On Buying Food

The story below is true – a story that an English Second Language student wrote and I helped edit. The story touched me enough to want to tell others. The words below are a blend of mine and his because I continued working on this story with hopes of posting it here with the original author’s permission.

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The Real Truth about Buying Food in Venezuela

Today is Friday – the day that I can buy food. Not yesterday, not tomorrow – today – Friday.

The government uses the last number of our National ID to set the day of the week citizens can buy food. My number is 27654328, so Fridays are my day, and today is Friday. I requested and received a day off from work for this day – the day I’m able to buy food.

It’s 3 AM. Time to get up to find the shortest line. Yes, some people will arrive earlier than me. Others will spend the night in line. I must be careful because a short line could mean that nobody knows if the store will have any food to sell. I don’t want to take that chance.

I’m going early because the lines will be longer after 5:30 AM, the time the public buses start operating. Some people arrive very early because they own a car. I’m lucky to ride with a friend.

It’s 4 AM. I get in a line at a store that I think will sell food. I count the people and determine I’m 225th in line. There is another line with about the same number of people who are pregnant, disabled, or older than 60 – but that’s not me. This store won’t open until 9 AM

It’s 6 AM. The trucks with foods begin to arrive. I feel lucky and grateful, but realize the grocery store may be empty. I know two other grocery stores are 6 blocks from where I now stand. I wonder if I can get a position in another line? I better walk to them to see.

Success! I’m going to walk back and forth to try to maintain my place in line for both stores.

It’s 7 AM. The second store will open in 30 minutes. Oh no, I’m wasting my time because they have no food.

I immediately return to my first line. I count the food packs from each truck, and then recount my position in line. Yes, there is enough food for 700 people and I’m 225. Even with the second line for special needs, I’m in a good place.

It’s 9 AM. The store opens. Security controls the line by letting 20 people into the store. Soon, people start organizing in groups of 20 with one person collecting all the identification cards in the group. Time passes as I wait my turn with my group, but I still think we’re fine.

It’s 12 noon. Just one group is ahead of mine, so I remain hopeful. Then I hear, “The food purchase is over. There is enough left for 10 people.” I’m stunned.

I don’t know what happened because I counted the food packs and the people. I suspect the store employees and security guards got the first chance to buy food. Some of the food was probably taken for the black market. My 8 hours in line today was a waste of time. I took a day off from work with hopes of buying food.

A lot of things came to my mind with many emotions. I didn’t know if I should laugh, cry, or yell!

How can I survive? Should I not waste my time? Should I eat more often in restaurants? Should I spend money to find food on the Black Market? As I walk away from the grocery store, I thank God because I am luckier than many others, and returned to my house for some rest.

It’s 4 PM. I awaken, but hungry. I am calm because my salary of $30 a month is much better than the minimum wage of $10 a month minimum wage.I can eat 3 times a day at a restaurant where the average meal costs $1.50.

I organize my money I have so I can eat until next Friday – the day I might be able to buy again. Maybe I’ll go earlier next week.

This is my story from 2016. I’m no longer a computer systems analyst in Venezuela. I received a tourist visa to come to the United States, a place where I wash dishes. I am happy here in the United states, but I want others to know that this is still happening to Venezuelans today.

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46 thoughts on “On Buying Food

  1. To me, that’s a story that both horrifying and somewhat familiar. Before I came to the US, I’ve had to stand in some long lines and use food ration cards myself, although I was a teenager at that time, so my parents mostly had to deal with.
    Going to a supermarket with aisles and aisles of food and no lines (or, a line where you can count the people in it on one hand) is an experience I still don’t fully take for granted.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Good job Frank! This is a story that needs to be shared far and wide. We who live in places where food is readily available – and where food is constantly thrown away and wasted – need to be familiar with the reality that our fellow human beings live in. This is truly heartbreaking!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Pauline,
      Thank you. I’m glad that I’ve done a little get the walk out about Venezuela. In this case, the person has left there, and is doing comparatively fine in the US. Packing up and leaving one’s homeland is a stay in itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, my. Frank, this story from your student is so moving, with its directness and simplicity highlighting the unfairness and bleakness of his world. I kept thinking of people with children to feed, going through the same process and coming up empty–how desperate they must feel.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The story in your post today really shook me up, both for the content and the writing style. A multitude of thoughts are running through my head related to the causes of such a situation as well as the reactions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Tim,
      Glad to know this story impacted you. When I worked with the student, I recall the struggle I had between working with the student and being affected by the story. It is hard to believe this occurs in the modern world – then again – power is a strange thing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Merril,
      Thanks. There is so much about life that we seem to take for granted. The world is a big place and there are many situations that are difficult to grasp because not everyone has the same life as us.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The story is very well written, and I hope it’ll be widely read. And for those of us living in more orderly societies, it should encourage us to be grateful… not only on Thanksgiving. More than anything else, this story tells what it is like to live in a society without freedom.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Shimon,
      Yes – feelings of gratefulness and Thanksgiving are important aspects about this post. I would add awareness – and (based on the comments) seems I done a bit to tell the story.

      Like

  6. It’s sad to read about things like this. Food is essential to our existence. I knew a Russian gal from my art show days who waited in line for four hours in below 30 temps to buy a pair of rationed boots for an upcoming snowstorm. We should all be grateful for our USA. Enlightening …

    Liked by 2 people

    • Isadora,
      Just another example how life is different for everyone. It’s easy for us to say words of encouragement or empathy, but we probably don’t really understand. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  7. This touched me deeply.. while I had heard of the cues and food shortages, I had no idea that this system was in place.. Its bad enough one works for $30 a month let alone only $10.
    When I think of all the supermarket food waste in this country ( England ) and the food waste even before it gets to the shelves, because vegetable shapes are not the right shape etc I am sure we have enough food to feed the world twice over, Yet greed keeps people starving.
    Thank you for sharing and for your collaboration in writing it to bring to our attention.. Its sad, so sad this goes on.. And reminds me of a film I once watched, The Hunger Games.. Where district is pitted against district to fight those elected from their various sections, the winner means their district gets to enough food to eat..

    Wishing you well Frank.. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sue,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I wonder how many other situations like this are around the world. I just don’t know. Your point is well taken because there are plenty of people around us that can use food.

      Like

  8. I hope your student is able to continue his stay in the United States, Frank. His experience in Venezuela isn’t dissimilar to so many places around the world and it’s easy to understand how grateful immigrants feel when they are able to find a place for themselves within America. I hope for this one young man there is a happy ending.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Debra,
      I can say that I helped the student two years ago … plus, he is still in the US. There is more to tell in his story, but not here because he’s going through an important process at the moment. I can say that he wants what is best for him and his family.

      Like

  9. A powerful story indeed, Orwellian really. We U.S. citizens take many things for granted that we shouldn’t. Open a tap and the water flows, flip a switch and the light goes on, go to the gas pump and you have a full tank. Go to the a store or restaurant and supply your card, purchase complete. It’s all vulnerable. Retail, not to mention public transportation, is totally dependent on software systems. There have been a number of massive airport shutdowns because system collapse, and that’s without any hacking. Is anybody actually working on this? I have to wonder. The President not only has no sensible plan, he doesn’t even recognize the threat, including the one to our election process this year.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I had no idea this was going on in Venezuela. Thank you and your student for sharing this. It is crazy that such a system exists at all.
    Kudos to him for having such a positive attitude despite such horrid conditions (I know, he is not there now but still)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Janja,
      Welcome first-time commenter. Horrifying is a good word describing this situation. Because many of us haven’t experienced this, we don’t think it happens today – but it obviously does. Sad … very sad.

      Liked by 1 person

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