Argensola, the matriarch before the volcano

At 92 years old, Argensola Pérez He has seen everything in this life, including three volcanoes. This palm tree woman is the center of her family. The heart, the head, the strength, the light, the balance. All of its members have always looked to her for inspiration to get ahead in difficult moments, and they have not stopped doing so now, when they go through the darkest tunnel of their lives.

“The volcano was the end of my way of life, because it took everything away. Now we are alive, but we have no life,” he expresses with a pained but firm voice, which has not lost an iota of serenity since that September afternoon in the one that blew up the island’s soil. Next to her, seated around a table, are her son Jose Angel, and their grandchildren Angela Y Daniel. The family is made up of 17 members, which the eruption has dispersed. Six of them live in the house where they are now, given by some German friends.

The third volcano of Argensola has been the most cruel, because it has stripped them of everything they had. And, like them, thousands of residents of the Aridane Valley. Humble people who raised those houses for a lifetime, by force of kidneys and sweat. “What we had there was all our work. They were stones, but well-placed stones,” recalls the matriarch, while her son and grandchildren listen carefully and nod, with their arms crossed and their gaze lost at some point on the surface of table.

Image taken just after the volcano erupted. ÁLVAREZ PÉREZ FAMILY

After three months of eruption, the shock of the first weeks has given way to a rage that they can neither nor want to hide. On the one hand, in order to satisfy the most immediate needs and to be able to face their precarious situation, they need those economic aid that have been paralyzed within the labyrinth of the bureaucracy. And that is something that makes them desperate, because at this moment all they need are certainties, even if they are small, and instead they are receiving even more uncertainty. On the other hand, the relocations that they are offering do not represent a real option either, because any of them would automatically mean the definitive disintegration of the family nucleus.

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What they are taking worst is that the family has had to divide in such a difficult time, something that “not even the authorities have taken into account in their plans to deal with the emergency.” “If they had taken more care of the little details, and had tried to relocate all the families more or less together, people would not be so bad … Which is difficult, I know, but at least try. Don’t you realize that what Does it hurt more is that above all we are separated? ” Angela while looking tenderly at Argensola.

“They offered us a house for my grandmother in Fuencaliente, on the other side of the island, but only one of her children could go with her. We had to reject him, with all the pain in the world. But where does the grandmother go alone to Fuencaliente, who is dying of sadness? She needs us to be all around, and we also need to be with her, “he continues.

A close family

The Álvarez Pérez family has everything that any family would want to have. The conversation around the table is filled with winks, caresses, kisses, hugs, affectionate blows, constant jokes, but also some other reproach. As they talk, other family and friends walk in and out of the door, that always remains open and to which it is not necessary to call. This is how they lived in Todoque until the volcano arrived, and that is how they have decided that it should also be in this house that is not theirs.

The temporary housing is located in a neighborhood of Los Llanos, very close to the Barranco de Las Angustias, which is the natural drain of the Caldera de Taburiente. From there, the views towards the Aridane Valley are breathtaking, and you can also see the volcano, which still pulses steaming in the distance. But nevertheless, Jose Angel, the son of Argensola, He has not done it until yesterday, after almost three months, and that he only had to go out, raise his head and look there.

“I hadn’t wanted to look at the volcano, and I finally decided to look at it, because until now I couldn’t. But I have done it because we have to decide. I have to think about my family, and any of us can go anywhere, but not mom. And we neither want nor can we get rid of it. That is a problem that we do not know how we are going to solve, “he assures.

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The biggest headache for José Ángel, at 65, is finding a new home where his family can reunite, and recovering as much as possible all that life that was buried by lava in Todoque, which it was his neighborhood. This endeavor has practically become an obsession for him. “Mom’s volcano has taken years off her life. That’s why I can’t stay another year to give her that meeting point. I have to look for it but now, and that’s what I’m doing. If they don’t put it on, we have it. to find as soon as possible, “he says with determination.

The end of the eruption

The son of José Ángel, Daniel, he is aware that the real problems may arise now, when the eruption appears to have ended. “I am afraid that the volcano will end, because as long as the volcano continues, you live in a bubble and learn to live with the pain, you get used to it. Now it is When it ends and people go on with their lives, but we can’t do it. We will move on, but I have a panic of oblivion, that of the people, because I had counted on the institutions since this began, “he assures.

Angela He waits for his brother to finish speaking and adds: “Now pure mud is coming for us. La Palma is very small, and look at how much the volcano has eaten and all of us who are without anything. island for so many “.

When the volcano ends, people go on with their lives, but we cannot do it.

The family valued going to Tenerife, because they believe that on La Palma there are no facilities to buy rustic land, the only ones that could pay, to rebuild their lives. However, once again, the matriarch’s voice was conclusive. “This is our island and we have to love it and continue here. I would never leave,” he makes very clear. Argensola.

At this time, the demand is so great that it is very difficult to find houses within the Aridane Valley, in the larger towns such as Los Llanos, El Paso or Tazacorte. The hope of these homeless families is that, once the eruption is over, Puerto Naos and other evacuated towns that have not been affected by the lava will reopen, so that their inhabitants can return, which would help to partly alleviate that pressure. Aid from the administrations will also be decisive.

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A place to live

“What I ask is that they give me a place to live. But I am not asking for a palace, what I want is to live in a place where it says that I can be calm and close to my family, because here we are on loan,” he claims. Argensola.

“I cannot conceive of my life without my family,” he exposes Angela, who has burst into tears several times during the conversation. “This is something that I have never said to her and it hurts to say it out loud, but what would hurt me the most in this world is if my grandmother died of grief, that she did not have the last years she deserves. that now we are moving from minute one so that this pulls, because if we wait, nothing will come. It is for her and my three-year-old son, “he says with a broken voice.

La Palma is our island and we have to love it and stay here.

Daniel, who has gotten up several times to hug her, affirms that “we are going to move forward whatever and in whatever situation, because we have to continue living. The volcano took away our way of life, but it did not take our livesAs he says it, he doesn’t take his eyes off his sister.

This young man takes out a mobile phone and shows a video recorded in Todoque, one ordinary afternoon before the eruption, at one of the usual weekend meals. In it you see all the carefree and happy members of the family, with the children running around. The adults are singing a ranchera. The phone is now in the center of the table and the four of them look at the pictures, hugging each other. As they do so, they can’t help but sing the same song out loud. They all have sad eyes, and at the same time they also smile.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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