"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


The Last Sancocho

The Last Sancocho

Everyone look at the phone. We're making this video for the boys since they are going away and we are making them their last sancocho. Come on, come on. Say hello. This here is Luis and Pablo, my sons, who I love so much and I’m going to miss them a lot. 

This here is Manuela, my wife, the mother of my children. At least I think so. Hey, don’t kick me. It’s a joke.   She’s going to show us how to make sancocho, our traditional soup, so when the boys go to the States, they know how to make our own food and not feel so homesick. 

Here is Roraima, Elena and Alejandra. They are friends that the boys met during many demonstrations. These over here are their escudos, shields. Look at the art that they painted on it. Yellows, blues and reds, with our seven stars.  Venezuela Libre. They were escuderos, their jobs were to be in front of the crowd, with homemade gas masks and shields so when the tanquetas threw at the people tear gas canisters, they could pick them up and throw them back at them. They needed the shields because they got hit a lot with perdigones, plastic bullets. Look at some of the masks that they made out of two-liter coke plastic bottles and decorated with flags and art. I wish someday, after this dictatorship is over, these end up in a museum, showing the armament of democracy. Here on crotches is Juan Antonio. Say hello to the camera, Juan. 

“Hello, Señor Mejias.”

Take a look here at Juan’s leg. He was ambushed after the end of a demonstration by Guardia Nacionales.  Motorcycles surrounded him. They came down on him and began to kick him.  Someone recorded it. I saw the video on Facebook, and it was gruesome. They kicked him and kicked him and then one of them pulled a gun out and shot him on the knee. But here he is, leaving with my sons to Miami. What's next?

“I’m having surgery in Houston, see if they can save the knee.”

Now we are moving to the kitchen. Here in this box, is apio, yucca, ocumo, cilantro, maiz, onions and the one thing that could get you killed in the streets right now, because you can’t find this in the city at all – a chicken.  

“No es un pollo.  Es una gallina.”  

Pardon me, not a chicken but a hen. Thank you, Manuela. Dame un beso. Muah. 

There's no food in any of the markets in the city. The only reason we have this is because Manuela went to her tía Maura’s granja down in the Llanos. They are very self-sufficient down there. So all this comes from their garden.  And here, is something else that you can get killed for. See in this pot is meat. It has been slow cooking already for several hours. The last time we actually had any meat was what, six months ago. Isn’t that crazy, from a country that had everything.

Manuela, tell us about your sancocho.

“Usually, sancocho is made of a single meat, such as gallina, res, or pescado. But today, we are going to make a crusado, like they do in the Andes and are going to mix chicken and beef. It's very tasty."

Gracias, Manuela. This here is her sofrito, which is onions, garlic, tomatoes and aji dulce peppers frying in oil. That is the base of most of our cooking. Then we add the water, the pieces of chicken, the different roots.  Manuela cheats a little and also add ajoporro. Notice that the corn is still in the cob and it’s cut two and a half fingers thick. Next, she adds the beef and that broth, which also has a little bit of cumin. We let this cook for an hour or so, and then add plantains and calabaza, which is like a pumpkin but not as sweet.  

“Don’t forget, I also include some potatoes.”

“Que olor más sabroso.”

Alejandra, how are you? I hear that you may have gotten a ticket to leave to the US. Is that correct?

“Not yet. But they say they are working on it.”

Alejandra used to demonstrate with all of them. Her brother was in the military but now is a political prisoner. Where is he now?

“I don’t know. Ramo Verde, but he used to be in the Helicoide.” 

He was arrested for treason. And you know what he did? Not a coup or anything like that. Nope. He refused to burn truck-loads full of boxes with voting ballots as they were ordered to do. So, there you have it.  

Pablo, what do you have there? Look, this is Pablo’s plane ticket. I have to thank Enrique, my cousin in Atlanta, for buying their tickets. This right here would have been six months of my salary, plus the cost of the visa, passport and all the other papers. So, Enrique, I hope you see this video, we love you.  

“So, señor Mejias. Are you not going to the States?”

No.  Not me. I have to hold the fort, la retaguardia, whatever we have left here.

“You’re not the only one,  Señor Mejias. We are staying too. We are going to keep demonstrating. And if things escalate, we will be here. There will be a time when we will have democracy again.”

Eres un patriota, Miguel.  

Oh, the Sancocho is starting to smell really good. Here’s a thing. When I first went to university in the States, I was a rocanrolero, and hardly liked our own foods, then a few months in the frozen snow and I missed our music, nuestras arepas, our rum and food, but there wasn’t any. So boys, whenever you get homesick, whenever you are tired, whenever you are beaten to the bone up there in the States, watch this video again and remember who you are and what you fought for. 


L. Vocem is a Venezuelan-American writer whose work is forthcoming in the Belletrist Magazine, riverSedge Journal and Fiction Southeast. His stories have been published in Litro Magazine, Ghost Town, and others. His work was first finalist in the 2018 Ernest Hemingway Prize for flash fiction and made the shortlist to the London Magazine’s Short Story Prize. Website: lvocem.com

Cover photo by Tom Crew on Unsplash

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