Deviled Ham Arepas by Nidal Barake (2014)
Arepa with Diablitos
Written in March 2014. Caracas, Venezuela.
A few weeks ago, one Sunday morning, I decided to drive to Maiquetía airport to pick up my mother, who would be in Caracas for a couple of days, staying with me in my apartment. While driving, listening to The Flaming Lips, I thought it had been a long time since I last went personally to pick up someone from the airport, instead of sending a driver, thinking that it is one of the things that one would only do for his own mother. The main reason for my mom's visit to Caracas was to attend her appointment at the North American Consulate to renew her tourist visa, not knowing that a couple of weeks later the US Embassy would cancel Visa applications due to the current political situation in Venezuela (March 2014), which coupled with the announcement of the Embassy of the United Kingdom indicating that as of May Venezuelans will need a visa to enter the United Kingdom, it made me think that it would not be the only doors that would be closed for the Venezuelans.
Once in Caracas, the first thing we did was go through a supermarket to buy some food, since my refrigerator and pantry are not characterized by having an abundant amount of options for daily meals. I mean, there is Sobrasada from Mallorca, Honey with Italian truffles, Stilton cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London (fortunately bought from a recent trip, when Venezuelans could go to London without a Visa), and many spices from Lima, Mexico City and Beirut. But no, there were no fruits and vegetables, bread, eggs, Venezuelan fresh cheeses, pasta, or any simple food, after all, there are few meals that I do at home, and the ones I do, are generally planned and they involve a purchase of the necessary ingredients. Therefore, a stop at the supermarket to buy some supplies for the next 3 days was mandatory, and once there, we made the purchase of rigor, not necessarily with what we wanted, but with what was available, because these days brand loyalty has disappeared, and the market leader is the one who manages to place their product on the shelf. Once at the cash register, when I removed the things from the cart to put them on the cashier, I realized that my mother had included two cans of “Diablitos” (deviled ham) in her selection. She is always on a diet and the last time I ate Diablitos was during my early adolescence, when I was still living in my parents' house, therefore, I assumed that including Diablitos in our shopping was more a nostalgic impulse for my mom to be at the supermarket with her son (this time I was not inside the cart, with my feet hanging in the air), than a nutritional need. Those days passed with relative tranquility, fortunately my mother was able to go to the consulate at the scheduled time despite the barricades scattered around the city, commandos of the National Guard near the Plaza Altamira, and an air of uncertainty and anxiety. A couple of days later early morning we said goodbye, I was going abroad and she would return that same afternoon to Maracaibo.
One morning a couple of weeks later, I was back in Caracas from one of my usual trips in which I combine work with planned lunches and dinners. Osiris arrived very early, she goes home every Thursday to wash clothes, change the sheets and do the cleaning work of rigor (especially the bathrooms), then iron while watching the soap opera. Usually Osiris arrives after I am gone to the office, but that morning she arrived earlier than usual, we had coffee together, and while we chatted, she took out a package of Harina PAN from the refrigerator, and set out to make some arepas with eggs for the breakfast. And although Harina PAN is present in every Venezuelan pantry, the presence of a package in my fridge was almost casual, I do not remember when I had bought it, I live alone so there is not a large family that sits every morning with a basket of freshly baked arepas, and my intake basically consists of going on Saturdays to the market in Los Palos Grandes to eat Arepa Pelá at Argenis’ stall. I usually have two, one with Reina Pepiada with Queso de Mano, and one with pork ribs. Therefore, being at home with Osiris eating a freshly made arepa was a rarity, a good one, but rare after all. Obviously, as part of her usual generosity (I want to think that it is generosity and not pity), she left me two more arepas, kept in a "tupperware", to eat them later.
That day was one of those with a full agenda, a morning full of meetings (after all, it was almost two weeks since I was in the office in Caracas), a quick lunch at Peppone Trattoria (they have meatball specials on Thursdays) and a “mototaxi” (motorcycle taxi ride) drive to Las Mercedes to drop some documents. I had to do everything very fast because as usual, at about 4pm the protesters would come to the Plaza Altamira to raise their voice against scarcity, inflation and insecurity, then they would be brutally repressed by the Guardia Nacional and the state police with a shower of gas bombs (and some bullets), and at 8pm everything would be in "total and absolute normality", as Jose Vicente Rangel would have said. On the way back, I decided to stop at home, because the need to brush my teeth, change my shirt (which I recommend doing after riding a mototaxi at noon in Caracas) and having a coffee, was imperative. Upon entering and passing through the kitchen, I noticed the "tupperware" where since that morning two arepas were resting, still soft and warm. I took the container, opened the fridge to store it, and my eyes, automatically and inexplicably, focused on the lower left corner, where a can of Diablitos rested, forgotten. I looked at the Diablitos can, and at the arepas container in my left hand (I mentioned that they were still warm and soft), and I thought, impaled in front of the refrigerator, or maybe I did not think at all, maybe my mind was blank, but I'm sure that a part of my brain was processing the information.
On that day, thinking that I should leave soon to arrive to my meeting in the office, I was sitting on the sofa in my living room (integrated into the kitchen, it is a small apartment), alone, waiting for the Nespresso machine to stop flashing, and devouring in a hurry like someone who has not eaten in days. I ate quickly, I ate and I only thought about the circumstances that had led me to be there, in that situation, eating an arepa with Diablitos.