Name: Randy Trahan
Date: August 3, 2018
Circumstance: Phone Call. Mr. Trahan was in his home in California. I called from Washington, D.C.
Details: The fact that any accessible sources that provide insight to life into Venezuela’s residential oil camps is attributable to Randy Trahan. Through his website, http://www.randytrahan.com/ocov/, he has curated a forum where many alumni and their families post their old photos, documents, and testaments to their time. In many ways, his forum and the opportunities it created for research, helped inspire this project. Special thanks to Mr. Trahan for not only talking to me in this conversation, but also for introducing me to the group managing this year’s alumni reunion in Ft. Worth.
Part One: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13eYBcrfceJ5KbNfRlKyuOpuqmQZauFRl/view?usp=sharing
Part Two: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Nr2sMsHFk7w9juBGwH6J0V2EIqCnIBIC/view?usp=sharing
Trent Kannegieter (TK): Hi, is this Mr. Trahan?
Randy Trahan (RT): Yes
TK: This is Trent
RT: Hi Trent
TK: How are you doing today?
RT: I’m fine. I’m sitting here expecting your call.
TK: Thank you so much for giving me your time today. I really appreciate it.
RT: Well, you’re very welcome. I got your email with some of your questions.
TK: To start off, I’d love a brief introduction to you. When you were there as well as general knowledge about you, and whatever you think is important.
RT: I’m 72 years old. I went to Venezuela when I was three and a half years old in 1949. My family lived in Venezuela until 1964, but in 1960, I came to the United States to go to high school and just spent summer vacations in Venezuela. So after graduating the eighth grade, I spent my high school years in the United States. Is that the sort of information you’re looking for?
TK: Yes. I was hoping to get a general idea of when you where there. Did you have any siblings?
RT: I had two younger siblings. A brother who’s seven years younger and a sister who’s nine years younger. My father worked for Creole Petroleum the whole time he was down there, and my mother was a housewife. The first place we lived was in Lagunillas. Are you familiar with the oil camps in Venezuela?
I didn’t know it at the time, but we were living in the camp that they referred to as Campo Zulima which was the Creole senior staff camp. We lived there until 1957. Spent one year in La Salina in the Hollywood camp, and that was in 1957-58. At the beginning of the school year in 1958, we moved to the Amway area. We all called it Amuay because of the Amuay refinery, but we lived in an area called Judibana which is now called Judibana Campomerico. We were there from 1958 to 1964 when my father left Creole and came back to the United States.
TK: Your father was an engineer? Or worked in management?
RT: He was in materials. He was in charge of the warehouse, purchasing and materials.
TK: Where did you come from?
RT: Houston, Texas.
TK: He was working with Creole or Standard before that?
RT: Yes. He got this opportunity to go to Venezuela. Took it and did very well.
TK: This is a side bit. But is it correctly pronounced Creol or CreolEE?
RT: I’ve always heard both. I don’t think there’s a distinction between who pronounces it which way. I think CreolEEE is more of a Spanish pronunciation. It was referred to as La Compania Creole. But Creole is like the Creole French around Louisiana, and I think that’s where they first got the name.
TK: That makes sense, especially since there were so many people from the States from that area who went down there.
RT: Louisiana and Texas, lots of oil people.
TK: Obviously, you spent a lot of your childhood in these camps in Venezuela. You were in the senior staff camp when you were an especially young child. I’d like a general view for you to tell me about your education. I’m guessing you attended a staff school or a company run school.
RT: All of the kids who lived in the senior staff camp went to school there at the senior staff school. We received instruction in English, although we always had one Spanish language class every day. Our interaction was mainly with other English-speaking kids within the American staff school. We referred to them as camps. I think about that. When the pioneers first came over to set up oil drilling, they made campsites with tents for men to do oil exploration. When the settlements built up, we continued to call them camps, although they weren’t camps, they were multi bedroom homes with indoor plumbing. One of the impressions I had as a kid was that we were very free. I knew where all my classmates lived; I could walk to any of their houses. This was all company provided housing; there were no fences around any yards. It was a very safe environment. I remember it as being a very wonderful time in my life. We used to climb mango trees and eat mangoes. It was just a great place to be a kid. It was a safe and small community. It had a real small-town feel. Everybody knew everybody. When I wanted call someone on the phone, the operator would answer, and I’d say, “I want to speak with so-and-so.” (chuckles). The operator would connect me; no phone number needed.
TK: To follow on that, since it was an American environment inside the camp, how often did you interact with the outside community?
RT: As a young child, I didn’t have much interaction with the outside community at all. There were very few Venezuelans living in the senior staff camp in 1950. There were some and those families spoke Spanish. The majority of my friends’ families had come from somewhere in the United States. As I got older, we had more Venezuelan people living in our community, and because they were beginning to turn over the camps to the Venezuelan people. Also, as I got older, I would go into the community to go to the movies, to restaurants, shopping, etc.
My father really enjoyed fishing. He would take me on these fishing trips on Lake Maracaibo. Going out on these fishing trips, I did interact with the local community. When we were doing shallow water fishing, we would get a local to pole us out to the mangrove swamps where we would fish. When we were doing deep water fishing in Lake Maracaibo, some of my father’s employees would come along and we would use the camp’s launches and drivers to go fishing. The same boats that were used to service the oil drills out in the lake. So, there I was interacting with local adults. We also hunted. We would go out into the jungle and be with local families living out there who lived in pretty primitive conditions. They would be hunting guides for us, and we would camp out and go hunting. Hunting and fishing in Venezuela were wonderful in those days.
TK: Beyond hunting and fishing, what were popular past-times?
RT: We had the swimming pool at the Club. I lived at the swimming pool. We had a bowling alley at the club. There were movies three nights a week, and then there were a number of parties that the adults organized. The adults were always throwing parties; they had to entertain themselves. There were also baseball games and the men played golf.
TK: Did you go into the broader community to see a baseball game?
RT: No, we had a baseball field inside the camp. We had to go outside to play golf. Of course, hunting and fishing was outside the camp.
TK: For kids was there anything else that was popular?
RT: Not that I can think of.
TK: The transition to go to the United States for high school must have been a big transition. Where did you go?
RT: I went back to Houston, Texas, and I lived with my grandmother and went to high school.
TK: Were there notable differences between the education systems in Venezuela and high school in Houston?
RT: One thing that was very different was we never had homework at the staff school. We did all our work in class. In Houston we were assigned homework. I didn’t know that you really didn’t have to do it, so I did it. I got a reputation for being a Brainiac, just because I did my homework. I found if you actually did the homework, you learned the lesson. A lot of my friends who’d grown up with homework in the U.S., they didn’t do their homework. They did some of their homework. That’s the main thing I remember as an education difference.
Another thing is we frequently had two classes in the same room at the staff school. Meaning two different grades might be in the same classroom with the same teacher. For example, the teacher would do certain activities with the fifth graders while the sixth graders worked on their own, and vice versa. We frequently had classes combined. The classes were small. My graduating eighth grade class had eight students.
TK: This is a bit of a transition. But what about cultural things outside of the classroom? Whether that’s material things or food?
RT: The food was quite different, but I loved Venezuelan food. I miss it. I go to a Cuban restaurant here to get similar food. I love platanos, the white cheese we had down there. But I came to US and got used to American diet. There were a lot of extra opportunities available to me when I came to the US, but part of that was because I was older. I could drive and take care of myself in many ways. There was so much more available to me, but that is true when you go from a small town to big city. One thing that irritated me about the US was that everyone’s yard was fenced in; I had to around the block to visit the house behind me. You’ve seen my website?
TK: Yes, your website was one of my best resources when I first started this project.
RT: Where are you from?
TK: I’m from Alabama. I’m studying in Connecticut. But I was raised in a fairly rural part of Alabama.
RT: Have you ever lived outside the States?
TK: No sir
RT: Do you have internet access right now where we can look at my website?
*Conversation ensues to discuss photos across various camps. You can follow Mr. Trahan’s directions and see the same photos by using his website, listed above in the pre-transcript details. Transcript from this point forward will only document relevant discussion points.*
TK: Is the camp still there today?
RT: No when you look at Google maps today, none of these houses have roofs anymore; the metal has been scavenged away. Venezuela is falling apart. It’s horrible there now. I’ve heard it’s a million percent inflation.
Our first house was a Quonset hut. Then a house on a slab foundation. The third house was a stilted house.
TK: What is the Paraguaná Pelican?
RT: Every camp had a newspaper. The Paraguaná Pelican was the weekly newspaper for the Amuay camps. It contained gossip, the movies that were playing... It was published by the people in the camp. Originally Amuay run by the Adaro camp. There was a peninsula with housing. Then they built Judibara which was more like an entire community shared with the Venezuelan population rather than just a camp. There was a shopping center, a church, a movie theatre, a hospital, a school.
TK: When you were younger, I realize you wouldn’t be talking about politics regularly, but when you’d discuss current events, were you more likely to discuss Venezuelan issues, US issues or global issues?
RT: I wasn’t aware of any politics except what was portrayed on the news reel before movies. Those were U.S. news clips. There were pictures of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower. Sometimes there were Venezuelan clips and I’d see photos of Perez Jimenez. But other than that, I was completely oblivious to politics. Probably because I was a kid and it wasn’t interesting to me.
TK: As someone who lives in the U.S. now but is regularly involved with the community who formerly lived in Venezuela, what are common misconceptions about Venezuela that you hear?
RT: The Venezuelan people were good people. I really enjoyed them. Knowing them as I did, I can’t imagine that socialism would take hold, but it has. I’m in touch with many folks now who are still in Venezuela and the country is falling apart. That’s not news. When Chavez took over, he threw out many skilled workers and put in his own associates to run the oil companies. The country is sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves and going broke, just because it’s mismanaged.
I’m not really aware of misconceptions. We have a large Venezuela oil brat groups on Yahoo with over 600 members. It’s a list serv. You post an email and it goes to everyone on the list. We’ve fought hard to keep politics off the site because we have such a broad range of political views (conservative to liberal); nothing polarizes more than politics in the US these days. We’re trying to focus on what unites us, rather than divides us.
Please let me know if you have further questions by email or phone call. I’d love to help you.