For the last six years, December has been a month in which I step out of the present and into a life I left on pause. No matter how long it’s been, in my mind is frozen. Finally, after a year of living in someone else’s country, I go back to mine momentarily, to that world I’ve only had glimpses at in my mom’s daily Black-Berry Messenger (very Venezuelan) texts and pics or on Saturday evenings, the day I usually Skype. As my grandpa would say, I’ve been in ‘London.’ London: flexible term that compromises everything UK.
Like a bird, I leave my northern lands behind and fly south for the winter. After more than nine hours on a plane, many different airports and lots of time plugged to the longest audio-book I can find, the plane descends and I look out the window, trying to identify which island is that dot beneath me. I fill in the immigration form – to my own country – and I gather all my plane toys and put them in the carry-on. The plane makes a U-turn and the mountains appear outside my window, sprinkled with colorful slums. The terrifying last moments of landing, a jolt, and I’m back home. There used to be loud claps and cheering when the plane touches the ground, but over the years that’s gone down. I still do it, excited as a kid in a toy store, oblivious to any faux-paus. This is one of the traditions I carry with me, and I won’t let go off. And thus, with a gush of the warmest air I’ve felt in over a year, I step into sunny Venezuela. My Narnia.
‘How’s London?’ asks my 92 year old, still strong and clear-minded, grandpa Enrique, whom I call Henry.
‘I don’t know grandpa, I haven’t been there in months. I live in Glasgow. Five hours away on train, an hour forty-five minutes on plane and probably more than ten on a bus. It’s longer than from Caracas to Maturin.’
‘What do they eat in London?’
‘Fish and chips, tea and scones. Pasta, sushi. I don’t know. But I don’t live in London, abuelo, I live in Glasgow. Glas-Gow.In Scotland, pues.’
‘What fruits do they have in London?’ He has a fruit and veg compound in our garden. The size of his avocados never fails to impress They are harvested by a squirrel who comes to check on them every day, by tapping each and every one of the big, tear-drop shaped, fluorescent green of the avocados. He screams at it, but the little brown guy is unrelenting. They have come to terms though, the squirrel now knocks the avocados down when they are just ready. Grandpa picks them up, puts them in plastic bags and distributes them amongst the family, and very close friends, if they are lucky.
I could never buy an avocado here. Why would I get the wrinkled, tiny, black version of something so beautiful and big?
‘Mangoes cost 2 pounds, Henry. Sometimes, two pounds and fifty p!’ Back home, mangoes fall onto the sidewalks and rot.
After a while, I lose the impulse to correct him. He’s a traveled man. He was the one to convince me to go inside the pyramid when we were in Egypt. And I’m neither the first nor the only grand-kid he has abroad. I’m the first one in Scotland, though. And none of us has ever lived in London.
The amazed Indian couple that walked behind us in the Pyramid. She couldn’t believe that Henry had gone in at his age and that he had fared better than her. They requested a photograph, he surprisingly agreed.
I’ve lived abroad for a while. The experience has made me more Venezuelan than I ever was during those 23 years I lived at home. I became a writer and as I did my MA, writing about Venezuela uncovered the doors to a vast source of inspiration I’ve grown rather addicted to. I claimed my literary inheritance and confirmed myself as a Latin American writer. That took me here, north again, to Glasgow. Grey, rainy Glasgow.Windy Glasgow. In a whirl of a month, I had finished the MA, moved house and city and settled on what is going to be my home for the next couple of years. And thus, I am doing the Creative Writing PhD here.
Needless to say, I am the only native Spanish speaker in the programme. But this time I am not the only non-native English Speaker, which has come as a wonderful surprise. There are three of us. We’ve got Turkey, Poland and Venezuela, testified. Two semesters have gone by in a blink, short as last week’s record ‘summer’ temperatures. Now I soon am due to the scary Annual Review and will be moving on to solely, exclusively, finally focusing on one thing: my novel.
Being here as part of a very small community that is diametrically different than the one in Newcastle, where I did the MA, has been a roller-coaster. One in which I have had to find myself as a writer all over again. Perhaps that’s just what happens to all first years out there. A toast to them, ¡Salud!
The half shelf
I am researching Venezuelan literature. Inside the uni’s library, there are four and a half shelves of it. Wikipedia lists a little over 80 Venezuelan writers. For fun, have a peek at the list they have of English writers and the one of Scottish Writers. Which ones look alike? Amazon UK barely has any Venezuelan Lit. So my books either come back with me in the overloaded suitcase, or are sent to me by my mom, who is very cooperative in all matters PhD.
Life in Scotland has just started. It feels like a rather long month, more than seven.
‘So what are you doing here?’
‘I’m doing a PhD in Creative Writing.’
‘Yes, long story.’
Then comes the inevitable question.
‘Where are you from? ‘
‘I’m from Venezuela.’
‘Oh, wow. What are you doing all the way up here?’
Let’s find out, shall we?
Keep up with Sherezade’s musings on being a Venezuelan first year Creative Writing PhD student by following her on twitter @Sherecita