7:45 am, 28 degrees, Thanksgiving morning, 5K run. I was the designated photographer as three of my children dragged me out of bed to take pictures of them running. Annual tradition. Most all of my family converged on our home for Thanksgiving. With so many people staying in our home, there hasn’t been much sleeping going on. I stayed up way too late. I was tired. I was cold. Then, the sun came up. The light hit the mountain tops and I thought about all the places I have been in the world this year, how many frequent flyer miles I have accrued, how many Marriott points I have, and, I was glad. Glad to be home. Home where the cold November mornings chill my breath. Home where the sun shines more often than not and the summer sun shines late and long. Home where my pillow fits my head and my bed has an indentation just my size. Home where my children come for Sunday dinners. Home where the sun rises over the Wasatch mountains to the east and Lone Peak Mountain lies north. Home, where I’m never lost and always loved. For these things and more I give thanks.
A few nights ago, we were just wrapping a shoot on the campus of Brigham Young University. It had been raining in the valley most of the afternoon and snow had been falling in the higher elevations. Just before the sun set, it dropped below the storm and lit up the mountain. I had just come out of one of the buildings to this scene. I wished I had a better vantage point, a better view. I find, often, that the challenge is not to find a better view, but to see the world where I am in interesting ways. The light changed, the sun dropped below the horizon, it’s brilliance faded. Yet, in that moment I marveled at the beauty. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to take a picture, for the light didn’t last.
You can buy a gallon of gas for pennies, but a used car costs $150,000. Don’t even think of buying a new car. It’s a six month wait in Caracas, Venezuela.
The national exchange rate is 6 Bolívares for every 1 US dollar. Yet, on the black market street exchange, with a little help from friends, you can get 28 Bolívares for every US dollar. There is a shortage of dollars and everybody wants them.
Hugo Chávez was President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death on March 5, 2013. During his Presidency, Chávez nationalized key industries, increased government funding of healthcare and education and attempted to reduce poverty through oil revenues. Many Venezuelans loved him. Many Venezuelans didn’t.
As a NorteAmericano, I have found Caracas to be a study in contrasts. The people love Chávez. They want him back. He’s dead, contrary to popular opinion.
Traffic, pollution, poverty and overcrowding are visible everywhere, juxtaposed against the towering high rises and upscale shopping malls of downtown Caracas. Crime is rampant. If you’re not Venezuelan, there are places you just don’t go. Period.
During my stay here in Caracas, I met some interesting and friendly people. They taught me early on to only cross the street when the cars weren’t coming, regardless of the color of the traffic light. I will keep these friends. Their skin color and nationality do not matter to me.
During my stay in Caracas, I also spent a fair amount of Bolívares. Yet, if I can change my money back at the nationalized artificial rate, I may take home more than I started with. When it comes to the friends I have made, there is no question about it, I am much richer now for having crossed the distance between countries. I hope to cross again, regardless of the traffic signals. In Venezuela, sometimes you just have to bend the rules.