The Venezuela You Only Find at the Protests

I joined Primero Auxilios UCAB. In anguish, my mom asks me why I insist on risking my life to go out for protest after protest. Here's my answer.

Photo by Víctor “Dib” Tang @Dibversion

I was at that march yesterday —the Gran Toma de Caracas— the most violently repressed protest yet. But then, I go to every rally, plantón and march the opposition dreams up. I’ve been going since it it all started, but for a long time I felt like I wasn’t doing anything that made a difference.

That’s why I decided to join one of the First Aid groups. I figured don’t have the cojones to get right up to the front and fight the GNB and PNB head on, so I better join Primeros Auxilios UCAB.

It was rough out there yesterday. Very rough. When I got home, after taking in more tear gas than ever before, my mom kind of lost it. “Why?” she asked. As in, why do I keep going out there if repression only keeps getting rougher —which is certainly true.

You want to know why?” I found myself raging at her. “You want to understand why I go out to have the PNB and GNB laugh, harass, and shoot tear gas at us? You want to know why we put up with these guys setting off tear gas canisters right at our feet, calling us ‘guarimberos,’ even though we still end up treating them when they need it, because our job is to be impartial?”

I’ll tell you why.

Because of the exhilaration of being a part of a First Aid group that runs on nothing but donations, enthusiasm and a deep sense of purpose.  

Because even though everyone knows these days salaries aren’t enough to bring even the very basics into most homes, and people bring us all kinds of food, from arepas, bread and cookies to ice cream and “chupis,” to keep us going.

“Why?” she asked. As in, why do I keep going out there if repression only keeps getting rougher…

Because of that one time I helped a woman who’d suffered a small burn from a tear gas cannister landing on her leg, and when I finished she just gave me a bag of candy, unopened, with no explanation, and left.

Because I remember the young violinist who had his violin destroyed in the protests, only to have thousands come forward offer to help him get a new one.

Because of all the old ladies who clap and scream to cheer us on, because of the other ones who pray with us, who splash us with holy water, who give us rosary beads, who sprinkle us with salt to protect us.

Because even though I don’t practice any religion, when an old lady gives you a rosary with such a look of concern on her face, something moves inside of you.

Because when I try to spread Maalox on people’s faces to counter the effect of the tear gas often their first instinct is to refuse it, to tell me not to waste it on them, to say we should save it for the people up front fighting the GNB and PNB. Because some people who won’t accept it even after I reassure them we have plenty of reserves, and instead say “I’m just fine”, even though I can see them crying and coughing. Because they’re still putting someone else’s needs ahead of their own.

When an old lady gives you a rosary with such a look of concern on her face, something moves inside of you.

Because time and again I’ve seen how people in this movement volunteer to suffer so others can be safe.

Because I’m tired of the worn out old clichés about how “Venezuelans are lazy,” because out on the street I see for a definite fact that we’re anything but lazy.

Because every time I go out there I meet a different Venezuela, a Venezuela in open rebellion against the cliché, full of people eager to stand in solidarity with one another as they stand up and fight for our basic rights.

Because there’s something at those protests I’ve never experienced anywhere else in my life: solidarity. Real solidarity. Not a slogan, but the real thing.  

Photo by Leonardo Álvarez @oelzer.jpg

That’s why I keep going out there, mom. And no, I’m not going to stop.

Alfonso Garmendia

A law and liberal arts student in Caracas, Alfonso likes first aid, animé, manga, philosophy, law and swimming, not necessarily in that order.