The View from Underneath

Halwaz is in a makeshift bar in Caracas, Venezuela. The beer kegs, the bar itself, the glasses and the seats are made of Gu which is showing signs of having morphed too many times; it is dull and a little spongy. She is talking to several men of a mixture of races. They have no greyware (they all carry cheap portable netphones), and the entire scene is from her perspective. She is present in person.

"So you all make your living hiring out Gu?" you ask.

The men speak Spanish, but there is simultaneous translation.

"Yes, we hire to the guristas," says Ramón. "That is what we call them." He spits expressively onto the floor. "Caracas food is famous in all the world, but they do not eat here. They give no restaurant jobs, no hotel jobs - you cannot even rob them or sell them drugs."

The other men laugh. "Don't listen to him," says Julio. "He's just in a bad mood because his wife is sick and needs the bed, so there is less Gu for him to hire."

"You hire out the Gu you use in your homes?" you ask.

"What other Gu would we hire out? We are poor men. My wife, she works across the city, so she gets up early and rides the Gu to the centre, then when New York wakes up - it is almost the same time there as here - there it is for some gurista to hire."

"Do you think life was better before Gu, or after?"

The men look at each other. Léon answers, "Let me tell you. When I was a little boy, my father had no work, but also we had no Gu. We had very little in our homes, no way to travel around except by walking. Then came the factory jobs and my father had work for a while. We ate better and I went to school. Then the factories closed. They said it was because of Gu. People in North America were not buying what the factories made, because they had this magic thing Gu that could be anything they wanted. I hated Gu for a while. When it first came here I wanted nothing to do with it. But it is only a thing, after all, and now it is my living. You know what I'm trying to say?"

"Would you rather have a factory job like your father?"

They laugh. "Lady, what would you rather do: work hard in a factory all day, or hire out to the guristas and drink here in the bar?"

Cut to the interior of a slum dwelling. It is largely a bare room. Maria, Léon's wife, is sitting on the floor on a cushion of worn-out Gu, talking to Halwaz.

"Of course I would rather he had work. It is no good for a man, to sit and drink with his worthless friends all day. But what can I say? There is no work that he could do. At least he runs the business himself, not like that Luis, he makes his wife do that too. Me, I work in a restaurant kitchen. Not everyone who comes to Caracas comes as a gurista." She smiles, and you feel a sense of relief - presumably that Halwaz had made the right decision by being present in person.

"And has Gu improved your lives? Or made them worse?"

"Well, who can say just one or the other? Gu provides money for us, but they say it made the factories close. I remember my father, just sitting and drinking - not like Léon, he is cheerful, he is with his friends, but my father, he was alone, and sad, and then he would grow angry and sometimes he would beat us. I went with Léon when he asked me because I could not stand to be in that house, so hopeless."

"Do you have hope for the future?"

"Of course I have hope for the future, I am a mother. My little girl, she is so smart, she is in the netschool and she is learning to design. Making things, there is no money in that, but designing them, for that you can still get money. My boy, he worries me, he is like his father, he says to his sister, 'Why do you work hard? We can live easy, look at Papa.' I tell him to have ambition and he asks if I do not respect his father. What can I say?"

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1 Response to The View from Underneath

  1. Mike Reeves-McMillan says:

    The idea here is that just as cheap manufacturing has moved from Japan to Korea and then to China and into other Asian nations, eventually they will all have bootstrapped themselves up into service economies and it will be the turn of a (somewhat more stable) Latin America to be the world’s manufacturing region. Then along comes Gu, before the Latin economies can get very far through the cycle, and knocks them back down again. My father taught with a guy from Venezuela, and “You know what I’m trying to say?” was one of his characteristic phrases. I have to note here that my Spanish is just good enough to read most of a Mexican menu and count from 1 to 10; if anyone has any hints for making the dialogue here more authentic, I’d welcome them.

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