Hopes for Peace in Venezuela
When I told my Mum I was going to live and teach in Venezuela for a year she was, unsurprisingly, worried sick. Even back in 2004 it had a reputation for being unstable, demonstrations and violence could flare up at any time. But I fell in love with the beauty, the people, the parties and the beaches and to see the turmoil that Venezuelans are suffering now tears my heart out.
I was working at the Universidad Pedagogico, a government-funded teacher training college in downtown Caracas. I was surprised to learn that classes started at 7am or 1pm to allow the students to work full time hours around their course. It wasn't unusual for them to make a 2-3 hour journey into school and many of them left their homes at 4am returning after 10pm.
The classes were crowded and I had 30 students in each. I was supposed to be a language assistant and was part of the British Council programme, but I soon found that I was expected to teach classes alone. I wouldn’t say that I was the best teacher in the world, in fact at this stage in my career I was terrible, but my students were warm and welcoming. My lessons were hurried and sloppy at best but my trainees were forgiving and never complained. They were happy to have a native teacher and often invited me to climb Avila, the beautiful mountain dividing Caracas from the Caribbean sea, with them.
Caracas doesn't have much to hold the interest of a tourist for anything longer than a couple of weeks. There’s Avila and the cable car, Parque del Este an urban park with a menagerie of wild animals and gentle sloths hanging in the trees and there’s the hectic nightlife. What I found to be the best thing about Caracas was the people. Whenever I went out people wanted to meet me, I felt like Paris Hilton. Every weekend I was invited to the best parties, hanging out with models, actors and artists. We would drive from party to party and the drinks and music never stopped.
Tomorrow never comes
I learnt very early on that Venezuelans have little concept of tomorrow. It's common for many latinos to say Manana, Manana, when they want to delay something but Venezuelans live for today. This is obviously because you never know what tomorrow will bring and in a country like Venezuela this is especially true.
It doesn't rain often in Caracas, but when it does it pours and with the torrents of water many people lose their homes. The precariously perched houses in the ‘barrios’ or shanty towns, which loom over Caracas and other urban areas are often swept down the steep slopes they’re built on.
The exchange controls on American dollars meant that it was increasingly difficult to leave the country, even for my wealthy friends. And the violence was high even then. Many people I knew had been violently mugged and had friends who had been killed in the streets. ‘Secuestro Express’ or express kidnappings were also common, this is where people are taken for short times and either held to ransom with calls made to the family, or simply driven around from ATM to ATM until their bank account is empty.
Nowadays Venezuela remains a violent country. There are shortages of basic food essentials such as sugar and flour and it’s almost impossible to find toilet paper in the shops. The people of Venezuela have had enough and this is why they're now protesting. The protests have led to more violence with firearms and tear gas being used. Sixteen protesters have been killed, many of them students and officials have been arrested in connection with some cases.
It’s clear that now is not a good time to return to my favourite country in the world, but I hope that one day soon there will be peace in Venezuela, for all of the wonderful people I met there who taught me to live in the moment.
I dream of being able to return to the tropical Caribbean beaches with unspoilt views and dancing all night. But right now, for the moment, my mum can relax, I’m not going back. Though, I have seen some good deals for Columbia recently.