domingo, 27 de febrero de 2011


This week started with a message in my Inbox I did not wanted to see: a rejection from one of the institutions I applied to. I was able to apply to only two programs and this one in particular, was the one I had the greatest hopes of getting in. I politely asked the department the reasons of my rejection, if there was something I can do to improve and if they would recommend me or not to re-apply next year. Maybe is not in their policies, or maybe they were just rude; but there was no reply.

To this date, I haven’t heard back from the other program; so given the fact that there’s been more than one month since I sent all the application materials and that some admissions have already been sent; I’m expecting to receive a rejection from them as well.

I started looking for alternative places and programs where my stats could make me look as a desirable candidate with strong chances to be admitted; but those programs have few if none scholarships available. The few that have some scholarship programs include only the benefit of a partial remission of tuition; which is not enough aid for me. So I really don’t know what’s the next step for me, or if there is actually a next step I can take.

At this point I feel a bit tired and frustrated. The application process requires a lot of effort and energy- specially the emotional type – and when it all comes to nothing; you just don’t know what else to do. You don’t know what to tell to those professors you annoyingly chased for months asking for a recommendation. You don’t know what words you should use when friends and relatives ask you over and over again what’s up with your plans. You have always been so centered, so responsible, that they always thought you were smart and you could achieve anything. That the sky was the only limit. They don’t know I’m like anyone else; not bright, not smart, not “special”. I don’t have an outrageous talent. I’m just me. And maybe, unlike most around me and who are apparently like myself; I’m not going to hold a masters’ or a doctoral degree’.

You hear conversations everywhere, between your family and your work place; and the university you went to. Everything leads you to the idea that you are nothing without at least a masters’ degree. I have heard too many stories that start with “Mr. X is an idiot. He couldn’t study anything beyond a licenciatura” or “Nevermind, she’s only a licenciada” (licenciatura is our equivalent to Bachelor’s degree, although it requires a bit more of coursework, usually five years instead of four and the coursework is far more focused). Am I an idiot?

I have always wanted to teach but no serious university, logically, will hire me without at least a Masters. I want to publish. I have so much things written here and there, in English, in Spanish, from novels to essays and topics I’ve been studying at work… but am I going to be taken seriously if the book cover says only “licenciada”?

The clock keeps running and people keep asking what am I going to do with my life. It seems I must have some things defined before I turn 30, but I have none. Maybe it’s due to money, politics, lack of opportunities, a Revolution in the middle, low salaries, high inflation… or maybe is just me who’s trying to adjust to a certain expectation without knowing if this expectation belongs to me or to others; and if I should continue or if I should just give up and look for some other dreams. Maybe is time for me to sit down and think, beyond my circumstances and beyond expectations that were settled even before I was born; what am I really want to do with my life and specially, what can I do with my life? What is the kind of life I want to live? Am I suitable for grad school or am I suitable for something else?

The pressures for a woman my age are subtle, but endless. If I want to be a mom, I should do it in less than 10 years because otherwise I will be too old. My biological clock can’t be cheated. If I don’t get married and settled independently before I turn 30, I’m going to be part of that obnoxious groups of “forever single”. And before I turn 30 too, I should have a more respected position in my work, it will not look good if I still hold the position that a recent Bachelors graduate could hold. Grad school also goes to the list of things I should do before I’m 30. And I’m 26, one day I’ll wake up and I’ll be 30 and there is no way, realistically that I can do so much in so little time. If I keep trying to do that, you will be reading endless stories of – what else? – frustration.

It’s time for me to be an adult, to take failures and live with them. To realize I’m never going to be what everyone is expecting me to be. That I live in a environment hard enough, and sometimes even harder for a woman. I live in a place where women salaries are considerably lower than their male counterparts, where you can’t use a short skirt for going out in hot humid day because man will “compliment” you in a rather disrespectful way, where you are expected to do all the household duties plus go to work while your male counterpart is not forced to help you (thankfully, this is changing), I live in a place where woman most be extra careful when walking alone because they can no only be mugged but also raped; I live in a place where sanitary pads have disappeared off the shelves and there is no one making a big deal out of it.

Maybe is time for me to look for what really makes me happy and do my best effort to achieve it. If it’s grad school, it should come to me; some program, some institution should accept me; some scholarship should be available and I should have merits enough to fulfill it. If It’s not grad school, none of that will happen. Maybe my life won’t be about that. Maybe it’s photography, or the piano, or the paintings, or my writings – the narrative part of my writings, perhaps not much the “serious” studies…- Maybe it’s art or music. Maybe it’s my own business. Maybe it’s a life focused in a family life alongside with my boyfriend and my hypothetical kids. Maybe it’s just something else. Somewhere else. Maybe I’ll be someone helpful, somehow “important”. Maybe I won’t be any of that. Maybe I’ll stay exactly as I am now, irrelevant, oddly normal – except for one person. And maybe it’s enough.

Or maybe it’s just me, whining over and over because of a simple e-mail; unable to know how to deal with a rejection.

Image taken from HERE, no desire to steal anyone' copyright.

miércoles, 23 de febrero de 2011

Pilieri, the students and our lack of power division.

Before going to work, I passed by the OAS office to see how things were going. Some students are still there with their tents, accompanied by a big placard with one of the most remarkable political prisoner’s photo: elected depute (and Daniel’ representantive) Biagio Pilieri. A 20 year old girl with brackets assured me with a smile that Pilieri is now free as a result of their negotiations and their long hunger strike; suspended yesterday. The strike had, besides Pilieri’ release (which is only partial, as I’ll explain later), some achievements: they set up a negotiation table with the government, some of the political prisoners’ cases will be revised and they were promised to visit a prison

If those achievements were enough to suspend the strike and to celebrate the way these students did last night, it is not for me to judge. Perhaps inside the regime we have, what it can be seen as only small achievements, are actually huge; and hard to get. To fight against this regime you must do it one step at the time. And to keep the spirits alive you probably need to cheer and take account of every single -small or not -achievement. I’m personally against hunger strikes, I respect the ones who do it and I too defend their causes; but I think we can reoccur to other ways of protests without damaging our health this much. Of course, this country situation is getting worse every day and perhaps extreme measures such as this one are needed. I’m just in the hope that we can yet use other was to pressure.

Besides that, make no mistake: the decision concerning Pilieri’ case was a political; not a judicial one. His release is only partial so the government has not yet recognized its mistake. Apparently, he’s still being judge and he has to present to courts periodically. But at least he can take his seat at the National Assembly.

Pilieri was judged and declared innocent. Against the rule of law that says no one can be judged more than once for the same cause; a second trial was opened against him with what it was even weirder, an imprisonment measure. Once he won the elections, he should have taken his seat at the National Assembly, with no possible trials against him since deputies enjoy parliamentary immunity. In violation of all possible rights and principles, this didn’t happen. Same as it was a political decision what kept him facing senseless trials and out of his seat; it was also a political decision to release him.

This clearly shows the lack of independence of powers in this country. One call and he’s in jail, because of the same cause of which has proven to be innocent. One call and he’s free. The judges do not make independent decisions; they just sit and wait for calls from “up there”. Sentences are being made even before trial starts, the president and the ministers state if someone is guilty or not, and for how long should be punished; simply by speaking “their opinion” (their orders) on TV.

Although Pilieri might take his seat, he still doesn’t enjoy the right of parliamentary immunity. He has to present to court periodically which is, by all means, a liberty with considerable restrictions it should not have.

Either way, this is a partial win situation for the opposition: we have the seat we won but it was taking from us at the Assembly and the existence of political prisoners in Venezuela and the treatment they are receiving have gotten international attention. On the other hand, this is a loss- loss situation for the government: the Revolution has been forced to give up on some issues, such as Pilieri after claiming he was a delinquent and all that blah blah… and, although interior Minister’ Aissami has declared that this was an “institutions victory”; for me and for many others, this was a proof that institutions don’t work in an institutional way, but a political one. The small concessions the government gave are by no means a proof of how “democratic and respectful of Human Rights” is; but rather of how trapped it feels for they to admit that they do have political prisoners.

martes, 22 de febrero de 2011

On students protests and the Venezuelan English blogosphere

I wish I could have posted this sooner, but I’m unable to post anything while I’m at work. This morning I was able to accompany, briefly, a students’ demonstration that parted from Altamira with the intention of going to the Chancellery. Once in Chacao – less than one metro station away – they were forced to change their route and thus decided to go to the OAS office located in Las Mercedes. State Institutions only hear the claims of the Bolivarian Revolution supporters, if they actually hear any claim. As for the rest of Venezuelans, its doors are closed. If Venezuelans want to protest against the Revolution, they have no choice but to do it away from those institutions of which they should expect an answer to their queries.

The demonstration was in support of another group of students, who were in hunger strike at the OAS office, three embassies and 10 Venezuelan states. The strikers were demanding the OAS’ Human Rights commission to visit the country and evaluate our situation, especially concerning political prisoners. The students in Caracas were supported by students in other Venezuelan cities. This hunger strike lasted 18 days and more than 80 students joined it. A few hours after the demonstration, they suspended the strike claiming the goals were already achieved. I don't think their goals have been achieved at all (I will discuss this later), but for the sake of their health, I'm glad they suspended it. You can see pictures of students cheering after concluding the strike here

Luckily, when I encountered the march, I was carrying my hand camera. I have uploaded a brief video so you can see the mood of the protest. I felt the protesters were both angry and determined to do something. After all, a hunger strike is no joke. When the protest reached the highway, I had to abandon it and take a bus back to work. Here is the video:

The government’ response, at least until today, has been nothing but disappointing. From ministers declaring that students in hunger strike actually sneak out and eat without been seen; to government supporters cooking a barbecue in front of the strikers.

I have avoided talking about this issue because it is a very sensitive and controversial one. Hunger strike is one of the most extreme ways of protest available and it should be the last resource. Hunger strike is not a march, a demonstration, a cacerolazo, a blog or a letter… is an extreme measure which compromises your body. Hunger strikes always makes irreversible damages to your body. I see these students, hardly older than 21, just starting their lives and whom already face, as a result of this hunger strike, health issues that will hunt them for the rest of their lives; despite of the results of the protest. This is no joke and I’m extremely concerned about their health. It is unfair that Venezuelans feel forced to reoccur to such extreme ways to protest in order to be heard. And as Franklin Brito’ case has proven, is a measure far from being effective.

Those students shouldn’t be in hunger strike. They should be dancing, dating, and enjoying the rest of their youth which will not last long. Over all, they should be studying. They should have the right to live a normal life. But that’s a right no one from my generation and the generations that follow has enjoyed.

On a different topic, today I was informed that English Venezuelan blogger’ Miguel, has left the country. He will only make sporadic visits now but his permanent residence will be established somewhere else. If I’m not mistaken he was the first and remains to be one of the most prominent and respected Venezuelan English blogger. The other one is Daniel; who wrote a long post on Miguel’ departure and his concerns for being the only English Venezuelan blogger left in the country.It is painful to see that every day, someone you know - online or not - leaves the country for good.

As for Daniel' post, if you ask, he probably did not mentioned me because:

a) my blog’ style strongly differs from both Miguel’ and Daniel’. Their blogs are intended to be sources of information and smart commentary on Venezuelan situation. Thus they eagerly cover all topics. When I decided to start an English blog, I noticed that all topics were pretty much covered. Plus I lacked of the English knowledge and the experience Miguel – Daniel duo has. That’s why I developed this blog as a chronicle of a life inside the Venezuelan Revolution instead of working as a citizen reporter. With Miguel’ outside this country, I will have change this blog’ approach a little, to cover some topics and events he will no longer be able to. But I won’t publish a word on most economical issues because I simply don’t have the expertise to do such a thing.

b) I have been an inconstant blogger. I do not publish frequently (it was never my intention to do that) and out of fear, I have closed this blog two times. As a result, I’m probably not as trusted as other bloggers and this is a legitimate feeling. I will try to publish more frequently and to avoid the fears of the consequences of my writings. But unlike most politicians here, I don’t feel I can make empty promises.

c)My English is not good. Let’s face it, it isn’t. I already told you under what circumstances I learned this language and continue learning. I fear sometimes not being properly understood or to not be able to explain you things because of my language limitations. A limited English probably influx this blog’ quality, I have no doubts about it.

Either way, If we are able to, we’ll have to support each other in the dark days to come. I also extend this invitation to frequent commenters and unknown readers out there: specially if you live in Venezuela and want to start your own English’ blog, please do it; you are very much needed. I will give you any support/advice/ etc required to start this task. Venezuelan situation requires more than two English bloggers writing from the ground.

domingo, 20 de febrero de 2011

On whiny complaints, inside a privileged social class

I want to go to graduate school abroad. I really do. But it seems like the world has other plans, that my aspirations are rather large if compared with my possibilities. I feel today that this grad school- abroad- plan, is reserved only for those more privileged than myself.

Let me recall...

Before being misjudged, I must say that know in Venezuela I'm classified as part of the "A" social class, in terms of social policy at least. I know that I'm privileged, way to privileged compared to most Venezuelans. But for my expectations, I'm not enough. And I haven't noticed the lack of greater financial means until I started applying to grad school.

I have a friend. Lets call him... Pedro. We went to the same university, although we choose different careers. But we share the same dream: we want to go to grad school abroad; preferably to a country were we can study in English, let it be US, UK, Canada or Australia. Programs taught in English in Germany, even France among other countries are also being considered. This is due to our desire to increase our English knowledge – specially the technical one - plus share with a different country. Or maybe the idea of studying in English just calls our attention about anything else.

However, our English skills differ. I studied a bad quality English in high school. At 17 I did not know how to say nothing beyond 1) "Hello, How are you? - Fine, thank you, and you? - Fine, thank you", 2) "My name is Julia, what is your name?" and 3) How to name school items in English: pencil, paper, blackboard, eraser and notebook. Somewhere before graduating from high school, I was able to attend a twice a week - one hour English course for three months. There I learned, thanks to a Canadian fellow, more than what I had learned in 5 years of High School. But I couldn't continue. Once at the university, out of fun but with no explicit intention of learning, I started translating songs, watching loads of TV and movies in English (with subtitles), chatting in English online, and reading from magazines to news, and books. And then, out of the sudden, I realize I was capable of writing a whole paragraph. That's how this blog started.

But this almost self- taught English has its disadvantages. First, it has many occasional grammar mistakes that I have carried with me unknowingly. Second, it is an English somehow strong in writing, reading and listening but very poor when it comes to speaking. I can count with my fingers the times I have actually spoke to someone in English. And without any practice beyond me reading out loud, locked in my room; my pronunciation is a total disaster. All this, obviously makes me less competitive for graduate school abroad. My TOEFL scores are high, but the individual speaking score is low. My verbal GRE is above the 65th percentile but the writing score is low; I guess due to my many unconscious grammar mistakes.

Pedro, on the other hand, doesn't has this disadvantage. English is probably his strongest side. We were both privileged enough to attend to private schools. But he attended a bilingual one, and bilingual schools are far more expensive than other private schools. Also, since he was 8 years old; he was sent every year; to monthly intensive summer camps in the US which my family was never able to afford. Plus, he spend several Christmas, skiing in Colorado with his family, among other trips; giving him plain of time and opportunities to practice. When he was off high school, he didn't entered the university right away as I did. Instead, his dad paid for a 10 month English course in the US. As a result of all this intensive - and expensive - study, Pedro was as proficient in English as a US native; perhaps even better than many US natives. He didn't even study much for TOEFL, only enough to familiarize himself with the types of questions. For GRE, he studied half as a I did. His GRE essays got the highest score possible and his verbal GRE was way better than mine.

GRE costs $190 dollars and TOEFL test, if I'm not mistaken, costs pretty much the same. Applications fees costs everywhere between $50 and $100, although luckily, some applications are free. Venezuelans, due to a Exchange control, are only allowed to spend 400 dollars a year on Internet expenses- only way to pay for both tests and fees is by using a credit card online. If you make the calculus, you know that it hard for us to cover all application expenses with only $400. First, I couldn't take both GRE and TOEFL on the same year. I took the TOEFL on 2009 and GRE on 2010. Fees took enough share of my $400 quota to not be able to re-take the GRE as some suggested me to do due my low scores. I had to take the risk of applying with poor GRE scores. I know it was a bad decision, since I have no hear back from the universities yet and I hold now little hopes of being accepted.

To my concerns of how I was going to able to distribute the $400 internet quota between application fees and tests; Pedro suggested me to use the money from my "US bank account". When I replied that I do not have a US bank account – and I had only made one trip to the US when I was 10- Pedro was rather confused. Until that day he believed that as we shared the same plans for the future, we also shared the same lifestyle. But it is obvious we don't.

As soon as 2011 came, bad news concerning my plans started to flow. First it was the devaluation which doubled the cost of the student - controlled - dollar. Pedro was worried but not in the same way. He is still able to cover tuition and basic living expenses "but maybe it would be better not to rent the place I was thinking of". In my case, even before the student dollar doubled, I was not able to pay for tuition but barely cover the plane tickets and some living expenses. With the news, I'm afraid I will not be able to cover anything beyond plane tickets and the clothes needed for the first winter of my life, once I go over there.

Those were not the only bad news. Afraid that I might not be accepted this year, due to my low GRE scores, I was hoping to re-take the test and increase my score with the help of some more intensive studying and my mom' Internet dollar quota. But yesterday we were informed - without further explanation- that GRE' test centers are not available in Venezuela anymore. So from now on, if you want to take the test, you must travel somewhere else; Colombia for example. Is not that I can't travel to Colombia, but a trip to Colombia is an unexpected - and by no means small- , extra expense that I might have to face.

Pedro, even with a GRE score greater than mine, still doesn't know if he will enter the institutions of his choice. Of course, he has applied to top institutions including Harvard, Chicago and Stanford. I decided to apply to less prestigious (but from where I see it, equally good) institutions; for they are cheaper and perhaps easier to get in. In any case, if Pedro decides to increase his GRE' scores, it will be no trouble for him to travel to Colombia. Maybe he won't even need to travel to Colombia since he travels frequently to the US. There will be plenty of chances for him to take the test abroad.

From there, the list of disparities on our application process, and our real possibilities are countless. His greater GRE scores will probably give him more chances to get a scholarship, even considering he does not need one. The years of intensive English studying and interesting trips around the world will be seen as an asset. If interviewed, he will impress the graduate committee with an English so well spoken that it is hard to detect a foreign accent. And for "diversity" or all those things that attract a foreign institution to admit a Venezuelan, he stands pretty much the same I am. Thankfully we are not applying to the same programs, but if we were, the universities will probably discard my application and take his; considering that we are both Venezuelan and we both come from the same undergraduate institution.

Our disparities might be unnoticed by most. Most people are concerned only about the greater breach between the "real poor" and the "real rich". Those breaches are more dramatic, that's for sure. But we don't realize than inside those breaches, inside those groups we take as homogeneous, even the smallest differences play a whole deal in the way we can conduct their lives; in the opportunities we can access, in the greater or lower stress level we can bring to our routine and our expectations.

If you look at Pedro and me you will find us very similar. His girlfriend dresses almost the same way I do. In Caracas we frequent the same friends and the same places. We are invited to the same weddings. If interviewed, we have the same opinions on most topics. We share a common story from our Alma Mater and the private schools we previously attended. On etiquette, we follow the same rules; we were educated under astonishingly similar parameters. But from there, we are as different as if we have come from different worlds. To a great extent, even if it passes unnoticed, we have.

Of course, Pedro is a very talented fellow who has really make the most of every opportunity and privilege that was offered to him (Unlike many others who having the same opportunities he had, simply wasted all away). For that I give him credit and he gets all my esteem and my respect. I don't know how our talents compare, maybe he is indeed smarter than me, and thus deserve better opportunities. But I cannot help but wonder, what would it had been of me; if I had the same opportunities he had?

I'm certain that later this year or the next, Pedro will start his academic year at Harvard and will show me pictures of the place he is sharing with his newly wife at Boston. I will feel both relieved of being able to progress in his career and going away, at least for a while, maybe forever - off all this mess.

Perhaps I can do the same, perhaps I can reply with pictures of another institution, one that has giving me not only admission but also a scholarship. Perhaps from there those disparities we have will finally lose its effects.

But today I feel – doesn’t everyone like this feels at some point of their lives? – like the cheese of a social sandwich, pressed by both breads of lives having too much of something of lacking of everything that could dignified them. I’m more privileged than many. I have a life style that only a few in this country can afford. I have a least of achievements, talents and a degree that someone as talented as me, but being born in a lower social class could not reach. I’m perfectly aware of this and I try as much as possible to take all the privileges life has giving me with responsibility. But in a world greater than our understanding, there are others, many others, who can have a life I could never dream off. Even small, I feel a certain injustice in this matter.

And the injustice is this: being disheartened by all the news which plays a role in my graduate school plans, I feel that while Pedro' journey is for certain; might is almost impossible. Only thing that doesn't make my journey impossible is my desire of pursuing it. I have allowed my environment and my own character to build a dream life which belongs to another social class. To another life. To other kinds of people. It is time for me to realize of this, and without entirely giving up my dreams, at least I'm ought to adjust the size of my expectations.

PS: The image was taken from here. No copyright infringement intended

martes, 15 de febrero de 2011

Reviewing "Enlace Venezuela": thinking about a transition period

A group of young Venezuelans - meaning, all about my age - have recently launched a blog (in Spanish) focusing on spreading out ideas to rebuild this country once transition starts. We feel that with the presidential elections' next year; transition might be nearer than expected, and if we do not act accordingly, our country and what we want to make out of it; will vanish.

The blog has already been praised and criticized by Caracas Chronicles' writters. I equally praise the initiative, the extented invitation to think about our country' future. I also welcome the responsability this young group has taken upon their hands, for they have recognize the proximity of an heritage we will have to handle soon. We are not kids anymore and the course of this country does not belong to our parents. Despite our folks' achievements and many, many mistakes; Venezuelan now belong to us. As simple as that.

Only trouble with Enlace Venezuela' team is - as Caracas Chronicles' also stated - the use of a language so flourished and so complicated that it is hard to understand even to an educated person. If Enlace Venezuela' is inviting us to construct a vision together, it should make it simplier. Their use of such language was no surprise to me. I know most of Enlace Venezuela' bloggers from the university, we shared the same off- curricula activities and without doubt, they are among the best of their cohorts. Most of them are already attending Harvard or other equally worldwide prestigious universities (while I'm struggling to enter at least a regular one). So I would tell them, privately and publically here, you have nothing to prove. We know you are smart, comitted, and filled with outrageous ideas. I know most of you are also fun, easy going, politically oriented and worried about reaching a higher audience; so show me that side.

Fortunately, the latest entry shows a more plain use of the language. Not to mention it really touches a nerve in my generation (and probably many others). The post is about the lack of orientation high school graduates recieve; and how, Venezuelan' system demands them to choose without basis nor information, the career they are going to be stuck with for the rest of their lives; all at the tender age of 17. It's not a priority - we Venezuelans, Third of Fourth world country have a lot more important issues to care about: poverty, insecurity, Human Rights, household, health.... you name it. But there are a lot of people out there, just wasting productive time while finding something they want; or spending five years or more getting a degree they won't ever practice. And without properly motivated human capital, how do we address the rest of the issues?

I was, like most, 17 when I got my high school diploma. A sick childhood filled with surgeries, doctors visits and medical exams; made me think, as a teenager, that it was my destiny to become a doctor. My GPA was not high enough. So I studied like crazy during my two last highschool years for the medicine entrance exam (there is only one medicine school in my city) which demanded deep knowledge on math, chemistry, biology and physics. I was waitlisted with fewer hopes as days passed by of finally getting in.

My father - worried about me wasting a year of my life- encouraged me to apply somewhere else, to pursue another career while I was giving a second shot to my doctor' dream. I present the exam required to enter UCAB my alma mater. I choose a career randomly out of a brochure. In a few months I was starting a career of whom I had no clue of what it was about. After a while, I started to like professors, classmates and classes quite enough to stay; or maybe I was just feeling lazy to knock on Medicine school' doors all over again.

Five years later I finished all coursework required. A year and a half after that - thank you, horrible thesis - I graduate. People believe me to be very talented and suitable for my field. But what they don't know is that I have struggled greatly to find a job and still haven't found one that suits me. I do not dominate my field entirely to be competitive; I feel only inspired by one part of it. I have all my hopes put in a future graduate school admission that will focus all my energy in this particular part of my field; and from there, I might finally shine.

But in the meantime I often think that, if I had had at 17, more time to make an informed decision, I might have choosen differently, or I might have drawn a career path differently.

It is only when are truly working on what you were made for, that you are able to be productive, and thus become a greater contributor for society.

So I'm glad Enlace Venezuela' people are thinking about health, poverty, insecurity, economics etc etc etc. But I'm also glad they are also thinking even beyond that. I'm also glad that most of them, even abroad, are thinking about home. Probably some of them will be offered great opportunities abroad and they will not come back. But the fact they are at least hoping to do it, is somehow heartening.

sábado, 12 de febrero de 2011

If you ever come to Madrid...

Yesterday was one of those days where I was unable to focus at work. The reports I was working on were a disaster. Tired, I decided to take a walk for a change.

A few blocks away from my office, I casually met an old friend from the university. I haven’t see him in years, ever since we graduate and life turned out to be complicated enough to worry about planning friends’ meetings.

We enthusiastically said hi to each other and started to catch up with out lives. “So what are you up to?” – He asked – “Well… you know… work…”- “You’re leaving, right?” – He asked all of the sudden, without warning. I stayed quiet for a few seconds, planning my answer – “That’s the plan” – I said – “But…”- I quickly talked about my grad-school-abroad’ plans while carrying a sad look on my face because I have no heard back from the universities I applied to. He replied with his plans: he’s getting married in a few months and next moving to Spain to pursue a Master’s degree – “If I get in and also get a scholarship” – and try some luck.

Son of an immigrant, he recalled his family’ history: “My dad came here when he was 24 years old, with the idea of moving back in five years or less. But then Tito stayed there for longer. Much longer than that. So he had to stay here. Same will happen to us. That’s how things are” – He assured, with great sorrow. He looked up and asked me next – “Have you considered Spain?” – “Spain its expensive in my field… but I’m considering all options…” – “You should, we must leave” – He put a special accent in that “must” (well, in that “tenemos que”) and looked at me right in the eyes like saying “please save yourself, do not stay here”

Next, we complained about the latest shortages and how due to one reason or another (but all reasons have the government to blame); we are in risk of losing our jobs here – in case we stay.

“Best of luck with your plans” – He wished to me as his duties were calling him back to the office - “If you ever come to Madrid, make sure you pay me a visit. You know you’ll have a house there, with doors wide open for you now” – I have “houses” everywhere: Germany, Mexico, Brasil, Australia, Belgium, even Russia and at several US’ cities. I have “houses” in many places I might visit in the future, or I might not. For sure, I will happily trade all my “stay- for – free- when – you – travel” options for having the people I care about geographically close to me.

I thanked his offer. We said good bye, take care, say hi to your boyfriend/girlfriend. He waved and smile. I put his silhouette and of all our common friends who already left; back in our university days, in the halls, at the meetings. All the parties, trips and dances. All the dreams we had back then. They’re all gone.

We walked in opposite directions. I was walking back to my work place – and my horrible reports – I got the feeling that I will never see him again.

sábado, 5 de febrero de 2011

Everlasting power

Usually, I wake up at 6:00 am. At 6:30, I'm standing at the bus stop. Around 8:00, I'm at the office. I have a degree and a relatively well paid job. I have a boyfriend and a few friends. I have a couple of dreams. I look myself in the mirror. I'm 26 years old. I do not longer think about "What am I going to do when I grow up?..." - Seems like I already did. Wherever I look, I'm an adult.

I have a very girly face, but if you look in my eyes you will found out that some years have already passed by. I have lived a lot and yet so little. I thought by now I would had everything figured out. But I haven't. And the future sometimes looks a bit dark. A lot uncertain.

I went to the university. I signed up in a political party. I also partied. I got involved on more issues that I was able to handle. I failed a stats course. Once. I fell in love. Twice. I was heartbroken, at least three times. I attended a few demonstrations. I dated someone I did not like. Once. Twice. I ran while tear gas bombs were being dropped. Once. Twice. More than that. I kissed a stranger. Once. Twice. Won't say if it was more than that. I started teaching. I fell in love again, now for the last time. I started attending my friend's weddings. I said good bye to many of them. I learned English. I buried someone I loved. Once. Twice. More than that. I started writing. I blogged. Losed count how many times I have done that. I dyed my hair. Only once, thank God. I saw Chavez' speaking on TV. Every day. My sister god married. once. She had kids. Twice. We moved. Three times. I traveled abroad. Once. I played the piano. I said I love you, feeling it for real. Once.

I woke up at 6:00. At 6:30, the school bus picked me up. I arrived at school at 7. I had a math exam which I failed. Then I explored a cow' heart at biology' lab. Alicia was dating the boy I liked. Trouble was, he wasn't quite aware of my existence. I liked Backstreet Boys (I know, shame of me!) but my favorite song was Offspring "Why don't you get a job?" but I didn't knew the lyrics' meaning. I went to the "15 años" of an older girl. I whore a yellow dress my mom made me. I did not danced much. A boy tried to ask me out. I thought he was joking and I ran away. I was 14.

12 years. One Revolution. 12 years to learn about the odd similarities that proposed changes have with destruction. Yet, I feel nothing has changed and perhaps that is the biggest trouble.

One lifetime. One president. One girl eager to see progress, hopes and smiles.

Some people are out there celebrating. I am not. Power shouldn't be a reason to celebrate. Power should be used cautiously and for a limited amount of time. Otherwise, the damage it causes can be overwhelming.

But here, for almost half of my life; power seems everlasting.

miércoles, 2 de febrero de 2011

An odd ode to sanitary pads

In silence, Venezuelan women are the ones suffering the newest shortage: sanitary pads. Although I have enough for this month (naturally, I always buy one extra package in advance); when I heard about the shortages, I panicked. On my way to work I visited five different places - including four pharmacies and one supermarket - only to find out, to my disdain, that all sanitary pads of any type and any brand, had magically disappeared of the shelves. In their place, I could see some tampons, alongside adult diapers and pantyliners (of only one brand) unsuccessfully halfway filling the empty spaces.

Food and other basic products' shortages are now insanely common in Venezuela. But till this moment I did not had a lot of trouble adjusting myself to them.

No more black beans? That's ok, I can live without eating them, I didn't like them that much anyway.

No more milk? Now that was a rough shortage phase, probably what caused Chavez to lose its first election in almost a decade. But like I said it was just a phase. It was hard to adjust, specially considering my stomach is fully accustomed to low fat milk. But either way, milk as remain as an elusive hard to find product ever since, so we are used to always come back home with an unfamiliar brand or to not drink milk for a few days.

No more meat? We ate chicken, pork and fish until meat "comes back"

There was also a shortage of toilet paper that did freaked my family out about a year ago. Fortunately, it was only a shortage, in the sense that toilet paper did not disappeared completely. Only one package per person or family was allowed to buy; and for sure, you couldn't find the brand you were looking for. Although troublesome and extreme, we could still have access to it.

Some mayonnaise brands usually disappear and reappear again. In my house, home-made mayonnaise has proved to be a better solution than buying an unfamiliar brand.

The deodorant brand my boyfriend likes, “magically” disappeared a few months ago so he's still trying different brands until he can find one he's comfortable with.

To make a long story short, it seemed to me that there were always creative ways to "survive" shortages. I even thought that this hard situation was teaching me something: nothing is truly indispensable. Us humans tend to lay on so many things and we tend to think that without those modern commodities we can't survive. But shortages were proving me so far that that's not true. I thought I could even be happier if I effectively learned that life does not consist neither does depends on what we find or not, what we can buy or not at the supermarket or shopping mall.

I got to fell even prouder about leading my life into this new (odd) "philosophy". I was even preparing a long sentimental post on the subject.

But I just made the mistake one cannot make under this Revolution: to take something for granted.

Probably not intentionally, but I did took sanitary pads for granted. I never put myself in the nasty scenario of a sanitary pads shortage; even less a sanitary pads disappearance.

Once it all happened, all that speech of being creative about shortages and learning to live without things we consider "basic"; stopped making any sense to me.

Like I said, I had never previously thought about it. But now I'm convinced that a modern women can live without make up, high heels, purses, even without meat, black beans and milk but it cannot survive without sanitary pads. That's our one truly basic item. Our idea of a modern woman does not exist without sanitary pads. How could us go out to the streets, wearing skirts and tight yeans, during our period days without those holy extra slim items? Without them we could excuse from all work, love and social life to lock ourselves in the bathroom for at least three days once a month.

Sanitary pads are a miracle. Our body goes throughout a crazy - and not exactly pretty - process, our hormones revolve, our mood changes, our belly hurts and yet; thanks to the sanitary pads; our lives can continue (erasing in a disposable item all our chaos). The best about it is that no one notices perhaps your boyfriend after your over sensitive complain because he called five minutes late (it always happens...)

I regret not seeing the possibility of a sanitary pads shortage - disappearance before, of not saving enough packages in my room. I regret always being ashamed of them, hiding them in a remote inside pocket of my purse without realizing how valuable they actually are.

I hope the government and the business sector can find a prompt solution for the sake of us modern - and very concerned about out personal hygiene - Venezuelan women. Because truly, I haven't figured out - nor think I ever will - a creative way to keep living with this shortage. A friend of mine seemed unworried: "I'll used tampons instead" - She said, while she was buying a few boxes of those.

To be honest, I don't wear tampons, I simply dislike them and I don't feel tempted to swim while I'm on my period anyway.

To be honest, I'm just a woman who doesn't fully understand how this happened. But she suspects strict government controls have something to do about it. I'm just a woman looking throughout empty shelves for this one single item I can't function without.

In the meantime, some women are wearing tampons, some men are unworried because "it is not their business". The government is looking to impose more controls to make us believe with artificial low prices that it is all ok. And some business people, I hope, are figuring out how to sell what I can't find.

So welcome to Venezuela. A place where at least today, sanitary pads are a rare, scarce, and precious item.

PS: There is also a diapers shortage. Moms and dads speak angry on the radio daily about the sizes and brands they can't find. Perhaps I'll post more about it lately. I prefer to talk about one shortage every time.