Sofia, 8 years old, lives in Maracaibo. Due to the constant energy blackout in this city in the northwest of Venezuela, she had to receive Christmas presents in the darkness. One blackout ruined her school end of the year party in July. Fed up, she voluntarily decided to record a video to tell-and show to the world what it means living without electricity in a city that boils.
On December 24, 2017, Sofia spent the day anxious. Since dawn, she was thinking about the gifts that Santa would bring her at midnight. When you are 8 years old, many illusions remain intact and, enthusiastically, at the end of the afternoon, she dressed up in her new clothes to enjoy the Christmas dinner with her family.
When almost everything was ready, at 9:00 pm, the electricity was cut.
And that was a problem. Sofia and her family live in Maracaibo, a city where air conditioning is not a luxury, it’s essential. The capital of Zulia state boils at night and burns during the day: temperatures range from 38 to 42 Celsius degrees.
Christmas Eve went on in the midst of a vaporous inertia.
-We had to go through the festivities in the dark: dinner, receiving the gifts. We went to sleep and still no electricity. Santa came during the blackout.
When she opened her gifts, there were the skates she had asked in the letter she wrote. She put them on and tried to use them, but she fell because she had no practice. Since everything was dark, her parents told her it was better to wait until the next day. And she did.
Despite blackout in Zulia were already frequent, this time it was different: because it was Christmas Eve, it affected all the state and it lasted for 15 hours.
Sofia would not forget it.
Sofia school is located at the ground floor of her building. Months after that Christmas, the darkness ruined another party. It was July 2018 and she was having fun with her friends, sharing during the end of the school year, when the electricity was cut. She and her classmates had to bring the party to an end unexpectedly earlier: the teachers asked the parents to pick up the children.
She and her mother, María Fernanda, had to climb 220 stairs to reach the apartment in which she lives, on the 11th floor. The journey was devastating. She complained, cried.
-Mom, what is a crisis? She asked, already exhausted.
Maria Fernanda explained it as she could, while they were panting and holding onto the handrail of the staircase. When they finally arrived at the house, she felt a lot of pain in her tiny legs: they trembled. And she was very sweaty. She asked her grandma Tita – who also lives there- for water. It was not cold, but she drank it. And finally she sat down.
Then, in an impulse of creativity, she told her mother that she wanted to record a video to upload it to YouTube to tell people what it is like to live in that city so hot with so many energy blackouts. They had done a video before, when she lost one of her baby teeth.
María Fernanda, used to her daughter’s eloquence, reached for her cell phone. They both went to the girl’s room; Sofia sat on her bed, using the wall painted with pink hearts and yellow circles as background. The mother began recording and Sofia began to talk about those “hard days without electricity.”
-I decided to make this video to tell you how it is to survive in Venezuela without electricity. It’s horrible, horrible, horrible. I wish for no child like me to have this experience. Nobody, nobody, nobody. On December 24, the electricity was cut. We waited for Santa and had dinner in the dark. And still nothing has changed. Every day we have blackouts without any notice. It sounds crazy, right?
She paused and continued.
-I was dancing with my friends at a school party and during the third song the electricity was cut, when we were supposed to be happy.
Restless, Sofia was not satisfied only with talking about it: she wanted for people to see. So, they left the room and went down to the ground floor of the building: she wanted to be recorded as they went up the 11 floors to her home. For everyone could see. In effect, the mother followed her with the camera throughout the journey. The girl was sweating, she was shaking.
– This is really painful. It is a very bad experience, an ugly one. Blackout can last 4, 8 and up to 12 hours and even more
When they got back to the apartment; the father, the mother, the grandmother and the girl went down again to the parking lot taking with them plastic containers with their dinner, to eat it inside the car. Sofia also wanted to document that: when the heat is suffocating, they cool off a little with the car’s air conditioning.
-We’re inside the car in a survival mode. Eating and looking for a place where there is air conditioning.
Dad started driving. They went to a McDonald’s, nearby mall: there was no electricity.
People panic because they were locked up and wanted to knock down the doors. That situation was not recorded, because Sofia was afraid. Everyone was scared. She asked her mother what was going on and she told her that she would explain later. They managed to get out the mall, went into the car, and left.
When they returned to the apartment the power was still out. “Because blackouts happen during daylight and at nights.” The recording continued. The father turned on the flashlight on his phone so that the shots could be seen. The camera focused towards the balcony. The city was in darkness. There were some small lights that – Sofia said as if she was a reporter – came from the cars.
By the tone of her voice you could tell she was tired.
-When you thought you were going to have a peaceful day, we receive this little surprise. I get angry when there is no electricity. It concerns me. There is no cellphone signal and I’m not able to reach my mom or dad when they are working. I’m scared, I spend the whole day wondering about when a blackout is going to happen. I get restless and I want to browse on the computer and I’m always begging that please electricity is not cut out. I want to use my computer in peace, just like when blackouts didn’t occur and I was happy.
Cell phones were running out of batteries and there was no way to charge them. The end of the improvised documentary would have to wait until the next day.
Despite the lack of air conditioning, Sofia tried to sleep.
At dawn, electricity was back. Sofia, however, knew that the problem would return, so they had to resume with the recording, which would be short and forceful. They went back into the room. The girl sat for a second time on her bed, with the wall of hearts and circles as a background, and Maria Fernanda started again to record her with the camera. Natural light filtered through the window.
-Venezuela is my country, and I love it. I do not want it to continue like this because there are many things to make it a great country. And as my mom says: “It’s more important to go forward than in reverse.”
When they finished, María Fernanda was touched and her eyes filled with pride. Sofia insisted that the material must be spread out in the networks, because she wanted the world to know what she was living so the people get to know about it and somehow prevent other children to live the same. And that’s what her mom did. After editing it, María Fernanda posted the video on YouTube. It lasted 6 minutes, 58 seconds.
Sofia is on school holidays and things have not changed. On August 10, 2018 there was a blackout that lasted more than 100 hours. Every time it occurs, everyone in their house has an assigned task. Adults run to turn off the air conditioners and to disconnect the refrigerator, computer and all electrical devices, to avoid any damage. Sofia reaches out for the candles and her grandmother Tita knows how to ignite them.
-We take care of the candles so they do not wear out, they are very expensive. We put one on the dining table and we all sit down to chat. If I feel like going to the toilet, they take me with a candle. But what I really enjoy in the evening is to play stop; where you pick a letter and say a name, a surname, a thing and a color beginning with it. But since there is no electricity, it’s impossible.
If it is time to go to bed, adults take out a mattress and put it on the floor of the living room. They open the balcony window, to take advantage of the breeze, and go to sleep.
-If the electricity comes back, my mom or dad will carry me to my bed. Sometimes I do not even realize it.
But Sofia remembers many things.
She recalls when she was doing her homework, they had to illuminate her with a candle or with a cell phone flashlight.
– My fear was that not being able to do things right and not being promoted to the 4th grade, because I could not do the homework properly.
She remembers that she used to go to the movies a lot, but once there was a blackout in the middle of the film, and since then she has not returned.
-We were watching the movie and, puff, electricity went out.
She also remembers that she used to have fun using her mom’s cellphone to record herself singing karaoke and dancing or to watch youtubers.
-I never thought that we will be living without electricity. Who can be thinking about that? Now, I want everything to be as it was before. That my mom and I go back to the cinema and spend time together. Go shopping, watch movies, laugh, make jokes. Many things. But so many things have changed. Maybe all this will change too, right?
I want everything to change today, now, fast, very fast. I want to sleep and wake up, and find out that everything has changed.
Sofia is a kid, and kids, always, have hope.
Translation: Josefina Blanco
The girl’s name was changed to protect her identity.
This story is part of the “The Children of the Crisis” series, which was written in association with the Community Learning Centre (CECODAP, by its Spanish acronym)
"Andar con los otros en busca de uno mismo", con esta frase la maestra Ginna Morelo define al periodismo. La tomé para mí, porque yo no podría ser otra cosa que periodista.