Paola Villalobos, community manager
“In Maracaibo, I worked as a freelancer, but the blackouts made it very hard to get anything done. I started driving all over the city in search for power, but then came the fuel shortages and it became even harder. It was also increasingly hard to find food.The only protein I could find after the blackouts was canned food and eggs, because everyone had to give away the meat so it wouldn’t rot. Water was failing terribly. For a while, the Mayor’s Office sent water tankers and we could fill one recipient per house. Later we found out that the Mayor’s Office didn’t even pay for that, they just bossed tanker drivers around.
“I started looking for a freelance job in Caracas in December, but after the blackout, I looked for a regular job. My family and my boyfriend are still in Maracaibo. Lots of people are thinking of moving to Caracas while they plan how to leave the country. They see Caracas as the first step to keep working and eventually emigrate.
“Caracas feels like a paradise. You find more things in Caracas, food is much cheaper. There’s always water where I live, while in Maracaibo we had to make do without running water for months at a time. There’s people in the street at night here, in Maracaibo people just go home after office.
“A couple of friends are hosting me, we split the rent three ways. I have many friends who want to come to Caracas but haven’t been able to find a house.”
Orazio Adamo, illustrator
“In the street where we lived, in San Diego, Southern Valencia, there were several empty houses, and robberies skyrocketed. Rent prices made me leave for Merida in early 2017, but several months later I decided to go back because Merida has horrible shortages. In Valencia, we had to move at least twice because of the blackouts, since there are areas where power is more stable. Ultimately, I left the country and my mom and both my grandmothers are still in Valencia.”
Luisa Rondon Tarchetti, retiree
“20 years ago I retired and went to Merida from Caracas. My children were already grown-ups. I found the house of my dreams in La Pedregosa, 2,000 meters above sea level with an ideal weather, surrounded by gardens, dogs, cats, the occasional cow or horse on the road. I lived in peace there until the quality of life started to decline, as in the rest of the country. The road got filled with holes, crime took over, public transport was growing scarce. The long blackouts started two years ago, along with cooking gas shortages, many grocery stores closed and, on top of that, my CANTV cable was stolen. I had no internet for 20 years.
“I had to return to Caracas feeling defeated and 20 years older because Merida kicked me out. Caracas isn’t a lot better but at least there’s energy and fuel. My house is now worth nothing but the love I felt for it when I bought it. Merida has great weather but no fuel, cooking gas or anything else.”
Ligia Parra, journalist
“2016 was tough. We lived in Barinas and my husband was fighting a serious disease. My salary as a journalist barely covered some food. We started lining up in grocery stores to buy price-controlled products, but we frequently wasted our time (there were too many people doing just the same). It got to a point where we only ate rice and mango, and eventually we only ate mango and our 12-year-old wasn’t getting the nutrition he needs. That’s when I started thinking of going back to Tachira, where I was born, so we returned to my mom’s house. I won’t say it’s been a paradise, because it hasn’t, but at least we can always find vegetables, we learned to make arepas out of potatoes, cassava, celery, squash, carrots and plantains, and we cook a lot with vegetables because we always have them. La Grita is a farming town and friends always share what they harvest. I can say that we’ve overcome the days of poor eating, although it’s been three years since we moved to Tachira and we’ve been unable to bring our things because it’s too expensive. However, we’ve accomplished other things that make us stay here: when there’s a blackout, we’re still fresh, so we don’t need an air conditioner; although we don’t have a car now, everything’s nearby; bakeries have enough bread for everyone and we can buy it without standing in line. La Grita is a safe place and, even though there’s not much to do for fun, there are nearby towns to visit, parks and squares and sports center to workout and take the kids. What we need now is a place to store and work on our art collection, about 700 pieces of traditional art, so that we can share and teach people about the work of our Venezuelan and Tachira-born creators, something we’ve been doing for about 20 years.”
Anamar González, translator
“In December, 2018, I returned to El Limón, Maracay, after living in Margarita for nine years. Although it’s true that the island has never had particularly good services, they became catastrophic in the past year and a half. I need both electricity and internet to work, some projects demand constant and reliable connection because they use online translation tools, or CAT Tools. No connection, no way of accessing the document assigned to me.
In mid-2017, the state imposed a rationing plan in Nueva Esparta, with sector blackouts of three to four hours. ‘Luckily,’ so to speak, the schedule was fulfilled and I could plan my work. The problem was when the rationing in my sector ended, but started in the area where our internet provider had its servers. We were offline for six to eight hours a day, practically the entire work shift.
“It got worse in November, 2018, with the explosion of the gas pipeline supplying the power stations and substations in Margarita. Blackouts went on for 12, 14 and 16 hours, the whole island collapsed.
“This year, the already chronic water shortages got much worse. Our home was very close to Playa Parguito and we depended on the aqueduct that supplies the hotels in Playa El Agua and La Mira, but we still didn’t get water, so one of our neighbors dug a well to supply his hotel and allowed us to fill the underground tanks in nearby homes. Before that, we had to pay for a water tanker every 15 days.
“Cooking gas was also a huge issue. When we moved in, September, 2010, we called the gas provider, left a message on the answering machine and, two days later, we got a replacement cylinder at home. Well, that company doesn’t answer the phone at all now. We had to tour several stores to see if they had full cylinders, or cross half the island to reach a filling center. Once there, it’s four or five hours in line, to see if you get lucky and your cylinder is refilled. In those days, I either worked or stood in line.
“And as for air travel, my dad’s health declined and I had to travel every three months to help my family. I used to take a flight from Margarita to Valencia, because it was closer, but those flights grew less frequent over time (from three a day, to two a week). Of course, plane tickets got unaffordable.
“Basically, I returned to the continent looking for the quality of life I lacked in Margarita. Even with the March blackouts and the subsequent power rationing, I have electricity, internet and water here. We bought a power generator to supply the entire house and I can work, even when there’s no power.”
Arlenis Oliveros, programmer and comedian
“I came to Merida in 2014, to the town of La Azulita, and I live in Ciudad Fresita. It’s been five wonderful years: I live at a farm in a distant mountain, and we use solar energy, river water, we get mobile signal from Movistar (so we can work on software development) and we have a small piece of land where we grow bananas. We do our shopping in the town and work as volunteers in La Escuelita. La Azulita is a small, 150-year-old town, everyone knows each other. This is a different country; we all live in peace here, and we respect each other.
“Here, everything is an adventure. Planting seeds, listening to birds, the murmur of the river, the smell of the forest, the texture of clay. We cook either with gas or fire, we take long walks, the air is fresh, we eat great food, the place is safe and peaceful. It’s costly, of course. We live the same hardships as the rest of the country, problems with fuel, cooking gas, roads, transport, political tensions, we can’t travel much, and there are frequent power outages and water shortages.
“We have backup systems, our own power generator which runs on gas. We have four solar panels plus storage batteries to supply our home. We have DirecTV, laptops, mobile phones, we connect to the internet with our data plans. My husband installed everything, he’s a genius in the development of administrative software, for condos and communications.”
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