The last month I have had my best friend from Venezuela visiting me in Norway. It has been incredible to show her around in my country, but also it has been good for her to come here and talk to people about life in Venezuela. We were so lucky to be invited to a cultural lunch at the Norwegian Peace Corps in Oslo, where Vanessa was asked to hold a little speech about being young in Venezuela. I have to admit; I thought I was prepared for whatever she would talk about because, after all, I have lived in Venezuela. I was wrong. The story she told was so personal and real that I think it moved everyone listening to her talk. Too few people know how difficult life is for young people in Venezuela. I therefore want to publish her speech, with a hope that it can make people get a personal insight how things are in Venezuela. Sadly, her story is not uncommon for venezuelans.
(PS: got Twitter: @MartineRetting)
How it is to be young in Venezuela? By Vanessa Brito Canzonieri
Life in Venezuela is so different from Norway that it was a challenge to come up with a way of summarize it. I tried to think of how to explain how it is hard economically, socially or politically. All those topics are too broad and, the truth to be told, I can’t say I fully understand them. So I decided for a different approach. After all, information about my country, like every other, is two clicks away. Instead of pretending I know better I will tell something only I can say.
I came to Norway because I had the amazing opportunity to attend to ISFiT, the international student festival in Trondheim. I heard the speeches of the most astonishing people, including the Dalai Lama. But, that was not the most impressive thing I heard during those days. One of the guys from my workshop was from Syria and he told me his story. Afterwards he said he didn’t like to talk about it because it hurts too much, but he did it anyway. That changed the way I see Syria, but also the way I see people and even myself. So, that’s what I’m going to do today. Tell a personal story, that of course won’t be as haunting as the Syrian war, but hopefully it will stay with you for longer than some data, numbers and facts.
I’m going to tell you how it was the first time I got robbed. These stories are common in Venezuela, when and how you got robbed. We would often make fun out it, but I won’t make this one funny. I have never told this to anyone, at least not the complete version.
I was 15 years old, that was 9 years ago. I was going back home from the English course I took after classes. I took the bus and sat by the window, since I have always liked to watch cars and people walk by. A guy sat next to me. He was thin and seemed like he had aged a great deal in too little time. He was restless and anxious. I connected these things with nothing, I just recall I didn’t like him. He ask several questions that I answer vaguely. Then he asked: “do you wanna see something?” and I didn’t, but I replayed “ok”. Maybe because I didn’t want to upset him. He pulled a gun out of his jacket. A long beige old revolver, maybe it was too old, maybe it didn’t even work. But it was indeed a gun and he had his finger on the trigger.
He said: “it’s fine, I just need to solve something with those guys back there. That’s how it is”. I said “ok” again and looked back to the window wishing really hard he would go for those guys back there, and not me… He didn’t. He wanted to test how I would react, but more than anything he wanted to show me the gun. So when he pressed the gun against my ribs, I would know for sure what it was and that his finger was on the trigger. I never panicked, I felt numb and slow. Afterward he said: “Don’t look at me and give me everything you have”. I only had my phone and some cash, but it was a camera phone and back then it was really cool thing. I gave the things to him.
Then he made me open my notebook, a pink hello kitty notebook that I had just used to take notes in my class. He told me to write. He demanded that I would write my name and all my relatives’ names, where they work and my addresses. How I kept my head cold I have no idea, but everything I wrote was fake; a collage of information of many people’s life. He took the page and said: “if you ever tell this to anyone, I’ll hunt you down. I’ll rape you, I’ll kill you and all your family”. For a moment I felt a little like I won. I wasn’t more powerful than him, but I was more clever.
He leaned forwards to stand up, but then he changed his mind. “Wait a minute” he said, “aren’t you hiding anything from me?” Then I felt my heart pumping crazy fast. He didn’t mean that I was lying, though. He leaned towards me. He touched my breast because he wanted to make sure I wasn’t hiding cash in my bra. That was the first time a guy ever did that to me. So I lost, being clever means nothing when you’re powerless.
When he left, the bus was empty because people had noticed what was happening. In Venezuela that doesn’t mean they’ll try to help, call the police or do anything whatsoever. It means they’ll discretely leave. Just like I had wished he would go for the guys back there. “Let it be anyone but me” is the common behavior. It’s really hard to blame them. I only cried when I got home, after walking numbly. I never went to the police. In the first place because it’s a too small crime so they would not care, after all I didn’t have a scratch. And second, because going to the police seems to be the most efficient way for these guys to find you again. They’ll pay their way out of justice and then they’ll go after you.
For a while I was too scared to go out alone. I wouldn’t go anywhere if my parents didn’t drive me and picked me up. But, I was missing out life. I was caged. Like the teenager I was, I took a radical decision. Instead of being afraid of everything, I became afraid of nothing. I grew up as a reckless and unattached person. I was aware that disaster was around the corner everyday. I was conscience that the things in my pockets in the morning might not belong to me anymore when I come back home. I still am. The line of danger is very hard to draw when stepping out of a house, it means this kind of risk. But I have to live.
On 24th of February this year, a 14 years old boy was killed by the police because he was in a protest (http://goo.gl/4akVTC). People in Venezuela and around the world is outraged about it, but in Venezuela kids are far too often exposed to weapons. Even when it is a political crisis, and repression and violence are higher that ever, this is not something new. Venezuelan youth are unprotected, life itself is unsafe. Last year there were 25000 violent deaths in this country. In a way, growing old is a matter of chance.
My generation has no future, simply because the future is too dark of a place to think about. Survival and sanity requires to stay present. We might have goals, dreams and hopes, but never plans. We live day by day. Our victories are the small ones.