A New Life

Sunshine, sunshine and yet more sunshine; especially when we leave our own countries in winter. The contrast seems magical. Like everything else in life once we get used to it, it all becomes ordinary. The sun rises every day at six and goes down every day at six because we are very close to the equator. There is no winter here. We have a rainy season instead, only we never know how much we are going to have here, sometimes very little, other times so much that it blinds us to everything else just as if we were surrounded by a turbulent sea. When the rain is sparse it alternates with sunny days. The Venezuelans call this “Un dia de invierno”, that is, “A day of winter”. They take every advantage to soak themselves in the rain.

We expatriots all have a small bar in our houses and go straight to it as soon as the sun has gone down. There is something in the tropics that makes us think we need alcohol at that time. We both enjoy a gin-and-tonic with bitters and ice-cubes. Sometimes we have two, but that is rare. It becomes a ritual mark for the end of work and the beginning of leisure, especially for the men. Some of us stay at home, others might go out to the old part of Maracaibo, usually to enjoy an evening meal in one of the small restaurants where the sea-food is superb as we are very close to Lake Maracaibo. We might make for the spacious and comfortable club-house with a large swimming pool beside it. We all resort to our favourite pastimes: some go to the club-house to talk with each other and exchange information, and from time to time to watch new films, dance to different kinds of music and play games such as bridge, bingo or darts.

We all have live-in maids, with few exceptions. The heat is so intense that doing housework is too much for most of us. Our children are in safe hands because Venezuelans love them, the men as much as the women. We have American supermarkets that we have never seen before and we can leave the children at home which makes it easy to shop. My view about children is changing, now I see so many of the little beings running cheerfully about. I am beginning to think I would like a child. One of my many motives is that it is much easier to take care of infants in the tropics: not having to spend hours dressing and undressing them in the winter as we have to do at home.

Mother Nature made up my mind for me. When I became pregnant, I was one of the lucky ones in that I felt very well throughout the nine months. This was so with all my three children. They all came late, not early. For the first time in my life since my earliest childhood I felt completely relaxed and carefree. I have always had a tendency to worry about the future except during those times.

Once my first son was born, my second maid went around looking very grumpy. I asked her what the matter was. To my astonishment She said “You won’t let me look after the baby when you go shopping”. Her face lit up when I said I would be pleased to let her do so. The butcher in the supermarket congratulated me when he noticed that my baby had been born. “I hope that you are breast-feeding him. It is much the best food for the child!” In no way could I imagine a butcher saying such a thing in England. I loved the feeling of the value of family that I had never noticed at home.

For the first time in my life I didn’t have to worry about money. The furniture was all provided by Shell. We had washing machines and all kinds of electrical equipment we had never seen before. At that time in Great Britain nearly everything had to be done by hand. Washing clothes was particularly onerous.

I went shopping in the car and soon got used to the way the native people and some of the foreigners drove. I had to keep my eyes wide open in every direction.

I had never learned to cook in England because of the strictness of the rationing system. I bought an American cookery book because most of the food products came from America and they had different ways of measuring quantities. I went mad with excitement. I tried two or three new recipes every day. I did all the cooking myself because I wanted to and also because the maids all preferred their habitual dishes. In most families the mother would cook and the maid waited till we had finished and then cooked her own.

My elder son nearly died when he was born and for a long time he ate very little. After we had eaten he would wait until the maid had cooked her dinner, then asked for some of hers. He learned to eat fried plantain bananas and many other foods that were native to Venezuela . When we went on leave in one of the finest of liners, he asked the waiter for fried bananas, bacon and orange juice. Naturally there were no fried bananas so he lived on bacon and orange juice.

He looked so frail sometimes that I was quite worried about him. He was still eating little in his teens. I can hardly believe this big, strong, fifty seven year old man grew from such delicate beginnings. When he was twenty-five he married a wife of Greek descent who is a splended cook of mostly mediterranean foods and he has eaten well ever since.