domingo, 27 de marzo de 2011

Away

(This post was written about a year ago, and then it got lost somewhere in my files, since the feelings are still current, here it comes)

This month I have helped two dear friends to pack their bags. I have said good bye to many friends in the last few years but I have never had the chance to see their process so close. There is something different about a good bye party and your friend smiling with a beer saying it will visit you on Christmas (but you know he won't) to see your friend' closet going empty, trying to figure out if that old shirt that brings warm memories from High School is an indispensable item or not.

There is something different about checking that bag' weight and asking if they are going to need all those bathing suits in that cold place, how many pair of shoes can they put, how many times they would have to wash the only items they can carry; for a year or more. This month was a friend who marry and left to Australia with her husband. The other is following his new wife up to Canada, she found a job there.

So we smile and argue about the best way to pack the shirts, and the pants. We suggest her to take at least one good dress because you never know if you have an occasion that merits it over there. We take one last picture. One girl looks at one drawer and asks "What about perfume? Are you going to take any?" - "Well" - Our emigrant friend answers - "Maybe just one bottle, pack just my favorite one... there is no room for anything else" - "Can I take your books?" - "Take everything you want... except this one.. and this one"...

Then follow a discussion about what the parents are going to do with the empty room. They will probably keep it as a guest house in case the lost daughter or son decides to pay a short visit. We speak about the last bank intervened, the latest political prisoner, the last acquaintance we heard of being kidnapped. In every meeting, even one as informal and quick as helping your friend with the last minute details before their departure, those anecdotes arise. Then our friend looks at us and says "Just be careful, all of you who are staying here, please just take care of yourselves".

Then we promise a visit, someday, somewhere. They promise a visit, in the same vague terms. Keep in touch. You added me to skype yesterday. I will let you know when the apartment is ready and you'll know you have a home over there...

I have homes in many places. In United States, Mexico, Chile, Panama, Spain, Germany and Australia, to name a few. But like I have said over and over again in this blog, I'm not those kind of people who dream about traveling around the world and staying for free. I'm more like those kind of people who would rather keep their friends close. Not for a random every two, three four years visit, not for a Skype call. I would rather have my friends like I used to have them, for a phone call (plain, normal, local phone call), for a coffee, for a drink, for a short trip to the beach, for a reunion, for a birthday, for a movie, for watching a soccer game together. I would rather have my friends at my love ones funeral, and in the hospital if a disease comes along, or meeting the newborn of any of us face to face, not thanks to a Facebook mobile picture.

But my friends are now ambassadors, filled part with nostalgia and part with new adventures. Their lives are no longer mine. They are not available for long talks and huge laughs anymore. At most, long stories rely on email and blogspots. And, the desires to come back. If they only could, if they were not so disconnected already, if things were better, if things were different.

Guest bloggers wanted

This blog' traffic is usually from overseas - specially United States and Europe so that's why I address more to foreigners than Venezuelans. But recently, I have noticed a non ordinary traffic of Venezuelans in my blog. After receiving comments and e-mails from some of them, I have come up with this idea. More than an idea, is a proposal. It goes like this:

Readers already know my story: they have read about the anguish reflected during dinner conversations with my family, they have read about my early encounters with this revolution in high school, about the marches, protests, and street clashes I have witnessed, about my brief stage as part of a political party and later, as part of a student movement. They have read about the people I have lost -due to violent death or more likely to emigration - on these years. They read everything about my graduation, a bit about my job search. They even know a bit about how my love life has been putting Venezuelan reality as a context. They suspect my life resembles the life of many Venezuelans.

To some extent this is true. My life resembles the life of almost any high middle but recently impoverished middle class educated young woman. I'm nothing original. I have similar concerns and similar aspirations people of my generation and my conditions has. But then there are many subjective realities that I can't explore nor express accurate in this space. Maybe a girl with a different career or still single, maybe a young woman who already left the country and is struggling to adapt herself to a new environment. Maybe a guy still studying or just coming out of the university or starting his own business. Maybe someone having to live the difficulties parenthood carries in this crisis. Maybe someone with a better or worse situation in life than the one I have. Maybe someone who works for the government. Someone who has experience a kidnapping or an assault (I'm lucky, even in the most dangerous city in the world, I have not yet directly experienced any). I know very little about life in other Venezuelan cities or towns besides my own: Caracas.

So if you can feel identified with any of the lines above, or even if your reality is almost exactly like my own. If you are Venezuelan, live in or sort of recently left Venezuela and speak English; I want to invite you to write here as a guest blogger. This blog is for people who wants to approach to the reality of a Venezuelan. I designed this blog for people who wants to look beyond the news and inside citizens houses, life and most importantly, feelings. So if readers could get a glimpse of what happens here, how does it feel, how do we manage to keep our heads and hearts still; from other voices besides my own; their understanding of our reality would be a lot greater.

To put the long story short, if you feel entitled to, write your testimonial. Above all talk about how do you feel, what do you think; if its politically correct or not, is not important.

You can send me what your write, along side with your name or a nickname (I prefer to keep my real name private, you are free to put your real name or not), to my e-mail (in case of doubts, my account is "julia1984ve", its a gmail account, I'm writing it like that to avoid spam). You can also include a link or links to your blog, twitter, personal page or any other way for readers to contact you or see/read more about you. If you want to include a picture/drawing/image, that would be great too. You can keep it short or long. If it's too long I will have to publish it in two parts which can't do much harm. Your post might also include links to other pages or not, that's up to you.

I will read of course your post before publishing it, and I'll edit it if necessary: but only small grammar mistakes, typing and things like that. In case of a major editing I will consult that to you. I won't publish anything you are not agree to be published. And obviously, you will appear as the single author of the post.

If your post receive comments, I will moderate those comments. I usually don't publish comments that are offensive, compromise my real identity, or are just plain trolls or spam. I don't publish comments people have explicitly asked me not to. If you disagree with this policy, we can talk about it and see what we can negotiate.

I have the feeling that this post and invitation might fall in deaf ears. But I don't lose anything for trying. And if it does work, if anyone actually sends anything I think it will be an interesting opportunity for me to diversify my blog' contents, for guest posters to get other spaces and platforms to be heard, and for this blog readers to enrich their knowledge and understanding on our little but yet important; Venezuelan perspectives. So I'm trilled about the idea, don't you? If so, please, please, please... sign in!

domingo, 13 de marzo de 2011

Mubarak' departure, as seen by me

I know this post comes belayed, way too much out of time. I know I should be speaking about Japan' earthquake or at least about something new or not, happening here. And I will, when time allows me next week. In the meantime, this post got almost lost in one of my endless "future posts" drafts and I realized that I should publish it, that it is now or never. It's about Mubarak, and Egypt, and Libya and why we don't want to look at ourselves in that mirror. A commenter stated something quite similar in my previous post on the subject. Consider this an extension

The day Mubarak left power was a good day for us. Many did not have a clue about Mubarak' existence before January but to just see that it was somehow possible for common citizens to pressure enough to end a dictatorship gave us hope; no matter how far the events took place. My boss arrived at the office later than usual, because he stayed a bit longer at home, watching Egypt' celebrations on CNN. Carrying a huge enthusiastic smile, told me the news and even allowed me to interrupt my job to read and watch everything I could about it online.

Egypt' events were the main conversation topic with my co-workers at lunch, and with my family at dinner.

But same as we were trilled about the end of Mubarak' regime; we were cautious on desiring the arouse of something similar here. Recent Arabic world events' give us a nice glimpse of people' desire to move to more democratic, less restrictive regimes. Democracy has proof there to be not an accidental value, but an universal one despite of its origins. Dictators across the globe have been left with less philosophical arguments to justify their atrocities. And that is definitely a great gain for the human kind.

But every coin, like every event, has two sides. Recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya... have show us that people still lack power to fulfill their desires. Without international pressure and a favorable army; protesters are left alone in their claims because it is never the dictator the guy who'll hear them. Those government are first interested on keeping their position, their power; and then, maybe, anything else including their people. Protests are thus made to be heard by others: army, international community, government allies and opponents, reporters... and only through those "others" pressure; that a change could be pursuit-ed.

Among those "others", none is as important as the army. Those revolutions always hold the potential of becoming a civil war; and those who win a civil war are rarely the ones who are right; but the ones who are stronger (in the sense of a stronger army, stronger strategy). In Egypt' case, the army decided to take a step back, to stop shooting at the protesters and to pressure for a convenient solution to the crisis. At Libya, army has acted quite different and thus a civil war has erupted. It is not likely that rebels will win without foreign support so we can expect a long conflict; that will bring nothing but grief, pain and devastation. All due to the stubbornness of a man; and his loyal army. A president who has mistaken their own people for enemies. So I wonder: Isn't with that idea (the idea of an enemy rather than a legitimate opponent) that Chavez has treated his opposition?

In short words, I don't want this regime to come to an end under similar circumstances. I fear, in best case scenario an army achieving yet more power than what it already has. In the worse- and more likely to occur, I'm afraid - a civil war. Let's face it: Chavez' friend is Qaddafi (spelling?), not Mubarak. He admires Qaddafi greatly and to our embarrassment, he has defended or denied his genocide acts over and over again. We have all reason in the world to believe that if a similar revolution takes place in Venezuela; Chavez will act just like Qaddafi is acting.

This is why I would rather change the stamina of a revolution for a safer - and slower transition without a major rupture of our incipient Constitutional order. Maybe it's elections. I'm still not sure if my short experience even allows me to think on Venezuela ruled by anyone else. Either way, you can't blame me for looking for solutions that imply less violence, less waste of human lives and less dependence of the military caste. Those roads are not fast, not glamorous enough to make headlines, nor even as effective; but I trust that in the long term, they will bring better results.

viernes, 11 de marzo de 2011

Update on sanitary pads and diapers shortage

For those interested, period pads are still scarce around here. The shelves where you used to find five or more different brands, types, and sizes; are filled now with "protectores" (of just one brand, maybe two) and tampons (Tampax) - hardly enough to fool any woman. At some drug stores, every once in a while, is possible to find sanitary pads of brands and presentations that were unfamiliar for me till now. "Stayfree" - some selected presentations - and another called "Mía". Those two are made in Venezuela which is probably why they are available in the first place; but I guess Venezuela doesn't produce enough to satisfy the demand. The few - Venezuelan made - packages that manage to reach those shelves, disappear as fast as they are brought there. Thankfully, those pads are thin, acceptable and still haven't got any allergies for using them. But they are still far way from the comfort of the brand I'm used to.

I confess that when it comes to this shortage, I have acted like a panicked, neurotic, senseless and paranoid woman. On weekends, my boyfriend and I try to go for a walk to different shopping malls every time; so my chances to visit unknown drug stores usually increase. And every time I found at one of those, a sanitary pad package, I simply buy it. Despite the brand, presentation, size, features or costs. Despite that I don't actually need it. I still buy it, terrified about the idea of either me or my sister in period days without pads to face it. "Don't you think you are over reacting?" - My boyfriend asked, totally unaware of what a sanitary pad actually was before periods pain not-so-gently arrived at our relationship; and still ignorant about how many pads can be used in a period, for how long periods actually last etc etc. But that's when I looked at the drawer where I keep all the packages and realized that maybe I am over reacting. And that I should definitely stop. Not only for the sake of other Venezuelan woman who need those packages and perhaps have no taken the precautions I did; but because simply, sanitary pads have an expiration date. I have never seen a pad when it reaches that date, but I'm not exactly trilled about the idea.

A friend of mine got pregnant a few weeks ago. "Given this shortage, I could have not thought of a better time!" - She joked while she was hearing the rest of us sharing our grief due to the difficulties of finding pads. I later warned her not to be so cheerful. As the proud and close aunt of two little ones (the oldest is almost 4); I know that diappers are now not only crazy expensive but, of certain sizes and brands; as hard to find as sanitary pads. For what I have heard in press and radio, both products seem to share a common trouble: some of the materials required for making them can't be imported or are difficult to be imported due to government foreign exchange controls.

As for diapers, the opposite sizes "new born" and "extra large" are the rarest. As for brands, "Huggies" seems to be the one experiencing more trouble. I haven't seen diapers for premature babies in months. And all this situation is not likely to change in the course of nine months.

After naming her brother- who lives in Miami- the godfather of a child whose gender is still unknown; she made him one special request - it was not chic toys or imported "Carters" clothes. No. "We'll talk about it again when we are closer to the date. But please bring as many "newborn" diapers as you can when you come to meet the baby..." - Her brother raised an eyebrow - "Oh... and sanitary pads, for the rest of us" - She added. His brother raised his eyebrow even more, filled with disconcert. Did she was talking about Caracas, Venezuela? About tricks and treats to find what it was always there?

We are amazed at the slight and the big changes that have arrived to our lives. We have never lived a war, but since 2007 we are used to take as normal that not all products will be available. If one product is indispensable - such as sanitary pads - we turn ourselves into an erratic, neurotic behavior. And nothing can calm our paranoia because the shortage could last just a few days or it could extend for years. No one really knows. Rumors come and go about what will be the next product to disappear.

And life goes on. I go to work every day and date with my boyfriend on weekends. I'm learning French, my cousin is getting married in two weeks and my friend is soon becoming a mom. And our periods will still come, every month, to remind us that as women hygiene products are not mere luxuries.

miércoles, 9 de marzo de 2011

Why Venezuela is not Egypt? Nor Libya?

A reader asked me a few days ago to explain why he haven't seen anything like Egypt or Libya happening in Venezuela - Did he missed any news? - No, he missed none. Outside a worrying number of hunger strikers making different demands; this sort of "democratic virus" has not yet reached this side of the world. But why? To be honest, I don't have a clue. And I don't think anyone can honestly answer your question. Let me elaborate...

I could take the easy route, and just tell you that one thing is North of Africa and a whole different thing is Venezuela. However, once I followed all the events, specially those in Egypt; I did not felt a cultural difference between those protesters and myself. We have the same aspirations: freedom, democracy, civil rights. And we have even used similar methods to achieve such aspirations; including taking advantage of social networks. Only difference is that at least Egypt' methods have proven to be effective while ours not so much; but that's material for another post.

I won't speak from a theoretical point of view. I have read enough material on social movements and protesters motivations and so on. But this blog is not the place to get "too complicated". Plus, in this case I think nothing speaks clearer to me than my experience.

By "my experience" I mean the numerous protests, demonstrations, marches etc that I have witnessed here in Venezuela in the past nine years (at least). I have also had the opportunity to take a close look to the organization of some of them; how they are carefully - or not - executed. Others, seemed to me, were completely spontaneous.

In either case, what my experience tells me about the likeness an event has to become massive or not, about the circumstances in which a protests erupts, about what can turn a simple protest into a worldwide revolution is this: nothing. I mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

This is a reoccurring thought of mine: the fact that we, Venezuelans - and probably others- let pass many important events and then protest about other without any apparent sense.

For example: in 2005-2006 there were two cases of violent deaths that gained media and public' attention (there are so many violent deaths in Venezuela that unfortunately, most get no attention at all). The first was the killing of three - if I remember correctly - university students who were giving a classmate a ride home and they were killed "just because" they entered that neighborhood at night. The second, was the kidnap and killing of three brothers and their bodyguard; none of the brothers was old enough to be in the university. Guess which case caused a major university students demonstration that included blocking the main Caracas' highway? Guess which case make them later organize to make more massive protests demanding more personal security and respect to life? ... You guessed wrong. It was not the first but the second case what history will record as the circumstance under a massive student movement was born in Venezuela... Go figure...

Of course, both cases were serious enough to cause a social response. But why when those fellow university students were killed so horribly, we did nothing beyond talking at the cafeteria about it? Why we protested over Faddoul brothers but stayed silent when the students were killed? - Like I said, nothing. No clue.

A big series of protests erupted when the government shut down a popular TV Channel. But nothing slightly similar happened when we ran out of milk or when the IVA was raised etc etc etc... I could go on and on quoting examples.

We know it is always about a chain reaction. One guy burns himself and... you know the rest. It is always unexpected. Did someone predicted Egypt? Someone? Anyone? (If you know about someone, let me know in the comments section, I'm very interested). Revolutions are less a matter of causes and ideals than they are about opportunities. Go check your history books and you will find the same patron I have lived: One person has an idea or more often, do something unaware of its consequences. In Venezuela' case, with media now as restricted as it is; you are more likely to receive a Facebook invite, a text message or a Tweet than to see it on TV. The message is always the same: just a few words indicating time, place and reason. Sometimes it is an official call from political parties. Sometimes we are unaware of who's behind it. Sometimes is some news we get, some voice on the radio that makes us go to the usual place we gather for protest to see if there is anyone there. Sometimes there is no soul to be found. Some others there are dozens.

There are some days, when I have heard really bad news, a crazy government decision, a very serious event; that I go to my balcony and play a cacerola (kitchen pot) just because. One minute after I realize no one else is playing, I make a speech about people' apathy and save my kitchen pot with sorrow. But other times I'm surprised by the sound of a strong cacerolazo in my neighborhood and I don't even feel like taking part in it.

No one knows when a massive protest or movement will come. The circumstances are all there: shortages, economical crisis, high taxes, Human Rights being violated in all possible ways, political freedom restricted, threats, personal insecurity, impunity... All reasons for us to express the same Egyptians did are there; under the surface; waiting for a moment to come out. And that moment could come or not. Societies are unpredictable and in these matters, even more.

I know you were seeking for a more satisfying explanation; but that wouldn't be honest. All I can say is that I - and many people - have the impression that is not always knowledge and wisdom the result of education and experience; but a greater awareness of an insuperable ignorance.