A quick look through Google showed the nearest Mercadona 1.3 km. away. People kept telling me that was the place to go for cheap groceries here in Madrid, and I was eager to take advantage of my newly acquired pedestrian freedom and hike there. Walking through Lopez de Hoyos, I keep looking at all of the stores, tiny mom and pop shops, with their displays full of shoes, bags, candy, appliances. It reminded me of Chacao.

As I walk, I think through my shopping list. I tried to keep it basic: Rice, produce, cheese, eggs, meat and poultry.

The shock of the clean hits me as soon as I get there. It’s completely immaculate, compared to the abastos back home. Near the door, all this gorgeous produce: shiny apples, giant red tomatoes, everything looked perfect. I take a left thinking to grab the produce last, and walk past the meat section. I can’t avoid a feeling of guilt from looking at all the food, readily available, while people in Venezuela are scavenging for food. The craziest thing was, that prices were somewhat similar to Venezuela, but people in Venezuela don’t have European salaries.

All this stuff: packaged and organized, no plastic bags with prices scribbled in sharpie.

I grab four of them and put them in my cart, then I realize that I’m not in Venezuela, so I put two of them back. Realistically, I only need one.

I keep walking and suddenly, baffled in amazement over the many things I hadn’t seen in Venezuela for years. And then, all of a sudden: a yellow beam of light calling me from afar; it’s Venezuela’s Food Flag: Harina PAN!!

I grab four of them and put them in my cart, then I realize that I’m not in Venezuela, so I put two of them back. Realistically, I only need one.

But I think the place where I truly lose my shit is the milk aisle: skim, 1%, 2%, lactose free, something-something, I don’t even understand why they have so many kinds.

Then I remember, of course: competition, and then I giggle in my mind out of my naiveté.

Same thing happens with cheese, I completely forgot about the flavor of Havarti cheese or Swiss cheese, – at home all I had was queso blanco and once in a new moon some queso Los Frailes -. I buy them both and, shocker:  Havarti and Swiss – it’s pretty much the same thing. Who’d remembered?

But I had to try them, I mean you don’t find that in Venezuela! – I call my girlfriend super excited about the Cheese and she was excited for me too! She hasn’t had any of those in the longest time either.

As time went by I kept my grocery shopping routine, what I didn’t realize is that, subconsciously, I was buying more than I needed for the week. Rice, flour, sugar, toilet paper and toothpaste — these things kept accumulating in my apartment. It wasn’t until a friend asked me for a glass of water, opened my only cabinet and gaped amazed at all the stuff in there, that it hit me.

I hadn’t realized I was hoarding. But I was.

I had to sit back and actually think what was happening.

I remembered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and how socialist governments often exploit it for social control. It’s easier to subdue people whose only thought is survival.  There’s empirical evidence that authoritarian regimes often attack our basic needs to control the population from rioting and to distract the common foe from complaining about the government.

In Venezuela, I mused about this, but never thought it affected me.  I mean I was consciously seeing the deterioration of the nation and kept thinking, this is not normal, this is not normal. But once I went  to “normality”, that panicky need to be prepared stayed with me.

Cuba and the Soviet Union saw this strategy at work, too, to force the common citizen into lines so they’d be thankful when the government “provides” the citizens with a week’s worth of food, once a month. People coming out of war-zones report something similary: without a hoard of food supplies, they can’t feel safe.

Five months have gone by and I still can’t shake the vague sense that the food might run.

This hoarding mentality is what is left from a broken system, is like that one unwanted email from the ex you don’t want to deal with, or, the remembrance that you come from a country that is falling apart and you chose to leave. In many ways, un hombre preparado vale por dos, but that rule needs some constraints, to avoid the abuse and costs of over-preparedness.

Five months have gone by and I still can’t shake the vague sense that the food might run out and I better be safe than sorry.  

I better have that extra kilo of rice, just in case hell breaks lose. I better have enough toilet paper, in case, well… you know. I know it’s irrational but still, I feel safer knowing, that I have food than to rely on the “system”.

I remembered not having any meat at all in April 2016, feeling helpless over something so trivial. It stays with you, that feeling.

One day, last year, we ran out of Harina Pan. I hadn’t had arepas or canillas for a month, a friend at the office offered to barter Harina PAN for a deodorant. I was so excited to have the harina pan that I forgot how ludicrous the situation was. I mean, Bartering in the XXI century, what is that?

I’ve tried my hardest to leave my Venezuelan habits behind, but still, when it comes to basic foods, I just gotta be stocked up.

I’m working on buying less rice. On buying the one-liter of yogurt instead of two liter. I try to go to the supermarket only if I run out of something. But it’s not easy; the essentials are always the hardest things to let go of, eggs, chicken or harina pan are always a must, even if I already have them at home, I just feel more comfortable if I buy a little more.

Last Wednesday, I went to the store telling myself I was going to buy only carrots. I kept telling myself that on the walk to the store. When I got to there, I still noticed the bags of Harina Pan all shiny and new, and yeah, part of me did still think it couldn’t hurt to have another couple of kilos of Harina in the house.

I resisted…but I’ve come to accept this struggle as a new part of my life. The fear of not having what you really need can be overwhelming.  Which is why I still thank God and my family every time I come back from the grocery store with bags of groceries, and no problems.

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