Coffee break del siglo 21

It's la hora del burro. I'm going for coffee. But what I'm really hoping for is something else.


For the size of the office, the kitchen is small. During lunch time we line up our Tupperwares by the microwave, so that the person taking out their warm food will know which one to put in next. Hasta para los tupperware hay cola. But it’s not lunchtime, it’s the dreaded hora del burro, the mid-afternoon lull when people look for any excuse to escape the cubicle.

I head to the tiny kitchen hoping to get myself a guayoyito, the world’s finest hora del burro cure. I’d said a silent prayer to the gods of coffee before I left my seat, because there was a good chance that I wouldn’t find any. Used to be we could count on coffee from the office thermos at any time of the day. For the last couple of weeks, they’ve only made two pots in the morning and two pots after lunch. HR sent an email explaining the situation and everything. Clearly, they understand that depriving their people of coffee is a delicate matter.

Three office ladies are chatting when I get there. If we had any such thing as maximum occupancy or firemen regulations, I’m sure we’d be breaching them.

“Buenas tardes,” I say, “any coffee left?”

Mrs. Tarcila, the lovely grandma-like cleaning lady, is happy to oblige.

“Yes, mi niña.”

“How exciting!” I say, pouring myself a mug and silently thanking the gods of coffee.

Rebecca, a fellow coffee enthusiast, is halfway through her conversation with Ana, the other floor’s secretary, and she’s not letting up.

“…well anyway, I asked the pharmacist what all the ruckus was about and he said they’d just gotten contraceptives, so I bought two boxes of Genesa. I had my tubes tied years ago, but I still bought them, to trade them for something else.”

“Yeah,” Ana says, “I also have two boxes of pills I don’t use, to trade with.”

I spot my chance. I’ve been looking for those. “This bartering economy is unbelievable,” I chip in. “Anyway, I’m in the market, next time you buy pills, I’ll trade you something.”

Now Ana’s the one feeling lucky. “I still have them, which ones do you usually take?”

“Whatever I can find,” I say, “My mom’s bachaquero pantry is the real deal, what do you need?”

“Do you have any soap?” Ana says, “Also, it’s two different kinds of pills that I’ve got, is that a problem?”

“No problem at all,” I say, wondering if my gynecologist would second that.

“This is so great!” I say, “I do have soap; I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.”

I could hardly believe my luck at this point.  Coffee and contraceptives? Yay!

“Perfect,” Ana says, and adds with an edge of nervousness, “tomorrow please, don’t forget.”

“Ay vale,” Rebecca pipes in, “don’t be like that, if she forgets tomorrow she’ll bring it the next day, it’s not like she’s a stranger.”

“They thing is,” Ana says a bit sheepishly, “I won’t have anything to shower with if she doesn’t bring me that soap.”

My heart breaks a little. Ana hasn’t done anything to anyone to deserve this kind of humiliation.

“Don’t worry,” I reassure her “I’ll bring it tomorrow for sure.”

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  1. Authoritarian regimes and body odor. There is a long tradition. For those of us who witnessed the old communist world before it collapsed…getting past the big things, I think of the shocking red hair colour verging on purple that was popular, the one tint available at the time, I think of the restaurants with menus full of things that did not exist, I think of the stern old ladies who sold toilet paper by the sheet inside public washrooms, I think of the absurdly empty stores (or stores full of things nobody needs), and I think of the strong smell of b.o. in the subway cars. I’d have to go back and double check but if I recall correctly, Orwell’s authoritarian dystopias always smelled bad. I can’t imagine Venezuelans tolerating this for long.

    • The broad of Venezuelans can tolerate the bad smell.

      What they won’t tolerate for long is, the scabies, aka SARNA, when they have months without using soap, I just talked to some lady today that told me she had to use shampoo because she didn’t have soap to bathe.

        • Well, laundry detergents tend to damage the skin on the long run because they have a different composition than regular bath soap, so people can stand them for so long before they notice said damage they provoke.

          As I said in the other topic, people will be angry enough in the moment they are riddled with scabies because they couldn’t clean themselves after months, angry to surpass the threat of getting shot in the forehead which is the main instrument chavismo has to keep people at bay.

      • Today I reached a milestone and bathed without soap for the first time. It wasn’t that bad, but after reading that thing about scabies I feel uneasy. Are they growing on me right now? D:

          • Scabies might be just one bad consequence from a bad hygiene, but let’s suposse you don’t get them because you accidentally touched someone who has them or a surface they touched (quite hard in a country where people depends critically from public transport)

            If you won’t get scabies from not cleaning properly your skin, then there are a myriad of other infections and afflictions that might be waiting to pounce on you, like fungi, bacteria, and many other nasties.

            My point is, people in the country will get used to the “tufo”, because it’s not something that threatens their lives, now, an infection would likely be much more dangerous.

    • I went to the old Soviet Union on a class trip back in 1980. We went to state stores that had only bread and beets. And various other things manufactured from the old Warsaw Pact countries that nobody wanted. Lots of knock off Sterno for some reason. One kind of vodka… but lots of it.

      A year later, we hosted a Soviet student. Svetlana was from a well connected family. She arrived, and we picked her up from her group at the airport. It wasn’t until two days later that she asked, “Can I see where the ordinary people live?” We took her all around the city, showing her the most working class of working class neighborhoods. She wanted to see where the working people shopped. We took her to Super Valu (a local grocer). She couldn’t believe that there was meat. She asked, “What happens if you would buy all the meat at once?” The butcher said, “We would go into the locker and get some more.” “What happens if someone buys all that?” The butcher said, “We get more meat tomorrow. We can order much more if we need it.” She couldn’t believe it. We went back every day, and she was amazed the grocer never ran out of meat. Nor vegetables. Fresh fruit was unheard of in the USSR.

  2. Lye (found in hardware stores) and various oils and distilled water can make some great soap. Plenty of recipes online.

    • I have also seen plenty of aloe and almendras growing wild in Venezuela. Both can be used for soap, detergent, as an anti-microbial and antiseptic. Almond oil makes really good soap.

      If I recall correctly, aloe can also be used to avoid scabies.

    • When I was a preschooler, my parents made up a bunch of lye soap. Though I preferred the results of their forays into home brewing, such as their dandelion wine or wild grape wine.There was a song about Grandma’s Lye Soap.

  3. Cristina is not your typical 20-something going through a quarter life crisis. Cristina is about one thousand things more than someone going through a quarter life crisis. Cristina is a real lady. A lady that will tell you what she thinks at any given point -after thorough analisis- and that will work mind and body to find a solution to any obstacle she finds in life. Cristina will succeed in everything she sets her mind to, Cristina will succeed.
    Remember the Dr. Seuss quote in Oh, The Places You’ll Go! “And will you succeed? Yes, in deed. 99 and 3/4% guaranteed!”? She was born with that extra 1/4 and today she needs to deal with this type of problems in a country that is taking our energy away and that is making people runaway in buses everywhere, or nowhere, or simply somewhere.

    Cristina, I congratulate you on your post and encourage you to privately ask Ana if she urgently needs anything else that you might have a spare one to give her. You will make a difference in Ana and in your own soul.

    I am proud of Cristina, and will forever be.


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