Episode 17: Aventuras con mi padre

Photo provided by Sonia González

When Sonia González was a child, her father was the center of her universe, always leading the family on adventures to different parts of Venezuela. But one day, all of that changed and Sonia and her siblings became the leaders of the most challenging adventure the family had faced yet.

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Transcript

Martina: When Sonia González was a child, her father was the center of her universe.

Sonia: Mi papá vivía en un mundo de grandes aventuras e historias románticas.

Martina: Like the story about how he met Sonia’s mom, on a diving board five meters up in the air.

Sonia: Se conocieron en una piscina en Caracas, Venezuela. Mi papá tenía 19 años y mi mamá, 18.

Martina: Sonia’s father went to leap off the high dive and found her mother sunbathing there, on the diving board, her long black hair flowing in the wind… and, as the story goes, he immediately fell in love…

Sonia: Con mi papá, la vida era mágica y cada experiencia era una nueva aventura. Pero un día, todo cambió y tuvimos que vivir la aventura más difícil de nuestras vidas.

Martina: Welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m your host, Martina Castro. Each episode we bring you fascinating first-person stories from Spanish speakers across the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context, in English. But these are not language lessons, they're real life lessons through language.

Martina: José Antonio González Cordero and Alicia Cebollada were born in Spain, and in their teens they moved to Venezuela with their families.

Sonia: Cuando mis papás se conocieron, mi mamá era secretaria y mi papá estudiaba agronomía. Mi mamá dice que, cuando lo conoció, mi papá era muy simpático y siempre estaba feliz.

Martina: Eventually, they got married and moved to Maracay… a city near the capital, where Sonia’s father was finishing his degree in agriculture.

Sonia: Primero nació mi hermana, Aliana, y el año siguiente, nací yo. Poco tiempo después, cuando yo tenía 3 años, mi familia y yo comenzamos a mudarnos a nuevas ciudades por el trabajo de mi papá.

Martina: Sonia doesn’t remember some of the times her father moved the family because she was too young… But others she remembers very well.

Sonia: Cuando yo tenía 10 años, vivíamos en Caracas. Yo era feliz con mis muñecas, mis amigas de la escuela, y mi rutina en una gran ciudad. Un día, mi papá me dijo que nos íbamos a mudar a Tucupita, una ciudad remota y muy pequeña que está a 12 horas de Caracas. Yo no quería ir, pero mi papá decía: “Tucupita es un lugar fantástico”.

Martina: He told his family, “It’s in the Orinoco delta. A magical place, that the natives call ‘The land of water.’ Don’t worry” — he said — “this will be a great adventure”.

Sonia: Yo estaba furiosa con mi papá. Lloraba y pensaba: “vamos a vivir muy lejos de todo, de la gente, de mis amigos, de mi escuela”.

Martina: And then they got to Tucupita. With the moving boxes still unopened, Sonia’s father encouraged her to go outside. She sat alone in the street, amazed: not a single car went by, the silence was deafening. She took off her shoes and started to run barefoot through the streets.

Sonia: Yo estaba muy feliz: correr sin zapatos en la calle era maravilloso. Después, Aliana y yo fuimos al río cerca de nuestra nueva casa; era un lugar hermoso y tranquilo. Solo se escuchaba el agua del río y pájaros cantando. Por primera vez, entendí la palabra “libertad”.

Martina: From that day on, Tucupita became an exciting place for Sonia. And her parents made the adventure all the greater.

Sonia: Mi papá me daba permiso de invitar a mis nuevos amigos a mi casa. Y mi mamá nos leía libros de arte o de historias fantásticas, como el libro El Principito.

Martina: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was one of Sonia’s favorites. She often marvelled at the world around her as the main character did, all thanks to the way her parents raised her. Especially her dad.

Sonia: Mi papá siempre organizaba excursiones los fines de semana para explorar el área.

Martina: Sonia’s father also liked for the family to eat together, because it was a chance to talk about the world and to tell stories. Sunday breakfast was shared with friends as well, and he made sure the youngest of the group always had the right to speak up.

Sonia: Cuando yo invitaba a mis amigos a mi casa, mi papá nos hablaba y preguntaba sobre muchos temas: tecnología, historia y curiosidades. Mi casa era el lugar favorito de mis amigos porque allí reíamos, jugábamos al ping pong y leíamos libros. A veces, nos vestíamos y hablábamos como las personas de esas historias.

Martina: Tucupita was surrounded by islands, and, more than anything else, there was a lot of water. Everywhere. Inspired by her father’s adventurous spirit, Sonia formed an expedition club with four of her friends.

Sonia: Nuestro lugar favorito era la “Isla Feliz”, un lugar con muchos peces, pájaros y piedras de colores diferentes. Corríamos y jugábamos en la playa, sin preocupaciones, desde que comenzaba el día y hasta que llegaba la noche.

Martina: Around this time the family adopted Sonia’s brother, Tomás Alberto…

Sonia: Recuerdo el día en que Tomás Alberto vino a casa, fue como una fiesta. Él tenía 9 meses y nosotros le habíamos comprado ropa de bebé. Pensamos que iba a ser un niño pequeño y muy delgado, pero fue lo contrario: era un bebé hermoso y gordito. ¡La ropa era muy pequeña para él!

Martina: The family had to run to the store and immediately buy him bigger clothes.

Sonia: Mi padre siempre decía “somos como la familia Robinson” y comenzaba a reírse.

Martina: The members of the shipwrecked Swiss Family Robinson were just a few of the literary characters that Sonia’s father would reference as if they were real.

Sonia: Así era nuestra familia: vivíamos una aventura sin final, sin importar dónde estábamos. Y nuestro padre era nuestro guía.

Martina:* He was their guía, or guide. In Tucupita, Sonia’s second sister, Milagros, was born. Four years later, they moved again. This time Sonia’s father took them to Sanare, where he dreamed of learning how to build an agricultural co-op.

Sonia: Era un lugar muy diferente a Tucupita. Sanare es un pueblo frío en la montaña, en Los Andes. En la tierra crecen papas, tomates, lechuga, fresas, café, cebolla...

Martina: It was there that Sonia says she learned to really connect with rural life… .

Sonia: Hacía mucho frío, pero nosotros reíamos y nos divertíamos; todavía sentíamos esa libertad.

Martina: But a few years later, it was time to move again.

Sonia: Cuando cumplí 16 años, nos fuimos a vivir a La Paragua, cerca del río Amazonas.

Martina: There, the family learned to raise pigs and to defend the tomato crops from leafcutter ants, which in one night were capable of eating all the shoots they had planted.

Sonia: Un día, mi papá dijo que iba a empezar a cultivar peces.

Martina: Yes, he wanted to start planting fish. He called it a “fish plantation.”

Sonia: Nadie entendía lo que mi padre decía. Nadie creía que era posible cultivar peces.

Martina: But with the help of an excavator, he made a deep pit in the ground, and then laid down a material on the bottom, so the water wouldn’t leak out. Then, they added some aquatic plants and fish eggs…

Sonia: Unos días más tarde, encontramos como a doce peces nadando en el agua. No lo podíamos creer.

Martina: But even as amazing as the “fish plantation” was... Sonia remembers the trips to “la piedra”, or the rock, as being the best memories of that time.

Sonia: “La piedra” es una zona detrás de la casa donde había muchas rocas gigantes.

Martina: The rocks are so massive, that when you stand on one, it is easy to imagine you had landed on the moon, because you can’t see anything around you except for that rock.

Sonia: Mi familia y yo íbamos a “La piedra” todas las tardes, para ver al sol esconderse en el horizonte. Mi papá nos decía “¡Vamos a la piedra!”, y mis hermanos y yo corríamos para ver quién llegaba primero. Cuando llegábamos, mi papá nos explicaba cómo esas piedras se formaron millones de años atrás, en la era de los dinosaurios.

Martina: Sonia loved this world of wonder and far-off adventures… But eventually, life brought them back to the capital, to Caracas. At first, it was because of a crisis.

Sonia: Mi abuela se enfermó, tenía cáncer.

Martina: The whole family returned to Caracas to care for her. After she passed away, most of them stayed.

Sonia: Durante las siguientes décadas en Caracas, mis hermanos y yo fuimos a la universidad, trabajamos, nos casamos y tuvimos hijos.

Martina: After decades in Caracas together, the family got into the flow of their new lives and their new homes. And then, one day, Sonia’s father went out for a drive in the city, and he got lost.

Sonia: Fue un momento muy raro. Mi papá nunca se perdía en la ciudad.

Martina: He just wasn’t the sort of person to get turned around. On the contrary, he loved to drive and Sonia remembers he knew the city streets really well. So everyone was a bit surprised when he started losing his way.

Sonia: Un tiempo después, las cosas se pusieron más extrañas. Un día, estábamos viendo una foto familiar y mi papá no podía recordar el nombre de mis hijos. Estaba nervioso y cambió la conversación. Unos meses después, notamos que mi padre no usaba más la computadora, o necesitaba ayuda para completar tareas básicas como ir al banco.

Martina: Gradually they had to accept what was happening: Sonia’s father, the man who had steered the ship of adventure in all of her most treasured childhood memories… was losing his memory. Not long after, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Sonia: En el caso de mi papá, su Alzheimer se manifestó poco a poco. Actuaba con inteligencia para esconder lo que pasaba. Así nadie podría notar sus problemas de memoria.

Martina: For example, if he ran into someone he didn’t recognize…he’d steer the conversation to a topic he could still talk about at length. That way he’d keep the person from realizing he didn’t remember them.

Sonia: Mi padre hacía lo mismo con sus compañeros de trabajo y también con nuestra familia.

Martina: For a while, he was so good at it that even his children had trouble seeing that the disease was advancing.

Sonia: Un día, fui de visita a la casa de mis padres y él, como siempre, me llevó de regreso a mi casa en su coche. Pero en medio del viaje, él no podía recordar las direcciones, y yo tuve que llevarlo a él de regreso.

Martina: They soon discovered that not only was the disease affecting his driving, it was also starting to affect his performance at work.

Sonia: Un día, un compañero de su oficina nos llamó. Nos dijo que mi padre olvidaba reuniones importantes o detalles de sus proyectos. Era triste, pero claro: mi padre no podía continuar trabajando.

Martina: Meanwhile, the political reality of the country was changing drastically. Clashes in the street, food scarcity, and lack of medicine were making it impossible for the family to feel safe. Finally they made an emergency decision: they would all leave Venezuela together.

Sonia: Mi hermana y yo decidimos salir de Venezuela con nuestra familia. Unos meses después, viajamos a México con mi papá y mi mamá.

Martina: This move would be the biggest one of them all for the family… Nothing compares to moving to another country, especially if you know you can’t really return to the country you’ve always considered home.

Sonia: México era similar a Venezuela: allí aman la música latina y la gente es muy amigable con los inmigrantes.

Martina: But it was very different in other ways… like the way people speak to each other, which is somewhat reserved compared to Venezuela. And on top of this, her father —and their relationship with him— had changed.

Sonia: Antes, cuando íbamos a una nueva ciudad o pueblo, mi padre era nuestro guía. Ahora es diferente. Ahora somos los hijos quienes tomamos las decisiones.

Martina: Now, each day, Sonia’s mother sits her husband down and goes through a specific routine.

Sonia: Todas las mañanas, mi mamá le repite información básica para que mi papá no la olvide: su nombre, su edad, su año de nacimiento. También le muestra fotos de sus familiares y repite los nombres de sus hijos, nietos, sobrinos. Otras veces, mi mamá le lee cartas viejas o pone música que mi papá escuchaba cuando él era joven.

Martina: All of these activities have a single goal: to help Sonia’s dad remember his past.

Sonia: Hoy, mi padre no es el mismo de antes. Pero todavía ríe y es feliz.

Martina: During the day, Sonia’s parents venture out to explore Mexico City. They sit on benches in the plazas and watch people as they hurry past.

Sonia: Mi padre no recuerda el presente ni el pasado. Para él, cada día es nuevo y diferente.

Martina: But he can remember bits of history, agriculture, anthropology, and art. So when he sits with Sonia’s mother on those benches, he can look around and understand that they’re in an incredible place.

Sonia: Y mi papá le dice a mi mamá: ¡Qué bien, Alicia! Una nueva aventura.

Martina: Sonia González is a poet and puppeteer and she lives in Mexico City. This is the last story of our season — we really hope you enjoyed it and thank you so much for listening. We’d love it if you continue to share the podcast with your friends who are also learning Spanish. You can send them a link to podcast.duolingo.com, where you can find transcripts for all of the episodes. We’ll be back in a couple of months with a new season of stories for you. In the meantime you can keep up your español on Duolingo through discussion forums, as well as with Duolingo Stories and in-person events, which you can find at labs.duolingo.com. And subscribe to get the new season of stories delivered to you on Apple podcasts or your favorite listening app, absolutely for free. With over 300 million members, Duolingo is the world's largest online language learning platform and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes that everyone should have access to education of the highest quality for free. Learn more at duolingo.com. I’m Martina Castro, gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings from xserra, InspectorJ, arturobat and Benboncan under the CC Attribution License from freesound.org, and was produced by Adonde Media.

Author: Sonia González
Script Editor: Annie Avilés
Sound Designer: Claire Mullen
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro