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Making do in Venezuela


Making do in Venezuela

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Cloth diapers, baking soda to make deodorant and vinegar to mop the floor.

That’s not the shopping list of an eco-friendly hipster, it’s how an increasing number of resourceful Venezuelans are making do in a time of severe shortages.

With the South American country entering what looks to be a third year of empty store shelves amid a deepening economic crisis, Venezuelans are turning to old-timey, all-natural methods to replace their favourite products.

At a smog-choked makeshift market under a downtown overpass, street vendors compare their preferred method of keeping the insects away, now that DEET bug spray is all but extinct here. The matter has taken on new urgency as a painful mosquito-borne illness, chikungunya, sweeps the country.

One peddler says she cooks up a clove-scented oil and puts it near her windows. Another uses Vitamin B lotion as repellent. And a bank attendant doing a bit of shopping chimes in that she burns citronella candles.

Lilian Ribas, who makes a living selling loudly coloured tank-tops and hot pants, burns a coil of chrysanthemum incense to protect herself and her two sons. It’s not a question of health or environmental concern, but of making do.

“Here, you just have to use what you find. There’s no more question of choice,” she said.

Home to the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela is nothing if not a consumerist culture, despite the anti-materialist ideology proffered by the nation’s 14-year-old socialist revolution.

In the 1970s, Venezuelan shoppers in Miami earned the nickname “dame dos”, Spanish for “give me two”. And with the highest per-capita gas consumption in Latin America, the country isn’t about to win any recognition for its environmentalism.

But that same oil-dependence has led to a cycle of booms and busts that make Venezuelans especially adept at improvising during tough times.

To get the creative juices flowing, blogs and newspapers have begun running instructions for making everything from vinegar-based cleaning products to condensed milk using ingredients that are still available, either because they’re made locally or an importer has worked out a deal.

Alicia Colmenarie, a retired preschool teacher, blends baking soda with lemon to make a deodorant stand-in for herself and her teenage daughter. She reminisced about her nice-smelling, quick-drying Dove antiperspirant while clutching a half dozen eucalyptus stalks she’d bought at the market to burn at home as a mosquito repellent.

A few blocks away, a saleswoman in a children’s store had just re-stocked a display of cloth diapers. Clerks say the diapers sell out every month lately, as the disposable alternative becomes harder to find.

“People are having to go back to the old ways,” saleswoman Eufrocena Meneses said.

“I had my daughter 32 years ago, and I always used cloth diapers and washed them,” replied co-worker Carmen De Leal, arms crossed. “Now the women have gotten lazy.”