I’ve already commented on the possibility of being assaulted in Caracas; this is like in many other cities, and not something unique to this capital. During my first nights here, the sounds of gunshots ricocheted against each wall of my room, as if this were the best way to welcome me.
For two weeks now, I haven’t heard any more of this threat, though I know that in other areas of the city that violent music never ceases to play. This was something I was advised of before arriving, after getting here, and day after day: Be careful.
Although I’ve haven’t felt frightened here —so far— people who I know have in fact been assaulted, fortunately with no other losses than a few clothes and some money.
Regardless of everything, there’s something that doesn’t cease to be contradictory: I find that despite the violence in the streets, I don’t sense violence from the people of this city.
From the moment I leave my apartment in the morning, I hear “good morning” wherever I go – in the elevator, in the hotel lobby (which, by the way, is not for tourists), or in any business center.
If I get on the metro, I never see a senior citizen standing, and that’s not by chance. The elderly are given special treatment, and at least in the metro they don’t have to pay. Inside the subway cars there are no signs above the seats indicating spaces that are reserved for pregnant women, people who are disabled or seniors: any person will offer them their seat without thinking twice.
In the streets —though there are too many cars, and they’re not so respectful of the traffic laws— drivers usually cede the right of way to pedestrians or to each other, despite the long traffic jams that would drive any Cuban motorist mad.
Lately in Havana, a certain level of violent tension can be sensed on the streets or in stores, buses or anywhere people gather. Sometimes this is contained, other times not. Two people simply bumping into each other would occasionally turn into at least a pair of ugly frowns.
Here you can note the difference; if in the hustle and bustle you run into someone, they’ll readily accept your apology – if not with a smile, at least with courtesy.
I’m surprised how in one city there can coexist high levels of violence with such civility. It’s also like this in the low-income hillside areas that surround the city center. Up to now I’ve not seen anybody bothering anyone else with their cigarette smoke. Notwithstanding, I know a young guy who has slept under his bed several times to escape gang-related crossfire.
Central and greater Caracas continue to be an enigma, a complex labyrinth to get to know, without it mattering much where the exact point is where you can escape the maze.
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