I am not a natural runner. I can wield a hoe or push a wheelbarrow for hours, but somehow a trot around the block always winded me.
In Venezuela we don't really need to run anyway. All of us are trying to conserve hard-earned pounds, not shed them in vain by racing around. Mothers in my village often get angry at their children when they run, because it makes them hungrier and wears out their shoes.
Walking, however, is definitely in vogue in Venezuela. Many of the four million people who have emigrated have literally walked their way to other countries.
For those of us who remain, walking is our main transportation mode. With an oil change costing a month's salary, and a set of tires worth a year's wages, cars and buses are left to collect dust (and in our case, a family of homeless snakes). Even if a vehicle does run, finding gasoline is a major challenge.
Running short of gas in a nation that sits atop the world's largest oil reserves is quite a feat, and the credit goes to the Maduro-Trump Alliance. Ok, I guess alliance isn’t the right word, since both leaders intensely hate one another and actively wish each other off their respective thrones.
But, this is a relationship that seem to me to serve both sides extremely well. Trump's economic sanctions give him political brownie points (and create scarcities of almost everything essential in Venezuela, including chemicals to refine gasoline). For his part, Maduro gets to blame all of his nation's woes on Trump, and thus stay firmly in power.
So, back to my running. Why on earth do I do it? God knows I get enough exercise walking everywhere and growing much of my food. I have no natural running talent. There is not one square meter of flat ground in my entire town.
Maybe it's the temporary release from this sadness as I watch my adopted nation implode. Maybe it clears my mind as I struggle to see the way out. Maybe it’s a break from hauling water, splitting firewood, grinding corn, searching for the food I can’t grow. Maybe it's just a.way of being momentarily alone, in this society that craves togetherness.
As I exit my farm for a run I head left, down a steep dirt road, nothing but mountains around me. Running downhill is actually a cop-out since gravity does most of the work. However, that does leave going uphill to the last, when you are already exhausted. I solved that problem brilliantly by deciding to return always at a walk.
My turn around point is Amadeus's gate, after which steep becomes vertical all the way to the river. I used to linger there before turning back. The sun setting over the mountain is lovely. Amadeus's farm, though, is uninspiring - a jumble of tumbleweeds like most farms around me. I pause there to wonder how such a hungry (and fertile) nation has managed to almost completely stop growing food (with the tiny exception of some such as our group of intrepid farming kids). I know the answer of course, a toxic combo of sanctions, corruption, ineptitude, indifference. Plus greed: it is way more lucrative for government insiders to distribute food boxes than to actually help farmers grow food.
One evening I lingered too long, and as night began to fall, I was several miles from home. Darkness comes fast near the equator, leaving only the moon as a guide over the mountains. (Electricity is mostly a memory now, so no hope of seeing twinkling house lights in my village ahead). That day, my faithful four-legged running companion Cocoa had stayed behind to nurse her pups, And so I realized that if I didn’t want to be trapped in darkness with steep ledges around me, I should probably run back home, steeply uphill.
And so I did, sweating and panting, the encroaching darkness pulling me forward, fear trumping exhaustion. Looking back,I realize that if I had not returned, my partner Ledys would have simply grabbed a flashlight,rallied the dogs and found me in a jiffy, But at the moment I envisioned sharing a rocky bed with snakes and scorpions.
.That uphill run was a turning point. It filled me with a sense of heady victory .When everything else around me is not working, at least my body can. Poco a poco I began to run uphill a tiny bit more each day, my lungs burning, my heart pounding, my sweat pouring, my mind clearing
When I finally reach my gate after these runs, I fall onto the grass, and catch my breath as the Fumarola mountain gently disappears. I feel such peace.
I need that peace, I need that hope, I need that cleansing, I need that solitude. Those of us who have stayed in Venezuela are running uphill every single day.