What Life is Like in a Paralyzed Country

Since March 7th, almost all Venezuela, including its capital, has been trying to survive without electricity, internet and running water at the same time, and also overwhelmed by shortages, hyperinflation and crime. This is what life would be like under such conditions.

Photo: Gabriela Mesones Rojo

A while ago, my friends from the theater and I were talking about our concern for what’s going on in the country, the blackouts and how everything is inconsistent, because we had some performances scheduled for March and we had to delay them. The collapse truly affected each aspect of life as we knew it, a nation frozen as if the world had ended.

“Keep calm, guys,” one of the girls said, “it was just a blackout, no biggie.”

What do you mean “just a blackout?”

We have no water. No internet, no phone signal, no subway, no card readers, ATMs, cash and public transport is a joke. It wasn’t just a blackout, the whole country went offline, drowned in an epic disaster to the point where it’s impossible to have a routine or plan of what we’ll do in a week or a month. We live by the day, expecting to survive and hoping the next day won’t be that bad.

It’s a wonderful surprise when we have power, water and internet at once, the rarest trifecta now.

We have no water. No internet, no phone signal, no subway, no card readers, ATMs, cash and public transport is a joke.

Let’s exercise our imagination, because you can read all about this absurd calamity happening in a country you don’t live in, a reality you don’t suffer, and you might as well be reading fantasy. So let’s imagine:

New York, 7:00 a.m. Your phone’s alarm clock rings, you turn it off. You get up, go to the bathroom and turn on the lights, except, nothing happens. Perhaps the light bulb’s busted. You look at your appliances and realize they’re off too. Didn’t you pay the bills? Is there a blackout? You try to wash your face, but there’s no water either. If you have some water collected, you use it to take a bath and brush your teeth, but if you have no reserves, what do you do? Leave your house without brushing?

You check your phone. There’s no signal, you can’t communicate with anyone or know what’s going on. Perplexity. Then comes breakfast, but if your kitchen’s electric, you can’t cook anything. The microwave oven is also out of order. Something simple, then: a cold sandwich or cereal with milk (though, in Venezuela, both cereal and milk are hard to find).

You leave your apartment and find your hallway in the dark. The elevator’s not working, so you take  the stairs, hoping nobody is trapped. Perhaps the problem is only in your area.

When you go outside, it’s chaos. People walking, upset; the subway doesn’t work, backup power generators are off, the traffic is chaotic. It’s pandemonium. There are long lines of vehicles and all taxis are taken. Some people get off the taxis and buses because they can go faster on foot. Everyone’s trying to get somewhere: job, school, college, home.

ATMs don’t work. You only have the cash in your pocket. As you walk by, someone with a battery radio on let’s you hear that this is nationwide. Panic. A terrorist attack? Will you have a new date to remember? You have no time to dwell on thoughts, you’re running late and that’s $10 you need for rent.

There’s no police around. It’s as if all security officers vanished from the face of the Earth. You’re on your own, with a bunch of people just as terrified as you (in Venezuelan, you have reasons to be terrified, being in one of the most dangerous countries in the world).

Darkness rules the city and several streets are lit with bonfires. Pessimism. Fatalism. Sleeplessness. Dirt. Disconnection. Disinformation.

After walking for two hours, you arrive at your workplace drenched in sweat, in a bad mood, broken. Few have made it. Nobody knows what to do, and the bosses aren’t there. There’s no electricity, water or phone signal at the office either. Some decide to leave, they want to get home before dark, and that’s actually a swell idea. Something very wrong is going on.

As you walk back, some of the few stores that were open close their doors. You pick up the pace. The streets are boiling with people, there’s no power in Times Square, the few shops that are still open brim with hysterical customers. Rumor has it there might be looting soon.

You get home. The day has been so exasperating that you’re not even hungry, you just want things to go back to normal. Power’s suddenly restored, and a huge rush of euphoria assaults your heart.

Five minutes later, another outage.

And you wait, but nothing happens for hours.

Darkness rules the city and several streets are lit with bonfires. Pessimism. Fatalism. Sleeplessness. Dirt. Disconnection. Disinformation.

The next morning, everything seems normal, but paranoia remains. You try and fall into your routine, but it’s like trying to sleep in a burning house, you’re waiting for the fire to reach you. You avoid the subway and elevators and, slowly, you get shaped by fear.

That’s our everyday in Caracas, feeling that nothing is permanent or stable, an abnormality that we’re adapting to, perhaps to make it more manageable so that we don’t go crazy, or perhaps because there’s no other choice. Ultimately, the fact that “it’s just a blackout” reveals that we’ve lost our capacity to be amazed by this disgrace. Do we get used to this? Do we keep silent? No. We mock the “imperialist attack against the electric system” and we go on.

Could you, in our situation?