Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Venezuelan Political Rally.

Okay. Capriles is the opposition's candidate. He isn't socialist and he is young and educated. A lot of people around Mérida are rooting for him, which led me to his rally today to culturally experience a Venezuelan political rally.

15:30. I leave my house to catch the bus, to go to the rally, but I have no idea where to get off. I befriend some people that help me a bit, and then I run into an actual friend of mine who is heading to the same place. Everyone is wearing blue or yellow and the opposition's trademark hat and slogan. "Hay un camino." There is a way .

16:00. First, it was supposed to start at four. As true to Venezuelan life, it was packed and only continued filling up. I found my friends because they chose an easy place to meet and then we ventured into the masses. There were grilled kabobs for sale, there were people waiting in the trees and on tops of buildings, and there was an MC talking to the crowd to get them riled up.

17:00. An hour rolled by and they happened to open a pathway for him right by us! We were all excited and couldn't believe it! There were people chanting and waving flags, there were people on top of others' shoulders for a better view, there were children everywhere, and Capriles's campaign songs were being blasted over loud speakers. It was getting really hot and cramped and then the weather took a turn.

17:30. It starts to mist and a few people take out umbrellas. Chants are still going on and people get excited and start screaming every few moments believing Capriles is on his way.

17:45. Anyone with umbrellas has them out because it is a steady rain now. The chanting and screaming continue, only now it seems to have more followers. With my luck I happen to get stuck under any and all dripping point of umbrellas. Sometimes I was lucky though and had seven umbrellas protecting me from the rain.

18:30. Capriles is now 2.5 hours late. The rain has stopped and the umbrellas are put away. My friend and I befriend some guys next to us and we pass the time visiting and making jokes. I also spent some time signing one of the chants with a little boy sitting on his dad's shoulders.

18:45. People freak out, we are being stampeded back. There are so many people that there is nowhere to go. A car carrying Capriles had decided to make its way in front of us. We are literally packed into each other with no wiggle room. There are people screaming and terrified, I found myself laughing and didn't feel panicked or threatened. There are children on their parents shoulders and there are old people desperately trying to get out of the crowd. I couldn't even put my hands down if I had wanted to. Capriles comes out.

19:15. We dip out early, just as Capriles is finishing his speech. No taxis are available so we walk to a different avenue (the one I live off of).

19:30. I decide to get on a packed bus and I'm literally hanging out as the bus driver is shutting the door. I find myself packed like sardines once again.

20:00. I am home, I am wet, I am hungry, and I'm ready to get ready to go out and celebrate the dry law expiring.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead...

Okay, so that is probably not the most appropriate title for this story, but it has been replaying over and over again in my mind since I found out that the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, had died.

Chavez was a bit of a dictator in some people's eyes. He changed the limit of presidential terms to none, and he never lost an election. He has been venezuela's leader since 1999, when he overthrew the last government. I was following the last election which was last fall, and I prayed for Chavez to lose, however then I remembered that even if he was president, I'd still get to go to Venezuela, because the program never let that stop them before!

Then in December I heard he had cancer, was very ill, and was off to Cuba for treatment. The world never heard or saw from him again until he was pronounced dead at 16:25 on Tuesday, March 5th 2013. Venezuela stopped that day. The evening class at Venusa was cancelled, and everyone was sent home. I was already home but I was called later and told that there would be no school until the following Monday and to stay in my house. That first night was terrifying. Everyone assumed that there would be total chaos and madness. In other parts of the country, or what they showed on the news, there were people storming stores and robbing them as they stocked up on supplies as if a hurricane was coming. Although perhaps a hurricane of sorts is upon us.

The next day I was already bored to death, but my family assured me that it was pretty calm around town. So, with that news, I went to meet some friends in a smaller town. There were rallies in the centers of towns and people were mourning. Everything was closed for three days, by a governmental decree. There was also a dry law put in place that prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol. That was supposed to last 7 days, and was extended so that it ends this Saturday (the 16th). Chavez was the news 24/7.

I escaped (that sounds dramatic) to a small town about three hours away from where I live. I went with my house sister to visit her real family in La Azulita. It was a little village that was absolutely beautiful and I spent my Thursday and Friday there. In their park, there was a 24/7 Chavez commemoration. Loud speakers, tents, and the color red tend I flood the plazas these days. I walked by it to get wherever I needed to go, but I never once felt endangered. These people are mourning a man they love and believe to be great for them. It is a great loss to a lot of them, and a new chance at a beginning for the rest.

As I watched the funeral on tv, I became frustrated. The vice-president (who isn't supposed to take over as president according to the constitution but is anyways because it is corrupt, and who also can't be a candidate for the election while holding a public office but will anyways) started off his speech as a sweet and touching eulogy and turned it into a political campaign to gain followers for himself and his party. Jesse Jackson, turned his heartfelt eulogy into a way to push the US's agenda of supporting a different style of government in Venezuela. I couldn't stand to not only watch a funeral/commemoration that never ended and watch everyone play on emotions to gain ground politically. It was disgusting.

Now the only break we have had in Chavez news was when the new Pope, Francisco I, was elected. Chavez is still ever present in the race between his hand chosen successor, Maduro, and the opposition, Capriles. There is a lot of political tension and dirty verbal attacks and tactics being used. Venezuelans tend to use a lot of emotions in their politics. However, I am in a safe city, and I hope the elections bring forth some stability. People in other areas are going without turkey, cheese, bread, and other foods because there isn't enough to go around. Here, it is hard to find napkins. Prices have skyrocketed and anyone in the party, nightlife, or liquor business has lost an incredible profit.

The bars open tomorrow though and I expect them to be packed.


American Lunch Tuesday Review: Subway

American Lunch Tuesday this week:

Featuring Subway.

This review is a few weeks old, seeing as I had typed it up immediately and then it wouldn't publish or save as a draft due to my lack of Internet. Then I became lazy and put it off until now!

A friend and my fellow American luncher and I walked to the nearest Subway, which happens to be farther than the McDonalds, and much farther than we were expecting! There are also multiple Subways around Mérida, but we went to the one closest to our school.

Here is the review:

COST: The cost of a regular six inch sub at the legal exchange rate is about $8.00. To make it a footlong, it then costs about $13.00. And to make that a meal it costs a whopping $18.00!! At the legal exchange rate I don't know how anyone could afford Subway, nonetheless how the Venezuelans can afford it! I always thought it was pricey fast food in the states, and people complained about a non-true februany! This here is crazy. EPIC FAIL

BREAD: As I walked into the door of subway, I could already smell that unique delicious bread smell, that ruins your senses and wrecks your clothes because you can't wash it out. I walked up to look at the bread selections, most of them were the same. I ordered Italian Herb and Cheese. It was the perfect blend of spices and cheese and the bread was soft, although not doughy, and it was just a little crisp. It was perfect and delicious and although it wasn't scored in proper Subway technique, it was great for sandwich making! High Pass

TERIYAKI CHICKEN: I ordered one of my personal favorites, the teriyaki chicken. It came in small portions and didn't have much teriyaki sauce, which made it a little dry and not up to my high expectations. Although the chicken itself tasted fine and it was a nice supplement to the bread, vegetables, and dressing I ordered. Medium Pass

THE WORKS: I decided to toast my sub with American cheese on it. Before I put it through the toaster I asked them to put on onions and bell peppers so that they would be toasted too. That was something I had learned from years of experience with Subway. He asked me if I wanted to put sweet onion sauce and honey mustard on the vegetables before I toasted it. I tried to refuse because it sounded ridiculous, but he was persistent and I gave in. Then after it was toasted I continued to put on lettuce (which can be dangerous, unsanitary, and cause parasites...but I was living on the edge), tomatoes, and pickles. Apparently try have corn as well, but I never saw it. Then I had them put on ranch, barbecue sauce, and a little ranch, and close it up. The overall presentation was neat, it was fairly easy to eat (as can be expected with tons of dressing and vegetables) and the vegetable portions were a hardy size. Not too mention that it was absolutely delicious! High Pass.

DRINK: I decided to make it a meal and with that I got a small drink. However, unlike almost everywhere in South America, there were free refills. The free refills made my day and trumped any problem with the small size of the glass. There were also coke products and a delicious peach flavored sweet tea. Pass.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: I found the customer service to be above average. The people were very friendly and efficient with their time management and sandwich making technique. They were helpful and knowing we were foreign, they were beyond patient. When I went to order cookies instead of chips, I asked for two. A worker told me that in the US we get two, but in Venezuela they only get one. I told him to surprise me. He surprised me with a free cookie, one of each flavor I wanted to try! High Pass.

COOKIES How could anyone resist Subway's famous cookies? I couldn't, I never can! Ever since I learned the beauty of broken cookies that are free for employees, I've never been able to turn down that soft delectable piece of heaven. I received a Chocolate Chip cookie and a Double Chocolate cookie because those were always my two favorites. However I found them both to be dry, to be crunchy, and overall unpleasant. They were a fine substitute for a cookie, because it had been about 3-4 months since I'd even had a real cookie, but they were pathetic in comparison. I even felt bad about offering bites to other people because they were so embarrassing Fail.

Note: There was no Februany, however there was one deal of the day.

Overall: I didn't get a parasite. It was an overall pleasant experience that left me full and satisfied. Even though it was relatively expensive it was worth it. However, being an extreme Subway critic and ever judgemental to the art of sandwich making, it will never be as good as the Subway in Northfield, MN, which I deem one of the best in the world. Now my mouth is watering and I could really go for some Subway! Thanks... Pass.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Best Valentines Day Ever.

I've always enjoyed valentines day because I have always liked the special candy they sell and to give out stuff to my friends. I still believe it is a Hallmark holiday that makes no sense and that people take to serious in a romantic sense, but as a day to celebrate friendship, family, and those important to you, it is a pretty cool thing.

So, there was a chocolate exchange at school with some of the Venezuelans that I was going to participate in and then decided not to on the base that I didn't have any money on me at the moment. I had one class and the rest of the day off and my class was done at ten! I saw my friends from the exchange and went to talk to them. I explained how valentines day is different from country to country. For example I celebrate with friends, so does venezuela, but Brasil celebrates it in June and it is strictly between people in relationships. The 14th of February means nothing to them. As I was explaining this one of the guys sitting there gave me the rest of his chocolate!! I didn't even know him before! It was a nice friendly gesture that made me feel more at home!

Then I went home to meet a friend for lunch. This friend is brasilian but has lived in Venezuela for about six years now. We went to her house where I had some delicious pasta in a serve-yourself all-you-can-eat style! Here in Venezuela, they usually serve my plate for me and there is never extra food siting around for leftovers, I never really feel full-full, and never ever Thanksgiving stuffed. I had three helpings and it was delicious and filling!

Then we hung out for a while and spoke in portuguese and some Spanish. We watched the official brasilian channel "globo" and talked about my soap opera I'm missing dearly because I don't get tht channel! (Brasilian soap operas run for about 9 months and then they end, and I really got into one about human trafficking and prostitution while I was there in January).

After that we made brigadeiro, which is a delicious typical brasilian dessert, that is similar to a chocolately fudge. We ate the whole pan except for a little we set aside for my American friend, Anna! It was delicious and I left her house feeling like a stuffed pig, so happy!

We caught a bus back to my college, VENUSA, and I sat around for a while while she had class. We had plans for a delicious all-you-can-eat dinner!

After she got out of class and some of my American friends did too, we headed to a brasilian restaurant! It is called a churrascaria and it has a meat rodizio which is where men come around with different types of meat and serve it to you on your plate. It is like Fogo De Chão, if you've ever eaten there. I liked this better though, it was so delicious. I ate so much meat and helpings of potato salad, rice, and a tomato onion salad called vinagrete, that I couldn't even laugh without it hurting a little. I felt like I was going to explode, but I have never had such a wonderful valentines day or such a wonderful day in Venezuela!

My day ended with me getting a job teaching someone's five year old daughter english, then I crawled into bed and dropped into a content food coma.

Hope you had a wonderful Valentines Day!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bull Fights and All That Jazz

So there is this festival here that is called "Los ferias del sol". It is five days of no school and a bunch of expos and parties. It is kind of similar to Carnaval in Brasil, in theory. In actuality it is nothing like it. However, there are some really interesting cultural events.

The most interesting was the bull fight. The day before the bull fight, there was a huge protest against it.

From what I have learned is that these bulls are raised for the sole purpose of this time of year where they are killed by the matadores. They supposedly don't see human life until they are brought in to fight, with the exception of the man who brings them food.

Scoring: a matador and a bull are scored on how well they deal with each other. If the matador is good, he can kill the bull in one swipe (however the bull is always injured before). If the bull is good, he doesn't get weak as easily and can pay attention and focus on the matadores and "Ole" a bunch. If it is an okay right, when the bull is dead the matador gets one ear. If it was a pretty good fight he gets two ears. If the matador was exceptional he gets the tail. If the bull is absolutely positively a amazing he can be granted amnesty and survive. I saw one bull live, because he was so bad and weak in the beginning (he broke his hoof) that people booed him off. There are judges who sit and watch and write down scores and then decide the fate of everything.

The crowd: waves white flags to show that they think the fight is going well and drinks a mixed drink of sangria, tequila, rum, beer, whiskey, vodka, pop and sometimes juice out of a cooler type container. So all in all they are drunk and enjoying the spectacle.

One bull jumped the fence into the crowd and kept people jumping out of the way which made things interesting. Also one of the matadores was on a horse which was different on many levels. One bull flipped over a horse and the matador and he still died, I was rooting for his survival.

The bull is injured multiple times before the final blow and there are multiple people involved which I didn't think was very fair. I wish it had been one on one. I wasn't a big fan of the fight, and maybe it was because I wasn't drunk, but I found it boring after the first three bulls (there were eight overall). It was very interesting and I am glad I went. I didn't find the killing all that bad, it is natural, but the unfairness on the bull's side was disappointing. I don't think I would go to such a long and monotonous event again, but I also don't think I will start protesting against it.

No one really knows what happens with the killed bulls. I hope they eat them. Although some people say they burn the bodies, which I find ridiculous and a waste, but then again they wreck a lot of the met in their dance to injure and kill the bull.

Nevertheless a race of bull exists for this sole purpose and they are expensive to raise. Without the bull fights they no longer have a purpose, so I guess it doesn't need to disappear but maybe it should be reformed.

Hasta luego.

Ash Wednesday...?

Ash Wednesday is by far my favorite mass the Catholic Church has to offer. Followed closely by Easter vigil, Easter, and Christmas. I feel like the readings remind us of lifelong lessons that we need to hear, like the ever present reminder to drive safe or never leave your drink unattended in public.

I love this mass so incredibly much that if it weren't creepy, I'd have all the Ash Wednesday readings at my funeral and everyone that attends would get my cremated ashes on their forehead... Except that is creepy, and only a thought I had out of my Ash Wednesday mass withdrawal.

Yesterday I started asking around about mass times and I continue that today. In a country that is 98% Catholic, no one can tell me where there will be mass and when. They all tell maybe, hmm maybe in the afternoon...maybe at the cathedral.

I feel like everyone here is a proclaimed catholic but a two times a year catholic. I mean, there isn't anything wrong with that, I don't find myself at mass every Sunday, but I am shocked that no one has been able to give me an answer.

But, don't worry, I'm going to go camp outside the cathedral until mass starts or I have to go back for class. I saw some people with ashes on their forehead so I know there was at least one mass today!

Wish me luck!

And don't forget that if you fast, fast in private..if you do good, don't announce it to the world. Do it for you and God (if you believe in Him).

Happy Ash Wednesday!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

On 'Gringas'

The typical term used for foreign people here and in most Latin American countries is 'Gringo' (gringa for girls). This usually boils down to North Americans only (with an emphasis on people from the U.S.). Some people use it with a kind friendly emphasis, however some people use it more to categorize foreign looking people.

It really irks me when people decide that I'm a Gringa before I even open my mouth. Mostly because I have fare skin, light eyes, and golden hair. This causes lots of whistling and people yelling "Hello, how are you" in English on the streets. Even children do it! The only people that don't seem to pay any mind are middle aged women!

Nonetheless, it is very tiring being the ever foreign girl, no matter how hard you try to fit in. Tonight was no different. I went to a high class club with my Venezuelan friend, her friends, and a Canadian boy. I was asked to dance on multiple occasions; one ending with a guy taking a picture with me, and I felt like I was in exhibit at the zoo the rest of the time.

The second guy that asked me to dance, waved me over, and when I refused he came to me. The first thing he said was "Are you from the United States?". I was so irritated that he would assume I was based on my looks. I turned to him and said "No, I'm Brazilian." He was astonished and his interest in me diminished significantly.

I don't know why being foreign from brazil makes me feel any less foreign, but I prefer it and it keeps the creepier men off my back.

Until the next irritating encounter,
Besos :*