Milk is Milk

A few days ago my mom was able to find and of course, buy, a litter of skimmed milk. I looked at it as it was a treasure, as the special ice cream my dad used to buy me once a week when I was a kid or the imported chocolate and cookies someone brought home on a few occasions after marvellous and exotic trips. But it wasn’t anything exotic really, it was nothing special, it was milk – Can you think on something more common than milk? –and is not just any milk but skimmed milk (that for me is the “real milk”).

The bad part of the story is that this milk was of an unfamiliar brand. If I could choose I would drink “mi vaca” instead of “La pastoreña” but the brand does not matter anymore. A litter of skimmed milk, of any brand it was something I haven’t seen in months, and just placed there in my fridge as it was any other of the days before the shortages (that started last year in February and increased specially in September) was simply a piece of heaven for me.

Milk is real hard – if not impossible – to find in my country these days. And if you can find any it is always some odd brand of nasty powder creamy milk. The thing is that before the shortages, in my family we only drank skimmed milk so my stomach has been having a hard time on getting used to others kind of milk after drinking skimmed milk daily for 23 years… so more often than not I avoid the morning coffee and the night “toddy” (a Venezuelan mix of chocolate powder, the greatest drink ever) that used to be an inevitable part of my routine, as inevitable as washing my teeth.

So when my mom showed me the littler of skimmed milk, I measure carefully how much of it would I drop in my cup, then heat it in the microwave and mix it with two or three tea spoons or Toddy and then drink it slowly; for the first time in weeks, like it was a glass of the best wine. Real toddy made with real milk. I thought I was a very lucky Venezuelan at the moment. Just a few days after that the president declared that the skimmed milk should be forbidden because it is a stupid rich privilege and we have to get used to the normal milk.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly your life can change? I must be inside a Revolution, if one day I see as a one time in a lifetime pleasure what it used to be routine, what I used to take for granted.

Yesterday, my boss left the office for a few minutes to go to the supermarket. Soon she call us to let us know that in the supermarket where she was at there were some cans of powder milk available – “They only let you take 4 cans per person so if you want milk you must come” – She gave permission to everyone at the office to go and buy milk and no one doubted for a second about going and buy as many cans as they could. Again it was an unfamiliar brand but like I said earlier, no one here can afford the luxury to care about brands anymore. Its just been a few months, but the shortages can be so dramatic that you immediately get used to live with the words “Milk is milk” and “Coffee is coffee” in the back of your head, impossible to have the pleasure to care about brands and types.

When was the last time you entered a supermarket and just choose? Just entered there, picked some cans, debate between “Café Madrid” or “Café Fama de América” and bought as many bags as you wanted? When was the last time you did not saw a sign in the shelves of the supermarket telling you things like “only two small bottles of mayonnaise per person”?

My co- workers are from very different social classes, you could say. The secretary and the lady who cleans live in a very poor area of Caracas while I live in a more comfortable and safe one. But the shortages touch us in the exact same way. “You can’t find any rice on any supermarket of Antímano” – My secretary told me today. Antímano is a very poor area, almost totally filled by shanty towns. But you can’t find any rice on the supermarkets of more upper class areas as well, and if you can as Daniel pointed out on his post about shortages it is only of one brand and almost for sure, a very lousy one. This is quite a nice socialism, a socialism were the hunger and the scarce make us all equal.

Speaking about shortages is more than speaking about how difficult or impossible it is to find what we need to eat; for many – some more than others – it is also about how difficult it is to find what they need to live. I have two aunts to put as an example who make sweets, cakes and stuff like that for sell. That’s their business, that at least help them to pay the bills. Imagine what is like to keep such a business in a country were there is a several sugar shortage since early February of 2007.

In the meantime, the TV shows my president throwing some powder milk over a table while he’s speaking about the wonders of the “Venezuelan milk”, oh and specially, the “Venezuelan milk available”. The image simply brook my senses. You could say its only one can of milk: it won’t make a difference, and it won’t solve the shortages. But for me was more than that, the milk just displayed over his table like it was trash when it is actually now a treasure hard to find, just showed me the way Chavez rules… as he throws the milk away, he throws other things with the same act of disrespect to the ones who – unfortunately – once put him on power.