Don’t Go Out After Dark

Photo by Beatrice Murch/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.
Photo by Beatrice Murch/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Sam gathered his things as the plane docked at the airport. He was nervous about returning to Venezuela after an entire year away. Since then Chavez had come to power. Sam had heard about the changes in his country, but he was sure that seeing it would be a completely different experience. He still thought of Venezuela the way it had been when he came to America at 15 to attend college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now that he was a senior, it wouldn’t be long until he would be back in Venezuela for good.

Sam exited the plane and headed for customs. Travel was never a big deal for Sam because he always had beautiful paperwork. This time was different. He was detained, even though he had all of the proper paperwork for returning to Venezuela. “This shouldn’t be happening,” he thought. “This is bullshit.” He was being detained because of a law that all 18 year old males in Venezuela must have paperwork showing that they have done military service or paperwork exempting them from it. Sam did not have this paperwork since he had been out of the country for almost all of the past 3 years. It wasn’t something that should be necessary to enter the country, it was a law once you were there. He explained this to the authorities but they seemed completely unmoved. It felt like he was being picked on. There were many people with infractions this size, but for some reason they had decided to detain him. There was nothing Sam could do about it but wait patiently. His parents, who were picking him up from the airport, learned that their son was being detained for a minor paperwork infraction. They called Sam’s uncle, a mayor in the capitol district, who then called the authorities. Sam never found out what strings his uncle pulled or what promises he made, but he was released after 3 hours of being detained. He spent the entire next day doing paperwork.

After this ordeal, Sam felt the need to blow off some steam. He became taken with the notion of wanting to meet with his ex-girlfriend. He called her, but she had moved and had a new number. He tried some of his other friends to see if they knew how to contact her. It took a few calls and he eventually managed to track her down. He asked if she would like to go clubbing with him. 

“Thanks,” she said. “But I’d need to find a babysitter and I don’t think I could do that with this short notice.” He decided to hang out with a few friends instead.

Meeting up with friends was a completely different experience than it had been when he was growing up. His mother warned him about the new dangers of travelling in Caracas.

“Don’t go out after dark. Don’t take the subway, and don’t travel alone. If you’re out after 9 then just sleep over with whoever lives closest.” Sam had never seen his mother actually fear for his safety before. When he was younger he would stay in the conservatory practicing organ until 10 pm and it was never a big deal. He would ride the subway alone all the time and was never frightened by it. The fear he saw in his mother’s face changed all this.

Sam headed home from hanging out with his friends at about 6pm, heeding his mother’s advice not to be out in the dark. He took the subway home during rush hour. The subway station was only a two block walk from his family’s apartment on one of the main avenues of Caracas. After walking one block, a man bumped into him and pulled out a gun. He pointed it at Sam and quietly told him to give up everything he had. Sam handed over his wallet and watch and the man left. None of the many people walking on the street reacted. Sam couldn’t even be sure whether they had noticed him being mugged or not. It all happened so fast. Maybe the people on the street were already too desensitized to this sort of occurrence to react. Perhaps they didn’t think there was anything they could do to help. He had been pickpocketed on subways before, but this was his first experience with a mugging. If this could happen on a busy street in broad daylight, he wasn’t sure how he could feel safe in his city.

Sam spent the rest of his trip to Venezuela visiting relatives in the countryside. This was a relaxing change of pace. He had had enough of the city. For the first time he could feel the poverty in Caracas. He wasn’t sure whether this was because the city and its crumbling infrastructure had actually gotten worse or because he was comparing it to the relatively privileged life he was living in America. The city had definitely grown angrier. Everything was politically charged. People were either pro-government or anti-government. In his brief stay in the city, Sam saw political fights that only ended when somebody drew a gun. The countryside was not as bad. His family’s apartment in the city was in a gated community with a lock to get into the building, a lock to use the elevator, and two locks on their door. In his relative’s house in the country, they didn’t even bother locking the door. Sam’s visit to the countryside was pleasantly uneventful compared to his experiences in the city.

After spending two weeks in Venezuela, Sam returned to America. He was soon offered a high paying job in research and development at a pharmaceutical company in Rochester, New York. Sam was finally faced with the decision of whether to accept this opportunity or to return to Venezuela as he had always planned. With life in Venezuela losing its allure, Sam decided to take the job. As he began to support himself financially and stopped relying on his scholarship money from Venezuela, he started to consider America to be his home. Venezuela would always be a home to him, but now his friends and career were in America. He would consider going back to Venezuela once Chavez was no longer in power. He didn’t expect that to take very long.

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Don’t Go Out After Dark

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