Back to the stone age: Being in a long-distance relationship with the citizen of a socialist country

Long-distance relationships are difficult enough – even if you have all technological means to make distance shorter it is still pretty damn hard. Now technology is something many of us have learned to take for granted – and I do not exclude myself here. In fact, I think many LDR couples nowadays rely so much on technology that it’s nearly impossible to imagine keeping your relationship running without it.

Ali and I started out our LDR when smartphones, tablets, WhatsApp and even facebook weren’t around. We met each other in an online game called Ragnarok and we communicated via the internal game chat most of the time. Other than that we used MSN or ICQ messenger – and e-mails! At times Ali used those free text messaging websites in order to write to me when I was out (since he did not have a German line) and later when voice and video chats became a thing we starting hanging out on Skype a lot. Hah, it sounds so prehistoric, just like our parents talking about vinyl or recording cassettes…Or maybe we are acrually getting old :P
So the longer our LDR lasted the easier communication became due to technological progress. I can still remember the huge difference it made for us when we both finally owned smartphones. Suddenly I did not have to be stuck in front of my laptop at home anymore in order to talk to Ali: I could even send messages on the run.

I wish it would continue to go on like that for us. But in the past years we have had to learn how to do more and more without technology and that less technology means increased distance. As Ali lives in Venezuela, a socialist country moving closer to economic breakdown every day now, even matter of course things like internet or even electricity have become scarce. Due to little rainfall (that’s not the only reason/problem, but I will let politics aside for now) the Guri dam produces not enough electricity for the grown population so that the government has decided to cut electricity and water for two periods of 4 hours each everyday. For us this means: 2 x 4 hours without internet, charging his phone or computer. Hours without communication. So on top of time difference we also have to coordinate with power cuts now. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. There have been times when I read news about riots, shot protesters or other bad things going on and I was not able to contact him or he me to tell me he is alright. It doesn’t make this LDR thing any easier when you fear the country your SO lives in to go up in flames any time.

Actually just now being in Kenya I have learned how these phases of power cuts must truly feel for him. It also means no TV, no radio, no computer games, no movies. And you better save your battery because you cannot be sure when or if the electricity comes back on. You are damned to boredom and doing nothing, especially if you have nothing to read or no offline hobbies like drawing or writing. It can be really frustrating at times. What I normally do when I’m bored is eat. But even food is too expensive in Venezuela to practice it as a hobby.

Having your SO live in a socialist country also means that they are exposed to any other kind of shortages that might occur.
Your laptop breaks?  Well, my fiancee studied informatics – here in Germany it would be an easy thing for him to buy the component he needs to fix it. But computer parts have – just like pretty much everything else – become unavailable. And if you are lucky enough to find what you are looking for they will charge you horrendous amounts of money that you think not twice but ten times if you want to sacrifice dinner for the rest of the week in order to fix your computer.
Well – just buy a new laptop then? HAH! Of course, with a 700% inflation new latops are barely affordable, too.
Getting sick? Good luck finding those little relief pills costing less than 5€ in Germany – but at least you get a worried girlfriend for free on top of it.
Your car needs a new tire?  Well, I guess trips to the embassy for marriage paperwork will be really tough from now on because there are simply no affordable tires available for the moment and near future.
You want to visit your girlfriend?  Too bad international airlines have almost stopped operating in your country and they won’t sell tickets to anyone who wants to pay in the national currency as they are not allowed to exchange this money into international currencies (which makes it basically worthless as there is nothing to buy within the country). So you will have to travel by road to a neighbouring country to take the flight from there. Because a 14 hours plane travel alone is not stressful enough already. In fact I have had these nightmarish visions of the permanent closure of Venezuelan borders to put an end to our plans to finally close the distance for some time now. I honestly don’t know how I would fare with this. That the borders have in fact been partially closed don’t do my nerves any good. These are the reasons I have stopped visiting him and his family in Venezuela and instead kept paying his tickets to Germany. Maybe this relationship is one reason why I became so interested in the past of socialist eastern Germany – history repeats itself.

By now I have started paying almost everything for Ali And I wish I could cover the needs of his family too as they have always been friendly, very nice hosts and supportive so we could be together. He didn’t like it at first, to say the least. In fact he refused to accept my my financial support until we got into a really big fight where I told him that he keeps delaying closing the distance because of his pride and stubborness. That was when I was fed up from spending ages looking for afforable German courses in Germany and Ali still doing the maths after every offer I presented to him. Basic German needs are only one of the requirements by German authorities in order to get married in Germany and I thought it would be the wisest thing for him to learn the language whereit is spoken and where we could also spend time together in person. Our first arrangement was that I would just pay a part of the fees but as Venezuela’s economy crumbled so did Ali’s income.

But I truly don’t mind. Our relationship is way beyond taking notes on how much we spend for or on each other. This relationship has always been expensive for both of us. We would always save most of our money in order to see each other and have a nice time while we were together. Although we are not going to marry in church I guess we are taking this “in good times and bad times” thing to the next level.

And I am not going to lie: I also see one good thing about this crisis. What always bugged me before was that Ali was determined and willing to give up his family, his friends, his life in order to close the distance – while I would get to keep all these + him. I felt selfish, I was not sure if I could justify his sacrifice in front of myself – especially in case we broke up in some near or distant future. In fact I have been the one to delay closing the distance at some points because of my concerns. Now that Venezuela is in ruins I almost feel like saving someone from a life with no future. I love him so much but even in the unlikely events that our paths should separate in the future I will never regret having succeeded in helping a person to live a better-off life outside Venezuela. My concerns were basically wiped out by socialism at it’s worst. It’s still not fair that he has to give up everything as pretty much everyone below the age of 40 has no future in Venezuela. But like this I can justify “stealing” him from his home country all the way,

*By the way, personally I would describe my political views as left-wing and I think many core goals of socialism are worth achieving. But there has yet to come one socialist system that proves it can truly realize a good and safe life for every member of society.

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First death anniversary of Chavez reactivates international media

As I have learned during my studies of public relations anniversaries are great communication opportunities – positive ones as well as negative ones. In communication anniversaries are often used as a means to bring up and place topics in the media again. The media on the other hand has a predilection for anniversaries for news value reasons.

When browsing the internet this morning I was happy to discover an unusual high amount of features treating Venezuela – even in German media, which is even more unusual as German media seems way too concerned about the situation in Ukraine to focus on any other foreign topic. The thematic anchor has been the first death anniversary of “El Commandante” Hugo Chavez in most of today’s features. The majority of articles highlights the problems Venezuela is facing at the moment and include original quotes from protesters.

I especially liked this sentence from Die Welt, though: “Viele Linke sind irritiert, können oder wollen nicht glauben, was sich in Venezuela abspielt.” (“Many left [foreign activists] are irritated, cannot or do not want to believe what is happening in Venezuela right now.”) This is exactly what I experience way too often when reading online comments. My opinion about their hypocratic behavior has been summarized very well by Michael Moynihan.

The only thing that nags at me is the way some articles place all the guilt on Maduro – I almost feel sorry for him. I mean, come on. All these problems did not come out of nowhere. I have seen them come up and deteriorate over the past couple of years. And no matter how unqualified Maduro might be, even if he had wanted to he could not have ruined Venezuela like this in a single year. He is just not as smart as Chavez was to cover up the ruin for a little longer and keep people satisfied. I get the feeling Maduro is just made the scapegoat for all of Chavez’ doings so the image of the icon the latter has become will remain undamaged. “If Chavez was still alive…” Well, but he isn’t.

That said all in all it is pretty ironic, though: It looks like Chavez, of all people, is the one to reactivate international media to cover Venezuela again. Not in the way he would have liked, for sure, but in my opinion the opposition could not be happier about this little favour from the grave.

How Venezuela is testing our relationship

© Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Ali and I ended up fighting last night and to be honest, it did not even surprise me. I somehow expected that the tension of the past days and weeks would sooner or later be released within our interactions. I don’t even remember how it all started but the primary reason was an opinion I picked up from this blog article. The (foreign) author living in Venezuela argues that it seems like many Venezuelans rely on and hope for foreign (foremost U.S.) intervention to improve the situation in Venezuela. I have read numerous tweets and comments like that on the internet as well, so I mentioned this to Ali. I said that maybe one of the reasons why Ukrainians have been more successful in their protests is the level of organisation among the opposition and people relying less on influence from the outside and more on their own actions – even at risk of their own death.

Well, to put it mildly, Ali wasn’t too happy about my remarks and felt like I had just accused the entire nation of his homeland of being lazy couch potatoes – and well, maybe without wanting to I did.

It is true that I – as a foreigner who has only spent a few months in Venezuela and has only basic Spanish language skills – am not as involved and informed as any Venezuelan citizen, although I try my best to keep up with domestic politics. What I can offer, though, are neutral opinions about what I read and experience – something many Venezuelans seem to have willingly forgotten. I think it’s critical to demand press freedom and at the same time not considering anything that differs from your own solid notions. Not everyone who doesn’t completely agree with you is automatically your enemy. That being said I know it is far easier to ask for such virtous behavior when I am not directly affected by the events in Venezuela. I am, however, indirectly affected: with Ali wanting to leave as soon as possible I will have to adjust my future plans as well and of course I identify with his home country.

And just to be clear about this and before I receive hate comments, I would never dare to blame or criticize anyone for being too afraid to go out and demonstrate when you cannot besure if you will be shot on the spot. I’m pretty sure I wouldn not be brave enough myself. I am merely saying that the people of Ukraine seemed more reckless at the end than Venezuelans are at the moment – which might have been one of the reasons they have overthrown their government when protests in Venezuela seem rather smoldering to me. And God forbid, I am not calling for violence in any way. What Venezuela really needs, in my opinion, is national reconciliation and an end to thinking in social classes. 

The essence of our fight would probably be me acting less omiscient when it comes to Venezuelan politics and Ali reconsidering his attitude towards views conflicting with his own opinion. Maybe a lesson everyone in the discussion about recent protest in Venezuela should take to their hearts? Certainly.

My thoughts are with Venezuela

Solidary demonstration for the Venezuelan opposition in Berlin, Germany (Credit by venezuela-europa.blogspot.com)

I am so sorry I have not been updating as fequently as I wanted to. When starting this blog about two weeks ago little did I know how the situation in Venezuela would develop. At the moment I spend most of my spare time reading blogs (such as caracaschronicles.com) and Twitter posts, watching videos and news. With the situation in Ucraine seemingly more or less resolved and the Winter Olympics of Sochi being over the international media has finally begun focussing on events in Venezuela. Although it still gives me shivers to watch masked protesters throwing tear gas canisters back at the security forces I am happy to open Facebook in the morning and see big online newspapers like Spiegel Online and Die Welt report.

There have been a few solidary demonstrations for the Venezuelan opposition in Germany the past weekend, and although I only know of Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and Heidelberg this is more than I expected. It gives me hope, though, because I feel like I am not the only one sitting in her safe and comfortable German home thinking of dear ones in Venezuela who have to go through such a time of insecurity. I have looked for demonstrations somewhere near my hometown but did not find any. Maybe joining a demonstration (without the fear of getting shot) and screaming out the frustration that has been slowly building inside of me would give me some kind of relief.

Anyhow, kudos to those who organized the demonstrations and produced some really nice images to share on the web as well!


Update:
Looks like there have also been actions in Regensburg and Hamburg (boo, and I didn’t know!)

Not the Valentine’s type of girl

Okay, so all the long-distance relationship (LDR) blogs I’m following have been overflowing with ideas for LDR presents on Valentines Day. Not that I am especially creative, anyway, but I have never been a fan of commercialized holidays – it’s what I have been hating about christmas most of my life and Valentine’s Day is certainly no different. All the pressure to give something because it is expected and not because you feel like it is just killing all the joy about it for me. It would be a day like any other to me, although it is hard to escape the omnipresent romance starting two weeks before the actual date or all the “forever alone” posts on the internet. Fellow blogger Trang has pretty much caught my feelings about Valentine’s Day in words when she writes “you don’t have to be in a relationship to feel special and happy on V-Day! And don’t use this day to make up for what you should have done for the people you love” each and every day all year long.

However, with the violent protests in Venezuela going on it does make me feel awkwardly sentimental and makes me miss Ali more than usual. Probably it doesn’t have much to do with Valentine’s Day itself but the coincidence that these two events match. I know his safety is not an issue (yet) but strangely, today I find it hard to ignore Valentine’s Day and pretend it just another day like any other.

I must admit that listening to sad songs foremost people in long-distance relationship can relate to just too well doesn’t help my mood much, either. But, oh well, here is one of my favourites (although I didn’t like the movie much):

“I find the map and draw a straight line
Over rivers, farms, and state lines
The distance from A to where you’d ‘B’
It’s only finger-lengths that I see
I touch the place where I’d find your face
My fingers in creases of distant dark places”

(I promise there will be less sentimental posts on here in the future – it’s really not my usual way – and more actual advice and help posts)

Dead and wounded after street riots in Venezuela

A few days ago I started working on a post for this blog trying the explain to situation in Venezuela for people who are not familiar with the politicial and economic situation there and help you understand why Ali wants to leave so badly and why moving to Venezuela is no option for me. Well, events in Venezuela have forestalled my post in planning.

For a few days now there have been demonstrations against Venezuelan president Maduro, initiated and encouraged by the dire economic situation in Venezuela und recent bottlenecks in supplies. Just the other day Ali was jokingly saying that it was good I am not there right now to put up with his body odor because he ran out of deodorant and was unable to get any new in the stores. Many basic products like wheat or toilet paper are hardly availabel. To get a better idea of the shortsfalls you may watch the video by Skynews below, this video or this feature by German ARD Weltspiegel.


According to Agence France Press and other sources cited by Yahoo News two demonstrators died on Wednesday, apparentaly another person died in the meantime (see Reuters below). It is quite difficult to find reliable and neutral sources. Press freedom is a difficult topic in Venezuela and I would go almost as far as to say it does not exist. While private media mainly reports onesided against the government, state media reports onesided for the government. Both does not help press freedom. Reporters without borders has published their map of press freedom 2013 just a few days ago and has classified Venezuela as country with “noticable problems”. Ali said there were mainly soap operas and movies on state TV on wednesday all day, only features of pro-government demonstrations were broadcasted and there have been reports of the Colombian cable TV channel NTN24’s live coverage having been censored by the Venezuelan government. I am not sure what to believe and I think many Venezuelans feel the same.

Many of the anti-government demonstrators are students, Ali’s brother is one of them and although I am not especially religious I can only pray for his safety. This video by news agency Reuters gives a short but good overview over the recent events.

All this does extremely worry me, of course. If you have a look at the video from Barquisimeto (Ali’s hometown) below, you somehow feel yourself reminded of news coverage from the Arab Spring. Ali himself says he hasn’t been this afraid for civil war in years and that worries me even more. It has always been my nightmare that Venezuela will sink in chaos overnight and there will be hardly any way out for him. I know there is no point in worrying because all I can do is sit here, hope and wait but the feeling of helplessness is killing me. It does show me quite plainly how urgent it is for Ali to finally leave Venezuela. I keep my fingers crossed that we work something out soon and will keep you updated.

Until then…