Lessons from a broken Venezuelan toilet seat

THE ONLY THING MORE embarrassing than breaking a toilet seat, is breaking a toilet seat in a country where it costs several times more than it does in the U.S.

Take it from a guilty party.

Our flight from the decaying Valencia airport was set to leave in a few hours. My mom had packed for my careless 12-year-old self in exchange for a promise that I would load the car. I had fulfilled my end of the bargain, and the car was now moving.

Sebastian Alfonzo, St. Paul Central Senior High School

Earlier that morning, exhausted, I had entered the bathroom and sat down on the plastic toilet seat, just like I do in Minnesota. A loud crack from the seat shook me awake. I thought the zigzag crack looked well done at first, like something you’d seen on nice pot­tery. I walked out of the bathroom as quickly as I could and left the seat broken.

My family left Venezuela in 2004. Being 5 years old at the time, I didn’t realize what I was leaving. My mom comes from a family of six and my dad from a family of four, most of whom live in Venezuela with their own families. We have visited a few times since our move.

Back in the car, I noticed young children outside dressed in dirty clothes, selling candy bars rather than sitting in a classroom. Dogs missing patches of hair with eyes so red their pupils were lost.

My cousin was once attacked on a busy street for her flip phone. My aunt and her family were held at gunpoint for the valuables in their car. I wasn’t just leaving the danger and the poverty, I was leaving my family. I was fortunate enough to leave for “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” while they had to stay and face the barrel.

As I boarded the plane later that day, I was relieved to be escaping. I could be one of those children selling candy bars on the street. I could be paying $80 for toilet seats.

As that thought concluded, a bigger part of me stepped up and decided that being relieved wasn’t acceptable. I was leaving the situation, but that did not make it any less real for any of my family, or for the millions of people living in Venezuela.

I looked around the plane. On board I saw families, men, women with the same exhausted look I saw on my mother’s face. I wasn’t the only one dealing with these emotions of hopelessness, I was just new to them.

That’s the last time I’ve been to Venezuela. Since then, I’ve become more educated on the situation there. I am thankful to have grown up in the U.S., where I have the resources and tools to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

At the same time, I’ve learned that just because I am no longer in Venezuela doesn’t make me any less responsible to do something about the situation there. I need to take it upon myself to work for change, because many in need don’t always have the tools to do so. I should not be cynical, because that would be truly ungrateful.

The perspective that trip provided me is one I take into everything I do. I want to make things better for others, and I believe I can.

When I return to Venezuela, whether it be a year from now or a decade from now, I will bring the tools necessary to make people’s lives better – and a carry-on full of toilet seats.