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Indonesia vs. Venezuela

Indonesia vs. Venezuela

While at my freshly minted new job, I found myself getting dizzy. Closing my eyes briefly, I took a deep breath to steady myself.

My life has changed dramatically within the last two months, and the change was physically getting to me.

Exactly two months and two days ago, I left Valencia, Venezuela–where I’d been living for the past twenty four months–only to (im)migrate to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Though I did not state it on the blog at the time, the violent political protests during my first year abroad solidified my decision that I would not be staying in Venezuela long term.

Thus, I started the job search last summer and right before Thanksgiving, 2014 I landed one…a 20.5 hour plane ride and 12 hour time zone difference away from my hometown of Houston, Texas.

While Venezuela had extreme scarcity (re: I had to bring my soap, shampoo and feminine hygiene products from the US because there were severe, painful shortages in Venezuela), Indonesia has bounty. Where Venezuela had insecurity, Indonesia has safety.

But I miss the people in Venezuela. I always will. As a way to honor my old stomping grounds and my new one, I decided to create my first infographic.

Enjoy!

Stranded in Caracas, Part IV

I’ve been posting about how I was stranded in Caracas because of an overlooked error when purchasing my international ticket. 

After dealing with uniformed airport employees demanding that I give them dollars and asking how much I had in my purse, I was tense and exhausted when I got to the hotel my school reserved for me.

Usually, I love hotel rooms. I take pictures of them and just get all excited.

I was so tense though I couldn’t even enjoy the (free!) experience, plasma TV and king-sized bed be damned.

But that’s where people can be beautiful to you when you least expect it.

While I wanted to stay within the four walls of my hotel, I ventured downstairs to the hotel restaurant.

I ended up running into a co-worker who picked up the bill when the school’s reservation that was supposed to include meals for me was denied for being room only. I’m often uncomfortable with accepting gifts, yet he insisted that he pay so that I could hold onto the little bit of cash I had left. After all, who knew for how long I would be stranded?

He then reached into his pocket and handed me the last of his American dollars.

“Just in case,” he said. What was left unsaid was in case you need to bribe someone with dollars.

I folded my Plan B into my wallet and thanked him for allowing me to ruin his quiet, solo dinner with my negative energy. When back in my room, I tweeted complaints to the airport that immediately got a response.

Paranoia quickly set in, and I deleted the tweets. What if they track me down and don’t let me leave the country for tweeting about illegal activity?

While I tried to think of what CIA skills I possessed that would get me out of Venezuela, a good friend and Spanish tutor called the room. She had been calling me more or less every hour to make sure that I was safe. For all intensive purposes, she was my mother while living in Venezuela. The sound of her sonorous tones immediately put me at ease.

Quite frankly, I felt loved where hours before I felt ensnared. My parents, who I connected to via Skype to tell them I wasn’t coming home as planned, were grateful for her check-in calls too.

The next morning arepitas dulces awaited me at the hotel breakfast. One of my favorite Venezuelan foods, I took their presence as a sign that I would make it home this time around.

I arrived early at the airport and all of the airline workers remembered me from the day before. One damn near cheered when she saw me, and I couldn’t help but smile with all 32 of my teeth showing. A co-worker and friend who’s fluent in Spanish arrived who just so happened to be on the same flight as me.

And with that, the rest of my anxiety dissipated. We chatted all the way to Miami.

When I finally arrived in my beloved hometown, my mother greeted me with open arms.

I was thankful, so thankful, to be back home.

As I unpacked my bags just to repack them for a professional trip to New York City, I managed to squeeze in time to write a complaint letter (in Spanish!) to the airport and a similar letter to my former employer.

I didn’t want to leave Venezuela on a negative note, but as I thought about the people who rallied around me in the final moments I realized I hadn’t left that way.

Venezuela led me to beautiful people, and I miss it already. As I get ready for a new stage in my professional career I’ll always pray for Venezuela because though the country may be deteriorating, the quality of the people continues to only increase.

Venezuela, thank you for one of the happiest stages in my adult life. May the world be as good to you as you were to me.

Stranded in Caracas, Part III

So there I was doing exactly what I told myself not to do: cry in the Caracas airport. I was stranded and frustrated. The uniformed employee who I wept in front of was annoyed, not sympathetic.

“Why are you crying?” he asked gruffly.

I summarized my ordeal while stating again that I just wanted to find the correct hotel shuttle. After giving me directions, the man walked on.

I had taken no more than five steps when yet another airport employee stopped me under the pretext of giving help. Instead of giving me directions, he tried to persuade me to buy dollars, which is more or less illegal to do in Venezuela. The man even switched to fluent English for me.

After he realized I wasn’t interested, I got my needed directions.

But, of course, someone downstairs was waiting to ask me to buy dollars yet again.

I mean, was it just me or should one avoid conducting illegal activity while at one’s official, legal job?

When he could see I wasn’t interested, he told me that the silver haired porter standing beside us would take care of me until my shuttle arrived. I relaxed a little thinking about the first viejito at the airport, a sweet old man who carted my luggage without issue.

This man, however, was unscrupulous to put it mildly.

First, he tried to convince me that I needed to call the hotel for them to come and get me just so that he could push my luggage and then get the tip. When I refused because I knew the shuttle only came twice an hour, he insisted.

When the shuttle finally arrived, Unscrupulous Viejito took my luggage all of two steps (without me asking for his help, mind you) before the hotel worker heaved it onto the shuttle. As I bent down to pick up my backpack, Unscrupulous Viejito bent down beside me and demanded that I give him dollars.

Straightening with an anger I could feel pulse down my spine I told him I did not have dollars. Viejito flippantly responded, “Give me bolivares then.”

It was one of those moments where I wished I wasn’t raised in the South. For the life of me, I cannot even so much as raise my voice to an older person, especially if they’re old enough to be my parent. While this man deserved to get cursed out like only a teenage New Yorker can do, I simply dug in my purse, handed him some bolivares and boarded the shuttle.

As the shuttle trundled up the highway, my school called yet again.

“Oh, thank God,” the secretary sighed when I told her I had finally found the correct, secure transportation service. I was relieved too.

Now, I just had to spend the night in Caracas before attempting to fly stand-by on an international flight the next morning. I had to fly stand-by in a country where flights are scarce because the government stopped paying international carriers.

About that…

Stranded in Caracas, Part II

As I discussed in my first post about being stranded in Caracas, I honestly did not know how I was going to get from the airport to the hotel. This is a simple feat in most places. Get in a cab and go. It’s a more complicated venture when in one of the world’s most insecure cities and when it’s widely known that people get express kidnapped while in taxis.

The second porter who carted my luggage to the airport taxi stand was a sweet old man. He alleviated some of my anxiety. That is, until a man not dressed in a uniform claimed that he would be able to put me in a taxi. I asked this man decked out in a gray shirt and blue jeans flat out if he worked for the airport like the rest who did and, say, the uniformed man who had a walkie-talkie did. Gray shirt man assured me that he did indeed work for the airport.

While we “waited” for a taxi, my school kept calling me concerned that I was getting in a taxi and not the hotel shuttle that was nowhere in sight. In rapid English that left gray shirt man agitated, I stated that I was not happy about this situation, something seemed off to me, and I didn’t even trust the man standing in front of me claiming he knew how to get me in a taxi.

As I spoke on the phone, another fake cabbie was arguing with a female companion while simultaneously trying to convince people to get in his car; a woman in leggings was getting her luggage pushed by a man who she was questioning just like I questioned mine.

When gray man asked me what hotel I was staying at, I lied and gave him the name of the hotel that he unwittingly had said to me earlier in our conversation. Convinced that I was in the wrong part of the airport to catch the airport shuttle, he carted my luggage off to a different area of the Caracas airport that I was also familiar with.

Of course, there was a uniformed hotel worker for the exact hotel that I was lying and saying I had a reservation with in that very section of the airport.

At this moment of potentially being caught in a lie, my common sense finally kicked in.

Gray shirt man was the only person I had encountered claiming to work for the airport who was not in uniform. Even the man from the hotel was wearing a uniform.

Fake New Yorker me set in and I told the man thanks for his time, but leave me alone. I wasn’t leaving that very spot, I wasn’t giving my name to the now confused hotel worker who eventually shrugged me off and left, and I wasn’t getting in a taxi.

Put differently, leave me the hell alone.

Gray man hesitated before commanding, not asking, that I give him a tip.

In the closest I’ve ever been to arguing in Spanish, I firmly stated that the man lied about working for the airport when I asked him if he did so now why was he asking me for a tip? He hedged and said “I do,” meaning I do run up to unsuspecting people and put them in God’s no what kind of taxi, then demand a tip. That’s my way of getting money even though I’m not on the airport’s actual payroll.

Eventually, he left tipless and I stayed with the shakes.

When another uniformed employee approached me (and I confirmed that he worked for the actual airport) my tough demeanor began to crack.

Tears slid down my face, and I still wanted to leave Caracas.

A future post will be coming to discuss what happened next!

Stranded in Caracas, Part I

Back in May, an e-mail arrived in my inbox that began “The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has received reports indicating that at least seven people have been victims of “express kidnappings” in and around the municipality of El Hatillo in Caracas since Friday, May 22nd, 2015.”

This is not something that I will be telling Mom and Dad about until I’m back in the States, I thought as I continued reading.

The e-mail included sections such as “if a rescue attempt is made” and “ransom” (read: the US government ain’t paying shit for you…period).

Caracas, quite frankly, is known for kidnappings. Horror stories have swirled since I arrived in Venezuela about people being snatched right from the international airport…

where I now found myself stranded.

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Leaving Venezuela

My last days and hours in Venezuela were crowded with laughter, tears, and, unfortunately, fear.

I was ready to go. There’s no way around that. School ended on a Friday, and my flight home to the United States   was for Sunday.

But in those harried days of packing and goodbye parties, I wondered if I would be this happy again in the future. Venezuela was not perfect by any means. The high inflation, insecurity, extreme shortages, and the like caused me to appreciate the United States in a way that I’ve never had before.

Case in point: I go to the grocery store about every other day now and am still in awe (and a tidbit overwhelmed) at the selection. There are 10 different soda varieties on sale? 4 six-packs for $12? At least six different Greek yogurt options? I can find whole wheat products again?

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Los Roques, Venezuela: A Goodbye

My trip to the famed Los Roques, a chain of islands off Venezuela’s coast, was my way of saying goodbye to the country.

I had a three day weekend,  a need for the beach, and a beloved co-worker to go with me.

The trip was not without its drama. I had to go to the travel agency at least seven times just to book the trip, and then a gate agent rudely changed my return flight without my prior approval. Though I complained repeatedly to the tourist company, Turismundo, and the airline, ChapiAir, nothing came of it.

Bluntly put, Venezuela does not have a good tourism infrastructure.

But there was the white sand beach that felt like thrice-sifted flour beneath my feet, snorkeling with octopus sightings (and the requisite swallowing of salt water), tequenosand an introduction to arepitas dulces.

There was the bittersweet taste in my mouth reminding me that this was it; I had lived out my dream of living in a Spanish-speaking country.

And there were long conversations with my travel companion and leisure reading.

To paraphrase Isabel Allende, it was a sepia-colored trip. I wasn’t ecstatic because I knew this was the end, but I was quietly happy because this, this had been Venezuela.

This had been my life for two years.