Kiko totally gets it. His entire youth he slept in a hammock together with his younger brother, until leaving home to travel at the age of 16. His mom, 72, only sleeps in hammocks. I recall how upset she was on our previous visit when the hotel we brought her to in the mountains of Venezuela didn’t have hammocks. She suffered an awful night sleep on the “nice” bed. I can just imagine my mom’s reaction if we took her to a hotel with only hammocks to sleep on.
The hammock is the perfect image to illustrate the change in travel style we are experiencing here in Venezuela, where everything has slowed down.
Of course children, no different then at home, are not content simply sitting and talking, and find ways in which to entertain themselves. Zuki and Yoda have 37 Venezuelan cousins and there are a lot of neighborhood children so there are usually kids of all ages lingering around the house. At first, Zuki and Yoda were shy, but the ice was quickly broken when Zuki pulled out the language-barrier-breaking, universally funny, photo-booth app that twists photos creating funny images. Kids and adults alike were cracking up and friendships were formed.
Interaction by interaction the kids have become more and more comfortable. The combination of a vast amount of free time and an eagerness to play with children of similar age, something that has only happened a handful of times over the last two months, pushed them past their apprehensions, opening up a wonderful world of child companionship, social interactions, and language immersion.
Luckily a few steps away from Abuela’s house is a quite fisherman’s beach, where the kids spend anywhere from a few hours to all day making sand balls, digging up little “chippi chippi” shells for dinner or “tortugas” to use as fishing bait, playing football, and generally frolicking about.
So it is true the kids are sponges they just needed the right environment. Where I may need to ask “Como se dices en Espanol?” multiple times before having a new word added to my mind’s vocabulary database, the kids seem to pick it up as they go. Its amazing to me to see them learn a new word and use it so appropriately; well sometimes not so appropriately. The other evening while the entire family was enjoying each others company on the side of the street, Yoda was playing with a ball which accidentally went over the wall. We heard “Con-- tu Madre”, (Super bad spanish phrase) which is somewhat commonly used here amongst the adults so it took us a second before realizing that it came out of Yoda’s mouth. Although all the family thought it was hysterical I went over and told him that just like in English some words are not appropriate to say.
As the kids gain language skills and confidence we have allowed them to live more and more like the local children. They go to the beach in a group of kids of various ages, they accompany their cousins on errands to the many nearby “bodegas” to buy things needed by aunts and uncles, or walk to their Aunt’s house to play with their cousins.
the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
Physically speaking, the biggest difficulty for Zuki and I has been general sanitation and hygiene habits. Funny enough, I don’t think Yoda even notices any difference on this front. We are a neat and organized family, but not overly sanitized or germ-a-phobic by any stretch of the imagination. But the obvious lack of sinks and soap here even has me freaking out. I cringe to think about it. Where do people wash their hands! It is also common to air blow your nose here. In case you haven’t had the chance to see this yourself, this is when one simply blocks one nostril and blows out the other into the air. This seems to be appropriate anywhere, even in the kitchen!
We’ve caught 2 mice (but saw more) in our bedroom and cockroaches seem to live in larger extended families here then they commonly do in Hawaii.
The other big adjustment has been the lack of reliable utilities and services to which we are so accustomed to back at home. Water supposedly officially runs twice a week here. What I mean by that is that water is scheduled to come through the pipes two times a week. In actuality over the past month it has only run 5 times, approximately 1.5 hours at a time, usually starting very late at night or very early in the morning. When it does arrive people need to be awake to plug in the pumps and move hoses around to be sure to fill up all the tanks before the water unpredictably disappears.
Ok its not like I haven’t visited places that didn’t have sinks or have questionable hygiene practices but when I am actually living in the environment with my family for an length of time it changes things a bit. This is were we sleep and where our food is being prepared. My mind whirls with all the sanitation protocols we are told back home and it comes to one conclusion, “We are all going to die from germs here.”
Electricity is sporadic, sometimes not working for the entire day. One day on which the electricity had not been working for over 12 hours the entire family piled into a couple of cars at 6:30pm and went to where the electric company trucks were working all day installing street lights for an important politician’s upcoming visit. They protested, insisting that the electric company come and do the quick repair on the corner electric pole that had caused two streets’ all day electricity outage. Luckily their numbers and voices convinced the truck to come. After the arrival of the police to ensure everthing remained peaceful, some running around to get the proper tools, and jump-starting the electric company’s truck when it wouldn’t start, the electricity returned with cheers from the gathering crowd.
I could go on about the no-existent WiFi and the difficulty of washing clothes and just general difficulty in getting many things. There are lines to enter many grocery stores, where they only allow a certain number of people to shop at a time. I tried to send my broken camera back to the States but Fed-ex’s computer was down for weeks...
In additional to the physical challenges there are cultural differences that are often emotionally challenging. Venezuela is noisy. Music is played at extremely loud levels here and it seems to come from everywhere. Zuki and I were the only ones in a clothing store and the music was so loud we couldn’t have a conversation! The normal voice here would easily be considered a shout at home. Personal space is considerable smaller and the idea of necessary alone time foreign.
The hardest thing for Yoda has been the constant joking amongst the family. Many people have nicknames here that would never fly back at home. Negro (black), Gordo (Fat), Ojito, (big eyes), and it goes on and on. Years ago there was a strong dark skinned boy called “Tonia Mojone” which translates to “little black hard poop”. That was the name he went by. His real name was Michael Angelo the exact same as his brother...but I digress. They also make fun of each other freely. Zuki and Yoda generally find it slightly disturbing but funny too, that is until it is turned on them. Yoda has run back to his room crying a number of times, declaring his family “mean” because the cousins and uncles were teasing him for liking a neighbor girl, eating something they find strange like a raw pepper, or even a cut on his foot. It is not a nurturing environment and I struggled with it for years but I have somewhat comes to grips with it by realizing that this is how the parents and family prepare them for a tough life. No delicate kid is going to survive here. You have to be tough in this environment.
The kids also seem to be completely taken aback by the fact that if leave out any food or drinks it is often gone when they come back for second helpings. They declared their items has been “stolen”. Kiko has explained again and again that here things like that are considered communal but the kids struggle with it.
So none of the above listed things are staggeringly difficult on their own but when thrown all together it can cause moments of breakdown. Zuki has declared she will not return to Venezuela a number of times interspersed between wonderful times of playing, giggling, and dressing up “her pet”, Pepito.
This month it has been like a seesaw. On one end sits the unmatchable, idyllic, cultural and social experience and on the other end rests the physical and emotional discomforts of a different way of life. The weights of each fluctuate multiple times a day.
One day, when my phone’s 3G was actually working, I was sitting on the sidewalk flicking through Facebook I saw this quote: