Having spent one week in Caracas has boosted my confidence in dealing with the dangerous situation in Venezuela. However, although this city has been labelled the 'murder capital of the world', there are lesser known towns close to Caracas, which can be even more intimidating. One of these towns is Maracay, where I am supposed to meet Brahin, a half-Palestinian and half-Venezuelan girl who provided me with a lot of valuable information on Venezuela's currency black market, and who also gave me useful advises on the dangers in Venezuela months before my journey started.
Upon my arrival I immediately conclude that my new friend's description of the situation in her hometown was probably not exaggerated. The vibe alone is indeed pretty intimidating. I guess there is a reason,why the streets here are empty not only at night, but even at daytime. As I walk on those streets, it permanently feels like I am being watched, so I stick to the path that leads me to a crowded place, the place where I am supposed to wait for Brahin. While waiting at the McDonald's, I take a look around. For a moment the familiarity of the yellow M gave me a false sense of security, I begin to think. Measured by the atmosphere, it is not really surprising that one of the most violent prisons in the world is less than 20 kilometres away from here. The prison of Tocoron houses 7000 inmates, even though it only has a capacity for 750 inmates. Its well armed prisoners belong to different gangs that engage in bloody wars, where not only fire weapons but even hand grenades are being used. Visiting Tocoron even as a local would be like committing suicide, Brahin told me.
As my new amiga arrives, she welcomes me to Maracay and takes me to her home, where I meet her sister and her mother. Brahin had enough trust in me to take me to her house, and I had trust in her to be my guide after all the chats we had. But I had been wondering how her family would react. In the beginning, her sweet mom welcomes me with a shy smile. Yet her reaction also exposes her deep concern. Strangers are too often not good news in Venezuela, and perhaps travellers are too rare to be perceived differently in terms of potentially having bad intentions. Above all else, the concern for her daughter is especially understandable considering what happened to her husband a long time ago.
Once Brahin has changed her clothes, we go out and find a hotel, where I leave my valuables and once again check the wads of money that I received in the black market, before we make our way to the mall. The landscape that we see while walking on the streets tempts me to take out my camera, but then I hesitate and look at Brahin. "It is not a good idea to take pictures right now, is it?". I ask her? "No!", she says with her incredibly bright smile that stands in stark contrast with the situation here. Minutes later a man crosses the street, suspiciously looking at us, before disappearing behind the corner of the street. Brahin and I easily figure out that he must be a malandro.
As we reach the mall and enter one of the shops, I am first surprised to barely see any people standing in line to enter the shop like in many shops in Caracas, until I realize that in many shops here in Maracay there are barely any products left to stand in line for. The shelves in the shop that we enter are as empty as the streets in Maracay. A few shelves only look like they are filled with a variety of products, but actually only contain a few cereal products in disproportionately high amounts, because these are the only products that are being delivered.
Back on the streets, I scan the environment and think about just how prevalent the muggings must be here. "When did you see somebody get mugged the last time?", I ask Brahin. "Tuesday", she calmly replies, further pointing out how malandros on a motorcycle stopped and pointed a gun towards somebody, before taking all his valuables. She also tells me about a Russian who settled here in Maracay. According to her, he already got mugged at least twenty times. Seems like the Russian got used to it. It does not even surprise me after all the talks that I had with Brahin even before meeting her personally. During an online conversation in September, I did not even bother to ask her if she ever got mugged. It was pretty obvious. So I immediately skipped to the question, when she got mugged the last time. "In July.", she replied.
It was on this day in July, when Brahin found herself in the same situation like her father. Her father was shot dead after resisting a mugging attempt. Brahin never got to meet him, because she was yet to be born. Many years later, in July 2014, Brahin was caught off guard by a malandro who pointed a gun at her on open street during daylight, ordering her to give him all her valuables. She instinctively and fearfully started running away, something you are strongly discouraged to do in such a situation. Luckily for her, she did not suffer the same fate like her father and most other people who refuse to give their valuables to the thugs. In Brahin's case, the malandro chose not to pull the trigger.
At night, Brahin and I take a cab and head to a supposedly safer place to have a few drinks. On this night, we talk about different issues, including the political situation in her country. Brahin has no sympathy left whatsoever for the Venezuelan leader Maduro, and not even for Hugo Chavez. Although the late leader Chavez has been praised by many people not only for refusing to submit to informal supremacy, but also for standing up against the oppression of peoples in different countries, there are also many Venezuelans who feel like Brahin, because in the end a leader can have the best intentions for people around the world, many of his own people will not feel his moral standpoint, if they are confronted not only with extra-ordinary economic problems, but with security problems that hardly allow people to go out without being scared to get mugged or killed. After discussing the nightmares that many locals experience, Brahin subsequently talks to me about her dream to escape Venezuela, a dream that she would ambitiously chase in the following months, and a dream that would soon turn into reality, as she would find a job and manage to start a new life in the Dominican Republic.