Thursday. My one chance in the week to buy staples—cooking oil, rice, laundry detergent—at state-set prices. All Venezuelan adults are assigned days of the week to shop for regulated goods based on the numbers on our national ID cards. My days are Sundays and Thursdays. Sundays are useless, though. Stores stopped selling regulated goods over the weekend a long time ago. Thursdays are only marginally more useful. For the past several months, the lines at the two supermarkets near my house in eastern Caracas have been so long, stretching out for two blocks, that it’d take hours to get a chance to shop. And then there’s no guarantee I’ll find anything once inside.
Still, I drive by the supermarkets in the morning to give them a quick look. No chance. They’re so jam-packed, there isn’t even a spot to park. I keep going. My reporting assignment on this day will take me to several parts of the city, so, of course, I’ll be on the prowl for something, anything I can take back to my two kids—an eight-year-old boy and ten-year-old girl—and husband Isaac.
I step into a pharmacy. Isaac is running low on his cholesterol medication. His doctor has prescribed him Vytorin or Hiperlipen. The store has neither. But wait, the pharmacist says: there’s a lab in India that just cut a deal with the government to supply medicine here; they produce an anti-cholesterol pill. I don’t like the idea at all—who knows what this stuff is?—but it’s better, I figure, than taking the risk that he’ll run out of medicine. I grab four boxes.
Around midday, I swing by a bakery in search of bread. I’m greeted, impatiently, by a young woman. “We only sell bread at 5 p.m., señora.” On my way out, I notice a sign on the front door that I somehow missed on my way in: “NO BREAD.” As I get back in my car, I realize I’m low on cash. I head to a nearby ATM. It’s out of money.
But later, as my day’s winding down, I stumble upon a little treasure. At a local kiosk, I spot a generic, lactose-based product. It isn’t quite milk—that’s almost impossible to find—but it’s worth a try. Maybe the kids will like it. I walk away with two bottles in my hand and a huge smile on my face.