A home for Alvaro
“My daughter is a musician,” were Alvaro’s proud words as we shared a taxi into Caracas. He was the program coordinator for the Witness for Peace delegation that I had come to Venezuela to attend.
“Oh?” I asked, “What does she play?”
“Drums, mostly.” I nodded politely, but I confess, my inner cynic was sniping: Yeah, sure. Everyone’s kid is a brilliant drummer, just like everyone’s kid is a young Picasso. But a few days later, during which Alvaro manouvered, facilitated, and orchestrated our Venezuelan experience with virtuoso skill, something happened that made me question my snark.
We were in his hometown of Barquisimeto, so his wife and daughter had joined us for dinner. While we waited for the pollo to become asado, Alvaro thumped out a rhythm on the table top with fingers and palms.
His daughter, a five year old cherub with more than a sliver of impishness in her smile, looked at his hands for a moment. Maybe a moment and a half. Then her tiny hands were thumping the tabletop too, in perfect sync with her father. I was impressed; maybe she was a musician after all.
The delegation proceeded to the hill town of Sanare, where Alvaro wrangled meetings with women’s co-operatives, community organizers, and the local radio station. One afternoon I rode with him to run a couple errands, and he pointed out the chaotic scribble of thick black wire that hung on the electrical poles.
“People connect their own wires to steal electricity. Then the power company comes by, installs meters on the lines, and starts charging them. It works, because they don’t have to do all the wiring themselves, saving everyone money and time.”
How’s that for a capsule of Venezuela: people doing what they can to get by, using their own wiles and agency, and a pragmatic government that works with things the way they are to bring everyone into the system. I was marveling at that when we stopped so Alvaro could go run a mysterious errand. “Eh…wait here, okay?” was all he said.
The next day was Simon Bolivar’s birthday, and you’d better believe Venezuela takes notice of The Liberator’s cumpleaños. I sat down to dinner after watching the town celebrate in the tidy plaza, and Alvaro’s secret errand was revealed when he carried out a massive birthday cake. It was birthday season, I guess, since in our five person delegation, two of us had birthdays that week as well. Kathy and I shared space among strawberries with Simon. Birthday solidarity; how wonderfully Venezuelan.
Every coastal province in Venezuela has its own Afro-Venezuelan traditions and heritage, with particular rhythms, songs, and drums. This community center performed them all. Grinning faces, welcoming words, and flashing hands from throughout the community piled into the room, and the drumbeats, singing, and guitar chords rose to the rafters.
My cheeks were already sore with enthusiasm, and my foot tingled from ceaseless tapping, when Alvaro’s daughter climbed up to sit on a drum far larger than she was. I thought it was sweet that everyone would indulge the five year old, but then she started playing.
Por dios! He wasn’t kidding, she IS a musician! She thumped and thwacked right along with the best of them, pixie grins breaking out only between songs, as the music filled the night, almost as loudly as the welcome.
I am indebted to Alvaro for all his hard work, both with our delegation and with his community center, which also organizes a massive summer camp for local kids every year. And I just genuinely like the man.
That made it that much worse when I heard that Alvaro’s house collapsed a couple days ago. He, his wife, and their daughter are now on the street in Barquisimeto, and need help raising the funds to rebuild their home.
If you can spare anything to help, I urge you to do so. This is a good man, doing good work, and I have seen firsthand how selfless he is, working tirelessly without pay for his community. Please see his fundraising page at: A Home for Alvaro.