Name: Steven Marzuola
Date: July 26, 2018
Circumstance: Phone call. Mr. Marzuola was in Houston, Texas. I called from Spanish Fort, Alabama.
Details: Mr. Marzuola was one of the first people I talked to in this project. Luckily, he was also one of the people who helped me out the most throughout its duration. Moving to Venezuela at three years old, his memories essentially began in the country.
Steven Marzuola: If you'd like to delay it, that's fine. No, I'm ready.
Trent Kannegieter: This is perfect for me if it's perfect for you.
Steven Marzuola: Okay. Well what do you want to know?
Trent Kannegieter: First of all, just thank you for being willing to talk with me. So, yes just like first I'd love some basics to get oriented: where, when were you in Venezuela? How old were you? What was it like?
Steven Marzuola: Okay. I went down there when I was almost three years old, in November 1960. I was three, and I don't remember anything about the first couple of years. I know that I went to a Venezuelan pre-school, and I don't remember much about it at all. I was telling my mom about it she kind of laughed. She doesn't remember much at all. I remember being on a Volkswagen bus, but that might have been a special occasion. I was three or four years old. And then the first school that I remember well, I went to kindergarten. And this particular school. I don't know its name. It had another name; I think that people called it the way they remembered it, Mene Grande Staff School. Mene Grande was the name of Gulf Oil when they were in Venezuela. It was it was the name of the local oil company; it was called MGO. This was a camp, a group of houses, run by some other contractor, but he had a guy who built bunch of houses along right along the lakeshore and Lake Maracaibo the city of Cabimas, Venezuela. The city of Maricaibo, is the second biggest city in the country, well it's across the lake and down the lake a little bit. And it was the site of, and still could be, one of the largest oilfields in the world at the time.
Steven Marzuola: And so now at the time, the biggest oil company in Venezuela for many years was Exxon, and that's for people that you have met. Their fathers work for Exxon. And they didn't call it Exxon in those days, it was a long story, it was called Creole Petroleum. But everybody I knew, it was not a secret, it was owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey that ran it. But in Venezuela it was known as Creole. And Creole operated, I don't know how many they had, I think at their peak they may have had three or four English schools for the American staff. But my dad did not work for Creole. Creole didn't like to open their schools, it was mainly for their own employees. They did make some exceptions once a while because I did go to Creole school later. But where I lived in there in Cabimas and went to the Mene Grande staff school. It was a little bitty school. I went to kindergarten, and I think I was the fourth child in the school in kindergarten. And there was one kid in second grade, a girl. I remember a girl named Candy, and that's all I remember about her. And then I went there from first grade too, and they had one kindergartner that year; it just so small that it wasn't sustainable. That one closed. And everybody in the school to my best my knowledge was American.
You know, their parents either worked for Mene Grande or, like my dad, worked for another smaller company, oil service company in the area. So, I went there for kindergarten and first grade. I remember the teacher was Mrs. May and we remember we did (?). I can't really compare this because I didn't have anything to compare it to. But everything was in English, and I'm not even sure if we had a Spanish teacher in that school. I know we did later, and then that school closed so my parents sent me to a Creole school in this area of Cabimas called Las Cupulas. I went to second and fourth grade there, and it was kind of a weird situation. They were shrinking the school, so they had put the second and third graders in one classroom together. And so, the teacher kind of realized after a while that I was pretty good at math and science. I was getting kinda bored. So, she started putting me in third grade math and science, and in the middle of the year, she told my mom about it. So, I was sort of unofficially in third grade, and at the end of the year she had a conference. (I didn't know about this until a long time later.) She had a conference with my parents, and she said look "He can come back for third grade, but he'd kind of be repeating it. So, they took me to a psychologist in the States, we came back to the States most years for the summer.
And so, the psychologist gave me a bunch of tests and everything, and he told me yeah, I could do it academically. He said actually he's a little behind socially. He didn't recommend it, but they went ahead did it strictly because it was in the same school, and the teacher was kind of saying, I was well-behaved, she didn't have a problem with it, but she just thought it'd be better for you. So, in the fourth grade… we were in the fourth and fifth grade were in one class together. And so, I was a year younger than most of the kids. But again, it was all almost all-American kids whose parents almost all the classmates (the dads) worked for Exxon (Creole). And we used the American stuff, it was all English curriculum. My impression was that most the teachers (to back up a bit) Standard Old of New Jersey mostly hired people on the East Coast. So, most the people that I ever met were from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, a handful of other places like that. And that's where Creole ones that I remember, the ones that I remember talking about that my classmates and I stayed friendly with. Most of the rest of the all the other oil companies and the oil service companies like my dad worked for, they came from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana. So, it was. I don't know what their thinking was exactly that Exxon hired. And I think they most of the teachers came from the Northeast. And the textbooks and stuff...I don't remember any publisher or anything like that, but I think most of them came from the Northeast. They were not Midwestern or Southern. If they would talk about one thing that I would have laughed about was the books always talked about the snow, the winter and snow, and they would have the science books to have experiments, "Go in the snow and do this." We didn't have snow. The textbooks didn't really match the weather where we were. So then after that, my parents moved and went down the coast further where there was no Exxon, no oil company at all. But there was a larger school there that eventually at some point had over 100 kids, and that school is still in existence. And I went to fifth, sixth, seventh and 8th grade there, and that school was run. I think this woman had come to Venezuela, I don't know if she came down to work for the Exxon school or maybe some other school, and she'd worked her way up to director and she owned it but she wasn't making any money off it, it was kind of a charity. It was losing money anyway she said. She ran a school that is still called Escuela Las Morochas, and Las Morochas is the area, part of the little municipality that we were in. Again, almost all my classmates were from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana. Sometimes some would be from in Trinidad, the island off coast of Venezuela, because it was close enough people in Trinidad came across to work the drills. And then occasionally, we'd get a Venezuelan or a Venezuelan man married to an American woman or vice versa, and they were trying to keep their kids in the schools, so they could send them to the U.S. And that was my parent’s objective. I didn't realize it at the time, but we've talked about it since then. We could have gone to Venezuelan schools, and some of them were pretty good. Of course, it was Spanish curriculum, but they were academically not too bad, but, the way my mom put it is, we always felt like we'd be leaving in a couple of years. So, she wanted to keep me in the U.S. systems, I'd go to a U.S. high school and get to a US college. Around 1970 I was in eighth grade, and my dad went in business for himself, and my mom and realized, "Oh, we're here for the duration". My parents were down there for forty-nine years in all. So, anyway after that, after 8th grade, I left, and I came to high school in the States. I went to boarding school in Texas. One of the reasons my parents did that, was there was only two or three options in Venezuela. I could have gone on in high school and there were two high schools in Maracaibo, the big city. But there would have been a commute, an hour or an hour and half a day, kind of dangerous. And at the time those schools supposedly were having problems with drugs and marijuana or whatever. So, apparently at one time they were both pretty good calls, probably earlier in the 60s, but by 1970-71 they weren't that way.
So, my parents sent me to St. Stevens, and the selection was my dad was in business and he was traveling a whole lot to Texas. My parents' families were from Oklahoma, and we had relatives in Dallas. But my parents' thinking was, they'd seen this too many times where people from Venezuela would send them back to the States for ninth grade, but with like aunts and uncles or other family. And it just didn't work out. There were discipline problems. You know kids they weren't with their parents. So, then another thing I was pretty good at math and science especially. So, this director of the school in Venezuela, she had a secondary school guideline for accreditation societies for Secondary School in the South and at the time, her book wasn't fully up to date, but her book said that there were only two boarding schools in the state of Texas that offered calculus. And I didn't know what calculus was, but my math teacher was assuring me I know you'll like it. And the other school at the time that was offering this in 1971 was Texas Military Institute in San Antonio. And since then I've heard a lot about it, it was a good school. It wasn't the reputation that a lot of military schools have where you get sent there when you were being punished. No, they don't want kids like that. They wanted you know they wanted good students and good athletes. It was all boys, and I found out years later both my parents thought that going to an all-boys schools was kind of weird, and I was a little awkward socially and they felt would be worse if I went to a boys' school. So, I went to St. Stephen's which is a private school run by the Episcopal Diocese. Texas just outside of Austin.
Trent Kannegieter: So, first of all. I Feel like you kind of brushed on this, but you guys came from Oklahoma or Texas?
Steven Marzuola: My parents were each from Oklahoma, but they hadn't been there long. My dad's parents came from Italy, and the mother's parents came from Arkansas, when they were children and they grew up in Oklahoma. Then my dad's parents were each from Italy, but they met in Oklahoma. And that's where they were born. My dad got drafted and went to Korea for the Korean War. And he got out and he was apparently not real sure what he wanted to do. I would say goofing off. When he got serious about school, he went to what was then called Oklahoma A&M. But the year he graduated which was 1956, they changed the name to Oklahoma State University. So, he had interviewed with a couple of companies, and the one that attracted him the most because he always wanted to go in business, was an oilfield supply company. And he it was the smallest company. My mom said it was the lowest offer that he got. She was kind of nervous about that, but he was convinced that you know they made they made managers quickly and they didn't care where you come from a family background like that you just had to work hard.
And that’s what he that's what he wanted. So, they sent him off to little bitty town, Eunice, New Mexico. I don't remember going there. And I haven't looked it up, but it's a small town, Eunice. And then that's where I was born. I was born in the city of Hobbs because Eunice didn't have a clinic and may not have had a doctor at the time. When I was about a year old my parents got transferred, and my dad was sent to run a company store in the city of Kermit, Texas. And that's where my sister was born in 1959. And then in 1960 on her first birthday, my dad took an opening that came up from Venezuela in November 1960.
Trent Kannegieter: So, I don't know. Obviously, the sample size of children living there wasn't that large, but I don't know if you kept in touch with anyone ever since you ended up leaving Venezuela? I guess I'm wondering since a lot of people did go to boarding schools, did you notice there were any like discrepancies like. You other Venezuelan students on average felt stronger in this discipline or not as caught up in this discipline?
Steven Marzuola: No. Well first of all, very few of my classmates in these English schools were Venezuelan. There was one guy I remember, and his father was Puerto Rican, and another one I think his mother was, I don't remember, most were American with a few, sometimes Canadian sometimes Trinidad. What I have figured out, I didn't really realize this until later, and I talked about my mom and a few other adults. They said, "Yeah they sort of agree with me." At the time, most companies when they sent their employees overseas, they were going to be representing the company and the country. So, these had to be people who were flexible and people who they know already. These companies have all been down there for a while. They weren't breaking new ground, most of them. There was an established oilfield already there. There were already oilfield camps. There were hundreds of different or at different times thousands. I've heard that at one point there were to two to three thousand Americans in the state of Zulia in the oilfields there. And there's still like six or eight thousand Americans in Caracas which kind of amazes me, even now. Diplomats and certain big companies but anyway. So, they figured out, there's a certain type of person who will do well that way. And I didn't realize until years later after I went college actually. I think our parents were all, not necessarily all smarter academically (my dad had only a bachelor’s degree not many advanced masters that sort of thing), but on the whole smarter people. People whose IQs are a little higher, today they say emotional quotient. You know people who are flexible. People who can deal internationally. And so, our schools, the teachers that we had were all brighter than I think than most teachers I had in the U.S.
The teachers that we had were superior. They were brighter. They were curious. They were creative. So, most of us, all the ones that I knew who went to the States most of whom went to boarding schools all over, few had academic problems. If they had academic problems, it was due to the kid himself, and it wasn't due to lack of preparation. The preparation that most of us had when we went to school in the States for high schools, typically in the ninth grade, was we were fine. St. Stephens was an elite school. I mean I've read stuff but in the last couple years it is still considered one of the top three or four private schools in Texas. I don't know if you know any of the other ones. Top ones are St. John's here too and St. Marks and Hockaday School which are boys’ school and girls’ school. They are related to each other. Both my sisters went to Hockaday, and there are one or two others, and St. Stephens in Austin is still up there very high. Schools getting kids into Ivy League schools and SAT scores sort of says so. The ones who didn't do well the States, it wasn't because of lack of preparation.
I think because the parents who went down there were more motivated. One of the things that I've compared notes to people I met up here like in college years, because in high school boarding schools it's a different experience. St. Stephens was the type of school where they didn't want you there if you didn't want to be there. It was not like anybody was there to be punished, and kids showed up. I'm not going to say this is a stereotype, but it's not really right but my kids went to public high school in Houston, and they say the bottom third or bottom quarter of the class really didn't get much support from their parents. Kids would skip class and not feel the consequences. Well, St. Stephens because you had 1) it's expensive, 2) you had to write an essay to get in. So, I told my kids what I had in my high school: We didn't have the bottom half of your school; we didn't have the kids with discipline problems of broken homes and grade problems and that sort of thing, we just didn't have that. In order to get into school like St. Stephens, you've kind of got to have your shit together. And I did. I wasn't in the top 10 percent for a couple of years, but I really was in the top third I guess overall. But most of us that's my impression. Most of us in the States, we didn't all get to be valedictorians, and we didn't all get into the Ivy League, but we did well. Most of us went to school in Venezuela through the eighth grade.
Trent Kannegieter: Yes. So, you mentioned that you are in Houston. Did you end up, do you work in oil still?
Steven Marzuola: I've done a bunch of different things. I ended up with a degree in mechanical engineering, Texas A&M. But I've rarely worked as an engineer; I've ended up working somewhere—what I've been done most the last 15 years is technical translation. That's really going slow right now because the Spanish speaking oilfield is really slow. And I've got a little story that sort of illustrates it. I started off as a translator, and then they project expanded and I got a job as an interfaces manager or interface engineer. It's kind of technical; there would be a very very large project company in Venezuela which was the manager of it, and then my employer was the lead engineering contractor. But they were supposed to supervise the work being done by several other contractors and there'd be big systems that are going to be put together in a year or two. But these engineering efforts and construction efforts are being done in different offices sometimes different countries, different cities. So, somebody would have a question, "What is the connector going to be between this control system and this wellhead? They're being made by different companies. It was my employer's job on the contract to make sure that worked right when it got put together. So, my boss in that thing told me, "This project ~ all these people are like principalities or fiefdoms." And so, my job was to help if I heard about some sort of some information needed to be exchanged a couple years before was actually needed and long before the actual final documents. But we had to set out a parameter where the work was of one company with an interface that connects them and other things.
That project ended mostly because of lack of money and disorganization in Venezuela. I got transferred to another project that they were hoping to get from Mexico. And then this is the actual point of that story is this was a deep-water project. It was going to be Mexico's deepest oil and gas production with a gas field of seven wells. My employer had done what's called a fee. The front-end engineering design and that purpose that is to give a ballpark estimate like 20 or 30 percent of what it's going to cost, how much time it's going to take, and how much, in this case gas, how much you're going to produce. Then give that to the oil company or gas vendor and then let them proceed. Well, they made this proposal to Pemex, and Pemex took it to a Senate committee in the Mexican government that looks at Pemex's major projects and this is over a billion dollars. So, it went to them, and one of the senators asked a question, “How much gas can you get out of there?" Well, it's going to produce so much for so many years. And apparently the guy has his calculator out, and he said, "Okay, how much is it going to cost?" Well, our estimate from our contract engineering contractor is two billion dollars. OK. So, we're going to pay about six dollars per thousand cubic feet of gas. "Correct?" They said yes. So, we can buy it because the price of gas had been slashed due to fracking and other advances.
We can buy gas in Texas for three and a half dollars a cubic foot. Why should we pay six dollars to buy everything? So now Pemex had an answer for that. This is getting far away from education. But the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and North Sea between England and Norway and few other parts of the world have a lot of offshore platforms. And what makes them feasible is piggybacking. And I'll give an example, let's just say in offshore Louisiana there was a platform that was 10 miles offshore. And they've built a platform that gathered the production from eight or 10 wells. It could be oil or gas, let's just say, to get it from eight or 10 or 12 wells. They also were sure to have one pipeline that went to shore. A few miles out, deeper water farther away from shore, there's another company. Right. And that company might have said you know what. It's not really economical for us to build a pipeline all the way to shore. But there's this platform that's closer to shore. Because they build the pipeline for the maximum flow at the start of the project. But after a while those wells start depleting, and the production drops off. We'll make a deal with the owner of that plant. We'll build our platform farther offshore. As our wells come on production, we'll add it to the flow of the first platform and then also mix. Back to shore. So that's how the Gulf of Mexico has developed these days. They've gone piggybacking going farther to deeper water, farther and further out.
So anyway, Mexico is saying what we'd want to do is this first draft and we're going to do is about 40 kilometers off shore. It will be deep-water; we'll have seven wells there, but it will provide us the infrastructure that we can tie into three or four other smaller fields near that that as those get drilled they'll also take advantage of making this big investment right away. No, put that on ice, we're not going to do that. So, the price of gas is still around $3/thousand cubic feet. A lot of Spanish speaking oilfield is expensive, and the kind of projects where they hire someone like me are just not going on. So, I'm really doing slow. I'm doing non-oilfield stuff and then getting into legal and court interpreting. It's really slow the last couple years which is a pain.
Trent Kannegieter: So, you're still working peripherally with the Latin American world and oil. Did many students either come back to Venezuela professionally or enter into Latin America/oil at all?
Steven Marzuola: I've never done any studies on that. Some of them they left Venezuela and had nothing to do with Venezuela or the oil industry. Some of them did. There's a handful that I know that are. There's one family I'm thinking of in particular. Then again this is not typical. The guy went down there as an accountant, an accounting manager or something. And while he was down there, he met his wife who was from Louisiana, and she was a nurse. And they had a rule in those days that no employees could be married because if you're married you could not both work for x. So there's lots of things that when a woman will go down as a nurse or as a teacher or something else and then she would meet a husband who's an engineer. And they get married. So many of the teachers at the non-Exxon schools have husbands who are engineers at Exxon. I would say majority didn't. I think most of them came back to U.S. and integrated into some U.S. Life. That's my impression. I don't keep track of a whole lot, but there's this Creole oil reunion. I was talking to my mom about it the other day and about this conversation, and she said when it first started off it was just the Exxon people. Mostly men but they'd gone to work for Exxon, and a lot of them went down there and spent a whole career. You know guys would graduate, and go to Venezuela, and stay there 40 or 50 years. And most of them after that they'd leave and go back to the United States.
It was a short-term assignment. It was like three years, four or five years wouldn't necessarily stay that long. My dad turned out to be an exception, he did 49 years. So, he's knew some of these people. The reunion at first was limited to the employees and their children. And then as the employees got older and so forth and then the attendance of these reunions started flagging a little bit, so they started inviting anybody who they had known. And I been invited, and my mom and dad went a few times. They have it every year. This Creole Annuitants. People have spent so many years in Venezuela, and Exxon gave a really generous benefits. For a long time, Exxon paid for the parties, the reunions. They're paying something for it. I don't know how much, but it was something for a long time. So now, there they're still carrying it on although most of the original employees aren't there, it's the kids who may still keep it up as the Creole Reunion. I'm hooked up to 50 or so of the Creole people through this. That's how I got your name and number. Some of them I don't really remember, but I remember the name.
Trent Kannegieter: Yes, sir. Yeah, I've been in contact with them. I'm actually going to the reunion to hopefully get in touch on people.
Steven Marzuola: You'll get you'll get a lot more detail. You're asking details that I don't know. My impression is some of them end up in the oilfield and some of them end up working for other companies and traveling around the world. Some of them in the oilfield here in the United States. There's a guy that I didn't know real well, but my father worked for his father for about seven years. And his name is Terry. Well there were there were two brothers, and I can't remember the elder now but the younger was Terry Pike and Terry came up here and went to work for Shell Oil and retired in his 50s. Spent his whole career working for Shell Oil in south Texas. So, you know handful of them ended up working in the oilfield, and it's one guy I'm thinking about in particular, his dad was a geologist. And my impression is geologists are a lot of a very smart, very creative, and they chafe the limitations of working for an employer. Geologists are a little bit nuts, smart and little bit nuts. Anyway, one guy grew up in Venezuela. I think he got there a little bit older and didn't get there as his young as I did.
But his father told him when he went off to school in the States, his father said, "Don't study geology. They've discovered all the oil and all the oceans are going away. To do something else." So, he went to the state of Washington and studied forestry and then he got out and really couldn't find a job there. And then an oilfield service company hired and sent him back to Venezuela. They were going through a boom. So, he was working in Venezuela just down the street from my dad. His dad is retired by then, but he came back to Venezuela. And he was joking about I got a degree in forestry, and I'm working in the industry that my dad said would die.
Trent Kannegieter: This is going off on a bit of a different tangent. So, when you were in Venezuela, did you feel like your closest community was your family, your students and your local neighbors. How often do you interact with non-camp entities in Venezuela?
Steven Marzuola: Okay what started to happen in the early 70s when I went off to high school. Venezuelan politics had gone through an election. Venezuela's oil concessions were always the government could declare it almost any time that they were going to take over the concessions and run them themselves. And so, a guy got elected in 1973 named Carlos Andres Perez. And Carlos Andres Perez had made some noises how he was going to nationalize early he was kind of nationalistic. So, all the oil companies become kind of nervous and they stop investing. They stop drilling wells, they stop doing that major maintenance, and production was sort of flagging. The government was mostly competently run in those days, and they kind of looked ahead and realized, you know we need to go ahead and move because the oil companies are treating it like they're planning to get bought out anyway. So, they went ahead and announced the nationalization I believe in 74. And they nationalized it at the end of 75, and it was very peaceful. The terms of the nationalization have been set in the concessions that have been given starting in the 30s, in the 40s, and they'd been renewed a couple times, but the Venezuelans said OK we're taking it. And one reason they did it was the price of oil. In October 73 there was what they call the Yom Kippur War. The Arab countries declared war on Israel. The United States helped Israel. And in retaliation, the Arab members of OPEC wanted to punish the United States and any country that helped Israel, so they stopped selling oil to the companies of the countries that had helped Israel. And that caused the price of oil to skyrocket from about three dollars a barrel to 12 dollars in just a couple of months. I don't know if you've studied economics, but the word "inelastic". Well, people need oil and they'd pay just about any price, so the price is not going to mean much. I was in high school at the time. There was oil shortages and lines and so forth, it was kind of a panic. Anyway, Venezuela figured the way the concessions were working, the oil companies were making a lot of money and they kind of started.... If we own it... The Venezuelans had always owned the oil, but they would share in the profits of it.
And they figured out, why should we be sharing this? And why should the oil companies get the benefit all these higher prices? We're going to take over. Which they did, and they did it in a way that they kept Exxon and Shell and the other big companies happy because they had technology agreements. Basically, they reimbursed the oil companies for the investments they made, the book value of their wells and their properties and everything. And then so the oil companies no longer had assets and they were still making profit. They had charged technology fees of like two or three dollars a barrel. They're very good. So, Exxon made a lot of money, and some people confided in my dad that for Exxon and Shell actually it was more profitable because they'd gotten their investment back, and they were just charging fees and they were very profitable. Venezuela did that on purpose they wanted everything to go over smooth, and they kept a lot of those people, but most of the Americans started to leave in 73/ 74. It was kind of an exodus there. I would come back from school in the United States and people I knew had left. So, I started with a view that would bring me a little bit anyway. So, I started running into more Venezuelans. And I started realizing you know I'm probably going to come back and work for my dad. So, I ran into more of them. And you know and met a lot of them; many were children of immigrants. At that time in Venezuela there had been a lot of immigration from Italy from Spain from Colombia. People come in looking for work. All Ministry and the general level of economy. So, they all have been prosperous in 60s and 70s. So, I met more people there. That's about the time I started to realize there are some smart Venezuelans here too. I had not really run into them when I was a kid. My parents were not prejudiced; I didn't hear this from them. But you got impressions that Venezuelans were not trustworthy and not real smart, but I started running into much smarter Venezuelans. People who had gone to school at that elementary and high schoolers there and as well and then they were they were prepared. They were smart. The ones I ended up remember these were pretty smart too. A lot of them went off to college in the U.S. A lot of them actually live in the US now; they left for various reasons in the last 30 or 40 years now.
Trent Kannegieter: Yeah. So that was definitely a shift.
Steven Marzuola: Yeah. The thing I didn't mention that between second and fourth grade. I don't know skipping 3rd grade. And when my parents were sending me off to boarding school, my grades were pretty good, but my mom was worried, and I think she was right. The teacher who ran the school kind of said the same thing. They were worried that I really wasn't really emotionally ready to go away to boarding school. So, what they did between seventh and eighth grade they sent me to Venezuelan fifth grade. So that was an experience.
I got up and got up at 7 in the morning and got on a bus. Rode a bus 30 minutes. They brought me to school. And so, my day was immersed in Spanish all the curriculum. There were no other American children in the school at all. There was a girl who was several years older than me whose parents were Dutch, and she spoke English. Which you know she was like three years older than me and in a school like that she's an eighth grader and I was in fifth grade. So, she's not going to talk to me ever. I was a curiosity. I was tall. I obviously didn't look Venezuelan, and somebody pointed out she came up when talking about she was nice just never spoke to very much. And I think her parents were Dutch, and somebody else's father was German. That was it, the school was all Venezuelans, and many of them were Shell Oil company employees. It was a private school that it was sponsored heavily by Shell. And so, I went to an all Venezuelan school, and I met a few people, some of which I'm still friends with on Facebook now.
Trent Kannegieter: So, if I understand this correctly, Shell was strongly subsidizing two different schools: one for U.S. students, one for the Venezuelan students.
Steven Marzuola: No, not exactly, Creole (Exxon which didn't become use the name Exxon in Venezuela until the early 70s) ran schools for its employees both Spanish and English speakers. And when I first started going to the Spanish schools for one school and English schools for another by the mid-60s those Exxon was under some pressure to go to 1) to give the same treatment to their Venezuelan employees, and 2) there was kind of an experiment and I participated it in my fourth-grade year. My fourth grade was at an Exxon school, and we had math and science in Spanish and the rest of our classes in English and it was truly bilingual not just teaching Spanish. I had mathematics in Spanish and I had. And I remember the style of teaching was different. Venezuelan schools tend to have a lot of just lecturing, you took notes and I remember writing down the digestive system, in the skin, the epidermis in a way that is science. In my fourth grade Spanish fourth grade class almost half my day was in Spanish and that was Exxon. Shell was different. Shell operated differently around the world. Shell had a policy worldwide of moving native staff up and moving their expatriates out as soon as they could. So, by the time I started going to school in the mid-60s and paying attention to it. Shell had gotten rid of that. I mean they didn't do a mass exodus or anything; Shell was very aggressive about promoting Venezuelans. So, Shell had very few expats by the 1970s. And I know that some of my parents’ friends (I don't know what makes me think of this). Some of them had come down they were from Louisiana and from a few other cities, and they had come to work for Shell. And Shell didn't fire anybody, Shell just kind of gradually moved them out. By 1970s a bunch of those former Shell employees who were American citizens were all working for Exxon. Those were the biggest two, Creole who really had almost half the production in the whole country.
Shell was the second probably had a third or at least a quarter and then the rest there were all much smaller. The rest of them didn't run any schools of their own. They would just kind of pitch in whatever school was around them. The Venezuelans of all ages they had to fend for themselves, the local schools. The school that I went to for fifth grade which was the 1969-1970 school year. It was a bus on the further south by 20- 30 minutes. So, my day went from 7 o'clock in the morning to 4:35 in the afternoon, all in Spanish. I was immersed in it, and that school was entirely Venezuelan except for 2 to 3 other kids like me. It was just one year. Yeah.
Trent Kannegieter: You mentioned that it was very lecture based. What was the counter factual in the American school?
Steven Marzuola: I remember our school, the American school, that was more interactive, and our teacher would have us read aloud ourselves and she would go around the class and ask questions.
I think we did that math in the Spanish school. I'm trying to remember the courses I had. We had had Castilian Spanish and that was mostly reading aloud and copying. We had history; the Venezuelan history teacher she would read aloud and then she would ask questions to see if people understood it, but it was mostly her reading aloud and us copying off the board. And then math was not a whole lot of class participation. Mostly teacher doing example sand and then we got the to the board a little bit, not much. I remember American schools much smaller classes in American school. So, when I graduated in eighth grade it was the biggest class they had ever had and there were 16 of us. The average size is probably like 9. My wife was a year older than me and there were six kids in her class when she graduated. I was in the next class and there was 15. The average was probably 8 or 10. The Venezuelan classes were much bigger is like 25 kids in the class. Science was just a teacher reading aloud and us copying it down. I'm blessed with a good memory. I remember a lot of stuff. I remember speaking the other Venezuelans that I worked with and some of the ones I was friendly with in my high school. I would describe my class in the projects in class. They didn't do that. In the Venezuelan system. In those schools yes. So, I never went to college in Venezuela.
Trent Kannegieter: Obviously were in a comparatively urban area. Do you know anything about the system in more rural areas? Like was it similar to that by the 70s?
Steven Marzuola: I don't know. I've heard very little about it, but some of them were very good. And what I understand is in the 60s in Venezuela they poured a lot of money in it. And they got a lot done in the 50s and 60s, and then by the 70s it kind of petered out. Then there was another boom of money. They started to get a lot more money with the nationalization and the high oil prices starting around 74, and they poured a lot of money into that. One thing that Venezuela did is they have had this program before it used to be like a few dozen students a year in the mid-70s. They expanded it because of the fund named the Plan Mariscal de Ayacuchu after a general in the war of independence. They were sending five to seven thousand students a year to college, most to the United States- full scholarships. We knew several people who did it, and it wasn't just politically tied in people. Any student who got in, the Venezuelan government would pay a big chunk of money. The conditions were as you were supposed to graduate and then come back to work at least two or three years for a state company or a local company. And so, they sent thousands of students all over the United States and they made a deal with certain especially large state colleges, we're going to send you 30 kids and most landed schools in late. They showed up here, and did well, but they had trouble with English at first. But I met someone who was at Texas A&M and they were doing well. These were Venezuelans who had not gone to oil company schools; they'd gone to Venezuela and all Spanish school but learned enough English and nothing and then came up and they did well. As a trivia note, MIT named a new president who was from Venezuela. The family was from Latvia Lithuania or something and then his family had moved to the interior of Venezuela.
Trent Kannegieter: So, since you spent summers in the States you're actually probably one of the best people I asked this question to. So as far as like. Since a lot of the oil community the residential community was American. What differences did you see in the culture? I guess I could say a few specific parts of that? How was your diet different in Venezuela as opposed to in the States?
Steven Marzuola: What I remember, this will kind of ramble as thoughts occur. I remember when I came to the States and then when I started go back I would go back to Venezuela because it was home. That's where I grew up, where my mom and dad were, and where I expected to live. But I remember going back after going to high school in the States and I would miss things like peanut butter and cereal and for example milk. And I didn't realize this from the long time of my sister. My sister has a master's in biology and I was complaining about the milk in Venezuela. You couldn't get fresh in a big gallon jugs of milk. I like the taste of milk and I still drink it. My sister is pointing out that people here are lactose intolerant which is only a very tiny population. A future study shows that Germans and northern Europeans can tolerate lactose very well, but many other nationalities cannot. Most the world, Latin America, South Americans, native populations, and the southern Europeans: the Spaniards and Italians, are lactose intolerant as adults. My dad could see that his family was Italian. He, my dad, never liked milk very much. And he would sometimes complain how you know you shouldn't drink milk when you're an adult. He'd heard that somewhere, but my mom said Yeah, I made him uncomfortable to drink a lot of milk. So, he's partly lactose intolerance but it's genetic and its related ethnicity. So, when I was a kid there were some small car. There were some companies that sold fresh milk and there were some American based companies that were trying to sell milk to populations down there. And some of it was this itself is something totally different.
The Rockefeller family, I don't remember which member, they started going to Venezuela in the 50s and they set up some companies one to make money but to serve as a sort of a Peace Corps you know this developing business developing Agri business developing food supplies and refrigerated foods. And one of the things they pushed was milk, but by the mid-70s, you couldn't you couldn't get fresh milk. And what happened later is a country started. Well part of this lack of refrigeration facilities and by the mid-70s late 70s they came out with the call that Lagattuta, long duration milk, which is typical of Europe. They pasteurize at a higher temperature and it cooks it more it changes the taste. And I don't like it, but it keeps longer you can keep the seal that will keep for months or weeks the keys that comes in a box carton and so that really took over as Venezuelans don't drink it and poured over cereal that much stay there. They cook with it or they make baby food with it, but you don't eat it as adults. So, I missed milk. And so that's one thing. .
There's a what they call a typical Venezuelan meal you go to a restaurant you know a business-like Creole your restaurant typical restaurant the meal that they give you in Venezuela is called a Pabellon Criollo. The typical plate is the Pabellon.ir Best meal is a pabellon. It's shredded meat. They put particular spices in it. And rice, black beans, corn, fried platano and some corn what they call arepas. They're like tortillas but they're much thicker and there's different styles that my mom had a maid who worked for her for like 30 years. She made two types of arepas. She made some for us that we ate. And then she made some for herself and then she had a son and the daughter who sometimes came to work with her. And the ones she made for us were little bitty and they were sort of dainty. They were kind of a little biscuit that was flattened out and lightly fried. And then the ones she made for herself she couldn't fry them so much she would just kind of bake them on a skillet, and they were big and heavy as hockey pucks, little rounded but about a 3 o4 4 inches wide. If you go on the road, the fast Venezuelan's fast food will be an arepa, and they slice it in half like a bagel or an English muffin server and people slice it and put cheese in there or sometimes ham or her other vegetables in a year. Go on the road and a roadside place if they don't have hamburgers that's what they'll have. That other dish, the pabellon, which is similar to other Cuban or Caribbean dishes called Ropa Vieja.
My wife and her friends and her mom and dad used to her says that they like to watch this one pageant a year. But 1980 when there was a woman who won Miss Venezuela pageant, and she's so excited and they're asking her what she's going to do. She says she's going to go to her grandmother's house and she's going to have a Ropa Vieja, and it was kind of embarrassing to her that her mother was from the Canary Islands, so her family called The Dish. She was using the Canary Islands name instead of the Venezuelan pabellon. And she just used a wrong word but that's what her family calls it. And then there's a couple of the dishes.
There's a dish that they have a specialty, cassava. And it's like this. I've read about this over the years and. It's a root, and they take it out and they pound it and they have to get it just right because if they don't do it right, it's poison. And I never liked the smell of it. I would eat it if they had a barbecue at my dad's office. Then they would drink a lot of fruit juices: papaya, two or three other green and orange and orange juices. I never really acquired a taste for it. I would drink it if I was with somebody else if we had like a company breakfast or something like that. That's what they would have; they'd have the Venezuelan juices like that. I would drink them but I didn't.like them. Even though I've been in Venezuela my whole life, I've had mostly American food at my mom's house. And that's what I prefer. When I finally came up here to live, I remember telling my sister about it. Because she went back to work in Venezuela. after I left she went back to Venezuela. And she talked about Mama was. Yes, she really dug in she was thinking she would be the one who American food at your mother's house. Are there ever times where life like difficult to acquire certain products that we take to the pretty standard in the United States.
Yeah, the milk was the first one that started going away then and as soon as they started growing more food and they would stop importing get high duties on certain stuff. So peanut butter became scarce which is weird because Venezuela did produce peanuts; they just did not make peanut butter out of the stuff. There was that. There was cereal. They started making cereal, but they would buy Frosted Flakes. All of a sudden, I'm drawing a blank. I can't really remember much else. One thing that I didn't realize until a long time later. Most meat sold in stores and sold for the United States restaurants is aged roughly 30 days. There's very little refrigeration capacity in Venezuela, so the meat doesn't get aged. It's very tasty but it’s not tender, it's kind of tough. It's kind of except for tenderloin and a couple of cuts the like that which are tender from the start. And those would always cost more, but they would be delicious, and they'd be very tender. And my dad always liked meats in Venezuela better, and he'd come to the United States and somebody would take him out to a really nice steak house like Ruth's Chris something. And he'd always smile, but he'd say you know the meat is better in Venezuela.
I've talked about my sister and she studied biology and she looked into some of this. She's the one who told me about lactose intolerance and said most Venezuelans cannot, just don't like milk. And she was telling me more about the meat and how it was stored. She looked into that for some reason. They don't really grow much crops around where we lived. Their crops came from the prairies inland and also from the lowlands around the mountains.
We'd go make trips on the weekend sometimes up to the mountains, it was three or four hours and up, and it was always a lot cooler in the mountains. It seemed like sun was brighter and it was cooler and crisp, and the vegetables were just delicious up there: carrots and lettuce and strawberries. I'd go up there with my mom and my mother-in-law. And then later my wife and I would go up just to buy vegetables as part of a trip to get out of town and get away from the heat. But buying vegetables from there. So, another kind of a random thought. I never liked mangoes very much, but there were mangoes all over the place. And I lived in eastern Venezuela in the town of Anaco for a year. When I first got married we had 14 mango trees in the yard. And then at one time on a trip to the States, I was in a grocery store, and they were selling mangoes for two dollars each. And I called my wife, "We have thousands of dollars of mangoes rotting in our backyard." There were so many you couldn't give them away.
Trent Kannegieter: So, what about like some extracurriculars? Outside of the classroom, did students ever really play sports or join clubs?
Steven Marzuola: Well that's one thing that was that I didn't even realize until I went to the States for high school. I played play football and basketball in high school. I had never played either one. We didn't have any organized sports in Venezuela. My dad was into the hunting. He'd always hunted when he was a little kid. He came to Venezuela and ended up, as you already know, in the oilfield. And they'd go on hunts, and he took me with him. I've got some pictures of me you know 7 8 9 years old. He will go mostly shotgun hunting for pigeons and quail, sometimes ducks and geese. It was awesome. Every once in a while, he'd shoot one that was banded, it would have a little aluminum band on it. And it would say U.S. Fish and Wildlife and have a number on it. So, they have a P.O. box on it, and you could barely read the inscription on it. My dad sent off some of them, and he'd get a letter back that would say this bird was banded and such and such a place, like Ontario or Canada or Northern Minnesota. And he'd shot it in Venezuela. He did this for a while, and after that he started fishing.
No, in Venezuela, we didn't have much organized sports. I remember after I left, there was a team at the American school; they were playing flag football. They were playing against two other American schools. So, they'd have 3 games and that would be the season. They would play the two schools in Maracaibo and then they might go to Caracas, the big city, and play games with the international schools there. But no, we didn't have organized extracurriculars, no music.
My parents gave us piano lessons. There would always be someone around there who would teach kids lessons. Just somebody who had studied piano and was interested in doing it. So, I was never that serious. I realized later that you get exposed to it that way, but it was not through school but through somebody we knew who wanted to teach lessons. I heard in the big cities like Maracaibo, people did karate. I remember that, karate or judo or something. And then my dad had a boat for a few years, an inboard/outboard boat, and we went waterskiing. In the early 70s, he had that for about six years or so, but it got expensive and he got tired of spending time and money on it. So, he gave it to somebody else for almost nothing.
Trent Kannegieter: So, you're in this weird place where you are straddling two different worlds. When people discussed politics, if they did it all, what were popular discussion points to come into this place? Were you more likely to talk about what was going on in Venezuela or in the United States?
Steven Marzuola: Well, different times we discussed different things. I do not remember the Kennedy assassination, I was too young to remember that. But I do remember the day before the Johnson Goldwater election. Sixty-four. There were so many people at our house, and I was shy, and I was standing behind the couch up against the wall. I remember my dad asking who I wanted to win, and I said Goldwater because I just thought the word Goldwater was funny. They all laughed. It was really funny to me.
And then I don't remember much about Venezuelan politics. Venezuela had it had a dictatorship through the 50s, and then in 58 or 59 they kicked out this dictator. The dictator had left, and they h