Drinking to Resilience on a Caricuao Friday Night
The day war broke out between the police and El Koki's mega gang in southwestern Caracas, Jeremi went to buy a bottle of anís with a friend. To them, it was Friday
Another Friday night falls over the city after a long week of hard work. Friday should be a day to celebrate all your little victories: the stuff you’ve accomplished at your job, the things you’ve learned. But when you live in Venezuela there may be even more reasons for celebrations, considering the extreme circumstances we live under. And our people don’t miss a beat of that party.
I write this from Caricuao, one of the most populated boroughs of Caracas. You can think of Caricuao as a sort of Macondo, the mythical village in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but this one is in southwestern Caracas, with what used to be middle-income apartment buildings, full of people with a lovely sense of belonging, a Metro station, a zoo, all of them surrounded by mango trees, ceibas, and mountains, except for the Ávila, which can’t be seen from here.
El Koki and his gang were in everyone’s mouth that day, on July 9th. Some were afraid, a few were excited to see how a man was fighting the police, an unpopular institution among some Caricuao residents. It was around 6:00 p.m., when liquor stores were full of customers buying beer and that was the only thing people were talking about. I was walking with one of my friends, looking for Anís (Cartujo, of course) and cigarettes, when we saw a squad of FAES agents driving to La Vega from their headquarters in Caricuao.
I remembered seeing a similar image before, in 2017, one night when GNB officers were entering Caricuao to repress people who were protesting. 2017 was a bad year for everyone. We’ve been learning how to deal with this country since then, amid the partial dollarization that grew grow softly, some attempts of the opposition to find political order, a lot of tear gas and deaths, and a massive exodus.
We don’t like to remember those days, but the scars are still there. Somewhere on the road from those days to 2021, we lost track of political issues and candidates; I don’t know why, maybe we’re just tired. We never lost hope in Caricuao, just like in any other borough of this city. We had to keep living, even when that meant to stop worrying about anything that wasn’t food or water because they were both very scarce, even when days were lost between the long lines and the uncertain future, even when we said goodbye to so many: we chose to live, and that’s our best way to fight.
Walking through Bolívar Square (every town has one), my friend told me, a bit worried, about his brother, who was thinking of going to the gold mines in Guayana because there’s good money to be made there, as people say. Many others we knew went there or went to Colombia for the same reason. If they are fortunate enough to come back, you can see them drinking and celebrating just like everyone else, but they don’t like to talk much about what they did in those places.
Sometimes I wonder if we are resilient or if we just gave up. If the way we live is admirable, or a kind of surreal, insane, behavior.
We found the Anís Cartujo a few blocks down. The liquor store had many José Gregorio Hernández posters on its walls and the TV was set to VTV, the state channel, showing images of the spectacular 200th-anniversary celebration of the Carabobo Battle. No one was listening. We paid for the alcohol and left.
Sometimes I wonder if we are resilient or if we just gave up. If the way we live is admirable, or a kind of surreal, insane, behavior. The only truth I know is that life keeps happening, even if everything is against it: the political history of the country, the gangs, the insecurity, the hunger. You just have to take a walk on the west side of this town and you’ll notice: everyone is still standing, some of them drinking rum or anís today, because maybe you won’t be here tomorrow.
My friend and I got to our destination safely. We barely talked about what was happening in the country that day and then switched the conversation to matters of consequence for Venezuelan university students like us. I’ve learned to accept this precarious peace of every Friday as something normal, and almost unquestionable. Maybe we deserve this, who knows.
There are some questions after all. For instance, is there a better life than this? Should we be more committed to the future, in terms of political ideals? And finally, is everything okay if we can drink a beer at the end of the week?
I don’t know yet, but I’m sure we’ll find the answer someday, one of these Friday nights.
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