There’s an old saying that goes: “Éramos muchos y parió la Abuela”, which literally translates to “We were many and then grandma gave birth”, in other words “As if we didn’t had enough problems already.”
That above-mentioned phrase, often repeated in many situations, has become more relevant than ever this past week. The first confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Venezuela were announced last week and oh boy, time to buckle up.
Last Thursday was like any other in this area, running water came back, and my daily loop gets a modicum of normalcy as a result, since the few days that we do have running water are days where my routine isn’t built around the 1 hour rations. You wake up on a Friday expecting it to be more of the same—but it sure wasn’t.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, and other commercial establishments full of of people driven by panic and hysteria, hoping to stockpile on how much they could in order to prepare themselves for the pandemic. It’s a rodeo we know too well and one that we as Venezuelans have accumulated vast amounts of collective experience over the past years—albeit for much different reasons. People frantically grabbing toilet paper from the shelves? That’s old, please tell me a new story.
That hectic Friday came and went, I kept it easy and instead opted to go to my local supermarket first thing in the morning on Saturday, arriving mere minutes before it opened its doors. After twenty minutes past 08:00a.m. and the place was once again jam packed; thankfully, early bird gets the worm (and skips the lines) so by the time the locale was cramming I was already on my way out.
And then the announcement of a Social Quarantine hit us. Caracas, along with six other states, where locked down, a mandate that was rapidly extended to the rest of the country. Schools were closed, and so was everything not deemed essential, such as health and food distribution. My only experience with self imposed quarantines is limited to the days of the H1N1 outbreak, where a possible case was suspected in the Perez Carreño Hospital, where my mother used to work at. She isolated herself in her room and wore a surgical mask during those days. Thankfully the situation was just a false positive, and things rapidly went back to normal.
The country’s dynamics shifted on Monday, wearing a mask outside is pretty much mandatory, lest you risk being arrested, and everyone is urged to stay at home.
In all honestly, for a borderline autistic social recluse such as myself, this social quarantine doesn’t really change my daily loop, if at all; all of my inherent responsibilities remain unchanged, and I continue to carry out with both paternal roles for my brother, taking care of him while also not neglecting my role as his big brother, with my own personal activities woven in between.
For the past two years or so, I’ve let my brother choose what to eat on the next day, given his mental condition he’s opted to adhere to a very predictable and structured pattern, as he does with much of the things in his life. With that in mind, I spend the past weekend meticulously arranging and organizing our food supplies and groceries, with the goals of reducing the amount of times I need to walk to our nearest supermarket.
When it comes to the country, however, this new reality does present a radical shift; the whole ‘stay at home’ is a feeling that’s very akin to the one we experienced during the long strike that took place towards the end of 2002—except that this time, it’s not due to a political strategy or a form of protest, it’s because of a worldwide pandemic.
I would say that at least in the street I live in, there’s an almost ethereal tranquility of some sorts, one that I’m not used to at all. No traffic jam sounds in the distance, no music, nada. Not even the kids that usually play outside on a nearby building can be heard.
This social quarantine is, without a doubt, the authoritarian wet dream, but as drastic as these measures might seem, I, in a way, see the reasoning behind them. Our health system is completely obliterated and there’s no way we can deal with this situation should a severe outbreak of the virus took place—we simply can’t, it’d just be catastrophic.
Hell, we can’t even maintain proper hygiene across the country given how dire the water shortages have become, last week we only received ~52 hours of water, down from our usual ~72.
For the Venezuelan opposition, the timing couldn’t had been worse. Juan Guaido had called for a rally on the 10th of March, and sure, the turnout was ‘3.6 roentgen not great but not terrible’. The suspension of all social gatherings, and the internal and external lockdown of the country quelled the flames of rallies and protest before they even had a chance to spread.
I honestly don’t think that the majority of the country is even interested in this long and drawn out conflict right now, everyone’s just focused on not getting infected with Coronavirus, and making sure that there’s food on the table, as getting sick here can often be a death sentence, given how obliterated our health system is.
There’s also the fact that some people can’t afford to shutdown their businesses here, and there’s other circumstances that are causing headaches to some, such as the impending tax filling deadline (of which there’s no extension as of the time of writing this), an increase in the actual taxes and costs of utilities, et al.
Internet has been heavily throttled for the past week, to the point that it’s almost unusable for most of the day. The fact that the throttling begins at ends at specific times like clockwork leads me to believe that it’s the same ’11-11′ traffic shaping shenanigans that they’ve been employing for years in times of protests.
Paramilitary forces enacting a fierce curfew on the territory under their control should be cause of alarm and shock in a normal country, I assume. This is Venezuela, and of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
A few days later all of this started and everyone seems to have rapidly adapted to this new reality of ours. In what limited trips I’ve made outside my house over the past week I’ve noticed that people are less panicky and hysteric as they were when this started, but they seem more jittery an distrustful of one another. Not everyone can afford a mask, so it’s not rare to see people wearing improvised cloth contraptions or homemade solutions. I personally am using surgical masks that belonged to my mother, procured from her room.
As I mentioned in a tweet of mine, I’ve remained cool headed ever since this started, not because I’m a paragon of stern discipline or anything, but because I’m simply physically and mentally worn out, and exhausted after the past years of my life. From the socialist collapse, shortages, lines of all kinds, my mother’s fight against cancer, failing to fulfill my promise to her of being able to legally migrate with my brother to start a new life, to other complications, as well as my own shortcomings and flaws.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not without my fair share of stress on this situation, and its starting to show.
As a consequence of this global pandemic, and the fact that Venezuela is locked down from the outside world, I’m pretty much stranded here until this passes. It may sound selfish for me to say this, given the dire state of things across the globe, but I am legitimately bummed and disheartened that once again, my attempts to obtain a visa to legally migrate with my brother has been put to a halt until this passes, heck, I can’t even leave this city right now.
Naturally, I expect the regime will seize this crisis and benefit from it one way or another, be it by presenting themselves with a faux renewed legitimacy, push some sort of heroic narrative that presents them as an unwavering force at the face of adversity (ie. muh sanctchuns), further push their Fatherland ID system—you name it. They’re not exactly known for their honesty and truthfulness, especially when it comes to hiding reality, so…
It will soon be the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s passing. I don’t see myself being able to go to church on the 31st of March, this lockdown is certainly force majeure.
What else can one do but take care of and hope that this doesn’t escalate, and that things go back to that stagnant normalcy that we’ve become accustomed to so I can continue my personal efforts.
Regardless, I hope that each and every one of you is safe out there, and that your friends and loved ones are as well.
Take it easy, and stay frosty.