Leigh Anne Stein
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Life As I'm Living It.

March 1, 2010 @ 10:44 PM | Permalink

2/28/2010

Some general observations:

For some reason, nice imported cars are like a status symbol here. People living in small apartments or old houses can have the most expensive cars on the road. Sometimes people will neglect caring for the little stuff in the home, but own brand new vehicles. I find this strange; you’d think the house would be a more popular status symbol because to own a car around here requires an exorbitant amount of money. They’re an unnecessary import so the taxes on cars are unbelievably high. But maybe that’s all part of the appeal. Who really knows? Also, the driving is so insane that it’s rare to see cars without some version of a dent, missing wheel, scratch, broken mirror or other little imperfection. What’s the point of buying a beautiful car if the chances of getting sideswiped are 50/50 every day?

Another oddly popular thing; surgeries. Physical beauty is highly regarded here. I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is a superficial culture as a whole, but beauty is very important. Venezuela has had numerous international beauty queens over the years, so image is obviously an integral part of life. Physical “augmentation” just so happens to go along with that. Breast implants cost about 200 US dollars. Yeah. That’s all. (Fyi, I still wouldn’t even contemplate it. They look so wrong.) So, as you can guess, facelifts and implants and so on are really popular. I’ve actually heard butt injections are all the rage right now, which explains the weirdly proportioned mannequins I keep seeing. My roommate went to visit the family of her Venezuelan friends from Minneapolis a few weekends ago, and apparently, one family member in particular had said injections. I hope I don’t meet her simply because I would feel compelled to look and that’s just creepy.

The more time I spend here in Mérida, the better I’m becoming at dressing to fit in. I was actually mistaken as a local last week on the bus, which I consider an accomplishment seeing as I’m usually called German, Russian, Brazilian, or of course gringa upon first sight. Just stick to tank tops, jeans, and nice shoes and you’re set. And everything should be as tight and bedazzled as possible. It’s kind of like the entire country is living in a 13-year-old’s fashion dreamland. Butterfly clips and eyeshadow and t-shirt color matching included.

Here’s another fun little part of Mérida culture. The transportation system. There is a trolley that runs along one of the main roads. On the days the workers aren’t on strike, the trolley runs, for free, 6-10 in the morning and 4-8 at night. I never use this unfortunately because the major avenue I live off of is across the river and not accessible from the trolley stops. Instead, I take buses and busetas running around the city all through the day. A ride costs about 1.10 Bolívares Fuertes. There are no maps; there are not always specific routes; there are not always signs on the buses. But chances are any bus you hop on will go to El Centro at some point. It’s been kind of hit or miss in my experience. I tend to jump on the bus with a sign on the front that says somewhere close to where I need to be and hope it takes me there. This doesn’t always work out for the best, but I haven’t been totally lost yet. To flag a bus is the same as flagging a cab. You stand at the curb or on the edge of the street and wave your hand around so the drive knows to stop and pick you up. You can do this on random curbs, though I think drivers prefer when you are waiting at the real bus stops. Nobody ever does though. To get off the bus, ask for the “parada,” or stop, and the driver will pull over if there is a bus stop nearby or simply somewhere convenient enough to let you off. This can be the middle of an intersection when the light is red, but as long as you look both ways before stepping out of the bus, you won’t get smoked by a motorcycle running the light, which they do often.

Money. Dollars are a hard to get, highly demanded commodity around here. With Venezuelan currency consistently losing value, and regulations on the amount of dollars Venezuelans are allowed to withdraw from banks outside of the country, a parallel market has sprung up in Venezuela for exchanging Bolívares Fuertes and US dollars. If I ever leave the house looking like a tourist, I can expect to be hassled for money on the street. Everyone is willing to do a shady exchange. Two weeks ago, I had to have blood drawn, (Apparently I’m severely allergic to pineapple and I found out the hard way.), and as I was leaving the clinic, my doctor asked if I had any dollars. Considering this was out of the blue, I sort of just stared at her for a minute like an idiot before I realized what she was talking about. She offered to give me 6 Bs.F. per dollar in cash. The legal exchange rate is about 4.2 Bs.F. per dollar.

Time. Well, it moves slower. I am late for almost everything but class, because so is everyone else. Sometimes it’s just because people look at every experience as a leisurely activity. Sometimes it’s because of the inefficiency of the transportation. Sometimes it’s because you were talking to someone you met on the street and finishing the conversation is more important than getting to lunch on time. The only time I’ve found this to be a problem is in the mornings. My host mom likes to make breakfast around 7:15 or 7:30. I need to leave the house by 7:30 at the latest to be at my 8am classes on time, so I don’t have time to sit and eat her breakfast when she makes it that late. However, this never seems to occur to her and I get yelled at every morning I say I need to take my breakfast out the door or I have to skip it because I’ll be late if I sit down to eat for 20 minutes. 8am doesn’t compute as 8am to her, but it does for my professors.

There are of course a million other things I can comment on about life here. These are just some of the most recent musings I’ve had mulling around in my head. I’m sure more random and strange nuances will be revealed to me in time. Like, cool people flip one cigarette over in their packs. And, it’s normal for the phone companies to stop working for a day or two. I’ll let you know when I do!

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PS: Here are some pictures from my first few days in Merida. We students at VENUSA took a tour around the city after an unavoidable orientation session. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=135435&id=508054791&l=dc8bdf59d9

Leigh Anne Stein on Arrival In Merida 2010-02-04
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