The void that Chavez has left

A powerful man that I despised died today. His power has left a void. We all need to stare at that void for a while to understand how it was possible and to what extent, ONE  man was able to define the lives of almost 25 million people for 14 years. No matter what ideology, what agenda, what ‘social goodness’ is behind a desire to change things, when power is gained for so long, it always corrupts. And we, as citizens, are responsible for giving up that power. Let’s not let that happen again. It has cost us so much.

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Oh, my country! From the distance.

“To prevent frogs from jumping out of the pot, first put them in cold water and then warm up the water slowly until it boils.” 

The Tower of David – unfinished building invaded by organized squatters. Anderson writes about this in Slumlord. Photo by Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

This my mother told me. She was’t trying to teach me how to cook frogs, she was reflecting how people didn’t see where Venezuela was going under the Chavez regime.

Last night I read the eloquent and brave article Slumlord in the New Yorker by the amazing Jon Lee Anderson. I say brave because to tell this story from the inside-out, Anderson went (and spent time) into the slums and in the midst of an invaded, unfinished building run by criminals: equivalent to going into a war zone without wearing a bulletproof jacket. Also, his article also, bravely, crystallized what no news analysis could do and only story can––the complexity of the failed Revolucion socialista and the uncertainty over Chavez’ future.

In his article Anderson referred to the ‘glorious’ past of Caracas, his lines conjured in me nostalgic memories of my childhood and I thought to myself that perhaps that is the reason we middle class expats react so viciously to Chavez––he destroyed our image of progress, stability and prosperity.

I broke off to watch a video of Tambores (drums) to cheer myself up, but I was struck with how foreign it all seemed, like I was watching a video of a country I’ve never been to and was trying to understand their strange customs. Yet the scent of coastal towns came roaring into my mind, the sensations of heat and crowds. I could imagine the jokes (Venezuelans are all comedians) off camera. But it all seemed like a long trip I had taken a long time ago. Fourteen years in the United States while Chavez has been in power has given me the foreign eye. A distance from which I can comfortably read articles, get Facebook updates, have phone conversations and cry for the deterioration of it all. Even my visits to Venezuela have become increasingly uncomfortable, fearing for our safety, the scarcity of basic goods and the blondness of my daughter; and yearning o return ‘home.’

My husband said, after reading the article, “decay can happen so fast.” I thought to myself, estrangement can happen so fast.

How to recieve the New Year, Venezuelan style

My husband is out buying some new yellow panties for me and for his mother (highly traumatic event which I’ll pay in therapy years for him). Not that big of deal people, yellow panties bring you luck! And you can’t just go out an buy them someone must GIVE them to you. That’s right, in Venezuela we buy yellow panties for the women and get new ones every year. But that’s not the only tradition…

One must wear something new. it’s tradition that prosperity starts with a new outfit to wear, we dress up and receive the new year in style, even if we stay at home.

To bring in the cash, wear a dollar bill in your shoe and/or wet a dollar bill and put it on you forehead and drink champagne bottoms up!

Eat 12 grapes (right before midnight), making a wish for each (tip: you can make the same wish).

To travel, run out the door with empty suitcases and walk them around the block. The further you go, the further you’ll travel. I have done this every year and the one year I didn’t, there was no travel.

Hug your mother. I know Americans don’t tend to spend New year’s eve with their families, but in Venezuela it’s truly tradition to spend it with the fam, we even made a song “There’s 5 minutes to midnight and I gotta run home to hug my mom”. But we also go out a party with friends after.

And finally, watch the new year’s sunrise with someone you love.

Feliz Anio Pa’ to’os!!