Letter from an Intern in Venezuela
Hello friends, family, and loved ones,
So I made it safely to Venezuela, after all the bumps in the road, and Im now kicking it in the heart of a long-time revolutionary barrio called El 23 de Enero, which the opposition folks call dangerous but in reality it is a mellow, beautiful, and bustling hub of organizing and community. So far Ive been extremely blessed in meeting all sorts of folks who are involved in organizing key pieces of El Proceso, including literacy programs that are a joy to be a part of. Unlike in the U.S., where many of us spent time trying to figure out how to ditch or spend as least amount of time in class as possible, people here are so excited to go to class that they often arrive an hour or more early and just sit there waiting.
The schools that are being organized in the barrio are part of a program developed by Chavez called Bolivarian Schools, which include different levels of learning along with revolutionary political education, beginning with Mission Robinson, a primary literacy campaign, Robinson 2, which builds upon the first and strengthens skills and knowledge of Venezuelas history and national heroes, Ribas 1, where students learn English, and Ribas 2, which Im not exactly sure yet what it is. But after these four courses, which each consist of 50 classes, students are then prepared to go off to the university level, the majority who would never be able to go without this program. The program also includes Barrio Adentro, which Im not sure exactly how it fits in yet, but it is the program of the Cuban doctors who are here to work in solidarity with and support the Bolivarian Revolution. They have opened up community medical clinics where people can go and have access to a doctor and medicine, and friends.
I cant even describe what it is like to watch this in progress. Peoples faces are so bright and full of excitement, my friend told me that when she began to teach the first class in Robinson 2, many of the students began to cry tears of joy, out of happiness and gratefulness for what the program has given them and what they have been able to give themselves and their community. Anyone can apply to be a facilitator of a school, they just have to go through training. This is just one example of how the revolution is being carried out on the ground here in Caracas in a grassroots, democratic way.
However, I have been able to see already how the different realities in Venezuela manifest and create such huge inequalities. I have seen the mall and the upscale business district, which boast almost all U.S. companies, brands, and chains, and the news on TV, none of which reflect the organizing which is undergoing.
The first word Gustavo, my supervisor here more or less, taught me was coño (fuck, which is used interchangeably among every five words) and then Cualido, which is the word Chavistas use for opposition leaders. These posh places are filled with Cualidos, most whom have absolutely no idea what kinds of changes are actually happening. Gustavo said the first day, that most of them if asked would have no idea what a cooperative is. All of the people I met in the airport were Cualidos, all of whom said that the only people who support Chavez are ignorant and that he is definitely going to lose in the referendum Aug 15.
I happened to arrive the night before a huge national holiday celebrating the liberation from the Spanish of Venezuela by the national hero Simon Bolivar, and the person who helped me out when my bag was lost and I had no money (thats another story) was telling me about the celebration but didnt seem to know what everyone was celebrating, just that everything is closed, including the banks, and that people play drums and drink beer.
Anyway, I have had so many adventures already, including a trek up to the top of the mountains where a chocolate cooperative is, that consisted of a four-hour car ride plus a four-hour truck ridenot on a road but in the mud (I was certain many times that the truck was either going to blow up because it was smoking so badly or fall off of the cliff), which is another story for another time, but a blast. People are just as strong and adamantly supportive of Chavez in the countryside as in the urban zone, probably because they know their survival depends on it.
Life is so colorful, vibrant, and inspiring here. It gives me so much hope to know that somewhere this is happening, where people are empowering themselves and taking the development of their communities into their own hands.
It is incredible to witness, especially coming from a place where I am told that one person cant make a difference. and I feel so welcomed, each time I meet someone they insist that I come work with them the next day, and I shoot Gustavo a hopeful look, who rolls his eyes and laughs, and says to them, coño, let me explain one more time. she is going to be here for 6 months, and I promise you, shell be working with you for several weeks at a time.
I cant help but to be anxious to work with everyone, I am so, so proud of what people are doing, and how hard-core they are in their organizing and their vision. But I know that Gustavo is giving me the opportunity to see so many different pieces of the revolution, and that patience will carry me through to see what I need to see and when I need to see it. All in all, I am thrilled every second and every moment.
Basically Im having a blast, and my love goes out to each one of you. Sorry about the group email, but you know how it is sometimes trying to touch baseI had to do this at least once to connect in the beginning and regurgitate all of my excitement and logistical info. Please feel free to write back and share your realities with me, when Im in the city Im always checking my email. Hoping each of you are doing so, so well and are shining and expanding like always.
Much peace and love,