Notes from the Street: A Mother’s Honor

There was a bit of commotion outside last night.

Lately things have heated up. We’ve had a few fires which has resulted in fire sirens blaring down the road at 6am – one time going to help the neighbour directly in front of us. Then Banco Estado (by metro Einstein) was robbed at gunpoint by six guys who then stole a woman’s car for their getaway vehicle. There were two plainclothes police there at the time (they are everywhere but you never know it) who were able to call backup right away. Luis had been in the bank just moments before and watched the whole thing unfold. Scary stuff.

Last night Luisa was in the street yelling obscenities.  All the dogs were barking and the kids were crying. I’m pretty sure she was angry with her daughter Ashley, the mother of Antony.  A year ago a similar scene played out when Luisa found out about Ashley’s pregnancy.  They fought in the street for all the neighbours to hear, with Luisa screaming that she was “a slut … bringing shame on the family for sleeping with so many men.” The pregnancy was not welcome news and Ashley was kicked out of the family home.

It does sound harsh but I hate judging a book by its cover – surely there must be more to the story?

These days sex is everywhere but not too long ago Chile was pretty conservative. It has never had the wild and free reputation like that of Brazil or Colombia, and the roots of religion went deep.  Honour and family are words that seem to go hand in hand here (see A Mother’s Wisdom) and, when you don’t have much, keeping the family name intact becomes paramount.

Luisa also lives with more than twenty people in tiny, cramped conditions and in a house that constantly needs fixing. One of the things I discovered from Ojos Abiertos is that many children share the same room as their parents. Many of them grow up with a very adult view of sexuality because they witness the act of sex very young.  While this isn’t true of everyone, its big enough of a problem that the school specifically requested a sexual education talk for parents to combat exactly this. Most of the people living there do not have what you would call typical jobs either – some of the men rely on labouring jobs they source by word of mouth, and they sell drugs. The women seem to be constantly pregnant.  They are families brought together by extension, sharing what they have and live off minimum wage. They rarely leave the house, let alone Recoleta.  Every pregnancy means another mouth to feed and more space to go without. In this case, Ashley was not in a relationship with the father, and without the security of a marriage the future must have looked precarious. The father of Antony is not a nice man and meets every stereotypical requirement that you would expect: baggy pants, baseball cap, fake Adidas stripes, flash shoes, tendency to say “o’e!” I know that they all tried to rent a room a few blocks down but it has ended in disaster, so Ashley and her son are back with Luisa.  For now.  The whole thing is so sad.

This isn’t a situation that is  black and white. For all those people who say “why don’t they just get a job?” I ask you to think for a minute. These are people who come from difficult backgrounds – often with trauma – who cannot read or write well (if at all) and have little education.  The only world they have ever seen is the world that they are living.  I also ask where are the jobs for them?  They don’t have references or experience, and I honestly wonder who would hire someone who may need a lot of help.  It’s depressing especially when, for the most part, they are nice people, with children who have talents and abilities that just need a little nurtering and someone to show them new possiblities. This is why I greatly respect Jose: to have come from such difficulties and rise above them as an honest and hardworking example is beyond inspiring. You only know your strength when you are called to use it, after all.

I feel strongly about this subject, hence my blogs for education. It all starts with opening the eyes of the children. I don’t want them to turn to mind-numbing and mind-altering substances just to cope with life. In front of our house there is a small shrine to a young 20-something man whose throat was slit by his neighbour over a minor dispute one night they were using illicit substances. This story breaks my heart in so many ways: the fact that they were young, the fact that the murderer only spent a short time in jail, the fact that they are both someone’s children.  The line between sanity and insanity is minute, and easily broken by drugs, anger and unhappiness. I don’t want this story to keep repeating.

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