Archive | April 2013

The 7th Circle of Hell

Government! Three fourths parasitic and the other fourth stupid fumbling. ~ Robert A. Heinlein

I needed to renew my ID and the prospect of this filled me with a profound sense of dread, 100 times more dread than filling my taxes.

Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy, no explanation needed.

Whenever we have anything to do at the start of the day I have to mentally prepare myself.  I repeat a mantra that goes goes something like, everything will be fine, be patient, try to remain calm, and limit your swearing.  But when we have to go downtown I need a little something extra, like donning a super hero type invisible shield.

I’ve written before about the parking lot effect of commuting in Caracas.  I can not clearly express the insanity of it all, so when we have to go downtown we usually opt for public transit.  I wouldn’t say that it’s the better option, but it’s less stressful for Juan to have to concentrate so hard while listening to my colorful commentary while trying to take over the horn.

Rush hour.  Can you see the organization with traffic going in three directions at the same time?

Rush hour. Can you see the organization with traffic going in three directions at the same time?

After hopping a mini bus (I think I need to write about these soon) and riding the subway we arrive in the center of the city.  Downtown is a world of its own.  Juan’s mom tells me that it used to be beautiful and people would go out of their way to walk in the plazas, shop and have coffee on the terraces. Now, it’s skid row.  People are loud, shifty, untrustworthy, and always trying to hustle their wares. The threat of violence is always present and palpable.  I’m quickly learning to look without watching. The grime is thick and the smell of piss is sharp. It’s a very poor area of the city. People wear years of sorrow and struggle on their faces and show their pride of Chavismo on their shirts. The irony of this is not lost on me. This is where the government office is. I call it the 7th Circle of Hell after Dante’s 7th Circle.

Dante's Inferno

Dante’s Inferno

I would really like to say that government offices here are organized chaos, but sadly I cannot.  They are absolute chaos.  The process went something like this:

Join the already super long line outside of the building. Listen to the people on both sides of us complain.

Wait around an hour to get to the front of the line, only to be told which line I need to go through once inside.

Argue with the “doorman/bouncer” to allow Juan to escort me and be my translator. His answer, no! Juan explains I don’t have a bank account to pay my fees and that he needs to pay on my behalf.

Doorman tells Juan he cannot pay for my fees and I that need a voucher that can only be paid for at a bank. Juan heads to the bank to purchase said voucher.

I go inside and try and find the line that I’m supposed to be in. It’s beyond confusing because there are 3 separate lines that occupy almost all available floor space. My line is making a perimeter around 100 sitting people.  The line is almost a complete rectangle, reaching back to the entrance.

Chaos

Chaos

I don’t want to generalize about all Latinos, but my experience with Venezuelans is that they’re a very loud bunch. The cacophony of raised voices was deafening.

I ask (yell at) the woman in front of me if the seated people are the people ahead of us. Yes, was her response.  I let out a low sigh and mumble dios mio (my god) knowing the day was going to be a long one.

Juan apparently demands to be let through the door (to give me my voucher) and finds me in the immobile queue. Once we start moving we discover that my line is actually two, one for foreigners and the other for Venezuelans. Another hour later, I have my ticket.

My paperwork is whisked away (being checked for something) and returned. I get to keep my ticket. I only had to wait for 35 more people to take their turns before mine.  I was slightly hopeful that time would pass quickly, but my hopes weren’t high.

The queue moves slowly rotating between foreigners and Venezuelans. By 11:30 we noticed that the foreigner’s numbers are no longer being called. So for an hour we waited while a skeleton staff dealt with the Venezuelans. Don’t misunderstand me, there was staff milling about, texting on their phones, talking to each other in small groups, but not working. For some unknown reason, I wasn’t the least bit fazed.  I totally expected this. Ha!  Maybe my mantra worked.

Juan took the opportunity to go out and find a snack.  Work “resumes” and I have about 15 numbers ahead of me. At 1:45 my number is called and I go to the assigned booth.  I sit down and say good afternoon and the guy looks at me like I have 3 heads.  I think he was offended.  Whatever, I maintained my smile. The guy spoke so fast that I understood about 3 words. Thankfully Juan translated.  That done, I get shuffled to another line.

This department was called Supervision. I laughed out loud. Juan says it’s a make shift job.  She essentially printed out a slip telling me the date I was to pick up my ID.  The last guy could have done this. Anyway, the date?  The following day!  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought, wow, it’s all worth the wait if I can have it tomorrow. We leave a little after 2pm.  Not bad, almost 6 hours.

Yes!!!

Yes!!!

The following morning we decided to drive downtown. We know that picking up my ID should take less than an hour.  Traffic?  Beyond horrible.  We have no idea what happened, but whatever it was affected the entire city.  Gridlock like you wouldn’t believe. Sigh. We got close enough that I could walk to the building while Juan  searched for parking. We met, I pushed my way past the “bouncer” (I knew from the previous day that I could get away with it if I asserted myself), entered a new lineup, and waited. While waiting all I could think about was, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.  Not 10 minutes later I leave empty-handed.  No ID.

disappointment

Sigh

The bottom line is that I have to return in 20 days.  I guess the woman at the “Supervision” desk had it all wrong.  Not surprising.  We chalked it up to another day of trying to get stuff done in this city of madness.

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The Heroic March

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage                         ~ Anais Nin

This quote is dear to me. There have been times when I’ve said it over and over in my head to push myself in making decisions. It’s kind of like a mantra, if you will.  And it really makes sense if you think about it.  If you have little or no courage your life will shrivel like fruit left to dry in the sun, but if you have some courage your life will expand in all directions. Living life to the fullest is kind of the point, isn’t it?

Last week was one of those weeks where I reflected heavily on courage. You see there is a presidential election coming this Sunday and last week the leader of the opposition was in Caracas to speak to the people.  Now some of you are thinking, so what?  That happens all of the time, all over the world. First let me preface by saying that I’m not a fan of politics, but unfortunately living here means I cannot escape it.  It permeates everything.  It’s like air; you simply cannot avoid breathing it in.

The man with the vision, Capriles.

The man with the vision, Capriles.

This particular election is important because for the first time in almost 15 years there is the possibility of a man becoming president, a man who has the foresight to see the huge potential of Venezuela, a man who wants to end the farce that is known as Chavez’s Social Revolution, a man who really, in all honesty, wants to end poverty and suffering of his people. Capriles is intelligent. He doesn’t want a communist country. He doesn’t want to give gifts in the form of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil daily to countries such as Cuba. He wants Venezuela to produce its own food, he wants a safer country and he wants to do it all democratically, not by force, not by cheating, not by dividing Venezuelans down the middle, not by inducing fear, not by paying people to support him, not by murder or by kidnapping and, most importantly, not by denying millions of people their basic human rights.

On our way to hear Capriles speak.

On our way to hear Capriles speak.

Anyway, I digress. Let me get back  on track. There was a march called The Heroic March in support of Capriles and Juan really wanted me to go with him, but the problem is/was I have a fear of large crowds.  I get panicky about not finding an escape route, or being trampled on. Another legitimate  concern I had was the possibility of violence.  There are A LOT of guns in this city, so many that there are signs in almost every public space prohibiting them. There are also millions of people (Chavistas = Chavez supporters. It’s kind of a misnomer now that Chavez is dead, but the name has stuck) who don’t approve of the opposition and some who have absolutely no fear about committing violent acts, not just at election time, but pretty much all of the time.  Ah Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this particular post, you’ll have to understand why I kind of failed to mention this part. Just know that we really do live in a safe part of the city and we’ll be moving soon. Caracas is one of the most violent cities in the world, making it the most violent in South America. In 2011 there was on average 53 murders per day, although I think this figure is low considering that many murders aren’t reported.  So yea, I was scared.

An all too common sign here in Caracas.

An all too common sign here in Caracas.

The thing is this march, this election, and Capriles are history in the making! I’m living in a historic time.  A time where both sides (some Chavistas and non-Chavistas alike)  want change, want to live in a safe country, want food (food/product shortages of the basics such as flour, chicken, oil and toilet paper), want electricity (lots of power failures), want solid infrastructure, want and end to corruption.  This march essentially would bring all of these people and ideas together for the common good of everyone. Did I really want to miss out on that?  Did I want to miss out on the incredible energy and the immense amount of hope?  No! So what did we do?  We compromised.  I’d go to the march and walk among the crowd and if I felt worried, claustrophobic or down right scared, we’d stop.

In a poorer part of the march we saw the juxtaposition of support.

In a poorer part of the march we saw the juxtaposition of support.

Of the 12 km we walked, I felt scared only twice.  Once when we were walking down a narrow street and there were some Chavistas protesting on top of a building.  My vivid imagination got the better of me (I was thinking of snipers) and we moved from the center of the crowd  towards the wall. And the second was when the line of people entered into a tunnel. We rerouted ourselves up a hill and across a street.

The tunnel we chose not to go through.

The tunnel we chose not to go through.

This march was energizing.  People were singing, laughing, and dancing. There wasn’t any violence and the times when the crowds encountered Chavistas, there were innocent displays of beckoning for them to join our side.

Chavistas showing their support for Maduro.

Chavistas showing their support for Maduro.

So what really came from the march? Approximately, 800 000 people joined together to make one of the largest political statements in Venezuelan history, violence free.  What did I learn?  I learned that a lot of people’s lives expanded that day because they had courage to fight for their cause.  This isn’t even my country, let alone countrymen, and I can’t tell you or even describe the amount of pride I have, especially in a country where the election process is so rigged, where fraud is rampant, and fear is sky high.  They have courage to believe in a man they know can make a positive difference to all Venezuelans despite the odds stacked up against him.  If I hadn’t gone, I would never had the chance to participate in something so large!  Have a look at the aerial view of the march.

It was 34 degrees that day.  We went through a few bottles of water.

It was 34 degrees that day. We went through a few bottles of water.

As I write this I’m getting news snippets from Juan: another murder, a kidnapping, the government has closed the Colombian boarders so thousands of Venezuelans can’t return to their country to vote…..and on and on it goes.  Nobody really knows what will happen this Sunday. I just hope that all Venezuelans will have to courage to face and deal with the result, for good or bad.

If you’d like further reading on the situation here in Venezuela, check out these blogs. Daniel Duquenal tells it like it is and Caracas Chronicles is really well versed on the subject of all things Caracas.