Ugandan Slum, Venezuelan Eyes


KatangaI’m in Uganda just now, doing some nothing-to-do-with-Venezuela research. I suppose travelogues can be terribly tiresome, but who knows, maybe some of you are interested in reading what staying in a barrio in Kampala feels like to an east-side caraqueño.

My little stab at it is here. 

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  1. Great piece by Francisco . teaches us that Poverty is not everywhere the same , that culture or national ethos can make a big difference in how its experienced , in how its manifested . Its what Poverty does to peoples INSIDE that maybe counts for most. This is one read that will stay in my memory.

  2. I enjoyed this piece Francisco, but I could not stop thinking : who are you writing it for? English speaking-Caraqueños that can tell the diference between La Castelana y La Lagunita?

    Isn´t this too small of a set of readers?

          • It is a good article and such kind of things can be enjoyed by many readers, not just a few. I have never been to Caracas or Uganda but he describes precisely the differences between those two places and “teaches us that Poverty is not everywhere the same” Besides, it is free. Most of the information is free online and people tend to take this for granted. I don’t do it and I still think that we should remember every so often the fact that such a wide variety of information sources are available for all of us without paying for them

  3. The best I´ve ever read about a subject that is very difficult to understand and explain without first-hand experience and an open mind.

    I experienced the same in Luanda in 1995.

  4. Wow, although I enjoyed reading this piece there are big dollop of “grass is greener on the other side” and “mixing apples and oranges”. It is well written but borders on poetry. I see you aiming to find that one underlying thing that distinguishes Caracas and Kampala, the furnace underneath fueling the differences. This is obviously hard, somehow one needs to separate cause and effect. Naturally when it involves the nonlinear entanglements of society these things are not easily separated. Is it “resentment, due to income disparity, in the knowledge that there is great wealth sloshing around to which only a select few have access”? Is it “the perversion of market forces due to government intervention?”

    Other points:

    How well do you really know Uganda? Have you followed it over time?
    Margins – is that a solid concept or just a biased perception?
    There are no guns – but guns are expensive? Are there knives ?
    How does it compare with other African countries ? Are Africans universally soft-spoken and friendly?
    Here’s a more concrete question: how does medical treatment (accessibility and quality) differ between Caracas and Kampala? If you get sick, where would you rather be?

    Last but not least: last time you posted you sounded like David Brooks, now you start to sound like a Chavista, dear lord, what next, Pol Pot had great foresight in forcefully relocating people to the fields? The Cultural Revolution was sheer genius? Do you seriously think that friendly people translates into “developed”? Are you questioning what the goals of development should be? Are you becoming a conformist?

    Look, the best is to set up good governance, ideally democratic, educate people, and let them decide how to run their own affairs.

    • Wait wait, I’m definitely not saying anything about “Africa”. I’m not even saying anything about Kampala. I’m saying something about the slum just outside my front gate. It’s a travelogue, not a dissertation!

      • Well, then that was indeed a great post :>)

        Funny how being a foreigner makes you into a novelty – you may be a nice guy, but perhaps you get more smiles because you stand out – a case of the social Heisenberg effect. And soft-spoken and friendly is probably a good reason some people prefer to vacation in say Africa than in France, or Venezuela.

        • Heh. Well, a mzungu in a slum here does stick out more or less like a sore thumb. The kids stare openly – sometimes they run up to me to hold my hand!. The adults are circumspect. But everybody is aware.

          I don’t want to exagerate: this isn’t some lost village in a remote corner of Uganda. It’s the capital, it’s a big city, there are thousands of diplomats and expat businesspeople and NGO types about town. I’m not the first white guy they’ve ever seen. But I’m probably the first white guy they’ve seen that day.

          I don’t have any doubt that people defer to me because I’m white. It’s really really obvious that they speak more softly in English to me than they do in Luganda to each other – though even in Luganda, nobody ever seems to shout. All that is pretty visible, and pretty clear.

          Maybe I’m catastrophically misreading it, though I don’t think so. Talking to people in the NGO world, my experience seems pretty typical. You just don’t hear stories about violent crime. And that thing Venezuelans do of automatically warning any foreigner they meet to be on your guard…well nobody’s spoken to me like that even once here.

          My gut-feeling is that a major reason behind all this is cocaine, and the fact that there isn’t any here. *That* makes a difference.

          • when you say cocaine, do you mean there is no drug trade, therefore no turf wars? or do you mean there’s no cocaine that messes up with people’s minds?

          • I knew people will generally not understand what you are trying to explain. Only experiencing it personally brings the point home – to an open mind.

            All I was warned about in Luanda when I arrived there in 1994 was the fact that my wallet would most probably be stolen on the beach and that I would end up buying it back two hours later with only the cash remove. It happened exactly like that.

          • I have lived in Honduras for over 30 years and have watched the country degenerate from a very peaceful place into something that resembles the Pol Pot killing fields. The gangs that are moving the drugs definitely are responsible for a lot of the violence but it is not the consumption of cocaine that is fueling the crime here. I think you have to look at the gang mentality that has spread out of El Salvador as one of the main reasons for these criminals that terrorize their own neighborhoods. The influence of the Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha on the young people here is undeniable. These groups send in their lieutenants and organize and arm these neighborhood gangs to rob and steal anything they can get their hands on. If you oppose them you are either forced to vacate your home or killed. A lot of the killers are teenagers.
            It is easier and more profitable for the police to look the other way or work along with them all the while the politicians in Tegucigalpa declare war on crime and continue stealing every tax dollar ( lempira) they can get their hands on.
            I know people in Nicaragua and they aren’t experiencing the problems we have here in Honduras and also Guatemala and El Salvador because the government isn’t allowing the gangs to move in there.

          • With all respect, Honduras at its worst has never been anything like Khmer Rouge Cambodia. Imagine dead bodies stacked like lumber. Everywhere. Imagine the entire population helpless under a clique of demented fanatics determined to annihilate existing society by killing everyone representative of it.

            In the 1800s, the Russian radicals Tkachev and Nechayev debated how many people would have to be killed to carry out the Revolution.They concluded that it was more correct to discuss how many should be left alive. There was a direct philosophical trail from their circle, through the Bolsheviks, to the Khmer Rouge (“Red Cambodians”).

  5. We have many slums like this barrio here in Brazil, they tend to be located away from the big metropolitan areas, being older and more stable settlements, with less young people wandering around because families are solid and have fewer kids. I believe they exist in Venezuela too.

    Anyway, the best aspect of the text for me is that FT still sees himself as a Venezuelan (not a Canadian), that was a good surprise.

  6. I always find that breaking your routine is the best way to stir up good writing. Thanks for the piece Quico.

    In the end, it’s all about the difference between poverty (as measured in income terms) and the provision of public goods (as measured in terms of cleanliness, safety, etc.). Venezuela? We have income, but we don’t have a functioning state, so our public goods provisions are the pits.

    • But in the US you have a functioning state, and income, and still have no-go zones far more dangerous than this slum in Uganda. I believe the root of the problem lies in dysfunctional familes bringing to the world kids they don’t want to raise. It would be interesting to check the average number of children per woman at this slum Toro had visited, I bet it’s not very big.

        • Not really wanting to compare Uganda to Venezuela, but this particular Kampalese slum to Caracas’ slums. As I believe it’s clear to everyone that this slum within a 10 minute drive to Parliament does not reflect the entire reality of Uganda, in the same way as one civilised slum here in Rio called Dona Marta (for more: does not reflect the reality of slums in the city either.

          In passages like this: “I stop at one of the vegetable stalls and the lady is slightly thrown. I guess mzungus aren’t her core demographic. The kids stare, amazed, but one stern look from her and everyong goes into hyper-polite mode: speaking softly and doing their best to serve.”, it’s clear for me why this is slum is the way it is. The youngsters respect a maternal figure, what means that they have present mothers telling them what is right or wrong. When a mother has 6 children, this kind of close parenting is nonexistent, and the children grow up respecting no one.

          • Mark is on to something , there are studies of ghetto families in the US and how despite the many programs advanced to help their lot they are held back by family circumstances which lead to abandoned and neglected children growing into socially handicapped adults. Same result as studies advanced by Alejandro Moreno in Venezuelan slums . Cocaine may add fire to the bonfire but the root problem is already there. !!

          • Exactly… If you want to really tackle the problem, focus on parents/parenting/family planning. All the rest won’t touch the root of the problem. The “cocaine problem” is the expected consequence of a deeper problem, not the cause.

  7. Excellent comparison of two different cultures. The same Ugandan experience can be seen in many parts of the World and which I also encountered in Asia. The Asians have learned to live in harmony with one another as have other cultures in the World. The reality is that Central and South America simply have violent cultures and an entitlement mentality.

  8. A great read, Toro, beautiful flow, a lesson from a comparison of two types of communities thousands of miles away.
    The only jarring note was the Spanish title and the English text. Using the same language for both would likely increase readership, outside this blog’s comfort level with both languages. Otherwise I would point out a teensy-weensy typo: “Number thre” starts a paragraph, oh about half-way down.

  9. Thanks for the article, FT.
    Some responses ask FT for more details (guns versus knives), while others ask for reasons behind the data (Do you know Uganda well?). And almost of the comments praise the quality of the writing.

    I read the article as data, observational data. There is enough in it to debunk the theory that violence is a result of poverty. The equation V = f(P) does not fit the data. So, what are the independent variables of a proper model of violence in the Venezuelan slums?

    The article, as Mercedes points out, is not written for a large audience, nor does it need be–I would add. The article is written for the likes of UCAB’s Luis Pedro España who has dedicated time and good effort to the understanding of poverty in Venezuela. I see the article as valuable content for a complex system dedicated to the understanding of poverty in general. There are layers in all complex systems and each layer needs the proper instruction set for the whole thing to function well. FT has contributed his part–of course he may contribute more at the level where he works best. The other layers exist but they have not recognized themselves.

    The long term solutions to the cardinal problems of Venezuelan society requires understanding poverty in its social context, because only a true understanding will guide effective solutions. Any other approach requires only stage-craft, and we have had enough of that in the Galactic Pain-In-The-Ass.

    In summary:
    1. poverty is widespread in Venezuela.
    2. Poverty has serious manifestations–violence and magical reasoning among them–that corrode Venezuelan society.
    3. We need to understand the phenomenon of poverty in context.
    4, Only a complex system will be capable of such an understanding.
    5. The complex system does not exist but all the elements and the infrastructure exists today.

    If that complex system could get a voice, it would quote Corintians: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

    Building that complex system requires humility and service vocation. This calling also has a New Testament rendition in the letter to the Ephesians 4: “11. So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    It is an irony that an atheist like myself quotes the New Testament to
    a. value FT contributions, and
    b. invite the readers of this post to find for themselves how to contribute to reach unity in the body of a country we call all be proud of.

    • “The long term solutions to the cardinal problems of Venezuelan society requires:” Extirpate the “vivo” mentality, and exile it to the 9th sphere of Phyrexia.

      The first thing that needs to be done is to stop praising and celebrating being an opportunist douchebag, the main source of all our woes.

      Decades of not teaching people proper values left a lot of venezuelans with no model to follow or praise, so they ended falling to revere the most stupid behavior, it goes by a modification in the educative system, to teach kids that “nobody likes a vivo”, and then explain what a vivo is, Two-Poled Capybara aka El Chigüire Bipolar, gives a brief, consice explanation about it:

      I’ll never tire to quote that article, because it’s so damn right about that sort of people, and the damage they’ve caused to this country, leading to our current situation.

        • Because the vivo mentality is still considered “cool”, while being a working, honest person, is associated with being a “pendejo estúpido”, and that’s because that was the message engraved by years on the venezuelan minds.

          This time the opposite should be done, fill the people’s head with the idea that a vivo is a stupid shiteater, while being a honest worker gives you greater and better benefits.

          It sounds silly, but that’s because it’s how it works from early age, kids being cherished and praised by being assholes, when they should be punished for it instead.

  10. I am left wondering what’s up with our–Venezuelan sort of middle class–longing for a ‘soft voice’ and ‘an effort to serve’ coming from the poorer sectors of our society. At times it seems that these very subtle, yet powerful ideas are what chavismo has used favorably to spark a sense of emancipation that the opposition is yet to fully grasp in the same way.

    • That’s pretty silly. If there’s *one* cultural trait that binds Venezuelans from different classes together is that EVERYBODY is loud ALL the time!

      The soft-speaking seems similarly universal here: it’s not as though ministers speak any louder than the lady selling me vegetables. A couple of the guys I met here work in radio and they told me it drives them *crazy*: they can’t get interviewees to speak into a microphone at anything above a whisper.

      Really I write about speaking tones mostly because my wife is from Japan, the only other culture I can think of where speaking softly is as culturally important. There it *is* a class thing, though: working class Japanese people are expected to be loud, and looked down upon for it. Speaking softly – or not speaking at all – are signs of refinement and cultural capital. It would blow Kanako’s mind how softly *everyone* speaks here. It’s…not something you can miss.

      • Absolutely, it is actually pretty nerve racking that Venezuelans are very very loud, especially if you go out to live in places like Canada where not even babies cry out loud. Maybe I was sensitive to your analysis particularly comparing the slum environment.

  11. Why are the inhabitants of Venezuela’s poorer zones so violent?

    I have wondered about this for years. Why are Venezuelans so cruel towards each other?

    This cruelty, this kind of collective psychopathy is, I think, the deep and true driver of the massive emigration of Venezuelan professionals (and the destruction of the productive economy in the country).

    Every time I visit Caracas I see how people hit, shoot, attack and insult each other for the most trivial of reasons.

    And we, the so called enlightened middle classes, haven’t we been insensitive towards the needs of the homeless orphans, the poor and sick, the destitute? Isn’t this callousness a form of psychopathy as well?

    The regime is well aware of the political usefulness of criminal violence, hence the emergence of “Colectivos” and the employment of gangsters as bodyguards.

    The opposition is just keen to seduce the poor.

    No one is wondering why, or how, has this state of affairs, this culturally entrenched violence become normal.

    • I’ve been back in Venezuela for four years after almost 30 years living abroad. I find that people here can’t stop talking about how much they love the country, but 5 seconds outdoors and you’ll see people littering, spitting (men, women and children …… why?), yelling, insulting, and along etc. This is on the east side of the city and assume it’s the same anywhere else in Caracas regardless of social status, etc. This is why sometimes I feel that no matter who runs the country, things are going to be very similar. Maybe the country’s economy will improve, but society as such, will remain the same. So, how does one change this “culturally entrenched” behavior? Because until we do, things will not improve that much.

      • “So, how does one change this “culturally entrenched” behavior? ”
        Education, dude, education, use the very hatred and assholeness against it, teach people to marginalize and treat the assholes like turds because they’re, well, assholes.

        Assholes respond to consequences, threatening consequences that are sure to happen lest they behave, give an asshole impunity, and they’ll burn the world. Take their superiority complex away, and they’ll stop being assholes.

        Resentful people don’t respond to reason or logic, that’s why is so hard to convince chavistas that their so called leaders are screwing them while they destroy the country, the resentful only respond and follow their hatred, and chavismo is an ideology based on artificial, carefully distilled and injected hatred, because hateful people are very easy to manipulate, they’ll do anything in order to satisfy their hate, and guess what, chavistas were taught to hate venezuelans with a passion.

        Like assholes, hateful people don’t respond to logic, they’ll only stay when there’s a risk big enough to overcome their hatred.

        “Why are the inhabitants of Venezuela’s poorer zones so violent?” They’re resented, envious, working your ass off 8-10 hours a day just to pay your bills and buy 3/4s of the food your family needs with NO chances to climb out is a soul crushing ordeal, which leaves people bitter and resentful. It’s just a matter of time before somebody comes and stokes their hatred so they can be easily manipulated.

        “I have wondered about this for years. Why are Venezuelans so cruel towards each other?”
        Chavistas have been taught to hate the rest of venezuelans.
        The other venezuelans have been treated like shit and harrassed to no end for almost two solid decades.

        “This cruelty, this kind of collective psychopathy is, I think, the deep and true driver of the massive emigration of Venezuelan professionals (and the destruction of the productive economy in the country).”
        Teachings of chavismo, you stoke the hate, then point the hatred towards a target that’s “acceptable”, for chavistas “de base”, the ones that come from the poorer sectors, it’s really easy to hate someone that’s got a house and a car and three foods a day.

        “Every time I visit Caracas I see how people hit, shoot, attack and insult each other for the most trivial of reasons.”
        Chavismo taught their base that those are acceptable ways of social interaction, the other two thirds of the country hit, attack and insult because they were aggraviated and assaulted first.

        “And we, the so called enlightened middle classes, haven’t we been insensitive towards the needs of the homeless orphans, the poor and sick, the destitute? Isn’t this callousness a form of psychopathy as well?”
        Middle-class blaming, the magic wand of dishing guilt…
        Dude, how could a married couple, with some kids, working their asses off to have a decent lifestyle (3 foods/day, car, house, some bit more than those basic needs like enterntainment) could be blamed about “not caring about the poor”? Man, they were working to sustain their freaking families first, why is so hard to understand that? What, were middle class supossed to spoon-feed or give houses to the less fortunate?

        “The regime is well aware of the political usefulness of criminal violence, hence the emergence of “Colectivos” and the employment of gangsters as bodyguards.”
        Murderous crime spree is one of the most powerful tools of social domination of chavismo.
        It’s really simple, you keep the helpless population harrassed so they can’t do anything else, and keep criminals happy on your side giving them what they crave the most: Total impunity.

        “No one is wondering why, or how, has this state of affairs, this culturally entrenched violence become normal.”
        15 years (And a lot more) of filling people’s minds with mindless hatred, and 15 years of harrassing the other part of the country nonstop.

        Besides, hatred is so useful for chavismo because it diverts their base from blaming the bosses from every screwup they do while plundering the country.

        • We had poverty for decades before Chavez rose to Power and the violence was nothing like what we have now , there is an added element thats missing in the analyisis of Venezuelan violence and thats the fact that the face of poverty in Venezuela has changed throughout the years as the social fabric of the urban poor frayedand population grew exponentially . Ours once probably was a poverty closer to that found in Uganda and it became more socially destructive as time passed. Once again Alejandro Morenos studies bear this out. !!

          • I never said there was no poverty before the corpse.

            I said that poor people were festering in rancor and envy, but they didn’t directly blamed somebody who had a car, for example, they were just bitter and angry.

            Then the lefturds came, and whispered to their ears that their shitty lives were caused because the middle class pushed them in that shitter, it’s well known that castro infiltrated agents in Venezuela right after Betancourt almost sent him “a lavarse el paltó”, in order corrupt and destroy Venezuela from within, from their very slums, feeding them with hate and anger, all the way up to the government, in order to erase the part of Venezuelan history of the several armed invasions from cuba to Venezuela, a part of the history that would have been enough to leave this country hating communism forever.

            When you find a hateful person, you can control it as a puppet, just point their hate in the direction you want them to go, and they’ll charge blindly like a freaking juggernaut.

        • Ralph, you are very correct in characterizing them as assholes. That is what they appear like. Assholes and jerks but it’s a lot deeper than that and there is no cure. Highy functional ones can chill and mellow so far their needs are being met. In Venezuela, few have their needs met.

    • it’s pathological. It does run in familites and is hereditary but it is also a learned behavior and it starts from very early in life. I do think the seeds are planted by the time most reach adulthood. There is no cure for it. Some are aware, others are not. Some are highly functional and successful. You cannot tell a sociopath that they are sociapathic. It’s better left alone unless you want to become the target. There are no programs for sociopathic rehabilitation. The US federal prison system does have some programs but you have to land there to receive them. The leadership cultivates this at many levels. From stupid street thugs to sophisticated agents a la EvaGolinger.

  12. As one who goes regularly to Kampala and other cities and villages around Lake Victoria, I find this picture accurate. In particular I am always amazed at the level of small commerce going on in all parts. Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, I think there is definitely hope for Africa, unfortunately cannot say the same around here, it keeps going down and down with no end in sight.

    Finally, there is a real danger in Kampala; marabout stork droppings, they can bury you.

  13. Nicely written piece. I’ve spent some time in the poorest parts of East Africa, and from my perspective, the Venezuelan countryside reminds me of scenes from there, particularly around Barinas and Apure, which I am most familiar with, and particularly in the morning, with those spectacular sunrises (which must have something to do with trash-burning too). How places can be incredibly poor, and not dangerous, is a mystery to me. That Venezuela is dangerous and has huge amounts of poverty actually makes more sense, in some ways. The fact that poor people can be generous to rich people and expect nothing in return, is also something that strikes me, and this I have seen in both Africa, and in Venezuela.

  14. excellent piece of writing.
    Sound like nice people. My African experience is limited to Nigeria and Argelia and I would not like to go back to Nigeria.

  15. What a great piece. Maybe we should just have you travel around the world and gives us your POV vis-a-vis our Venezuelan common places Quico, that would be something. :o)

    On a separate note, so we are a gregarious people with a heavy bias towards loudness and deadly violence to each other regardless of socio-economic status. Yup, that sounds about right.

  16. I liked the article very much, it is a fresh perspective of a reality that is completely foreign to me. I’ve never been to sub-saharan Africa, therefore have very little personal experience to draw from. Nonetheless, I think that what FT describes in Kampala’s slums is not that much different to many Venezuelan slums, particularly in rural Venezuela. City slums have evolved into something more violent; however, I do feel some of that same core remains.

    Our slums are not only malandros, they are actually a minority. I worked in Jose Felix Ribas Zona 7 (one of the largest slums in Petare) for months as a physician not too long ago, and felt somewhat safer than what I thought I would once I met the community. It is filled with hardworking people that wake up at 4am to go to work, but also come out to the streets at night to watch their kids play. Slums where there are “bodegas” all over and you can enjoy an “empanada” or a home made “teta” while kids play “baseball” with a broom stick and a bottle cap; getting off the street when a car comes by, just like the kids playing street hockey in Canada would.

    How the malandro minority can promptly disrupt “communal moments” and get away with it I can’t fathom. But it happens over and over, people get killed or injured and the community pulls through, everyone goes out to the streets again and shares with their neighbors.

    Now that I come to think about it, this is what chavismo may have exploited for the longest time… the real community inside the slum, the heart, the people that fuel “los consejos comunales”. People that are resilient not only to the malandro, crime, shortages, and many personal losses, but to a middle class that is foreign and estranged to it.

    Your depiction of a Caracas slum albeit real and tangible, come off as many of my east Caracas friends who never went to get “Guarapita de Guanabana en el 23” because it was the only thing I knew was open. Crime is there, is rampant… but our slums are so much more. And until our slums stop seeing us as Mzungus, and we stop treating them like we were white foreign aid workers, until we educate those kids (that live on the streets from the charity scraps given by a community that does not have the resources to deal wit them), we will not gain ground and improve Venezuela.

    I can tell you: I was immediately labeled as one rich kid doctor who will be here for a few months and gives a shit about them. “He’s only here because he has to, in order to be able to work in a private clinic and get richer” is something I heard more often than I would have liked.

    This came from both chavistas and opposition people that I met in the slums, many begged me not to become a estranged doctor who didn’t care for any of them once I was gone. Come to think of it, I did forget about them… and have given very little in return.

  17. Loved the piece, Quico. It reminded me of the feeling I had when I visited Rio de Janeiro in the 1990’s, during their hyper-inflation time.

    At the time, I had stopped in Caracas and then went down to Rio, for the first time.The internal city reminded of an old Caracas, but in a lower note. I found that poverty was real poverty there, much more than in Caracas and that the rich were not as rich and “refined” as in Caracas. I found the food similar to my 1960’s venezuelan food. I found Copacabana’s streets very similar to Chacao’s old internal streets, before the yuppies took over. And I felt amazingly safe, much safer than in Caracas, I would say a 1960’s caraqueña safe. I was walking in a small group at 3 o’clock in the morning and the only soul that could give us instructions on how to get back to the hotel was a poor homeless guy that was searching the trash. He gave us the instructions and told us to be very careful with “bandits” that could rob us at that hour.

    I smiled, thinking that in Caracas the guy would have been himself the robber….and that was a comparison with a Caracas of …1991 or 1993 (I don’t recall wether it was one year before or after Rio’s summit)…

    Thanks for the memories.

    • “I found that poverty was real poverty there, much more than in Caracas and that the rich were not as rich and “refined” as in Caracas.”

      I’m 100% certain about that.

      Brazil in that time was coming out of a 25-year-long far-right dictatorship, the country was grasping for air after being economically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world; even imports were forbidden by the military rule. People were just starting to travel abroad, buying better (imported) things, trying to catch-up with the rest of the Western world. You visited Brazil in a transitional period – from dictatorship to democracy. It must have been interesting. As a resident of the city, I would have liked to see what you saw. 🙂

      The problem is that together with the demise of the dictatorship, crime increased to unprecedented levels in the following years.

      • Marc, I have pretty funny stories about my stay in Rio. I can pass easily for a brazilian and was often adressed in portuguese. The Cariocas understood my Spanish but I could not understand a single word (still don’t). I used to take cabs from the hotel to the conference site and found taxis very reasonable priced. My american and canadian collegues took the same type of cabs, that would take exactly the same route and paid twice or three times what I paid. They were fabbergasted because taxis always used the taxi meter, that just seemed to run faster where I was not with them. It became a joke to ask me to share a cab, because it would be less expensive.

        The hotel was strange. It was a real hotel, with a lobby and room service, but the rooms were really appartments that were rented by private citizens that wanted to be paid upfront because in a single week, money changed value too quickly. Store prices were amazing, you would have no ticketed price, you had to ask for the item price.

        My american and canadian collegues were impressed by the coffee and the tropical juice bars that one could find in every corner. To me the coffee was so-so, compared with Venezuelan coffee, and the juice bars were so familiar, just like in the center of Caracas. It was the first time I could have a “colita” outside Venezuela, that was not pink, and was called “guaraná”, I guess, but the flavor was like a frescolita. The city just looked like the center of Caracas…and I am not sure, but I think that they even had corner names, but the names were composed personal names, probably from local heroes.

        I was very well treated in Rio, despite not understanding a single word, but some of my colleagues had bad experiences (pickpockets).

  18. I loved it Quico!
    But I bet what you missed the most was that the lady didn’t call you “mi amor” when giving you the tomatoes 🙂

  19. Comment from Quico:
    Wait wait, I’m definitely not saying anything about “Africa”. I’m not even saying anything about Kampala. I’m saying something about the slum just outside my front gate. It’s a travelogue, not a dissertation!

    Well put. This snapshot of a Kampala slum in 2014 is accurate for 2014 but , as Quico would point out, is not necessarily an accurate snapshot of previous years. From Dan Morrison’s The Black Nile: One Man’s Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World’s Longest River [2010]:

    Claire was recalling the early 1990s, when armed robberies were common in Kampala. “A bullet hit just under my bedroom window and broke a clay pot,” she said. “It was an enormous explosion.”
    “A stray bullet?” I asked.
    “No, he was shooting at the house. He was down there in the garden with an AK-47. We slept under the bed in those days, but you didn’t sleep. Men would come to the windows.” Her voice quieted at the memory of those fearful times. “There was a mother with a little baby in her arms, my Ugandan friend Martha and her child, Jean. The baby was crying with malaria, and we didn’t want the baby to cry, because people would know there was someone in the house.” By the time Olivia was born, a growing economy had calmed the air of desperate menace that once ruled the streets of Kampala.
    “Once a man was right there at the window trying to get in,” Claire said. “I screamed at him and he ran away. He had a big wrench, like this,” she held her hands about a foot and a half apart, “and he just dropped it and ran away. He wanted to pry the bars open. Of course most of them use a car jack. They put it under the one bar and just lift the whole thing off.”

    There was a time when Kampala’s level of violence was comparable to the current level of violence in Caracas. If it can change in Kampala, it can change in Caracas.

    Also note that Claire is an expat who has lived a long time in Kampala. Olivia is her 11 year old daughter.


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