Too many little bills

En menos de dos meses el precio de la moneda estadounidense subió 104% frente al bolívar en el mercado negro, pues el pasado 13 de mayo el dólar cruzó la barrera de los 300 bolívares.

I was outraged when I saw how easy it is to register to vote here, vis-à-vis how it is abroad. If you live in another country, the list of papers that you have to hand in is so long, the time frames are so short, and the places where you can register are frequently so far away, that in a lot of cases you just can’t vote. But here, I just had to go to the closest subway station, make a  two hour  line, show my ID , and voilà ! I was done! I just couldn’t believe it!  So, if you are a Venezuelan expat, don’t feel guilty because you can’t vote!  (I’m saying it because I did feel guilty, but not anymore!).

Maybe what I’m going to say won’t be nice for everybody to hear, but I’ll say it anyway. I recently read a banner that said “Venezuela is the best country”. I immediately thought, no wonder so many Venezuelans are seen in Panama as smug people who look down on Panamanians. Because Venezuela, of course, is not the best country. The best country is a fantasy, it doesn’t exist, just as it doesn’t exist the “best person”.

I must say too, that Venezuela is not the only nation that thinks that it’s “the best”, a lot of others do, but what happens with that? Every expat knows it:  if you are in such a country, some people look down on you. So, now that we come from a country that is not “the best” , are people looking down on us? Unfortunately, although not everybody, I’ve noticed that some people do, as if Panama was a lesser country.

The dollar in the black market was – more or less – 600 bolivars yesterday (to know more, click on the image), so,  1000 Bs.  (The maximum amount of money that you can withdraw from an ATM machine at once),  is a little less than 2 US$  (I’m talking about my bank, but it’s similar with the other banks). Nevertheless,  you can repeat the procedure several times (only if you are in an ATM machine from your bank, otherwise the limit, is 1200 Bs.) until you get to the maximum allowed per day, which is 16000 Bs. This might seem non sense, but this is the reason: the pack of bills for 1000 Bs. is the thickest pack the machine can handle, so even if the dear ATM wanted to give you more than that at once, it just can’t because it wasn’t built for that.  But the people who programmed the machines don’t think you need any explanation, so what you read in the screen (if you want to withdraw 5000 Bs. or any amount bigger than 1000 Bs.) is “Sorry, we can’t deliver cash at this time”. So you’re all, “crap, this one doesn’t have cash either” (there is, along with everything else, a shortage of cash, so it’s not such a dumb assumption) until someone clarifies the misunderstanding telling you, “oh no, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have cash, it’s just that you requested for too much (too much?!) money; just ask for the maximum that the screen tells you”.

So that’s how I learned everything that I just explained, and that’s how I ended up only with 1000 Bs. in my pocket, because my patience had been worn out, and I just couldn’t  repeat the process four times more.

Til’ the next post…



A new meaning for simple pleasures


“In the west, the daisy is a symbol of simplicity”.

It’s funny how I once  thought that “the West” meant actually the whole West, all the countries in the Americas, Europe and Africa. Sometime in the past, probably at the university, I realized that “the West” is just USA, Canada, Europe, and sometimes, Australia and New Zealand.The East would be Asia and the islands of the Pacific (sometimes known as Oceania) and the South would be the rest: Latin America and Africa. I also realized a long time ago, that in most political or economic articles from the West, the South doesn’t exist, it’s just West and East, and the rest is an addendum.

Anyway (F.Y.I. I’m writing from a city from that addendum, a city called Caracas) it’s a good thing that I changed my life style to a more simple one some time ago, given my present situation. It’s very convenient that I stopped freaking out if my house didn’t look as the picture that I had in my head, and that I stopped obsessing about having a perfectly designed solution for every need in my life. It’s a good thing, too, that we don’t have as many stuff as we used to have, because we’re comfortable now in our small apartment. So in many ways, living in this city fits my life style.

But in many others it doesn’t. This new mind set of having to buy anything basic that you see at any given moment, is driving me crazy. What am I talking about? Well, in Venezuela there’s a shortage of almost every basic item that you can imagine. What’s a basic item? Something that can make your life hard if you don’t have it. For example: soap, detergent, shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper; milk, chicken, fish (in my case, since my kids don’t like meat), eggs, salt, oil, sugar, butter, flour, etc. So what everybody does is that if you find one of these products with the regulated prices of the government, you buy it. It doesn’t matter that you already have lots of the stuff at home. Sometimes you share it with friends and family.

For example, my brother-in-law, looking at my impressed face when I saw that he was bringing yet another 3 kl pack of detergent, felt the need to explain himself: “Now we can find it, but then, Caracas could be months without detergent ; and what do you do if you can’t wash your clothes?” He also bought a shampoo for my sister-in-law, since she was running out of it, and more tooth paste for us.  I’ve been here for almost two weeks and I already feel like we’re preparing for a war. I told my mom, regarding all the milk that we’ve stocked at home: “But what do I do with so much milk? Please, give some to Jane Doe”, “No, no ” she said, “keep it, you have kids and we don’t know what’s coming”.

Anyway, so far, in these 13 days that we’ve been living here, we’ve had everything. Well, not everything, I had to drink my coffee without cinnamon for 11 days!  But I finally found it two days ago! Yeah!  So, in spite of having to hoard a lot of stuff in my house ( which is not minimalistic at all), I get very happy by the simple pleasures of life, like drinking coffee with cinnamon!  Not that bad for someone that wants a simple, minimalist, life style.

Til’ the next post.


Little things that are important

white rose

It’s priceless to see my two kids informing proudly to their grandparents that there’s a new white flower. Somehow, the fact that they are witnessing it, makes the whole event theirs, not my mom’s (even though she’s the one who planted it and took care of it). Looking at the happiness in my mom’s face because finally someone could appreciate at length the importance of her plants and flowers, is priceless, too.

Same thing looking at the thrill in my brother-in-law’s eyes when S,  my five-year-old kid, was demanding gnocchi. A second later he was calling his mom to tell her about the emergency, and S got his craving handled, but first, he got a lesson on how to make gnocchi in his grandparents’ kitchen (priceless, too). Needless to say, they were also relieved that someone finally could understand the importance of gnocchi, and pasta in general.

Now, let’s talk about something I’m happy about, maybe not so poetic as flowers or pasta, but something important to me anyway. Today, July 3rd, is International Bag Free Day and the county where I live in Caracas (Alcaldía de Chacao) decided to join efforts with Tierra Viva (an ecological NGO) to promote it. So I’m thrilled to know that some else realizes the importance of some thing that I really care about!

Til’ the next post.



Mosquito shock

You’d think that moving from Panama City  to Caracas is not such a big change. Well, in part that’s true. But then, every tiny thing that is actually different, startles you.

For example, there’s the bug situation. In Panama there are millions of them, but they were usually outside of our 23rd- floor apartment. In Venezuela, well, let  me quote S, my five-year-old son: “This is like a jungle: there are ants, mosquitoes, flies and bees!” The issue here is that they aren’t just an annoyance, they actually interfere with my sleep, not because they wake me up, but because they sting my kids, who are allergic, and then, they wake me up for every itch (all this wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the fact that it could happen randomly at any time, like at 3 am). But we’re solving the situation, we repaired the mosquito protection for the windows, turned on the fan and the air conditioning, and the kids are using mosquito repellent. Did I tell you that the mosquitoes stung him on an eyelid, so he spent the next morning with a half- open eye? Not funny.

Other comments from S about Caracas have been: “I don’t like this city. The buildings are dirty, I like the clean buildings of Panama”. That’s not completely true, since there’s a lot of dirty buildings in Panama too. The difference is that over there, there’s another lot of pretty, brand new buildings, that we don’t find over here. But the next day, when we were driving in the Cota Mil (the highway that is the limit between the Avila mountain and Caracas), he yelled, “Wow, this country is so big!” So I presume the city might be a little bit more interesting for him now.

Until the next post!

Living over a crevasse

A Climber Steps over a Crevasse in Root Glacier Lámina fotográfica

Can you get used to have your heart broken? That’s what I would like to say when people assume that, since I’ve moved so much, it’s easy for me to move from one country to another. When I live in a place, I have a love relationship with that place. Having lived in six different countries is like having had six different partners that I loved, with whom I had experiences together and had lots of dreams together. When that relationship is broken, that is, when I move, there’s always a period of mourning and adaptation to my new reality. I wish there was a name for that period, when you don’t feel you actually live anywhere, when you are suspended between two worlds, with nothing beneath you. I wish I could say that I live there, in that emptiness.

Every time I move it feels a little bit like dying, because the life that I used to have is over. A little friend of my daughter, five years old at the time, expressed her  sadness in her own words (she had just moved from France to Chile): “Mom, where is my life in Paris?”  Well, it’s nowhere, it doesn’t exist anymore. What do you call something that has ceased to exist? Even when we try to hide it, moving from one city to another, or moving from one country to another, there always comes a time of mourning. I’ve healed many times in the past, so I know I will heal this time too. But it’s a process that I cannot speed up (believe me, I’ve tried, and I’ve failed miserably). So, can you get used to have your heart broken? No. You just know, that “this, too, will pass” and that one day (probably in a year or so) you’ll wake up and realize, amazed, that you’d made the crossover without realizing it.

That emptiness is actually filled with flammable gases: sounds, sights or smells that don’t have any meaning for other people, can cause an explosion inside me. The other day, watching a soccer game of Copa América, tears came out of my eyes, not because of the Venezuelan team, but because of the sight of the Andes mountains covered in snow; that mariachi song that suddenly played when I turned on my parents’ car; or the Facebook message of my friend and neighbor in Panama City; or the many places that I’ve visited here in Caracas, that make me nostalgic, but at the same time inadequate (I mean, old) that  are telling me that I should be  a fifteen, or a twenty-year-old  to belong to them.

Living over a crevasse is not comfortable (you’d think!) so the first instinct is to try to cross over as fast as you can. On top of it, a lot of the people that are already on the other side (or that have never left that other side) don’t  get what´s the matter with you, why don’t you jump once and for all. This is why: because if you don’t do it right, you might fall. So please, if you are around our family, or any other family that has just moved from another city or country, be patient. It takes time. And … go watch that awesome Pixar movie, Inside Out to get a glimpse of what goes on inside our heads.

Until the next post…



First days in Caracas

I left Venezuela 12 years ago, and have lived in five other countries ever since: USA, Italy, Mexico, Chile and Panama. A week ago I returned to square one: Caracas.

I want you to like me, so I’m going to be excessively kind with my new city (yes, “new”). Why? Because usually we identify with the place where we live. If I’m Caraqueño (from Caracas), then Caracas must be something good. Otherwise, I’m not good either. Sounds crazy? Yes! That’s the spirit: that  you begin feeling amazed but dizzy at the same time. That you forget about reason and give space to feeling. If I’m making too much sense, if I’m being too rational, please, stop me right there! Because then I would have gone far away from my objective: putting my  brain (and yours) to rest in the night table. In other words: please don’t leave comments asking “why?”, or “what do you think about … ? “, unless you want a crazy, non-sense answer.

So let’s start with one thing: I LOVE mountains. When I was a teenager I imagined that the great Avila Mountain that lies beside Caracas was my  boyfriend: if I was sad, he’d share my sadness, if I was happy, he’d made me happier. I know I love mountains in general, but he was my first love, the unforgettable one. So for now, I’m just so happy to see him again, even from the distance.

Second: I love Caracas’s weather. It only gets cold enough during the day to make you wish it was a little bit hotter, and then happens vice versa. Great.

Third: This is a new city  for me. It’s new because I’m lost regarding currency, most of the laws, and the whole Bolivarian thing. The country that I left, for example, had seven stars in its flag, but this one has eight. In the country that I left, my mom wouldn’t have told me “I don’t think you’ll get that, they say there’s a shortage of plastic”, when I innocently said that I would need another gallon of potable water a week for my family (it turned out that it is possible to get one, it’s just that it’s ridiculously expensive).

So, since Caracas is a new city for me, I’ve had my share of cultural shocks, like the currency issue, for example. I just realized what extreme devaluation actually means: that paper money (coins are generally despised) is close to useless. Last year, when I came to visit my family, since you can’t use foreign credit cards (actually, I’m not sure if it’s that you can’t use them, or that it is so absurd to use them, because you might end up paying 100 times the real value of an item) I used bills. But now the bolivar is so undervalued, that it’s almost impossible to pay with bills a lot  of things  (you would end up carrying a backpack full of money every time you go out). Because of this, and so many other things, I am grateful for my family and friends that have helped us get settle here, since without them it would have been nearly  impossible.

This is it for today. I’ll blog as soon as possible.

Hoping that you have a beautiful day,



Aunque muchas cosas cambian, otras no


Punky Brewster :)

“¡Espera!”, le dije a mi “persona normal”. Mi persona normal soy yo, de entre ocho y doce años (hacía unos días S , mi hijo de cinco años, me había dicho que “las personas normales” eran chiquitas e iban al colegio; eran niños, pues). “Quería decirte que te quiero mucho; y que aunque muchas cosas no van a salir como esperabas, lo bueno es que algunas de esas cosas terminan siendo mucho mejor de lo que te imaginabas. También quería decirte que he decidido que voy a cambiar mi color preferido. A partir de hoy, en vez de verde, será blanco (así es, ya hace mucho rato que el color morado no es tu color preferido). Es que, ¿Sabes? Aunque muchas cosas cambian, otras no”.