Luke's South American Diary
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July 1995

9 July 1995

Nothing much of interest to report recently. Elena continues to grow (hardly news): 5.5kg and 56cm at the two month mark, still towards the top of the "normal" band. At her last pediatrician's appointment, she had the dreaded "triple" injection (for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, I think) which everyone had warned us seriously upset babies, and she was in fact very out of sorts for a few days. But much worse was the cold which she contracted just after it, which caused her severe breathing difficulties from a blocked-up nose, especially as she did not yet seem to have developed the idea of breathing through her mouth when her nose was blocked. We bought a kind of suction pump for her nose - a disgusting idea, and totally useless - but basically we just had to live with increased levels of crying, and longer periods of cuddling and pacifying. Elena passed her cold on to Julie, and very mildly to me, which brought home to us the fact that in over a year in this wonderful climate neither of had had even a hint of a cold (up until then!), something which in England and Canada one takes so much for granted as a necessary evil of life.

Elena does smile a little more now, and emits text-book "ah-goo"s from time to time, but she has taken to staying awake from around 1pm or 2pm until her usual going down time of 8pm or 8.30pm, requiring constant attention to keep her from crying. I think her nurse, Maritza is starting to get as frazzled as we are. She (Elena) has continued her wearing habit of fighting at the breast, sometimes seemingly for one reason, sometimes for another, but usually for no apparent reason, which Julie understandably finds quite upsetting. It seems that, however many books one reads, there is still an awful lot of behaviour which will probably remain a mystery forever. We are very conscious of merely reacting to developments, rather than being in control, which does not bode well for the future.

But, hey, do not let me give the impression that our lives completely revolve around our little two month old bundle of hyperactivity! We recently had our second brave post-Elena visitors, when Helen and Iain flew over from New York for the Independence Day long weekend. They brought various supplies with them (including a child car seat which cost $42, and which we would not have been able to buy here for less than about $120) as well as many presents. At this rate we will not have to buy Elena any clothes for months! They had both been working hard recently, and so did not want to do anything too exciting, (which was just as well when they saw what was involved in going anywhere with Elena!). We did take them to a Canadian Embassy reception for Canada Day on July 1st, which I think impressed the socks off them (it's funny how accustomed one becomes to lavish cocktails), and had a drive around in the mountains, for which Julie elected to stay at home with Elena. And we did even manage a day out at a friend's beach club (with Elena) which despite screaming fits in the car (including some from Elena) was not too horrendous, although not exactly relaxing either.

During the hours while Elena goes to see her mother in the office (usually about 9am until 1pm or 2pm, although sometimes she gets sent home early in disgrace), I have finished my précis on philosophy, and another on psychology, and am seriously considering one on anthropology, not to mention a Biblical family tree of the book of Genesis, which passed the time quite enjoyably. Wimbledon came and went with only two vaguely memorable games that I can remember. I have been firming up some plans for a trip to Bolivia, which may happen towards the end of the month, as well as booking a trip to Mérida for ourselves and our October visitors Richard and Sue, so these things between them keep me going.

14 July 1995 Back to top

I have spent the last few days exploring some of the more accessible parts of Caracas, which I realized I had neglected - however much I may complain about Elena, because she goes into the office with Maritza for much of the morning, I do still have plenty of time to myself (it just does not feel that way sometimes). Many of the southern residential districts of Caracas are built on a series of ridges and hills that stretch away for several kilometres from where we live, many of them beautiful and many with great views of the Avila and the other hills. There are also relatively few rough barrios in the southern parts, so the chances of my suddenly finding myself somewhere I do not want to be are relatively slim. Some roads I have found are not even marked on the map, and some which were marked turned out to be private estates, but I still had a great deal of fun exploring, and it was all so close to home.

One particularly fortuitous find (and that after 14 months of living here!) was a little park called Parque Cueva del Indio (also not marked on the maps, and few Caraqueños I have spoken to seemed to know about it either), located in a relatively undeveloped area between suburbs, and only twenty minutes from home. It is Caracas' very own morro, a sheer rocky mini-mountain, similar to some of those I had visited on the edge of the Llanos in Guárico state, except that this one even has a network of trails up through the thick woods, rich in bird-life, butterflies and lizards, leading to a 360° view from the top, and also to various caves carved into the mountain-side. The largest of these latter, the Cueva del Indio itself, can be explored with a flashlight (there is no lighting and absolutely no safety measures, and some of it is actually quite tricky and potentially dangerous - one section can only be negotiated by sliding down a very steep muddy slope on one's back-side!). I took advantage (at least I thought it was an advantage at the time) of a school party who happened to be going down while I was there, and who had at least a few flashlights between them. It meant that I got to see a little bit of what was down there, but I had not bargained for the incredibly noisy games they would stop to play down in the deepest and darkest part of the cave, and which I had to sit through so that I could follow their lights back out.

We are still receiving presents for Elena, from people both in Caracas and abroad, and are continually amazed at how generous people are where babies are concerned, even people we do not know that well. Even Delfina, our cleaner, gave us a nice little polyester dress, despite the fact that she is still having problems repaying the last loan we made her. Maritza has made Elena another of the little tiara-like things, made of plaited ribbon, which she seems to specialize in, and which we hate but do not have the heart to complain about.

22 July 1995 Back to top

The Canadian Embassy in Caracas, (with which we have always had much more contact than with the British, and which has turned out to be the source of the majority of our friends here), has been going through turmoil recently. Almost all their senior members, from the Ambassador down, many of whom are now good friends of ours, seem to be moving on all at the same time, which is going to leave them with almost zero continuity and major problems for the replacements, and which will leave us with a significant hole in our small web of friends. We have already met some of the new incumbents and have already established friendships, partly because this is so easy with Canadians anyway, but partly because we have realized that our early intentions not to become wrapped up in the ex-pat lifestyle and community were actually unrealistic here in the closed society of Venezuela.

Our social life is starting to resurrect itself slowly. Last weekend for example, we attended a Calgary Stampede Breakfast (hosted by a Canadian friend now settled and married in Venezuela), and had a very enjoyable, stress-free time. There were several Venezuelans there too, but after greetings and pleasantries the attendees tended to split into two distinct camps, and we have to accept that, unfortunate though it may be, that is just the way things are here. For once Elena was quite well-behaved, and attracted lots of attention and volunteer holders, and we were quite proud of her. We also recently had our first Ambassador round to dinner on a social basis, (an example of the heady circles in which we move in a - dare I say it? - third world country), and a couple of other sets of friends on another occasion. Once again, with a few minor hiccups, Elena managed to more or less rein in her temper (although she did explode in an almighty tantrum just after the Canadian Ambassador left).

Elena seems to be starting to teethe, despite being less than three months old, and this has added to her store of things to cry about. She can be in the middle of her favourite things (which at the moment include standing up, with support, and wobbling around, and also goo-goo-ing at herself in the mirror while windmilling her arms and legs like a dying fly), when she will suddenly go completely rigid, head thrown back, and yell like there is no tomorrow. As well as making her very difficult to hold, this is really most disconcerting for us, even though we are reasonably sure that it is only because she has remembered that her gums hurt.

Meanwhile, our illustrious president, Dr Rafael Caldera, has finally seen his way to reinstating most of the rights and guarantees he so unceremoniously did away with over a year ago (apart from in those states bordering the great enemy Colombia, which are still considered to be unstable and in a state of undeclared war with the Colombian guerrillas). Not that much difference is likely to be felt anywhere - according to Amnesty International, the taking of political prisoners, and the systematic maltreatment thereof, has been going on for years and will probably continue regardless, (but then according to AI almost everyone is doing it!).

Next Monday is the national celebration of the birth of El Libertador, Simón Bolívar, which will probably be another opportunity for more of Caldera's rhetoric and tub-thumping. As well as the Catholic tradition of lots of religious holidays, Venezuela also adds various political holidays, so we end up with a Bank Holiday in January, two in February, three in April, two in each of May, June and July, one in August, two in October and two in December - a healthy total of 17!

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