BOGOTÁ (AP) – Yurancy Castillo did not want to leave her family.
But as inflation skyrocketed in Venezuela, subtracting practically all the value from her salary as a social worker, the young woman with the radiant smile and amber curls decided that her future was far from there, in Peru.
One of her three brothers sold her motorcycle to help her buy the expensive bus ticket for her long journey through four countries.
« Mommy, don’t worry, » she said to her mother, who couldn’t hold back her tears, just before leaving. « I’m going there for a better future. »
Those dreams ran into each other and were stifled over and over again.
In Peru, she found work as a sewing machine saleswoman and as a waitress, but the salary was not enough. Peruvians, skeptical of Venezuelan immigrants, did not make her feel welcome. But the biggest thief in his dreams turned out to be a tiny, silent enemy.
In May she started to develop a fever and a week later she went to the hospital. She was admitted and given oxygen, but did not improve. After three weeks in an intensive care unit in southern Peru, he finally died at age 30.
« It is always like this, that children bury their parents, » said their mother, Mery Arroyo, 54. “I never thought that my girl could leave me. And less in another country ”.
Castillo grew up in the city of Barquisimeto, a metropolis located on the banks of the Río Turbio. Her father, a transportation coordinator at a milk and yogurt factory, had a modest income but her five children lived comfortably. It was that time when Venezuela was still one of the richest nations in Latin America, and there was always enough food on the table.
Castillo, the third of five children and one of two granddaughters, excelled at school, where she was repeatedly chosen as the « queen of the class. » At school dances, he shone with the energy and speed of his feet during the performance of the region’s popular dances. His jovial personality earned him many friends, who affectionately called him “La pelúa” because of his abundant curly hair.
In his early youth, he went to work at City Hall, where he evaluated vulnerable residents and the elderly at a welfare center requiring medical attention. Just as he entered his 20s, the Venezuelan economy began to crash. Corruption, mismanagement and political instability collapsed the oil industry.
At the Castillo family’s house, blackouts were frequent and the refrigerator was increasingly empty. Her father’s pension was barely enough to buy a bag of flour.
So when her boyfriend emigrated to Peru, she decided to accompany him – embarking on a new life abroad like the other millions of Venezuelans fleeing the crisis in their country in recent years.
« Here in the country, you can no longer live, » says his mother. « We are surviving. »
The couple settled in Arequipa, a colonial city surrounded by four volcanoes. The money he earned from various jobs wasn’t much, but it was enough for his parents to buy pasta, rice, and occasionally chicken. But living in a foreign country meant loneliness. She asked her brothers to go with her.
A year later, his two older brothers took the bus to Peru.
The three brothers and their 6-year-old nephew rented a two-bedroom apartment in the capital Lima. Castillo worked six days a week selling sewing machines. Life was difficult, but at least they were together, they noted. Every 15 days the siblings alternated to send money to their parents.
On Sundays, her day off, her sister cooked pabellón, a Venezuelan dish of beef stew accompanied by rice and beans. Later, they went out to explore Lima, visited the zoo, the parks and went to the beach, sitting on the banks of the icy dark blue water, very different from the warm turquoise beaches they visited in Venezuela.
Earlier this year, Castillo decided to visit her boyfriend in Arequipa. While there, President Martín Vizcarra ordered a national quarantine. All local trips were canceled. In his phone calls, he pleaded with his brothers to remain confined and promised to do the same. When talking to his mother, he expressed his frustration with continuing in Peru. He wanted to go back to Venezuela, start a business, buy new furniture for his parents’ house and take them to the beach.
« As soon as I’m past quarantine, I’m leaving, » her mother recalled.
In mid-May, she called her sister worriedly. He suffered from an incessant fever and a raspy cough. Perhaps it was chikungunya, the virus transmitted by a mosquito bite and which shares some of the symptoms of the coronavirus, he was convinced.
His relatives feared that it was the worst. They asked him to visit a doctor.
The last photograph Castillo’s mother received showed her daughter sitting inside the Honorio Delgado hospital, wearing an oxygen mask.
« He hardly spoke, » recalls Arroyo.
Despite having no previous health problems, his condition deteriorated. Doctors called her boyfriend daily to ask for expensive medications. Friends and family across the continent mounted a social media campaign to raise funds. Miraculously, they managed to collect just enough to buy what they needed.
« She was a young girl, a strong woman, very brave, » says Emilio Cañizalez, a friend. « I think they were able to save her. »
His death on July 17 sparked pain and anger. Her mother is upset with the government that she blames for her daughter’s decision to migrate to Peru. Her friends are angry at opposition leaders whom they contacted to present Castillo’s case but did nothing to help her. Everyone is upset by the way Castillo’s story ended.
« It marked me, » says Cañizalez. « Now I do not belive anyone ».
For now, his ashes rest in a small wooden box in Arequipa.
Someday, when the pandemic is behind, your sister will take you back to Venezuela.