¨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 & Pasarlo Chancho
Luisa and being a mother
Luis, and the role of education