Venezuela was turning out to be an enjoyable home. As children, my brother and I already settled in, making friends and doing well in school. As a family, we had the opportunity to visit many beautiful regions in the country. We traveled to the sandy beaches of Puerto La Cruz, colonial settlements such as Colonia Tovar, discovering the Andes mountains in Mérida and remote settlements like Canaima in the Amazon jungle. Each place was filled with their own enchantment and provided unforgettable memories.
|Me with a coconut in Chichiriviche, Venezuela.|
Our first major challenge came on September 1987. A nasty mosquito visited our home, using my mom and brother as hosts for the dengue fever. I had never seen someone as outgoing and energetic as my mother completely out of commission. Both of them suffered from extreme exhaustion, fever and weight loss. The only time I could see them during the whole month was when I would go with my Dad to take them to the hospital for check-ups. My brother seemed to recover quicker than my mother, even though she did go back to work while she was recovering.
My mother worked at the Embassy as the community coordinator. She organized get-togethers for Canadians and their families, as well as public events where Canada was represented. Upon her return to the office, she was organizing a Halloween party for the kids and our pirate costumes for the grand event. She possessed abilities better known these days as outstanding multi-tasking skills and an ease to perform her tasks in a high pressure environment. As I readied my pirate riffle, sword and eye patch, I had no idea of the bigger picture.
Before the glorious day of my swashbuckling and treasure hunting, my parents organized a sit down. They wanted to talk to Brian and I to tell us that mom was "going to be going away for a while". This entire proposal was hard for me to understand. My father tried to explain as best he could that she had to go to the hospital in Toronto and would be staying with my Uncle John and Aunt Amy. I loved my aunt and uncle but I also knew there were hospitals in Caracas. Why could she not go there? They told us that my mother had breast cancer and had to undergo surgery. All I knew about cancer was that my Grandfather Bourlon passed away of it.
My mother went to Canada for a whole two weeks. Those two weeks were an eternity in child time. Mom was there to help with the homework and make sure everything was under control. With high prices for long distance telephone calls and no existence of our Internet, communication was restricted to snail mail. If we were to send her a letter before she left, it would arrive four weeks later in Toronto. She would already be back home by then. My Dad took charge of the home. Brian, at 9 years of age, helped me with my homework. This challenge helped me realize the importance of our Fab Four relationship and that we could all count on each other during times of distress.
(more on dengue fever: http://www.medicinenet.com/dengue_fever/article.htm)