I thought this was a very thoughtful post about how our fear and paranoia can close us off to meeting new people and getting the most out of our travels. It comes from Jake and Caitlin’s Letters to Gringolandia blog.
Caitlin wrote this post when she had only been in Venezuela for a few weeks. I wonder if her interactions with Venezuelans changed with time, and if she answered her own question: “How do we move on and build a life here in Caracas after feeling so on edge and distrusting of everyone?”
Here’s her post:
The most telling experience just happened. Jake and I went to a performance tonight, a bizarre story told through acrobatic movements called ”Sueños de Golpe.” Although a little weird, it was nice to finally get out at night, especially to experience the arts in Caracas. After the performance we debated taking the metro or a taxi, since everyone has warned us not to walk on the streets after dark. But we decided it seemed safe enough to take the metro with the bunches of other people leaving the theater as well.
Everything seemed fine, the metro being very clean, fast, and efficient. As we were getting off the metro a young man in his twenties, wearing a navy blue turtleneck sweater that seemed to be out of an LL Bean catalogue, came up to us and asked something in Spanish while pointing to what seemed to be outside the metro. I couldn´t really understand him and I assumed he was asking for directions, as someone else had earlier that day. I don’t know if under other circumstances I would have understood his question, or whether his Caraqueño accent and fast speech made it impossible.
Either way, I was so caught off guard I just responded, ‘’No sé, no sé nada.’’ It was obviously a response to feeling endangered, which is how we’ve been made to feel here at all hours of the day, always skeptical of people who look at us or, god forbid, speak to us.
Constantly looking over my shoulder, I have yet to feel at ease in this city. The man at the metro asked if we spoke English or French. I said English reluctantly but reconfirmed my Spanish speaking skills by repeating, ”No sé” in response to his earlier question. My immediate reaction was to make sure he knew we spoke some Spanish and weren´t lost or unfamiliar with Caracas. I also wanted to get rid of him as fast as possible. (I have yet to let my guard down here.) Yet I couldn’t fool him with a response such as, I dont know anything.
He began to speak to us in near perfect English, explaining that he was also at the theater tonight, the same show as us, and wanted to know what we thought of the ending. A big sigh of relief. He was at the play and was just curious to hear our reactions to it.
We chatted for a second as we walked up the stairs to the street. This feeling of relief lasted no more than a minute though, because as we aproached the street we immediately reverted to action plan mode, needing to orient ourselves to know which direction to walk. So as we stopped to discuss this, he just kept walking. We didn’t even say goodbye.
The last thing he said was, ”The whole time during the performance I was waiting for a good ending, a way to finish, but the ending didn’t satisfy me.” It’s true. It was abrupt, as if ending in the middle of a conversation, just like we did as we walked opposite directions but never had the chance to say goodbye.
I still feel unsettled, and not from the performance, but from that one conversation we’ve had with a random Venezuelan. The one stranger who’s actually tried talking to us. He was not attempting to rob or cheat us, but just interested in hearing our opinions. I can’t help but wonder if he thought we were ”rude Americans,” as is a common perception of U.S. travelers. Or if it seemed like we didn’t want to talk with him. This is a perfect example of how this city feels so far – like we’re not allowed to trust anyone, even men in navy blue turtleneck sweaters, and especially anyone who has an interest in talking with us.
How does a city survive with its people constantly distrusting one another? Maybe it’s just a feeling tourists experience to such an extreme. It seems women often walk alone at night, or in suposedly dangerous areas, so maybe all the warnings are extra precautious for us as tourists. Do Caraqueños feel as much distrust in each other as we foreigners are made to feel in them? Caraqueños are the ones telling us to be careful, con much cuidado, not to walk certain ways, not to be in the streets at night, to hold on tight to our things. It’s wonderful to have so many great people looking out for us here, but it’s also a lot to worry about when trying to discover a new city.
So the question then for Jake and I becomes, where do we go from here? How do we move on and build a life here in Caracas after feeling so on edge and distrusting of everyone? That will be our biggest challenge.