Vos Jeux (1996)
clashing with the decrepit, the dilapidated and the down-right
dumps of modern life. Caracas, smoulders in its ashtray of
a valley, the luscious green hills of the Avila Park a Times
Square hoarding advertising some lost Eden, about as real
as the cancer-free Marlboro cowboy. Dante's top ten noises,
smells and sights finally come to life in Latin America.
The people cough-up
their oil corrupted lungs, too far gone to press pause on
the reel-to-reel of progress and development. No time to think
ahead and plan a little. The fast forward of the Sixties and
Seventies gone awry now that the money is stashed in distant
Swiss bank accounts and politicians' pot-hole pockets.
Venezuela is the
compulsive gambler of the continent, refusing to show his
face at the gamblers anonymous meetings, even though they
don't cost a penny or a bolivar. Forever asking how come he's
up the creek, penniless and threadbare, aware in some distant
corner of his riddled mind of the reasons for his downfall.
Once so rich and confident of his luck, on a roll, going up,
up, up. Now blaming everybody and everything, his rabbit's
foot thrown into the gutter in a fit of anti-Yankee rage;
jinxed, cursed and damned; Lady Luck now Lady Muck; with no
sevens to save the day.
the present generation the glory days are soaked in sepia,
unattainable and yet oh so enticing and inviting, the motorways
and concrete carbuncles the temples to a cult that went the
way of Waco. They expect, they demand, they feel robbed by
their parents who had it all and blew it on a binge whose
hangover the youth now cushion with a spoonful of Latin fatalism,
a dash of stoicism, and truck-load of hope for a scholarship
to a Yankee university.
in a word. Banner headlines announce the coming-soon prosecution
of an ex-President, -- eat your heart out OJ, this is where
it's at. It peppers every taxi driver's diatribe, every newscaster's
telecue, every street vendor's all too real tragedy, as frequently
as populist politicians' promises of air-cheap petrol for
all and magic realist growth, -- or at least a term's worth.
In just six months in office, so the corrupto-talk goes, a
politician can set up his grandchildren's children for life.
Nice work, if you can get it.
gave the the Venzuelans all the riches he had left, having
sprinkled them liberally over the rest of the globe. But then
He gave his Venice of South America the ultimate Trojan horse:
Venezuelans. And so the ironies go forth and multiply. What
is remarkable is how self-effacing the people are. After a
good ten minutes of corrupto-spiel, you find your orator is
as much on the Irish violin as the next person. Since the
Central Bank hasn't managed to bring out a note higher than
a fiver, one can easily picture the suitcases required at
top level. Samsonite do a roaring trade by all accounts...
circle perhaps. But who's to put the magic wand in the spokes
and stop the madness ? And still the imports are sucked-in
the by the magnet of gringo-gilted appearance. No matter that
your cellular phones cost you three arms and half a dozen
legs, or that you can't afford the electricity to plug your
spanking Sony stereo into. No matter. Because it's new, it's
foreign, and it's the pinky of the saint of growth and development
that was canonised by the last generation. No matter because
you've got your panel-beater's dream of a Chevvy, a litre
of petrol is three times as cheap as a single cigarette, and
if "they" did it, you're gonna get your piece of
the shrinking pie too, while there's still some left.
With its foreign
debt standing at $20 billion, Venezuela is not a lost cause
by Latin standards. There is hope, -- and abundant natural
resources -- which suggest that the right medecine at the
right time could save her yet. Whether it's the hope of the
amputee consoling himslf with half a leg as opposed to no
leg at all, is open to endless bar room debate. Oil hasn't
proved the engine for development that it was hailed as, revenues
ill-distributed through red tape-fetishist and obese bureaucracy;
trickle-down reminiscent of rain in the Sahara.
is now focusing on the country's vast and varied natural resources,
and valuable tourist attractions to winch it from its present
stagflated quagmire. Arguments rage over whether to raise
the price of the oil from the sacred cow, privatisations are
unpopular and foreign investment still flags behind that of
reform is what is required, but the second-time-round president,
Rafael Caldera, is the last man to ignore an opinion poll,
his vision about as miopic as one can get. The mining sector,
which currently contributes a mere 1% of GDP, has been seized
upon as the panacea for the country. Developed in a rational
and monitored way, with particular attention paid to the social,
economic and environmental consequences of its growth, this
could well be true.
future employment generation, clean water, renewable and cheap
energy are all threatened by the government's haphazard and
ill-conceived awarding of concessions to mainly foreign mining
companies. The governor od Bolívar State, where most mining
takes place, recently reminded the country, "all the
gold and diamonds in the region are not worth what the Orinoco
and Caroní rivers are to Venezuela." Make that "and
the Caroní to fall victim to the development of the mining
sector, 75% of Venezula's electricity would be at stake, threatening
the health and future oppportunities of the mushrooming population
to the southeast of the country. If inter-ministerial wrangling
and contradiction can be minimised, and environmental and
long-term socio-economic considerations prioritised within
the long-overdue new Mining Law, then Venezuela's population
could experience some positive change in the not-too-distant
it seems that the new law will be cast from the same mould
as its fore-runners, favouring big business and vested interests,
enrolled at the same "fast buck, last plane to Miami,
get out while the going's good, Pilate come wash your hands"
school of development.
than turn up at the meeting, or call the 0800 number, the
gambler is putting the last of his chips on red, and crossing
every part of his anatomy. In essence he is only putting-off
the inevitable, content to dig his own grave while he still
thinks he can clamber out. If he refuses the necessary cold
turkey, the chance to build a more stable, equitable and sustainable
future will no doubt crumble like the concrete monoliths that
adorn the capital.
as in other countries of the continent that have had to undergo
drastic structural surgery, it will be the poor majority who
will bear the brunt of the shakes and the sweaty, sleepless
nights. It appears that Chile's long-suffering population
will soon experience the light at the end of the tunnel, and
one could hope that Venezuelans will accept that there are
new rules to the game. Whether the oligarchical forces that
sit tight on top of the country will let more of the people
join them on their pedestal is perhaps a rhetorical question.
times ahead. Faites vos jeux.
AND THE CARDS
met her over two years ago, when I first came to Caracas.
I didn't know
anybody then and used to spend most of my evenings and nights
in the Gran Cafe in
Sabana Grande. I would take my book and sip at my beer, before
returning to my
hotel room, disconsolate at the fact another day had gone
by and I still hadn't
managed to find Vanessa, the reason for my being in the country
in the first place.
She approached me and asked me in Spanish whether I wanted
my cards read.
I declined, looking up from my book, One Hundered Years of
Solitude, I think. I
could tell she was English from her accent, and so a conversation
began. She was
from near Liverpool, although she didn't sound very scouse,
just the more open
vowels and the odd expression.
Now every time I've seen her since, when I'm back in Caracas,
we talk, I buy
her a coffee, and I suppose you could say we're friends. She
had her son with her the
first time I met her, a little toddler who rampaged about
around the tables and chairs,
annoying the grumpy waiters. But this year she doesn't come
down to town with him.
She's got a daughter now, she told me. I asked her whether
it was an accident and she
answered yes and no. The father of the son had taken him away,
and she missed him
and the company so much that she wanted to have another child.
That simple. In the
end she got her boy back, so now she has two mouths to feed.
She's forty-odd I would say, hard to tell. Maybe she's actually
in her thirties.
Her teeth are black and blue-veined from lack of nutrients
and too much alcohol. Her
cheeks are etched with deep trench-lines, and her nails and
hands are filthy. Her hair
is thin and wispy, streaks of grey racing across her head
and down her back. She's not
a pretty sight.
I wonder when things started to go wrong, were it possible
to pin-point a day,
rewind to it, and start again doing things differently. Maybe
she'd just fuck up again
anyway. Maybe it'd be worse. But it seems like she had a decent
education, and she's
bright and quick-witted and humorous. But you know Life programs
some people to
keep beating their heads against the wall, until they finally
cave in. And she's so lost,
a lost sheep in the wilderness of this barbituate city. Occasionally
when she's tossing
and turning with her thoughts, she'll mutter "I'm so
fucked up...I fucked up". It's
horrible to watch.
If her cards could talk, they would have evening upon night
upon day of
stories to tell. And they could tell them better than I ever
could. She holds the pack
together with a rubber band, which like the cards, is filthy.
It holds together the only
thing that keeps her from falling off the edge of this society.
She's also popular though. I watch her come round the tables,
one to the other, her head slightly tilted and her forehead
raised as she asks the same
old question over and over again. Now and again she gets a
catch. More often than
not, she moves on to the next group for whom two hundred bees
is absolutely nothing
but the smallest drop in the largest ocean.
She is funny and sharp as a knife despite all the abuse her
endured. That's why she's popular I think. She also has a
certain sexiness, an allure.
Her eyes, the way she tosses her hair back, the delicacy of
her filthy hands, her
manner in general. She really does glow with some kind of
sensuality. A pretty
young thing from Sixties Liverpool.
I've asked her why she doesn't go back to England, because
at least there she
could get social benefit, not scrape the dregs of the barrel
every single day. But she
says she'd get rheumatism with the cold, and besides, she
hates the weather. "Oh no,"
she mumbles, "I couldn't go back, wouldn't want to."
"Not now, anyway," she adds as
an afterthought. "I nearly went back once. I did. Got
the passport and everything,"
but something went wrong, or someone let her down, and her
mind twists on to other
things, retreating from my question. Back to the immediate,
away from the memories
of the past.
I notice that with people I meet on the edge like her. Their
constantly striving to accomplish the things of the present,
like money, food, and
sleep. Yet they always refer to the past, to mistakes, to
sadness, to betrayal, to guilt,
all the rows and rows of Emperor's soldiers, all the things
that have gone wrong in
their lives. They would so much like to turn the soldiers
the other way, so they won't
stare at their vulnerability with their cold eyes and colder
hearts. The past eats away
She goes from table to chair to table, to read people's futures.
To tell them
what the past will bring. That's right, isn't it. The future
as reflection of the past,
because if you put a mirror in the line of your life when
you were twenty, you'd see
the same line as it extends into the future, made of the same
material, and the same
faults. Your fault line.
You see, I think that's what gets me about Susan. She reads
cards, she reads
the future. So if the future of others is prescient to her,
then hers must be too. That
means that she knows where she's going. She knew the pattern
of her life, the
canyons and the jagged outcrops of her fault line, more than
most people you meet.
She never read my cards, so I can't tell you whether she's
good or not. But I
wonder whether that really matters. She, like all those other
people who live with the
ghosts of the Emperor, knows the trick. Because to tell the
future all you have to do is
synthesise mentally that person's past. The divining rod of
suffering. The gypsy's
She'll still be doing the tables and the bars when I next
pass through Caracas,
asking me to help her out, so that she can get something to
eat, go to the market, and
then sleep. She's always tired. Tired of life, tired of unravelling
the rubber band to
deal another hand with the tattered and torn cards of hers.
Death, The Lovers, Grief,
Sorrow, Joy, the cards aligned in a row, staring back at the
stranger, with their cold
eyes and colder hearts.
Back to menu
IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE
is sex. It is sensual, energetic, preferably poetic, and always
leaves the three dots of intrigue in its wake, beads of sweat
in the eternal battle of the sexes. It's the ultimate courtship
rite, the best means of staking-out positions in a new relationship,
the easiest way to get a message across in the shortest space
of time. It leaves little to the imagination. Either you want
more or you don't. That's that.
cultures have their games of cat and mouse, but perhaps only
in the Latin nations have the rules become so elaborate as
to baffle most if not all newcomers to the game. For the average
male tourist discovering Venezuelan women is like opening
a Kellogg's Variety Pack every morning. Only better. Snap,
crackle and pop: definitely the spice of life. Black with
Indian and Indian with white and white with black and back
again. Shaken, stirred, and served with plenty of ice. The
country's gene cocktail is one to savour as much as the tropical
fruitshakes served on every corner, the aqua vitae of the
down a crowded shopping street in Caracas is like being given
twenty pence when you were nine to go to the penny-sweet shop.
We're not talking your average cola bottles or white chocolate
mice, but gobstoppers and liquorice allsorts, sherbet dips
and curly-wurlies, lollipops and hubba-bubba, not to mention
quarters of chocolate eclairs and lemon bonbons. All the little
plastic compartments brim with glistening glucose temptation,
protected only by a sheet of infernal perspex called ritual.
in Venezuela come in all different shapes, colours and sizes,
and the ways to break down their defences are just as varied.
The most obvious of these is the straightforward whistle,
but deviants from this approach include the sucking-teeth
method, the "Oye linda"upfront interlocution, the
clicking of the tongue technique, or, very rarely, the all-out
full frontal pincer movement.
armoury of the machista is packed to the hilt with the whole
gamut of lethal weaponry, acquired from all the greatest minds
in the history of amorous confrontation. Physoiotherapists
in the capital do a roaring trade in strained neck muscles
from all the swivelling of heads that goes on throughout the
have learnt to swivel on their heels, -- a far more elegant
manoeuvre, and one which avoids any undue stress on the body.
However, declaring such obvious attraction -- swallowing the
bait --, immediately defines a position of inferiority in
the male, which, however effective, is the last thing he wants.
is where dancing comes in. Working its rhythms and malleable
structure, the superior salsero can have a girl hooked by
the end of one dance. The simple equation of good dancer equals
good lover squared never rings more true than on the dancefloor
of a half decent venue. And who can deny this universal truth
? OK so Einstein never scribbled it down in a fit of lucid
thinking, but surely this exhibition of superglue eye-contact,
coupled with deft hand movements, undulations, gyrations,
pirouettes, twists and turns and ducks and dives, is what
Cosmo readers are always told to look for in their Mister
good salsero can make a girl feel a million dollars with just
a few moves from his repertoire. He leads her, coaxes her,
teases her, always trying to find a way round her Maginot
line of defences. Maybe she really does have a boyfriend whom
she loves dearly, but if she doesn't, our man with the slinky
moves is the guy who's going to find out.
shouldn't neglect the muchachas involved in this too. This
is their opportunity to suss out Mister Maybe Possibly I Don't
Know Yet. Obvious signs to look for are excessive sweating,
noxious body odour, octupine hands, too-slick-by-half looks,
and of course conversation non-starters.
is where salsa differs from any modern Western ideas we have
of dancing: it's pretty impossible to hold a conversation
while pirouetting about the place. This explains why all this
body language is so essential. If the dance has gone well,
then it's the coming away from the dancefloor and the 'let
me buy you a drink' stage which then takes over. By this time
however, everything, well nearly, has already been established.
home, we have no concept of this. In a club you're lucky enough
to get passed the 'nice night for it' stage before the chat-up
chatter kicks in. But in the West, we do not have the beauty
that these Latin countries covet so highly. We might have
totty and skirt, fitters and bits of allright, but nothing
to lose your no-claims bonus over or slip a disc for. For
your average tourist, it's simply not on. It's enough to make
you agoraphobic. That feeling of confusion and dumbness that
you had when you were nine suddenly comes flooding back.
There seems to
be no way to escape it, when every girl that passes is an
oh-so chewable curly-wurly or a curvaceous cola bottle, and
let's not even talk about the sherbet dips. Venezuelan men
have to deal with this kind of stuff every day: a little sweet
shop of delights. Some become blasé, when even the most laudable
example of femininity won't get a second look. Others try
to heighten their beauty threshold, only getting excited over
the truly stunning. The majority however still languish in
the depths of their childhood. Being able to see, admire,
salivate over even, and yet denied by that perspex plastic
covering or the height of the counter where the goodies are
just out of reach.
is why the music and the interaction is so important. You
see, these women know they're beautiful. They know they're
the sweetest, most delectable confectionery on the world's
counter: the Godiva to Europe's Ferrero Rocher. Everyone tells
them so, and they see no reason to deny it. Eye-contact with
these women is not impossible, but only the truly handsome,
slick and loaded-looking stand a chance of actually getting
near them in a street encounter. Whereas in the salsa context,
the not-quite-so-appealing of the masculine sex stands a much
better chance of getting to the counter and lifting the lid
on all the goodies. It's their foot-up, their Inspector Gadget
extendible arm. Just one dance is all it might take for him
to impress her enough. Those close contact gyrating moments
might be what swings it his way.
he's still got to get over the first hurdle of getting the
girl to accept his offer of a quick spin on the piste, but
once that's done, he's in with a fighting chance. A salsa
club exudes sexual energy and tension from every pore. If
you could bottle it and label it, you'd be rich, no doubt
about it. That's not to say that they're mere pick-up joints,
-- far from it -- neither are they the cattle markets that
one might imagine. The game's more complicated than that,
which is why the energy is so great and the stakes so high.
three dots of intrigue, the piercing, Lolololo-Lola looks,
the thigh-to-crotch, crotch-to-thigh small-talk, all these
things make these venues the hormonal epicentres of the Latin
capitals. Take away salsa and replace it with techno or changa
as it's known, and you've got trouble. All of a sudden, there's
no more foot-up, no more go-go-gadget extendible arm, no way
to ensnare that elusive sugar-coated cola bottle.
Maybe this is one
part of Latin culture which won't succumb to gringo imperialism
and Americanisation. For to lose this ritual would entail
the loss of the means of production, -- or procreation to
be exact. And as any analysis of Marxism will reveal, the
means of production are everything.
salsa, the music of love falls on deaf ears. Without the melt-in-your-mouth
beauty of the people, music would be superfluous. It's as
simple as un, dos, tres, y un, dos, tres. Salseros and salseras
of the world unite, all you have to lose is your beauty sleep
-- and you don't even need that anyway...
definitely crabs. Shit, I've got crabs."
Early morning alarm
call. Second day alone in the forest, picking teeny creatures
from my groin at six in the morning.
d'you get crabs anyway ? I could vaguely remember my brother
suffering from something similar. But I had the nagging feeling
that was scabies, not crabs.
sexually transmitted, isn't it ?" I asked the reticent
forest, while plucking the tenth creature from my nether regions.
nocturnal ramblings had come home to roost. Oops. But did
it have to happen struggling to weave my way through the forest
on my own, about as far from a doctor as could be imagined
probably decide to piss down with rain too," I grumbled.
started a little fire, fetched some water and put the pan
on to boil. "I'll feel better after a coffee. I always
settled back on my mat to eat the remains of last night's
supper. Tuna mash-something. With mayonnaise.
Searing bites of
warning had sounded the night before as I dozed to sleep in
my tent, absorbing the vocal machinations of the forest night.
My torch had decided not to work, and I didn't like using
candles inside the tent, so I hadn't investigated what exactly
was nipping me with considerable force 'down there'. I'd settled
for lots of scratching and hope for the best.
But as I sat and
forked down my cold breakfast, I became aware of tens of little
beasties. Dozens of them, small as pin-pricks, cramponed on
to my legs. "Little bastards". I put my pan down
and started plucking another handful off. They were everywhere,
in every nook, crevice and cranny of my anatomy.
You have to kill
them too, oh yes. You have to pinch them between your nails
until you reckon you've extinguished their alpine penchant.
Otherwise, with a hop, skip and a jump, they'll be right back
after the break.
plucked a frighteningly large specimen from my back after
a brief mental and physical struggle, I realised the symptoms
of whatever I had didn't coincide with my admittedly vague
knowledge of what crabs were. I was too preoccupied with removing
the Klingon invasion to be much relieved however.
I later learnt
the bigguns leave their jaws behind, become infected, and
effectively leave holes worthy of adding to your passport's
Distinguishing Marks section. Garrapatas they're called. "Grab-legs".
It's hard to believe something so small can cause so much
pain. You'll be walking along, following a path in the undergrowth,
when all of a sudden Tchang, you drop everything and plunge
your hand down your trousers to seek the rottweiler jawed
to your groin. Maybe it was better I was on my own afterall.
become paranoid too, passing any idle moment, and most active
ones for that matter, scratching and plucking and searching
for microcrabs that might have escaped your scrutiny.
are the akuri," tutts Ismael my Indian friend as he inspects
my back, his repeatedly mended glasses perched precariously
on his nose. "Akuri are tiny red-striped spiders, and
their bite is worse than any snake's. You're dead within hours,
believe you, but you could have told me that before you sent
me off into the forest with a friendly handshake two days
ago," I thought.
they nest in the tall grass. You won't find them in the forest,"
he adds, as if reading my mind. "That's why the Indians
burn, to clear the paths of snakes and spiders. Unfortunately
fire doesn't affect garrapatas. Unless you burn the forest
turn my head and he smiles. I laugh, then wince pathetically
as he plucks another Spiderman impersonator from my back.
the next three days, I continued to find die-hards clamped
to my legs, hanging on for dear life. And scratched and searched
and destroyed. I think I'll settle for crabs next time. At
least you know where to look for crabs.
Latin temperament is always in love. Cupid does sopra tempo
in the latin nations like nowhere else. Romance, lust and
love perfume the air, as pervasive as the sweaty swearing
of taxi drivers and the vying aromas of street stalls and
cafes. Flirtation is the national game, just about pipping
back-handers and back-scratching at the past-time post.
In Venezuela this romantic trait has driven victims of Cupid's
missiles to leave their beds in the dead of night and commune
with the source of their passion. Rather than the iconoclastic
image of the syrupy serenade of languid guitar and warbling
vocals of times past, more modern means have been adopted.
The trusty spraycan to be precise, or el espray. The
walls of the capital Caracas are daubed from top to bottom
with the late-night laments and cris de coeur of these poor
Promoters and practitioners of graffiti in the West have long
fought for its Art status, arguing it occupies an important
place in the modern media of the late Twentieth Century, symptomatic
of the alienation of disenfranchised urban youth. No such
high-minded sentiments are applied in the countries of the
South American continent.
Although I'm informed that back in the Eighties 'spraycan
art' was popular for a while, it has been all but eradicated,
leaving the walls with nothing more pretentious than politically-
or romantically-motivated ranting. Maybe it's not as aesthetically
pleasing, but it's certainly more profound.
The wall opposite your front door declares its undying love
to you, in letters two foot high. Motorway exit signs and
advertising billboards think you're the best thing since sliced
bread. Shop-fronts and the sides of buses can't live another
day without you. Eloquent poems appear on walls, with one
exclusive agenda: to make you smile and feel the warm glow
of emotion. Your love so publicly displayed, and yet a mutual
Admittedly, your first reaction might be one of incredulity,
shortly followed by acute socialembarrassment. But think again.
What flattery! What passion! Forget the box of Dairy Milk,
wilting over-priced flowers, or the not-so-dirty weekend in
Essex, the sprayed scrawl is the ultimate for those in lurv.
The derring-do, the against-all-odds risks and the plain and
simple act of conveying love surely elevates amorous graffiti
above the run-of-the-mill romantic gesture, and beyond the
mere act of vandalism.
My only worry is obsolescence. If you can remember ever scrawling
'I love Veronica Dribblethwaite in 3B' on your desk at school,
and regretting the day you did for the rest of your scholastic
career because you went off Veronica and her train-track braces
the following week, you'll know what I'm talking about. And
you can't just scratch it off during Maths either. It's get
the pot of Dulux emulsion out and off into the night for a
bit of hindsight-driven revision for you my friend.
But this one small quibble shouldn't detract from the impressive
impact of the medium. It might well squelch the love-sick
deeper into their stupour, or further depress the down-hearted.
But surely it also reconfirms our faith in love, passion and
all things bright and beautiful. We too, yes you and I, can
be the object of such strength of emotion and romantic fervour.
Modern love's alive and kicking, and the proof is there, hailed
from every corner, proclaimed from every half-decent vantage-point.
Just a word before you head off to Hammersmith Flyover tonight.
"Sp." as your teacher would have put it. You wouldn't
want thousands of commuters to be reminded of the dismal state
of the education system. And nothing dulls impact more than
a misplaced vowel or consonant. Just ask Veruca Dribblywait.
-- GATECRASHERS —The Pemon of Wonken
the village's captain's wife and is already chubby in her
early thirties. Although you wouldn't have thought it, she's
the daughter of a Pemon indian and an Italian. Her face is
round, her smile welcoming, and her dark shiny hair falls
all the way to her waist. She is very sweet and generous,
offering food and cafecito without fail.
They live in one of the houses in the village of Wonken built
by the government according to their specifications: a nondescript,
metal-roofed bungalow with three bedrooms, a reception room,
kitchen and outside bathroom. Family life centres around the
large kitchen table, or else on the front-doorstep or in the
back garden, where friends and family come and go with accustomed
She and her husband were very kind to me. He made sure I had
somewhere to sleep for the night - a derelict old bungalow
once used by visiting doctors - and was helpful in telling
me who to talk to for my research. He introduced me to the
village's men and one day we went off to work in his conuco
- forest clearing.
They call it a mayu when someone's mates all come along and
help cut down trees and clear a patch in the forest for future
crops. A mayu has one important ingredient, perhaps a prerequisite
for getting any mates in any country to help you out: alcohol.
Before getting them over, your wife or sister or mother has
to prepare enough manioc-root liquor, kachiri, to go round.
No kachiri, no choppy choppy. Although the combination of
axes, saws and alcohol might not be the safest or most work-effective
cocktail ever invented, you'll be glad to know I haven't heard
of any limb-severing horror stories -- so far.
I enjoyed the mayu, and though I was forced to retire early
on grounds of tipsy-tiredness, -- or tired-tipsiness, I wasn't
sure which, -- my help was appreciated. I think I also provided
entertainment value as I struggled with an axe none-too proficiently.
While I stayed in the village, I would pop in to say hello
and ask about some material I was trying to get my hands on.
I would always end up staying for some lunch or dinner, or
for coffee and a chat. While I was there, various neighbours
and friends and members of the family would come in and out,
some staying for a bit, others moving on.
She would have her two older girls do most of the cooking
and most of the serving and clearing up. The young boys didn't
really help at all, and spent their time painfully singing
Happy Birthday to You in English to me, and giggling at the
She seems typical of what is happening to the Pemon people
in many ways. You see, when you walk into their house, you
could really be in any rural Venezuelan house. There are the
odd cheap reproductions on the wall, crucifixes nailed above
beds and the kitchen boasts a large gas cooker, a fridge and
a set of six frosted motif water glasses.
Most Pemon houses, outside of villages, are still made of
wood and mud, many are still thatched with palm fronds, none
of them have gas and rarely do they have cement floors. The
Pemon diet in these outlying areas will have changed little
from what it was hundreds of years ago. They only buy small
amounts of food, and most of their meals consist of what they
grow or hunt.
Whereas in the villages, many of them centred around catholic
missions, electricity and mod-cons are pretty much part of
every day life. She told me they were saving up for a washing
machine, once they'd completed renovating the outside toilet
and shower. She seems to aspire to Western standards of living.
Her husband and she work in the nearby mission, and they save
their money assiduously, she told me.
I was asking them lots of questions about Pemon life - what's
this called, why's that, what's the story behind that - but
she wasn't very good at answering them, or would look across
to her husband for confirmation of what she'd just said. Occasionally
she couldn't answer at all. She doesn't go off to the conuco
like most of the women, and didn't even know how to make good
kachiri, she admitted. Although they still eat a lot of Pemon
food, mainly spicy soups with manioc wafer-bread, they also
made criollo fare, such as dumplín, dumplings, which are very
fatty, and probably explain her premature chubbyness.
They spoke a lot of Pemon in the house. And yet she was very
insistent on the manners of the kids at table and on precisely
how her girls served the coffee. I got the impression in some
ways she wanted me to see her as more Western than Pemon,
or at least more sophisticated in her tastes than her counterparts
in the village. It was ironic really since I was there to
find out more about the Pemon. Maybe she has lots of hang-ups
about her European father dumping her mother with a baby,
and perhaps she endured some social ostracising as a result.
Perhaps. But it was still noticeable how hard she was trying
to show me they, or at least her family, weren't 'savages'
And yet, when we were talking about whether a road would eventually
be built to the village, they said one idea had been to put
a gate with a lock on it at a river-crossing about a day's
walk away, so as to control who came to the village. It's
already situated within Canaima National Park, so only the
Pemon can live there anyway. But that didn't seem to satisfy
their fear of the outside, of crime, violence and all that.
So the solution was to lock people out, and only let them
in if - well if what ? Were outsiders going to produce documents
proving they were not convicted criminals or child molesters
? Would they do on-the-spot blood tests to make sure no funny
diseases got in ? And how were they going to allow the right
people in anyway if the gate was five hours' walk away ? I
left these questions mute, thinking I might be provoking them
if I started to question their xenophobic logic too closely.
But it's that contradiction which is so stark in this situation.
Here is a woman who aspires to the Western way of life, not
just in material assets, which, let's face it, take some of
the drudgery out of life, but in the manners of her daughters,
her family's food, the clothes they wear, and soon, the language
they'll speak at home.
It comes down to a question of identity. She isn't sure anymore
what she really wants to be, and that question stares all
the Pemon at the moment, and has done for at least the last
ten years or so. They see and recognise the Coca Cola culture
coming ever-closer. They, like most of us perhaps, would like
to be able to pick and choose what they want from this culture,
-- to buy the products which make life easier and hands softer,
to get the medicines which make your parents suffer less and
your kids cry just a little less.
But you can't do that. One without the other simply isn't
on the menu. If you want one, you have to take the stock and
barrel too, and there's no refund or money-back guarantee.
The crime, violence, strong alcohol, video-nasties and nasty
video-games, the death or dearth of spirituality, the all-consuming
desire to have. All that lot comes with your washing machine,
like having to buy washing powder, fabric softener, extra
water and more electricity to keep the thing going once you've
A gate on the road isn't going to stop cultural adaptation,
disintegration, or 'acculturisation' as anthropologists would
put it. It might keep the nasty people out, a la LA, but it
won't stop change.
I think what worries the Pemon most is the pace of that change,
not the process in itself. Within a generation, values, mores
and social norms have transformed so rapidly that they are
confused about what they really want. At least in LA, people
know who and what they want to exclude. The Pemon don't have
that luxury, which comes with a bankrupt dismembered society.
I don't think they'll ever put the gate up. But I bet they'll
wonder, in twenty years or so, how things would be if they
Back to menu
The General in his Stupour
The general sits in his dark shuttered room, sweating, trying
recall his training days as the guest of the US government.
If only he
could remember the words of the tutors. "It is morally
right and beyond
question that the military must..." Then what ? He would
feel so much
better, if only he could remember.
The half full whisky bottle stares back at him, failing to
anything more than the fuzz on his teeth. "... the military
must protect the
motherland from all attempts to usurp the..." Through
the haze of his
addled mind, he scours his memory for bait with which to haul
recollections from the depths of the past. "...usurp
liberty of the people and the right of business... to carry
on as normal".
No, that wasn't it either. "To do business." Christ,
why couldn't he just
remember how it went?
It was starting to become clearer. The words take shape.
Legitimacy. A just cause. Democracy. They bubble and bob on
surface of his mind, just out of reach. Like clothes hanging
to dry on a
stretched-out line, devoid of any human presence, billowing
in the breeze,
-- hot air.
A military man all his life, he knows nothing of democracy
liberty or freedom of speech. But he realises their worth.
They are the
keys to the doors of the palace. They echo in the hearts of
all those sad
small people, reverberating down the corridors of power until
bouncing back, all distorted and skewered into "national
subversion, and by any means necessary."
A slug of whisky trickles down his throat, burning and fizzing
gently. He pictures the classroom, the blackboard, the bold
PROTECT THE STATUS QUO. YOUR ENEMY'S ENEMY MIGHT
AS WELL BE YOUR ENEMY TOO. WEAR A SUIT AS SOON AS
YOU TAKE POWER.
Soon. Soon he would be reunited with his tutors. They would
him down in the President's palace, wheel out the blackboard,
at it strenuously. And he would sit there, laughing inwardly
at the irony
of it all, wondering what had happened to all the years since
Soon he would live, fulfill the dream, keep the fire of freedom
burning bright. Protect his beloved motherland. His tutors
congratulate him. The commy scourge, pinko politics, greenos
everybody's fun and profits. His country was saved, they would
patting him hard on the back until he felt his denture's wobble.
The country needed him, wanted him, pleaded for him to save
He was on the right side. And if he fell in the attempt, how
death would be. Statues, street names, taxi companies. They
bear his name in bold letters like the hero liberator he truly
The politicians had brought it upon themselves, they'd asked
for it. Now the
people would get what they deserved for voting for them. The
The just cause. It was all coming back.
DAY AT THE BEACH
Erasmo is an artist. He's tall and gangly, which is surprising
for a Venezuelan, where most men are short and stubby. He
has a round pea-head that sits precariously on his shoulders,
and it's nearly always stooped. His skin is the colour of
Nescafe with plenty of milk, and he's balding quite badly.
He's only thirty-five, but definitely looks older. He hasn't
got gouged frown lines, grey hairs or anything as dramatic
as that. No, it's just his overall look. He's lived a lot
and seen a lot. He's killed.
When he told me the other day we were both drunk. I just looked
into his eyes and nodded slowly. I think I sighed, stupidly,
dumbly. What do I know of killing a man ? What do I know about
most of the experiences that Erasmo has lived? Nothing. Nothing
The thing is with Erasmo is that he's now an intellectual,
if such a thing really exists. We talk about the books we've
read, the exhibitions we've seen, the ideas that inspire us.
We can talk for ages about Huxley and Márquez and the rest
of them. I suppose I know it's not really him. He said the
other day "I like hanging out with you, but you're such
an intellectual..." So maybe he only talks of books and
art because he thinks that's what I want to talk about.
He's very unsure of himself at times. As I get to know him
better though, the more I'm amazed that he is where he is,
and that he's still breathing. He told me his brothers and
sisters kept him locked up in a room and beat him whenever
they got the chance. His parents were alcoholics and so was
he, for years. Which is why the other day was so disturbing.
We got down to the beach about midday, and as we walked along
the sand, slowly getting hotter, each step seeming to require
more effort, he accepted the offer of a beach vendor, and
bought us two beers. OK, I thought, a beer at midday and a
little nap in the shade, that suits me fine. But by the time
we'd got our little sun shade and deck chairs hired for the
day, Erasmo had bought a whole box-full of bottles. About
twelve in all.
By two o'clock when he had to go and sort out some paperwork
-- the reason for our trip to the sea -- he'd got through
nine to my three. I wanted to say something, I really did.
Something like : why are you doing this, you don't have to
prove anything to me. He wasn't really drunk either. His speech
had slowed down considerably and his conversation was less
focused, but he wasn't what I'd call drunk. I was a bit worried
about him holding it together with the pen-pushers, but I
reckoned he was alright to go on his own.
He returned about an hour and a half later, as appointed,
everything chevere and dandy. He bought more beer despite
my protestations and consumed another three bottles by the
time we left the beach. We walked along the promenade and
Erasmo was still holding it together although he'd reached
some strange level where he wasn't really with me at all,
he was in his own world, gangling down the street with me
in tow. We went into a beautiful house on the sea-front after
he insisted we ask the owner to let me take a photograph.
He then went up to some old biddy and accosted her as if she
was an old friend, probably relying on her senility not to
realise that she didn't know him from Adam, which was the
case. I went along with all this, and it was funny, honestly
We got to a seafront bar and Erasmo asked if the owner had
any Hector Lavoie, a songwriter he'd told me I absolutely
had to know. "It's all about the barrios and life on
the edge, and prostitutes and knives and dodgy-as-fuck bad
boys." By chance the owner did have an ancient copy and
put it on for our pleasure. More beers, five each this time,
ensued, as we foot and finger-tapped our way through both
sides of the cassette, and some even older salsa from the
This is when he told me about having killed people. And I
was too far gone to react. Now, when I think about it, I reacted
in the only way possible, which was to accept what he was
saying as the absolute truth and make him feel like I wasn't
judging him. He asked me some pretty to-the-point questions
while we sat there in the fast-fading light on the seafront,
the flaring trumpets and percussion prodding us periodically
from our stupor.
What was my greatest aspiration, he asked me. It took me a
while to answer, and still my answer was crap. To make people
think, think twice about what consequences their actions have.
To make them realise what they're actually doing. There. I
told you it was crap.
He asked me whether I'd had a good childhood and I answered
yes, I'd been extremely fortunate to have had a loving and
stable family, where I was given support in nearly everything
I did, and yet wasn't suffocated by my parent's will. He nodded
to all this, how lucky I was... Which is when he told me about
his brothers and sisters, and about growing up in the shanty
towns of Caracas. I've never met anyone who's killed someone
before. I've met some unsavoury characters, mainly up in Leeds,
but none who could pass the Litmus test of life in a Latin
The strange thing about our conversation was that Erasmo was
progressively falling back on signing the things he wanted
to express. Paw-paw, he'd say, with his hand and fingers moulded
into the shape of a gun. Sclick, he'd mutter as his index
finger slid across his neck. He was looking at me, checking
my reaction, seeing whether I was coming close to comprehending
what he was telling me. I suppose I did 'comprehend' in the
strictest sense of the word. But there was and is no way that
I could 'understand', 'empathise' or 'feel' what he was telling
me. It's simply beyond my comprehension, that's all.
And it wasn't discussed on some higher level either. Not like
something detached and 'political' which is normally the case
when I talk about poverty and kids killing and alcoholism
and abuse. No. This was so fucking real. It was him. This
man I knew not that well but well enough, was telling me by
the time he was eighteen he'd killed eight men. Eight. I tried
to ask how come. For money, drugs, what? Territory, he said,
without thinking about it.
What bothered me, and what had been bothering me all day,
was that Erasmo wasn't supposed to be drinking. He'd told
me as we sat down in the old once-blue deckchairs that he
hadn't touched a beer in a month and twelve days. He knew
the days. That meant that every one was a struggle and some
kind of war within himself. His jaw had started to shiver
as well. I couldn't figure that out. I've never seen that
with alcohol before. With speed or E or coke, sure, but not
with alcohol. It worried me. This whole thing was worrying
me, but there seemed like there was no way to stop it, so
I just went with it.
it was bigger than the both of us, as they say. But that's
bullshit. Erasmo had made a split-second decision back on
the beach. A decision that somehow, -- which is where the
'bigger' might come in -- was irreversible. I didn't want
to stop drinking because our mental paths would simply have
diverged and diverged, and I didn't think that was a good
idea. I had to stay with him.
finally said stop when we'd been into two whorehouses in one
of the scummiest parts of Caracas. He'd said he wanted to
show me 'stuff' that I could write about, that was real, and
true and what the people really felt. By this time he was
running scared though.
don't know enough about alcoholics to know what the symptoms
are, or what they go through, or what they're like. But I
know that if it's like most drugs, you're running from something,
maybe somebody, but normally a whole pantheon of ghosts and
phantoms and fears and insecurities, that keep pursuing you
as you try to forget them with your chosen medicine/poison.
Erasmo was running. Running because he knew he couldn't go
back to my friend and his girlfriend Irmina, nor to his parents,
nor to a hotel. Because he was drunk, and had made promise
after promise after promise not to touch the stuff anymore.
And so we ended up on this street by the main bus station.
first I really didn't know where he was taking me. As I walked
down a narrow green-tiled corridor towards some kind of partition
wall, it slowly dawned on me where we were. At the end of
the corridor there was a room about fifteen feet square, with
iron-bars running along one side where rows of doors peeked
out of the gloom. In the room stood, lounged, smoked and promenaded
about twenty women in bathing costumes and bikinis.
were overweight I would say, most in their thirties and looking
worse for wear. Venezuela might have beautiful women, but
they are not to be found in this sort of place. I was. Well,
what was I? I didn't know where to look, I know that much.
What was I supposed to do? Erasmo strolled about and ended
up talking to this one woman, leaning up against the wall.
I made for the door and leant against the pale green lurid
tiling, smoking my cigarette and looking.
have to look. You have to. You can't just stand there and
look at the floor. But I simply didn't want to be there in
that room with all these sad sad women, languid and broken
and hollowed out inside like once beautiful rainforest trees
that the Indians use for boats. I didn't want to be a part
of that whole abuse and dirtiness and sickness and sadness,
and whatever else my over-sensitive middle class upbringing
had told me about prostitution. Poor little gringo couldn't
take a visit to the whorehouse.
left. Erasmo strolled off down the street, and since he had
my bag on his back for safety, I followed. I honestly think
that I wouldn't have followed him into the second one if it
weren't for that. But maybe I'm just saying that now. Same
tiles and same lighting, only a smaller, more claustrophobic
room this time. Harder to look away, or somewhere other than
into their eyes.
prettier women also. One got hold of me, catch of the night
no doubt, dollar signs going cling-cling in her head.
to make love?" she asked me. "I make the best love
in the whole of Caracas. Let me show you."
She had a hold
of my arm and was gently yet firmly pulling me towards the
corridor to the rooms. I pulled my arm back and tried to tell
her that I wasn't interested, that I didn't pay for the pleasure.
can talk," she insinuated, with her doe-eyes trying to
with my friend, honestly."
meanwhile had latched onto an old friend. We were introduced.
Rosita was tall and slim and looked like she'd seen too much
of everything, and remembered every last image. She was haggard,
cheeks sunken, dark eyes holes into which I couldn't look.
I just couldn't. I caught a snippet of my woman saying "he
doesn't pay for it..." and some curses and tuts which
followed. I felt so awkward, like I was a lie, like I was
cheating these women. I wanted to get out. Badly. But now
Erasmo was negotiating a threesome. I turned to look at him
and just shook my head over and over again as he looked into
my eyes for something. "No, no, no, no," I repeated,
almost chant-like. Rosita looked at me scornfully. "It's
not expensive, querida," she said.
motioned to Erasmo that I was getting out. I didn't care about
my bag any more, I just knew I had no intention of sleeping
with any of these women, and that the best thing I could do
was leave. I turned away from them and made my way back to
the entrance, keeping my eyes down, not wanting to look up
to see the faces and eyes. Down the corridor and out into
the stinking Caracas night. In a minute or so Erasmo followed
behind me, loping along, bouncing off the tiles as he swayed
his way towards me. He started to head off somewhere else,
but I grabbed his arm and half pleaded, half ordered him to
stop. He looked at me with his head cocked slightly, and a
hurt-child look on his face.
I thought you wanted to see some real people, man. Well those
are real people, they're good people, they've got good hearts."
but enough is enough, Erasmo," I pleaded. " I can't
handle it, you know. That's all I want to see. I can't take
shrugged his hunched shoulders. He realised this meant that
he'd have to stop running, that this was as far as he'd get
tonight. Deep inside me, since before he'd left to do his
errand, I'd started to feel uncomfortable. I don't often drink
in the day, and not in the Caribbean heat. By nine o'clock
I feel hungover at the best of times. I know that my discomfort
stemmed from Erasmo. He knew that he wasn't doing right, that
he was breaking promises, letting people down, letting himself
down. He hadn't been getting drunk to enjoy himself, we hadn't
laughed for a long time. This was self-destruction. He'd said
earlier in the day that when he drank too much he cried and
felt like taking his life. I felt that he wasn't that far
away. And yet I was. So far from him and his experiences and
his life and his 'historia' as they say here. I wasn't the
one who could help him. Sleep and the maternal clutches of
the night were the only thing that could.
you had a good day ?" he asked.
course I have, of course," I replied, not really knowing
whether that was a lie or not. Too confused and drunk and
tired to know what I thought. And now that I'm sober, I still
Back to menu
cans as a way of life. A means to survive. I see young and
old doing it. Not bums and junkies necessarily, just people.
Collecting cans to take somewhere to sell as scrap. Sticking
their hands into rubbish bins, into refuse tips, scouring
their contents to see what they can unearth in the decaying
They make their way from cafe to restaurant to panaderia,
one by one, while I sip at my coffee and eat my morning pastry.
A stream passes silently by virtually unoticed, one by one,
heads down, eyes furtive, checking to see whether someone
hasn't had the kindness to leave them a Christmas stocking
behind. Their Christmas bonus must be finding a spanking,
freshly-drunk, lipstick-smudged can, perhaps with the alluring
scent of the caraquena who drank from it still clinging to
its alumium lip. Plunging their hands into putrifying mess,
into places where most of us wouldn't even look. Tell me that's
They amass their cans in large string bags which they keep
slung over their shoulders like Santa Claus. Or else they
wield them aggressively, swaying the sacks below their arms.
The sacks are made of see-through string, so they can see
how many cans they've accumulated, and perhaps show their
peers how proficient they are. Scraping their hands round
the bottom of bins. Opening the jaws of the municipal refuse
bins to see what society has to offer them today.
So these are the poor. The refuse, the junk-ees. The flotsam
and jetsam all washed up on the shores of our cities. Bums
and addicts and wasters. Just people. Men with families, with
hopes and dreams too. Men who have no other choice.
They shuffle past as I enjoy my morning ritual, taking no
notice of me or my sensibilities. Sometimesthe owner tells
them to get lost, to get out and not come back. But mostly
they allow this symbiosis to continue. Afterall, one can less
is one less for them to put out at the end of the day.
Occasionally I've walked passed a man as he's split open a
black bag out on the street. They all claw away at the mess,
scrabbling for their glimmering money-makers. Sometimes they
get violent. Over a can. In rich countries we talk about recycling
and the like, but no-one's ever maimed someone over their
recycled bottle of virgin olive oil. Green fervour doesn't
stretch to that.
I don't know how much they get for each can. But you can imagine
what it amounts to. Coca-Cola and Hit and Malta de Caracas:
working with the community. Keeping the poor on the streets.
Keeping the poor alive, dentists happy and foreigners over-sensitive.
heart aches when I see the river all dirty, it's true. I don't
know how to put it, but when the river, when it's clean and
sparkling, I feel good. I can't explain the sensation exactly,
but it's strong, I know that."
I was squatted across from one miner and his friend, a kerosene
wick flickering between us. It was 'Perico's' house we were
camped in, a corrugated zinc roof and a cold concrete floor.
They'd brought down the remains of the bottle of Cachaça we'd
bring drinking earlier, and we had a tin of Diablitos and
crackers. Conversation flowed and cigarettes passed round.
"At Easter we asked the miners working up-stream not
to work for a while when the tourists came. They wanted to
have a break anyway, so it worked out allright. And I was
so happy to see the river not so dirty any more. It looked
so beautiful, like it used to. But now it's muddy and brown
Perico interrupted, saying all miners wanted was their roncito
and that was that. Life was hard on the miner, he said.
rather be doing something else, I would," continued the
other, whose name I can't remember. "I've applied for
credit in town to start up a poultry business here. But they
say I have to wait. So I go back to the river and pan. Tourism
is good but it's only at certain times of year, and the road's
too rough for most people to make it this far."
the road's a shit. That road fucks us up," added Perico,
swigging from the fast-emptying bottle.
the road's being improved," I said. "They're only
a few kilometres away from here now. More people'll come then."
right," said Perico. "But life's so expensive here.
These shoes cost double what you'd pay in town. And they're
rubbish anyway, look. Everything costs nearly double. Any
money you do get from mining you spend on food and a bit of
fun at the weekend. And then it's back to the river."
arrived on a late Friday afternoon. I'd realised we were Friday
when still on the far side of the hill, we were greeted by
calls and hoots. I'd called back, and then remembered it was
most likely the local miners would all be drunk by now.
Ramon, the old man who I remembered from other visits, was
pretty out of it, and the others were enjoying the entertainment
he was providing, stumbling from his chair to urinate vaguely
in the direction of some bushes. One bottle had already been
downed, and they were persuading him to contribute the best
part of another. I noticed Don Ramon's eyes were clouded over
and his hands shook, symptoms of mercury poisoning, but then
he's probably about eighty-odd anyway, I thought.
The evening shadows
drew in and our hopes for a lift down the road faded. Perico
offered us a house to stay in, as did another older miner,
a Brazilian, who was on the way to joining Don Ramon in the
to my house," he kept on saying. "I won't charge
you a penny, not a penny. I've got a chicken too, " he
said, but I doubted he was up to cooking the thing.
owner of the bodega, an amiable man in his mid-thirties in
shiny sports shorts and ample pot belly had given my companion
a tiny diamond since she'd asked whether he had any she could
see. I thought it a bit over generous, and wondered silently
whether it wasn't in fact glass.
a beautiful place here," continued the first miner, his
face re-arranging its features depending on the light shed
by the wick. "There are more waterfalls further downstream,
deep into the forest. I've taken loads of tourists down there.
That's where I work when I go panning. I have to. The land's
so poor here, it's hard to grow anything. You have to go looking
for those diamonds and nuggets if you want to eat. I hate
it sometimes, I really do. And there are more miners all the
time, and the river gets worse, all brown and dirty."
knew there was a great conflict in him, fighting out some
mental battle. Clean river, dirty river. We both knew it was
there, we both knew what mining in rivers does and how ugly
it can be. I wanted to be able to sum it all up for us, to
round up the contradictions and conflicts into a verbal corral
and keep them there, safe and sound, where they wouldn't trouble
us any more. But I was as inarticulate as he, unable to reduce
their life into neat black and white, labelled and ledgered
categories which people are so fond of. So we struggled on
from one strangely incomplete, suspended sentence to the next.
was sensitive to all this. More sensitive than most miners
I've met. And yet he'll be back up to his knees tomorrow,
bent double with hope and contradiction, swirling his weather-beaten
pan as the river flows on, impotent.
Back to menu
Walls of a tepui
echo down the valley, barricades of a forgotten revolution.
A phalanx of rock, standing to attention, etched with white
line waterfalls which rumble their roar into the blue-veiled
distance. Gold-leaf fortress, above the realm of the eagle
and the vulture, puncturing the steely grey horizon. Magnetic.
Enough to leave you dumb for a day or two. Majestic. Inspiring
every emotion from fear to anger at their silence.
me what you've seen, tell me what you know, old man, or whatever
you are, tell me please. You're not as simple as the scientists
make out. Or maybe you have nothing, no secrets at all, no
tricks up your sleeves, nothing to declare, and it's just
me, my head and I.
hide from my gaze, coat yourself in clouds, skulk beneath
the mist and fog. If I could leave you a note and come back
another day, I would. If you had a letterbox I'd post you
a letter, or a postcard perhaps. I'd be rid of you then, able
to roam free. Not want more, more.
like the clouds then, swept over the Atlantic by the wind's
cracked cheeks. I gather my strength across the ocean as my
time nears, and come swooping across full of ideas, and projects
and dreams to offer up, to be tossed about, debated and discussed,
until they merge in to a something, a nucleus, an atom. A
pearl of wisdom for me to take back to the sea. I reach your
shores like cumulus laden with its fruit. Into your lair you
draw us in, where you can-open us up from tip to toe, plunging
your hands deep down inside till we've nothing left but our
me old man, revolutionary fist, king, queen, giant, what this
all means. Blown by the wind against your ancient angular
shoulders, caught up in your mangled rock web, until I can't
think of anything else but your form, your light, your tricks
and your trade.
year now I've come back and each time closer I get. How long
I wonder till you tell me the rules of this strange foreign
game. And yet I don't want to spoil it, the suspense. Old
man, give me a clue. Something to hold on to. Pin my youthful
hopes to. All this can't be coincidence. All the papers, the
books, the maps and all, my photos and writings and trying
to explain, my concern, my interest, my love and my life.
there are the people, the friends and the fires, and there
are mirror-like lakes, palm-peppered plains, waterfalls and
forest pools, bird songs and monkey howls. Everything to distract
me from you and your presence. But you won't have it. You
want it all.
time I leave, you call me back.
I tire of thinking of you, of playing your game, and I want
out. But just then you'll give me something, a full moon or
a sunset, a sign all this has a reason. And then, like the
forests at your feet and the green-swathed savannas, I kneel
supplicant. I bow and breathe in and I smile.
written in 1995 (two years later, Chavez was President of
the best with your project," I said, not sure whether
it was the right thing to say. I wasn't even sure what his
project was, if indeed he had one. But that's what came into
my head at the time, and that's how I said goodbye to Comandante
were near Higuerote on the coast east of Caracas. I'd arrived
there in the morning with Charbel having driven through the
night from Ciudad Bolívar on the banks of the Orinoco. The
car's alternator hadn't been working well and we did most
of the 10-hour journey with little headlight to help us, staring
out through the windscreen and hoping we didn't hit another
pot hole. We'd had to stop on the side of the road once, I'm
not sure where. A car stopped and some men had helped us to
charge up our battery again, telling us people got murdered
on this stretch of the road all the time.
had picked me up at one in the morning. The Guardia Nacional
guy had ripped me from my slumber on the side of the road
at the toll for the Angostura Bridge. After four hours trying
to get a ride that evening, I'd finally given up and settled
for a night perched non-too-comfortably on my ruck sack. I
had about five hundred bees to my name and a loaf of bread.
My budgetting had gone a bit astray, my Visa card wasn't authorising
back in England, and so I'd set out to hitch back to Caracas
from Santa Elena de Uairén near the Brazilian border. I'd
already been travelling the best part of two days, and was
dusty , hungry and tired.
didn't really know much about the man then. Of course I'd
heard about the attempted coups and conflicting versions of
events. I'd seen pictures of rioting and a friend who lived
opposite Miraflores had told me about bombings and strange
goings on. But as to the man himself and what exactly he represented,
my knowledge was definitely on the hazy side.
had told me he was part of the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario
2000 movement, or MBR2000 for the hard-of-speaking. He was
working in the mining towns of Bolivar State - Tumeremo, Guasipati,
El Callao. He'd had various run-ins with the local authorities
who'd accused him of being a subversive and a revolutionary.
He denied that. He said he believed the Movimiento was the
only real alternative for Venezuela, and believed wholeheartedly
Comandante Chavez was the man to save to country from economic
disaster and moral breakdown. We'd talked politics most of
the night, and about the situation in Bolívar with the small
miners, which at the time, was pretty critical. About ten
people had died in the violence and civil strife which the
government's policy of giving land to foreign mining companies
had produced. Chabel was definitely on the side of the small
miners, afterall, multinationals don't vote do they.
was meeting Chavez in Higuerote in order to take him back
to the town of El Dorado. Someone had stolen the sword from
Bolívar's statue in the square, and Chavez and his entourage
were going to ceremonially replace it with a shiny new one.
We arrived tired and bleery in the morning, turning off the
road to a tatty house down a dirt road. A skull and cross
bones flag fluttered from a flag pole on a nearby hill, and
a group of people hung around the garden waiting for the arrival
of the man himself.
the time Chavez was still being persued by the secret police
and harrassed after his release from prison. He was working
hard travelling the country, drumming up support for his recently
born Movimiento. At about midday, after a lot of waiting around
and doubts as to whether he was actually going to show, a
new car pulled into the road, Chavez and his children and
some other people got out and made their way over to another
followed Chabel's lanky frame behind the group, wondering
what I was doing there, and if the secret police and a battallion
of squaddies weren't going to rush in at any minute. I started
to think up what I was going to say when questioned by aggressive
policemen. "I'm just a tourist... I was only hitch-hiking...
No I haven't got any money..." After the locals made
short speeches of thanks to Chavez for deigning to visit their
humble house, I was introduced by Chabel as an English student
who was researching small mining and mercury contamination
in Bolívar State, which was in fact what I was doing in Venezuela
at the time.
seemed intrigued by that, and I struck up a conversation with
a man in his fifties, with white, slicked-back hair and a
bulky frame, who was referred to as El Colonel. He seemed
genuinely interested in what I had to say about the mining
situation in Bolívar, and the horrendous prospect which large
scale mercury contamination presented for the future. Chavez
listened in on our conversation, saying it was lamentable
and that he was pleased he was going to be able to see things
for himself. I asked him whose side they were on in the confrontation
between formal and informal sectors, and he replied he was
on the side of justice. He didn't like the idea of foreign
companies running away with the country's riches, he said.
He wanted to see the small miners looked after and given a
chance to earn a living like anyone else.
didn't manage to speak to them for long. Lunch was served
and Chavez and his two children took their places round the
table which had been laid especially. I stood to one side,
trying to hide the fact I'd only eaten a few pancitos in the
last twenty four hours. I chatted to Chabel for a while, speculating
on whether his borrowed car would make the journey back to
the south. It was hot and everybody was sweating. Once they
had finished eating, Chabel and I, much to my relief, were
invited to eat too, and we took our places around the table.
One of the locals asked the Comandante about the skull and
cross bones flag, and he launched into a thirty-minute rambling
recounting of some Independence battle and numerous heroic
derrring-dos. Everybody listened attentively, and didn't seem
half as bored as I was at the long-winded explanation of the
symbolism of the flag. The fact it's a universal symbol of
pirates and bandits seemed to have escaped their attention.
story finally came to an end, and the locals having been promised
all the assistance they asked for, the comandante and his
entourage made to leave. Chabel and I tagged along behind
and said our goodbies. He was going on to Caracas to do something
and then would head back to be in El Dorado in time for the
ceremony. We climbed into the car, and then Chabel realised
he'd left his briefcase in Chavez's car for some reason. He
absolutely had to get it back, he said. We screeched off down
the road trying to catch up with the car.
was taking risks I didn't like, but I wasn't about to tell
him to slow down, since he was my only chance of getting to
Caracas that day. I just kept looking nervously across at
his moustachioed slightly weesily face. Round bends, up and
down hills, swerving to miss the inevitable pot-holes we went,
until finally the car came into sight. I thought they'd realise
it was us if we started hooting or flashing lights. But obviously
paranoia got the better of them and they started going faster,
and when we accelerated to keep up with them, they went faster
still. Shit, I thought, this is going to end in tears.
were screeching round corners and scouring the grass verges
on the side of the road. I sat wondering when I was going
to wake up. As Chabel drove on at increasingly nerve-shattering
speed, he kept on poking his head out of the window, shouting
and waving madly. We tried to come along side the car a few
times, but either cars appeared coming the other way, or else
the Comandante's car moved across to cut us off. Finally,
after far too many close-calls for my liking, Chavez's car
slowed to a stop, and Chabel got out and walked over to it.
From what I could see they seemed annoyed with him, and he
made his way somewhat sheepishly back to his car, his briefcase
tucked firmly under his arm.
paranoia gets to everyone after a while," he confessed.
tried to smile and shrug off the fact I'd just come the closest
I've come to soiling myself in public.
Most of the journey back to Caracas, Charbel and I didn't
say much. I think he was embarassed about the briecase episode,
while I just pondered what they'd do to the country if they
did get the power they so eagerly sought, and concluded it'd
probably end in tears if they ever did.
ROAD TO NOWHERE or EL CAMINO SE HACE EN JEEP
Bump, lurch. Bump,
lurch. Bump, bump.
sway back and forth. On the roof, fists of rain pound incessantly.
The black man drives on, staring eyes fixed to the road, like
a croupier following cards on a table, his concentration absolute.
We stop. The road's too bad, he says. There's a mire of light
brown mud as long as a football field ahead. Nobody fancies
getting stuck today.
pile out of the jeep, all thirteen of us. A young Indian-looking
girl struggles, her sleeping baby cradled in a thin blanket.
A few despondant words are exchanged in the thick drizzle.
Some young men start walking along the side of the track,
stepping on the firmer ground at the edge of the forest. We
follow in single file, thankful for the shelter afforded by
the overhanging branches and vines.
back in the jeep, the girl with the baby asks me where I'm
El Paují," I reply.
do what ?"
I've come to see this part of Venezuela," I mumble in
less than fluent Spanish.
but why?" she insists.
beautiful, isn't it ?" is all I can come up with.
shrugs, and stares out of the streaming window. We hit another
huge pothole and the suspension bangs and shudders, eddies
of pain reverberating through our spines.
sit facing each other, the fat man in front of me looming
perilously close, till I put my arm out to push him back,
my hand disappearing into his blubber. He smiles back at me,
sweating. I try to grin.
uncomfortably convinced my genitals are about to peep out
of the sides of my baggy shorts at the very next lurch. I
try to avoid eye contact with anyone, I pretend to sleep and
secretly fret about preserving my decency. I've been travelling
for the last sixteen hours, and I feel as if a yappy dog is
nip-nipping at my patience, willing it to snap and kick out.
Bump, yap. Bump, yap. Bump.
jalopy lumbers up another impossibly steep incline of rock,
only for the next one to loom up ahead like a tombstone. As
I tuck my shorts under my legs for the umpteenth time and
sleep unconvincingly, the girl's questions echo in my head,
tugging at my confidence and picking holes in my inadequate
was the first time, and of course it was the worst. How different
it is now. How I love it now. I could cry with happiness along
that road, I want to clamber out of the window and shout my
joy to the forests and plains. I know every hill, valley and
curve and I don't resent a single bump or lurch.
When I finally reached El Pauji that time, I saw a tile hanging
on the wall, quoting a poem by Antonio Machado: 'Traveller,
do not seek to find a path, your footsteps create one as you
Diamonds are a boy's best friend
was huge. Fist-full huge. No-one could believe it at first,
but there it was, glinting away like a multi-coloured million-dollar
sold it to a guy who seemed to be offering them the deal of
their lives. The sum was so large they were incapable of thinking
straight anyway, or even pretending to negotiate a better
price. It was more money than they'd ever handled, seen, or
dreamt of. They were rich.
guy who'd bought it later split the stone into three pieces,
and just one of those sold for more than he'd paid them for
the whole thing. Now there's a profit margin.
three friends started celebrating, and celebrating, and er,
celebrating. Then one of them, the one whose name stuck to
the stone's, ran off with the best part of the money. And
that was that. The second largest diamond in South American
history. One hundred and fifty four carats of sparkling billion
took me ages to get the story out of Tambara. I used to ask
him regularly if he'd tell it to me, and he'd smile wryly,
say it was a long time ago, and tell me to come back when
it was quieter, around midday. But at midday it was too hot,
or he was tired, or a customer turned up just at the crucial
told me, eventually, (after a few beers), they'd been working
for weeks down on the river Surukun without much luck, digging,
panning and arguing. They were getting pretty desperate. One
day the other friend was discarding large stones from his
pan, chucking them nonchalantly over to one side where Barabas
was having a cigarette. One of the stones happened to clang
on the side of Barabas' shovel. He looked down and thought
he saw the stone glint. Then glint again. He picked it up
and examined it. Then examined it some more, until the realisation
finally dawned that he really was looking at a diamond.
were all young then and weren't that experienced, so they
weren't sure what to do, or who to go to. In the end they
sold it more to get the weight of responsibility off their
backs than anything else. Tambara remembers the day they sold
it with mixed feelings. He was richer than he ever thought
he would be, and yet his life would never be the same.
can't go back to panning in a river once you've found that
size of diamond. You know you're never going to find something
like it again. No-one's that lucky. And no diamond is going
to get you excited once you've handled a stone as large as
aren't known for their business acumen. They tend to blow
it quick if they don't get out of the mines quick. There's
an unwritten rule that they have to share their luck with
all the other miners in the area. When all the local miners
in a five hundred mile radius know you just hit the big-time
big-time, you end up buying more than one round at the bar.
was fun for a while" says Tambara. "I drank loads,
had all the women I wanted, and I'm thankful for that."
But he doesn't sound that convinced. Barabas' betrayal hurt
him a great deal, he confides. He thought they were better
friends than that. "But money does strange things to
now shuffles - runs would be misleading - a general store
in a village on Venezuela's border with Brazil. Nothing much
happens there. Miners come and go, cashing in their gold or
diamonds, stocking up with supplies, and downing beer and
rum. Indian children sent by their mothers come in clutching
a few notes to buy some candles or a packet of rice. The odd
tourist wanders in confused. Locals exchange gossip and conflicting
dark inside the store. Your eyes have to re-adjust for a few
seconds before you can make out the shelves stacked floor-to-ceiling
with everything from sweets to baseball caps to kerosene.
Exhausted-looking vegetables squat on a metal rack, plagued
by buzzing flies. Potatoes languish on the bottom shelf, silently
sprouting shoots in the dark. Newly arrived fruit, a rare
commodity, is displayed on the worn wooden counter, and piled-up
yellow salted fish stinks away in a corner. An old fridge
from the fifties, painted blue like most of the shop, rattles
and hums malignantly.
sometimes distorts from a transistor radio perched between
packets of pasta and lighters, usually Brazilian country and
western. Rusting metal scales hang from the ceiling above
the counter. The money is kept in a shallow cardboard box
over to the left hand side of the shop, which means Tambara
is constantly having to shuffle back and forth with every
purchase. You make sure you ask for your goods in one go.
maths are somewhat erratic, and his skills on the calculator
dubious. If your shopping list exceeds eight items or so,
you're in for a long haul. Since prices go up all the time
in Venezuela, you never know whether he's conning you, made
an honest mistake or whether he really does know what he's
must have suffered a lot of abuse over the years. The village
is very remote, and therefore prices high. They're not as
astronomical as some gold-rush villages, but they're still
a good twenty percent higher than in the nearest town; which
gives people the right to call him a thief, a robber-baron
and whatever else comes to mind when they can't afford food
for their family's dinner.
But when you look at his house, at the state of him, it's
hard to follow that line of argument. If he had a Mercedes
parked outside, I'd be right behind the abusers. But he doesn't
even have a car. His clothes are ragged, holy and make you
wonder whether they know what better days are. He is permanently
stooped from years of panning, as if he were always about
to pick something up off the floor, and his house consists
of a room with a hammock, a room with a gas stove, and a metal
sheet-boxed hole in the corner of the garden. A friend of
mine once told him a swim in the river would do him good.
He answered he couldn't remember the last time he'd even had
been ill quite a bit lately too. He's had to get other people
in to run the shop. I find that very off-putting, since they
serve you far too quickly and get the prices right nearly
every time. It somehow takes the fun out of spending my money.
When Tambara's sitting outside on his use-sanded once-blue
(I think) tables and benches, you feel guilty about asking
him to get you something. I've offered to get the things I
want myself but he won't have it. He cranes his way to his
feet, using the creaking table for support, and gropes his
way into the darkness of the shop. The transaction over, he
sits back down with a thump.
must have been a handsome man when he was young I reckon.
His features are fine still, his eyes have a definite sparkle
and his skin is a rich dark brown. I don't know whether he
ever got married, or had kids. I've got the feeling he never
did, which is why he's so grumpy at times. But maybe he's
grumpy because he did.
there every day without fail, opening up at eight in the morning
and closing the shop at nine, in his own time, in his own
inimitable way. After that you have to go down to the other
general store if you want a beer.
must be in his sixties now, and I wonder what will happen
to him as he slowly deteriorates. Will he sell the shop and
move on -- to where ? Or will the new owners allow him to
live on in the house ? I wonder whether he knows what a pension
is. And how things could have been different if he'd been
careful with all the thousands he had all those years ago;
or if Barabas hadn't run off with the booty.
Tambara doesn't seem to worry about such things. Anyone who
calls their shop La Lucha por la Locha ( "the fight for
the fiver") must know something about life and the cards
I read something about Barabas a while later. He said he had
no regrets about blowing all his money on booze and women.
"I had the time of my life, and wouldn't have had it
any other way," he said. That's my boy...
my last visit to El Pauji in 2001, Tambara had left his store.
No-one was really sure where he had gone, or if he was alive.)
photo doesn't even get pride of my place in my "Woz Ere"
album. That's because it's rubbish. Can't see a thing. Just
another Venezuelan sunset with an inky foreground. Nothing
is decipherable, if you're not endowed with a pair of Superman's
x-ray eyes. But every photo, no matter how dismal, tells a
I flew to Venezuela to meet up with my French girlfriend.
Considering the country has won more Miss World crowns than
any other nation, I'm not sure why anymore. Indian, white
and black, and back again. Mixed more times than a Mezzo Strawberry
After an all-too-brief reunion in my hotel one afternoon,
I lost touch with my femme juvenile (she was seventeen and
I all of twenty-three). She'd gone off with her father somewhere,
and nobody knew where to find her. I grew bored with Caracas
and worried about my finances. Reluctantly, I decided to abandon
my Quixotic quest and head for the sights of the south --
A week later I found myself in a village lost in the Venezuelan
outback, near the border with Brazil. Late one afternoon,
I was hanging about on the road. A jeep chugged its way up
the dirt track toward me. It looked vaguely familiar. Behind
the wheel, a squat figure with bushy white hair looked like
a friend of... As the vehicle came within 50 yards, there
was agitated movement in the back seat. It lurched to a stop.
Dust billowed up from all sides. A girl answering the description
of my girlfriend emerged from the cloud, and in slow motion
and Vaseline-vision, flung her arms around me. A symphony
orchestra, tucked away in the bushes, crescendoed. Bolts of
lightning struck, twice. Village life came to a standstill.
Two days later, I told her I loved her.
She claimed she had mentioned the village at some point. I
say she never did -- my Lonely Planet had been my guiding
star. The odds against us meeting in the epicentre of nowhere,
at the right time and in the right place, were long enough
for us to put our encounter down to Destiny, Fate or perhaps
one too many readings of The Celestine Prophecy.
was I doing on the road at that life-altering moment? Like
any decent tourist, I was waiting for the sun to set to take
another holiday snap, of course. There's no such thing as
a full fat, cliché saturated syrupy sunset too many in my
album, with or without the expresso foreground. Nice story,
shame about the photo.
Back to menu
BILE TO SPEW II -- Venezuelan diatribe -- 1997
dictatorship of corruption. A corruptocracy.
The rule of law. The law of the land.
Paper mill, tread mill, lie mill.
Rules, laws and legislation. Ha bloody ha.
Desperation colours faces. Fear infests hearts, burrowing
down deep beyond hope's knife.
La lucha por la locha. Another day in the struggle, running
to stand still, sinking into a mire of broken promises.
Can't go in like this. Eventually something will give. Coup
de grace, coup de brass. Has it really come to that ?
Lies, lies and more lies, foundations of the Tower of Babble,
where money talks your language. Pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap.
Come on down, to our level.
Not us, no, someone else. Him, over there. Yes him, that one,
up against the wall. This buck ? What buck ? Nothing to do
with me, pana.
Cultivate the theory, point the finger, sit back and do nothing.
Hopeless, futile, pointless fight, right ? Sigh, exhale, and
perhaps cry a little, when no-one's looking.
But, but, but, what of the riches, those God-given, righteous
riches ? Oh, those riches. Sorry, we are unable to communicate
you with the owner at the present time. Please try again later.
Sorry, we are unable to...
Common sense out for the count. Next please.
We regret to inform our customers that this counter is now
closed. Please try again later. Please try again later.
Frustration, indignation and anger knit and bind the people
together, the super-glue of suffering. And yet the ties are
brittle. Community cares crack under pressure, and the pressure
Such a waste.
Line 'em up in a row, and knock 'em down, dominoes of the
dictatorship of corruption.
Oh yes, and Why. This ain't right. Can't be. Has to be another
and more lies.
Soap operas, stereos, abdominal muscle flexers, import, extort.
We want to be like them. Yes, we love their jails, the violence.
Economic apartheid give me more, please, please, I need some
paranoid national security ranting. Like a kick in the teeth.
The only way, the best way, God's way.
The dream, ah yes, the dream. How did it go again, sorry,
it's slipped my mind. Can anyone help me out here ? There
was something about freedom and liberty, no ? Fraternity and
equality and all things bright and beautiful. Thanks, I'd
be lost without you.
We're all lost, now, or is it just me ? Our bonds with the
earth slashed and burned, poisoned with toxic abbreviations
in the name of productivity. Our communication with the Heavens
severed now that we think we've found the answers down here.
Just putting you throu-ough. Sorry, the number you have dialled
is unavailable. Please try again later.
Insecurity, chaos and amorality. Nice to meet you. Pleasure's
From one disaster to the next we stumble blindly, fumble fumbling
for the light switch. Click, goes the trigger.
Batten down the hatches for starters, get a dog and call it
Grrr as a main, and for dessert, lashings of barbed wire please
Cocooned in contemplation, resignation, snug as a bug, home
sweet who's that at the door.
Point the finger. J'accuse. But who ?
It's collective suicide. Collective madness. Collective material
But the effects are secondary and selective. Poverty-seeking
missiles. Unforgiving, unforgiven.
The lies are piled high, the gleaming Palace's bricks.
But the will of the people is the mortar in-between. It's
rotting and crumbling, and soon it will blow away in the winds
Sharpen your knives, it's time to cut the crap.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DOÑA AURA -- VILLAGE MATRIARCH
It must be hard
being a matriarch. First of all you have to know everyone's
business. Second, you have to make sure everyone's aware of
what you know. Keeping up with what's going on must take the
better part of the day. And then you have to spend the other
half relating what you've been told. I don't think Doña Aura
ever wanted the role either. Her age and character forced
it upon her.
She's become my adopted mother too I suppose. She tells me
off for not coming to see her enough, and asks me, one eyebrow
cocked, what I've been up to recently. She tutts and mutters,
and, come to think of it, is far harsher about the way I live
my life than my bona fide mother. But then my real mother
doesn't have the suspicious mind Doña Aura possesses.
She has the most caustic wit I've ever come across. And sometimes
the most vulgar. I remember her telling me once, while making
the shape of a triangle with her two outstretched hands, that
that's what rules in the world. The more imaginative among
you will be able to work that one out. Another time I popped
in to see her with two friends, and she asked me, in front
of them, whether they were 'mine'. I told her I'd got them
cheap in Brazil, bit of a bargain, you know...
runs her restaurant with an iron will and an ancient four
hob cooker. Her nine year-old daughter, the last of a long
line of offspring, runs about from table to kitchen while
Doña Aura barks orders and chit chats with -- or insults,
depending on her mood -- the clientele. She serves good ol'
carbohydrate-rich criollo fodder, usually chicken and rice
with black beans, potatoes and coleslaw -- hot if she likes
you, loupe warm if she doesn't. Most of her clients are local
miners, or transportistas making their arduous way along the
dirt roads to the mines and back to town.
well-liked and respected. You have to respect Doña Aura. She's
the longest surviving resident of this armpit-middle-of-nowhere
village. Only extreme determination and over-priced food and
drinks have seen her through the last twenty-odd years.
husband is a transportista, a grumpy, rarely-shaven man called
Manrique who drives a clapped-out old white Toyota Land Cruiser.
He always gets the women to sit up in the front with him,
and scratches his groin too regularly for it to be healthy.
He's always covered in grease and engine oil, and mutters
almost continuously about the state of the road, the price
of petrol or his knackered suspension. Occasionally, when
he finds something funny, he cackles delightedly, then coughs
and spits glops of phlegm from his window.
in, day out, he bumps and grinds and judders his way to town
and back. Four hours each way. I think he left Doña Aura for
a while. I remember asking her about her husband on my second
visit, and her muttering he'd gone away. I pressed her some
more, but received piercing looks from a daughter who's since
gone off with a miner, and I dropped the subject.
spends most days sat just inside the door of her paint-peeling
house, plonked on a old chair, crocheting lurid-coloured chinchorros
(hammocks with holes). She always invites me in, tries to
sell me one of her creations, and, if I've nothing better
to do, we chat about 'the early days' of the village or about
what I've been up to.
was the first person I met in the village four years ago.
I got out of the taxi-jeep in the middle of a ferocious thunderstorm
and took cover under her tin roof. When the rain subsided,
she pointed me in the direction of the nearest tourist camp.
I always feel secure and cared for some reason when I'm with
her. Maybe it's her motherly-round figure, her greying hair,
or her chirpy smile, I don't know. It's just a feeling I get
when I'm around her. Then again, maybe it's the way, when
I've been in the village and haven't come to see her, she
shouts at me in front of my friends and makes me feel about
seven. Only mothers can do that.