La Vida de Nos Makes Venezuelans Make Sense Too

Through an independent project that started years ago, Héctor Torres and Albor Rodríguez reconcile and describe the realities of all Venezuelans, uniting us in our differences.

Photo: Ideas de Babel retrieved.

The nationalization of the oil industry in the mid 70s, last century, gave the Venezuelan State a level of profit that it wasn’t prepared to manage properly and wisely. Although a vibrant middle class was consolidated during that period, due to a dynamic social mobility, inequality also intensified and broadened as the party ebbed, leaving only hangovers and dirty dishes.

Our burgeoning middle class produced professionals of excellent technical capacity, also poorly connected with the needs of the wider society. In an import-dependent country, there were few initiatives focused on boosting the wellbeing of that growing population in slums, which weren’t considered part of the city. A population living under the shadow of crime and a terrible transport system that forced them to stand in line for hours to get back home. A population that the rest of the city saw as a world apart. “Those people,” citizens used to say while pointing at the mountains of bricks and zinc, as if talking about beings made from different materials, with whom there couldn’t be any sort of communion. Invisible people.

That divorce between the educated but insensitive middle class and a majority that felt increasingly out of the system’s benefits, opened a rift of mistrust that only grew with time.

It’s well known that “someone” knew how to read the resentment of those expelled. It’s well known that that “someone” knew how to fuel the problem with the dark and powerful drive of revenge. It’s well known that, once turned into a TV show, the “compensation” was limited to merely seeing others suffering the same way they’d suffered for years.

That divorce between the educated but insensitive middle class and a majority that felt increasingly out of the system’s benefits, opened a rift of mistrust that only grew with time.

And that’s how it’s been ever since. Ostensibly in the name of the poor, the ruling clique built fortunes they never imagined even in their wildest dreams. They managed the unthinkable: ruining an oil-producing nation. The project of destruction also engulfed memory and the few symbols that still kept us together as a society. The poor ended up horrifically poorer and, once the middle class had been wiped, the country was left adrift, without resources, institutions, projects or leadership to repurpose that pain, that frustration, that despair which currently  drowns the population in helplessness.

Social media, where extremism and polarization rule, only manage to increase that isolation. Overwhelmed by their own suffering, nobody seems too interested in understanding the suffering of others. Amidst uncertainty, prejudice thrives. A country without voice, without media outlets, without places for sharing, is the result of twenty years of chavismo in power.

Hard times beget their own balances and the destruction of free press produced the emergence of news entrepreneurships with a lighter structure, harder for the State to control. During that time, in mid-2016, journalist Albor Rodríguez invited me to develop an idea she’d been thinking about: a website dedicated to tell stories of today’s Venezuela as a sort of puzzle explained through its pieces. A space not meant to offer opinion or information, but rather to show the country in its everyday experiences, drawing a map of lives that remained unseen amidst the debacle that ravages us. This is how La Vida de Nos came to be.

At first we only had a formula: stories told with the factual approach of journalism, with the tools of literature, to dissipate emotion and turn personal tales into universal metaphors.

That December, we published the first four stories, still uncertain as to how the readership would take them. As we developed our poetics and methods, we started finding valuable revelations, both about the project and about the country.

We discovered, for instance, how important it is for people to to tell their story from their own perspective, how their interpretation opens spaces of resilience. Their stories offer keys to cope with adversities.

A website dedicated to tell stories of today’s Venezuela as a sort of puzzle explained through its pieces.

The journalistic and narrative visions combined allowed for public interest about the country’s problems and the intimate interest about human dramas to merge in a single space. We emphasize the human condition over news about the crisis. It’s not just about telling stories of people in adverse conditions, it’s how common people, forced to make tough choices, face life’s obstacles with an enormous capacity for reinvention.

People who’ve always lived in adversity develop tools for situations like the one Venezuelans face today. From their experiences, we extricate conclusions like understanding the importance of turning pain into a purpose, to make it manageable; or how a home with solid bonds of love reduces the harm caused by adversity; or that in moments of breakdown, illumination means accepting what’s happening, to pick ourselves up.

Thanks to comments on social media, we understand that, more than producing content, we share experiences, building bonds between the storyteller and the reader, promoting a fellowship that erase borders amidst the common tragedy.

Offering tools for a narrative gives people a voice, and empowers them. Showing their lives with dignity and respect exalts them. And this is part of what a country that’s starting to recognize itself in others’ needs. In the stories of La Vida de Nos, we Venezuelans discover that we’re not so different from one another, we share similar dreams and fears, we’re bound together by an experience in which, contrary to what we used to believe, we can learn much from others if we see them with respect.

This simple exercise softens the wall of mistrust. It reveals us as singular parts of a plural whole, and allows us to rebuild places for sharing. It ain’t new; it’s what literature has always done: make strangers meet and see ourselves through each other.

Héctor Torres

Narrator and editor. Author of Caracas muerde, Objetos no declarados, La vida feroz and others. He created the Critics Award in Venezuela and is co-editor of La vida de nos. He writes because he couldn't be a pop-star.