HAVANA TIMES — I walk into the first metro station in Caracas. Or the last, depending on how you’re looking at it. Trains on Line 1 are in one-piece, that is to say, you can walk from the first carriage to the last carriage without having to leave the train. This benefits the woman who, carrying a small child – asleep – and holding another older child by the hand, begins her morning sermon.
She isn’t religious. At least her religion isn’t based on a well-known philosophy or book. She only repeats something terrible in a similar to one to that of evangelist preachers; however her words are harmful and full of scientific terms. Her objective: to collect money. The scientific terms she uses are to describe some kind of unknown bacteria that resides in the body of one of her two children who are traveling with her.
However, last week, this same woman, humbly dressed, was collecting funds for her son who was lying in a hospital bed because he had a stray bullet resting in his stomach and she needed money for his antibiotics.
At the other far end, a candy seller was approaching. Both of them were about to coincide in the same wagon, however the seller waited, respectfully, so that the woman could finish her pep talk and collect the few coins that some travelers decided to give her.
Next, the peddler came, which is supposedly banned inside the Metro. The public stirred with his cheer-filled “Good morning” and the possibility to swallow something sweet for less of the price than it’s sold outside the metro; and in the meantime, they forgot the woman’s tragic story.
However, we pulled up to a new station, the doors opened and a man who looks like he’s had his eyes ripped out, carrying a child and a dirty bag, came onto the train. He also told us about his unfortunate life, asked for a piece of bread or anything that travelers had “left over”. The candy seller impatiently waited so that he wouldn’t coincide with the blind man in the middle of the carriage.
Once the blind man had finished his scant collection, there are less and less people who are able or willing to share their money with those who come begging and so the candy seller finished up his sale and headed on towards the next carriage. A deep voice came from this same carriage, people slowly moved to make way – however they could, because it was already quite full – so that a man with a huge elephant foot could move between them, with a new plea.
Behind him, another candy seller was waiting impatiently. These sweets were different to the ones the other seller had, instead of being round they were square. Before, sellers that sneaked their way onto the metro used to bring a great variety of goodies, but now they are all too expensive for them to make good business. The number of sellers has quadrupled, but the variety of candies has been reduced to just different flavors of the same sweet.
The seller didn’t seem to be too enthusiastic, he could see that some of those who were sitting already had recently bought lollipops in their hands, so he took advantage of the fact that there was an empty chair and sat down, calmly waiting for a new wave of possible buyers.
We reached a new station; a young man didn’t even wait for the doors to close before he began his speech. He’d just had all his merchandise confiscated off of him at the last stop by metro officials, accompanied by the police, “Cowards they are, they don’t even dare to come alone, I just want you to help me get back the money I have lost, so that I can buy my merchandise again.”
The candy seller who had sat down stood up for the young man who had just got onto the carriage. “It’s true, I know him, he isn’t a mooch, help him.” After the young man had carried out his “collection”, he thanked the candy seller who was sitting down and told him about a colleague who was with him at the time of the incident. This one hadn’t been intimidated and broke the metro official’s nose “so that it was clear”, that the only thing they want to do is sell their merchandise and not bother anybody.
While these two sellers were talking and before my journey had ended, some 3 or 4 people had already passed before me asking for help for their misfortunes or hunger.
And the same thing will happen tomorrow, I already know, the woman (the same one or another similar one) will try to move passengers with the same sleeping baby or another one maybe. Some passenger will protest because they earn more than any kind of worker; but another person will believe them and give them some kindness in the form of money.
What used to be commonplace on trucks (microbuses), has now moved to the metro too, a form of transport that was once appreciated for its safety and cleanliness. However, those times have passed.
At least today there are no more signs that the opposition will come out and protest, in these cases, the metro, which belongs to all Venezuelans, shuts down the majority of its stations. Most of the time, you find out when you’re already on a train and you have little chance to choose a better way to get to work. It’s irrelevant that metro stations are outside the protest’s route, they will still be closed, “for passenger safety”, although it seems like that this happens more so that “no passengers can reach the opposition protest’s meeting points.” But these are my own speculations…
And while the metro moves at this strange rhythm, prices of the rest of public transport continue to increase while the rest of us watch on calmly. In December, it’s already been estimated that a minimum journey will cost up to 100 Bolivares, the largest note that currently exists in Venezuela. Maybe this is why those who beg have moved en masse onto the metro, which only costs 4 Bolivares (and has air conditioning).
The solution, of course, isn’t to increase the price of traveling on the metro; as this “socialist” government continues to subsidize the price of petrol (which only those with their own cars and owners of trucks which are used as public transport benefit from) and every trimester, they allow the price of public transport to increase (which continues to be privately-owned).
This is why I prefer the metro, where – except in some cases – robbers branding guns in their hand aren’t common. Tomorrow I’ll buy some headphones and the daily tragicomedy will become, to my great relief, silent.