. She started planning away, buying heaps of food for your long journey. She even packed your bag for you, and stared at the bag all night in disbelief. She also bought you an early birthday cake, a real pang came to your heart and eyes.
That night she crept into bed with you wanting to hug you forever. Morning came, and your godmother told you how she saw your Mother crying buckets all night. You were so torn. You father led the whole family to the bus station, strong and giving you that stoic leadership,. He reminded your Mother that children must be set free, that they must live their own lives. He understood you had a big challenge ahead, but he knew you would be okay eventually.
At the bus station with your family around you, you got very anxious. You had kissed each of the rooms in your house farewell. You knew things would never be the same. Your father then realised there was less than an hour left, and you all saw the bus you would be catching to Peru.
The tears came, the emotions so heavy. Your father broke down in tears, he kind of shouted at you to be really careful, to stay safe and to always protect yourself. It anguished you to see your father crying, he had given you so much guidance all your life. He gave you so much tuition whilst studying for your architectural degree. When you graduated you demanded your father came up to the stage, you publicly thanked him for his special tuition and support, making him burst into tears of pride on the stage in front of everyone.
When you are sharing your experiences to our new friends and I, it is hard to believe how much pain you have been through. You describe the never ending bus journey to Salta, over 150 hours on the bus with some breaks here and there in Bolivia and Peru. All the time your Mother was texting you constantly, wanting to know if you are okay. You decided to not reply to her for a while.
Salta didn’t work out for you for personal reasons and you headed on to Buenos Aires. You had wondered about claiming benefits, but quickly grew frustrated at the system, finding it so patronising. Just like me, you have a strong ethic in going to work and earning a living. And indeed, you found a job. As soon as that was confirmed, you contacted your parents with absolute pride, that clear message of “I did it!”. They were, and remain, in awe.
Almost daily for the past two years you have had video calls with your parents. You always end these calls feeling sad, wishing you could immediately pay for them to fly over and see you for a vacation. It will take another year of saving money each month. It is a constant challenge to keep saving money for your parents whilst wanting to explore and have fun as a young man in the capital city of Argentina.
While you cooked me Sunday lunch, you were joined by your Mother for the entire time, on the mobile phone, advising you each step of the recipe. She gets animated at times and it is so clear how much she misses you. She wants you to have fun and the independence you deserve, but equally her face is wondering when will you have saved enough money for her and Dad to fly and see you.
At the time of writing this blog I have been away exploring South America for four months and have met so many new friends and seen a lot too. My parents have been in daily contact with me, and we know it won’t be that long before my money runs out and I go home. Whereas for you it is a totally different picture. You worry constantly about your parents, the Venezuelan Government is getting worse and more and more people are moving abroad. I recognise how lucky I am and wish that I had a magic wand for you.
Saying bye to you before going to Chile today was pretty hard. Its not every day you meet a strong deaf person, from a deaf family, mature and with determination. Additionally you are really cute too lol. Your eyes have something so unique about them, but they also contain your sorrow too.
I hope and believe we will always be in touch and that any support emotionally I can give you will be helpful. Adios.