Tales of a Venezuelan Expat: Dispatch #1 (Don’t cry for me, Argentina)
I’m lost in space. Lost. As it turns out the poets were right, you can’t go back home again. The Venezuela that raised me doesn’t exist anymore, that much everybody knows, but the situation got so unendurable that I’m finally aware of my limits. As it turns out I’m not an indestructible machine but a leaf floating in the wind, directionless and at the mercy of the gods.
I haven’t admitted to myself that I left my country for good. If you ask me, I’m on vacations, looking for business opportunities and establishing contact with likeminded people. Everyone I’ve met told me not to go back, to at least get some kind of legal documentation from another country, to spread my wings. They all want to talk about the crisis, most of them ask me for possible solutions I don’t have and look at me with understated pity. And I understand.
On one hand the stories you see on the media are way off and exaggerate some aspects of the whole. On the other, the situation is much more desperate and hopeless than reported. I equate it with watching a loved one go through a slow death, losing all of its faculties one by one, becoming a shadow of its former self. It’s incredibly sad and frustrating, what can you really do? If people from other nations knew just how deep an economy could sink…
As Kramer once said, “I’m out there, Jerry, and I’m loving every minute of it!” I’ve been thinking about leaving for a long time and here I am, loose in the world, out in the wild. I had to pull the trigger without a plan though. I’d been searching for prices and alternative ways to leave Venezuela, fantasized on doing it by bus, briefly considered a bicycle, I was just looking around aimlessly and a promotion for an airplane ticket to the exact place I wanted to go for almost half the price came up. I packed my bags and off to Córdoba, Argentina I went. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I don’t feel comfortable discussing politics or economics, but I’ll say that every article I read about Venezuela’s situation, from both sides of the conflict, feels shallow and agenda driven. I wouldn’t even consider the opinion of an outsider that gets its information from the media, I’m talking about high level journalists that live inside the country. All of their analysis seems to be evading basic truths, facts, causes. They seem to ignore the macro, the big picture, and what a small but crucial dot in the grand chessboard Venezuela is.
There’s no way around it, I don’t have a safety net underneath anymore. I live on the tightrope now. There’s no room for error and every step counts. I have to stay on the right side of the law and don’t overstay my welcome in any country, I have to keep moving until my number comes up and I can present my case before a jury of my peers. Luckily, in this brave new world people can work on and through the Internet and not break any laws, but still, my situation is risky. Or it would be, if I had left Venezuela for good, which I haven’t.
The most pessimistic analysts fell short on their predictions, they imagined the future held an unmitigated disaster and we all got the fall of Atlantis. You’ve probably read about the merciless devaluation of the Bolívar, about the scarcity and the infinite lines of people begging to buy bread, about the four months of protests and the savage response they got. What you don’t know about are the brutalized faces, the denial, the resignation, the empty streets at eight o’clock, the desert it all became. Everyone left and now their parents are trying to sell their houses to follow them.
I seriously doubt they have a fate similar to Venezuela in store, but I arrived at an Argentina shaking with turmoil. The price of the Dollar raising by the minute, the public Universities on strike, protests in the streets every other day. Concern in the voices, stress on the faces, newspapers screaming bloody murder. And I feel like I’m in a resort. If people here knew just how awful the situation could get. If they knew how good they have it. If they knew how deep the sinkhole goes. I can’t express it in words, and when I try I sense nobody believes me, they think I’m exaggerating for dramatic purposes. It’s usually the other way around.
The other day I was in Buenos Aires, the city had me in a hurry and I got an Uber for the first time in my life. The driver was Venezuelan. He told me that he dreams of returning to the country every day. His mom is there. He was as puzzled as I was on a new law that came up that seems to prevent people abroad from sending money home, a law I still don’t understand and shouldn’t be discussing. Still, what could possibly be the reasoning behind something as nefarious as that? Dark entities lie in the shadows, creeping behind every corner.
We used to be very proud of our heritage but nowadays Venezuelans are the scorn of the earth. When our nation exported tourists with full wallets everybody received us with open arms, as migrants the scenario is a little different. And I understand. It’s too much, we’re too many, we’re everywhere. And we’ll do anything for half the price. We have nothing to lose and nowhere to go back to, so we have to make it happen.
I have to make it happen. Soon. I used to make fun of the social media pictures of recent migrants in supermarkets, so surprised by the variety of products offered in their destination that they felt compelled to immortalize the moment. I’m currently staying in a remote town in the mountains and my first visit to the local shop almost made me faint, I faked it and kept my cool but it was an experience. I’m near the edge of the world and there’s everything here, how can Venezuela be empty?
Before leaving, I kept the same job for several years. It’s hard to process that it allowed me to live by myself and eat out every other day, nowadays with that salary I couldn’t even take my girl out to dinner once. It effectively equates to two or three Dollars. If by some miracle I could afford the date, the food would probably be terrible. Money is so tight that the restaurant business is on the outs; and they have to make money somehow, so both quality and quantity have taken a hit. And if they used some imported product as an ingredient, forget it, that flavor is long gone.
One would think that those last few years in Venezuela would have taught me how to be poor, but I don’t have a clue. How do people do this? Work as a freelancer online is fleeting and the two clients I had put me on hold weeks before my escape. They both couldn’t afford to blog until their respective business picked up, what are the odds on that one? Also, they both used to pay me on Bitcoin and we all know how low that price is. I would love to work on a bar or as a waiter in a cheap restaurant, but the law doesn’t allow me to do it yet and I’m too old to break it.
I asked for my DNI appointment and they gave it to me for a year from now. Too many Venezuelans broke the system, a year ago the whole process took two or three months. I’m broke and my tourist status expires the first days of November, but I’m sure something will come up. My situation is not dire at all, I’m enjoying my holydays and nothing more. Don’t cry for me Argentina. And no, this article is not a cheap ploy to stir up sympathy and get some reader to offer me a job updating his or her company’s blog, how can you even suggest that? I still have my dignity.
The last time I set foot in Caracas it offered me a sad and creepy spectacle. It was a Saturday and a shopping mall I used to walk by frequently when I lived there was almost deserted, most of the shops were closed and only a few lost souls were there. The streets weren’t empty, but they weren’t exactly beaming with life, and the traffic was so light you might as well have been in a frontier town. And the faces, oh, the broken faces… As it turns out, Venezuela is an abandoned warehouse with barricaded doors and several leaks on the roof. There’s structural damage and the whole building could collapse any minute. And I can’t wait to get back in there.