We call it mango season. It occurs every year in the dry season when fruit begins to fall from the trees, bountiful and generous to those who are hungry. In Venezuela this past year, its arrival has been highly heralded, as the pandemic eliminates more access to basic necessities in a country plagued by poverty and a deep crisis. The United Nations World Food Program reports that one-third of Venezuela’s population suffers from food insecurity. The pandemic has left us especially vulnerable to a hit economy. Fuel shortages are frequent and stop food distribution. Job opportunities do exist, but they are almost non-existent. The dollar is the king’s currency, and very few people earn in dollars.
During compulsory confinement, when COVID-19 hits, all commitments are suspended and lives are quoted. This was at first – and I had so much time that I sat with my dad in his garden to watch the grass grow (literally). Gradually, the need to eat, provide, and work shakes us into a new consciousness. Need forces us to reassess what tools are available for survival.
What everyone can rely on is nature, with mango season among the gifts it gives. We depend a lot on mangoes. Before the crisis, there were too many of them and we threw them in the trash; now we collect them all. The lucky ones among us who can afford sugar make mango jelly, and those who have flour make mangoes crumble. People today also eat a lot of bananas, plantains and papayas, and use wild herbs to flavor simple foods such as rice and beans and corn flour arepas. We grow peppers in our backyard.
I created this image while walking through the streets of Caracas, the capital, and small towns. One thing I have observed in my long trips is that most Venezuelan people eat less than two meals a day. People wake up in the morning so they can skip breakfast and go straight to lunch. The scarcity of water made us bathe in a nearby river; water plants are not working to capacity. All of this eloquently speaks of the mismanagement of national resources, but also shows how people solve everyday problems through sheer volition and creativity. This time, when the economy stalled, as it often does, we looked outside and understood that our only chance was to get back to our roots.
Andrea Hernández Briceño is a Venezuelan photographer and National Geographic Explorer based in Caracas. The project was completed with support from the National Geographic Society’s Emergency Fund for Journalists.
Photo editing by Chloe Coleman. Design by Clare Ramirez.
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