Luis Alfonso is among the last remaining residents in La Torre David in Caracas [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]
From: The Slum

Venezuela: A home in the sky

The world’s highest residential slum is bidding farewell to its last residents, but what awaits them in the world below?

As part of the ‘Where I live’ series, the Al Jazeera Magazine asked people from around the world how their lives have been influenced by where they live. Meet Luis Alfonso, one of the last remaining residents of La Torre in Caracas, Venezuela.

Luis Alfonso observes the horizon through a glassless window in ‘La Torre David’, or The Tower of David, a 45-storey building in downtown Caracas. Once imagined as a modern financial centre, it has instead become the world’s highest residential slum.

Alfonso can see every detail of every corner of Caracas from here, although he has barely walked the streets below in the few months he has been in town – not even to buy the supplies he needs to make the food that reminds him of his homeland. As he looks off into the distance, the man from the coastal city of Cartagena in Colombia says: “I dream a lot. Miss, a lot. I dream to distract myself, to imagine, to occupy my mind so it doesn’t dwell on bad things.”

He day-dreams as he walks along La Torre David’s 17th floor, where he sits to feel the breeze and attempts to recall the smell of the sea. One floor below, he lives with his daughter, son-in-law and 10-year-old grandson. Today, these two floors form his world for he rarely leaves them. With no elevators, the trek downstairs is a mission for anyone, but for Alfonso and his troublesome left knee, it is an ordeal.

“They are 65 years old,” he says of his knees. In Cartagena, his other daughter’s insurance covered his medical expenses. In Caracas he goes to an Integral Diagnostic Center (CDI) provided by the social programme Gobierno Mission Barrio Adentro. There, Cuban doctors see to him. “Little by little, I believe I’ll improve and then I can go for a walk,” he says, smiling.

Alfonso’s lilt is reminiscent of gentle tide but his large, leathery hands are restless. Decades ago, they kneaded bread. “Do you know the Pan de Bono? The recipe is very simple,” he asks, recalling from memory each ingredient and the amount that should be used.

Before leaving Colombia, he had a fruit and vegetable stand in a market but says “the work situation is not very good” there. He hoped Venezuela would open up new possibilities.

So after obtaining a passport, he travelled overland to Caracas. He does not have a residence permit, and his three-month tourist visa has expired. That is another reason why he does not go out onto the streets. “There is no question of going out without papers,” he explains. Otherwise, he says he would have explored the capital and sought a girlfriend to accompany him during his lonely days. “We could dance vallenato and salsa too,” he says. Of the women living in La Torre David, he says, it is best simply to “be polite, say good morning and that’s it because you never know if they have a husband and it’s better to stay out of trouble”.

His philosophy, he says, is: “I live peacefully, mind my own business, I don’t get involved in the affairs of others. Every man for himself and God for all. In this way, problems are avoided.”

Although he has not witnessed any violence in the tower, he does not like the building much, except for “el fresquito – the breeze that always flows through”.

The apartment where he lives with his daughter and her family is, he says, “a little thing” but they manage. They will soon have to move, however. “They will give a new home to my daughter. They say they are large with several rooms, lots of light … and running water. They need that more than anything, because what we have here is a water pump that fills every so often,” he says about the city’s ongoing plan to clear La Torre David and relocate all of its residents to state-subsidised housing on the outskirts of the city.

Alfonso says he hopes that when he is relocated, he will receive the promised residency card. “They said they were going to give it to us, that if we have no problems with the law, there would be no problem.” This would make it easier for him to get work doing “whatever”. If not, he will be forced to return to Cartagena, to see what remains of the fruit stand he left with a friend.

For now, however, he watches the chaos of Caracas from far above as others go about their business, moving their feet to the beat of ‘Altos del Rosario’.