Notes From The Street: Marta´s Story

¨The drugs were always there. They were there for my father when we had nothing to eat. They were there for my mother, when my father was in jail.  They were there for my sister after she was raped. And they were there for me, as I looked after my family and vowed that I would always rise up – raise my family up – so that nothing could hurt me.

I fell pregnant when I was 20, to a man I always thought was the greatest guy ever. He was so good looking then, and he was tough. No-one wanted to fight him – plus he was skilled with the knife. We met at a friends house when I was sixteen and I was just blown away by him. His charisma, his green eyes, the way he didn´t care what anyone thought.  I felt lucky that he chose me.


After the baby came he moved in with my family.  He went to work, I stayed with the baby and took care of my nephews.  But then one day he didn´t go to work. And everything changed.  He took to dealing drugs from our home, which was nothing unusual for me as I knew all about drugs – I´d grown up with them. But the coke messed him up, it really did.  Every day was the same. I couldn´t stand it. I couldn´t stand him. We would fight in front of our children – we had two by then – because there was no where else we could go to fight.  He´d hit me and I´d hit him back. But I always stayed because I didn´t know how I´d be able to support myself and our children without the income he brought him from drugs. I was also a sucker for those green eyes.


In the end it wasn´t a decision I had to make. He stabbed someone one night after a soccer match, got arrested and I never saw him again. I don´t think of him. I took over his job dealing the drugs, not because I love drugs but because I needed the money. It became something I was good at doing and to be honest I enjoyed the power

I met Pablo three years later. He is a quiet guy, someone that let me be go about my business. We had a lot of fun together. He also worked, which I liked. We have three children together and we live in the same place where I lived with Daniel, though we have bigger rooms because I´m the boss.

I am the boss. I bring in the most money and people are afraid of our family because there are a lot of us and we´ve been here a long time. There are fifteen adults living here and we have everything we need to defend ourselves in a situation. Situations do happen but I´m not afraid. Things do happen in front of the children because we can´t shelter them, though we do try to protect them. They are growing up the same way I did, though more stable because this time around there is always food on the table. They all go to school too. My sisters all work, and most of the men too, though there are a few bad eggs in every family that sponge off the rest of us. I don´t like the man my eldest daughter chose and I was not happy when she fell pregnant because of the strain it would put on me to feed an extra mouth, but I am surprised by how she has matured since her daughter was born.

I am proud of how I have built my family up. I am proud of how strong our name is. I live for the little things, for my children, my grandchildren and my nieces and nephews. I save for months to throw the best birthday parties and I love any excuse for a party.  I love watching soccer and I support Colo Colo. Sometimes I wish things were different – I have so many scars, seen so many horrific things – but I´m not bitter.


I am strong.¨


Notes from The Street is a series of interviews conducted with various people I have met during my time here. My aim is to humanize a different world to what expats normally encounter, but a Santiago one that thousands live none the less. For more stories try:

Jose´s Story

Santiago´s Children & Maria


Jose & Pasarlo Chancho

Manuel & the Taxi Pirata

Luisa and being a mother

Luis, and the role of education



In the Presence of Cocaine

Today on the metro I stood behind two very respectable gentlemen who were comparing photos of their marijuana plants. Although I personally was amused by this very public display, drugs have been on my mind lately.  I have been thinking about them more ever since I encountered a rather aggressive woman  in the local corner store the other night, who was not impressed by my Spanish accent and who also happened to be flying so high she could barely keep her eyes open.

In all the expat blogs I have read, very few seem to have touched upon the issue of drugs. When I asked the English-speaking community the other day about pasta base half thought I was talking about an Italian sauce and the other denied its existence in Santiago.  This is concerning because drugs are tearing families apart and even the most respectable looking people may have a substance abuse problem (as encountered by Luis in his taxi!)

I am going to delve into this subject deeper over the next few blog posts which may make for uncomfortable reading, but for now let me introduce you to Hernan, and his story dealing with a drug addiction.

Hernan’s Story

When you look at Hernan, you see someone completely ordinary. He comes from a respectable family and his parents are good quiet people.  He has a degree and a decent job, and he brings home good money. In person he is quiet – a little nervous around the ladies – but a good person nonetheless.

Like most teenagers, Hernan experimented with drugs. It wasn’t until he was steadily working that things began to change.  During this time, one of his friends had become particularly partial to cocaine and together they began using regularly. As each night became a whirlwind of high’s and low’s, Hernan started pushing away his regular friends and instead turned to ones that shared similar interests. In this new world, it became the norm to spend the whole night using, until he was spending all of his wages on drugs for his friends.

In search of the high that was becoming ever elusive, Hernan began taking cocaine every day until the point came when he could not function without it. When his parents finally noticed  (its a visually subtle substance, after all) they immediately intervened and sent him to a rehabiltation centre.  That was only half the battle.  Coming clean is a process almost as shattering as getting addicted, and although he is out now, it is sometimes hard to stay on the right path when there is a stigma of addiction upon you.

His friends, that had become dependent upon the cocaine he’d buy them, have now all turned to pasta base, a derivitive of cocaine that is stronger, ten times more addictive and very, very cheap.

  The high that comes from drugs is as addictive to the mind as the ingredients are upon the body.  Narcotic News explains that “Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. Thus, an individual may have difficulty predicting or controlling the extent to which he or she will continue to want or use the drug” .The website Drug Abuse describes cocaine as “the single most powerful central nervous system stimulant” that can cause “cardiac arrest and death.”  However, it counters, it is “street cocaine” rather than pure cocaine that causes the most concern.  Narcotic News further states that cocaine in itself is not a new drug; coca leaves have been used for thousands of years while, in the 19oo’s, cocaine was included in the treatment for many illnesess.  Today, cocaine that is bought on the street has been mixed with so many additives and altered through numerous processing methods that it’s form is greatly different from pure cocaine.

What was it that drove Hernan to drugs? On paper, his life was excellent. Did he do it to fit in? To escape something? To deal with stress or a broken heart? Lonliness? Hernan, like many others, is unable to answer this question, hence why the world’s most famous addict, Russell Brand, labels addiction as a disease. Whatever your opinion may be on drugs, Hernan’s opinions will always be stronger. He feels remorse, sadness, embarrassment, anger, regret and intense disappointment in himself. He also still struggles against the call of the drug, which has affected his mind and body so deeply he may never fully recover. It can be the easiest thing in the world to condemn those of us who make different choices, but sometimes life isn’t always presented in black and white.  When I look at Hernan I see a bit of his mother in his eyes, and I recall his father in his smile. I know that his family love him, and I also know that he loves them. He is a person – one of us – that turned to drugs in a moment of weakness and … that was all it took.  Coming clean requires great strength, but without support around you, it is difficult to find that strength.  With so many families in Santiago suffering drug addictions, my question is where will they find that strength?

Give a little heart to those who need it most