When i came back home
It’s 3:40pm, the airplane landed on Simón Bolívar International Airport. It was both exciting and terrifying to come back to a land I hadn’t been in many years. After years studying and living abroad, hearing from my parents about in what Venezuela have become, I was about to experience it myself.
It all started at Immigration at the airport. The last time I was there, queues were 1 hour long with passengers from different flights. Now in 2017, I had to wait 5 minutes in the queue not because there were more counters but there were few flights arriving. I am not coming into details about how badly I was treated there because it has always been like that since I first left in 2009.
On my way home in Caracas, I couldn’t help myself being sad. The city worsened tenfold, it was incredible to see the streets even dirtier than I remembered, with garbage bags ripped and all over the streets, my mom said many people were hungry and money is not enough. I heard many things about it and it was a shock for me to look at the remains of those bags; the real shock came later. Days later I saw someone rummaging in the garbage bags outside the house I am living in (as it is not my family’s house, it’s my uncle’s) and my cousin couldn’t call this person out, just told him “you can open the bag, just do not rip it off” and the guy said “thank you”. My cousin didn’t have the heart to tell him not to do it, and I was very sad that I couldn’t give him food, as none of the food at home is mine to give and my parents are in their 60’s and still working very hard to buy something. We don’t have plenty, but at least we have enough to survive, others have nothing to eat.
I heard about people eating two meals a day or even one. Hearing friends and acquaintances, I realized how lucky I was that my parents are working their arses off to have something, because hearing the misery of others is painful; some can’t buy anything and others prefer to feed their children, colleagues asking for food to others if they are not eating it, people getting thinner. Even my aunt who was fatter than me lost many kilos due to this hunger aka “Maduro’s hunger”, she who to this day is a “chavista” (Chavez supporter) and “madurista” (Maduro supporter); she was unrecognizable to me when I first greeted her after my arriving.
I wish I could have a picture to show you how things are. But I didn’t dare to take a picture of a man eating from a garbage bag, it was like taking away his dignity. I still the image in my mind, I cannot and will not forget him. This is what Maduro and Chavez brought to my country.
Days later, my godmother invited me to eat one of my favorite dishes, “Arepa de pernil”. I was excited because it has been a long time since I ate one of them. I was prepared to eat two as I have 5 years ago. I knew that things became expensive, however I did not know that one arepa could cost you as much as one day of salary. The minimum wage is BsF 65.000,00 and one arepa costed BsF 3.500,00. I don’t know how much my godmother earns but I restrained myself and said that one was more than enough. Years ago you could distinguish who is homeless from who isn’t, to my surprise this was not the case; women dressing just fine, with nothing ostentatious at hand, just like you and me, asking at the door of the “arepera” (a place to eat arepas) for food, even for the remains of the arepa you are eating.
My godmother ordered a cup of coffee in a bakery and we sat to eat our arepas. The once vivacious Venezuelan people, making jokes and laughing on the street despite the crisis was no more, and all I could see was people hopelessly walking and struggling to survive; it was unsettling. I was distracted by the view when my godmother suddenly asked to another woman “where did you find bread?” the woman replied, here at the bakery, “How much?”my godmother asked again, the woman finally replied BsF 380,00. Then she gave me money and asked me to go to the queue with her and ask for a bag of 6 breadsticks. She was also in the queue, since it was one bag each. The queue was long and I overheard people saying that they hadn’t buy bread in one month. We paid and we sat again. I learned that day that people see other people’s bags to know what they have bought and ask where and how much, because goods and products are randomly at the bakery or supermarkets. It was one of the many survival rules in the country with the largest oil reservoir in the world.
I went to one of the supermarkets close to home, and it was worse than I expected. For someone living on a minimum wage it is extremely expensive. 1 kg of beef costs BsF 15.000,00, approximately the salary of 5 working days. Chicken (3 working days), pasta (1 working day), black beans (1,5 working days), 30 eggs (5 working days), tomato (0,5 working days, onion (0,5 working days), oil (1,5 working days) and rice (2 working days) represents the normal diet of Venezuelans. I am lucky my father is an engineer and my mother is a dentist, and they both earn enough, but what about others less fortunate than me? A friend of my family who happens to live in a “barrio” (favela, shantytown, slum) earning minimum wage struggles tremendously with providing food to her daughter and grand daughters. I asked her for some data and, knowing that people overseas would read this article, she wanted you to know that a normal lunch in Venezuela (pasta with some mince meat) for three persons can cost Bsf 10.000,00 (3 working days).
Maduro’s government has said in many occasions that scarcity in Venezuela is due to US economic blockade. At first many people bought that idea but with the years and knowing that Chavez and Maduro have expropriated many crop fields and companies, people became tired of that LIE. The crisis has worsened and after our Court of Justice invalidated our National Assembly (parliament, congress) democratically won by the opposition, people started to demonstrate in the streets from April 1st.
Before coming back to Venezuela, I thought that protests and demonstrations were all over Caracas. When I arrived I realized that this was not the case, at least partially. Caracas is a city divided in east and west. Eastern Caracas is “stereotypically” populated by, what Chavez called, the elite, the bourgeois, while western Caracas is populated by slums and middle class. So protests were only in eastern Caracas while western Caracas was quiet. I live in western Caracas and couldn’t understand why this happened, later I learned that people here wanted to demonstrate and actually did demonstrate weeks prior my arrival, but what we called “colectivos” (in fact “paramilitary”, armed people supporting Maduro) was a real threat to us as they have killed many during the protests in eastern Caracas.
I could understand why people were afraid but was disappointed with this until few days ago they started demonstrating with “cacerolazos” (people beating pots with anything to make noise as a way to protest). Even in the slums, where Madurismo/Chavismo is traditionally popular, they were protesting against the hunger, insecurity, violence, protests repression and recently the “Constituyente”, which means changing the constitution in the ways Maduro want.
I stay on twitter everyday to get informed about what happens, where and when. People cannot trust the media here because they are either silent to what happens or they are pro-Maduro. Even Conatel (National Telecommunications Commission) wants to limit access to facebook, twitter, whatsapp and such because they haven’t found another way to stop access to information. They have even said that no one has absolute freedom of speech. is this a dictatorship?
People in Venezuela are fighting to survive, to block this new constitution, to restore freedom and democracy. It is admirable that after 70 days demonstrating people are more convinced that this is the way. The General Attorney has denounced that this “Constituyente” is illegal and it demonstrates that Maduro has taken by force almost all of the institutions. Isn’t this a dictatorship?
People are struggling to find medicine. In a day I have read at least 20 people asking for medicines, and this is only twitter. You meet relatives or friends and we start the conversation with what medicines you want and need and what you can exchange to get them, or where you could find them. And it was announced that the government invested in tanks and teargas to repress the demonstrations instead of importing food and medicine. Isn’t this a dictatorship?
Although the international community has forgotten us and believe that our tragedy is somewhat normal, undeserving of attention, people here are still fighting, protesting, and helping each other. Today my mom told me that some organizations like the local church or NGOs are making gatherings to make food for people that is rummaging garbage bags, even serving in disposable food containers and driving them to the people with nothing to eat. My mom listed herself to be part of this and I will also participate. I think now about the guy rummaging the garbage bags outside my house. I hope he gets that food container. Hope is not lost just yet!