Friday, 22 June 2012

Life and Death in Venezuela ( Part 1)

One of the advantages of our program in Caracas is that our hosts are eager to show us as much as possible of the city and of Jesuit related works -either run by  Jesuits, or by their partners-. As I've said in previous posts, because of this, we've met many people. We even last week went into the home of a 'housing project' (for lack of better word) and talked with the families there. It was a moving visit. We heard about the troubles in the country, most of which revolve around violence. They kept talking about the tragedy that shaped their community: 3 kids killed by drug related violence. The community's response was to get together, as often as possible, and try to move forward, to look at ways to improve their standard of living. They cleaned up the neighbourhood, built new houses and tried their best to provide support for those in need.
 The result is that they're living in a community where people are fairly friendly and close. It's a like a large family. Quite impressive. But it's how they responded to the violence that impressed the most. I have heard of communities coming together during times of crisis, but never like this. The violence has all but disappeared from this part of the city, and this group probably has a lot to do with that. This kind of violence remains an integral part of Venezuelan life. It's the reason we are encouraged to stay put during the week, or at least, to not leave the house unaccompanied. For that reason, for the first month that we were here, the violence remained an almost abstract thing for me. It didn't have a personal dimension. Then we met Cathy.

  Cathy is the Scientists that was our guide when we visited another part of the country. Jhozman and Adam coordinated the effort. They got in touch with her and expressed interest in visiting the Observatories, located high up in the Andes. For 4 hours, Cathy took us around from one station to the next, visiting various telescopes. Not only that, she did it all in flawless  English (at my request). A lovely woman full of life. Lots of passion for her field and for explaining what they do at the observatory. The next day, in gratitude for her time and energy, we took her out for lunch. She told us a bit of her story. As it turns out, she had a boyfriend for many years. He was killed probably by a robber on the streets a few years ago.  It kind of amazed me to hear this person tell us her story, because she was indeed someone was full of life. I know many who would have been emotionally and perhaps psychologically drained by such an incident. But she seemed to have the tenacity to keep on going. It was inspiring. Just as there is much violence and death in this country, there are also  many life giving moemnts, people and places.

 One  such place was a community we met today (June 22). In the heart of the Caracas, amidst all the run down houses and garbage, is a house for Catholic men who are students at the university level. Not unlike Fe y Alegria, they are a community of men that are from poorer backgrounds, and are being given a chance to do  their studies with a little financial help from the community that they live in. It wasn't an inspiring encounter with the guys, but it was a warm one, an intimate one. We met, we chatted, we asked about their lives, they about ours, and we 'bonded'. It was a special (and truly life giving) encounter for me.It's comforting to know that amidst the poverty are little stories of hope that are unfolding in each one of their lives. One guy is studying to become a manager, an other is a Music student, others are doing more technical stuff. All, are being given a chance to make something out of their lives, rather than succumbing to the violence that surrounds them. Truly beautiful, and heart warming to see.
 On the rather unpleasant ride home - I'm not going to lie. Caracas is not one of those cities that I find charming.I don't hate it, but it takes some getting used to. I'll be writing more about that in another blog- we got to a corner where there were many police bikes, and  a big crowd of people gathered on the side walk. I assumed it was just a traffic accident, or maybe an altercation. Yet like everyone else on the bus, I was peering, to try to see what had happened. Then I saw 'it'. 

  In fact, it sounds like we in the bus, all saw 'it' at the same time, as quiet groans were heard and people turned away in shock: A body. Covered by a blanket, with a pool of blood around it. The people on the side walk -there must have been hundreds of them- stood quietly, and just looked on without saying a word as the police tried to direct the traffic until the ambulance arrived..  How many of these happen every day in Caracas?  I actually don't know. One guy told me probably about 5 people a day die in drug related violence across the country -so not just Caracas then-.  This, not unlike the life of the Barrios is SO far removed from my own sheltered little life, that I don't know how to respond to it. That's not true. I'll do what I always do when I feel powerless and small...

 I'll pray.


  1. I am not sure how to explain the highlighted part of my blog. I've had this problem when I tried pasting something into it in the past, but I did not try this time. Anyways, hope it's not too annoying!!

  2. Oh Dan... I know this is people's lives in many places (sometimes our own societies included) but it is shocking and horrible to see. Big love & hugs. x

    1. It's a little meaningful to me here, because people keep talking about the violence, ,but I hadn't really seen examples of it until this point. And there's no question this happens everywhere in the world, but it's a reminded that we westerners do live slightly sheltered lives... or perhaps the reverse should be expressed: We're fortunate enough to live in peaceful countries. It would be nice if we could contribute something to help bring that peace to other troubled nations, but something tells me there's very little we can do...besides praying!
      Thanks Claire. Hugs back at you!