Wednesday, 6:55 p.m. After a long day, I turn off my laptop and the TV. I check the time on the cellphone. In the living room, my mother and her husband are both busy talking on their phones while CNN en Español is currently on the main TV set. She eventually finishes talking with my Granma. Then, she starts…
“Cinco, cuatro, tres, dos…”
When she reaches down to two, the TV turns itself off and the whole house suddenly goes dark. The daily three-hour electricity rationing period has begun.
After years of having almost permanent weekly blackouts (once or twice two-hour cuts only on weekdays) for years now, I should be used to this. But this year, things went right to the extreme. It’s hitting me right where it hurts: in my ability to watch my beloved futbol.
On April 25th, the government took an unprecedented measure in order to avoid a complete shutdown of the national power grid: A nationwide rationing program in which almost every Venezuelan would have four hours without power. I say almost because both the Capital District and those sectors where there’s critical infrastructure were spared.
Last year, the country flirted with this course of action but finally avoided it. Not this year.
My first late night rationing period came at 4 a.m. a couple of days later. Obviously, I didn’t sleep well, but I took it easy. But right in Maracaibo, people took their anger to the streets. As someone who lived there (as a college student) and once went through two weeks of hell when the air conditioner went bust in my room, I have some idea of what that really means.
Life changed for everyone. All house activities now depended on the weekly schedule located on the fridge. Businesses were forced to either close or find themselves a power plant.
If you have followed my work at Caracas Chronicles all these years, you might notice that one of the most frequent themes I write about is the blackouts. I even tried to share my personal experience through a picture.
There is something about the lack of electricity that affects me deeply. The negligence of the central government on this issue has sent us backwards, and the fact that they even dare to boast publicly about saving us from the brink they actually pushed us over is just appalling. It makes me mad.
But there has been another reason recently: no electricity and no fútbol makes GEHA go crazy.
Sometimes the rationing hours clashed with the match schedules, and I ended up settling with the highlights. But it goes beyond that. Cable TV and Internet service have been affected as well, even when there’s power around. Some will mock me for this; others will say “first world problem” and others will call me insensitive for complaining when others are less fortunate.
Yet these small grievances are not isolated. Like me, many Venezuelans have seen their daily routines upended by the electric crisis. But aside from affecting our work, all the activities that can provide some release from the ordeals and the resulting stress, no matter how insignificant, are affected as well.
Take the Champions League final on May 28th. I’ve been a Real Madrid fan since I was seven, so my excitement this time was sky-high. But in order to watch the game against archenemies Atletico, I had to prepare like it was some sort of complex engineering operation. The objective: finding a place to watch the game (particularly the 2nd half).
In the end, I got lucky and ended up in the mall I mentioned that is spared from the electricity rationing by virtue of being close to a clinic.
Now I’m having the very same problems with the diabolic overlap of Copa America and Euro 2016. To make things worse, not all Euro matches are televised. You had one job, Meridiano/Telearagua!
Even if we have the chance of revive the lost art of conversation, all small talk is now restricted to “all the trouble I got to find (insert essential food item here)” or “who got (insert result of criminal activity here)” or in some cases “guess who leaving the country or thinking of leaving the country.”
Worst of all, I can’t turn on the TV to drown out all the negativity.