Castilian & Literature, Elsa: She was deep into politics and was an open and proud member of the Fifth Republic Movement (the precursor to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela). She was a good teacher, quite strict, and with a very short fuse when it came to ‘debate’ her political points with the class (the Bolivarian Revolution was only in its third year in power back then). She coincidentally has the same name as an opposition columnist, something that surprised me a long time ago because, for a time I believed she had done the unthinkable and switched teams, lol.
Math, Argenis: It’s not that he was bad at teaching, it’s just that I was (and still am) bad at math. Be that as it may, this relatively young teacher was genuinely friendly with the class.
Chemistry, Tomas: He lived and breathed chemistry, to the point that his middle name is the Spanish word for Selenium. Dude was very chill, amiable, and prone to crack jokes. He really knew how to make Chemistry classes interesting and explain things with quirks and twists — and I don’t mean in a cringe Reddit way. It was insanely difficult to upset him, and I only saw him really upset once, but I can no longer remember the reason.
Commerce, (forgot her name): This particular teacher was pregnant by the time I started classes there. She was kind, and I was exceptionally good at that Commerce class for reasons that still elude me. Even after she went on maternity leave and a substitute teacher came in, I was still good at that class, so I enjoyed every single moment of it. Eventually she briefly visited everyone to introduce her new baby, that was a good, wholesome day for everyone.
Computer class, (forgot his name): These were run by a young guy. Nothing much to say beyond the fact that he was kinda cringe in the way he boasted how he knew how to ‘hack Windows.’ Most of our classes involved a sort of rudimentary software coding learning program — Logo perhaps, I can no longer remember which one it was.
English, (forgot her name): My top ace class. Here’s the kicker, though, I cannot remember the teacher. I remember her being a woman, and I faintly remember her skin tone and hair, but I can’t remember anything else. Not much else to say, this was the only subject besides Commerce that I had exceptionally great grades.
Religion, (forgot her name): A predominantly Catholic nation means there’s bound to be religion classes in private schools. These were not mandatory and had no bearing on your grades. The only way you could skip them was if your parents and you professed a different religion and/or opted you out for said reasons (there were at least two or three students that did not participate in them for this reason).
Technical Drawing (same teacher as religion): The final bane of my existence. I’ve always been clumsy with my hands and barely have any dexterity with them, even with my dominant left hand. The teacher was affectionately known as the ‘nonna’ given her Italian heritage and age. I did not call like that not out of disrespect, but because it felt weird, given that that’s how they’d call my grandmother, and given the animosity of my dad’s family towards my mom, brother, and myself. My less than pleasant experience with my father’s family, still a fresh memory at that time, did certainly cause me to have a degree of unjust prejudice towards her — couple that with my disastrous grades in that subject, and well…I only passed due to a technicality, but I’ll explain that later.
Sports teacher, (forgot his name): The one I interacted the least, seeing as I did not participate in P.E. classes until much later, when my feet had been fully recovered and I was able to wear shoes.
Physics, (forgot his name): An old creep — turns out, he was, in fact, an old creep. He knew his stuff, and while his classes were boring, he knew how to explain things. The girls in the classroom reported his rather unpleasant creep antics to Mrs. Gilda, and she really dropped the ball by straight up telling the guy instead of addressing the matter with more delicacy. At the end, this infuriated the guy, and his classes became harder on purpose, to the point that most of us straight up cheated by writing the formulas discreetly in our calculators — also, because he’d just repeat the same tests, we’d just get copies of the previous year’s tests from 10th grade students. He was legit a creep, though. As a naive 14 year old at the time, I did not fully grasp the severity, extent, and gravity of the situation.
THE ERA OF BROADBAND & KAZAA
These were simpler times, indeed. At the time I was using Morpheus to download music with the 56k connection that we had at the time — that is, until Tavo told me about this brand new program called Kazaa.
This was also around the time when we got broadband internet. Our 56k connection wasn’t the best of things, and it was rather pricey for what it was. Back then, CANTV, the now govt-owned ISP, was mostly owned by Verizon, and they had begun to massify the use of their nascent ABA broadband service — the very same ADSL service I used all the way up to January of 2022.
Long story short, my mom once again did the sacrifice and got us a brand new 256k broadband service with a flexible setup fee payment plan not just for my ‘studies,’ but for her work as well (she did a lot of medical conferences and lectures both inside and outside the country throughout her career).
This broadband changed everything, it was so blazing fast (imagine suddenly being able to download at 25Kb/s), and together with Kazaa, the sky was the limit. From music, South Park episodes, subbed Dragon Ball movies, a world of possibilities was open to me. I even eventually upgraded our family pc to Windows Xp.
I make special mention of all of this because this was a crucial point (for better or worse) of my life. It was the beginning of my actual online presence and it was when the internet began to be more of a novelty and more of a window towards the world for such a lonely teenager.
And man, what a long, strange, 20 year (and counting) journey has it been, one that’s still far from over.
FEELING PART OF THE GROUP
As time went on, I finally began to open up towards others once more, and for a time in my life, I began to be more outgoing, just like how I used to be up until 1999 in 6th grade before we left Maracaibo. I’d talk with others, laugh, make jokes, and not feel overwhelmed, scared, and shy.
That school had really begun to have a positive impact on me, and I was happy. It didn’t matter that I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, that money was tight, and all that. I was finally in a position where I felt comfortable among my classmates, something I didn’t quite feel during 7th and 8th grade.
From talking about South Park, Dragon Ball, to even more ‘normie’ programs such as The Osbournes. Kazaa + ADSL meant that I could download music and share conversations about it with others. Even the 2002 World Cup allowed me to interact with others just as the 1998 one had in its time.
Mind you, I was a 14 year old in a classroom of people 2+ years older than me, and yet, I had no need to hide my ‘geek’ interests anymore. All was good, and this began to even have a positive impact on my grades, although I never fully became the ace student that I was up until 1999.
This was the year 2002. There was no such thing as social media, smartphones, or even wifi routers in Venezuelan households for that matter. We did, however, have this cool thing called MSN Messenger. One of the first things the students did for me was to give me a copy of the shared email list, in return, I made a brand new one hotmail address, one that was Star Wars related because the Episode II craze was all the rave at the time (what do you think my first pirated movie download was?)
And thus, with ADSL internet access, and MSN Messenger installed, I was able to chat with my fellow classmates every afternoon, be part of group chats, and all that. Hell, it was during this time that Quince explained to a few of us the meaning of “LOL.”
Most students had a nickname, and I would not get one until some time later. I don’t remember much of this particular classmate, other than her blonde hair. She was the one that ‘assigned’ me the nickname ‘beef ball’ due to my weight. This was a short lived one, replaced by “Cartman.”
Nevertheless, neither of them really stuck, and everyone would call me Christian anyways. While I was ‘part of the group’ I was still too shy to hang out with friends outside of classes, and I never really got to go to the movies with them or anything of the sorts — moving to this city, and all that happened, really did a number on me. It is what it is, though.
THE SPREAD OF POLITICS
2002 was a very complex and turning point for Venezuela, and the conflict between the Revolution and the opposition began to get quite real. Naturally, the biggest event of early 2002 was the week-long strike that took place in April of 2002, which culminated with the failed coup attempt against Hugo Chavez.
That was a full week that we all skipped class. I didn’t mind because during those times, my aunt had gifted me the large sum of HALF A MILLION BOLIVARS, and I used them on getting an Xbox (~400k Bolivars) and Halo CE (72k Bolivars).
There were many protests that took place during those days, and the school’s response was to simply reschedule tests, activities, and tell parents that while the school would remain open during protest days, there would be no repercussions in attendance if they chose not to send their kids.
We all sure missed a lot of classes because of this, and as a result, the overall quality of our education did diminish, and in many cases, felt rushed due to the time constraint caused by protests. This is a problem that, due to Venezuela’s cyclical moments of intense protests over the past two decades, has continued to exist through time, and was only stopped and replaced by a worse problem: the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
Venezuela began to be irreparably infected by the politics of the ongoing conflict by 2001, and by 2002 there was no escaping it. Still, there were ways you could explicit this to your advantage, and we made sure to do so.
The school’s owners and directive were not fond of Hugo Chavez’s government, that much was certain. Most of the teachers did not as well, yet most were sensate and chose not to taint classes with the political atmosphere of the time.
And then there was Mrs. Elsa, the unapologetic Chavista.
How did we take this to our advantage? Quite simple. We’d pit Marisela, the unstoppable opposition force student, against the immovable object of Mrs. Elsa’s Chavismo. The master plan involved having Marisela ‘incite’ a debate about the recent happenings of the country with Mrs. Elsa.
Like Godzilla vs Kong, you’d just sit there and watch these two go at each other, thus consuming Castillian’s class time and not actually doing anything for ~90 minutes, easy peasy.
THE PROTO MEMES
Like any group of fine individuals, there was deep lore, inside jokes, and fun moments — in this case, many of these were precursors to my present day memery, such as:
Beck — Beautiful Way: This song became a meme of its own because of two unrelated things: Windows ME (which came with a sampler of the track), and a Futurama episode. Tavo and I would often say “such a beautiful way,” and do the pose Beck’s mannequin body does in Futurama.
Rammstein — Du Hast: Quite self explanatory, it pretty much was the class’ ironic anthem.
Poquito Cabeza: Long before the bald memes, long before social media, GamerGate, DLC, and everything else, there was Poquito Cabeza.
Poquito Cabeza, which roughly translates to “Little Head” was just the disembodied and discolored head of an action figure of an unknown origin. A third of his head had been seemingly sliced away with a sharp knife, and only some of his blonde hair remained painted. Quince, I believe, was the high custodian of Poquito Cabeza.
We did not know where he came from, or if his arrival signified an ominous portent of ruin or salvation. All that we knew is that he showed up one day in a corner of the school’s backyard during recess time, and it changed everyone’s lives.
He was the unofficial relic/mascot of 9th grade, and many, many jokes were made at the expense of the poor remains of an unidentified action figure. Some planned to pool in money and buy a Bionicle figure to give him a body, not sure if this ever materialized.
Kazaa: Kazaa itself was kind of a joke. Basically pretending to be a stereotypical stoner inviting others to install it.
These memories will conclude in “Memories of 9th Grade III” which you can access by clicking here.