I was born in Caracas in 1987. With the support of my parents and a platoon of other awesome people I obtained an engineering degree, if I had been born in the 50's following this path would have been the perfect recipe to live the American dream in Venezuela due to its socio-economic conditions at the time, but it is not the case anymore. I graduated in 2011, getting this degree eventually led me to an ok-payed entry level job at a telecom company as a NOC engineer, earning what was a good salary considering the job market in Venezuela at the time, equivalent to 550$ a month calculated at the black market’s rate at that time (10.23 Bsf/$).
Venezuela is a country that has a particularly bad economic situation which would take its own very long post to explain. The fact is that due to poor economic policies and corruption there have been high inflation rates which devours your saving capability. The independence citizens of many other countries could afford to experience through honest work, I could not. I felt doomed to live under my parents roof forever with just enough to live in a day to day basis.
Caracas is city which is amongst the most dangerous ones on earth, this fact alone makes it unappealing enough for you to want to move away. It also has an incredibly inefficient public transportation system combined with huge traffic jams due to underdeveloped motorways (this while being an oil exporter country!!!), and even though we can move around at a very low cost because of having the cheapest fuel on earth, one has very low chances of ever owning a car as a result of high car prices and a ever decreasing purchasing power due to inflation (unless you’re lucky enough and your older brother decides to sell his old one and you convince him to finance it to you, interest free, for over three years, thanks Bro!).
What I have previously mentioned, over time, shaped a thought, “I really wish I lived in a developed country”; 6 months in the telecom job I realized I hated it, I had little respect for the organization as they did not lead by example and took advantage of people’s needs to get the job done, for as little money as possible, while creating false expectations in times of crisis. After another 6 months I decided I wanted to quit, and shortly after, leave Venezuela.
One of the main economic issues of living in Venezuela is the lack of control and liberty to use my money however I wanted, or protect it from inflation by saving it in foreign currency, money earned with my time and effort; you’re limited to spend or save your hard earned cash outside Venezuela by a yearly coupon and only if you own a credit card (I’m extremely oversimplifying how this process really works), which I did not as I didn’t earn enough to qualify for one at any bank. Alternatively you can save by buying currency on the black market at a rate 10 times higher than the official and then take it out of the country. While this indeed is a pretty horrible situation anyone would like to avoid for the sake of their well-being and progress, honestly I was mostly mad because I couldn’t buy the latest smartphone, laptop, desktop, camera, gaming console, sound system, you name it, within minutes of them being available. I was eager to finally be living as a fully enabled wage earning mindless consumer who was going to purchase every want ASAP. I was frustrated because of not being in a first world country, having a good life measured by traditional metrics. I wanted a well payed job and the tall buildings and the highways and the 24-hour crowded street sidewalks full of stores with shiny lights everywhere; finally one day I received an offer to work abroad but with one little detail, it was not precisely in a country considered part of the developed world.
That’s a thought that many shared with me and that I still listen to sometimes, after a 6 month stay in Zimbabwe I arrived in Moshi, where I am currently. Moshi is a town of around 500,000 people including the rural population, located in the Kilimanjaro region, in the north of Tanzania. The main industries are agriculture and tourism. The job I was offered was as processing manager in a coffee plantation which operates 20 kilometers outside of town, not quite the high tech job I was hoping to get, but an interesting challenge nonetheless, so I took it.
After very long flights I went through immigration at Kilimanjaro International Airport and hopped into the car the company had sent to collect me to start the half hour ride back to where I was going to stay. I felt the landscape and the little towns by the highway were quite similar to the plains in Venezuela, this until I saw Kilimanjaro with its 5,895 M.A.S.L and its snowy peak. We continued on a paved road until eventually doing a left turn into a dirt road pretty much in the middle of nowhere, then driving 13 kilometers uphill going through several rural communities of smallholding farmers which are before and around the coffee farm I was going to be, and am currently living in.
I had a hard time initially adjusting to this new lifestyle, after all I was now living a rural life, which is the absolute opposite of how I grew up and what I had in my plan. Not only that, I was welcomed by recurrent power cuts. Planned power cuts often happen due to power grid underdevelopment, many times at night, as a consequence there were numerous evenings I remained in the dark inside the house with a head torch looking at my powerless electronic equipment, “WTF am I doing here”. It was so frustrating, my metropolitan mindset caused me to feel bored because the alternatives in those situations were reading a good book or going outside and look up to a night sky which is either replete of stars or hosting a beautiful moon which lights up Kilimanjaro’s snow at its peak, what a profound tragedy!
In Venezuela there is extreme poverty and inequality, but it was not directly surrounding me. My studies and line of work kept me away from interacting with it so I did not understand it. Even though my parents taught me to not measure a person’s value by his or her net worth, I feared its potential violent consequences, so I did my best to not interact with people whom you could tell easily that were in it, it was very ignorant of me because this delayed the learning of a huge lesson.
Moshi and the work I’m doing changed that, there’s a lot more poverty here, in a higher degree too. Now I do interact with it which was not easy at first but, I was forced to. I am surrounded by it and also within my work responsibilities I have to lead people who live in it. Luckily over a short period of time after coping with it I realized the potential benefit it offers, this experience has taught me a lesson which has changed radically the way I want to shape my life and the trajectory I hope it follows from now onwards, the lesson is the following:
Being around and developing relationships with people living in extreme poverty gives you clarity to ask yourself the right questions, to humbly value what you have, to pinpoint what your specific purpose driven needs really are, to reduce all your possessions to an extremely useful minimum and to expose your unnecessary wants for you to analyze.
They taught me what abundance really means and where its found. After living three years in this remote and beautiful location I am happy that all my possessions fit in two standard suitcases, and that because now that I’m aware that I have everything I need, I will not fear material scarcity anymore. I feel accomplished in knowing that this knowledge I have internalized will never allow me to get bored on a rainy Sunday afternoon, ever again.
Have a great day!