Macondo was born thanks to a man searching for meaning.
Alejandro Vázquez left his office building in Melbourne, Australia, and walked to the garden in front of him. From there he called his father, Ely Vázquez, who responded from his home in Puerto La Cruz, a warm city in eastern Venezuela. Between them was about 15,740 kilometers and a 14-hour time difference.
At some point in the conversation, father and son turned toward the recurring topic of conversation: their country: Ely Vázquez told his son that the money was still being diluted in unbridled hyperinflation; that public transport did not work; that running water came once every few days; that electrical blackouts were frequent. Alejandro was aware of all of those problems, but then his dad added a new ingredient to that cocktail of devastation.
“There are no bookstores here, anymore. I want to read a book, but in Puerto La Cruz all the bookstores closed.”
That paralyzed him.
For Ely Vázquez, reading was always one of his most precious pleasures. Hearing that his father wasn’t able to access books was devastating for Alejandro. He thought of how his father had long ago introduced his to the magical, happy world of reading: in a shopping center, where he purchased the Harry Potter saga for his son, who devoured it with enthusiasm.
"A country without books is definitely doomed," Alejandro thought.
He resolved to do his best to send his father the book he most wanted, which was Man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, who tells his experience in Nazi concentration camps. Frankl says that the ones most likely to survive were those who suffered the certainty that they would have to perform any certain task after they left those camps: those who found some sense in the suffering they were experiencing in the present.
Alejandro bought the book and a friend of his brought it to Madrid. There, they contacted someone who promised to deliver the book to Venezuela. That person arrived in Caracas, where an acquaintance of Ely received him. And days later, it was delivered in Puerto La Cruz.
That experience motivated Alejandro to create a platform to send books to Venezuela. He decided to name it Macondo, because in Venezuela, he thought, everything that happens seems to have been extracted from a story of magical realism, like the work of Garcia Marquez. Alejandro set up a web page, allied himself with some friends, created Macondo's social networks, and shared his idea. About eight hours later, the Twitter account had gained more than 1,000 followers. For him that was an indicator that his proposal was a necessity.
The initial idea was to raise funds to buy the texts that people from Venezuela would request online, and create a network of volunteers to take these books to the country. In practice, however, Alejandro realized that plan wasn’t sustainable. There were many requests and they did not know how to prioritize them; the model depended on people traveling to Venezuela, which was a weakness in a country with grounded airlines.
A broader approach was then raised. They decided that Macondo would be a platform that would bring together books that are already in Venezuela, setting up a large library that anyone could access. This would create a database of titles that are already available, allowing donations to be used to buy books that aren't available and send them to the country, through a parcel company that provides low-cost shipping services.
Macondo now has 64 books available in the library and 59 registered users. The numbers are modest, nonetheless Alejandro is determined to make his venture blossom. Although he is a lawyer, like his father, he stopped looking for work in law firms in order to devote most of his time to Macondo. He spends his days writing proposals to apply for grant that could help boost his idea.
Alejandro left Venezuela in 2008. At 18 years old, he had just graduated, and wanted to study law. He did not want to build his career in Venezuela because he heard that Chavismo would become a lethal dictatorship. Since he left the first time, he has returned only twice, in 2013 and 2017. On those visits he saw the country increasingly deteriorating. He did not know how to give back to his homeland for all the opportunities he had obtained when living there. So many happy years. Now he feels like he’s found how to do it. He feels that Macondo is the meaning of everything.