viernes, 25 de abril de 2008

Inside the "Che Guevara" train

I’m starting to abandon the fatalism that made me become a blogger in the first place. Perhaps the circumstances helped but I don’t think winning a single election who didn’t even made the slight change in the government can count as enough for such a big attitude change, does it? Sometimes we underestimate the stunning effects that an apparent meaningless event can have in our lives.


Nevertheless, my odd tranquility doesn’t always fit with the mood of the people around me. Take a few nights ago for example, when after hearing about my upcoming graduation, an aunt took for granted that I was surely already applying for going abroad. No, she wasn’t talking just about studying abroad (which, by the way, sounds like a very tempting thing to do) but about leaving this country for good. Once I knew that saying the word “stay” wasn’t a good idea, I just whispered something like “Well, I’m exploring my options”.

There are still many people spending their nights watching Globovisión (the only purely opposition TV Channel with open signal now available) and eating their nails while they wait for their kids to come back home in one piece. More than once I’ve been thinking about hiding the “accidents and crime” reports section of the newspaper from my parents, in an endless hope of reducing their paranoia. Even with that, staying inside a revolution is not as upsetting as you might think.

This Revolution quickly turns into the way things are and not the way things are changing and one start to feel this process not in the high crime rates that the media report, or the mass protest sometimes with violence included that the foreign press is willing to take a picture of; but in rather smaller things that slowly becomes part of your daily life.


No medicines


First, you must take the shortages as an example. I have talked about the lack of milk and other basic stuff in our shelves already, and just in case you don’t see it in the news (because is part of our normal life, not news anymore), this situation hasn’t change but we don’t feel it as terrible or dramatic as it was when it started less than a year ago. We are used to it. We are used now to go to the supermarket as early as we can, perhaps make a line and pray for bit of luck that makes you get that rare and precious litter of milk and as for the rest, you know you are not going to find everything you were looking for but this doesn’t bother you anymore.

The last shortage that directly affected me was the medicine one. Because of something as simple as your pills for the unbearable period pain. I couldn’t find the brand I regularly use and not even any other that was familiar to me “This is just like Femex” – The girl at the pharmacy story told me, offering me a Colombian substitute. Well, it worked like Femex when it comes to kill the pain but it also made me feel a little bit dizzy.

At least the secondary effects wasn’t as bad as the last time I found myself in trouble trying to find what I needed at a pharmacy: a couple of months ago was at work sneezing a lot and with a little bit of fever so my coworker walked with me till a pharmacy just down the street (that its also a big franchise so if you don’t find something there, you won’t find it anywhere else). And there was no medicine I needed of any familiar brand I could remember of. My coworker suggested to buy the only brand available, saying that she has use that before and it was just fine. And so I did, because I was quite desperate and needed something that made me stop sneezing in order to finish the overwhelming amount of work we had. After taking the pill I started to feel dizzy and incredible sleepy and had to leave the office and go home.

My mom almost laughed at my ignorance of the strong sleeping effects that brand had, “we never use it” – she said – “what you were thinking of?” – “It was the only one available” – I explained, and crashed in my bed sleeping for 10 hours straight (something quite odd in me, ask my friends). After that sleeping beauty section I was healthy enough for going to a party but at what cost!


Two Coins


Second the prices. As always this blog is not exactly the best place to find any statistic proof of any of the asserts I make but once thing is for sure, even if a graph by some trick doesn’t show it, my pockets surely feel it. It all started (or became worst, depends on how you look at it) with the revolutionary economic policy of changing the coin by taking out three zeros and thus turning our coin from the simple “Bolívares” to the “Bolívares fuertes” (“Strong Bolívares”).

It became official in January with all the confusion you are ought to expect from such changes: one day I had to fill two times the form for a deposit at the bank because the bank employee wasn’t sure of how many zeros I had to write and if I could speak of only “Bolívares” or “Bolívares fuertes” (my patience almost reached a peak that day), and it took me a week to realize how much the new coins really worth so I lost a lot of money on things as stupid as paying a bus ticket. On parties, showing the new coins and bills to the ones who didn’t stopped at the bank during that week, became a theme of amusement.

Soon after reality hit us: with the conversion, the differences between 100, 200, 300 old Bolívares on prices became imperceptible – this means: everything got more expensive and the prices continued to skyrocketing week after week. Just a simple indicator: last year I needed about 15.000 old bolívares, 15 new, some days even less; daily for things like the morning coffee, the coke or juice for my homemade lunch, some copies of stuff I needed for class, the bus ticket, perhaps some snacks… during the weekends that amount of money was enough for a night drinking a couple of beers or for a movie plus extra to help your friend with the parking. Perhaps if you wanted to eat out at some random, not elegant place, such a fast food you could need a little bit more… take 20.000. Now that its ridiculous, any McDonalds meal passes the 20.000 old Bs. Barrier and it might be ridiculous to survive a day out with 15.000 even if you have bring lunch from home.

I have this memory trouble when it comes to remember prices so I ask apologies to the reader for not being more exact, all I can say is that my pockets surely feel that it is rare when you go to a place (specially a supermarket or a pharmacy) and you find exactly what you were looking for and even if you find it, cost a lot more that what you were expecting to pay and the prices changes so fast that you can’t even recall when was the last time you actually pay a lot less for that but you are pretty sure your money used to last more inside your wallet.


Now about the Che Guevara Train...


And third, you must count the ridiculous revolutionary propaganda all over the country, displaying the must outdated example of ‘art’ you could ever think of. There’s a new mural at some point of the highway I take for going to my university that makes me think of some soviet movie: its simply huge, red with a white background and the silhouette of Chavez next to some text speaking about ‘workers’, ‘people’ and of course ‘revolution’. And cars as new as the mural and surely made under the rules of the cursed capitalism passed by that mural everyday. No one even feels shocked about it, a mural like that is as normal as a beer ad.

The same ridiculous waste of money can be seen under the ground: some trains of the subway (look at the picture that I choose for starting this entry, no jokes here) now display advertising about the “Che Guevara mission” (I still don’t get what this mission its about, the government identify it with new opportunities and the opposition with indoctrination) and of course, huge Che icons are included on this ad. The last time I saw one of those trains, I quickly took my camera for immortalizing the stupidity of this regime in a jpg format while a woman was explaining to her little daughter in the most normal tone you could ever think of, that the huge Che Guevara painted on the train was “just decoration” – I smiled inside, thankful that she didn’t said anything about some ‘liberator’ or ‘revolutionary’ individual.

And for putting the cherry on the pie you got the abusive and constant appearances on TV of the president and leader of the Revolution: Mr. Chavez. If you just starting to know about the way things work here, let me just say we are talking about possible 4 hours or more of a single speech about any meaningless topic (the graduation of the “doctors of the revolution”, the opening of a new hospital that by the way, was probably just an old one that they fixed and so on) and all TV and radio stations of open signals are forced to broadcast this. This what we call a “cadena” and a “cadena” can surprise a Venezuelan viewer just anytime, one time a day or several, you just never know. I know when a cadena is on because my mom watches Globo all the time and one hour a day she switches to Televen for the latest Soap Opera.

Having cable provides me an effective way to escape from the propaganda and the revolution all at once.


Living inside a Revolution is not as bad as you might think


But life goes on and the people down the streets, beyond Chavez and beyond Globo seemed to have found a way to live inside a revolution in a non revolutionary way. About a week ago I sit in a sort of a line for waiting for a bus that I would finally take me back home. A man sat next to me and asked for directions. Somehow we soon started a casual conversation. We quickly check on a couple of comments that we were not government supporters and got distracted talking about relationships: about my boyfriend and about the ring he just bought for his lovely girlfriend in order to change his status from “in a relationship” to “engaged”.

There’s no milk on must of the fridges unless you went to the supermarket early, made your line, and bought the number of cans you were allowed to buy. You will have to talk to your doctor in order to start getting used to new medicines because that piece of heaven that makes you forget you have the period hasn’t reached the shelves in months. A couple of homeless or people who look like it will stop your way, some are not beyond 10 and it is school day and they are there, asking you for money and not even looking at you since their eyes are already lost. You will buy your favorite magazine and realize that you don’t have money for the magazine and the malta (a Venezuelan drink, well it exists in other south American countries as well of course) but only for the magazine this time; you didn’t expect to pay that much for it but what other choice do you have? You pay it with old and new coins, you already got over the confusion of paying with two different types of coin at the same time.

You will come back home to hear your mom worried about the growing crime and how much she fears about you going out while a familiar sounds escapes from the TV: the communication office announcing that another “cadena” starts (of course, the Revolution never calls it Cadena). Your dad will serve another whisky wondering about the next moves of the (White Hand) student movement. On the next day, you will be stuck in traffic for more than an hour because someone decided to protest: maybe a group of teachers or a poor community over water troubles or housing.

And so you adapt your routine the best way you can, even if you sometimes wonder if you should be more worried about “the country’s situation” because life surely goes on and does not ask if its right, does not wait till you are ready.