«Normal» is an abstract, diffuse concept, which each person spreads with his/her own spices. And now that I am in France – but still with my head in Venezuela – it is a word that acquires a new meaning every day.
It is better explained with examples:
If I am on the street at 6 o’clock in the afternoon… a series of sensations -that also came from Caracas in my suitcase- suddenly kick in. I still have that internal alarm that tells me: «It’s already getting dark, you’d better go home». And yes, I begin going back there … only, on the way, I run into hundreds of people who are JUST STARTING to live the night. People walking in laughter, talking on the cell phone, kissing under a statue. People jogging, people having a drink, sitting quietly at the tables that are placed on the sidewalk. ON THE SIDEWALK !!!
My wires are crossed, they do not understand. I fear for everyone. I almost shout in the middle of the avenue «Are you crazy or what the hell is wrong with you? Don’t you understand that somebody can come to rob you? »
Of course, in less than 5 seconds, everything becomes clear: the one that is crazy is me. The one who thinks that someone is going to steal her cell phone at gunpoint is me. The one who has years of training in panic situations and a series of alarms always in red is me. I am the girl who has been robbed 8 times, the one who drove the car under the command of a pair of revolvers, the one who lost her most important ring at the hands of a damn scarfaced thief. The one who returned one day to her house and found it burglarized, without a television, without a computer, without the sound equipment and without a soul.
What I still have on my skin is fear. An absolutely useful feeling in Petare, Sabana Grande and El Rosal [in Caracas] but a little out of place on the Parisian streets, even in the ugly ones. No one wants to walk next to a woman who is startled by everything and distrusts everyone. That girl with 360 degree looks on her 100 eyes who begins to tremble when she hears footsteps behind her… definitely has to calm down.
Calm down to urban noise and understand that a motorcycle is not necessarily a vehicle of crime; that it can simply be a means of transportation. Calm down before the proximity of people, before those who ask for directions to get somewhere, before those who smile on the subway. Calm down, calm down.
Then there is the food. Come on, I do not want to feed that odious comparison between a French supermarket and the empty shelves of Venezuela … but I must confess that going to the market here is a gift for the spirit.
The abundance is so overwhelming that it confuses, it engulfs. There is so much, so much, that I do not know what to buy. I do not know if the ham is better dry-cured or wet-cured … smoked, baked, natural, with honey, organic, without salt or with vitamins. There are chicken, meat, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, coffee, in different presentations, sizes, colors, brands … and everything is there. You do not have to queue and you do not have to pay it at an exorbitant price on the black market. It is just there.
And it’s so normal that, on any given afternoon, the children of my friends sing a traditional French song that says: «Au marché, au marché … tu peux tout, tout trouver» (In the market, in the market, you can find all of everything). I see them and I smile to see them happy, but I cannot help remembering the child interviewed by my colleague Francisco Urreiztieta in Zulia, who was crying from hunger and saying that his head hurt. Or the students of the Fe y Alegría schools who drew an empty plate as the daily dinner in their homes.
Normality hits me and, in some way, makes me feel guilty. What right do I have to be choosing hams, chickens and meats when there are so many people at home that work miracles to eat whatever they can find?
It is also normal to go to the pharmacy and buy medicines in countries other than Venezuela. That’s what pharmacies are for. And although many countrymen may not believe me, there are anti-flu cough syrups, contraceptives, medicines for high blood pressure, antibiotics, gastric protectors, diapers for adults, anti-allergic pills, formula milk for babies. This is going to sound twisted but I swear that I even want to get sick.
It is normal for the internet to work well. At home, on the cell phone and even on a square in the city! And even so, it is also normal for people to inform themselves by VIEWING TELEVISION. I envy the French who lie on the sofa, turn on the TV to the eight o’clock news and find out everything. Long gone are the days when Venezuelan television was a means of information. Now it is either a fearful and insipid screen that does not call things by their name … or it is a spittoon of hatred against anyone who is not red [color associated with pro-government supporters].
For that reason, we all understood that we have to turn to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram if you want to know what the hell is happening. That, of course, if God ABA/Internet allows it.
Have I already talked about cash?
A few days ago, I was looking for the best way to give a friend about 150 euros that I owed her. She very calmly said to me: «Hey, why don’t you take them out of a bank teller and give them to me in cash?» I was silent. With the Venezuelan chip still in my head, I started counting HOW MANY DAYS it was going to take me to get that amount in cash. In Venezuela, my withdrawal limit is 20 thousand bolivares a day. I am conditioned to that number which is now inside my entire bloodstream. Foolishly, I had said to myself: «Well, if I get from 20 to 20 euros a day … by next week, I can pay Mélanie.»
There, that’s how it is, like the donkey tied to a plastic chair that does not dare to move because it thinks it is a prisoner. Fortunately, Mélanie went with me and taught me that here, in a NORMAL country, the teller gives you 150 euros in one push. In fact, it would have given me 200 if I had asked for them. TWO HUNDRED!!!! Actually, you do not even need cash. A taxi is paid with a credit card … and almost everything else, too.
Among many other things, I come to remember that colors are not necessarily political. Here I have decided to take out my red jacket, my red cap and my red lipstick. When I wear red, people here do not see me with fear or mockery, nor do they say to me the classic Venezuelan phrase «Oh, you’re wearing red, reddish red… [roja, rojita -a symbol of chavismo]» The French look at me, smile at me or ignore me, depending on their mood. And those who dare to say something to me will compliment me with phrases like: «Today you look happier. You’re dressed for Christmas… »
This is normality. We must not forget it, we must relearn what normal is. And tomorrow, when everything changes -because sooner or later it will – we have to return this normality to Venezuela … from where it should have never left.
A Venezuelan journalist in Paris
English version: Bertha Leiva