Excerpts from Heidi Chai`s Journal from Venezuela

Dr. Daniel Greenberg brought a group of students to Venezuela as part of his civic engagement course last spring.

Dr. Daniel Greenberg brought a group of students to Venezuela as part of his civic engagement course last spring.

…Driving east to UNIMET, we passed the barrios. The major highway runs alongside and through the barrios, creating an interesting contrast and a natural barrier between the barrios and Caracas. In this way, the barrio and its citizens are swept under the carpet, and the illusion of Caracas changes into one more classy than the former.

I noticed that China is quite similar; people talk about how it is quickly changing, but don’t realize outside of specialized industrial zones, China has hardly changed. While at the Jose de Sucre barrio, I continued by China-Venezuela comparison. The Antonio Jose de Sucre barrio was paved and had no electricity. But neither country has running water or a stable roof. Also, having upgraded infrastructure did not shake the feeling of worry in the barrio.

I spoke with Gabriella and Katy about the culture of Venezuela, about priorities and lifestyles. Some of the things I learned: Baseball is the preferred sport, then basketball, then soccer; residents living in the barrio start waiting at the bus stations at 3 am because it is so crowded; fashion is the top priority; the average family size is five.

… A day of rest! We went to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Subway tickets are really cheap and there was no museum entrance fee so we got to see priceless art for practically nothing.

…The first lesson is always the tell-tale lesson. Make a good impression and the kids will respect you and therefore listen to you. Getting the kids to learn was a bit tricky as we were perceived as a fun break from their normal learning. Also, I wonder what the value of education is like here in Venezuela. The barrio is not a good cross-cut of the Venezuelan values. Or is it? Most people live in the barrios so that is a good representation. The kids looked about 9 years old, but really were about 12 and 13. The malnutrition was only prevalent in their diminished stature. Their hygiene was pretty good. This indicates an economic problem of resources. The hygiene care shows that they are less likely to get sick from their own doing, but of a broader, neighborhood-wide problem.

Today we went to Los Erasos. We walked around the downtown area of Caracas, and I was shocked to find that you can walk from a high-end hospital straight into the barrio! Los Erasos looked better, like the buildings were properly level with decent, professional lighting, but the kids were more clingy. They hung around my neck, sat in my lap, gave me a hug every 15 minutes. During our reflection, we touched upon theories of why this could be the case. Perhaps there is some serious emotional abuse?

…We met the economics society, OVTAS offices, and a class. There we had an emotional discussion about Chavez and Venezuela. This is the second time people, educators, have asked us for our opinion. This shows that they care about their country and who is at the helm of it.

…The second lesson was easier; they knew my teaching style and felt comfortable around me. I noticed that they memorized the order of the words more than the meaning.

…We went to the Petare market, but a lot of stores were closed. The underground market was open. I noticed a lot of pet shops, and open bags of dog food on the ground, with dogs wandering from bag to bag. Chickens walked aimlessly around and there was litter everywhere. It was dark, noisy and everything I expected Venezuela as a whole to be. How wrong I was, as Caracas is not.