Inside Petare – Not Your Average Slum House

Dubbed as “the murder capital of the world” and notorious for it’s soaring crime rate, Caracas has endured the great mountainous landscape of Petare for the last few decades. Struck by poverty, people have built their homes (benchmarking “jenga”) one on top of another with no real solid structure and with whatever materials they could afford or get their hands on. People avoid coming here at any cost, especially paying the price with their lives whether for ransom or a funeral. Walking through these houses with hesitation, I wondered if at some point one of them would just slip and fall on my head!

Angela is the head of her household and a successful entrepreneur in the heart of Latin America’s largest, most dangerous slums. Petare. Her business is exceptionally interesting in the recent shortage crisis faced by the entire nation. And her house? Well, nothing like I imagined before stepping in through the front door…

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With a shop selling basic goods such as detergent, sugar, rice, corn flour, beans and other essential products that are missing from supermarkets in the city, business is always thriving for Angela. I cash in a smile as she juggles many titles between the house and the shop (built inside the house). “I have six sons. One of them is a bus driver”, she tells me. And that bus belongs to her. She sure knows how to generate income and keep the family busy. Then she offers me a drink and refuses the money I pay her. Wow. She really must be doing well.

It was time for a grand tour. I followed Angela’s daughter and her two grandchildren up the stairs, keen to see more. As we reached the top floor, I was astonished to find a set of Sony speakers bigger than any I had seen elsewhere in the city. The first thing that popped to mind was, ‘how on earth did they afford all this?’ Well, Latin people love blasting their music on the streets, especially in the slums, they told me as I fixed my eyes on the verandas lined up in the neighbourhood. But, it really didn’t make any sense to me. Because the numbers… Just. Didn’t. Add. Up!

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I followed a trail onto the roof where wet clothes hang drying in the dazzling sun, plants reached out toward the light and I was trembling at such a height. Overlooking the entire neighbourhood, I could never get over the concrete mountains that stole the shades of this city. Blue plastic tanks stood in a corner ready to reserve rainwater since there was a scarcity of water throughout the city and it was being rationed in almost every household.

A rainbow candy river caught my gaze as I entered the bedroom filled with what seemed like a thousand plush toys and a real cat perched on the bed in the midst of them all. They were not just your ordinary teddies, but really good quality ones. Except the cat, of course!

With the average minimum wage of about 7000 bolivares equating to $10 a month according to the current rate of inflation, sourcing these goods on that income seemed impossible. So how does she manage? What was she doing to earn the level of income that would bring in these luxuries? I couldn’t help doubting the authenticity of her earnings, especially after hearing about the endless criminal activity scattered all over town. I decided to ask her.

“Thanks to God, I have a good life here and everything I need”, she tells me when amusement fills my face as I finish taking in the sight surrounding me. This is definitely not what I thought a slum house in Petare would look like. A lot of houses I passed seemed less flamboyant compared to where I was standing. This was an exceptional home and clearly stood out from the rest. She seemed genuine, very hardworking and so did her family. Well, they hadn’t kidnapped me. Not yet at least, right? That really taught me. Don’t judge a slum by it’s cover! Or should you?

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Sarah Begum

Adventurer. Filmmaker. Explorer. Presenter.

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