Living in the United States is a blessing and a curse to me. We have a remarkable quality of life, virtually unlimited material access, good infrastructure, and a reasonably safe environment in which to live, play and work. There are many things that are easy to be critical of in the states. As things shift and change, our comfort zone can diminish.

We travel to foreign countries and spend our dollars at the beach. Often we stay in western-style resorts with gates and security guards because the disparity between the experience we expect and the poverty of the actual local residents makes us uncomfortable or scared. Some places we can wander into town in the daylight to shop or at night for clubs and dinner. We rarely go anywhere that is downright dangerous unless it’s a war zone, a place to make huge amounts of money or both.

We watch what the media serve us. We read about the differences in the abstract. We “bless their hearts” and think of it as backwards and wrong. We figure they want what we have and are willing to take it any way they can. We are the goal they are striving for.

Like they say, it ain’t necessarily so.

Currently I’m working in Venezuela. It is a country known for its rich natural resources and diverse climates. It unfortunately is also known for its lack of sanitation and poverty. According to Wikipedia the poverty line for the population is around 37%. This was once the richest country in South America, only 30 years ago. Its supply of oil had the companies crawling all over the Lake Maracaibo region and it shows. I finally had some time off in Caracas after our shows in Valencia and Maracaibo and was able to see the richer parts of the city. As we had travelled the road from the seaside airport up the mountains to the city proper, the sense of poverty was real and seemingly endless.

Here is a paragraph from the current Wiki page for Caracas that kind of sums up what I was feeling:

Many newcomers from the countryside have arrived, but unfortunately the city has grown haphazardly. No demographic planning has ever been carried out, thus there are entire districts and neighborhoods of Caracas lacking water and electrical systems, not to mention other services like schools, hospitals, police, fire departments, etc. Therefore, some suburbs and districts of the city are like lawless territories, in which insecurity is felt at all times. Caracas, like many other Latin American cities, represents the best example of “non-planned supportable development”, where a modern, progressive city coexists with lawlessness and poverty.

So that sets the stage for a conflict between haves and have-nots everytime. There is also the extra added element of the current Chavez administration’s dislike for the US government and the fact that it is illegal to exchange US Dollars here. Of course, there is aways a work-a-round which involves someone else making money. We are told by our security not to leave the hotel and if you do, go in numbers and don’t be all gringo as that tends to bring more negative attention. Sound like fun?

But don’t be fooled, there is plenty of Western corporate presence here and a market for it to be sold. The Venezuelan government may be nationalizing certain elements of the country (oil, media, etc.) but you see Splenda everywhere.

So, it’s another one of those places filled with duality. You’re never really sure who’s on which side. Someone’s paid off supervisor walks away and the underlings try to create a fine that didn’t exist 2 seconds before. A cold sandwich can take two hours and require security. The amount of spoiled beauty really began to drive me nuts the other day, a remarkable place mistreated and fighting for its own survival. Like many places I travel I wish I could get outside of the sprawl. I was supposed to take a side trip to the Los Roques Archipelago, a series of 50 cays which have been protected for 25 years. Unfortunately, my reservation was turned back (small plane) and my friends went without me. I got to go to the pharmacy at the mall though!

So, a few more days here and more chances to gather thoughts and images.