Filling 10-kilogram gas cylinder costs 20 bolivars, about four dollars. It can last about 20 days. The 18-kilogram gas cylinder can be acquired for 28 bolivars through the Mayor’s Office, but when this does not happen, the budget and currency of payment varies, which implies disbursing about 12 dollars.
The preparation and sale of food as means of subsistence is common on the island. María Gabriela, Betty’s daughter, makes about 100 tequeños daily. In the morning she is in charge of cooking, and in the afternoon, she must walk carrying the tequeños for sale about two kilometers to El Toro, the capital of the Almirante Padilla municipality. There, she sits on a busy street to secure customers.
«If I don’t sell the tequeños, we don’t eat,» says the woman. Usually, there are good days, and with the profits, she can secure the day’s food. But when that is not the case, María Gabriela returns home, and the tequeños become food for her family.
Her sister-in-law, Francia Espina, also prepares coconut, pineapple, banana, and guava sweets. Her husband helps her sell them. Every day, the man walks a couple of kilometers from his house, in Las Cabeceras, to the Campamento sector to offer the neighbors the dessert of the day.
Otherwise, they would not be able to subsist. The monthly income of Francia, a practicing teacher, together with her husband’s retirement pension, add up to about 300 bolivars a month, which they must manage carefully to buy drinking water, food, natural gas, and ingredients for sweets. «We have to do magic with that,» says the couple.
Every bolivar counts
Despite qualifying them as insufficient to cover their needs, the Espinas are relieved to receive the bonuses granted by the national government through the homeland card (Carnet de la Patria). It all adds up, they say. Although they do not receive the bonuses frequently, the amounts can vary between 7.00 and 45.00 bolivars.
The higher bonuses may yield a couple of days to alleviate household expenses, especially for the food purchases they must make daily. They mostly consume rice, flour, grains, and tubers. If people want to eat animal protein, they must turn to fish due to the high costs of other animal proteins, such as meat, chicken, or eggs, which make them difficult to access.
They usually eat twice a day, and sometimes only once. It all depends on the family’s financial resources. In this context, the few grocery stores on Toas Island have bio payment, a system that facilitates the exchange of state aid for food.
But in these few establishments they cannot buy all the items they need, and often their prices are higher compared to those offered in Mara. Therefore, families often have to travel to this municipality about 15 minutes from the island to access food.