At first I thought it’d be easy. I had no problem getting access to the biggest public hospital in the Colombia-Venezuela border. Doctors were friendly and talkative, press staff took the time to walk me around the enormous facilities. But then I got to the delivery hallway, on the second floor of the hospital. This is where women sit and wait – for hours if they’re lucky, sometimes for days – before giving birth to their babies.
In my first visit to the hallway, the press representative asked the some 20 women sitting: “Who is from Venezuela?” Over half of them raised their hands. The hospital has been dealing with an increasing amount of Venezuelan women who cross the border to give birth due to the lack of access to health care services in their home country.
Despite a majority of Venezuelan women in the room – the ones I was eager to talk to – very few wanted my company. I guess they were scared of sharing too many details about themselves, of maybe risking getting the care they needed at the hospital because of their origin, or probably just too worried about more urgent and important things than paying attention to a journalist.
I spent over three hours at the hospital that day, informally chatting with the women to get to know them. Many of them had been living in Cúcuta, the Colombian border city, for a long time and so pregnancy wasn’t the reason why they had left Venezuela. Others were too shy to speak in front of a microphone or too afraid of the photo camera. I had not found what I was looking for. I knew I needed to go back the day after.
Press representatives were still nice on the second day, but also busy with other things and therefore less patient about my requests. Because I was a journalist, they could not let me roam around the waiting rooms or enter patient rooms freely, so someone had to accompany me at all times. I hate bothering people and making them waste their time, so I also felt more pressured to find the testimonies I needed for the story quickly.
I ended up visiting the delivery hallway at three different times that day, hoping to find Venezuelan women who would want to share their story, without much luck except for a couple of half-baked conversations and several requests of anonymity. By the end of the day, when I was about to leave, this young Venezuelan with a pink hat I hadn’t seen before was just there, ready to talk – but also about to give birth. We chatted for five minutes, but she was soon taken into the operating room. I knew I needed to go back the day after.
– Marta Martinez