A long time ago, when I was between three and a half and four years old, whilst still living in Ciudad Bolivar, the city where I was born in Venezuela, something happened that shook the quiet and routine rhythm of my daily family life.
My sister, my mother, and I were in the kitchen where my mother was preparing fried fish for dinner.
I was sitting on the ground close to my mother’s feet; she was standing over the kitchen table while seasoning the fish. My sister was also on the ground peeling garlic and helping my mother to wash the herbs.
Mama looked a bit tired as she multitasked between attending to customers in the grocery and looking after her family. We were hungry and were asking her when we were going to eat, so she gave us bananas as a quick predinner snack.
It was a warm afternoon, so I was wearing little clothes—just some frilly pink panties and no top. After all, I was a toddler and was allowed this luxury. My mother, who was a self-taught seamstress, made all our clothes, and that afternoon, my sister wore a white and red cotton polka dot dress made by my mother. It was a simple dress with gathers at the waistline and short sleeves. My mother was also wearing one of her own creations.
The house where we lived also served as a business place where my mother ran a grocery store. I remember the house being built in a rectangular shape, with a corridor in the middle and rooms on both sides. There were no wall hangings, pictures, or paintings, and the walls were white. The walls between the rooms didn’t reach the ceiling and you could have seen the galvanized sheets and rafters from the inside.
There was a little fountain-like feature in the middle of the corridor and the toilet was a hole in the ground. The houses ended on the pavement and were all built adjacent to one another. This gave me a feeling of being trapped, along with the energy in my family’s life. I had always wanted to be free.
A customer called out from the front, so my mother left my sister in charge of attending to the fish that was in the frying pan while she attended to her customer.
The delicious smell of the fish frying was all over the kitchen, extending to the front of the house and grocery. This mouthwatering smell led my sister to decide to eat the fish. I told her not to because mama would be upset with us, but she said we would only have one piece and mama would not even notice the one missing piece.
We went back and forth with this argument, then my sister started to eat the fish. I told her, “I’m going to tell mama you’re eating the fish,” and turned around to leave the room. Panicked, and in an involuntary reaction, my sister threw the hot oil at me.
I began to scream and run while calling my mother.
My mother was a gentle soul. But this particular afternoon, we saw a side of her that seldom came out. For the first and perhaps the only time I could remember, she beat my sister that afternoon. My sister ran toward the road and our neighbors came out to stop the beating and take care of the three of us. My mother, in the heat of the moment and under a lot of stress from what just happened, abandoned looking after my burn. Her attention was fully placed on beating my sister.
Lucky for me, the neighbors, who didn’t usually interfere, stepped up and looked after us, given the circumstances. With the help of our neighbors, my mother eventually was able to compose herself and take care of me.
She used toothpaste on my burns, which was said to have great qualities for calming and soothing burns. Later on, someone brought us some aloe, which was also a common home medicine. Meanwhile, my sister was sent to her room—forbidden from coming out for the rest of the day.
Of course, the planned family dinner didn’t happen. Everyone was sad and in pain.
I ended up with a huge water blister on my back that left a mark, but I’ll tell you about the blister story some other time. For now, I want to take a moment to honor and fully claim and integrate into my psyche the narrative of who I am and my decision to stay true to the task I was given by my mother, which was to pay attention to the fish, and how even at that tender age, integrity was a big part of my character that served me well in my personal and business affairs.
This, too, I humbly attribute to the ancestral gift bundle I received from my family. In the middle of all the burdens, I was also blessed with this ability and with many other gifts.
Our family can be a source of great joy as well as devastating pain. Many times, due to the pain we experienced from our family, we tend to disregard the contributions they made. But when we take the time and risk opening and unpacking the gift bundle we inherited from them that often contains burdens too, we are greeted with previously overlooked treasures.
In the summer of 2018, I saw a course in Ancestral Medicine advertised on Facebook as a tool for personal, familial, and cultural healing. It resonated with me in a profound way, and I have since found my way on various courses and ritual practices to reclaim the gifts of my ancestors.
Ancestral Medicine has helped me reclaim a sense of healthy pride in the simple customs and traditions of my people.
For example, storytelling appears to be in my gift bundle. In the simplest form, I recall my father telling us stories in the evenings over bonfires. I spent some years during my early childhood in the countryside without electrical light, so flambeaux and bonfires were what I mostly grew up with for a period of time.
At the time of my childhood, my parents and all the ancestors I grew up with only valued the stories written by scholars and sold at bookstores, while dismissing the beauty and richness of the verbal form of storytelling, as they believed there wasn’t any particular skill in this form of art. Although they couldn’t see it, they were actually educating, entertaining, and amazing us with their stories—their efforts were not in vain, as I have come to understand and appreciate their gifts, and I thank them for sharing them with me.
Today, I can see my children as artists and storytellers who are writing books, blogs, and articles, as well as designing water vessels, clothes, and educational programs. They are confidently, but without full awareness, claiming their legacy.
Whenever I tell my son, who is a Naval architect, that I see him as an artist-designer, his response is, “Mom, I’m an engineer.” Well, so be it. I get to celebrate him as both.
For me, it is a big breakthrough to have the courage to put my thoughts into writing. My mother didn’t know how to read or write properly, and I always felt insecure about my own ability. But through relating with my ancestors, I have come to love this gift of storytelling, which came from my family.
So recently, I decided that storytelling is one of the hobbies I want to develop in this season of my life, when I have more time to journey into my soul and answer the call of my ancestors in order to remember them.
I am going to spend a bit of time writing, remembering, and reclaiming my ancestral gifts.