As I come to the end of my two year contract here in Caracas I am having to weigh up the issue that is in the minds of many Venezolanos just now, to stay or go.
Even in the 19 months that I have lived in Caracas I have seen this incredible, proud city, once steeped in such grandure, gradually slip closer towards the abyss.
Today as usual I woke up at 05:45, pressed snooze twice and eventually pulled myself out of bed at 06:05. I went to get in the shower only find there was no water. This was no surprise, the global weather phenomenon ‘el nino’ has exacerbated Venezuela’s poorly managed water system and the situation is now so chronic that my building gets two hours of water a day, one in the morning (usually after I have already left for school) and one in the evening. Fortunately I have recently had a water tank installed, one of the many perks of being an expat, so I turn on the small motor and enjoy a quick, rather refreshing cold shower. I throw on my t-shirt and shorts, unlock my front door, unlock my second grilled door and press the button for the lift. I put the lift key in and quickly drop down the 5 floors to the street level ‘planta baja’. I unlock the first door and then with my fifth and final key the second ‘puerta principal’, this lets me out into the beautifully warm morning sunshine. It is a quiet, residential street in one of Caracas’s most secure neighbourhoods where yesterday I witnessed a rather sad fight between two homeless people. The older of the two a men who looked in his 50’s with grey hair and ripped trousers ended the rather unsavoury situation when he pulled out a blade of some sort, this made the younger aggressor back down and walk away, I made a mental note to cross the street in future if I saw this harmless looking scruffy pensioner coming my way. I have two choices for breakfast, the first being a small Panaderia on the corner run by a friendly old guy who enjoys practicing his dodgy english, his trademark ‘see you later alligator’ is brilliant although sadly the coffee is not. So I make my way to my regular, Nugantina. It opens at 06:30 and as I approach they are just pulling up the door, I don’t break stride and walk straight in, the first time this has happened in my 7 months of visiting. This is surely the premier baker in the LPG municipality and the only one who have truly mastered the art of the ‘cachito’ ‘croissant’ and ‘pastel’. Their pastry goodness is complimented by a large bread counter and cake window. However something is wrong. Their aluminium trays are bare except for some suitably sad looking day old cheese and ham croissants. I suddenly notice the ‘no hay harina’ (we have no flour) sign on the door and think myself fortunate that I am early enough to get the rather stale croissant accompanied by a marron grande coffee and whatever flavour or ‘jugo’ they have, today I have a choice between ‘manzana’ and ‘durazno’, I take the apple and head over to the till and pay. The total was 785 Bolivares, with biggest bill in circulation being a 100 I pulled out a wad of notes from my backpack and handed the ‘Senorita’ the only dough in the whole shop.
This currently equates to about $0.80 with the black market dollar exchange rate hovering around 1100. When I arrived less that two years ago it was 60. Inflation for 2016 is estimated at 720%. When you consider that the average wage is around 40,000 Bsf. you can begin to wonder what life must be life as a local caraceno. What can you do on less than $40 a month? You can live at home with your parents, or perhaps find a small room in a shared apartment. You can take the bus – metro – bus to work. You can queue for hours trying to find nationally produced, government regulated products. You can survive. Barely.
On Saturday I had a football match for a new team, Gremio FC. It is an amateur group of Venezuelans who all share the ‘fevre’ that is ‘futbol’. Such is the strength of the affliction we had agreed to a 07:00 kick off on field 1 at the Guacamaya football complex. With the Caracas CAF Marathon being on at the same time I followed the managers advice and left home early at 05:55, only to be at the field for 06:15. The only other person there was left back Javier who is one of the few members of the team with a bit of english. I was explaining that I was just back from Panama where my girlfriend had moved to and asked if he would leave? Our goalkeeper left to Australia the week before and it seems a week does not pass when someone jumps from the slowly sinking ship. He could not find the word to describe why he could not leave and eventually tried in Spanish with ‘ego’. ‘Those ‘Huevóns’ cannot make me leave my country,’ his ego would not allow it. With it being the first match in the new uniforms the whole team were soon there, 18 of us decked out in Gremio’s trademark white and blue. However no sign of the opposition. Clearly they had not been so well informed and the official line was they were stuck in traffic, however perhaps more likely the Friday night ‘rumba’ had taken its toll! To avoid it being a wasted trip we played a bit of 8 v 8 across the field in which i got my first goal. Playing the ball into the left wingerI then continued my run into the box, Carmelo whipped in an expertly weighted cross which I met with a glancing header, Javi the left back could only grasp at air as it flew in the far corner, 1 – 1.
As soon as the match finished and the 08:00 teams came on I made a quick change and jogged down the hill to catch up with my friend and colleague Nathan who was participating in the marathon, I had agreed to help keep him going for the last part of the run. I waited patiently at km 26 and just as I thought I must have missed him he appeared, keeping pace with the 4:30 pacemakers. Although we had a few slightly low ebbs myself and Dan (joined for the final 6km) were happy to deliver him into the home straight in good shape. Top effort from the Dilldog with extremely limited training…
Today I have learnt that another colleague will leave in the summer, she was knocked off her bike riding to school last month.
I also learnt about how the government is to introduce 40 days of electricity rationing, with all power to be turned off for 4 hours a day in 10 states, fortunately Caracas is so far unaffected. As another means to save power people are being put on 4 day weeks with Fridays a new holiday, unfortunately we are not affected…
Today I signed my contract to extend until the end of the 2016 / 17 year. Venezuela is an incredibly beautiful country full of incredibly beautiful people and the opportunities for travel and personal growth are as limitless as the potential it holds.
However one cannot help but worry for where it is heading. I know I am in the minority as more and more are getting ready to hit the emergency exit. I feel a little like one of my primary students who last week during our school sports day took off at the start of 4×100 going in the wrong direction around around the running track!