The world is starting to notice how Venezuela is collapsing. What did the trick is the flow of refugees crossing the borders, travelling by bus all the way to Argentina, drowning in front of Curazao, or simply picking up their one way ticket at the airport.
There are so many reasons to leave the country and yet the one that I growing is our daily humiliations, something that is, no doubt, a welcome side effect for the regime. Like any totalitarian system, the more so if tutored by Cuba, one way to control people is to humiliate them so they get grateful when the level of humiliation relents. Leaving because you are hungry, or your health is threatened, or because you know that you are in the list for an upcoming middle of the night arrest is a clear decision. Leaving because you are humiliated is not a clear decision. Leaving because you are humiliated is what the dictator wants. When you leave your country because you cannot endure humiliation anymore becomes your own acknowledgement of failure. You lost, the dictator won. For the dictator it is the sweeter because the memories of your humiliation may haunt you forever and bar you from returning home, not wanting to walk where so many perceived personal failings will taunt you back.
I live daily such small failures, mine or the ones I see.
The other day I realized that I was passing my finger on the corners of my veggie lunch box. I do put a few drops of olive oil on my raw veggies, dieting obliges. I cannot afford olive oil anymore but I have been wise in making a significant stock when I could still afford it. My veggies are fresh, my olive oil is good. There is nothing left inside really. And yet I pass carefully my finger in the corners where some nectar may remain. I cannot let any of it go to waste. Ere I would do it out of delight, now out of misery.
But it gets worse. Seeing people ransacking trash is now a daily occurrence. I still cannot think about a scene I saw without getting nauseous, badly nauseous. Even as I type this. I cannot control it. I saw a kid, no more than 12-13, passing his finger in some plate he took out of the trash and licking it. Just as I lick my precious droplet of olive oil. Vicarious humiliations...
The lines for cash at the bank are endless. Now people stand early in the morning in front of the bank to see if the local agency will be supplied with cash during the day. They will not get much but they need it because that is the only way to pay for bus fare, or the tip to the kid that loads your grocery bags. Or your parking.
There was that old lady the other day telling me that she must go everyday of the week to the bank, get whatever she could, because her humble cleaning lady is unable to open a savings account and thus she needs to pay her in cash and food. Food is what she gave when she did not make it early enough tot he bank.
But cash is not enough. As I cannot keep up with how fast tips should go I now ask point blank the kids that help me carry my grocery bags to the car if the tip is enough. My tips are sort of shrinking because there is less and less cash so I cannot be the splendid tipper I used to be (0.5-1 % of my purchases, very, very high by Venezuelan standards). Yesterday the kid asked me not to give cash anymore but rather a food item..... I was humiliated that I had not thought of this earlier. And the kid was in big discomfort for asking me that.
The S.O. is in no conditions to stand in line for food, or cash. I have to do all his shopping. He does not know what it is to fight for a pound of sugar. I take him every week end to do his shopping and carry his bags. For some mysterious reason there was a delivery of rice and sugar just a the moment we arrived at X store. There are no deliveries on week ends anymore, there are already so few deliveries on week days.... But that surprise did not dull my reflexes, nor those of everyone else at the store. In seconds I was fighting my way to the top of the forming line, somewhat managing to scream at and drag the S.O. without him getting hurt by the forming throngs. We succeeded and the double loot was good (all for him in the end, I did not need that stuff). But I was humiliated because he did not know that I was doing so often for him (it is bad enough already that I have to do it for myself). And he was humiliated because he did not know how bad things were becoming.
I am humiliated because now whenever I leave for shopping I need to juggle my many card accounts to see where I will be able to stick the expensive bills fo the week end. I am not complaining, I have plenty of cards and I manage to pay them. But the banks are slow and I cannot sell Euros that easily to be able to pay them back within days. So there is the card with the top limit that I save for medical emergencies. Must be always clean. There is the one for the S.O. shopping that he cannot pay as fast as he would like to because he is a public employee and the state is not offering the bonuses it used to offer. So to simplify I put all of his expenses there and he pays whenever he can. And there is the one I use for my own shopping. And the one I keep as clean as possible, with a good limit, to buy good deals when I am lucky enough to find them, like the three cases of milk I bought two weeks ago. Buy right then, pay whenever Euros part my hands.
I am humiliated because it has been months that I have not gone out to eat. I could, I do not want to. I could not enjoy it when I know that I might find people outside eating the garbage of the guests eating at my table before I walked in. And I am humiliated because I see people still eating out and drinking expensive as if the country's problems were not theirs. Or of their own making. It is humiliating not to be able to tell them because I would be a hypocrite because, well, I am there, am I not, even if there is not even beer at my table. I am humiliated because I cannot succumb to that extremism and I force myself to treat the S.O. to a cup of coffee and a pastry on occasion.
I am humiliated because I can manage what are now outrageous luxuries for many. Luxuries that are after all only the pale mirror of the life I used to have, your normal middle class life. I cannot feel good about managing these luxuries but I cannot feel good about not helping those who are in deep shit because, well, they did vote for Chavez again and again. They deserve their fate but it is of little comfort to me.