What are they?
Actually, WHO are they?
The Orinoco River Rats are a group of people of all ages who at one time or another grew up living in the Venezuelan jungle. It is a very tight knit group ranging in ages from 60 to 10 years old. Many of these people are putting their memories into writing and have allowed me to share some of it with you here on my blog.
These children, and some now are adults, all share a unique life experience as well as the sad knowledge that due to political problems in Venezuela, they are unable to return 'home'.
Today I share a short essay written by Carissa Robinson who grew up among the Yanomami at Parima, where the mighty Orinoco is born. She is now a married woman with a child of her own, but her memory is shared in common by so many others.
My body might be curled up in my favorite blue chair in my quiet living room, but my mind is busy, awakened by the scent of the hot chocolate in the giant mug my hands are hugging. Tonight I will indulge myself in this hot-chocolate memory, though I will have to travel at least thirteen years back in time, and two countries south.
When I close my eyes, the backs of my eyelids become a sort of planetarium. No matter where my eye turns, there are stars. The sky is deep with them. I am so dazzled by the stars that I don’t notice the moon, but I know that it is full because when I look down, I can see my swimsuit-clad body, and when I look around, I can see all twenty of my friends, perched with their knees by their faces in our small bark canoe. I can see the white ripples the motor makes in the tranquil tar-colored water as we move forward. The only part of my surroundings that the moon doesn’t illuminate is the thick vegetation on the banks of the river. It is a black wall, though I know that if we moved closer, turned off the engine, and sat in silence for an hour, that wall would be alive, screeching, slithering, and growling with life. Here, far from either shore, I believe the lie that the darkness tells me—the jungle-covered shores are secure walls, embracing us, keeping us safe from anything that might want to harm us. My memory’s eyes shift back to the canoe and my friends. This memory is far too pleasant to be marred by the reality of my environment. I see a blue thermos rocking perilously on a small platform at the end of the canoe, ahh….hot chocolate!
Our chaperone cuts the canoe motor off. Our voices are shrill from competing with the motor and, feeling as though we are rude intruders in the serene night, we lower our voices to a whisper. Our abrupt silence allows the chaperone to get our attention and admonish us to behave, telling us next that we are free to jump into the water. We forget about being rude to the quiet and, lugging oversized inner tubes made from tractor tires, we crawl and jump over the edge of the canoe into the murky depths of the water. There are too few inner tubes for us, and we have to share. Soon, someone starts a game of King of the Mountain. Some of us tire of the game and swim to “quieter” inner tubes to gossip and ponder the deeper questions that starlit nights bring to mind. And when we get cold, or thirsty, we drift over to the canoe, and there is hot chocolate.
My body in the blue chair takes another sip. I open my eyes wide and blink, trying to decide whether I should come back to America and my dry, cozy living room or not. Then I hear my precious son’s breathing on the baby monitor, and I decide that I would like to come back to the present. But now I have a new story to tell him about when I was a teenager going to boarding school in the Amazon jungle, and how I used to float on the Orinoco River with my friends at midnight.