I realize it's been a few days since the weekend. I started thinking about and writing this post during the weekend, but time has gotten away from me easily. Which I guess is a good thing. Seeing as that means I'm developing a schedule. Which is strange in a different country and culture.
For the weekend, I ended up in town spending time wandering around el centro of town and spending time with my roommate, Alissa the downstairs neighbor and her host sister Rosa and Rosa's boyfriend Angel. The downtown of this city reminds me of a mix between the French Quarter of New Orleans and Europe. The buildings are all close together and colorful, the streets are narrow and sidewalks high. El Centro is full of shops and stores, not tourist things but clothing stores where you can buy jeans that would cost $150 in the US for around $25-45. We also found probably the only vegetarian restaurant in all of Venezuela and enjoyed some nearly American pasta and other dishes.
Most of the food here is overly sweet, if you ask me. Sauce on pizza and pasta is sweeter than I'm used to. That or its made of ketchup, which happened with the pasta sauce my family made for us the other night (with a little mayo and veggies mixed in). The bread here - which I buy when my stomach is bugging me - is made with more sugar or something... I don't know how to describe it but it's all sweet. At least I've found my way around eating too much steak and other red meat, and my host mom now has a better idea of what I like. Crappy Americanized Chinese food is still the same, as I found out at a mall food court this weekend. Also, don't worry: there is a McDonald's across the street from our apartment and besides arepas (corn flour pancakes served with nearly every meal) everything there looks and tastes exactly the same, so if I get REAL homesick, I've got that.
Some pictures of El Centro...
We also went to El Merchado Principal, which is a more touristy location where you can buy a huge amount of crap that says "Merida" on it, as well as some good food. They have a local drink called "levanton andino" which is made with 21 ingredients including several fruits, three kinds of eggs, brandy, two kinds of wine, two kinds of miche (very strong alcohol), rum, two secret liquors, beer and BULL EYES. This is all blended together into a smoothie and you drink it. One of my classmates got a bunch of it, and I did take a sip. Given all the alcohol and fruit, it was actually very tastey, but I only had a sip or so.
One thing I've finally pieced together about my host family that was bugging me: I may have figured out why they stick to their rooms and watch TV so much, not really engaging with Kirsten and I. Unlike in my neighborhood at home or my family, where when an exchange student comes from a new and different country, everyone wants to meet them and talk about their life and country, Lennys and Rigoberto have been doing this for 12 years (I think they said) and have probably gotten pretty used to Americans and what we have to say about our country. There have been a couple of nights were we've talked about things, but for the most part we're all in our own rooms. Breakfast and dinner are made for us and usually Lennys just watches us eat, or is on the phone (they get A LOT of phone calls here). Its not exactly bad... I just feel trapped in the apartment sometimes. Its small and our room is small without much room.
This weekend we had a lot of issues with water. There were huge rainstorms during the late week, and apparently some trees took out some pipes and the city had to ration water more than usual, so we'd only have it for a few hours each day. At seven AM on Sunday morning our mom can into our room, pulled a huge bucket from the closet and took it to our bathroom where she filled it up and it still takes up half the shower, so that we can suddo flush the toilet and wash our hands if we need to, though we have not had to use that much yet. Internet has been really had for the last few days too, not working wirelessly at school much at all, and in and out at the apartment.
One final story that people can take as they will: this weekend between going to the Museum of Science and Technology (which was pretty cool - some dinosaurs and displays put together in a big warehouse with plywood walls between the displays. It was actually pretty interesting and since it was for kids I could kind of understand the Spanish-speaking tour guides) and the city zoo (which was very very cool, with lots of local animals and some white-tailed deer we were less than excited to see, also with lots of waterfalls and walkways through the jungle) we stopped off at our friend's house and stood outside chatting (it's kind of strange to invite people over to each other's houses here). While we were standing there, an older man, probably in his 60's who walked by and told us we were all so beautiful and lovely and he was glad to see us. We basically ignored him and he walked away. A couple of minutes later, he came back, and asked us in English where we were from, and began a conversation about how he was from Miami and came here because he liked Venezuela better than America. Then he asked us what we thought of the government here.
My friend Allison told him she didn't have a good enough understanding to know.
He said "Oh, right. You'll just be here and party and learn Spanish, then go home, back to your perfect beds and houses and lives. Or are you spies? Are you spies for the government of US?"
Allison quickly told him that wasn't why we were here, we just didn't think it was fair to judge someone else's government.
He said "Oh, well I am a communist." We nodded. "No! I lied to you. I am a capitalist, but NOT an imperialist! I can't believe that Columbia is doing better than Venezuela right now! It's horrible!" (An interesting tidbit here... every Venezuelan I've talked to has told me upfront that Columbia is a much safer, better and all around more fun place to live and visit, which is strange to hear given how many travel restrictions the US has around Columbia because of the drugs. Venezuelans usually tell me though that they think Columbia would not be any less safe for Americans, if its not more safe.)
We all said something to the effect of "Wow, yeah that's too bad. Que horrible." Then Alissa's host sister showed up and we all left for the zoo.
In the car we talked to Rosa about this encounter and she said that Chavez and his followers are pretty sure every American here is a spy from the government, out to kill him. We kind of laughed at this till she told us about a student at VENUSA a few years ago who really liked Chavez and wanted to see him somewhere. So he went to some event or something and ended up getting arrested because he was American, therefore he was going to kill Chavez. The school had to call the government up and get him out of jail. I'm not sure of the details of the story, or if he still liked Chavez a lot after that situation.
I'm not sure how to take that story. I know Rosa and her family don't like Chavez at all, but I'm also really not all that surprised after listening to this man talk... I don't know what to think, personally, but that's why I'm here: to watch and see what I see.