Rory Carroll recently published an interesting piece at Guardian.co.uk in which he took a look at the lives of families from seven cities around the world. Here’s his report on the Torres family of Venezuela:
It has been a tough few weeks for the Torres family, with two setbacks conspiring to remind them that life is not easy when you live in a Venezuelan shantytown.
There was another mudslide. Days of tropical downpours softened the earth of the hills that make up Petare, a vast warren of shacks and houses east of the capital, Caracas. On a recent morning, a chunk of the road just 30m from the Torres’ front door collapsed, sending concrete, boulders and debris cascading down on to the road below it. It was the same section of road that collapsed last October after another deluge. The authorities had done nothing about it, leaving a gaping 20m-long crater, but there was still just enough space for a car to edge through. The latest mudslide has narrowed the road even more, so not even a Mini could pass, let alone one of the squat, ageing Jeeps that serve as buses.
For the Torres family this is a bitter addition to the grind of daily life. Raiza, 35, must walk her three-year-old daughter, Veronica, down the steep, winding hill to put her in daycare before catching a bus into town for work.
Raiza’s 55-year-old mother, Marisol, is left feeling isolated because her legs cannot take her all the way down the hill to the shops and back up again, and she refuses to take one of the ubiquitous motorbike taxis. “I’m too scared,” she says. The “mototaxis”, mostly young men with no helmets who slalom madly through traffic, have a deserved reputation for landing themselves and passengers in the hospital or morgue.
For Raiza’s father, Ricardo, 55, the mudslide means a long detour to get to and from work, which adds an extra hour and a half to his daily battle with the congestion. “I have to leave before 6am, and if I’m coming back around 6pm the traffic just doesn’t move.”
Motorists staged a noisy protest outside the mayor’s office to demand the road be fixed, as well as better security: even in daylight, armed gangs stop and rob vehicles with impunity.
Then there is the second setback: Ricardo’s battered Ford, which just a few months ago he and a mechanic nursed back to life after great effort and expense, has again conked out. One morning it refused to start and Ricardo, a courier for a steel company, has no clue why.
Which means that Ricardo is forced to use his company scooter – the same one he was thrown from in an accident several months ago – and take his chances along with the mototaxis. Finding £2,000 to buy a semi-decent used car is out of the question, but he hopes to scrape enough bolivares together to get the Ford fixed.
Ricardo would not be Ricardo, however, if he allowed worries to dampen his ebullience. “Forget the car and the road,” he says, “and check out these CDs.” He rifles through his latest purchases, all pirated copies, and puts on a Cuban salsa classic.
“Not bad, eh?” he shouts, above the music. He grabs two capachos, Cuban-style gourds filled with the hard seeds of the capacho flower, and shakes them to the rhythm.
Marisol, ensconced in her favourite armchair, rolls her eyes. “Look at the music professor,” she teases. She is smiling. No matter the daily grind, the man she married all those years ago still has a youthful brio.