miércoles, 29 de agosto de 2007

(Part II) Where the sugar is made of flour

At lunch, on our first day back home in Caracas, my brother in law comments that the meat tastes a little bit weird and we are all agree. – It’s the oil – Our maid explains- We never use this brand- and she points at the oil bottle. My mom sighs and explains that she haven’t seen the brand we are used to (and that it’s actually a very common one) in a while. So we will have to get used to the bad oil. fter lunch my mom asks me to go with her to the supermarket. There’s an improvised sign that establish you can only buy one package of milk… no exceptions.
There are only four kinds of milk available in a very small stand and I was used to see big stands of a lot of milk brands! There’s normal milk, extra creamy milk, powered milk and soy milk and only one brand of each kind. And we are used to drink skimmed milk at home but there’s none. I take one package of normal milk (1000 ml only) and show it to my mom and she immediately asks me about the skimmed milk. I look back at her like saying “this is all you can get”.
Then I make a quick calculus, 1000 ml for six people (without counting my godchild who is three months old) it’s almost nothing and won’t last for long. Besides, the shortage now its just partial, but before we notice it, we are not going to be able to find not even that small package of normal milk in a while…
I think again: I have to take my sister out of that six people count because the baby is allergic to the milk and ironically, that’s now a relief!. Still five people is a lot so I ask if there’s any chocolate milk available. And bingo! One of those things that happen in a country impossible to understand… there’s all the chocolate milk I can buy. So I will drink, at least while the shortage last, chocolate milk instead of coffee and milk for make the count from five to only four people “in milk needed”. It’s not a big sacrifice, I often substitute the coffee, especially at night, for drink milk called Toddy (but it only comes powered so I would have needed milk for that one). The chocolate drink I bought kind of tastes like Toddy.
Still, this shouldn’t be happening. I should be able to choose if I want coffee with milk and sugar (yes, real sugar!) or if I want chocolate drink instead. And I also should be able to choose the milk or any product (like oil) of any brand I’d like and I should be able to buy as much packages as I want to.
And lets take it farther than that, I should be able to go protesting everywhere I want to without having the fear of being attack or/ and detained by the police. I should be able to go out and came back home at any time I want or I need to without taking the risk to be mugged or kidnapped or killed. I should be able to say whatever I want to say about the government out loud even in government institutions without being called oligarch, rich or imperialist just because I think different. I should be able to ask any government’ help or support in health, or education or whatever I need or have the right to request as a citizen without being forced to wear a red t-shirt.
I should be able to look up in a highway and not seeing government propaganda or any kind of political propaganda except on some public work or during elections time. I should be able to turn on my TV and see whatever I want to see without being forced to see Chavez speeches (cadenas) if I can’t afford a cable (luckily, that’s not my case). I should be able to vote without making an 11 hour line trusting that my vote will be respected and will remain as secret as it should be. I should be able to change my money in Venezuelan currency to any foreign currency I want, even US dollars, without limits on how much foreign money you can have for traveling abroad in credit cards and cash (one thing I dont remember talking about in this blog before, so its the only one I can't proof by linking it to a previous post).
I should be able to think of a future in my country; not a future based in a constant fight for surviving, but I don’t know, something more than that; a future more based on living. I should be able to freely choose my worries and concerns between going out with my friends and focusing in my studies; or/and being concerned and involved in political and social issues.
Sometimes I want to be like other young people are, of course they have troubles and concerns in their political systems but they don’t feel constantly threatened by it. Some people can criticize and oppose to their governments and continue having a normal life. They can go to the beach in their own countries and find some peace. Not halfway peace, but real tranquility. I should be able to go to have some drinks with my friends, concerning only about calling the attention of the guy I like; without saying good bye because they are leaving the country.
But a world is not based on the “should be”: “the things are the way they are” – a professor told me in the first class I had at the university – “not the way you want them to be”. And certainly not the way they used to be.
I always hold the opinion that being this involved with politics and the current situation of my country, was not a choice I made, but rather the path where the circumstances made me. Perhaps given another situation, I would have chosen differently. A guy told me he wasn’t agree, that even given the current state of things I have made a choice since there’s still a lot of young ones like me who are not as concerned as I am. Perhaps he’s right: some people have created their own fairy tales aside the tension that is surrounding us. But most of the people who are next to me have not made that choice.
Just recently my parents bought a land in Margarita’s island for their retirement.When I talked about it with a friend of mine, the first thing he said was “What??? Are your parents crazy??? Buying a land now, when Chavez is destroying private property…” – “Just don’t think about it” – I told him back – “My parents are too old to make any immigration plans and they cannot just freeze and cry, they have to keep living… and so do we, and besides… we don’t have any other property so lets just let them dream”.
No one would defend being concerned and watch government’ moves constantly more than me. But I can’t stop living because of that. If we don’t turn off the TV sometimes, If we don’t party, If we don’t smile, If we don’t learn to dream, If we don’t find a reason to wake up every morning…Chavez will definitely win in all possible lands he find. I know, he’s winning by now a lot, but the land of the thoughts and the land of the happiness are a couple hard to conquer.
And if he does that, if the government finds their people not laid in the indifference but even worse; paralyzed and destroyed in their concerns about the present and upcoming events, he won’t have to move a finger to work as he wants with our lives. I know that life is not a fairy tale: isn’t my life a good proof? Forgive me the readers if I buy a land, or if I dream about my life here in Venezuela until I get old. Deep inside I know that’s not the way things are. I know that in a country where the sugar is made of flour there are no reasons to smile or celebrate.
But I only have one life, and this life it’s in a country where the sugar it’s made of flour; and a red president haunts us based on his desires. I didn’t choose this life, but I can still certainly choose how to live it now. There are no real possibilities for me or my family to leave the country in a near future just as there are no real possibilities to have at least one of the large list of things I should have. And if there are no possibilities to have a fairy tale; I will create a fairy tale of my own.
I don’t know if I’m making any sense but this is not the first time I have asked my readers to challenge their logic. I like chocolate drink after all and without reaching into indifference, I think a smile make us stronger than a tear. And that’s my exit and my hope to go through the Constitutional reform and the things that are expecting me after that, if it happens. That’s the way some people manage to live inside a country where the sugar is made of flour…
About the pic: I just thought that a pic of a turkey over a motorcycle (that I took during my trip to Margarita) could ilustrate in a funny way the craziness and contradiction that I live as a Venezuelan.

lunes, 27 de agosto de 2007

(Part I) Where the sugar is made of flour

I woke up one morning, ready to drink my coffee as always when I found something strange: two sugar bowls in front of my cup of coffee with milk. One, contained some dark brown and very dull “sugar” (like “papelón rallado”, I don’t think I can translate that in English, but lets just say for now, its something quite different from the common white sugar) and the other; I looked at it with skeptical eyes because I know that my family, including the maid, can be a little bit crazy sometimes – “This is flour!” – I said – “No… try it… it’s also sweet… it’s the snow sugar that your mom uses for decorate the cakes…”
I thought the sugar shortage was extreme enough when I started to get used to the brown sugar. I was clearly wrong; you never know when it’s extreme enough because my dad couldn’t even find brown sugar that day so decided to buy the two kinds of sugar that remained in the supermarket just to, well, give us the option to decide between the worse of those two. At least, they both can make my coffee taste sweeter.
A few weeks after that episode we were spending a few days at Margarita’s island. My mom luckily found a bag of plain white sugar in small envelopes, like the ones the restaurants uses, kind of weird but at least it was real sugar; so we brought it to the island. Just when I thought the whole trouble of waking up one morning and having a cup of coffee was solved, I find myself with my parents seeking from one supermarket to another, another basic component of my morning coffee: the milk. Lost and not found, believe it or not.
My father looks visible frustrated after landing in the last supermarket of the island where we heard rumors that we might find some milk available, but its all gone by the time we decided to go there. He talks in a nostalgic tone with my mom about the days of the called 4th Republic (means, from 1958 till… Chavez) “Not even on the worse days… if something like this had happen in the 4th, it would have caused a scandal, ministers dismissed, load of protest… It’s not just any food, its milk what we are talking about! ...and yet, nothing happens… I’m thankful we don’t have little kids now… What we would have done if we had kids right now?” – “They drink Chocolate beverage or Chicha instead” – My mom answers back.
Chicha it’s a Venezuelan drink made of milk and rice and whatever, this is not the place for explaining the Chicha recipe… Strange that there’s not milk but at least there’s chocolate beverage and Chicha in their place. I turn on my mp3 player and pretend I’m not hearing the conversation that goes from complaining about the milk shortage (and other shortages that comes and go) till the new Rome of any conversation about politics these days: the upcoming constitutional reform.
Sometimes I laugh when I read those long analyses about the upcoming constitutional reform. Seems like a lot of words are needed to make people understand a very simple issue: Constitutional reform means more power to Chávez “the supreme”, and, of course, more freedom and more participation – obviously not for all Venezuelans (don’t be that naïve) but for Chavez and not necessarily his colleagues but the ones he judges that they deserve those benefit on a certain moment.
More power to Chavez doesn’t necessarily means less power or more perjury for us; the constitution reform could be approved and our lives might not change or at least not in a dramatic way. But what more power to Chavez definitely implies it’s more uncertain for us, despite if you still support the government or not, because it opens more possibilities for live in a country that depends only of one man’ mood. And this means that some things we fear the most (like losing a property or going to jail without understanding why or being unable to choose your local authorities) become reality. Is this possibility what doesn’t let us sleep at night (specially my dad) sometimes.
Many former Chavez supporters seem to wonder what strange force has taken over their once idealistic and humanitarian president, just for turning into a person who beyond the ideals is able to go against anything that can interrupt his seek for power. Poder (it’s the word for power, in Spanish) pure and simple. Poder… not for the people and not for the poor but only for himself. No wonder why Chavez doesn’t talk about “the poor” anymore, like he used to do. He only talks now about the revolution. Is not the sector with less resources the one we should fight for, its not in the name of us, its in the name of the revolution… always and even more since December.
On the other hand, this doesn’t surprise me: power seems to have that effect on people, no matter how good they are; when it’s being hold for long, the power corrupts you. Of course, this is not a brilliant and original conclusion of mine, since I have read it many times on many books about politics. But is quite a difference reading the theory from witness it in practice, and not just like someone who is witnessing from the outside (like a reporter or something alike) but more like someone who is banned to live inside it and suffer its consequences.
As I write this, my mom seems busy watching the news about the reform. They frequently make comparative analysis between the process of making and approving our current constitution with Chavez just elected as a president for the first time; back in 1999 and today’s constitutional reform project.
After seeing the images of Chavez given speeches on 1999 and just a few weeks ago, my mom turns back at me and says “Chavez has changed, he looks a lot different now than from when he was younger” – Of course he changed – I laughed inside- He’s fatter now. But she’s talking about something deeper: “He looks more evil now”.
Next, while we are making tuna sandwich for the beach we read the paper and comment about some strange deal between a London (alcalde) and our “dear” Chavez. Cheap oil (yes, for London!) for some stuff we don’t fully understand in exchange. And then I wonder, what did I do to Chavez? What did Venezuelans ever did to him, so he could rather give those benefits to the people of London, or Cuba, or Nicaragua, or Bolivia instead of their own people?, or even so, Why do people in London – poor, rich; I don’t care – enjoy a better price in their public transport tickets now while we get, instead, from our president, a Constitutional reform that puts limits on every move any Venezuelan wants to make, instead the president itself. Why does everyone seem to have free oil now if they show some support to my president and declares against Bush, and we don’t have even milk or sugar instead?
The power seems to truly corrupt everything you once were in a way we, the ones who haven’t got the chance of holding a lot of power in our lives, find it hard to imagine. I’m afraid of power, not only of the power can someone like Chavez have on me, but even more, I’m afraid of the power I might hold some day, eventually, even if I’m aware of it or not; If I ever have that chance and their abilities to corrupt me in such an easy way making me do things (great or terrible) that an average person wouldn’t even dare to do.
Well, for now we take the sandwich and the towels and drive till one of our all time favorite beaches in the island. No red umbrellas this time, at least that’s a relief. The sand is white, the sun burns you in the minute you take a step outside the palm trees and the sea is calm and transparent. Some kids run to the water while a mom is chasing them with the sun block. Nothing can tell you that this piece of paradise is part of country fallen apart little by little and than most of the people who is enjoying it (exclude the foreign tourist of course) are becoming victims, doesn’t matter if they know it or not, of a process that goes beyond their control. But the beach its still there- I think, in a splash of hope – No matter if we paint the walls at the entrance white or red. Or if it’s now 4:30 Pm or just 4:00 Pm. And most of those people – not me, that’s for sure – will continue living the same life; despite which Constitution rules them.