The Blackouts that Changed Our Lives

In Barquisimeto, 400 km west of Caracas, we haven’t escaped the longest blackout in Venezuelan history. We have survived for a month with no electricity or water, it’s been an emotional roller coaster caused by the lack of basic services.

Photo: El Impulso retrieved

The mental stability of guaros is besieged by uncertainty and the shadow of disinformation. Even the most good-tempered feel on the brink of anxiety and depression, caught completely off-guard and forced to change schedules, reorganize, search for water, food, cooking gas, flashlights and candles.

Truth is, power hasn’t been fully restored since March 7th. In fact, some areas have gone without electricity for five days straight, with no way of planning because they don’t know when power will return.

María Torrealba lives in the Villa Productiva neighborhood in Western Barquisimeto. She’s 45 years old and has blood pressure problems. She tries to keep medicines stashed for her treatment and avoids getting upset. “I try to buy the medicine in drug stores where card readers work and wherever they’re cheaper, because I had to pay too much for them the other day.” She had no power last week, so she’s found ways to ration water and to always have candles, matches and a flashlight at hand. “I’ve had to store water in garbage bins, you have to prepare for this situation. I think this is going to take long. I have no electricity right now. The last time, it came back at 10.00 p.m. and failed again at 5:00 a.m.”

Doris Arroyo, a teacher, has been forced to change her routine. She works as much as she can at night, she doesn’t sleep well and spends her day doing nothing. She lives on a 10th floor and since the second blackout, she’s been unable to use the elevator. She’s exhausted of going up and down the stairs. The stores nearby are closed because the card readers don’t work, it’s been hard for her to find water or going anywhere in the city for lack of transport. “My life is completely overtaken by this situation.” Her air conditioner broke down and her washing machine is already failing due to insufficient voltage, so she sleeps in the heat and handwashes her clothes.

In La Peña neighborhood, Northern Barquisimeto, there’s been no water for the past three years. Ingrid Rojas has been forced to buy it. Blackouts have increased her daily troubles. “It’s horrible to live like this, too much uncertainty. The food in my fridge spoils with the outages. I can’t buy meat or chicken.” There’s no clear schedule for power cuts in La Peña. On Monday, April 1st, there was electricity between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., then darkness between 5:00 p.m. that day, and 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday 3rd. Mobile signal also fails. “I’ve been unable to get in touch with my daughter to know how she’s doing with the blackouts.”

María Fernanda Morillo lives in La Carucieña neighborhood, Western Barquisimeto, and she’s been without power for a week. It’s a challenge for her to sleep with mosquitoes all night. She’s had to put the mattress on the porch of her house to escape the heat and sleep a bit. Even María Fernanda’s studies have been affected, she’s currently working on her thesis and can only write late at night, when she has both electricity and internet. “I’m late on my thesis. While I work at night, my mom also washes the clothes and collects water.”

The calamity of cooking with wood

Carolina Pérez is a single mother and, during the blackout, she cooked with wood and a budare. Her electric kitchen stopped working and she’s had no cooking gas for months because the state-run company that distributes cylinders no longer goes to her area. “The hardest part was cooking with wood, even though I come from the countryside and I was used to that, it was hard. I’m so angry because I feel we’re going backwards.” When she ran out of wood, she burned whatever she could find, but the alternatives produced too much smoke, upsetting her neighbors.

“We didn’t eat well those days, only pasta and arepa because wood didn’t last long enough for us to cook anything else,” she said. She had an allergic reaction to the smoke and during the last day of the first blackout, she could barely stand the burning sensation on her face and eyes. She couldn’t go to a hospital, so she waited it out. Eventually, the allergy subsided.

In the second blackout, she was forced to cook with wood once again. “I went to a nearby store and bought a flashlight because candles burn too fast, we had two four-day blackouts.” It’s worth noting that buying even a small flashlight is about 40% of the minimum wage.

“I feel there’s no hope or an answer and I wonder about my son’s future. I’m furious, helpless. We see so many people protesting, dying and I wonder who answers for that? I feel like crying. We’re in God’s hands.”

Meanwhile, there’s no effective official response and citizens have no way of knowing whether the National Electric Corporation managed to solve the problems behind these blackouts.