For a long time now, I have had a few rules to stay up, optimist and smiling even when all the news around tell me opposite. The list goes as it follows:
1. Do not watch Globovision (only remaining opposition TV Channel with an open signal). After 15 minutes watching that channel you will end up with the idea that Chavez might take away the kids and put the rest of us on labor camps. And you will have strong basis to support that idea. If you want to stay informed (I do), turn on your computer and browse Internet, take a deep breathe and read. An image (and even more, a video) is more powerful than a 1000 words, and thus more likely to affect you. The immediacy that characterizes the interaction between you and the TV can only increase your anguish. I therefore conclude that by reading the 1000 words I will be as or even more informed than if I watch the image, but I will feel less disturbed.
2. Do not engage on political conversations for too long. When family dinners erupt with alarmed comments about the shortages, the latest Chavez speech, that law being discussed in the assembly… excuse yourself, go to the kitchen to help do the dishes, run to the bathroom… get out of there. You already read every detail of what is going on and your whole family agreed on being against the regime and worried about its threats to democracy. You don’t need the 152nd talk that ruins a nice family moment with the question: “When will this be over? What are we going to do?"
3. Try to focus on other things. Remember all the good things about your life that are not related with the regimen. Think about how tender are the kids in your family, all those sweet moments you have had with your boyfriend, all those confident talks you have had with your best friend. That will remind you that it is still worthy to be here, and to be here with a good attitude.
4. Also remember that this is not forever. That this, some day, sooner or later, is going to end or otherwise you will be living far away from here. Remember how the life used to be when you were younger. All the things you had. Remember the possibilities, the smiles, and the tranquility. Read stories about countries that went through something very similar and are now enjoying democracy, freedom, a sane government, a good future perspective. And if it doesn’t work, if it doesn’t end; remind to yourself that you are privileged: you are smart, you are well educated, professional, prepared and filled with ideas and you can get out of here.
With those four rules I thought I had everything under control and while the rest, specially my family, had terrible moods after hearing another bad news; I was fine. I was even fine enough to cheer them up. No bad news could ever touch me. Not seeing fellow students on a hunger strike that it hasn’t reached its goals yet. Not seeing a judge under bars because she acted according to the law and the president did not like it. The banks intervened. Plus the constant shortages and my city without water for at least one day or two. I thought I could stand it all.
Then, just a few days before Christmas, the government announced a new measure: From January 1st of 2010, all shopping malls in the country can only use electricity from 11 am till 9 Pm. And when I heard that, and later when this new year started with this new limitation, I knew that after all, my carefully planned vaccine against bad news didn’t work this time. This is my limit.
Everybody has their limits. A Nat Geo I have right next to me, of last October, says that a human can stay alive for 30 minutes in a sea with a temperature of 4? C. Pretty average, that’s our limit. A minute more and you are dead. Right now, I feel like that: like floating in an ocean whose waters are as cold as 4 C while waiting for a rescue, before the 30 vital minutes are up. I feel like this: like I’m floating on an ocean at 4 C as the 30 minute clocks run and I pray for a rescue.
I know it sounds silly and shallow. I know some well educated person out there is reading is and can’t believe that my limit of tolerance to this regime has been drawn on restrictions to night life. Why it didn’t happen before? And why did it happen because of this? Why I didn’t say “here is my limit” when the crime numbers increased, when Chavez said this or that, when many people were imprisoned because of political reasons, when a TV channel and many radio stations were arbitrarily closed, when the inflation rates became unbearable, when I didn’t find a job? Why now? Why because of this?
Dear reader, I honestly can’t give you a politically correct answer. But I can explain it to you somehow.
The mall is the center of the social life in Venezuela. Yes, for real. I know that in other countries people have squares, streets, parks, theaters and malls to fill their needs of entertainment. In Venezuela we only have malls. Shopping malls. An average Venezuelan life goes between work, home and shopping malls at night or the weekends. The rest of the remaining places are not safe and therefore, as social life centers, do not virtually exist. Our shopping malls are not just shopping malls; they are micro cities of fun. Typically, shopping malls here have besides shops, a multiple movie theater, many restaurants and discos. Some also have theaters were they feature concerts, and plays every month, plus art galleries that create an enthusiastic cultural life for must of us, who are afraid to go to the traditional museums or theaters downtown because of insecurity.
The malls might be shallow. But one can’t deny how important they have become for Venezuelans. Malls are our squares, our streets, our cultural centers, our social centers. The mall is the place where we make a business deal in the middle of an informal lunch, then met our soul mate after work and walk hand in hand throughout the halls till we find a cozy bench to seat, a nice table to have dinner, a good movie to watch, a play we shouldn’t miss; and then met our friends for a few drinks or a dance. The mall was the place where we could to all that in Venezuela, even late at night, and for the most times, we were safe. We were safe and happy.
After all the news we hear here and there, and putting out my four rules, the malls were, with no doubt, the most sophisticated and most generally used vaccine against… all this. Against the shortages, the limitations, the repression, the crisis, the anger, the changes.
But the government thinks otherwise. The Revolutionaries are not aware of that special relationship between us and the malls. They think the malls are unnecessary, that only fill our capitalist minds and no one should regret seeing them closing their doors at least three hours earlier than usual. But we do. I do. I do regret that there is a part of my life that it’s over and I did not have time to say good bye to it. I will not meet my boyfriend or my family or my friends in one of those malls after 9 again. We will only going to visit them during the afternoons and then we will leave them as soon as possible because we will fear the delinquency darkness always brings.
For now on, our nights will be different. Completely and totally different. We will stay at home, because somehow, we are now forbid to go out. If we want to go to the movies, we can’t go on labor days because movies won’t be available after 9 and before that we are working, or stocked in traffic or in best cases having dinner. We have lost that place were we had so much fun and thought that life was still worthy, even under a revolution. It looks like a big part of our joy, of our rest, has gone. For now on, the average Venezuelan is a bit sadder, a lot more limited, and a bit angrier.
Plus, there are people working there, at the malls, after 9. There are business that only work after 9 or have their best profits after 9. What will happen to all of them? What will happen to those working night shifts at the parking lines, or selling tickets at the movies? Or to those actors preparing their monologs? What will happen to the waitresses, the DJ’s, the bands, the cookers, the bar tenders, and to the owners of those places?
It might be necessary to save some energy, but under what cost? And what investments are being done to assure us that this is just a “temporal” measure? That we will count with the necessary infrastructure to fulfill our power needs. Last time they talked about a “temporal” measure was with the foreign exchange control. It’s been about six years since that, I think and the foreign exchange control remains alive and rougher every year.
I know all about climate change and I’m aware that we do all need to be greener and save as much energy as possible but I don’t see any other country forbidding their citizens to have night life because they must safe energy. And this country is filled with oil and natural gas; it actually produces energy so it doesn’t sound logical to me.
The Revolutionaries just think that this country is a Lego game. That a society can be erase and re-made by decree. They think they can order this and order that, and destroy this and destroy that without having consequences. They confuse ideology and reality. They have reached to the conclusion that people do not need to have fun, when psychology has proven that we do need to or otherwise we are more exposed to anxiety and anger behavior. One of them just sat and decided that for now on, we can only have shopping malls from 11 am till 9 Pm. I bet her daughter is not a waitress at some bar who needs the job to support her family. I bet her son is not working a night shift at the parking line. I bet their relatives are not using the Venezuelan malls to breathe the air of the possible, when the world out there is suffocating them. I bet he and all his relatives can just enjoy the malls of Miami, Panama, London…
So yes, I have reached my limit. This is it. I can’t stand this and I still don’t know how my next months are going to be. I’m afraid of so many things that to name them would make this post endless. It feels like the end of something, something big, something important: the end of my optimism. You might think I’m shallow because I draw this limit when Chavez ended with fun; long after he ended with so many other things. But before acting like a moral example, before sitting with your books of political theory; think once in the simplest thing: think what if you are 25 years old and from one day to another, you can’t simply go out after 9. What do you do? How would you feel? How would you react?
Comments section is free for your thoughts and answers.