Lately, I’ve started to wrap up and bring closure to many chapters and aspects of my admittedly atypical life here as things, slowly but surely, move towards my inexorable escape from this country. I’ve also been facing some mild to moderate stomach issues, and that’s given me some forced downtime that I’ve used to contemplate and look back at things.
Pardon me if I self-indulge too much with posts of these kinds, it’s all just part of me wrapping up all that I can as I continue my fight towards starting a new, better life in a more unburdened manner.
It has now been twenty years since I, along with my family, moved to this apartment building. This is the one place where I’ve spent the most amount of my life’s time so far, and other than the three years I spent working abroad, I haven’t lived anywhere else since.
This particular apartment building is the culmination of a journey that began in the late 90s, back when my mother, my brother, and myself faced a severe housing problem after we had no choice but to vacate the apartment we lived in in Maracaibo. In addition to better job opportunities, one of the reasons my mother decided to move to Caracas in 1999 was that we didn’t have a place of our own — as at the time we were living in a shared bedroom in our grandmother’s old place.
The pursuit of a better life was what drove us from my beloved Maracaibo and into the capital city of Caracas, a choice that perhaps was not the best course of action. After two difficult years and thanks to some hard work, help, and perhaps luck, my mother was able to sign off the mortgage and cover the initial fees to receive the keys to this place. If I recall correctly it was somewhere around five million bolivars of the pre-2008 scale. Today, that’d amount to literally nothing.
A single master bedroom with its bathroom, and a guest bathroom, this apartment is not particularly large, but it did had one unique caveat: it’s located at the ground level and thus, had one backyard and an L-shaped terrace that one could build upon and extend the apartment.
I first moved alongside my grandmother along with just a handful of furniture. At the time I was recovering from the first of my two big toe surgeries, and things were much calmer and simpler than today.
At the risk of pointing too much towards my actual location, I can say that this building has a remarkable history of its own. Before it was repurposed into an apartment building, this edifice used to be an infamous police headquarters, where people often were imprisoned, tortured and killed — allegedly, a infamous socialist figurehead of yore is among the list of people who were tortured to death within these walls. Their sons are now big honchos in the socialist regime of Venezuela. In their own words, their ‘revenge’ for their father’s death is the implementation of the regime that wrought upon all of this to us.
Some say that this place is haunted because of the torture and deaths that occured here, and others say that there’s underground secret tunnels and chambers that now remain sealed shut.
On the former, I have only anecdotal evidence from other people. On the latter, there’s solid evidence to those claims, as my adjacent neighbor dug up and found a hidden chamber large enough to build a basement for his apartment. There may be something like that in our apartment, but no one has granted me access to the blueprints, oh well, whatever.
If its turbulent past was not enough to pinpoint its location, the abandoned ruins of a historical landmark locale of Caracas were located at a mere walking distance — those ruins have long since been wiped out and replaced by a new building and a commercial establishment that ironically makes it even easier to locate this place thanks to the wonders of today’s technologies.
This will sound cliche, but things were much better back in 2001 when I first moved to this area. This is by no means a high class area, far from it, but it was peaceful, far more peaceful than the previous zone I lived at, which was close to a prison that now no longer exists.
You could walk without having to worry about getting robbed — well, it’s not like there were smartphones back in 2001 to steal in the first place, but you get my point. Although it was a quiet and peaceful area, the fact that this apartment is at the ground level left it very expose to intrusions, as once could easily climb and break through the backyard.
Back when it was just my grandmother and me, our security infrastructure was just a chair jamming the bedroom’s door, and a nail that jam locked the windows.
This zone had a flourishing commercial life of its own largely in part to a television channel that operated nearby. After the channel relocated its headquarters, the mall that it inhabited was unfortunately never the same. Still, there were plenty of establishments to sustain the commercial activities of the zone, from bakeries, fast food chains, car repair services, and much more — some still survive to this day, others struggled through the years only for the COVID-19 lockdowns to deal the coup de grâce.
My mom and my brother moved in shortly afterwards, and for a time my mother had to live in the ‘dining room’ area turned into a makeshift bedroom, while my brother, grandmother, and I lived in the apartment’s one bedroom.
As time went on my mother slowly saved enough money to start enacting the expansion plans, first by covering the L-shaped terrace and building a kitchen and laundry area on them. It doesn’t shame me that the kitchen still remains somewhat unfinished but functional.
Some of our old stuff from Maracaibo was shipped sometime later. It was nice to see some of my old toys and belongings after more than three years, although I had ‘outgrown’ most of them. That baller Fisher Price castle from the 90s? Yeah, that’s still here somewhere.
It was not until the last months of 2002 that my mom had enough money to pay for the roofing of the backyard area, and that’s when we could somewhat expand the apartment into what it is today. The backyard is now gone, replaced by my mother’s bedroom, her bathroom, and a dining area. The former dining area that was acting as a makeshift room was remodelled into my brother’s room, and I ended up getting the original bedroom as my own — now the smallest of the apartment’s 3 bedrooms by a longshot.
Actually, there is one closet door that I can’t open because my desktop computer is on the way, I can’t move the desk from this corner because this is where the jury-rigged ADSL line is at ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
From the days of Jedi Outcast to the days of farming WoW gold, all of my online adventures have taken place in this corner. It is through this room and its four walls that I’ve grown up as a person, where I’ve explored possibilities, where I’ve been able to meet friends through the internet, establish friendships, create, plan, and dream about my upcoming fiction novel series. It is my small haven, my very own place in this world that I still feel like an outsider.
A lot has happened around this building over the past twenty years too, from picturesque happy stories to tragedies. A few years ago, this place was at the center of the news cycle when one of my neighbors was kidnapped in broad daylight due to her proximity to a political figure. Thankfully, she was rescued and has long since fled the country — and that’s how pictures of this building ended up in so many international news websites at the time.
This apartment has succumbed so much to entropy over the past twenty years, and things have begun to drastically collapse. There’s plenty of repair work to be done, but I’ve been instead saving all that I can for our escape and inmigration costs.
Today, this small building is a microcosm of the country as a whole. A lot of people have left, one of the elevators stopped working, the emergency water tank’s pump burnt out, there’s problems with the overall plumbing, and the proliferation of crime in the area has gotten so many vehicles stolen, which has prompted everyone to lock the garage doors with everything possible — leaving a vehicle outside is just asking for it to get its battery stolen in broad daylight. I’m dead serious, it’s happened so many times now.
Heck, it’s gotten so bad that a group of people climbed through my roof early in January to break into the upstairs apartment.
The building’s ADSL cabling is ever so close from completely falling apart, many apartments no longer have working ADSL internet nor working phone lines. Mine barely works, and my phone line died years ago.
There is no easy way to fix this because a) good luck getting the regime owned ISP to fix this mess and b) people in cahoots with the regime actually don’t want to put the effort to push and get this fixed because that would mean “X and Y person would get theirs fixed,” and they can’t have that happen even if it’d get theirs fixed to — talk about pettiness.
It is now nearly impossible to get the remaining neighbors to work together towards fixing this sinking boat of a building, that much I’ve come to learn over the past years. I do my water ration duties, unclog some drain pipes here and there, pay my share of the fees on time, and help with the growing internet problems in the building to the best of my ability, that’s as far as I can help for now.
Some of my neighbors still cling to the promise of the revolution, to the point that some of them are still trying to get into the socialist party’s higher spheres in search of power and money. Some survive due to external help and remittances from their sons, others are barely going by due to the ever so difficult situation of the country, and others, like me, are doing all that they can to flee and never look back.
We never quite finished all the construction works due to budget limitations. My mom was never overflowing with money and we’ve always lived modest lives, nothing to be ashamed of — plus, her priority was always our education, food, and paying the mortage’s monthly fees. The fact that this apartment was never fully finished and that she never had any ‘good and new’ furniture was something that she was always scorned about by her very own sisters.
The amount of lives she improved, saved, and helped save far outweigh what money she never ended up making. That’s the implicit lesson my mother left me, one of improving lives, not wealth. That is something I carry with me and will be carrying with me for as long as I exist.
Yes, it’s not a glamorous apartment, and it’s all falling apart, but it has been our home for the past twenty years, and I’m ever so grateful to God that we have a roof to sleep in, and it will still be our home until the day that we finally leave this country.
I now have less than a year to flee from this country. I’ve done all that I can for now with that regard, just waiting on a positive response before proceeding, hopefully it arrives soon.
When the time finally comes, this place, and all the things inside of it, will be left behind. I’ll be leaving behind everything that we own aside from clothing, a video game console, a battery-less banged up laptop, paperwork, and the best pictures of the past that we own.
I will entomb all the bad memories, all the pain, all the woes, trials, and tribulations of the past twenty years that I’ve lived within these four walls. I hope that in the near future I am able to start anew with my brother, and together, we’ll build a new home for ourselves, a better one.
That’s the home we’ll be leaving behind, the one we’ve lived at for two decades now.
Naturally, I should leave the keys to someone to keep an eye on this place because there’s always the risk of people taking it for themselves, and I’d still have to pay its bills from abroad.
I suppose I need to pick one of my cousins for this task.
Until the next one,