In Search Of A Better Life
Yesterday Omar and I had the opportunity to dine with Nakarlin, our new friend from Venezuela. She is a delightful young lady who works at the hostel and has been very nice to us during our stay. We wanted to show our appreciation by taking her to dinner, and we were also very interested hearing about her life in Venezuela and what motivated her to relocate to Panama.
You probably know some of the basic facts about Venezuela. The country has been in free fall since 2014 and is not expected to grow anytime soon. Low oil prices, lack of domestic manufacturing, and structural weaknesses have severely impacted their economy. They forecast the economy will shrink by 9% this year, and forecast another 3% decline next year. The estimated inflation rate I found from a Google search suggests that Venezuela’s rate is among the highest in the world, well over 200%. The government does not appear to have a clue how to pull the economy out of the mess it is in, so instead it is clamping down on its citizens and attempting to restrict a mass exodus of its middle class.
With severe shortages of basic products, inflation sky high, and no relief in sight, large numbers of Venezuelans have left their homeland in search of a better life abroad. Nakarlin is one of those people.
In July of 2016, Nakarlin completed a nursing program at the Venezuelan university she attended, but the salary for a nurse in Venezuela was barely enough to live on. A short time after graduation she decided to take her chances in Panama. Here she has been employed at the hostel doing a job unrelated to her training or her career aspirations. However, this unskilled job pays more than a nursing position in Venezuela.
Nakarlin left behind her entire family and knows no one here in Panama other than the people she works with at the hostel. The three people she misses the most are her daughter, mother, and sister in Venezuela, but stays in touch with them daily through text messages and WhatsApp. She says that she cries every now and again because she misses them so much.
Currently her life is pretty much consumed by work (six days a week), and traveling back and forth to the apartment where she lives.
Although the move to Panama has its advantages, it also has its challenges. She can’t practice nursing until she has lived here for at least a year., at which time she will then have the challenge of finding a nursing position. However, returning to Venezuela does not appear to be an option as she fears possible difficulties with the government if she returned.
Nakarlin is just one of several Venezuelans we have met in Panama that are in a similar situation. From what we have read in the local papers there are tens of thousands of recent immigrants from Venezuela in the country. There are so many recent immigrants that the local Panamanians are beginning to the feel pressure on their job prospects and have started pushing the Panamanian government to control the influx.
We also asked Nakarlin what she thought about us riding our motorcycles into Venezuela. She was quite emphatic in her response. She said that we would be crazy to go there. The nation is in such a state of decline that no one is safe and we would surely have our motorcycles, and anything else of value stolen.
We hope to stay in touch with Nakarlin during our journeys to South America and perhaps see her again on our return trip through Panama.