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CARACAS, VENEZUELA — It took me a second to understand that the sound interrupting my prayers was a phone ring. It was 5 a.m. here in the capital of my home country. I’m not used to landlines anymore. My cell usually vibrates. My heart sank.

“There’s been a complication,” the doctor at the intensive care unit uttered in a very low voice. “You should all come right away.”

My mom, two siblings and I were already up. We hadn’t been sleeping much since my dad was hospitalized for the flu. We were all fully dressed in the elevator in less than 10 minutes.

The sun was barely starting to come out as my brother hurriedly drove around Caracas, where my parents still lived.

Family photos of the Atencios decorate their Caracas home.
Family photos of the Atencios decorate their Caracas home. Manu Quintero

I noticed graffiti in my old neighborhood, Altamira, which had been taken over by student protesters last year: “We gave our lives for you. Don’t forget us.”

I hadn’t been in Caracas in almost a year, when nationwide marches rocked the country for more than six months. Over 100 people died and thousands were injured protesting the increasingly authoritarian government of Nicolás Maduro.

Now, the same streets that would usually be filled with traffic and demonstrators were empty.

As many as 4 million Venezuelans have abandoned the country in the last few years. Last month the United Nations finally called the Venezuelan exodus a “refugee” crisis.

Nearly 10 years ago, I left Venezuela after college, looking for a better future. My dad’s sudden illness had forced me to come back.

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