‘Why did you choose Venezuela?’
I cannot count how many times I have been asked this in the past month. It’s a question that has come not only from friends in Kenya but also from others across the world including Venezuelans themselves.
It is hardly a question that I can answer in under a minute.
And come to think of it, it’s hardly ever the REAL question. It usually comes laden with undercurrent questions such as: ‘Out of all the countries in the world, why the hell would you choose Venezuela?’ or assumptions such as: ‘You probably did not have any other choice; that’s why you are (t)here, right?’
For a response, I always have two options:
(1) to either give the long winding truth and wait for the question-askers to not believe me
(2) come up with an extremely dodgy statement and hope it doesn’t spawn millions of baby follow-up questions.
In recent days, I have been biased towards Option (2). Moreso, after I manufactured this fine piece of verbal diarrhoea as a clever response the other day:
‘I did not choose Venezuela, Venezuela chose me’
I know. It is the exact definition of ‘dodgy’. The kind of response that says something but at the same time says nothing at all; the kind that’s only effective in stalling follow-up questions, but not in eliminating them; the kind that quite efficiently opens a Pandora’s box.
It is also, however, the kind of response that I would want to wash and reuse. We are told recycling is good, right?
But before I can do that, I would first need to make sense of the whole damn thing. I mean…what does ‘Venezuela choosing me’ even mean?
Unless it gets some backbone, it deserves relegation into the Abysmal pit of Snake Oil responses.
So here goes. Some backbone.
Venezuela chose me to teach me that necessity is the mother of invention.
i.e. A language is not learnt until you are forced to use it.
Venezuela was very keen to teach me that although I had been learning Spanish by myself through audio lessons and movies in my spare time, I was pretty much still in the neighbourhood of ZERO. And it was a huge neighbourhood. But somehow I wasn’t too far from the edge of that neighbourhood until I worked to get out. Circumstances also helped a lot; like getting to live with non-English speakers.
It became apparent that I actually had a lot of Spanish vocabulary up my sleeve when I had to be the translator between a non-English speaker and a non-Spanish speaker. It is now an every day job. And it damn well forces me to think harder; dig deep into my memory; make use of gestures (There was once when I had no choice but to use gestures and sounds to demonstrate the word ‘egg’. Yes, not easy); google search new words (Google translate is not my No.1 option because it lacks context); internalize spanish subtitles as if my life depends on it (Which for me is the best way to learn new vocabulary); ask names of things; but most importantly, test drive new words in atrociously faulty sentences! All these have totally improved my Spanish in just a few weeks.
Perhaps the goal of being a fairly good conversationalist in 3 months is not so far-fetched after all!
Venezuela chose me to remind me that one can never be too paranoid with regards to crime and insecurity.
i.e. Among the most important things I remembered to carry in my suitcase: my Kenyan-induced paranoia of being robbed anywhere and by anyone.
Just the other day, a friend of mine gave me the depressing details of how he had been robbed on the streets of Maracaibo by a gun-wielding bike robber. It was just 2 days before my first monthiversary as a gringa in this new country. By that time, I had acquainted myself with the fact that such were normal occurrences to most Venezuelans.
Of course as a Kenyan, I am not one to judge. It is second nature for me to look around for phone snatchers while answering a call on the street, or to use sniper-like precision while texting or chatting on the window seat of a matatu.
I am not accustomed to insecurity, but I sure-as-hell expect it.
And while there is a likelihood that some of the guns used by thieves in Kenya are fake, in Venezuela, you’d MUCH rather not test your luck.
So the order of the day is: Don’t take your eyes off of your possessions…Don’t answer your phone on the street especially if it is a smartphone… or just don’t have a smartphone…and if a suspicious motorbike is approaching, find a way to not look very rob-worthy… or if the motorbike guy unfortunately catches you off guard and says Dame todo! (Give me everything!) while pointing a gun, please PLEASE make sure you do nothing less…. and since they usually would not have time for a body search, perhaps the best use of your underwear, in such a case, would be in storing your most-priced possessions (no pun was intended here). It is my guess that custom bras and boxers with secret pockets could sell very well here as they would in Nairobi.
Venezuela chose me to teach me that panic is for the weak.
i.e. Why waste your time on panic when solutions and/or explanations are waiting just around the corner?
If you are totally confused by the millions of old-style cars on the streets when you first arrive, don’t panic; you have not been dropped by a time machine back into the 70s or 80s. Those just happen to be the cars that are easier to purchase here and the absolutely old ones are a form of a shared taxi phenomenon called Carritos. Quite similar to what I experienced in Lagos, Nigeria.
Here however, please try not to get hit by one of them Carritos because you would most likely die of tetanus before dying from the injuries caused by the impact. And if your car is new, don’t even try to get hit by them. Nothing dents them. They dent you.
If you find yourself confused by the scores of Venezuelans making lines outside supermarkets early in the morning, worry not. They are just waiting to get in and buy the new stock of tissue paper, soap, powder milk, wheat flour or maize flour before they are out of stock in a few hours. Please panic if you are missing one of these things and you are not on that line, or you do not know anyone on that line, or you have no plan whatsoever how to get these commodities. But if you have Venezuelan friends- they will definitely know how to help you beat or cheat the system and get all that you need J In that case, no need to worry.
If you find yourself confused by how much money you CAN get from just a fair amount of dollars, sit a Venezuelan down and tell them to explain why that is; fairly long story. You will be listening but you will definitely not be complaining especially if you actually have some dollars with you. It works like magic! And do not panic at the fact that you may at times have to walk around with an actual bundle of money tied together with a rubber band. That’s just because the highest denomination is merely a 100 bolivares note. If you can safely avoid carrying your bundles of cash everywhere you go, then worry not.
Venezuela chose to teach me a different meaning of Love and Affection
i.e. Why over-think the meanings of ‘Love’ and ‘Affection’ when you can simply show them to others?
One thing that has always drawn me to the Latin American culture is the ‘loving’ and ‘affectionate’ demeanour of Latin Americans. I always told myself that I would one day live here to see it for myself and try to understand it better. No doubt I got to experience a bit of it from my Latin American friends over the years, from trips to Mexico and to Brazil; but by far the largest impact has been through actually living here and trying to fit into the culture as a local rather than as a tourist.
From the cheek-to-cheek kiss that says hola; to the public displays of affection, which is quite different from Kenya where it is an unwritten taboo; to the open declarations of affection, where use of the word ‘Love’ is quite common unlike what I am accustomed to; to the gasp-worthy stares that follow whenever you mention you are not dating anyone at the moment; to the touchy-feely interactions and invaded personal spaces.
I still cannot quite explain why such things are so deeply rooted into this culture unlike others, but I can definitely attest to how great it is to witness and embrace it. I can only watch with awe when friends and their family members here express their love so openly and so deeply. People here are not as scared to use the word ‘Love’ as myself or Kenyans (or perhaps Africans) generally are. They just care about showing it and showing it they do.
And last but definitely not least, I think Venezuela chose me to test my resolve in actually following my dreams
i.e. I could either continue paying lip service to my dreams or I could go all in and do something about them, regardless of what people will think.
Funny enough, this is the answer to the original question that my dodgy response was escaping from. The actual Option (1) response.
Yep, we are back to square one.
But that is for another time and place (Read: blog): something I would like to largely describe as my ‘Perfect Day’.
And in case you still haven’t gotten the point….. I am glad that Venezuela chose me and even with the ups and downs and the downright unbelievable, I am certainly glad that I answered the call.
Que sera sera!