Five years ago I had an opportunity to explore a new place. I was living in Miami at the time and have never really been anywhere out of the country; besides Mexico but, it was Cancun. Cancun was so touristy that it basically looked just like Miami to me. But this opportunity came around because of my stepmom. My stepmom is Colombian and her family owned a business in Maracaibo Venezuela. Due to the business being in another country her family decided to move there. Thus opened my opportunity to go to Maracaibo Venezuela. I was only sixteen and even though I would be staying with my stepmoms family and my stepbrother would be there, I would still have to travel by myself and I have never done that before. You can say I was a little nervous. Not to mention I would be staying in a strange country that I knew absolutely nothing about besides them having good food. But my Father would be paying for the entire trip. I couldn’t let that opportunity go. So I took it! Luckily I am bilingual so Translating wasn’t too hard for me.
Finally after four or five hours, can’t remember, I arrived in South America! I was pretty syked to be visiting an entire different country yet alone continent. Upon arrival I noticed differences almost immediately after getting off the plane. For one the airport was rinky dinky and did not look as welcoming as the Miami airport at all. Going through customs, they asked me a million of questions and I was getting nervous. Fortunately I got out quick and finally saw some familiar faces! My Grandmother/step grandmother, not really sure what to call her, but it didn’t matter because I was with people I knew. The car ride over to their apartment was terrifying! There are no fricken police in this place! When at a red light, you’d think the normal thing to do would be to stop. NOPE! Not here. The norm is, a red light means to beep, to warn others you’re coming, and go! Let’s just say I don’t remember much from that ride because my eyes were closed the entire time.
Ultimately we made it to the Apartment. We all had to rush inside because they were afraid we would get robbed. The security in Maracaibo Venezuela is not good at all. They say because Maracaibo is not “Chavista” (liking Chavez the president at the time) no police are sent or even people to fix the holes in the road. That is why people here drive the way that they do because without police, it’s the norm to drive recklessly. It was a very poor area. The apartment had a balcony. It wasn’t your typical balcony. For one it was bared up from top to bottom and there was a huge blue “tank” in the corner. I asked my Stepbrother what the giant blue tank was for. He responded that “the water only goes on twice a day”. I was in shock. Later looking out the balcony I noticed, every single house had huge blue tanks on their roof. Apparently since the water only goes on twice a day for the entire city, when it’s turned on the water fills the blue tanks so that when the water is turned off we would still have water to cook, clean, take a shower and many more regular essentials. I was completely thrown off guard. I was really starting to appreciate the essentials I had back home in Miami.
As the day went by I noticed a woman cooking in the kitchen. And when it was time to eat, she would serve us and clean up afterwards. I was extremely uncomfortable. I was not use to being waited on in my own home. Apparently having a “muchacha de sevicio”, AKA service woman, was very cheap and almost everyone had one in their home. It was kind of funny because the norm for me back home was to pick up my plate and ether wash it or rinse it and basically clean up after myself. When I started picking up my plate they called “Viviana” (the service woman’s name) and she took my plate out of my hand. They all looked at me, smiled, said Gringo and started laughing. That was an awkward moment for me to say the least.
After dinner I started to look around and noticed the type of material culture in the room. There was a lot of Jesus pictures, which being Latino was no new thing for me to see. Then I saw their computer. I thought I was back in the nineties again. Their ancient dinosaur was still running and it even made that weird sound that use to sound back then when trying to get on the internet. It was so funny. Definition was the room was the office area. Another kind of funky situation I saw, was all the men had purses! Yes, that was the norm way for men to go out! They were not a traditional woman purse, but they were made from yarn and they mostly had that same one design. It was defiantly weird to me, but to them it’s an ordinary, everyday thing.
Let me tell you, one thing that I LOVED was their food! It was so delicious and different. For example, a traditional American hamburger has two buns, a meat patty, lettuce, tomato, cheese and maybe a pickle. Well these hamburgers in Maracaibo had a meat patty and buns just like an American hamburger, but they also had ham, chips, mayo, catchup, pork, pineapple sauce, and more, well I mean if it fit on the burger. Holy crap those were the best burger I have ever had in my entire life! To these people burgers like this was the good burger unlike a restaurant back home that has practically nothing in their burgers. They Value their food and don’t like to get ripped off at American restaurants. They believe food is very important and eat two cores meals usually. And it’s mostly soup, rice and some sort of meat. The hamburger would be for dinner. That’s another thing, unlike in the United States, the so called “big meal” is for breakfast and lunch. Dinner would be a sandwich or something light. That is another norm for Maracaibo.
Later on in the second week, I and my step brother decided to go visit his dad. As we were in the taxi on our way I noticed we started going by concrete buildings then concrete buildings with a tin roof and then it came to houses that were completely made out of tin. I couldn’t believe it. It was like being in a movie. Finally the taxi stopped at one of the tin houses. It was his dads. We went inside and there were holes in the roof. I noticed at a room that had a stove and a couple of shelves. I realized that was their kitchen. These People were literally dirt poor, but they didn’t treat us as if though we had to give them things because of their financial state. On the contrary, they were giving us food and knickknacks to take with us even though they knew we were more privileged than them. That was just so touching to me that I will never forget that. In Venezuela I’ve noticed in Latin American countries we are more affectionate with their family, naturally. Americans are colder. Their values are to their family first not like a lot of Americans that may be business first.
The Last few weeks were kind of smooth. I mean if you call flushing the toilet, brushing my teeth and taking a shower with a bucket of ice cold water smooth. But overall, even though the culture shock was extreme, I had a wonderful time and I have learned to appreciate things a hell of a lot more than I have before and to not take things for granted. I believe it was a great experience for me to learn how other countries thrive every day and how we as Americans complain about things we shouldn’t be complaining about. Now before I open my mouth to criticize or complain about anything, I just think about Maracaibo Venezuela and it all goes away.